Witsius: The Law Of Works And The Law Of Faith Are Antecedent And Consequent Conditions

Disputing in his Panstrat. vol. iii. book xv. chap. iii. against Bellarmine, [Chamier] teaches that the true and determinate difference between the law of works and that of faith, is the condition of works and of faith; that is, that the law of works proposes salvation, upon condition of performing the law. But the law of faith proposes it, upon condition only of believing in Christ. Lest, however he should leave any thing unexplained, he observes, that conditions in contracts are of two kinds; some of which may be called antecedent, others consequent. He calls these antecedent, which give rise to the contract, according to the maxim, I give, that thou mayest give, as when one sells a field for a certain sum of money. But the consequent conditions are added to the antecedent, as following from them: which indeed are mutual between the parties, but oblige the one only: so that the other is bound to do no more on their account: As if one having given or sold a plot of ground, should assign an annuity to be laid out upon the poor. Now conditions of that kind, when not performed, usually disannul the contract: and yet they do not constitute it. Nay, there would be no annuity, except the sale were already full and complete. This distinction that very learned divine applies to the present purpose, in the following manner: The law of works requires the fulfilling of the law as an antecedent condition, without which, not only no man can enter upon the possession of eternal life, but cannot so much as have a right to it. But the law of faith does not admit of works as a condition p 151 in this sense, but only in the other: viz. that by virtue of the life already given through faith, works are necessary, so that he who shows no works, falls from every right which he had, or rather seemed to have, on account of his external vocation; although otherwise, works are not the causes of the life to be given. Thus far Chamier: compare Tuckney in his Theological Prelections, p. 233.

Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 149–51.

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  1. Forgive me if I’ve missed the point, but should this not be ‘The Law Of Faith And The Law Of Works Are Antecedent And Consequent Conditions’, i.e. meaning that they are antecedent and consequent conditions respectively?

    • In this use, Witsius makes works and faith parallel relative to justification. One either had works or faith as the antecedent. The consequence of faith, however, is good works. The point is to point to the way the Reformed talked about antecedent and consequent necessities and the different roles they played. Good works are consequent to (and consequence of) faith.

  2. Beeke and Jones, in their conclusion to the chapter in ‘A Puritan Theology’ on Covenant Conditions—‘The conditions of the covenant were principally faith in Christ and its fruit of new obedience. The former condition was understood, against the antinomians, as an antecedent condition, so that no blessing procured by Christ could be applied to the believer until he or she exercised faith in Christ. Only then did actual justification take place. Being in covenant with God, the believer is required to believe and keep God’s commandments. Therefore the pursuit of holiness and practice of righteousness are also conditions, but they are consequent to the initial exercise of faith.’ (p.318)

  3. John Murray, The Covenant of Grace— “How then are we to construe the conditions of which we have spoken? The continued enjoyment of this grace and of the relation established is contingent upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. For apart from the fulfillment of these conditions the grace bestowed and the relation established are meaningless. Grace bestowed implies a subject and reception on the part of that subject. The relation established implies mutuality.”

    Murray—“But the conditions in view are not conditions of bestowal. They are simply the reciprocal responses of faith, love and obedience, apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation is inconceivable….Viewed in this light that the breaking of the covenant takes on an entirely different complexion. It is not the failure to meet the terms of a pact nor failure to respond to the offer of favorable terms of contractual agreement. It is unfaithfulness to a relation constituted and to grace dispensed. By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition.”

    Murray–“It should be noted also that the necessity of keeping the covenant is bound up with the particularism of this covenant. The covenant does not yield its blessing to all indiscriminately. The discrimination which this covenant exemplifies accentuates the sovereignty of God in the bestowal of its grace and the fulfillment of its promises. This particularization is correlative with the spirituality of the grace bestowed and the relation constituted and it is also consonant with the exactitude of its demands.”

    Murray—“A covenant which yields its blessing indiscriminately is not one that can be kept or broken. We see again, therefore, that the intensification which particularism illustrates serves to accentuate the keeping which is indispensable to the fruition of the covenant grace.”

  4. John Murray — “The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions… The idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic”

    Meredith Kline— “How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant… Abraham’s faithful performance of his covenantal duty is clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a meritorious character that procured a reward enjoyed by others… Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the nations. God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come… The obedient Abraham, the faithful covenant servant, was a type of the Servant of the Lord in his obedience.”

    Nehemiah Coxe– “It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” A strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its terms, “Do this and live.”” p. 91

  5. To report but not to approve

    Gerald R. McDermott, “Jonathan Edwards on Justification: Closer to Luther or Aquinas?,” Reformation & Revival 14, no. 1 (2005): 11, ” “Jonathan Edwards’s supreme devotion to Petrus van Mastricht, the late-seventeenth-century Dutch Reformed theologian who was steeped in Suarez, was not without effect. Edwards agreed with Thomas Aquinas that faith is inherently related to Christian living,that justification changes the regenerate soul.”, p 132

    McDermott: “For Edwards,God has decided that at the moment when a person trusts in Christ, that person becomes so really united with Christ’s person, that imputation is not merely legal but based on God’s perception of a new real fact, which is the new moral character of the person called Christ who now includes (by real union) what used to be the sinner.”

    What many Reformed mean by definite atonement is that the “real union” makes the atonement definite. Thus they make the Spirit’s work to be the real difference instead of our being legaly joined by God’s imputation to Christ’s death.

    Edwards in his book on justification asks “whether any other act of faith besides the first act has any concern in our justification, or how far perseverance in faith, or the continued and renewed acts of faith, have influence in this affair?” When Edwards answers that no other acts are required, Edwards means that works after justification should not be considered separate from the initial act of faith. Edwards thought of perseverance as a part of the original act of saving faith, “the qualification on which the congruity of an interest in the righteousness of Christ depends, or wherein such a fitness consists.”

    By virtue of “union” with Christ, faith —Edwards claims– “is a very excellent qualification” , “one chief part of the inherent holiness of a Christian” “The act of justification has no regard to anything in the person justified BEFORE THIS ACT. God beholds him only as an ungodly or wicked creature; so that godliness IN the person TO BE justified is not ANTECEDENT to his justification as to be the ground of it” (p. 147)

    justification finds its primary ground “in Christ,” in Christ’s righteousness, and its secondary or derivative ground “in us,” that is, in faith defined as a disposition, as a “habit and principle in the heart” (p. 204). Faith AFTER justification, along with the works and love that result from faith, Edwards describes as “THAT IN US BY WHICH WE ARE JUSTIFIED” (p. 222)

    • Edwards’ doctrine of justification was ambiguous at best. Highly problematic.

      I’m a little skeptical, however, of his claims about van Mastricht. I’m looking at Mastricht’s chapter on justification right now and, though I haven’t read it all, it seems orthodox. He was explicit that we are justified through faith alone as the sole instrument and instrumental cause. He explicitly rejected propter fidem in favor of per fidem, which is the sort of distinction one would expect to see in an orthodox doctrine of justification. He singles out Osiander and the Remonstrants for criticism. He explicitly rejected infused habits or dispositions (or any ground inherent in us) as the ground of justification.

      For my money, right now, the source of the confusion in Edwards was neo-Platonism and probably not Mastricht.

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