Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the perspicuity of Scripture

Benedict Pictet

 

Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724), professor of theology at Geneva, discusses the perspicuity of Scripture in his Theologia Christiana, Book I, Chapter XIII:

Scripture not only perfectly contains all things necessary to salvation, but also contains them in such a clear and perspicuous way, that they may be discovered and known by any man whose eyes have not been plainly blinded by the god of this world.

This we may prove by various arguments. Firstly, since Scripture itself in many places bears testimony to its own perspicuity and clarity, both in respect to the law given to the ancient people [of God], and in respect to the Gospel, by which is comprehended the new covenant. This commandment, which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven? Etc. But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart. (Deut. 30:11). Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Ps. 119:105). We have most sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place (2 Pet. 1:19). But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost (2 Cor. 4:2-3).

Secondly, since Scripture would have been given in vain, if it were obscure; for Scripture had been given so that it may teach us, and so that it may be a rule of faith, as Paul observes: Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). But how could it teach us, if it surpassed or equalled to Delphic oracles of Apollo in obscurity? And how could its decisions, if they were obscure, be the rule of faith and morals?

Thirdly, either God was not able to reveal himself clearly to men, or he did would not. No one would say that he was not able to, and that he would not is most absurd. For who could believe that God our great Father was unwilling to reveal his will to his children, when this was necessary, so that men might obey it more easily?

A fourth argument is deduced from the examination of all things necessary for salvation, which have perspicuously been delivered unto us. For what is clearer than those things which are contained in the Decalogue, and which Christ reduces to two precepts (Matt. 22)? And who will deny that those dogmas which are read in the Apostles’ Creed, are clearly inculcated, explained, and taught throughout the whole of Scripture?

But here we must observe a few things. Firstly, we concede that some things are obscure and hard to understand, not only in Paul’s epistles, as Peter declares, but also in other books. God has so willed it that the diligence of the faithful should be stirred up and increased, that the pride of others should be subdued, and to remove any disdain which may arise from much easiness, for the human mind is accustomed to slighting and despising such things as are common and easily attainable; but we deny that such are the things which are necessary for salvation. But even if some of them are necessary, we maintain that they are explained in other parts [of Scripture], as we will say below: Scripture, as Gregory says (praef. in Jobum), holds forth in public what may nourish the weak, just as in private it stores up what may suspend the minds of the astute in wonder: it is, as it were, a river both shallow and deep, in which both a lamb may wade, and an elephant may swim. In Scripture, as in nature, there are three kinds of things: some are evident to all, some are known only by the learned, and others are not penetrable to even the learned themselves.

Secondly, we readily admit that there are mysteries in Scripture which surpass our comprehension, and which we shall not understand perfectly even in heaven; but at the same time we maintain that we are taught as much of these mysteries as are useful and necessary for us to know. For example, we do not comprehend the mystery of the trinity or of the incarnation of Christ, namely, how it could be that in in one essence there are three persons, and that God could assume unto himself a human nature. But even though we may be ignorant of the manner, yet we assert that the thing itself is clearly taught, which is all that is necessary to be known for salvation.

Thirdly, while we believe that the Scriptures are perspicuous in things necessary for salvation, yet we admit that these things are not taught clearly every passage, although we add that there is nothing in the obscurer places which is not found elsewhere where it is stated very plainly.

Fourthly, we observe that Scripture is perspicuous, not to all people whatsoever, and to those who read and hear it of whatsoever disposition they may be, but only to those who prove themselves teachable (provided they are in possession of their reason, and implore the light of divine grace), and who are not negligent and slothful, nor blinded by preconceived opinions, nor carried away by their passions, nor perverted by their wickedness, for these are all very great obstacles to the understanding of the Scriptures.

Fifthly, we hold that the Scripture of the Old Testament was less clear than that of the New, for it was clouded by various types, figures, and shadows, but nevertheless was more than clear enough on the things which the fathers [i.e. Old Testament believers] were not to be ignorant of.

Sixthly, we do not deny that we shall know divine things far more clearly in heaven; for there we shall no longer see God through a glass darkly, but face to face, as Scripture teaches. Still, those divine things are more than enough unfolded to us on earth, and therefore, even though it is through a glass, yet we behold the glory of the Lord with an open face, as Paul teaches (2 Cor. 3).

