Thursday, September 07, 2017

Turretin on the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant

IV. Now as the church is rightly distributed into militant and triumphant, so the distinction between them must be considered not to be essential and specific as to nature but only accidentally as to state and degree. For since there is only one communion of saints and only one body of Christ (Cant. 6:9), as he head by which it is governed is only one and the Spirit by which it is animated only one (Eph. 4:3, 4); so the church in both states is the same, …

V. These two states, however, as so mutually connected by the most wise dispensation of God that they cannot be torn asunder, but necessarily attend and follow each other. Just as no one can be a citizen of the church triumphant who has not given his name before to the militant, nor is anyone crowned in the former with Christ who has not rightly contended with him, so no one is a true member of the church militant here who in his own time will not be carried into the church triumphant; nor is anyone enrolled among believers in grace who will not be received into the choir of the blessed in glory. For whom Christ once received coming to him, he will never cast out (Jn. 6:37), because the bond of our union with him is eternal and indissoluble (adialyton). …

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 20.XIII.5; v. 3:633-4]

The Church Militant refers to the Invisible Church on earth, fighting sin, the world and the Devil. The Church Triumphant refers to the Church in heaven, who has won over sin, the world and the Devil. Errors like the Federal Vision attempt to separate the two, such that one can be a member of the Church Militant without being a member of the Church Triumphant, due to covenant breaking. However, Scripture teaches that those who are truly saved are the members of the Church Militant, and will never fall away. Thus, 1 Jn. 2:19 states that those who are "covenant breakers" were never truly in the Church in the first place. They broke the covenant externally- that is true, but they were never actually in it.

The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are thus two sides of the same coin, in different forms. Until Christ comes again, the two forms are present, since we are living in the period between the Inauguration and the Consummation of the Kingdom of God. When Christ returns, the two will be seen as one, and all who believe in Christ will be gathered as the Church Triumphant, praising God and Christ forever and ever.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The problem with some practical applications in sermons and articles

Sermons and articles, generally speaking, are general in scope. One does not preach to, or at least should not preach to, a particular person. And articles are read by anyone from the public. These forms of communication are public in nature, and thus there is a problem when we speak about practicality in such communication of God's Word.

People come to hear the sermon from various walks of life and various experiences during the week. Similarly, people from all manner of backgrounds and moods may click to or pick up an article to read. The problem with practical applications therefore comes around to this: If the applications are specific, there is a high chance of it being take wrongly by others. This has nothing to do with the motivation of the preacher or the writer, but simply because of the subjective nature of applications. For example, trying to discern the nature of idolatry even to the relationship between husband and wife is something that I will never ever do. But those who want "practical advice" may ask questions on such topics, or pastors may decide to "make the Bible practical" by applying it to the nitty-gritty details of life. However, the more specific an application is, the higher the chance it would be taken wrongly by others. For example, to attempt to discern what kind of emotion is idolatry and what kind of emotion is not idolatry that spouses have for each other, will probably be a stumbling block to those who are more emotional by nature, and cause them needless anguish instead of help and comfort.

It is because of the problems with practical applications that my policy is to keep away from practical applications, especially specific practical applications, in any sermon or article. The place for specific applications is in the one-to-one counseling session, where God's Word can be personally ministered to a person in his particular situation. Anyway, why the rush to be "practical"? Is proclaiming the Word of God insufficient? Saints who are tired from the striving in the world, from their interaction with ungodliness, need an external word from God. We are earth-bound, and during the Lord's Day worship we need to be called away from our worries, to be called to an audience before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The last thing they should desire is to bring the worries of the world into the church. Here, in the meeting of the people of God, is where he can come to worship, as a foretaste of heaven. Here, he hears the Word of God, who comes outside of us (extra nos). The Lord speaks to us out of heaven, so why do we want to think about the things of the world on the Lord's Day especially in the sacred assembly? Perhaps the desire for practical applications is a misunderstanding of what worship on the Lord's Day is about. Or perhaps it is a symptom of the failure of the local church pastor to visit and counsel the flock. Either way, such a desire is not right. We come to the Lord to hear His Word proclaimed. God dictates the matter to be spoken, and how it is to be spoken, by the Spirit through His Word. It is not for us to "make it more practical," but to re-orientate our concerns and priorities according to what Scripture teaches.

