Monday, July 26, 2010

Promises of the Law and the Gospel

There are those who still try to discredit the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Calvin responds, "For justification is withdrawn from works, not that no good words may be done, or that what is done may be denied to be good, but that we may not rely upon them, glory in them, or ascribe salvation to them."  God's mercy is sufficient for our salvation.  The "Scholastics" who argue against justification by faith employ several means to discredit the doctrine.  "First, they return to the promises of the law that the Lord has made to the keepers of his law, and they ask us whether we wish them to be completely nullified or effective."  There is no reason for us to think of the Law as being nullified.  Christ even said that He had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  The Law contains both promises of blessings for the faithful and curses for lawbreakers.  "For the Lord promises nothing except to perfect keepers of his law, and no one of the kind is to be found."  There is no one who could perfectly keep the Law except Christ alone.  The opposers to the doctrine of election say that we are trying to allow carnal freedom to sin.  Calvin responds that "it is a spiritual freedom, which would comfort and raise up the stricken and prostrate conscience, showing it to be free from curse and condemnation with which the law pressed it down, bound and fettered."

Since we are incapable of perfectly executing the Law, we must rely on God's mercy in order to receive the promised blessings of the Law.  Calvin says that the promises would all be "ineffectual and void" if God's goodness had not helped us "through the gospel."  He continues, "Thus the Lord helps us, not by leaving us a part of righteousness in our works, and by supplying part out of his loving-kindness, but by appointing Christ alone as the fulfillment of righteousness."

Because we cannot follow the Law, the promises contained in the Law by themselves have no benefit for us.  These promises are originally based upon the merit of works and we are not good enough to earn these merits.  "But when the promises of the gospel are substituted, which proclaim the free forgiveness of sins, these not only make us acceptable to God but also render our works pleasing to him."  There are three reasons why works still win God's favor.  (1) "God...embraces his servants in Christ, and...reconciles them to himself without the help of works."  (2) "He raises works to this place of honor, so that he attributes some value to them."  (3) "He receives these very works with pardon, not imputing the imperfection with which they are all so corrupted." 

Calvin writes about a "double acceptance of man before God."  There is nothing in man's miserable nature that causes or allows him to be worthy of God's acceptance.  We are totally corrupt and unworthy of God's love and mercy.   However, the exciting news is this: by virtue of God's grace, we become worthy of our heavenly callings.  Calvin summarizes this double acceptance by writing, "God's sole reason to receive man unto himself is that he sees him utterly lost if left to himself, but because he does not will him to be lost, he exercises his mercy in freeing him."

Once again, we are incapable of performing good works on our own and making them acceptable for salvation.  So we might wonder in what sense the Lord is pleased with our good works.  Calvin writes, "God 'accepts' believers by reason of works only because he is their source and graciously, by way of adding to his liberality, deigns also to show 'acceptance' toward the good works he has himself bestowed."  In other words, God accepts our good works only because He granted them to us to begin with.  They are not our own works, but His.  "God's children are pleasing and lovable to him, since he sees in them the marks and features of his own countenance."  He sees His image in us, His creation.  Finally, Calvin reminds us that believers are still sinners, therefore for God to accept our good works they must be embraced in Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.17.6-3.17.10

No comments:

Post a Comment

Presbyterian Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf