Are God’s Demands Always Gracious? (Updated)

David RobertsonDavid Robertson is pastor in the Free Church of Scotland. He has a blog and recently he reviewed Tullian Tchividjian’s latest book, One Way Love. There has been some back and forth and most recently Robertson has written an Open Letter. In his response he says some things that deserve a response.

Summary of Some of Robertson’s Concerns

In response to the claim that grace does not “make demands, it just gives” (his summary), he responds that grace does make demands. When our Lord said “take up your cross,” that was a demand. Further, he adds, “all Gods demands are gracious and grace.” He argues that Jesus is “full of grace and truth–and I don’t regard him as having a split personality. Is there any word or action of Christ which is not grace?” He alleges that Tullian redefines grace “to such an extent that it just does not fit the scriptural use.” He complains that Tullian is guilty of setting up a false (which he puts in scare quotes for reasons not clear to me) dichotomy analogous to the false dichotomy between the love of God and the justice of God. He sees Tullian divorcing grace from God. He suspects that preaching in the States must be more than just moralistic therapeutic deism and legalism. He doesn’t seem entirely confident about the validity of the hermeneutical distinction between law and gospel.

It also all depends on what you mean by law, and gospel. Did Jesus fail to distinguish between law and gospel when he said; if you love me you will keep my commands? Was the Sermon on the Mount, law or gospel? Was it helpful tips for practical living or a set of social and moral demands we must live out? I am not really sure that this hard and fast distinction between law and gospel actually works, because I am not sure it is absolutely biblical.

As we read on, it becomes clear that he’s not just unsure about the distinction. He doesn’t like it. “There is no doubt that the term law is used in different ways in the Bible, but in the sense of the just and fair expression of the character of God, I think that this is as much part of the Good News as anything.”

He argues that grace “demands that those who are saved live a holy life (2 Timothy 1:9) that it “makes the most incredible demands on me because Christ who is grace makes those demands–I am to repent, take up my cross and follow him. I am to be prepared to lose my life for his sake.”

It’s a more than 4,000 word piece that raises a large number of issues that I cannot address here but there are a couple of fundamental issues that deserve a response. First, let me be very clear that Robertson’s first problem is that he does not clearly distinguish between the two uses of conditions in Reformed covenant theology. There is an important sense in which Reformed theology teaches an unconditional covenant of grace and a conditional covenant of grace. Let me explain.

The Covenant of Grace Is Unconditional

In the first sense, the covenant of grace must be said to be unconditional. Grace is free. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 11:6, when he contrasts two principles, grace and works. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (ESV). He had already established a clear distinction between wages and gifts. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (Rom 4:4 ESV). In 6:23 he makes the contrast perfectly clear: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23, ESV). Wages are one thing, a gift is something else. Salvation is a gift. Eternal life is a gift. Righteousness with God is a gift. Gifts are unconditional. Gifts are graces. We do not receive acceptance with God because we’re good or because we have performed satisfactorily. It is a gift, it is a grace, it is free because Christ has performed for us. That is why the gift can only be received through faith, the only adequate and divinely approved instrument for benefitting from Christ’s obedience.

There Are Conditions In the Covenant of Grace

We use the word condition in another sense, however, and sometimes fork are not always clear about the distinction between antecedent conditions and consequent conditions. There are no conditions in order to receive Christ’s benefits. Sometimes faith has been said to be condition but, as Herman Witsius said near the end of the 17th century, when we call faith a condition, we’re using the word improperly. It is, as I indicated above, an instrument rather than a condition. There are, however, conditions for those in the covenant of grace. To be clear, these conditions are not in order to remain in the covenant of grace. That is the sort of covenant nomism that one finds in Rome, Arminianism, the New Perspective(s) on Paul, and the self-described Federal Vision Movement. No, these are the conditions that exist for those because they have received a gift. The conditions that apply to those are in the covenant of grace are those consequent conditions.

Let’s say that I damaged the neighbor’s car, a Bentley. He would be well within his rights to force me to repair the car but he doesn’t. Instead, he not only repairs the car at his own expense but then lavishes upon me, the car wrecker, a brand new Bentley of my own. That is grace. It is utterly undeserved. I only deserve judgment but in place of judgement I’m given a remarkable gift. How should I respond to this gift? That is the question the believer asks. There is, upon believers, a logical, moral obligation to respond to grace appropriately. That is a consequent obligation, condition, or stipulation. Once more, it’s not a legal obligation but it is a real obligation. This is how we understand our Lord’s call to take up our cross, not in order to receive but because we have already received. Unfortunately, Robertson’s response is fuzzy on this distinction.

Here are two recent episodes of the Heidelcast on this topic. Part 1 and part 2.

Law And Gospel

Finally, Robertson’s post reflects the strange intransigence of too many in the Reformed world when it comes to law and gospel. Like too many others he treats the distinction as some sort of hermeneutical novelty, some strange intrusion into Reformed theology from the outside. Robertson may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the distinction but our classical theologians weren’t. For Theodore Beza, making this distinction was essential to interpreting God’s Word. According to William Perkins, we cannot preach God’s Word without first reckoning with this fundamental hermeneutical question.

What Robertson misunderstands is that the law/gospel hermeneutic is not a set of conclusions. It is a question that begins with the recognition that God speaks to sinners in distinct ways in his Word. “Do this and live” is not the same sort of speech as “It is finished.” To sinners, the demand for absolute (not relative) righteousness is not good news because, after the fall, we cannot perform it. The law is good, holy, and just. We, however, are not. The good news announces God’s gracious salvation of sinners. In the history of redemption, before Christ was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, the promises were clothed in types and shadows. They looked forward to fulfillment. After the incarnation, the good news announced the arrival of salvation. The demand to fulfill the law and the announcement that the law has been fulfilled and that salvation is freely given to all who believe —that even the faith that receives the gift is itself a gift—is good news. In Pauline terms, as we saw above, the law demands works. Grace receives a gift. These are distinct categories. The Reformation re-learned that distinction in the early 16th century and through it the Western church was delivered from bondage.

It may seem pious to say that all of God’s Word is grace but it’s not particularly pious because when we do that, as evident even in Robertson’s post, we tend to turn the good news into bad news. Yes, for those of us who are under grace, the law is a gift. It guides, it norms, and by God’s grace we do learn to love the law but it never becomes gospel. It always remains law. Even in its guiding and norming use it still shows us our sins and our need for a Savior. Thus, we confess in Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 115:

115. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?