Seventhly, we defend such a perspicuity of Scripture as does not exclude either attention of mind or the necessary assistance of God (hence David prays that his eyes may be opened, so that he may see wondrous things out of the law), or the voice and ministry of the Church, or the reading of commentaries, but the only obscurity which we explode, is that which would drive the people away from the pure fountain of Scripture, and which forces them to have recourse to polluted streams of human tradition.

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Thomas Barlow (1607-1691): A post-Restoration Oxford disputation on unconditional election

Thomas_Barlow

 

Thomas Barlow (1607-1691) was one of the preeminent Reformed divines within the post-Restoration Church of England. Having previously been the librarian of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Barlow became the provost of the Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1657, and the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1660, while simultaneously serving as the archdeacon of Oxford. He retained these positions until he became bishop of Lincoln in 1675. Alongside his former Queen’s colleague Thomas Tully (1620-1676), who became the principal of St. Edmund Hall in 1658, he was actively involved in anti-Arminian polemics at Oxford and within the Church of England more broadly.

A number of disputations held under Barlow at Oxford were translated from Latin into English and released as part of his posthumously-published The Genuine Remains of that learned Prelate Dr. Thomas Barlow, late Lord Bishop of Lincoln (1692). One of these disputations (on p. 577-582) addresses the question of whether eternal election unto salvation is based on foreseen faith (An electio ad salutem sit ex fide praevisa?):

Election is twofold.

  1. Human, when man.
  2. Divine, when God chooseth, and of this only it is disputed. And this election is twofold.

First, of a thing, when a thing not a person is chosen. So God is often said to choose Jerusalem and Mount Sion, and Isaiah, 58.6. eligere jejunium. But of this we enquire not.

Second, election is of a person, which likewise is twofold.

  1. Of Christ as man. For so he was in the number of the elect. Math. 12.18.
  2. Of those united with Christ: namely of the angels, who persevered in their obedience; and of men, God ordain’d, and elected some men to offices and honour in this world; as Saul to the government. Others he elected to salvation and glory in heaven; and of these our question is.

Now here we say that this divine election, by which God chooseth certain men from eternity to salvation, is not an act of the divine intellect or knowledge by which he knows; but of his will by which according to his good pleasure he determines of us.

The reason is because the divine knowledge is natural and necessary; so that it is impossible that God should not know every object that could be known; but election is a free act; since it is a thing confessed, potuisse Deum vel nullos condidisse, vel conditos non elegisse, vel plures, vel pauciores, vel alios pro suo beneplacito, & jure absoluto quo in creaturas utitur. [i.e. that God could have elected none, or more, or fewer, or others, according to his good pleasure and the absolute right which he has over his creatures.]

The divine knowledge doth equally look at all objects possible or future, but not so his election; which is a discretive act, and passeth by some to perish for ever, while it prepares grace and glory for others.  Now when it is ask’d, if election be from faith foreseen?

First, we do not deny that faith was foreseen from eternity, since ‘tis manifest that the knowledge of God is equally eternal with his will. For sicut quicquid est futurum erat ab aeterno futurum, ita etiam ab aeterno cognitum [i.e. just as whatever is future was future from eternity, so likewise what was known from eternity]. But

Secondly, we enquire of the habitude that the foreseeing of faith hath to election. This habitude for foreseen faith in order to election is threefold, and may have the notion,

First, antecedentis [i.e. of an antecedent], so that God chooseth none to heaven, in whom he had not seen faith to come, or did see that faith would come before they were actually elected.

Secondly, it may have the notion conditionis [i.e. of a condition], and so faith may be consider’d as a condition necessarily required in election.

Thirdly, foreseen faith may further have the notion of a cause, and so not to be only an antecedent and a condition of election, but to have the notion of a cause from whence election follows as the effect.

Now when ‘tis enquired, if election be of faith foreseen, historical faith is not meant, nor a faith of miracles; the which unregenerate men may have; but the meaning is of justifying faith which is proper only to the regenerate.