As I have said, my (unspoken) policy is to keep away from practical applications, or rather to keep away from applications that are not immediately apparent from the text of Scripture. No doubt there are many with good intentions, but good intentions alone are not sufficient. We should wish not to place undue burdens and hurts upon God's people, and therefore try not to be more "practical" than Scripture.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Turretin on the benefits of the sacraments

V. … Therefore a twofold efficacy is ascribed to the sacraments according to us: the one moral and objective, by which the sacraments make present to our mind that object, to signify and seal which they are destined (by which means, faith is either excited or confirmed and, it mediating, hope and sanctification are increased); the other covenantal, by which God (sealing by the sacraments his promise or covenant) confers the very things promised upon the believing soul or even a greater sense and perception of these already conferred and produces by both greater operations. Hence the sacraments are rightly called exhibitive … a moral exhibition by which that grace is objectively exhibited to the mind and with it, at the same time, really to the believing soul. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 19.VIII.5; v.3:363]

In the Reformed tradition, the ministry of the pastor is called the ministry of Word and Sacrament. That is because it is not just the preaching of the Word that is important for the health of the church, but also the administration of the sacraments. Since it is faith that saves, faith in the Gospel message, the sacraments are not medicine that saves (like health packs in FPS video games). Rather, the sacraments are visible words, exhibiting the Gospel message in a different, more sensory form.

The sacraments are "visible words," which is that they are of the same type as the preaching of God's Word. Just as preaching sets forth and exhibits Christ and the Gospel, so that those who hear and believe will be saved, so likewise the sacraments exhibit Christ and the Gospel, so that those who partake and believe will be saved. Just as preaching puts forward Christ and His benefits for our instruction, discipleship and encouragement, so likewise the sacraments puts forward Christ and His benefits for our instruction, discipleship and encouragement. That is why Turretin calls it a "moral" efficacy, as it influences and moves people through means of exhibiting the message to our mind.

The correct way to partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper is to treat them as visible words. Partake in faith, and meditate upon the biblical truths these signs convey as you partake of them. Then, and only then, will you benefit from the sacraments for your encouragement and strength. As you are baptized, or every time you witness a baptism, remind yourself once again of what Christ has done for you on the Cross to save you, and how He has forgiven your sins and united you to Him in faith, so that you are now saved from your sin and given new life in Him. As you partake of the Lord's Supper, remember the atoning death of Christ on your behalf as you partake of the bread, and in the wine thank God you are now under the New Covenant and not under the Old Covenant of Law and Works, so that you are now under grace not works. In such manner, you will derive great benefit for your souls through the sacraments, as God has intended for you to do so.

Friday, September 01, 2017

James White on the Nashville Statement, and Racialism in Reformed circles

Dr James White has done a helpful Dividing Line podcast on two interesting topics: The Nashville Statement, and Racialism in Reformed circles.

The Nashville Statement

The Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has just published a statement on the issue of sexuality in light of the latest devolutions of liberal debauchery, the Nashville Statement. You can access it here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

5 Steps to Embrace People from Another Race or Culture

In light of this, let me offer a better way of thinking on how to interact with those from other ethnicities and/or cultures.

1) Interact with those of other ethnicities with a true and sincere desire to get to them know as PEOPLE

Each individual person is unique; we are not clones from an assembly line. Each person has his or her unique life experiences and struggles. We are not reducible to any Critical Race Construct. Even among the most radical Indentity Politics advocates, none of them are alike in every respect. To treat individual human beings as sociological constructs is insulting, demeaning and dehumanizing.

