Monday, October 01, 2007

Analysis 7 - Losing Sight of the Insight

‘Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice; ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’ - Alice in Wonderland

In the September Analysis 6 (‘Calvin’s Stroke of Genius’) we noted that John Calvin habitually thinks of the relation between justification and sanctification as two distinct but inseparable gifts of Christ to his people. Justification does not cause sanctification even though it is a necessary precondition of it. Both justification and sanctification are directly given by the Mediator. We noted that this stroke of genius makes apparent a biblical idea of wonderful power and simplicity. The risen and ascended King gives gifts – chief among them free justification, and free sanctification, bound inseparably together. It is interesting that although Calvin is called (by B.B. Warfield) the theologian of the Holy Spirit, in the passages on the double grace quoted in Analysis 6 there is little or nothing said about the Holy Spirit as the communicator of this grace. Calvin does not deny this, of course, but at this point he is resolutely Christocentric.

This wonderful idea is not for Calvin a mere clever scholarly insight that is to be noted and then filed away. It occurs all over the place in his writings: not only in the Institutes, but in his personal confession of faith, catechisms, his work on the sacraments, and his commentaries. It may be said to be a central feature of his theology, a key theological idea.

The loss

However, in my estimate this stroke of genius has not been sufficiently appreciated by subsequent Reformed theology. In fact, it has been largely lost sight of, and is most certainly not central to our thought about redemption. In expounding the relation between justification and sanctification the personal, sovereign agency of Christ dispensing a ‘double grace’ is not the controlling idea. Would not a lot of spilled ink and raised dust caused by subsequent agonised discussions of the relation between justification and sanctification (still continuing, of course) have been unnecessary if Calvin’s biblical emphasis had been at the forefront? What a lost opportunity! Why did this insistence on the distinctness but inseparability of justification and sanctification disappear, or at least become muffled, as Reformed theology developed?

It is not obvious what the answer is, but here are two suggestions.

The first is that in the development of the locus style of theological exposition, the locus 'of justification' came (naturally enough) to be treated separately from the locus 'of sanctification'. The impact of the Counter-Reformation was being resisted. So Turretin invites us to think of justification and sanctification as two distinct topics, stressing the differences between them. (Institutes II.16, 17) In his Systematic Theology Charles Hodge also has separate chapters on justification (II.17 ) and sanctification (II.18) and, following Turretin he also stresses how justification and sanctification differ. Hardly a word, so far as I can see, on what they have in common. As regards the work of Christ, no doubt because of the threat posed by Socinianism, Turretin and his Reformed contemporaries almost wholly focus on Christ's satisfaction for sin. (Institutes, 14, 8-14) There is nothing on justification and sanctification as the kingly gifts of Christ to his church. Similarly Charles Hodge. (Systematic Theology, II. 6-9).

In the recent Systematic Theology of Robert Reymond (Second Edition, 2001), the nearest that the author comes to Calvin's view is in his remark that definitive sanctification is a 'concomitant' act with justification and adoption. (710) The idea of concomitance plays an important part in Reymond’s schematisation of the ordo salutis (711), covering both purely logical and also chronological sequences. But concomitance is clearly much weaker than the relation that Calvin has in mind. ‘Concomitant’ means, ‘an accompanying thing’. (OED) Prior to that, Reymond has one brief word on the inevitability of the sanctification of those who have died with Christ and have risen with him. (678) Then he reverts in time-honoured fashion to considering each act or process separately. He unintentionally conveys the impression that these acts and processes, being separable in thought, are separable in fact, mere concomitants. Nowhere is the inseparability of justification and sanctification clearly asserted. Nowhere is their unified relation to the person and work of Christ emphasised. When Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall it is very difficult to put him together again.

Finally, let us glance at the Westminster Confession. (This, I know, is like walking barefoot on broken glass. But let’s – for once - nerve ourselves.) The Confession, in its treatment of the Mediatorship of Christ (Ch.8), states that Christ purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him'. (8.5) ‘Reconciliation’ is a term which may be used narrowly, as equivalent to justification, or more comprehensively, to cover justification and sanctification, but the Confession does not say which. Was sanctification something that Christ purchased, and is it inseparable from justification? The Confession does not say, though it does go on to state that Christ communicates to his people what he has accomplished for them, (8.8), and so to imply that he purchased and communicates sanctification too, and also proceeds (famously) to say that the faith alone justifies is never alone in the person justified.(11.2) It has separate chapters on justification and sanctification. The brief linking chapter, ‘Of Adoption’, links justification and adoption as concomitants. Nowhere is the inseparability of justification and sanctification clearly asserted. Nowhere is Calvin’s idea of the one two-fold gift of the Saviour given prominence. The statement in 8.8 is the nearest the Confession comes to Calvin’s double gift. Is it not fair to say that at this point the bugle is giving a somewhat indistinct sound?