Up till now Barlow has been clarifying that the question being addressed is whether God’s election of people unto salvation is based on God’s foreseeing of them having justifying faith. He concludes negatively that, in God’s eternal decree of election or predestination unto glory, there neither is, nor can there be, any consideration based on any foreseen antecedent action, quality, merit, cause, reason, or condition in us humans. God’s election is therefore entirely unconditional. Barlow offers a number of reasons for this:

The first reason of this conclusion, is; if election be from faith foreseen, then faith foreseen is some way a cause of election: the which consequence though the Remonstrants will sometimes deny and seem not to allow foreseen faith as the cause of God’s electing, as may be seen in the Collatio Hagiensis, p. 103. Yet elsewhere they speak it out plainly in writings held by them most authentical, namely in Actis Synodalibus Part. 2. p. 6. where they tell us, fidem & perseverationem in electione considerari ut conditionem ab homine praestitam, ac proinde tanquam causam [i.e. in election faith and perseverance are considered as a condition fulfilled by man, and accordingly as a cause]. They add this reason, because the condition prescribed and perform’d doth necessario alicujus causae rationem induere [i.e. necessarily takes on the function of a cause].

And indeed they must needs be forc’d to confess this: For, if we ask them why God chose Peter and not Judas, they say, because God foresaw that Peter would believe. So that from their hypothesis, it must needs be that foreseen faith was the cause that Peter was chosen before Judas.

Now I do subsume, that foreseen faith is not the cause, nor reason, nor motive any way of election.

First, because the Scripture allows of no cause of election extra Deum ipsum [i.e. outside of God himself]: but refers it altogether to his εὐδοκία & beneplacitum [i.e. good pleasure]. For this consult Ephes. 1.11. and Rom. 9.11.

On the other hand, If you will believe, you shall be elected, is no where to be found in Holy Writ, either expressly, or by equivalence. There is I confess this proposition in Scripture, He that believes shall be saved, but not he that believes shall be predestinated; because God never required faith as antecedaneous to his decree.

Secondly, if faith be an effect and consequent of election, then is it not the cause of it, or antecedaneous motive; because ‘tis altogether impossible, and implies a manifest contradiction, ut idem respectu ejusdem sit antecedens & consequens, causa & effectus [i.e. that the same thing may in the same respect be both antecedent and consequent, both cause and effect]. But faith is an effect or consequent of election, therefore ‘tis not a cause, or antecedent motive of it.

The minor I prove out of Eph. 1.4. According as he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, &c. And v. 5th sheweth that God did predestinate those whom he would adopt for sons, not such as were sons. But if he had chosen such as believed, then he would have chosen holy men and sons. But sanctity, and our sonship are not the cause, nor antecedent motive of election. For, Rom. 8.29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son: not as if they were then so.

Again if election were of works, then the Apostle might have had an Answer to his Objection in a readiness, as to what he mentions in the 9th of the Romans about the children neither having done any good or evil, and in vain had the instance there been brought of the potter’s power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour and another to dishonour. Whereas if election had been from foreseen faith, he had spoke more aptly thus, Hath not the potter the art to know the difference in several parts of Clay, and to separate the good from the bad? But the Apostle’s similitude is exactly pertinent, if we suppose election to be absolute, and all creatures to be in an equal state.

The editor notes that Barlow offers a final reason for God’s election not being based on foreseen faith and perseverance, namely, “that infants are elected, but not from faith and perseverance; for they are not capable thereof.”

John Edwards (1637-1716) on God’s justice and rewards

John_Edwards

 

There is righteousness in God’s rewarding. The Apostle tells us, that he that comes unto God must not only believe that he is, but that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). There is, as our Saviour informs us, a difference of rewards, there is a prophet’s reward, and a righteous man’s reward (Matt. 10:41), i.e. God will reward, but in a different manner, those who shew kindness to either of these. Yea we are told in the same chapter, that he who refreshes a disciple with a cup of cold water, shall be recompensed for it. Whence we may infer, that no good action (be it never so mean) shall go unrewarded. Now, ‘tis plain that God’s justice is shewed in this, for else the Apostle would not have said (Heb. 6:20) God is not unjust to forget the labour of love. And (2 Thess. 1:6) It is a righteous or just thing with God, to recompense to you that are troubled, rest. It is manifest therefore, that God acts according to the laws of justice and righteousness, when he rewards the good services of the faithful in this life. And he doth so when he crowns them with everlasting glory in the mansions of the blessed, as we may gather from 2 Thess. 4:8, There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day. By the tenor of the New Covenant, there is assured unto all believers eternal happiness, both as God is merciful, and as he is just. That the crown is laid up for them, is the product of divine mercy, that it is actually given to them, at the great day of accounts, argues God to be righteous, for seeing he hath engaged by his promise to bestow heaven upon them, it becomes an act of justice or righteousness to perform his word and promise: though to make this promise to them at first, was an act of mere grace and favour. So that the remunerative justice of God is not to be measured by the rules and proportions of human justice, which is according to men’s merits: but God’s giving a reward to holy men (none of whom are in a capacity to deserve anything at his hands; yea whose daily failings render them obnoxious to him) is to be reckoned as an act of mercifulness and liberality.

– John Edwards (1637-1716), Theologia Reformata, vol. 1 (1713), p. 100-101.

John Pearson (1613-1686) on the catholicity of the Church

John Pearson

 

John Pearson (1613-1686) was, without question, the preeminent Reformed divine in the Church of England after the Restoration. Pearson was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge (1661-1673), Master of Jesus College, Cambridge (1660-1662), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge (1662-1672), and Bishop of Chester (1673-1686). Widely esteemed in his day for his expertise in patristics and the oriental languages, he produced various theological works, but was particularly renowned for his Exposition of the Creed (first edition 1659), the standout systematic work in the Church of England during the later Stuart period.

Every Sunday, Christians around the world confess the Apostles’ Creed, and, in the ninth of its twelve articles, they confess the Church to be catholic. What is meant by this? Previously we have considered Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the catholicity of the Church, and related excerpts from Matthew Poole (1624-1679) and Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713).  Below is Pearson’s explanation  (minus the lengthy marginal notes in Latin and Greek):

[T]he word Catholick, as it is not read in the Scriptures, so was it not anciently in the Creed […] but being inserted by the Church, must necessarily be interpreted by the sense which the most ancient Fathers had of it, and that sense must be confirmed, so far as it is consentient with the Scriptures. To grant then that the word was not used by the Apostles, we must also acknowledge that it was most anciently in use among the Primitive Fathers, and that as to several intents. For first, they called the epistles of S. James, S. Peter, S. John, S. Jude, the Catholick Epistles, because when the Epistles written by S. Paul were directed to particular churches congregated in particular cities, these were either sent to the churches dispersed through a great part of the world, or directed to the whole Church of God upon the face of the whole earth. Again, we observe the Fathers to use the word Catholick for nothing else but general or universal, in the ordinary or vulgar sense; as the Catholick resurrection is the resurrection of all men, the Catholick opinion, the opinion of all men. […]

When this title is attributed to the Church it hath not always the same notion or signification; for when by the Church is understood the house of God, or place in which the worship is performed, then by the Catholick Church is meant no more than the common Church, into which all such persons as belonged to that parish in which it was built were wont to congregate. For where monasteries were in use, as there were separate habitations for men, and distinct for women, so were there also churches for each distinct: and in the parishes, where there was no distinction of sexes as to habitation, there was a common Church which received them both, and therefore called Catholick.

Again, when the Church is taken for the persons making profession of the Christian Faith, the Catholick is often added in opposition to hereticks and schismaticks, expressing a particular Church continuing in the true Faith with the rest of the Church of God, as the Catholick Church in Smyrna, the Catholic Church in Alexandria [etc.].

Now seeing these particular Churches could not be named Catholick as they were particular, in reference to this or that city, in which they were congregated, it followeth that they were called Catholick by their coherence and conjunction with that Church which was properly and originally called so; which is the Church taken in that acceptation which we have already delivered. That Church which was built upon the Apostles as upon the foundation, congregated by their preaching and by their baptizing, receiving continued accession, and disseminated in several parts of the earth, containing within it numerous congregations all which were truly called churches, as members of the same Church; that Church I say, was after some time called the Catholick Church, that is to say, the name Catholick was used by the Greeks to signifie the whole. For seeing every particular congregation professing the name of Christ was from the beginning called a Church, seeing likewise all such congregations considered together were originally comprehended under the name of the Church, seeing these two notions of the word were different, it came to pass that for distinction’s sake at first they called the Church, taken in the large and comprehensive sense, by as large and comprehensive a name, the Catholick Church.

Although this seem the first intention of those which gave the name Catholick to the Church, to signifie thereby nothing else but the whole or universal Church, yet those which followed did signifie by the same that affection of the Church which floweth from the nature of it, and may be expressed by that word. At first they called the whole Church Catholick, meaning no more than the universal Church; but having used that term some space of time, they considered how the nature of the Church was to be universal, and in what that universality did consist.

As far then as the ancient fathers have expressed themselves, and as far as their expressions are agreeable with the descriptions of the Church delivered in the Scriptures, so far I conceive we may safely conclude that the Church of Christ is truly Catholick, and that the truly Catholick Church is the true Church of Christ, which must necessarily be sufficient for the explication of this affection, which we acknowledge when we say, we believe the Catholick Church.