2) Strive to understand the individual, and strive not to give in to stereotyping

Since we are not sociological constructs but human individuals, we are not defined by stereotypes of various ethnic groups. For example, I am Chinese, and I very much resent if anyone were to think that therefore I must love kung fu and table tennis, just because I am Chinese (I don't care for kung fu and I don't play table tennis). I am also Singapore Chinese, and I very much resent being thought of as if I am no different from China Chinese. Likewise, to say that all whites are immoral sex addicts who love to go to night clubs and sleep around with anyone, or to say that all blacks are violent criminals — all such are stereotyping and should be resisted.

We are not to be defined solely by our groups, of what kind of "otherness" groupings we are a member of. Labels, sociological or otherwise, are tools for sociologists in broad study of society and societal trends, but they make for terrible oppressive labels when used in interpersonal relationships.

To cultivate true friendships, we must reject all such labelings and stereotypings. You are seeking to understand someone, who has his or her own unique life experience. As an aside, should we not wonder when so-called tolerant liberals cannot understand minorities who think differently from what they think minorities ought to think (i.e. black conservatives, "people of color" who reject Critical Race Theory etc.)? That is because they cannot think and interact with people as they truly are! People must conform to their Critical Race theory categories, otherwise they must be "betrayals of their race!" Does this look like an actual desire to get to know people, or another (leftist) form of cultural imperialism?

3) Understand individuals are enculturated in specific cultures which may be foreign to you, but they are not defined only by their cultural backgrounds

Everyone has a culture (white American, white American Southern, black etc.). White culture should not be taken as necessarily the default "correct" culture, as if there can be such a thing! When facing those from different ethnicities, one should seek to attempt to understand his or her culture. One does not have to denigrate one's own culture to do so, as if cultures are in pitched battle where one must win and the other must lose. NO, that is not the case! Reject the entire framework of critical race theory, and stop having this idea of "winners" and "losers" in a cultural and racial war! If you continue to have this idea of cultural and racial warfare, then you cannot interact with others from other ethnicities and cultures without individuals from one culture or both practicing cultural imperialism.

So understand the cultural background of others without denigrating your own. But at the same time, understand that others are enculturated does not imply that their cultural background defines them. Get to know them as individuals, and do not be surprised if they might deviate from established cultural patterns and norms.

4) Understand that individuals may have practices and beliefs that you may shock you, which may be right, partly right or wrong, but suspend judgment for the moment.

Cultures are human constructs, and as such partake of the fallenness of sinful humanity. Therefore, certain cultural beliefs and practices might be sinful. One should not therefore practice cultural relativism and accept different cultural practices as equally legitimate as one's own. At the same time, this applies to all cultures including your own culture. Due to how easy it is to make one's culture the default, judgment of cultural practices should be slow in coming. Get to know and understand your new friend first and foremost, suspending judgment on cultural practices for the moment. Only engage in dialog in humility with a desire for iron to sharpen iron later.

5) Understand their struggles. Do not excuse them for sin, neither discriminate against them for weaknesses, but come alongside them for mutual aid.

Due to sin in the world, it is possible for those from a different culture to struggle with sins and patterns of sin that you do not struggle with. Sin is sin, defined by God. Therefore, there is no excuse for sin, even practiced by those are different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. At the same time, none of us is perfect. Just because you do not struggle with a particular sin or pattern of sin does not imply you are better than another from a different ethnicity. You might after all be struggling with other types of sin which he does not struggle with. Therefore, do not discriminate against someone merely because his struggle is against a different pattern of sin than yours, but come alongside to aid him. As you do so, he should likewise do the same to you, as following the same steps, and in this both parties are mutually edified.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The problem of non-naming as seen in the era of identity politics

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 Jn. 1:9-10)

In much of present society, naming those who are in error is repugnant (with the exception of Trump and white supremacists I suppose). Rather, the person is to be respected while the error rejected. Now, while in some cases, such might be the right course of action, when it comes to accusations and insinuations of sin, such is actually unbiblical and sinful.

