Francis Turretin (1623-1687) on guilt, grace, and gratitude in the Old Testament ceremonial law

Francis Turretin

 

Those of you who are familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism will know that the Catechism explicitly adopts a threefold structure in its treatment of Christian doctrine, as laid out in Question 2:

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

These three things are often summarized as “guilt, grace, and gratitude”.

Now, how might the Old Testament ceremonial law have anything to do with the above? With the ceremonial law having been fulfilled and abolished in the work of Christ (Col. 2:14, 16; Dan. 9:27; Eph. 2:15-16), some may wonder whether it is still of any benefit to us when we read of it in the Old Testament. The Belgic Confession helps us in this regard:

Article 25: The Fulfillment of the Law

We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled.

Nevertheless, we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will.

The Confession states that “we continue to use the witness drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel…”. In this line, Francis Turretin (1623-1687) demonstrates how “guilt, grace, and gratitude” were exhibited in the Old Testament ceremonial law:

“With regard to the covenant of grace, there was a use of the law to show its necessity by a demonstration of sin and of human misery; of its truth and excellence by a shadowing forth of Christ and his offices and benefits; to seal his manifold grace in its figures and sacraments; to keep up the expectation and desire of him by that laborious worship and by the severity of its discipline to compel them to seek him; and to exhibit the righteousness and image of the spiritual worship required by him in that covenant. Undoubtedly three things are always to be specially inculcated upon man: (1) his misery; (2) God’s mercy; (3) the duty of gratitude: what he is by nature; what he has received by grace; and what he owes by obedience. These three things the ceremonial law set before the eyes of the Israelites, since ceremonies included especially these three relations. The first inasmuch as they were appendices of the law and the two others as sacraments of evangelical grace. (a) There were confessions of sins, of human misery and of guilt contracted by sin (Col. 2:14; Heb.10:1-3). (b) Symbols and shadows of God’s mercy and of the grace to be bestowed by Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:13, 14). (c) Images and pictures of duty and of the worship to be paid to God in testimony of a grateful mind (Rom. 12:1). Misery engendered in their minds humility; mercy, solace; and the duty of gratitude, sanctification. These three were expressly designated in the sacrifices. For as they were a “handwriting” on the part of God (Col. 2:14) representing the debt contracted by sin, so they were a shadow of the ransom (lytrou) to be paid by Christ (Col. 2:17, Heb. 10:5, 10) and pictures of the reasonable (latreias logikēs) and gospel worship to be given to God by believers (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5).”

– Francis Turretin (1623-1687), Institutes of Elenctic Theology, XI.24.9

Augustin Marlorat (1506-1562) on John 8:11, “Go, and sin no more”

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When the scribes and Pharisees had brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, he said to them in John 8:7,

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

I am sure you have seen people use these words of Christ, ripped out of their context, as an escape from reproof and accountability.  Of course, Christ was not speaking here against all forms of reproof and punishment, but rather was exposing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. As the Huguenot Augustin Marlorat (1506-1562) says on this text in his A Catholic and Ecclesiastical Exposition of the Gospel of John:

“This is not a precise and simple interdict and prohibition by which Christ forbiddeth sinners to do their office in correcting and punishing other mens offences, but he only reprehendeth hypocrites, who being too severe and cruel Judges of other men, do quietly passover their own sins. No mans sins therefore shall be a lette unto them, but that he may correct other mens faltes, and punish them also so often as nede shall require, so that he hateth as well in him self as in another, that thing which is to be condemned. Yea every man ought to beginne here, and to aske his conscience, and to be a witness and Judge against him self, before he come to other men.

And so it shall come to pass that we shall warre against sins withoute hatred against any man. In these words therefore due correction and the autority of the sword against offenders is not taken away; only the mallice of the Pharisees and Elders, is reproved, and restrained.”

Grace and forgiveness is not a license to continue in sin. After Christ had rebuked the scribes and Pharisees and they had left, he turned to the woman caught in adultery and said (John 8:10-11):

“Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” [emphasis added]

Marlorat comments:

“Notwithstanding least any man should think that the same free remission of sins, was a giving of liberty to sin, he [Christ] by and by addeth a restraint from sin. Hereby we gather what is the end of the grace of Christ: namely, that the sinner, being reconsiled to God, may worshippe and serve the aucthour of his salvation in innocensy and holiness of life.

