Monday, July 6, 2009

How the Benefits of the Gospel relate to Christ in Calvin’s Theology: Part Two

A couple of remarks are in order before the post:

1. This is the second part of my Senior paper at the Moody Bible Institute. Part one can be found here.

2. Note how Calvin is not afraid to sum up the gospel as "repentance" (sanctification) and "forgiveness of sins" (sustification). This is the duplex gratia; but it was never intended to exclude other graces such as adoption, glorification, or any other ordo salutis category. For Calvin, all of these other benefits could be subsumed under the two chief benefits, one being regenerative and the other forensic. Thus, for Calvin, there is no need to remind people of the other benefits of the Gospel, for when we say justification or forgiveness of sins, we mean to include adoption. And when we talk about the grace of regeneration or sanctification, we mean to include glorification. I, for one, find this extremely helpful both pastorally and theologically. It really does take into account the interpenetration of the different benefits of Christ's person and work as well as the inseparability of the the forensic and regenerative categories taught in Scripture.

The Duplex Gratia and its Relationship to the Unio Mystica

For Calvin, the gospel benefits can be boiled down to one two-fold grace, justification and sanctification. Calvin expressly sets this down when in Book Three of the Institutes, following his discussion of the way the believer receives the grace of Christ, begins to discuss the grace we actually receive from Christ. Calvin writes,

Even though we have taught in part how to possess Christ, and how through it we enjoy his benefits, this would still remain obscure if we did not add an explanation of the effects we feel. With good reason, the sum of the gospel is held to consist in repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31). Any discussion of faith, therefore, that omitted these two topics would be barren and mutilated and well–nigh useless. Now, both repentance and forgiveness of sins—that is, newness of life and free reconciliation—are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith.[1]

Again, Calvin sums up the benefits of the Gospel later in book three,

I believe I have also explained what faith itself is, and those benefits of God which it confers upon man, and the fruits it brings forth in him. Let us sum these up. Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace [duplicem gratiam]: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's Spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.[2]

Thus, it is not a stretch to affirm that for Calvin the benefits of the Gospel are principally justification and sanctification. Justification is “that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness” and sanctification is being “sanctified by Christ's Spirit [that] we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.” The point must not be missed—for Calvin, the Christian life and the Gospel, for the Christian, consists in nothing more than receiving Christ and thus the two benefits of the duplex gratia. To put it more theologically, there is an aspect of the believer’s redemption which is forensic (justification) and that which is regenerative or transformative (sanctification).

A second point must be taken into account, namely, the bond of this duplex gratia. The bond by which the Christian receives the duplex gratia is union with Christ. In fact, this is precisely what we would expect after determining the nature and function of the unio mystica. It would be nonsensical to expect Calvin to speak any differently, because it is only though participating in Christ’s death and resurrection by faith resulting in union with Christ can the Christian receive the duplex gratia. Thus, Calvin scholar Mark Garcia suitably writes, “it appears both the formal and the functional importance of Calvin’s union idea within his soteriology is better reflected if his framework is referred to as an unio Christi-duplex gratia rather than simply a duplex gratia framework.”[3] The duplex gratia, or for that matter any Gospel benefit, ought not to be spoken of in Calvin’s theology without relating it to both the unio mystica and the historia salutis connected to it! For Calvin, no Christ means no justification or sanctification.

There are other implications one might expect the duplex gratia to have in its relationship to the unio mystica at this point. That is, if the Christian receives Christ by faith at the initial ingrafting into Christ (intermediate mystical union), then doesn’t the Christian receive all the benefits of redemption simultaneously? In other words, if Christ, not the benefits, is what the Christian is united to, then would not all the grace that Christ was and is for us in his death and resurrection becomes ours? Of course, Calvin notes the distinctiveness of both justification and sanctification, but are they simultaneous and inseparable as one would expect?