The most obvious and most general notion of this Catholicism consisteth in the diffusiveness of the Church, grounded upon the commission given to the builders of it, Go teach all nations, whereby they and their successors were authorized and empowered to gather congregations of believers, and so to extend the borders of the Church unto the utmost parts of the earth. The Synagogue of the Jews especially consisted of one nation, and the publick worship of God was confined to one country (Ps. 76:1-3; 147:29) […] The temple was the only place in which the sacrifices could be offered, in which the priests could perform their office of ministration; and so under the Law there was an enclosure divided from all the world besides. But God said unto his Son, I will give the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession (Mark 15:15). And Christ commanded the Apostles, saying, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). Thus the Church of Christ, in its primary institution, was made to be of a diffusive nature, to spread and extend itself, from the city of Jerusalem, where it first began, to all the parts and corners of the earth. From whence we find them in the Revelation, crying to the Lamb, Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by the blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). This reason did the ancient Fathers render why the Church was called Catholick, and the nature of the Church is so described in the Scriptures.

Secondly, they called the Church of Christ the Catholick Church, because it teacheth all things which are necessary for a Christian to know, whether they be things in heaven or things in earth, whether they concern the condition of man in this life, or in the life to come. As the Holy Ghost did lead the Apostles into all truth, so did the Apostles leave all truth unto the Church, which teaching all the same, may well be called Catholick, from the universality of necessary and saving truths retained in it.

Thirdly, the Church hath been thought fit to be called Catholick in reference to the universal obedience which it prescribeth; both in respect of the persons, obliging men of all conditions, and in relation to the precepts, requiring the performance of all the evangelical commands.

Fourthly, the Church hath been yet further called or reputed Catholick, by reason of all graces given in it, whereby all diseases of the soul are healed, and spiritual virtues are disseminated, all the works, and words, and thoughts of men are regulated, till we become perfect men in Christ Jesus.

In all these four acceptations did some of the ancient Fathers understand the Church of Christ to be Catholick, and every one of them doth certainly belong unto it. Wherefore I conclude that this Catholicism, or second affection of the Church, consisteth generally in universality, as embracing all sorts of persons, as to be disseminated through all nations, as comprehending all ages, as containing all necessary and saving truths, as obliging al conditions of men to all kind of obedience, as curing all diseases, and planting all graces, in the souls of men.

The necessity of believing the holy Catholick Church, appeareth first in this, that Christ hath appointed it as the only way unto eternal life. We read at the first, that the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47), and what was then daily done, hath been done since continually. Christ never appointed two ways to heaven; nor did he build a Church to save some, and make another institution for other men’s salvation. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12); and that name is no otherwise given under heaven than in the Church. As none were saved from the deluge but such as were in the Ark of Noah, framed for their reception by the command of God; as none of the first-born of Egypt lived, but such as were within those habitations whose doorposts were sprinkled with blood by the appointment of God for their preservation; as none of the inhabitants of Jericho could escape the fire or sword, but such as were within the house of Rahab, for whose protection a covenant was made; so none shall ever escape the eternal wrath of God, which belong not to the Church of God. This is the congregation of those persons here on earth which shall hereafter meet in heaven. These are the vessels of the Tabernacle carried up and down, at last to be translated into, and fixed in, the Temple.

Secondly, it is necessary to believe the Church of Christ which is but one, that being in it we may take care never to cast ourselves, or be ejected out of it. There is a power within the Church to cast those out which do belong to it; for if any neglect to hear the Church, saith our Saviour, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican (Matt. 18:17). By great and scandalous offences, by incorrigible misdemeanours, we may incur the censure of the Church of God, and while we are shut out by them, we stand excluded out of heaven. For our Saviour said to his Apostles, upon whom he built his Church, whosoever’s sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosoever’s sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23). Again, a man may not only passively and involuntarily be rejected, but also by an act of his own, cast our or reject himself [out of the Church], not only by plain and complete apostasy, but by a defection from the unity of truth, falling into some damnable heresie, or by an active separation, deserting all which are in communion with the Catholick Church, and falling into an irrecoverable schism.