For the Gospel remitteth sins, not because it is lawful to sin, but to the end we might repent and walke in neweness of life. For by the same word of GOD, when pardon is offered unto us, we are called to repentance.

They therefore which are receyved into the grace and favour of GOD, and whose sins are forgiven them must take heede that they take not unto them selves liberty: and being taken out of the handes of their enemies, let them see that they serve GOD their deliverer, in holiness and righteousness before him all the dayes of their life.

And in that, that Christ sayeth not, Gooe thy way, and committe no more Adultery, but, Go thy way and sin no more, we are taught how necessary, Innocency, Righteousness, and holiness, is to those that repent: in so muche that we should not only abstaine from sins, but also from all show of evel.”

In short, justification is to be followed by sanctification. The Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 32 summarizes this well:

Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?

Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.

Question 87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?

Answer: By no means; for the holy scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) on the necessity of teaching the Heidelberg Catechism in the church

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I love the Heidelberg Catechism. It has been very influential in my life, and its contents and personal character (together with Scripture, of course) has often provided me with great comfort and assurance, as well as offering me a platform for discernment. Yet, although I am a member of a denomination (the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa) which officially confesses the Three Forms of Unity (of which the Heidelberg Catechism is a part, together with the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort), I have often been dumbfounded by the apathy shown towards the Catechism by many (certainly not all) pastors and fellow theology students even in my own confessionally Reformed denomination. The Dutch Reformed Church has a very rich history and tradition to draw from, of which the Heidelberg Catechism stands out and has arguably been the most influential church document in Reformed Protestant churches through the ages. And yet inexplicably, to me at least, it doesn’t seem in our times to get the attention it deserves, much to the detriment of the church. If you’ve never read the Heidelberg Catechism, you may find and read it here. While I could give many reasons for the necessity of teaching the Heidelberg Catechism in Reformed churches (unless you’re Presbyterian and subscribing to the Westminster Standards), I’d rather let Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), the old German Reformed theologian and principal author of the Heidelberg Catechism, do the talking. Ursinus wrote this in the Special Prolegomena section of his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism:

IV. WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO INTRODUCE AND TEACH THE CATECHISM IN THE CHURCH?

This necessity may be urged,

1. Because it is the command of God: “Ye shall teach them to your children” etc. (Deut. 11. 19.)

2. Because of the divine glory which demands that God be not only rightly known and worshipped by those of adult age, but also by children, according as it is. said, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength.” (Ps. 8. 2.)

3. On account of our comfort and salvation; for without a true knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ, no one that has attained to years of discretion and understanding can be saved, or have any sure comfort that he is accepted in the sight of God. Hence it is said, “This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,” And again, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (John 17. 3, Heb. 11. 6.) And not only so, but no one believes on him of whom he knows nothing, or has not heard; for, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10. 14, 17.) It is necessary, therefore, for all those who will be saved, to lay hold of, and embrace the doctrine of Christ, which is the chief and fundamental doctrine of the gospel. But, in order that this may be done, there must be instructions imparted to this effect and of necessity, some brief and simple form of doctrine, suited and adapted to the young, and such as are unlearned.

4. For the preservation of society and the church. All past history proves that religion and the worship of God, the exercise and practice of piety, honesty, justice, and truth, are of the greatest importance to the well-being and perpetuation of the church and of the commonwealth. But it is in vain that we look for these things among barbarous nations, since they have never been known to produce the fruits of Piety and virtue. Hence, there is a necessity that we should be trained to the practice of these things from our earliest years; because the heart of man is depraved and evil from his youth; yea, such is the corruption of our nature, that unless we early commence the work of reformation and moral training, we too late apply a remedy when, through long delay, the evil principles and inclinations of the heart have become so strengthened and confirmed, as to bid defiance to the restraints we may then wish to impose upon them. If we are not correctly instructed in our childhood out of the sacred Scriptures concerning God and his will, and do not then commence the practice of piety, it is with great difficulty, if ever, we are drawn away from these errors which are, as it were, born in us, or which we have imbibed from, our youth, and that we are led to abandon the vices in which we have been brought up, and to which we have been accustomed. If, therefore, the church and state are to be preserved from degeneracy and final destruction, it is of the utmost importance that this depravity of our nature should, in due time, be met with proper restraints, and be subdued.

