Results tagged “Turretin” from Reformation21 Blog

Turretin's Treasure

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Many years ago, at one of the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society, Allan Fisher gave me (a poor doctoral student at the time) one of the best gifts that an aspiring student of theology could ever receive: a copy of Francis Turretin's three-volumeInstitutes of Elenctic Theology. Though Turretin's name is well-known in Reformed theology, Turretin having earned a reputation for his many years of faithful service as professor of theology at the Academy of Geneva, his Institutes of Elenctic Theology is not well-read today. This is partly due to the fact that, upon its publication, Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology replaced Turretin's Institutes as the theological textbook of choice at Princeton Seminary, thus narrowing Turretin's history of reception in North America. Perhaps more significantly, lack of readerly attention to Turretin's Institutes is also due to the fact that this massive work represents a theological genre and sensibility (i.e., Reformed  "scholasticism") that has become increasingly foreign to us over the past century or so. This neglect of Turretin's Institutes is, in my judgment, to our theological impoverishment. 

Turretin's Institutes is an interesting work. By Turretin's own admission, it does not intend to offer "a full and accurate system of theology." As the title indicates, the Institutes is an exercise in "elenctics." As such, it engages some of the principal heads of controversy that lie between Reformed theology and its rivals (both ancient and modern) in order to refute error and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. The design of the Institutes explains the polemical edge that characterizes its (quite thorough) treatment of various disputed questions in theology. For all its polemical intent, Turretin's work is nevertheless an example of Reformed theology at its finest: rooted in sound exegesis, a model of conceptual clarity, and rich in pastoral wisdom. For those willing to familiarize themselves with the canons and genres of scholastic debate, and willing to spend some time learning the history of theology that Turretin often presupposes, the Institutes of Elenctic Theology repays careful study.

Turretin's discussion of the covenant of grace, a topic which he expounds over the course of twelve questions (roughly twelve chapters), provides a particularly good example of what readers may expect to find in his Institutes. Therein, the professor of Geneva discusses the various biblical terms for covenant, both Hebrew and Greek, along with their Latin equivalents.  He also addresses knotty issues such as whether or not the covenant of grace is a "conditional" covenant (and, by the way, his treatment of this issue is much more sophisticated than many contemporary discussions), whether and how the old and new covenants differ, the difference between "accepting" and "keeping" the covenant, and how Christ mediated grace to the patriarchs under the Old Testament. 

In addressing these and other issues of great systematic theological importance, Turretin does not neglect to comment upon their spiritual import. In what is perhaps my favorite section of the Institutes, Turretin discusses the various blessings that God grants us in the covenant of grace. Principal among these blessings, according to Turretin, God "gives himself to us that ever after he may be ours as much essentially . . . (as to his nature and attributes) as hypostatically . . . (as to the persons and personal operations)."

What does it mean for God to give himself to us "essentially"? According to Turretin:

God so gives himself to us as to be ours as to all the attributes (conducing to our advantage and salvation). They are well said to be ours by fruition and use because their salutary effects flow unto us. Ours is the wisdom of God for direction; the power of God for protection; the mercy of God for the remission of sins; the grace of God for sanctification and consolation; the justice of God for the punishment of enemies; the faithfulness of God for the execution of promises; the sufficiency of God for the communication of all manner of happiness. And as sin brought innumerable evils upon us, we find a remedy for all in the divine properties: wisdom heals our ignorance and blindness, grace our guilt, power our weakness, mercy our misery, goodness our wickedness, justice our iniquity, the sufficiency and fulness of God our poverty and indigence, fidelity our inconstancy and fickleness, holiness our impurity and life our death.

And how does God give himself to us "hypostatically" or "personally"? Turretin explains:

God is ours personally, inasmuch as the individual persons are ours and give themselves to us for accomplishing the work of redemption: the Father electing, the Son redeeming, the Holy Spirit sanctifying. He becomes our Father by adoption when he receives us into his own family and regards, cherishes and loves us as sons (1 Jn. 3:1). The Son becomes ours by suretyship when he offers himself as the surety to make satisfaction for us and as the head, to rule over and quicken us. He becomes ours as a Prophet, revealing salvation by the light of his doctrine; our Priest, who purchases it by his merit; and our King, who applies it (when acquired) by the efficacy of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit becomes ours when he is sent to us and gives himself to us as sanctifier and consoler that he may dwell in us as his temples and enrich us with his blessings, light, strength, joy, liberty, holiness and happiness. Thus our communion is with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 1:3; 2 Cor. 13:14). Hence, baptism, which is a seal of the covenant, is administered in their name so that we may be consecrated as sons of God, the Father, as members of the Son and as temples of the Holy Spirit and enjoy the blessings flowing from each person--the mercy of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.