Thirdly, it is necessary to believe the Church of Christ to be holy, lest we should presume to obtain any happiness by being of it, without that holiness which is required in it. It is not enough that the end, institution, and administration of the Church are holy; but, that there may be some real and permanent advantage received by it, it is necessary that the persons abiding in the communion of it should be really and effectually sanctified. Without which holiness the privileges of the Church prove the greatest disadvantages, and the means of salvation neglected, tend to a punishment with aggravation. It is not only vain but pernicious to attend at the marriage-feast without a wedding garment, and it is our Saviour’s description of folly to cry, Lord, Lord, open unto us, while we are without oil in our lamps. We must acknowledge a necessity of holiness, when we confess that Church alone which is holy can make us happy.

Fourthly, there is a necessity of believing the Catholick Church, because except a man be of that he can be of none. For seeing the Church which is truly Catholick containeth within it all which are truly churches, whosoever is not of the Catholick Church, cannot be of the true Church. That Church alone which first began at Jerusalem on earth, will bring us to Jerusalem in heaven; and that alone began there which always embraceth the faith once delivered to the Saints. Whatsoever Church pretendeth to a new beginning, pretendeth at the same time to a new Churchdom, and whatsoever is so new is none. So necessary it is to believe the holy Catholick Church.

Having thus far explicated the first part of this article, I conceive every person sufficiently furnished with means of instruction, what they ought to intend, when they profess to believe the holy Catholick Church. For thereby everyone is understood to declare thus much: I am fully persuaded, and make a free confession of this, as of a necessary and infallible truth, that Christ by the preaching of the Apostles, did gather unto himself a Church consisting of thousands of believing persons, and numerous congregations, to which he daily added such as should be saved, and will successively and daily add unto the same unto the end of the world: so that by the virtue of his all-sufficient promise, I am assured that there was, hath been hitherto, and now is, and hereafter shall be so long as the sun and moon endure, a Church of Christ one and the same. This Church I believe in general holy in respect of the Author, end, institution, and administration of it; particularly in the members, here I acknowledge it really, and in the same hereafter perfectly, holy. I look upon this Church not like that of the Jews limited to one people, confined to one nation, but by the appointment and command of Christ, and by the efficacy of his assisting power, to be disseminated through all nations, to be extended to all places, to be propagated to all ages, to contain in it all truths necessary to be known, to exact absolute obedience from all men to the commands of Christ, and to furnish us with all graces necessary to make our persons acceptable, and our actions well-pleasing in the sight of God. And thus I believe the holy Catholick Church.

– John Pearson (1613-1686), An Exposition of the Creed, 4th edition (1676), p. 345-351

Ezekiel Hopkins (1634-1690) on union with Christ, double imputation, and justification

Ezekiel Hopkins

 

In a previous post we looked at a snippet from John Edwards of Cambridge (1637-1716) on the believer’s union with Christ as the foundation of double imputation. The same doctrine can be seen beautifully treated by another Reformed conforming churchman, Ezekiel Hopkins (1634-1690), Bishop of Derry in Ireland, in his posthumously published The Doctrine of the Two Covenants (1712, p. 52-53):

…Faith gives us a title to the righteousness of Christ, and makes it ours not only by the promise of God, but as it is the bond of union between Christ and the soul. By faith it is that we are made mystically one with Christ, living members in his body, fruitful branches of that heavenly and spiritual vine. We have the communication of the same name. So also is Christ, saith the Apostle (1 Cor. 12:12), speaking there of Christ mystical, both his Person and his Church. We have the same relations, I ascend to my Father and to your Father (John 20:17). We are made partakers of the same Spirit, for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his (Rom. 8:9), he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17). And finally, the very life that we live is said not to be ours, but Christ liveth in us, and that we live by the faith of the Son of God (Gal. 2:20). So that being thus one with Christ, his righteousness becomes our righteousness, even as our sins became his: and God deals with Christ and believers, as if they were one person. The sins of believers are charg’d upon Christ, as though they were his; and the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to believers as theirs: neither is God unjust either in the one, or the other imputation, because they are mystically one; and this mystical union is a sufficient ground for imputation. Yet from this union flows the participation only of the benefits of his mediatorship: for we are not hereby transubstantiated or deify’d, as some of late years have blasphemously conceited; neither the Godhead of Christ, nor his essential righteousness as God, nor his divine and infinite properties are made ours; but only the fruits and effects of his mediation: so that hereupon God graciously accounts of us as if we had done in our own persons, whatsoever Christ hath done for us, because by faith Christ and we are made one.