First, that as long as we live we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ; secondly, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.

The law doesn’t become gospel, even under the covenant of grace but now that the curse has been extinguished, the record of debt has been nailed to the cross (Col 2:14) we are free, by grace, to see ourselves honestly before the law (because our standing before God is not at stake), confess our sins, to turn from them, to die to self, and to seek to live to Christ, in union with Christ, by the power of the Spirit.


As I noted some years ago in my essay on this topic in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, in his response to antinomianism/easy believism, Earnest Kevan wrote of the Grace of  Law. There are truths therein but there are also crucial omissions. One of his omissions was the law/gospel distinction, which English Reformed (Puritan) writers such as Perkins, Ames, and Twisse thought to be essential. The modern sanctification controversy is difficult and challenging but it does not help the discussion to pitch into the rubbish bin basic Reformed distinctions as we seek to encourage one another to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. Losing these distinctions has impoverished our dialogue and contributed to unnecessary confusion on essential issues. If we distinguish between the different sense of condition and between law and gospel, we will be headed on the right track. If we ignore these distinctions, then the darkness of the medieval church awaits.

UPDATE: Resource post on sanctification and the third use of the law

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  1. Scott, thanks for this. Just a couple of things. I largely agree with what you are saying above and of course I accept the distinction between law and gospel. Unfortunately your post gives the impression I do not and it does not really interact with what I actually say. My concern was with the way that ‘grace’ is being used and used in a way which makes it contrary to law and even apart from God. So for example I mention Steve Browns assertion that the God of this church is not an angry God. Perhaps it might be better if people actually read the blog.

    I not only accept, but contrary to what you say, like, the traditional and biblical distinction between law and gospel. And I have no desire to ditch the traditional reformed views. I have read Beza, Calvin, Perkins and many others. My question is about whether the current fashion for grace-lit in American evangelicalism is really holding to that, or instead adapting it to suit the current cultural situation. I question statements like ‘grace makes no demands’ and ‘Gods one way love has nothing to do with the beloved’! I did not say that the law becomes gospel – I said that grace cannot be separated from Jesus Christ in such a way that it only becomes part of his job! I fully accept that the law is a school master that leads us to Christ and cannot save us, and that having been saved we are not ‘under law’. One area of disagreement – I don’t agree that believing all of Gods word is grace is pious or that it turns the Gospel into bad news. Every word of Scripture is grace – it comes from a gracious God, it is a revelation of Gods grace and even when it tells us bad news, it does so in order to reveal Gods grace to us. It is the word of Gods grace to us. I don’t think believing that returns us to medieval catholicism! So on that point I think I will accept we disagree.

    I think that you have misrepresented my position (as you have my role – I am not a minister of the Free Presbyterian Church!). But other than that (or because of that) I don’t really disagree with what you are saying. You are arguing against what I am not saying.

    I very much appreciate your work,


  2. However on more reflection I should perhaps blame myself more than you! It was after all myself who spoke of not accepting the hard and fast distinction between law and gospel and therefore I can see how you came to the conclusion you did! That is my fault for not expressing myself clearly – there is a distinction between law and gospel – but you it does depend in what sense you are using the word ‘law’ and I think that I would still say it is not hard and fast in that there is also intermingling and interaction. The Good News is that Christ fulfills the law for us. Every jot and tittle.

    • David,

      Thanks for the reply.

      Your post does indeed give the impression that you find the distinction between law and gospel to be a little weird, a little alien. I understand that. I get that a lot in the States. I know enough about the history of the Scottish churches to know that there have been those in the past and the not-too-distant past who also thought the distinction was flatly wrong. That’s why there was a Marrow controversy and why there remain folk in the UK who ignore or reject it.

      Your passage, which I quoted at length, (“it all depends on…”) reflects the sort of skepticism I get from moralists here, who think that the law/gospel distinction is artificial and not really a biblical category. So, there was more in your post than just the one sentence, there was an animus that I was addressing.

      We can disagree in particulars about how to interpret various texts but what we Protestants can’t do is to rubbish the distinction. As to the sense in which we’re using “law,” aren’t Beza, Perkins, et al clear enough on this? These are hermeneutical categories. They are ways of speaking, not just sections of scripture (e.g., the Pentateuch) or times in redemptive history (e.g., the typological Scriptures). There is much more law in Scripture than the 613 mitzvoth. There’s no need to set biblical theology over against the law/gospel hermeneutic. Our covenant theologians, e.g., Rutherford, Witsius et seq did not. Jesus was indeed a law preacher—and quite deliberately so! He was also a gospel preacher. What we need to know, and what you seem to doubt that we can know, is when he was doing the one and when he was doing the other. If we fail even to try, then we turn Scripture once again into “old law” and “new law” as the church did for a very long time. Remember, Barnabas and Justin et al began speaking of “old law” and “new law” in order to thwart the dualists and Gnostics. They meant well—they intended to express the fundamental unity of God and of salvation and of revelation—but their way of speaking cost us a great deal. It led to obscuring the gospel for nearly a millennium. Luther’s recovery of this distinction was fundamental to everything Knox and Calvin did. Robert Rollock was a great proponent of this distinction in his covenant theology. There’s nothing alien about it to any of our churches whether in the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Germany, or France. We’re all heirs of this distinction.

      As to not addressing everything you wrote, well, you wrote a great deal didn’t you! I had to write nearly 2,000 words just to address the little bit that I did address. I can only do what I can do.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for writing about this, and I hope you continue. I have noticed disagreement going on over this for the past year , but I have recently become even more aware of it. I was somewhat shocked when Carl Trueman indirectly referred to some Presbyterians as antinomians; in his criticism, he didn’t name Tullian, but it’s obvious who he had in mind. I can’t defend or attack Tullian because I don’t follow him, but I know you have said good things about him.

    To be honest, I am surprised Presbyterians are arguing over whether grace makes demands. This all seems associated with what Michael Horton beautifully states about what the Gospel is and what it is not.