First, note that for Calvin, that the two-fold grace of justification and sanctification is exactly that, “a grace.” In the Latin the phrase duplex gratia is singular because both justification and sanctification find their ground in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The inseparability of both graces can be seen not only in the very grammar that Calvin uses but also in his various comments found in his commentaries. In his commentary on Jeremiah 24:7 Calvin writes, “But these two things, the reconciliation of God with men and repentance, are necessarily connected together, yet repentance ought not to be deemed as the cause of pardon or of reconciliation, as many falsely think who imagine that men deserve pardon because they repent.”[4] Although Calvin is quick to point out that repentance is not the cause of our justification, he is not afraid to speak of the inseparability of both justification and sanctification.[5] Calvin will “never separate” them “as some inconsiderately do.”[6] The inseparability of both benefits of redemption is emphasized again and again in Calvin’s writings.[7] Although they are inseparable benefits, for Calvin, it is a chief concern not to mix the two benefits. Thus in his commentary on 1 Cor 1:30 he writes,

“Those, however, that slander us, as if by preaching a free justification through faith we called men off from good works, are amply refuted from this passage, which intimates that faith apprehends in Christ regeneration equally with forgiveness of sins. Observe, on the other hand, that these two offices of Christ are conjoined in such a manner as to be, notwithstanding, distinguished from each other. What, therefore, Paul here expressly distinguishes, it is not allowable mistakenly to confound.”[8]

Justification and sanctification, although tied together by the bond of union must be kept distinct because, according to Calvin, Paul himself distinguishes the two benefits in the passage commented on.

Not only are these benefits inseparable, but they are simultaneousness as well. Calvin argues this simultaneity of the reception of the duplex gratia in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 7:10 noting,

“God accomplishes in us at one and the same time (simul) two things: being renewed by repentance, we are delivered from the bondage of our sins; and, being justified by faith, we are delivered also from the curse of our sins. They are, therefore, inseparable fruits of grace, and, in consequence of their invariable connection, repentance may with fitness and propriety be represented as an introduction to salvation, but in this way of speaking of it, it is represented as an effect rather than as a cause.”[9]

Calvin, in this comment particularly emphasizes the simultaneousness of being delivered from the bondage (transformative/sanctification) and the curse (legal/justification) of sin. At this point, it may be helpful to remind the reader that Calvin does not see these benefits as unrelated to Jesus himself.

In various places Calvin argues that to separate one of the benefits from the other is to tear Christ asunder. This phrase of “tearing Christ to pieces” has rich heritage in Reformation theology among both Protestants and Catholics.[10] Calvin uses the phrase quite often, especially when discussing the inability of separating justification and sanctification.[11] In response to the Lutheran Andreas Osiander (1498-1552), Calvin’s apparent antinomianism leads him to retort against Osiander saying,

“To prove the first point—viz. that God justifies not only by pardoning but by regenerating, he asks, whether he leaves those whom he justifies as they were by nature, making no change upon their vices? The answer is very easy: as Christ cannot be divided into parts [, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable. Whomsoever, therefore, God receives into his favor, he presents with the Spirit of adoption, whose agency forms them anew into his image.”[12]

The use of this metaphor points to the larger theological picture, namely, the fact that Christ is both our justification and sanctification. This is why, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:30, Calvin speaks of justification and sanctification as the “two offices of Christ” corresponding with the offices of Priest and King, respectively. Thus, those who argue that a Christian can be justified without sanctification inevitably dethrone Christ who cannot be torn apart! In more contemporary language, “You can’t have Christ as Savior without him being your Lord.”[13]

To summarize thus far, then, according to Calvin, the benefits of the Gospel are chiefly justification and sanctification. Both the forensic aspect of salvation (justification) and the transformative aspect (sanctification) are intimately bound in an indissoluble tie which cannot be broken because Christ himself would have to be torn apart. This two-fold grace is thus only received when the believer is first engrafted into Christ.

[1] Calvin, Institutes, 3.3.1.

[2] Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1.

[3] Garcia, Life in Christ, 3.

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations Volume Third trans. John Owen, in Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. X (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 231.

[5] E.g. Calvin, Institutes, 3.16.1

[6] Ibid., 336.

[7] Cf. Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 277.

[8] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians trans. John Pringle, in Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. XX (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 93-94.

[9] John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians, 275.

[10] Gracia, Life in Christ, 228-241.

[11] Cf. Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 217; 290; 294.

[12] Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.6.

[13] Of course, Calvin would not have been dealing with the same “Lordship” debate that raged in the 80’s and 90’s between John Macarthur, Charles Ryrie, and Zane Hodges, but surely there is application in what he says for the debate.

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