Later on he offers a further discussion of this doctrine, this time drawing on the biblical imagery of the marriage between Christ and believers (p. 186-188):

Faith makes the righteousness of Christ to be ours, as it is the bond of that mystical union that there is between Christ and the believing soul. If Christ and the believer be one, the righteousness of Christ may well be reckoned as the righteousness of the believer. Nay, mutual imputation flows from mystical union: the sins of believers are imputed to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ to them; and both justly, because being united each to [the] other by a mutual consent (which consent on our part is faith) God considers them but as one person. As it is in marriage, the husband stands liable to the wife’s debts, and the wife stands interested in her husband’s possessions, so it is here: faith is the marriage-band and tie between Christ and a believer; and therefore all the debts of a believer are chargeable upon Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is instated upon the believer: so that upon the account of this marriage-union he hath a legal right and title to the purchase made by it. Indeed this union is an high and inscrutable mystery, yet plain it is that there is such [a] close, spiritual, and real union between Christ and a believer. The Scripture often both expressly affirms it, He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17); and also lively illustrates it by several resemblances. It is likewise plain that the band of this union on the believer’s part is faith: consult Rom. 11:17 with 11:20. And therefore from the nearness of this union there follows a communication of interests and concerns: insomuch that the Church is called Christ (1 Cor. 12:12, so also is Christ), and their sufferings called the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24; Acts 9:4). So likewise from this mystical union the sins of believers are laid upon Christ, and his righteousness imputed unto them: see this as to both parts: He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21) and He hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come upon us (Gal. 3:13-14). It is still upon the account of this union that Christ was reckoned a sinner, and we are reckoned as righteous. And therefore as faith is the bond and tye of this union, so it is, without more difficulty, the way and means of our justification. By faith we are united unto Christ; by that union we have truly a righteousness; and upon that righteousness the justice of God, as well as his mercy, is engaged to justifie and acquit us.

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) on the relation between the believer’s union with Christ and perseverance

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The believer’s spiritual union with Christ is a doctrine distilling great comfort, and is key to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Richard Hooker (1554-1600) picks up on this in his A Discourse of Justification:

He that hath the Son, hath life, saith St. John, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life (1 Jn. 5:12). If therefore he which once hath the Son, may cease to have the Son, though it be for a moment, he ceaseth for that moment to have life. But the life of them which have the Son of God, is everlasting in the world to come (1 Jn. 5:13). But because as Christ being raised from the dead died no more, death hath no more power over him (Rom. 6:10, Cf. Hooker’s Sermon on the Perpetuity of Faith); so justified man being allied to God in Jesus Christ our Lord, doth as necessarily from that time forward always live, as Christ, by whom he hath life, liveth always (Jn. 14:19)…

For as long as that abideth in us, which animateth, quickeneth, and giveth life, so long we live, and we know that the cause of our faith abideth in us for ever. If Christ, the fountain of life, may flit and leave the habitation, where once he dwelleth, what shall become of his promise, I am with you to the world’s end? If the seed of God, which containeth Christ, may be first conceived and then cast out; how doth St. Peter term it immortal (1 Pet. 1:23? How doth St. Peter affirm it abideth (1 Jn. 3:9)? If the Spirit, which is given to cherish and preserve the seed of life, may be given and taken away, how is it the earnest of our inheritance until redemption (Eph. 1:14)? How doth it continue with us for ever (Jn. 14:14)? If therefore the man which is once just by faith, shall live by faith, and live for ever, it followeth, that he which once doth believe the foundation, must needs believe the foundation for ever. If he believe it for ever, how can he ever directly deny it? Faith holding the direct affirmation; the direct negation, so long as faith continueth, is excluded.

– Richard Hooker (1554-1600), The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine Mr. Richard Hooker (1793 edition), 3:462-463.