    I also came across a defensive post Mr. Roberson has for Tim Keller. I can’t interact with everything he wrote (I don’t follow Keller or hold him in high regard based on things I know of the man), but here is an excerpt that reminds me of the defense some give me of heretical Pentecostals (the defense is not substantive):
    I am sorry if I have come across as frustrated and saddened in this essay. That’s because I am. When yours truly and Schweitzer have preached the gospel as effectively as Keller; when we write books that we would willingly give into the hands of those who are bound for hell, then, and only then, will we have earned the right to offer a constructive critique of Keller’s writings. Meanwhile it would be better to stop wasting time on attacking others people’s proclamation of the Gospel and putting people off one of the most effective communicators of Gods Word, and instead get on with what God has called us to – getting the Good news out to the millions in England and Scotland who have never heard. Campaigning against one of the most effective and faithful evangelists today is not proclaiming the Good news of Jesus Christ. On the other hand the people we are responsible for would benefit greatly from reading Keller’s works. It would help them in their own souls and understanding, and would equip them better for communicating the Gospel in today’s age. Keller’s writings are being used to turn many away from hell. Can we say the same about what we are doing?

    • Alberto,


      Have you read the new volume interacting respectfully with TK? The record is not unblemished. I still remember him inviting NTW to speak under the auspices of his church. As I keep saying about the leader of the FV movement, who seems to have been embraced by The Gospel Coalition, it seems to me that one has to get the Gospel right to be a part of the Coalition, right? Or, is it more about coalition and less about gospel? One cannot have the leader of the FV movement and NTW in any coalition that is about the gospel. There are limits.

      Here are the links:

      • I am very disappointed at your reply. You attack a position I do not hold (that there is no distinction between law and gospel) and ignore the major issues I raise in the blog. That Gods love is just one way love, that Gods love does not involve the beloved, that grace is spoken of as though it is divorced from Gods electing love, that it is spoken of as a ‘job’, that grace makes no demands, and that it is crafted to fit current US culture – and that this kind of teaching about grace leads to the kind of teaching espoused by Steve Brown. I list ten concerns of which you address only part of one (and spend 2000 words attacking a position I do not hold). It is a very sloppy reply.

        I am also concerned that you referenced a book about Tim Keller and cited it as ‘interacting respectfully’ and yet you did not even know that the co-editor and author of the two articles was Bill Schweitzer (which is a slightly bigger error than calling me a Free Presbyterian!), which indicates that you have not read it. I wrote an extensive review of this as well –

        The book was not respectful at all – it was a hatchet job, designed for the American market and deeply troubling. The more I get to know about American church politics, the more they manage to perform the incredible feat of making Scottish ones look clean….I don’t mind you critiquing what I wrote – but it would be helpful if you did actually critique what I wrote and actually interacted with it – rather than presupposing I hold positions which I do not. As I said very disappointing and quite sloppy all round.

        • David,

          I’ll see your disappointment and raise you a level of frustration.

          I’m sorry that you think that I’m being unfair. I’m trying to be polite but apparently that isn’t working. Let me be clear. Your post is incoherent in certain places.

          Yes, I recognize that you’re saying now that you do actually believe in the law/gospel distinction and I accept that you do affirm it but I think your affirmation here is incoherent with what you wrote in the post. Something must give way. You cannot affirm what you did in the post and affirm the law/gospel distinction simultaneously. You are saying A and not A about the same thing at the same time. That’s the definition of incoherent.

          Yes, I have in fact read the Schweitzer et al volume. They sent it to me and I replied with a fairly extensive editorial comment. I think I wrote a blurb for it.

          “Many now regard only one aspect of criticism, that of the expression of disapproval or hostility. There is, however, a second aspect that is equally important: the friendly analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a project. This volume is fundamentally a critical work in the second sense. Time Keller’s teaching is as influential as it is persuasive and winsome. Thus, even if one does not agree with the criticisms, judgments, and conclusions this volume does the Reformed and evangelical worlds a service by helping us to think through important issues raised by an important figure.”

          I understand that you think the book was a hatchet job. I disagree. As they say, you’re entitled to your own opinion brother, but you’re not entitled to your own facts (or logic).

          • Scott,

            Yes you may be right that my post may be incoherent in several places – certainly the way you portrayed it. But you did not deal with the main criticisms in my review and for some unknown reason (to me) you seem to be letting Tullian off with ‘reformed’ murder. Can you seriously imagine any of the Reformers coming anywhere near what much of One Way Love says? But instead of dealing with the issues you ignore them and suggest that you are being polite and patient – when instead you are being quite patronising.

            What you actually did with my review was quite strange – and a little disingenous – look David doesn’t accept law/gospel distinction…etc when I do. And your position is not as logical as you try to make out – saying that law and gospel are distinct but not absolutely so is a perfectly coherent position. The only positions are not just absolute distinction between law and gospel, or no distinction at all. Furthermore it is not just a hermenutical twist to talk about the various uses of the word ‘law’ in scripture. What I find incoherent is saying that Gods love has nothing to do with the Beloved, that it is entirely one way love and that grace does not make demands. Now which of the Reformers or Scottish puritans actually support any of those statements?

            Here is what I think is happening. Tullian thinks he has stumbled across something that is missing from the pulpit in the US and so he is setting out to start this new Reformation. Personally I think that is a wee bit arrogant. I also find it intriguing that you miss out most of the critiques I make – why? And especially why miss out the commercialisation critique – can we sell grace? It seems to me that there is a whole market driven, network mentality at work in the US and this new grace-lit genre is part of that – packaging grace as the latest programme/solution for the US church culture….I also find that there is far too much networking, personalisation of issues etc. I just wrote a review of a book and I find I have entered some kind of weird reformed sub-culture…where there are all kinds of sub-texts and reading between lines.

            And I have to say I find it quite hard to take you seriously if you really believe that Engaging Keller was anything other than a hatchet job. If you doubt that why not ask Tim whether he felt he was being ‘engaged’ or just shot at? There were numerous posts I received from the US which indicated that this was precisely what was happening – people delighting in Keller getting his comeuppance, as they thought. But you should know better – apart from Iain D Campbells first article much of the book was theologically and logically all over the place. And it did not ‘engage’ with Keller at all. It obviously did not make much impact on you if you did not recognise Schweitzers name.

            Sorry for being so robust but I hate being patronised and I just can’t comprehend why you attacked my review and yet did not deal with the main parts of it. Never mind your attack got to the right places – within a couple of hours ‘Liberate’ had tweeted it to me…!

            • David,

              I think we disagree about the relative importance of the law/gospel distinction. As I see it, the distinction of part of what J. H. Alsted called “the article of the standing or falling of the church.” As important as the doctrine of sanctification is (see below) it does not rise to that level.

              You want me to indict Tullian for not speaking about sanctification the way you think he should. As I’ve said on the HB, I might not put everything the way Tullian does but I understand what he’s doing and why. I think you underestimate the degree to which preaching in the USA really is either therapeutic moralistic deism or legalism. We have a different history than Scotland. American evangelicalism underwent something of a revolution in the 19th century—not that it was unrelated to what happened in the 18th-century. The 1st Great Awakening was not pure, as I’ve documented in Recovering the Reformed Confession. American evangelicalism has more to do with Sister Aimee than it does John Knox or Samuel Rutherford or George Gillespie or Mr Murray. On this see “On Being Reformed in Sister’s America” in Always Reformed.

              On the relative importance of sanctification, you indicate that we agree regarding conditions but I am not sure that is so. Because of your language in the first part of the post, I wonder if you haven’t unintentionally confused antecedent and consequent conditions? I’m not saying that’s what you intend but that it may be an effect.

              I think the substance of what Tullian is trying to do is consistent with the Marrow of Modern Divinity.

              You write,

              And your position is not as logical as you try to make out – saying that law and gospel are distinct but not absolutely so is a perfectly coherent position. The only positions are not just absolute distinction between law and gospel, or no distinction at all.

              Now brother, perhaps it’s time for a wee dram before we continue. You yourself say that we agree on law and gospel and conditions in the covenant of grace. If I’m being incoherent, then so are you! I doubt that’s what you mean to say.

              In the act of justification law and gospel are two distinct principles. That is a Reformation basic. As I wrote, the law never becomes gospel and the gospel never becomes law, even in a state of grace, but, in a state of grace, our relation to the law changes. In a state of grace they do sweetly agree. Agreement, however, isn’t identity.

              Sanctification is immensely important! It is the second benefit of the covenant of grace. On this see the chapter in Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant. With my colleagues I’m spending this season of Office Hours discussing sanctification: New Life in the Shadow of Death.

              As to the Keller volume, so you retract your allegation that I haven’t read it? I didn’t see an apology in your comment above. Forgive me if I missed it. I don’t confess Tim Keller. I confess the Word of God as confessed by the churches. All others pay cash. I’m happy to disagree with you about the book. I think the brothers have real questions that deserve answers. I wouldn’t have written every word as they did and I was happier with some chapters than others but the overall tone of the book was appropriate and the questions worth asking. The churches have not been well served by setting up heroes who are beyond question. In the past that has caused us to overlook some significant problems. Some of our heroes have attempted to reformulate the doctrine of the Trinity, union with Christ, covenant theology leading some of their students to magnify these problems.

  4. Thank you, Dr. Clark for your post. It is indeed helpful in so far as you lay out the nuances of the covenant. However, I do wonder now if Tullian’s book does as much. I will have to read it to find out – granted, I wish to read it for other reasons. But now I am curious to see if he survives the indictment of your last paragraph: “Losing these distinctions has impoverished our dialogue and contributed to unnecessary confusion on essential issues.”

    • John,

      Let me be clear. It is far more injurious to the gospel to confuse law and gospel or grace and works than anything that Tullian has said (or not said). Has Tullian called into question justification sola fide, the law/gospel distinction, or confused the covenant of works with the covenant of grace?

      ICYMI: I’ve addressed some criticisms of Tullian here.

  5. Hello Scott,

    I think you may have misread Alberto’s post. Bill Schweitzer is one of the authors who wrote the very book you referenced in your response. (Engaging with Keller). Clearly Alberto is familiar with the volume. Most of Alberto’s response contained a quote of Robertson defending Keller. He wasn’t defending Keller himself.

    • Mike,

      Thank you, I was misunderstood. The defense of Keller is Robertson’s quote and not mine. I thought it would help evaluate the thinking going on in Robertson’s mind and to provide a comparison with his criticism of Tullian.

  6. Scott,
    Where does repentance fit in the conditions of the Covenant? IOW, if I have faith – that receives and rests upon Christ’s finished work – but I do not display repentance unto life (heart and actions), can that faith save me?

  7. Professor Clark,

    | There are, however, conditions for those in the
    | covenant of grace. To be clear, these conditions
    | are not in order to remain in the covenant of grace.

    That seems to fly in the face of Hebrews 3 wherein we find:
    v12 – Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God…
    v19 – So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
    4:1 – Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

    Unbelief seems to prevent one from entering into the promises of God of one to whom the promises have been made by the application of covenantal rites. Are not these promises therefore conditional upon belief?

    You note that Wistus stated: “when we call faith a condition, we’re using the word improperly”, so when Ursinus, Calvin, Turretin, Hodge etc. talk about the covenant of grace being conditional upon faith, (as you’ve quoted) they were using the term improperly?

    | No, these are the conditions that exist
    | for those because they have received a gift.
    | The conditions that apply to those are in the
    | covenant of grace are those consequent conditions.

    How can a consequent condition exist if that condition will never fail to be met, how can that be called a condition?

    Were not Ishmael, Esau, the many who died in the wilderness, etc, obligated unto this condition by the application of the covenant rites?

    | Let’s say that I damaged the neighbor’s car, a Bentley.

    While all analogies break down eventually… I’m having trouble with this one from the start as it seems to gloss over a lot of the intricacies of covenant rites and obligations.

    | How should I respond to this gift? That is the
    | question the believer asks. There is, upon believers,
    | a logical, moral obligation to respond to
    | grace appropriately.

    Does that obligation not apply equally to all covenant children upon whom the sign and seal of the covenant has been applied?

    I feel like both the FV folks and the mainstream Reformed folks seem to want to conflate the temporal and eternal viewpoints which Scripture seems to separate. That is, one side wants to say “unbelieving covenant members are in Christ” and the other side wants to say “they’re not in Christ at all”, but in reality all who are part of the covenant community are obligated to faith in Christ… election and reprobation being invisible to us. Thus the question itself seems to miss the nature of covenant structure.

  8. Sorry, after reading over my reply, I realized some of that comes off wrong. I realize the analogy was intended to address a specific point and not all the aspects of covenantal rites and obligations.

  9. Scott, the sections below from WCF chapter 19 are the sense in which I understand what I think is being talked about above.
    If that’s true, would you expand on how the phrases below relate to what you’ve explained above?
    Particularly the last clause.
    Is this an area where Westminster and the Continent have differences in expression about their common understanding?
    Full disclosure: I read and appreaciate what David calls grace lit, but wonder how what seems to be unqualified usage of Brown, Capon, et al can fit a reformed understanding of both gospel and law.
    V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.
    VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what
    blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.
    VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to
    be done.

  10. Scott,

    What are your thoughts on John Ball and his work on the Covenant of Grace? Was he w/in the mainstream of Reformed thought? My understanding is that he had significant influence in the formulation of the WCF, but I would like to hear an expert historian’s view.


    • Hi Michael,

      I’ve commented on Ball in print in this essay:

      “Christ and Covenant: Federal Theology in Orthodoxy,” in Herman Selderhuis, ed., Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

      You can get the essay via inter-library loan.

  11. David Robertson, you write: “Personally I think that is a wee bit arrogant. I also find it intriguing that you miss out most of the critiques I make – why? And especially why miss out the commercialisation critique – can we sell grace? It seems to me that there is a whole market driven, network mentality at work in the US and this new grace-lit genre is part of that – packaging grace as the latest programme/solution for the US church culture…”

    You write this about Tullian but then defend Keller? Are you kidding? All that commercialization business applies to Tullian but not to Keller and Gospel Coalition?

    You might have had a point about Tullian — full stop. But then when you go on to comment about developments in the U.S. about the culture and don’t see that Keller is very much on the same side as Tullian on law-gospel matters and is part of a commercial phenomenon way bigger than Tullian — Redeemer NYC is a brand — it is hard to recognize discernment in your points.

    And as for your take on Engaging Keller, I think it reveals more than meets the eye. I don’t know about you, but I believe lots of Free Church ministers would have been reluctant to start a church network that planted Pentecostal churches. Are you really sure you know what Keller is up to or about the situation that Presbyterians face in the U.S.? It doesn’t seem that you do.

  12. Scott,
    I’m sorry. For the life of me I cannot figure out why you go to such degrees to defend Tullian. Like saying, “I think the substance of what Tullian is trying to do is consistent with the Marrow of Modern Divinity.” Really? Tullian consistently and exclusively defines law/gospel in the narrowest terms possible (do/done) while ignoring the broader definition that the Reformed have also been comfortable with. Tullian irresponsibly quotes contemporary Lutheran theologians on law/gospel distinctions without any qualification–as if there’s a 1:1 correlation between what they say and the Reformed Confessions. Tullian reduces/conflates antinomianism to really be a veiled legalism, ignoring historic Reformed definitions. He speaks as if the singular problem of the human heart is one of moralism and not, at the same time, lawlessness. He reduces the “gospel” to justification, and in his forensically charged rampage leaves little room for how the gospel deals with the power and presence of sin in my life. Anyone who sees a sneaking hint of antinomianism behind his teaching is labeled a “legalist” or “moralist” while he applauds and commends the 60+ years of “gospel preaching” from his grandfather, Billy. I would genuinely be interested in knowing if Tullian could read Burgess, Rutherford, and Collquhoun and say, “I agree with that!” So really, I’m confused. Are folks misunderstanding him the way they did John Cotton in the Free Grace Controversy?

    • Kyle,

      Tullian is setting captives free.

      I explained this here:

      You’re ready to convict him for not saying everything, all the time which which the Reformed have been “comfortable.” That’s an odd standard of judgment.

      Quoting the writers that he does is a rhetorical strategy. Calvin quoted pagan writers—come to think of it, so did Paul. Was that a mistake? Did that give a false impression to their readers/hearers? Is this the standard by which we ought to judge a man as unfaithful? Would I quote some of the folks the way he does? Perhaps not. Is it a matter of liberty and wisdom? Yes. Am I speaking to the same audiences he is? No. Could you read Burgess, Rutherford, et al and agree with everything they say? I guess not. I’m reasonably sure that I don’t agree with everything they say. Ditto for Billy Graham. Carl Trueman came to faith through the witness of Graham. Are you writing to him to demand that he throw Graham under the bus? Yet, you demand that Tullian throw his 95-year grandfather under the bus? Really? Have I been critical of Graham? Certainly! I’m not going to demand that Tullian criticize his grandfather during his grandfather’s last years on earth.

      I understand that some people are frustrated with Tullian. They want him to say more, to address the thing about which they’re worried, e.g., antinomianism. I understand that there’s a genuine difference of opinion over which is the greater problem presently, antinomianism or legalism. Tullian thinks the greater problem is the latter. As I’ve discussed this with people it seems to me that where one is shapes, to a large degree, what one sees as the greater problem. I can see how, in parts of the Southeast, antinomianism seems like the greater problem because there remains there a good bit of nominal, civil Christianity that cloaks a certain kind of antinomianism—or so I’m told. I can also imagine, however, how Tullian’s circumstances have helped him to see the problems of legalism/moralism, of attempting to present one’s self to God on the basis of performance as the greater problem. In my ministry I’ve had to deal more with legalism/moralism than antinomianism. I come from a people and a place where rugged individualism is valued—or it used to be. That’s a good thing in economics and politics but not such a good thing when presenting one’s self to God. A lot of folk, where I come from, don’t make that distinction. They carry over their rugged individualism into their religion. Thus, I’ve dealt with more with legalism/moralism than with antinomianism. I’ve rarely had people say to me, apart from the internet, “now that I’m redeemed, I don’t have any obligation to the moral law.” In fact, I can’t ever remember hearing that from a parishioner. I’ve had 2 or 3 HB corespondents, out of the thousands that have left comments, defend antinomianism. I have had, however, more than a few parishioners say to me, “Pastor, I just hope that I’ve done enough” or “I’ve tried to do my best pastor. I’m sure the Lord will take that into account at the judgment.”

      In this particular case, I think Tullian’s critic made some really fundamental mistakes that, if left unchecked, will do far more damage than anything Tullian is saying. The answer to antinomianism is never to confuse law and gospel.

    • Scott – The answer to antinomianism is never to confuse law and gospel.

      Therein is the problem as I read the criticisms of Tullian. His critics, even where they may credibly argue that Tullian shouldn’t say this or should say that (I’ve had a few criticisms) seem to want to do the very thing that your statement above insists against doing.

      So it would be more helpful if those wishing to “take on” Tullian, would instead take on the law/gospel distinction because that is the issue. Calvin, Beza, Owen, the Marrow men, Colquhoun, and more than a few modern reformed theologians who hold to a clear distinction as to the role of God’s two words in Scripture, Law and Gospel… a distinction, I would argue, that holds even with the third use of the law.

      Thanks again for your post and subsequent points.

    • Scott,
      Thanks for your reply. I still think your defenses of Tullian are odd–but you certainly don’t stand or fall at my thinking! 🙂 I readily admit you’re my superior in grace and knowledge. For my part, legalism and antinomianism, while distinct, are the twin-errors of every human heart. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees both for their legalism and lawlessness–it wasn’t one or the other. The answer to legalism isn’t lawlessness, and to lawlessness, legalism. The answer to both is Jesus. My congregation needs the message of justification as it deals with the guilt of their sin, and they need the message of sanctification that deals with the power of their sin, and they need the hope of glorification that deals with the presence of their sin. They need the gospel in its narrowest sense, and they need the gospel in its broader sense. And in all that they desperately need balance and clarity on these issues which seem to be lacking in many of the conversations and “gospel-tours” today. I know you have a hundred better things to do than interact with endless blog responses, so I leave you to them.
      Blessings in Christ,

  13. Scott,

    I am again intrigued by your reply to Kyle. It seems as though you think this is a cultural issue – actually that was one of my points that you did not address. That this current grace-lit trend is more to do with fitting in with contemporary US culture than it is to do with the Bible!

    Your caricature of antinomianism misses the point. There are very few Christians who are going to say ‘I don’t have any obligation to the moral law” – but there are plenty who will say ‘I don’t need to read my bible, come to church etc’ and for your to ask me is legalism. And there are plenty who will leave their parters, cheat at their work etc and then expect just to walk into another church and be accepted because ‘thats what Jesus would do’.

    I don’t mind your trying to sort out the issue of law/gospel but I am astounded that you have critiqued me on that and suggested that I am more dangerous than a person who teaches that God is not angry, or that love is just one way, or that grace makes no demands. Or that grace and law are just two different ‘jobs’ that Jesus does. You have an extensive knowledge of Reformation history – where do you find any of that in any of the Reformers? Without quote mining out of context? I really don’t understand why you have turned this into a pro or anti Tullian stance. Why personalise it?

    • David,

      You were clearly trying to mock the law/gospel distinction by making it seem ridiculous. I responded by defending the distinction and by setting out a brief account of the ways in which the covenant of grace may be said to be conditional and the ways in which it cannot be said to be conditional. There’s nothing personal about that. This is a matter of basic Reformation doctrine. It’s a matter of principal. I didn’t attack your person. I did say that confusing law/gospel is more dangerous than not getting sanctification right. I stand by that. The doctrine of sanctification is the not article of the standing or falling of the church. There is a logical order, a hierarchy. That doesn’t mean that the doctrine of sanctification is unimportant. It is important! I’ve spent a great deal of time teaching on the doctrine of sanctification, including the Reformation of public worship—which I think you and I have discussed before (in 2009). Back then it was I who was pushing for what is arguably a matter of sanctification, recovering the original Reformed practice of worship and it was you who was defending the move away from it. I noticed that in your list of things about which you’re concerned, you didn’t mention the regulative principle or the sabbath.

      I agree that there is a great lot of practical as well as theoretical/doctrinal antinomianism—although I would want to make certain that my list of concerns is biblical and confessional. The question I would ask those who resist instruction in godliness is whether they believe. If someone sins impenitently, then they should be subject to ecclesiastical discipline in hopes of restoring them or of bringing them to saving faith.

      I assume the fundamental truth of the doctrines taught in the Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 2:

      2. How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?

      Three things: the first, how great my sin and misery is; the second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery; the third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.

      A Christian wants to be thankful. When a professing Christian is unwilling to be show their gratitude, if one is, e.g., absenting himself from the due use of ordinary means or is resistant to correction and certainly when such a one is impenitent, then we have reason to wonder about their profession.

      Believers do need instruction in the Christian life, including the winsome exposition of the holy law of God. As I was just pointing out to the good folks at Gospel Reformation, I’m a big fan of the 3rd use of the law and the confessional and traditional Reformed doctrine of sanctification.

      That instruction, as indicated by HC 2, must be grounded in the proper use and understanding of the law and the gospel. It is those who know the greatness of their sin and misery who embrace the gospel and it is those who’ve embraced the gospel (which includes but is greater than free acceptance with God for Christ’s sake alone) who are united to Christ by the Spirit and who are empowered by the Spirit to live in and for Christ. If we turn the law into grace, we’ve destroyed the foundation on which we’re trying to build.

      • Scott – I did not MOCK the gospel/law distinction. I think you are getting a wee bit confused. As you are when you declare that the regulative principle of the Sabbath is not a matter of law but of sanctification? Or are you saying we are justified by faith but sanctified by law?

        Meanwhile I won’t repeat all my questions again – but as you well know my major concerns were not about the law/gospel distinction but about the numerous other things I listed. Are you really saying that the gospel/law distinction justifies saying that the God of this church is not an angry God? Or that One Way love is a good way to describe the relationship of God and his people? Or that grace is just one job of Jesus, law another? And you have still not answered my other questions and concerns nor have you given any example from the Reformers which shows that they taught this view of the Christian life!

        And I just don’t buy into this extreme and absolute division that you seem to be making. I accept there is a distinction, but not an absolute one. I pray ‘be gracious to me through your law’ (Ps 119:29). I don’t regard law and grace as being opposites!

        The trouble is that this grace-lit fashion is wrecking havoc for those of us who have to minister on the ground and away from the academic ivory towers. Its incredible how many modern CHristians who hardly know their bibles can tell us that they are not under law but under grace and that because God is a gracious and forgiving Father they can just live as they please. Playing with the nuances and finer distinctions of the law/gospel distinctions is not really helping any of us.

        • David,

          I’m glad to read that you didn’t intend to mock the law/gospel distinction. Take it from one reader that it certainly seemed as if you were holding it up to ridicule as inadequate to explain a range of passages. In the ivory tower, we call that a reductio ad absurdum.

          I’m not just an ivory tower guy, however. You’ll notice that I do a good bit of popular writing on the web, for which I get no credit in the ivory tower. Indeed, I’ve been told by folk who live in the ivory tower and by pastors who don’t that I should spend more time there. As to the ivory tower/real church distinction, where have I been serving for the last 25 years, in pretend churches, with pretend parishioners? I guess those were pretend counseling sessions and pretend sermons? It gets confusing sometimes shuttling between the ivory tower and the real world—because there are no real world problems in the ivory tower. My tower is stucco anyway but I digress.

          What on earth makes you think that I would suggest or imply that God is not angry with sin? Can you show me where I’ve implied or said such? You’re accusing Tullian of saying this? Are you suggesting that Christians are still under wrath in some way? Of course God is displeased with Christians when the sin but our sin doesn’t place us back under the law for justification.