The second, connected, suggestion is that in developing the habit of distinguishing 'redemption accomplished' from 'redemption applied' Reformed theology has tended to lose sight of the reason for the inseparability stressed by Calvin. It is as if traditional accounts of the work of Christ stop short. His atonement is given prominent treatment. But what has this atonement procured? Satisfaction, pardon. This above all things has been emphasised, against the Socinians. Anything else? To answer that question it is implied that we need to move on to ‘application’, and that’s where the theologians take us. But it is impossible to apply what has not been accomplished. So properly to do justice to the application of the work of Christ, more attention ought to be given beforehand, as part of our understanding of the work of Christ, to what gifts he has procured. Then, and only then, do we have warrant to move from what Christ has accomplished to its application.

So what binds accomplishment and application together? In the standard treatments of this question the answer is not evident. Sometimes, as with Reymond, it is union with Christ. (736-9) Sometimes it is the covenant of grace (Westminster Larger Catechism 57). Calvin is ringingly clear: it is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that holds them together. But the tradition’s repeated stress on the distinctness of justification and sanctification pulls in the other direction, making it easier to believe that they are merely contingently connected, only concomitants, which is fatal to a proper understanding. The theological habit is to think of these two aspects of redemption abstractly, and separately. It is ‘justification’, not Christ the one who justifies. It is ‘sanctification’, not Christ the one who sanctifies. And so the opportunity to hold Christ at the centre, the sovereign dispenser of both graces, is passed by. Tragically, the giver of these inseparable gifts is allowed to slip between them and is lost from view.

There is a fine passage in John Murray’s ’The Agency in Definitive Sanctification' (Collected Writings 2) in which he ascribes the source of definitive sanctification to Christ’s defeating of sin at the Cross. (288-9) The same cross that procured our justification procured our sanctification. The one union with Christ in his death and resurrection produces different fruit. Yet even here the obvious inference – that having one source the distinct gifts of redeeming grace are inseparable – is not drawn, even though a strong parallel between justification and sanctification is made. (292)

The nearest thing in the other direction that I have come across is in Cornelis Venema’s Acceptance in Christ (2006). Here, at last, are references to the inseparability and yet distinctness of justification and sanctification. (e.g. 71-2, 77, 258-9, 285, 306) But they are scattered, not central to the discussion, and they are not unified, as with Calvin, by the thought that they are two-in-one gifts of the King. Calvin’s evangelical view of sanctification (as it might justly be called) is worth stressing in the light of the moralism of the ‘new perspectives’ on Paul, which Venema's book is about. The Reformed faith, with its emphasis on the ‘third use’ of the law, always teeters on the brink of moralism. But evangelical sanctification should put an effective brake on that. Easy-believism? Calvin’s double-gift view is the answer.

A moral

A moral about logic: we must resist the tendency to think that because two ideas are separable in thought they are separable in fact. Indeed we must stress the idea that though separable in thought justification and sanctification are inseparable in fact. Had Calvin had the good fortune to read Lewis Carroll he might have put the point about inseparability but distinctness this way: the grin of the Cheshire cat is distinct from the cat itself. The grin has ‘peculiar qualities’ which the cat itself does not have. The grin lasts a minute but the cat lasts for longer than that. The cat has a tail but the grin does not. Nevertheless, no cat, no grin. No grin, no cat.

So it is with justification and sanctification. Justification is not sanctification. Sanctification has properties, ‘peculiar qualities’ (as Calvin put it), which justification does not have, and vice versa. Sanctification is not justification. Nevertheless, sanctification cannot exist without justification, even though (and here the analogy with the Cheshire cat breaks down, as analogies are wont to do), it is not caused by justification. So, (crucially) no justification, no sanctification. No sanctification, no justification. Each is one aspect of the one double-aspect gift of the King.