As these passages indicate, in spite of Turretin's polemical design, the Institutes of Elenctic Theology cannot avoid being a work of penetrating theological insight and profound pastoral comfort, drawing as deeply as it does from the wells of Holy Scripture. It might be worth foregoing a couple of months of cable to obtain this treasure trove of Reformed theology. If that is not possible, then perhaps you will stumble upon an exceptionally generous Christian book editor.

Postscript: For those interested in exploring Turretin's covenant theology, I recommend Professor Mark Beach's excellent book, Christ and the Covenant: Francis Turretin's Federal Theology as a Defense of the Doctrine of Grace.

*This post is an adapted version of a post that first appeared at Ref21 in September of 2014.

Shamelessly stealing Aaron's "Calvin contra . . ." title form while trying to slip into Mark's stream of interest in merit, I thought this might be a good time to indulge a little excursion in Reformed diversity by noting Calvin's peculiar position on the source of Christ's merit.

At least since Anselm the merit of Christ's satisfaction on our behalf has been linked to the infinite worth of the divine person accomplishing that work. As the eleventh century closed, the good Archbishop of Canterbury, while in exile, famously asked Why the God-man (Cur Deus Homo)? To answer, he argued that only God could satisfy what humanity owed, and strongly suggested a line of argument later elaborated by Thomas Aquinas (among others), who grounded the merit of Christ in the person of the Son. The idea is probably familiar to most readers: the great worth of Christ's work comes from the fact that he is the infinitely worthy Son of God who freely assumed a fully human nature in order to accomplish our redemption.

Obviously, significant differences exist between Medieval and later Reformed thinkers on the merit of Christ. Yet, on the source of Christ's merit, the bulk of the Reformed tradition, it seems, follows Thomas. Richard Muller makes this very point in his entry on meritum Christi in his Dictionary:

The argument most often found among the Protestant scholastics, both Lutheran and Reformed, received its clearest medieval formulation in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. The source of the meritum Christi is the persona Christi who performs the work of satisfaction. . . . Since the person is the divine Word, the infinite Second Person of the Trinity, the work performed by that person, even though accomplished through the instrumentality of his human nature, must be infinite.

This is exactly the argument we find in that titan of continental Reformed scholastics, Francis Turretin. Maintaining that the perfection of Christ's satisfaction excludes any possibility of a human contribution in this life or need for purgatory in the next (contra "the Romanists"), he contends that "the perfection of this satisfaction" is due,

First, [to] the dignity of the person satisfying; this was not only holy and most pure, but also truly divine. . . . We cannot doubt that this satisfaction which he has made is one of infinite value and efficacy and therefore of such fulness and all-sufficiency that nothing can be added to it. For although his human nature (which was the instrument in the obedience and sufferings) was finite, yet the satisfaction itself does not cease to be infinite (relative to the person, which is here the efficient cause and to which they ought to be attributed) (Elenctic Theology, Q14.12.7).

Here, Turretin follows Thomas, reasoning that the infinite merit of Christ's satisfaction is due to the divine person who rendered that satisfaction on our behalf.

Calvin, however, develops a different line--one that makes no appeal to the infinite worth of the divine person but looks instead to the decretive will of God. We find this in his discussion of how we can correctly say that Christ has merited grace and salvation for us. Here he argues that,

When we treat of the merit of Christ, we do not place the beginning in him, but we ascend to the ordination of God as the primary cause, because of his mere good pleasure he appointed a Mediator to purchase salvation for us (Institutes, 2.17.1).

Instead of an appeal to the divine person of the Word incarnate who was that mediator, Calvin appeals to the arrangement decreed by God out "of his mere good pleasure." The argument is important to Calvin, in context, because it demonstrates, he believes, that the merit of Christ is not opposed to the mercy of God. On the contrary, it was God's mercy to appoint a mediator and arrange the state of affairs by which that mediator could merit salvation for us. In this way, he argues, the merit of Christ is always "in subordination to" the "mere mercy of God" (2.17.1).

Calvin goes so far as to argue that "Christ could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God," meaning that "the merit of Christ depends entirely on the grace of God (which provided this mode of salvation for us)" (2.17.1).

Curiously, Calvin's argument has a decidedly Scotist ring to it. In typical Duns-ian fashion, the Scot developed a voluntaristic alternative to Thomas's appeal to the divine person, arguing that since Christ's work was accomplished by the Son as a man it necessarily has a finite value. As such, the sufficiency of Christ's work--its infinite merit--is grounded in God's counterfactual acceptance of his work as a full satisfaction for sin.

That, to be clear, is not Calvin's argument. Although both Scotus and Calvin agree that the will of God is the source of Christ's merit, Calvin argues that Christ's work has infinite merit on the basis of God's decree. The difference may seem subtle but is significant: Scotus's argument from the divine will to accept Christ's work as counterfactually sufficient is later developed by Hugo Grotius into his moral governmental theory of the atonement. Calvin's view precludes such development just as completely as Thomas's before him or Turretin's after him, but on a surprisingly different premise.