5. There is a necessity that all persons should be made acquainted with the rule and standard according to which we are to judge and decide, in relation to the various opinions and dogmas of men, that we may not be led into error, and be seduced thereby, according to the commandment which is given in relation to this subject, “Beware of false prophets.” “Prove all things.” “Try the spirits whether they are of God.” (Matt. 7. 15, 1 Thess. 5. 21, 1 John 4. l.) But the law and the Apostle’s creed, which are the chief parts of the catechism, constitute the rule and standard according to which we are to judge of the opinions of men, from which we may see the great importance of a familiar acquaintance with them.

6. Those who have properly studied and learned the Catechism, are generally better prepared to understand and appreciate the sermons which they hear from time to time, inasmuch as they can easily refer and reduce those things which they hear out of the word of God, to the different heads of the catechism to which they appropriately belong, whilst, on the other hand, those who have not enjoyed this preparatory training, hear sermons for the most part, with but little profit to themselves.

7. The importance of catechisation may be urged in view of its peculiar adaptedness to those learners who are of weak and uncultivated minds, who require instruction in a short, plain, and perspicuous manner, as we have it in the catechism, and would not, on account of their youth and weakness of capacity, be able to understand it, if presented in a lengthy and more difficult form.

8. It is also necessary, for the purpose of distinguishing and separating the youths, and such as are unlearned, from schismatics and profane heathen, which can most effectually be done by a judicious course of catechetical instruction.

Lastly. A knowledge of the catechism is especially important for those who are to act as teachers, because they ought to have a more intimate acquaintance with the doctrine of the church than others, as well on account of their calling, that they may one day be able to instruct others, as on account of the many facilities which they have for obtaining a knowledge of this doctrine, which it becomes them diligently to improve, that they may, like Timothy, become well acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, and “be good ministers of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith, and of a good doctrine, whereunto they have attained.” (1. Tim. 4, 6.)

The message of Christmas as summarized by the Gallic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism

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It is that time of the year when Christians around the world are commemorating the Incarnation of our Lord. For the past few years at Christmas time, I’ve always been drawn back to that great medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury‘s famous question: cur Deus homo? (why did God become a man?). French Reformed Protestants from the 16th century offered a succinct answer:

1559 GALLIC CONFESSION, ARTICLE XVI
We believe that God, in sending his Son, intended to show his love and inestimable goodness towards us, giving him up to die to accomplish all righteousness, and raising him from the dead to secure for us the heavenly life.

Together with this, the Heidelberg Catechism, in what is essentially a summary of the Christmas message (i.e. the reason for Christ’s Incarnation), states:

Question 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favour?

Answer: God will have his justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.

Question 13. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?

Answer: By no means; but on the contrary we daily increase our debt.

Question 14. Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?

Answer: None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man has committed; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.

Question 15. What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?

Answer: For one who is very man, and perfectly righteous; and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is also very God.

Question 16. Why must he be very man, and also perfectly righteous?

Answer: Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned, should likewise make satisfaction for sin; and one, who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others.

Question 17. Why must he in one person be also very God?

Answer: That he might, by the power of his Godhead sustain in his human nature, the burden of God’s wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life.

Question 18. Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?

Answer: Our Lord Jesus Christ: “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

Question 19. Whence knowest thou this?

Answer: From the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly, has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.

Bernardus Smytegelt (1665-1739) on baptism in light of Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 2

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Bernardus Smytegelt (1665-1739) was a Dutch Nadere Reformatie minister from Middelburg in the province of Zeeland. Smytegelt countered abuses of the sacrament of baptism in his time: Church members (both adults and covenant children) were often nonchalant and complacent regarding this sacrament, being self-assured and content with baptism alone, with little regard of their responsibility to respond to their baptism as members of the covenant by faith, repentance and obedience or gratitude. To counter this complacency, Smytegelt relates baptism to the three major topics of the Heidelberg Catechism, as shown below:

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A. 2

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?

Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

Smytegelt presents these three elements as requirements which the baptized must have experienced chronologically in order to be redeemed:

“Do you say, ‘We are baptized. How are we [spiritually] now?’ Baptism does not produce grace, neither does it certainly come joined with it. Go now into your heart. You and I are baptized, but have we gained something extra? Has God produced something in you? You will experience three things: First, you will see the impurity and ugliness of your heart during the growth of your life… Second, you must not hold that back from the Lord Jesus… The water cannot help you, the Lord Jesus must wash you in his blood. Have you gone to the second fountain, to the Spirit of God? Third, do you desire to live [faithfully to] your baptism?… Do you find these three signs? So truly is God then your God.”