          You’re right. I am quite confused but my confusion is about what you’re saying about law, gospel, and worship. Let me try again. What I was trying to say is this: I understand that you’re worried about what Tullian is saying but I notice that you seemed to support revisions to the RPW in the Free Church. Right? It seems odd to me that you’re worried about Tullian on the one hand and a “progressive” re worship on the other. Isn’t the RPW related to sanctity?

          Is “One Way Love” all there is to say? No. I didn’t write a defense of One Way Love. I did, however, object to the way you characterized the law/gospel distinction. Once more, I also gave an account of conditions in the covenant of grace with which you say you agree. I have not addressed the rest of your initial post.

          As I explained to Kyle, I understand that pastors are concerned about some unintended consequences from the “Grace lit.” Take a look at my reply to Kyle. I won’t rehearse it here.

          For readers who might want to get a more comprehensive account of what I’ve said about the sanctification, the law/gospel distinction, and the third use of the law, I’ve compiled a resource post.

  14. Belgic 24 (as always!) is helpful here:

    We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

    Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

    These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification—for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

    So then, we do good works, but nor for merit—for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”60—thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ”

    Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works—but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

    So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

  15. Scott – I don’t want to keep you at this forever and I certainly don’t want to upset you any more. I enjoy a lot of what you write and find that I don’t really disagree with much of it here. But I am still really puzzled. There is something that just does not square up and obviously something of which I am not aware.

    I wrote my review because I read the book and was disappointed. When I said that, someone asked why, so I wrote the review – which was as much about the current trend for grace-lit as it was about Tullians book. It does seem to have opened up a whole can of worms. For example the quote about Gods anger comes from Steve Brown who not only endorses the book but this was from the first sermon I heard on Tullians website. I’m sorry but telling people ‘the God of this church is not an angry God’ is to say the least, borderline heresy. I was astonished that this is where the grace-lit seems to be leading.

    Thankfully I am not under wrath (that is the point of propitiation) but I deserve to be. And I need continually to recognise that there is such a thing as the wrath of God. I know you agree with that. I am more than happy to say that the God of St Peters IS an angry God.

    I am also not sure at all what RPW has to do with this. I accept the RPW – I just think we got it wrong when we said it meant exclusive as opposed to inclusive psalmody (On that I’m sure Tullian and I would agree!).

    I know you didn’t write a defence of One Way Love – but I wrote a review of it to which you were responding. Your comments on one small part of that review (missing out most of the main section) was immediately tweeted by Liberate and Tullian as a defence. So whether you intended it or not – that is how it was read. And is being used.

    And that is where my puzzlement is. It seems to me that if others had used the same language as Tullian you would not have been so quick to defend it, or be silent about it. I don’t know him, or you really, so if you are friends and I have caused upset I apologise. None of what I said was intended as personal or in any way to get involved in American church politics. I just wrote a book review about a book that I see as unbalanced and part of a genre which is beginning to do a great deal of harm. If I hear one more person tell me about how grace has set them free (so that they can indulge themselves, talk about themselves and excuse themselves) I am going to scream! I have noticed this rather bizarre thing that, just like many worship songs seem little more than love songs about Jesus (but are in reality love songs about ‘me’), so much of the grace lit talks about Christ but somehow manages to end up being all about ‘me’. I know that you repudiate that as much as I do. So I guess we are not that far apart!

  16. Hi Scott. Have you seen the blog post ( by John Frame on “Law and Gospel”? In particular I’m interested in your response to his scriptural exegesis in section 2, called “Law and Gospel in Scripture”. Here’s a small snippet:

    Consider Isa. 52:7, one of the most important background passages for the New Testament concept of gospel:

    How beautiful upon the mountains
    Are the feet of him who brings good news,
    Who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    Who publishes salvation,
    Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (ESV)

    It is the reign of God that is good news, news that ensures peace and salvation.

    Even the demand for repentance is good news, because in context it implies that God, though coming in power to claim his rights, is willing to forgive for Christ’s sake.

    So gospel includes law in an important sense: God’s kingdom authority, his demand to repent. Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command tobelieve. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier. Faith itself works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without good works (James 2:17).

    Having faith does not merit salvation for anyone, any more than any other human act merits salvation. Thus we speak of faith, not as the ground of salvation, but as the instrument. Faith saves, not because it merits salvation, but because it reaches out to receive God’s grace in Christ. Nevertheless, faith is an obligation, and in that respect the command to believe is like other divine commands. So it is impossible to say that command, or law, is excluded from the message of the gospel.

    It is also true that law includes gospel. God gives his law as part of a covenant, and that covenant is a gift of God’s grace. The decalogue begins, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land ofEgypt, out of the house of slavery.” Only after proclaiming his saving grace does God then issue his commands to Israel. So the decalogue as a whole has the function of offering Israel a new way of life, conferred by grace (cf. Deut. 7:7-8, 9:4-6). Is the decalogue “law” or “gospel?” Surely it is both. Israel was terrified upon hearing it, to be sure (Ex. 20:18-21). But in fact it offers blessing (note verse 6) and promise (verse 12). Moses and the Prophets are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell (Matt. 16:31).

    So the definitions that sharply separate law and gospel break down on careful analysis. In both law and gospel, then, God proclaims his saving work, and he demands that his people respond by obeying his commands. The terms “law” and “gospel” differ in emphasis, but they overlap and intersect. They present the whole Word of God from different perspectives.

    • David,

      I’m well aware of what he has said about law/gospel. Yes, both law and gospel have broader and narrower uses in Scripture. Have you read the chapter in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry</em> on law and gospel? See also this brief, popular essay. The fact that there are broader and narrower uses doesn’t change the facts that there is a theological/hermeneutical difference between the narrow sense of law and the narrow sense of gospel (or “works” and “grace,” which were the terms that Calvin preferred) nor does it change the fact that the entire Reformed tradition, following Luther, made the hermeneutical distinction between law and gospel.

      Since JMF has been a staunch supporter of Norman Shepherd and then of the Federal Vision, if I must choose between Perkins and Frame (and I must), I choose Perkins.

      Here are more resources.

  17. Scott, I have read the chapter on law and gospel in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry and I appreciate it very much. I am also grateful for the collection of essays included in the book as a whole. Very helpful. But I didn’t see any detailed exegetical interaction with the specific points Frame made in the snippet I posted above. And just to be clear, I am an ardent opponent of the FV and am truly thankful for your strong and unwavering commitment to the Reformed doctrine of Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone!!

