Audio: Exposition of the Nine (Part 5): The Difference Between Works and Grace

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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13 comments

  1. If fallen man is only totally depraved and not inherently evil, the what is the difference between total depravity and the state of being evil?

    • Good question. The short answer is that we were created good. In the fall that goodness became corrupted but it is Manichaean to say that we are “inherently evil,” if by “inherently” one means “by virtue of our humanity.” What Reformed folk mean by “total depravity” is that all our faculties (mind, will, affections) are corrupted by sin. We don’t mean to say that humans are continually as wicked as they can be in civil life. Our depravity does mean that we’re incapable of spiritual good or of cooperating with grace. We are utterly dependent upon divine grace. This view, however, has been widely held in the Christian tradition and isn’t distinct to Reformed or Calvinist theology.

  2. 3 Questions:

    (1)What element(s) in the statement “humans [won’t be] continually as wicked as they can be in civil life” significantly differ from Rome’s misinformed view that man has retained some sort of prelapsarian, mental divinity?

    (2)Is the first question already answered affirmatively in your writing “Our depravity does mean that we’re incapable of spiritual good or of cooperating with grace.”?

    (3)If yes to the second question, then would Rome have it that even postlapsarian humans (Christian or not) are capable of spiritual good and cooperating with grace because of some wrongly-imagined, prelapsarian remnant of mental divinity, while Geneva and Dordrecht (possibly along with Wittenberg) strongly deny this, calling it out as mislabeling of civil good?

    • 1) Rome (with much of the medieval church) posits spiritual ability. Ability pave streets or paint frescos is not the same as ability to prepare oneself for grace.

      2) yes.

      3) Yes. All semi-Pelagians affirm the reality of sin but they downplay its consequences.

  3. My concern, i think (after reading this attentive framing of the matterial), is about how one is supposed to affirm the reality of sin and the wrath of God without straying into error–either Semi-Pelagian or Manichean. To naively confess “I am evil” seems better than making no confession at all. Or would this just be a sign of wrecklessness?

      • Phew! I was fearful that I had gnostically duped some members of my church in my making this style of confession.

  4. Prof. Clark,

    I was wondering if I could pick your brains a little. Yesterday I sat under some teaching where it was pointed out that the covenant YHWH made with Abraham was one of promise in Gen. 15 but which YHWH overlaid with the condition of obedience in Gen. 17. Hence circumcision becomes a condition of the covenant in v. 14.

    Any thoughts?

    • Richard,

      Well, there are differences between the covenants in Gen 12, 15, and 17 but there are “conditions” of sorts in the administration of the covenant of grace, but these have to be accounted for carefully so that they do not fundamentally undermine the gracious nature of the covenant of grace. It’s so easy to turn the covenant of grace back into a covenant of works.

      Surely Abraham was morally obligated to perform the sign. v. 10 calls circumcision “my covenant in your flesh.” The sign and the thing signified, as happens in sacramental language, are rhetorically identified.

      Paul, however, will not let us turn circumcision or baptism into a “work” or a “condition” that we must perform in order to receive the benefit. This is the burden of his argument in Rom 4. Abraham was justified BEFORE he was circumcised (and when he was still a gentile) because he was justified by faith resting in and receiving Christ and his promise alone. Circumcision, as baptism, is nothing more or less than a sign and seal of the promise that God made: I will be your God and your children’s God.

      In that sense the covenant of Gen 17 is no more or less “conditional” than the promise of Gen 15. The benefits are received, as Witsius said, through the instrument of faith. In Gen 17 we have a sign/seal of the promise and the moral necessity to administer the sign/seal of the promise, but the sign/seal doesn’t become the thing promised, nor does it confer ex opere the thing promised nor is the reception of the thing promised conditioned upon or actualized by the administration of the sign/seal. The sign/seal is a visual word and promise from God.

      We might loosely call circumcision a “condition” of the covenant of Gen 17 if, by that, we meant, “a stipulation” or “a consequent obligation upon those who’ve received the benefits freely promised and given.”

  5. I’m glad you appear, by recording both a new “Office Hours” and “Heidelcast, to be doing better. I really appreciate that you are explaining the history and connections between the FV/NPP because I’ve heard you and others make that statement but I’ve never clearly understood it.

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