In the era of identity politics, vague accusations of sin in the form of "systemic racism" abound. Broad strokes of racial injustice are painted as the original sin of a particular ethnic group or society or nation. But what exactly are these but assault on entire swaths of society and the demonization of entire ethnicities? If there is actual racism, surely racists can be named and racist laws pointed out. But if one deals in generalities, then aspersion is cast upon entire ethnicities, without having the necessity of actually proving that sins exist. After all, when one points out someone from that group is not racist, then the accuser can say that person is not racist but "the system" is. General accusations of sin can be made without the need to prove actual sin exists, since how does one prove a general sin when any counter-evidence is particular?

Thus, while non-naming seems to be "kinder" and more polite, it may not actually be kind and loving. In fact, especially in the era of identity politics where vague general collective accusations are the norm, non-naming actually result in division and the creation of strife between different groups of people. After all, what do you think is going to happen if you start accusing whites of being unjust ("privilege") because of their skin color, which they cannot change? Maybe as a black you suffer real injustice and racism from whites, but are you honestly suggesting the solution is to insinuate that whites are sinful because of their skin color? Oh, but I didn't say that, you might say. But what do you think people will interpret when your polemics against "privilege" IMPLY that whiteness is sinful in some sense? After reading articles that bash "whiteness," are you surprised if people think you are saying that whiteness is sinful? And when people see you giving a pass to racists from your camp while attacking them as racists, why should they think you are nothing more than racists discriminating against them?

Like it or not, how we express ourselves and what we omit is also important. People can and will read between the lines. And people will see vague general accusations against any particular race as condemnation of everyone in that particular race. That is why the idea of "systemic racism" should be rejected. Can there be racist laws and racist policies? Sure! Name them then! Don't hide behind vague accusations of "systemic racism" as if you have the privilege of making accusations which you cannot substantiate. This is where naming is important. Can you imagine if the apostle John wrote that "someone in the church" does not acknowledge our authority, instead of naming Diotrephes? Can you imagine the suspicion that everyone will have, each against his own neighbor, if John were not to name this schismatic? But naming makes the charge concrete. It points to a particular problem, and then when the problem is known, solutions and resolutions can be made to attempt to resolve the problem.

Thus, in the area of sin and accusations of sin, it is better to be specific, not general. And in the case of racism, real or perceived, name the offenders! Are you after all looking for repentance and forgiveness of the offender, or are you more interested in playing the victim and harboring bitterness in your heart? Do you actually want to solve the problems of racial discrimination, or nurture your wounds in a zero-sum game of identity politics so that the entire world can go up in flames in your act of vengeance against those who sin against you? Which do you think is the Christian approach?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Endorsing Reformed racism and the exhaustion of the grievance industry

Racism is sin, because it treats people unequally merely because of their skin color and ethnic belonging. Racism, as a word and as a concept, applies to all, because all humans are made in the image of God. It is not the case that some people retain the image of God, and others do not, but racism is sin because it violates the image of God in Man, all men, everywhere. As a universal concept, racism can apply to anyone from any race or ethnicity, as long as they demand different treatment based upon racial distinctions.

It is in this light that RAAN (Reformed African-American Network) is a racist organization, promoting racism. I am astonished how blind many supposed Reformed people are to racism when it does not fit into the prevailing social paradigm in America. Needless to say, I have yet to hear any coherent argument against the proposition that RAAN is promoting racism. There are many articles one can point to which exists only to affirm a double standard based upon racial "privilege." This tweet and article by Jemar Tisby is only one of the many reprehensible and toxic articles on racial relations ever to be written and endorsed by RAAN.