    • David,

      I replied in substance to his arguments both in the popular “Good News…Bad News” piece and in CJPM.

      John turns the gospel into the law! Consider his appeal to Isa. What is happening there? It is an announcement of something that has been done for sinners, something that cannot do for themselves. It’s Good NEWS. It’s an announcement.

      How beautiful upon the mountains
      Are the feet of him who brings good news,
      Who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
      Who publishes salvation,
      Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (ESV)

      We cannot change the terms of the news, which is what the proposed explanation does. Not every appeal to Scripture qualifies as “exegesis” by the way. This proposed use is more appeal than actual exegesis. Why are the messenger’s feet beautiful? Because they carry news. New of what? of “peace” (Shalom). Shalom is more than “control, authority, and power.” Yes, God reigns, but to what end? We cannot substitute “reign” for the good news that the sovereign God saves. The peace is salvation, ultimately from the wrath to come. The prophet is proclaiming deliverance and peace with God, not just control. So, God’s reign in Isa 52:7 is construed in a very specific sense, which JMF’s explanation muddles.

      No, the demand for repentance is not good news! God uses he demand for repentance (law) to bring his people to salvation, so it has a blessed end, but the demand itself isn’t, in the narrow sense, good news.

      This is the fundamental problem with the method being employed. Everything turns into everything else. Hegelian, dialectical muddling is not exegesis nor is it theology.

      Why do did the older writers described repentance as law and not as gospel? Because they weren’t clever enough to see that, via triperspectival magic everything becomes the same? No, because they knew that there is a categorical distinction between a demand for righteousness and the announcement that God has provided righteousness for us.

      This is why trading passages with with a dialogue partner who practices a method of reading Scripture and theology that is alien to Reformed theology is fruitless. Ask David Wells and Richard Muller in Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997) what it’s like to be “Framed.”

      Yes, there is a broad sense to the word gospel in Scripture, as I noted in CJPM and in the popular article linked above. Context! Authorial intent! These are crucial but the existence of a broad sense or use of a term doesn’t obliterate the existence of another class or use. Go back please and re-read the essay in CJPM. I’m satisfied that it is a sufficient reply.

      “Do this” is not the same as “this has been done for you.” Those are two different ways of speaking? The distinction only breaks down if one adopts an essentially Hegelian way of reading Scripture. Yes, God is King and he reigns over all but he reigns in gracious, saving blessing to his elect and in righteous judgment to the reprobate. There are distinctions even to be made in the way he exercises his dominion.

      As I said, I choose Olevianus, Beza, Perkins (and the whole host of the Reformed tradition) for a great lot of reasons.

      ps. I will not respond further re JMF. Escondido Theology was a scurrilous volume and, in my opinion, removes from reasonable, mature people the obligation to engage.

      • The demand for repentance is not good news! I could not disagree more…when God calls for repentance it is great news, because it means that he wants us to return to him….he has also provided the means. When I proclaim the good news I always include repentance as part of it. Scott it seems to me that you are in dreadful danger of complicating things way more than they need to be…

        • David,

          Oops, someone forgot to tell Ursinus and Olevianus that they were complicating the faith because they did precisely the same thing. That’s where I learned it.

          Consider the nature of repentance. In HC 88 we confess:

          88. In how many things does true repentance or conversion consist?

          In two things: the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new.

          Repentance is a life-long process of dying and being made alive. The cal to repentance is a call to die to sin. It is something that God the Spirit works in those whom he has made alive. It is something which which we cooperate.

          Consider faith, in the act of justification. It is a gift but it is by nature receptive. It is “resting, receiving.” It is an open hand. It is not repentance. They are intimately related but they are not the same.

          I’ve explained this here.

          Ursinus wrote:

          The chief and most important parts of the first principles of the doctrine of the church, as appears from the passage just quoted from the Epistle to the Hebrews, are repentance and faith in Christ, which we may regard as synonymous with the law and gospel. Hence, the catechism in its primary and most general sense, may be divided as the doctrine of the church, into the law and gospel.

          See pp. 202-203 of my book on Olevianus for an account of his view of repentance.

          Yes, repentance is an gospel in the broad sense, in the same way sanctification is a part of the gospel in the broad sense. In the narrow sense, however, we should be careful to distinguish faith and repentance between justification and sanctification are two distinct things. We are not justified because we are sanctified. We are sanctified, by God’s grace, because we are justified. The latter, justification, is forensic and and definitive. The former, sanctification, is progressive.

          As I said, God graciously uses the call to reckon with our sin and to turn from it to drive us to Christ and to teach us our need for a Savior.

          Ps. On Olevianus see also:

          “Law and Gospel in Early Reformed Orthodoxy: Hermeneutical Conservatism in Olevianus’ Commentary on Romans,” in Jordan J. Ballor, David S. Sytsma and Jason Zuidema editors, Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

  18. Well as one who IS a member in the Free Presbyterian Church, I thought I’d quote a couple of questions from Fisher’s Catechism on repentance:

    Fisher’s Catechism on Q.87, q.14: Is it from faith then that repentance flows, as the proper source of it?
    a. Yes; for though faith and repentance are graces given together, and at once in respect of time; yet, in the order of nature, the acting of faith goes before the exercise of repentance, Zech. 12:10.

    and q.20 What is the evil in maintaining that none but true penitents have a warrant to embrace Christ by faith?
    a. It sets sinners upon spinning repentance out of their own bowels, that they may fetch it with them, as a price in their hand to Christ, instead of coming to him by faith, to obtain it from him, as his gift, Acts 5:31.

    I have heard it said: you do not have repentance? Then come to Christ with your lack of repentance and ask him for the ability to repent. I.e. the command is to go to Christ as you are: a sinner. Caught in the vice of your responsibility-I must believe- on one side and your inability- I cannot believe- on the other, flee to Christ.

    I think the problem is what does sanctification look like? Many in the Reformed community are very eager to defend behaviour which used to be viewed as worldly. Today such a view is called legalism. And this accusation is often from those with a fundamentalist background. Perhaps it’s more to do with their background than with the actual prohibitions being legalistic. When so many Christians behave in ways that are indistinguishable from the world and go out of their way to defend such ways because they are part of the “common” realm, or are part of creation, or they are lawful because not explicitly prohibited in Scripture- which is just pure biblicism- then it’s understandable when others question their commitment to sanctification. We know what the old Reformed thought the Christian walk looked like- it’s in the LC, it’s in the catechisms on the catechisms, it’s in the writings and preaching- but a lot of that is rejected today.

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