Results tagged “covenant of grace” from Reformation21 Blog

Turretin's treasure

About fifteen 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-volume Institutes 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. As we approach the anniversary of Turretin's death (September 28, 1687), 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.

Results tagged “covenant of grace” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 8.6,7,8

VI. Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent's head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.

VII. Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.

VIII. To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by His word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.

The final sections of chapter eight continue in their summary of Scripture's teaching on Christ as mediator, particularly in relation to the application of redemption to His people. In section six we confess that while Christ's work of redemption was not actually done until after his incarnation, "the virtue, efficacy, and benefits" of it were "communicated to the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world." Adam, Eve, and Abel were saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, just as Noah was, and Abraham, Moses, David, Ezra, the apostles--all believers through church history to the present. Our confession here is of the unity of God's covenant of grace, through its old and new testament administrations. Christ was revealed in the Old Testament era, and his virtue, efficacy, and benefits communicated to the elect "in and by those promises, types, sacrifices" in which "he was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman" who would "bruise the serpent's head... the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world... the same yesterday, today and forever." (Gen. 3:15, Rev. 13:8, Heb. 13:8) 

Christ's work of mediation involves his whole person--we confess that he "acts according to both natures." The Westminster divines judiciously summarized Scripture's teaching and advised a careful hermeneutic regarding the revelation of the person of Christ, his natures, and his work. All of this was in response to Roman Catholics who argued that Christ is mediator only as man. 

The chapter concludes by turning to the application of redemption. That is, the divines are summarizing the Bible's teaching on redemption in relation to the individual believer. Christ saves all those for whom he "has purchased redemption." Not one will be lost. He certainly and effectually applies and communicates his purchased redemption to each one. He makes intercession for them. He reveals to them in and by the Word the mysteries of salvation, and effectually persuades them to believe and obey. He governs their hearts by his Word and Spirit--overcoming all his and our enemies--in exactly the ways that are best. 

The reality that it is God's sovereign grace towards those he has chosen does not negate the sincere and free offer of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all; nor does it negate his complete sufficiency to save any. Rather, our confession of Scripture is that while he proclaims "Come, everyone who thirsts... listen diligently to me... come to me, hear, that your soul may live" (Isaiah 55:1-3), all by nature willfully reject His gracious call--unless by the Spirit he regenerates and transforms our hard hearts and minds. This is a truth both profoundly humbling, in revealing our utterly fallen natural condition, and profoundly comforting. Our responsibility is to come, to run to him as he welcomes us to do! As we run to him, we look back and see it is the Father who has given us to the Son--the Son who is our Mediator--and the Holy Spirit is working in us to will and to do his good pleasure. Realizing this Triune love, what can we do but sing in worship and adoration? "What shall separate us from the love of Christ? ... nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:35, 39).

Dr William VanDoodewaard is Associate Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Visiting Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.