Having lived as a minority for a time in America, I can see that there is some amount of preferential treatment that whites enjoy. But to understand there are problems does not imply that any proposed solution is good, for bad solutions can worsen the problem instead of resolving it. But look at Tisby's article and you will notice a major toxic core there: that racial discrimination against whites is necessary for blacks to thrive. Or, to put it in a more generic and applicable statement, racial discrimination against the "majority" (whoever they are) is necessary for any minority to thrive. Notice that the question is NOT, "Do blacks have a right to mix with each other in their own gatherings?" It is also not, "Is it normal for blacks to want to socialize with other blacks?" It is also not, "Is it normal for blacks to desire to engage topics in their own way?" Rather, the question is, "Are whites so much to be identified with their race that they are irreversibly tainted with whiteness and therefore are prohibited from certain gatherings of blacks?"

It is perfectly normal for a person to desire company with those they share more affinity to, socially and culturally and otherwise. It is perfectly normal that some groups of friends might be exclusive in their gatherings, for after all friendship is personal and private. But if the gathering is not a closed gathering of friends or of a society, then to say that it is open to all of a certain race but not to those of other races is the very definition of racism.

What makes Tisby's article even worse is his rationale for such racial gatherings. Tisby's rationale is that racial integration (which is supposed to be a good thing, is it not?) is emotionally draining and thus "safe spaces" are necessitated as a result. Remember, we are not merely speaking about the need to meet other blacks, or enjoy black culture. We are speaking of the need to segregate into safe spaces to refresh oneself. Why is integration so exhausting? Can you imagine Tisby in heaven telling Jesus he needs to segregate with other blacks for some time of refreshment? If that sounds ridiculous, that is because it is. But why is integration so stressful?

The reason why integration is so stressful for those who reject overt racism (e.g white supremacy), is because they have bought into Critical Race Theory and its accompanying grievance industry. When someone buys into Critical Race Theory, suddenly one sees racism and injustice everywhere. One has been "woke" into an altered reality where everything is interpreted in racial and racial grievance categories. A white barista treating a black customer rudely? That's racism! Nevermind that the barista has a bad day and is treating everyone (white and black and everyone else) rudely! Policeman roughing up a black guy? That's definitely racism. Nevermind that particular cop is also black! The outrage meter has been dialed up to near maximum on a regular basis, and everyday becomes one day away from a holocaust of black people. It is no wonder that those like Tisby gets exhausted! This is no way to live a life! But this exhaustion is totally the fault of Tisby and other racial justice warriors' doing; it is self-inflicted. But just because it is self-inflicted, does it mean that Tisby and the Racial SJWs will stop their hysteria? I doubt it. I would love for the day when they and their supporters individually and collectively repent of their racism and reject Critical Race Theory, but, barring a miracle, I do not think that will happen anything soon.

How did I for example live life in the United States? I mix with those of other races, and I do not demand "safe spaces" where whites or all non-Chinese are not welcome. If I desire to celebrate ethnic festivals like Chinese New Year, I do not exclude others from joining but rather invite them to join in whatever I have planned. Ethnic and cultural differences can be celebrated with others without excluding others because of their skin color or ethnicity.

What is the best way to interact with others different from you in terms of ethnicity and culture? Get to know them as PERSONS and do not prejudge them. That is all! We do not need 5 steps of tiptoeing around the social construct of "otherness" to do that! Each of us is a human being, not a Critical Race social construct! Do not let the Reformed racists ruin true interactions with those different from you, with their dialed-up hysteria, racial collectivism, and manufactured and imputed guilt and/or righteousness!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

White Supremacy is sin!

Over in America, alt-right white supremacists have decided to make their presence known in a very ugly way. Now, racism is sin, no matter who is the offender. It doesn't matter if the racist is of a majority or a minority race; sin is sin.

America is a very divided country. A sizable portion of the minority especially black population are all too willing to attack racism, real or perceived, from the majority whites. Even worse is where racist social theories (critical race theory) are utilized to promote racism against the majority, as what we have seen with RAAN (Reformed African-American Network).

On the other side however are diverse peoples including those who are sincerely fed-up with the racial blackmail organizations like RAAN is doing. But then there are real racists also in what is often termed the alt-right — real white racists. (It is almost as if someone wanted to confirm all the stereotypes RAAN has created of whites, and actually become real racists. OK, that last sentence was in jest).

As I have said, racism is sin no matter who does it and to whom. White supremacy, or white racism is sin. In fact, due to historical circumstances, it is the most remembered sin in modern history. White racism is disgusting, and its "theological" error kinism (the idea that one should only mix with one's "race" or "kin" - against miscegenation) is utterly repugnant. One should not be partisan on such matters. Just because RAAN is racist does not mean that white racists are to be excused. Both are to be denounced when they promote racism. Those who excuse RAAN while denouncing white supremacists, and those who denounce RAAN while excusing white supremacists, are not truly for racial equality and "racial reconciliation," but partisan hacks.

Racism is sin. And as long as racial differences continue to persist, there is a need to guard ourselves against it. God made all nations from one man, Adam, and there are no superior or inferior "races." All are made in the image of God, and racism is an assault against that image of God.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Turretin and justification by works (Law/ Gospel)

II. … For as there are two covenants which God willed to make with men—legal and evangelical. Accordingly there is also a double justification or a double method of standing before God in judgment—legal and evangelical. The former consists in one’s own obedience or a perfect conformity with the law, which is in him who is to be justified; the latter in another’s obedience or a perfect observance of the law, which is rendered by a surety in the place of him who is to be justified—the former in us, the latter in Christ. Concerning the first, Paul says, “Not the hearers, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13); and “Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law. That the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5). Concerning the other, he says, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16, 17); and “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Concerning both, he says, “That I may be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ” (Phil. 3:9; cf. also Rom. 9:30, 31). Hence a twofold justification flows: one in the legal covenant by one’s own righteousness according to the clause, “Do this and live”; the other in the covenant of grace, by another’s righteousness (Christ’s) imputed to us and apprehended by faith according to the clause, “Believe and thou shalt be saved.” Each demands a perfect righteousness. The former requires it in the man to be justified, but the latter admits the vicarious righteousness of a surety. The former could have place in a state of innocence, if Adam had remained in innocence. But because after sin it became impossible to man, we must fly to the other (i.e, the gospel), which is founded upon the righteousness of Christ. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.16.II.2]

We notice here that Turretin holds to the strongest version of the Law-Gospel distinction. Note also the proof texts Turretin utilizes, which are the texts that those of us who hold to the Law-Gospel distinction have likewise used to support our position. Romans 2:13 was appealed to to speak of the principle of the covenant of works, not as how some contemporary theologians have interpreted as speaking of spirit-filled obedience.

It is thus Reformed to speak of justification by works. The question is not whether we are justified by works, but whose works. The Reformed position is that we are justified by Christ's work, not ours. Christ did everything, and then imputed his righteousness to us through faith. Therefore, believers' justification is through faith because of Christ, and thus the Gospel is one where no one can merit salvation even one bit.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Turretin contra the Amyraldian offer of the Gospel

LII. Although by the preaching of the gospel, God offers Christ to the called with his benefits, it does not follow that he must have died for them in order that the offer may not be insincere. He is not offered absolutely and simply, but under the condition of faith and repentance; not as a narrated truth which, whether believed or not, always remains true, but as a promised truth which is ascertained to be true only when its condition is complied with (as Cameron declared). From this it follows that there is an indissoluble connection between faith and salvation and that all are bound to faith who wish to enjoy Christ and his benefits, and who are called to Christ; but that God, by his eternal and immutable decree, has destined Christ to be the Savior of all who are called or that he intended that Christ by his death should acquire eternal salvation for each and every man, can in no way be inferred from this call. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.14.XIV.52]