– Bernardus Smytegelt (1665-1739), Des Christens eenige Troost (The Christian’s Only Comfort), p. 421

One finds in Smytegelt a view of external holiness which allows for a consistent relationship between the doctrine of covenant children and the necessary precedence of the knowledge of misery to the knowledge of redemption. The intention is to safeguard those who are baptized from complacency by placing a heavy emphasis on the relationship between infant baptism and conversion. Those who are baptized cannot be self-assured with baptism alone, but must examine themselves in light of Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 2, often succinctly expressed as “Sin, deliverance, gratitude”, in other words, “Have I come to know how great my sins and miseries are? Have I come to know how I may be delivered from these? And have I come to know how I shall express gratitude to God for such deliverance?”

Jeremias Bastingius (1551-1595) on faith as assurance

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Jeremias Bastingius (1551-1595) was a Dutch Reformed theologian best known for his exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism. Bastingius was trained by several prominent second-generation Reformers. He studied in Heidelberg under Zacharius Ursinus in 1573, where Petrus Dathenus was his roommate, and in Geneva under Theodore Beza in 1574, where he boarded with Lambert Daneau. He also received instruction from Caspar Olevianus and was graduated under Girolamo Zanchi as doctor in theology in Heidelberg (1575-1576). Below is his exposition of Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 21:

“Q21. What is true faith?

Answer:

It is not only a knowledge, by which I do steadfastly assent to all things which God has revealed unto us in his word, but also an assured affiance kindled in my heart by the Holy Ghost through the Gospel, by which I rest upon God, making sure account, that forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and life is bestowed, not only upon others, but also upon me, and that freely by the mercy of God, for the merit and desert of Christ alone.

Exposition.

We have declared that there is but one means of deliverance, to save us from so miserable destruction, the Mediator and Redeemer, by whose hand the heavenly Father according to his exceeding goodness and mercy having compassion on us, would succor us, if so be we be engrafted into Christ by true faith, and do apply all his benefits unto ourselves. Now we must consider what manner of faith this is, whereby men receive the possession of the Kingdom of Heaven, who are by nature condemned in Adam, for that not every opinion or persuasion is able to bring so great a matter to pass; and so much the rather, because the devil is so hot an enemy to the saving doctrine of faith: for because he was not able to hinder the decree of God touching the redemption of mankind, therefore he employs all this skill about this, how either to take away, or to corrupt, or to weaken this instrument whereby we apply the same unto ourselves, for he knows that which is written, ‘Whosoever believes not, upon him, abides the wrath of God,’ [John 3:16.].

The definition of true faith is here further expounded.
John, 6:69. John 17:3.

1. Therefore true faith is defined first to be a knowledge, which although it be common to it with the historical faith, yet true faith can neither be, nor continuing without it, according to the confession of Peter, ‘We also have believed and known, that thou art Christ that Son of the living God.’ He joins knowledge with faith, even as ignorance is the greatest enemy to wit.

2. Secondly, it is such a knowledge, whereby we do firmly and without all doubting assent unto all things which God (not the Church, or Councils have decreed of their own private motion), has revealed unto us in his word: for true faith has respect unto the word of God, and whatsoever is promised, commanded, or contained therein, does there unto most steadfastly agree, and refuse all things contrary unto it, that is, whatsoever without the word of God is framed and devised.

3. Thirdly, because this evidence, and certain assent to all the articles of faith makes no true faith (for such knowledge have also the wicked and the devils, generally to believe whatsoever is contained in the Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles [Jam. 2:19.]), therefore that is also added in the definition of faith, namely that true faith is not only a knowledge, but also an assured affiance of God’s favor and goodwill towards us, whereby all faithful men resting upon God, do first apply peculiarly unto themselves forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and life; and then by the Law of charity do deem and hope the like of other faithful men also members of the Church: which witness the Scripture called plerothoria, that is, a full persuasion: which the Apostle expresses in these words, ‘I know whom, I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him, against that day’: and ‘I live, not I now, but Christ lives in me’: and to the Romans: ‘For I am persuaded,’ &c. [Gal. 5:6; 1 Cor 13:7; 1 Thes. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:12; Gal. 2:20; Jam. 1:8; Rom. 8:38.].