John Edwards (1637-1716) on justifying faith and personally applying Christ’s merits

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Reformed divines generally consider justifying faith to consist of three elements: knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). A person can have a bare theoretical knowledge of the truths of the Gospel (notitia), and cognitively agree with or assent to them as being true (assensus), both of which are necessary to justifying faith; but it is only when these are accompanied by a turning away from yourself to trust entirely in Christ and his merits alone for salvation (fiducia), i.e. personally applying his merits to yourself by faith, that faith becomes justifying faith. John Edwards (1637-1716) stresses the necessity of this personal application of Christ in his The Doctrin [sic] of Faith and Justification set in a True Light, p. 107-109:

We smile at the Athenian, who being shew’d a map of the world, presently look’d where his house stood, and when he could not find that there, he found fault with the map, as an imperfect representation of the world; for (as he thought) if it had been a complete one, it must needs have had in it his little dwelling at Athens. This, indeed, might argue silliness in the poor man; but apply this to religion, and the business of our souls, and the salvation of them, and then such kind of acting will not be folly, but exceeding great wisdom and prudence. The Holy Scriptures, but especially the Gospel, is the map which we Christians are presented with; it is continually before our eyes, and we are invited to survey the several parts and climates of it. Here is great salvation tendered to us; wherever we cast our eyes, there are manifest discoveries of the love of God in Christ, of his designs of mercy to lost souls, of his glorious purposes to save sinners. But the whole Gospel is no better than an unknown land, to the person that is not particularly interested in it; and therefore that which we are chiefly to mind, is whether we are comprehended in this map of life, and whether besides the general belief of the Gospel, we can particularly apply and appropriate Christ’s purposes of mercy to ourselves. This is the special and peculiar act of justifying faith, and therefore in this we should think ourselves most of all concerned. For as it is with food, physick [i.e. medicine] and apparel, if the first be not eaten, it cannot nourish us; if the second be not taken, it cannot cure us; and if the last be not put on and worn, it cannot warm us: so neither can the mercy of God in Christ be really advantageous to us, unless it be by some proper instrument applied and made use of. The great and precious promises, in which God’s mercies are contain’d and convey’d, are generally propounded to the righteous; but it is a true and operative faith which makes the particular and special application of them to ourselves.

This was represented of old in the Mosaic sacrifices for sin; they were first slain and offer’d, and then the blood of them was sprinkled. This was absolutely necessary, in order to the expiation of sin. Unless those that offer’d the sin-offering had the blood of it sprinkled upon them, they remain’d unpurified. Which occasion’d that of the Psalmist, Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, for the hyssop was made use of in sprinkling the blood. And we find that this sprinkling or application of the blood of the sacrifices is mention’d expressly by the sacred writers of the New Testament, and it is applied to the sufferings of Christ, to let us know, that the shedding of the blood of Christ on the cross will not avail us, except there be added this sprinkling of it upon us, this applying the virtue and merit of his sufferings. And this is done by faith: for by it all things that Christ hath done or suffer’d for us as a Mediator, are applied to us. Him God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, Rom. 3:25. Whence I gather, that it is faith that makes Christ’s undertakings effectual. God is not actually reconcil’d to us, till by faith we lay hold on Jesus. We are saved by his meritorious sufferings; but not unless they be applied and appropriated unto us by faith; namely, when every one of us can particularly say, from an inward sense and persuasion in his heart, and from a secret virtue and change which he feels there, “the Son of God hath loved me, and given himself for me, Christ was born for me, suffer’d and died for me, rose again for me, ascended into heaven, and there intercedeth for me; in a word, all his undertakings were for me and my everlasting benefit.”

Later on, on p. 209-210, he adds this beautiful bit:

…the act of faith whereby we apply the righteousness of Christ to our own souls in particular, cannot but convey an infinite joy to us: for see how it is in secular and worldly matters, if I can cast mine eye on a small parcel of land, and say with truth, that these few acres of ground are mine, that they belong to me as the right owner, this is far more grateful and pleasant to me, than if I should mount a hill, and take a view of a much larger tract of ground; nay, if I should come down, and have the liberty to ride or walk in it, to feed my eye, and almost lose it in surveying its vast extent, but then after all must say, this belongs to my neighbour, not a foot of these fair fields is mine. If it be thus in temporal and worldly things, it is much more in those that are spiritual. If I can only say, there are great and precious promises in the Gospel, there are vast privileges purchased by Christ’s undertakings, sinners may partake of all benefits and blessings by his blood; but if I cannot add, that I have an interest and propriety in them, I have no ground in rejoicing. What comfort is it to a man to be told, that the sun shines, when he is pent up in a dungeon, where he never sees the light, or feels the warmth of the sun? But if I can say, and say it truly and on good grounds, that I have a portion in those undertakings, I am particularly concerned in the death and merits of Christ, I have a share in the promises of the Gospel, I can, and do apply his meritorious righteousness to my soul, I rest on Christ, not only as a perfect Saviour, but as my Saviour; if I can say this, I have reason to rejoice and be exceeding glad.