Friday, August 04, 2017

Turretin: Why was the Father not incarnated

V. (2) The Father could not be incarnated, for as he was the first in order he could not sent by anyone or act a mediator to the Son and the Holy Spirit. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.13.IV.5]

According to Turretin, the ad intra ordering (ταξις) of the Father as first is the reason why the Father (ad extra) is not incarnated, but the Son, by virtue of being second, was incarnated.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Turretin on Natural Law

VI. But the orthodox speak far differently. They affirm that there is a natural law, not arising from a voluntary contract or law of society, but from a divine obligation being impressed by God upon the conscience of man in his very creation, on which the difference between right and wrong is founded and which contains the practical principles of immovable truth (such as: “God should be worshiped,” “parents honored,” “we should live virtuously,” “injure no one,” “do to others what we would wish them to do to us” and the like). Also that so many remains and evidences of this law are still left in our nature (although it has been in different ways corrupted and obscured by sin) that there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less. Now they wish this law to be called natural, not because it has its origin from bare nature (since it depends upon God the supreme lawgiver), but because it becomes known from the aspect of creatures and the relation of man to God, and the knowledge of it is impressed upon the mind by nature, not acquired by tradition or instruction. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.11.I.7]

VIII. Thus the origin and foundation of this law ought not to be sought (as the Jews falsely seek it) from “the seven precepts” which they maintain were given to Adam and Noah …

IX. But it must be drawn from the right of nature itself, founded both on the nature of God, the Creator (who by his holiness must prescribe to his creatures the duties founded upon that right), and on the condition of rational creatures themselves (who, on account of their necessary dependence upon God in the genus of morals, no less than in the genus of being, are bound to perform or avoid those things which sound reason and the dictates of conscience enjoin upon them to do or avoid)

X. The right of nature … strictly and properly for that which has reference only to rational creatures. The lawyers include this under the laws of nations. It is rightly described by common practical notions, or the light and dictation of conscience ..[Ibid., 2.11.I.8-10]

XXII. If it is asked how this natural law agrees with or differs from the moral law, the answer is easy. It agrees as to substance and with regard to principles, but differs as to accidents and with regard to conclusions. … [Ibid., 2.11.I.22]

Looks like Turretin is far from a Neo-Kuyperian on the issue of natural law.

Turretin on the will of God in relation to moral acts

VII. God is not under any moral duty outwardly because he is a debtor to no one, and there is no cause out of him which can place him under obligation. Yet he can be under obligation inwardly because he is a debtor to himself and cannot deny himself. As the Son, in divine thins, is obliged to work by the Father, and the Father is obliged to love the Son, so in external acts (supposing the creature to be produced), God cannot but command him and give him just and holy precepts. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.3.XVIII.7]

God is "ex lex" (outside the law), externally. But God is not some arbitrary person, but God has/ is His own nature. Therefore, while God is externally not under obligation, yet internally He cannot but will according to His own nature.

Therefore, heretics like Vincent Cheung are in error because, in calling God the "author of sin," one of his errors is in divorcing God's will from his nature. Cheung is an extreme nominalist, and that is why his god can be the author of sin and yet totally exonerated from the guilt of sinning.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Actual vs hypothetical possibilities

What makes something possible? Is there a difference among differing possibilities? Is it possible for a lawyer to have taken a different path in the past and become a doctor instead? Or is it possible for someone to born a girl instead of a boy? Or perhaps is it possible for the world to have a different value of the speed of light? Or, what about whether it is possible for the elect to lose their salvation? As it can be seen, all these are "possibilities" in the sense of what can be conceived in the mind, but they are different types of possibilities. The possibility of a different career path depends on decisions made by the person in the past. The second possibility depends on the genotype of the sperm fertilizing the egg (X instead of Y). The third possibility is a variation of the "possible worlds" or "multiverse" hypothesis (a concept which need not really and physically exist except conceptually) The fourth possibility however does not seem to possible, but it is something that can be conceived in the mind, so is it a real possibility?