The proper Companion of truth; Faith is Certain affiance

And that such an affiance is required to the perfection of true faith, the reasons following drawn out of the Scriptures do confirm. 1. Seeing it is certain that no man is saved by knowledge alone, and Christ pronounces that whosoever believes shall be saved, who sees not that true faith is not only the knowledge of the history, but that same special property? 2. ‘By the heart man believes to righteousness,’ (says Paul), ‘and by the mouth man makes confession to salvation,’ [Rom. 10:10.]: If faith be in the heart, then it is not only knowledge in the mind, but also affection of the heart, and consequently affiance or confidence: whereupon the same Apostle joins Confidence with Faith, when he speaks of Christ: ‘By whom we have boldness, and entrance with confidence by faith in him,’ [Eph. 3:12; Heb. 1:13; Joh. 8:56; Rom. 4:18-19.]. Even as the Holy Ghost also to the Hebrews defines, ‘Faith to be the substance of things hoped for,’ that is, an assured confidence of good things to come, such as Christ commends in Abraham and others.

Historical Faith.

And so at length by this proper difference is true faith discerned, first from historical faith, which is called, because it contains only the knowledge of the history, that is, of the Prophets and Apostles’ writings, and of those things which God has done, does, or will do, whereof James says, ‘The devils believe and tremble,’ [Jam. 2:12.].

Temporal faith.

Secondly, from temporal faith, when a man assents to the doctrine of God, and professes the same after a sort, and acknowledge it to be true, but does not earnestly apply the same to himself, for his own salvation: but because he seeks the glory and profit by it, therefore for a time he desires to be a follower of it among others, whereof Christ speaks in the parable in Matthew; which faith in this point excels, and goes beyond historical faith [Math. 13:20.], because they who are endued with it, receive the word of God with joy: whereas the devils having historical faith, had rather it were rooted out.

Faith of working Miracles.

Last of all from the faith of working miracles, whereof the Scripture in an other place makes mention: for many being without this faith to work miracles, had notwithstanding that true faith and were saved: again many having this faith, yet went without salvation, such as they who shall say in the last day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not by thy name cast out devils, and by thy name done many great miracles? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you, depart from me ye workers of iniquity,’ [Math. 7:20; 1 Cor. 13:2; Math. 7:22-23.].

Whereby it plainly appears, that although there be many and sundry sorts of faith to be found, which are all the excellent gifts of God, yet none of them is sufficient for man’s salvation, or can bring sound comfort to him, but only that true faith, which has this property several former from all other that are called by the name of faith, that it is not only a knowledge in the mind, but also a certain affiance of the heart in God’s goodness and good will toward us, whereto every faithful man trusting reposes himself God.

The causes of faith and fruits of the same.

Furthermore this true faith has two causes, the one efficient or principal, the other instrumental; the Principal efficient cause is the Holy Ghost, the instrumental cause is the preaching of the Gospel. That the Holy Ghost is the author of faith, S. Paul declares, when he calls him, the Spirit of faith, and again when he teaches that no man calls Jesus the Lord, but by Holy Ghost: so in the Acts he is said to have opened the heart ‘of Lidia, that she might believe the words of Paul.’ For so Isaiah foretold, as Christ expounds him: ‘And they shall be all taught of God,’ that is, inwardly taught and instructed by the Spirit [2 Cor. 4:13; Matth. 16:17; John 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:3; Acts 16:34; John 6:45; Eph. 2:7-9; Phil. 1:19.].

Of the preaching of the Gospel to be the instrumental cause of salvation, that of the Prophet is to be understood: ‘who has believed our report?’ bit more plainly speaks the Apostle: ‘Faith comes by hearing’: and ‘the Gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone that believes,’ [Isa. 53;1’ Rom. 10:7; Rom. 1:16.]: but so it has pleased God to use this instrument partly to apply to himself to our infirmity, partly to prove our obedience.

Why faith is called Justifying faith.

3. The effect effect and true fruit of faith is very excellent and full of comfort, namely forgiveness of sins, according to that saying, ‘Son be of good comfort, thy sins are forgiven thee’: wherein consists true and only blessedness, which because that true faith brings unto the Elect by laying hold of Christ, the author of righteousness and of life, hereupon for the most part it uses to be called justifying faith, in which sense that is to be understood, ‘The just shall live by faith,’ and ‘being justified by faith, we have peace towards God through Jesus Christ our Lord,’ [Rom. 1:17; & 5:2; Heb. 2:4; Heb. 10:38; Acts 16:31.].

An objection prevented.

And although the faithful are not yet in possession of everlasting life, yet they are no less sure of it, then if they had it already, because as they have already by faith laid hold upon it, looking unto God that has promised, and be now in part feel it in their hearts, so they hope for the full accomplishment of it in the last day. Whereupon the Apostle says, ‘By hope we are saved’.”

– Jeremias Bastingius (1551-1595), An Exposition or Commentary Vpon the Catechisme of Christian Religion, which is taught in the Schooles and Churches both of the Low Countries, and of the Dominions of the Countie Palatine, 72-77

Petrus Dathenus (1531-1588) on Law and Gospel

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The Pearl of Christian Comfort is a dialogue between Petrus Dathenus (1531-1588) and Lady Elizabeth de Grave.  It is based upon letters Dathenus wrote to Elizabeth in 1584 that were later collected and published in 1624.  Dathenus is more mature in the Christian faith and in this dialogue graciously explains to Elizabeth how to rightly distinguish between law and gospel and to find comfort in the work of Christ.  Those familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism will find many echoes of it throughout this wonderful little book. Below are a few extracts from this wonderful book.

To set the context, Elizabeth confesses faith in Christ but finds herself with heaviness of heart due to her failures. “First of all, I feel that I am one of those who knows Gods will but does not do it (Luke 12:47). Therefore I can only expect to be afflicted with many stripes. After all, the Bible says plainly that all those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law; for not those who hear the law but those who do the law will be justified (Rom. 2:12-13).” (p. 5)

Dathenus on the Law:

“The law is a declaration of the unchangeable will of God. By the threat of eternal damnation it binds everyone to complete and perpetual obedience, to fulfill all that God has commanded in His commandments (Deut. 5:6; 27:26). Wherever either the Old or New Testament teaches that this perfect obedience is required of us, there the law is emphasized and taught (James 2:10; Gal. 3:12)… All precepts that admonish us and exhort us to perform all that we owe to God and to our neighbor are law. For example, the entire fifth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus says to us, ‘But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause;…whosoever shall say, Thou fool’ (Mat. 5:22); ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust’ (Mat. 5:28); and all similar statements they are all the law, which demands of us that which we are not able to keep and requires what we are not able to perform. Just to cite another example, where Jesus says, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.’ (Mat. 19:17). There He speaks of and prods us with the law; also wherever He requires something similar of us. So also for various reasons Paul, Peter, John, and other apostles have done, in their writings and exhortations.” (p. 8)

While it may seem unfair that the law commands perfect obedience, Dathenus in his counsel wisely directs Elizabeth to consider Adam, being created upright in the Garden.  He writes, “The law had its beginning when God created Adam in His image and implanted His law in Adam’s heart. The law of God was there then, as the image of God in which Adam was created, made as Paul says, in true righteousness and holiness.”  Elizabeth acknowledges “…Adam was created to rightly know and love his Creator, to obey Him and to do good to his neighbor in love.” Both here are echoing Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 6:

Question 6. Did God create man thus, wicked and perverse?

Answer: No, but God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.

Dathenus then draws out the distinction between Adam’s moral ability prior to the fall and our inability in our post fall condition to obey God perfectly as he has commanded.

“God not only gave Adam His law but also the ability and liberty to completely fulfill the law. For Adam, as he was created, was wise, pure, and immortal. Once Adam had fallen from innocence, he became a servant and slave of sin and of the devil. Adam stood before the choice of life and death, and by the exercise of his own free will, he chose death. By this fall Adam not only brought death to himself, but also to all his descendants.” (p. 10)

When Elizabeth questions the justice of God, Dathenus writes, “Notice that in creating humanity, God gave humans the freedom and ability to keep His law perfectly. How can it be unjust of God to require back from us what He has once granted us?” (p. 12)

Once Dathenus has laid the initial groundwork of the law, the discussion ensues regarding the Gospel.

Dathenus on the Gospel:

“The Greek word for gospel denotes joyful good news which causes people to speak and sing joyfully and be glad in heart, just like the good news that came to Israel that David had triumphed over the arrogant Goliath and slain him (1 Sam. 18:6).

Such also is the good news of the gospel that proclaims to us and tells us that God will be gracious to a poor sinner, and will forgive and forget our sins (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12). Yes, for Christ’s sake (1 Tim. 1:15) God will regard us as holy and righteous (2 Cor. 5:21), out of pure grace, by faith alone, without adding any works (1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 3:28).” (p. 17)