For those who believe in Scripture and the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, the reason why the fourth possibility does not seem to be a possibility is due to the biblical teaching that God will certainly preserve those whom He calls and saves. John 6:44 states, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." The God who calls a person to salvation will raise him up on the last day. Therefore, how can it be said that the elect have a possibility that they can lose their salvation?

So let us just look at this one particular example here. Is there any sense in which losing salvation is a possibility? And here we must say that, in any actual sense, there is no possibility of the losing of salvation. But yet, according to nature, the elect have no infallible principle placed into them that will make perseverance certain. The elect are not suddenly changed to become like the holy angels, never thinking of not sinning or running away from God. In other words, while God's promise of perseverance is present, everything else in nature and the world seem to indicate otherwise. Professing believers apostatize from the faith, even those that at one time were fervent for the Lord. Others suffer with great doubt over their faith, while on the other spectrum yet others claim to have infallible assurance of their salvation while living like the Devil. The world, this real world, does not seem to make everything so nicely cut and dry, does it?

So is losing one's salvation a possibility? According to God's word, it is not. Looking with the eyes of faith even at the brokenness of this world, we can also say not, since what we see is seldom the heart of the person who claims faith. But from the perspective of nature and the realities of this world, we can say that losing one's salvation is a possibility in this sense: that if it were not for God's promise and God's Spirit, the elect could really lose their salvation. As Mark 13:22 states concerning the false wonders of the false messiahs, these were done to, "lead astray, if possible, the elect." In other words, the elect losing their salvation is a real possibility were it not for the fact of God's promise and the Spirit preserving the elect. Thus, the elect losing their salvation is a possibility, not a real possibility, but what I would call a "hypothetical possibility."

A real possibility refers to something that might happen if something else were or were not the case. It regards things that are variables that could be otherwise in other possible worlds. A hypothetical possibility however refers to something that is possible provided some other principle were to be suspended. In the case of the perseverance of the saints, the principle to be suspended is the intention of God to fulfill His promise, and this principle is necessary in all possible worlds. Hypothetical possibilities are therefore truly hypothetical, in the sense that there is no possible world where they can be realized. Hypothetical possibilities are however different from logical contradictions, like "square circles" or "God creating a stone so heavy He cannot lift it." Hypothetical possibilities are possibilities as they can be conceived, and can be actualized if the principles holding them back (as it were) were suspended.

Thus, in the discussion concerning reprobation, I made the observation that it is a hypothetical possibility that a creature that is reprobated would not be condemned if he did not sin. This is a hypothetical possibility because it is natural and necessary for any fallen creature to sin. But having this hypothetical possibility is meant to show anyone who is interested that God does not just dump innocents into hell, or that He sends people to hell before they have sinned. In the attack against Suprelapsarianism for example, the charge is made that Suprelapsarianism makes God send people on the path of hell even before they are considered sinners. But this charge ignores the two-step process of reprobation, and the hypothetical possibility of the non-damnation of the reprobate, and therefore does not stick. Yes, Supralapsaranism has God electing and reprobating prior to the decree to permit the Fall, but in the decree, reprobation is made to be fully executed only after the Fall (after fallen men sin). The decrees have built-in "clocks" as it were, to be implemented in execution when the conditions within the decree are fulfilled.

This distinction between actual and hypothetical possibility therefore has great hermeneutical potential. Instead of just thinking of things actual and things possible, we should perhaps think of things actual, things actually possible, and things hypothetical possible. Using such categories would aid us greatly in understand concepts like warning against apostasy as something addressing a possibility for the elect (hypothetical possibility), without making such warnings about questioning the salvation of the elect (Arminianism), or stating that they are simply hot air and worrying over nothing, since the elect can never actually fall away (simplistic reasoning by some Calvinists).