Monday, February 14, 2022

EFS, Metaphysics and Theology - A Second Response to Derrick Brite on EFS (Part 2)

Witsius on Will and Submission in the Pactum Salutis

Along with Brite’s insistence that will is a property of nature is his citation of Herman Witsius to assert that there is absolutely no submission of the Son to the Father in the Pactum Salutis. Herman Witsius of course is the Dutch Reformed theologian who synthesized Cocceian and Voetian thought to create a mature 17th century covenant theology. His Economy of the Covenants is taken to be the pinnacle of Reformed thought on the covenants. If we want to know what Reformed scholasticism believes about the covenants of God, Witsius’ work would be the place to go to. Support from Witsius would not necessarily imply that one’s position is correct, but it would certainly imply that one’s view is supported by the Reformed Tradition. Is Brite therefore correct in marshaling Witsius as a witness for his view on the Pactum?

Before continuing, I would like to put up two quotes from Witsius’ Economy of the Covenants so we have a sense of what Witsius taught:

II. When I speak of the compact between the Father and the Son, I thereby understand the will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting himself as a Sponsor of Surety of them; in all which the nature of a compact and agreement consists. [5]

IX. It is also proof of this, that Christ, often in the Psalms and elsewhere, calls God the Father his God. … in these things the whole nature and design of the covenant consists. As therefore Christ calls God the Father his God; and on the other hand, the Father calls Christ his servant, both of them do by that name indicate a compact of obedience and reward.[6]

In the first quote, we notice that Witsius speaks of a distinct “will of the Father” and a distinct “will of the Son,” something which seems to put him outside the classical theist usage of “will” as a property of nature. In the second quote, we notice that the names of God have covenantal overtones indicating “a compact of obedience and reward,” and another word for “obedience” is “submission.” Witsius agrees that Christ is the servant in the covenant, and therefore there does not seem to be any reason to assert that Witsius does not teach submission within the Covenant. A voluntary submission to be true, but a submission nonetheless.

We now go to Brite’s citation of Witsius. For a time I could not find the exact quote, and the reason for that is because the actual sentences are on a different page. This does not bode well for Brite’s citation of Witsius, as getting page numbers wrong may very well indicate that one did not actually check the actual source material. Also, although I am citing a reprint edition, I have the original ones as well, and the page numberings of Witsius’ work is preserved from the original version cited by Brite to the Reformation Heritage edition.

Brite’s article places the Witsius’ quote at page 151 in Witsius’ Economy of the Covenants. The actual page number the quote is found is page 180 of Witsius’ work. I will now cite the passage and its immediate context.


V. The law, proposed to the Mediator, may be considered in a twofold view: 1st As the directory of his nature and office. 2dly. As the condition of the covenant. The Mediator himself may be considered these three ways. 1st As God. 2dly, As Man. 3dly, As Mediator God-man. We are distinctly to compare these things, together. [7]

VI. The Son, as precisely God, neither was, nor could be subject to any law, to any superior; that being contrary to the nature of Godhead, which we now suppose the Son to have in common with the Father. …[8]

VII. Nor is it any objection against this, that the Son, from eternity, undertook for men, and thereby came under a certain peculiar relation to those that were to be saved. For, as that engagement was nothing but the most glorious act of the divine will of the Son, doing what one but God could do, it implies therefore no manner of subjection: it only imports, that there should be a time, when that divine person, on assuming flesh, would appear in the form of a servant. And by undertaking to perform this obedience, in the human nature, in its proper time, the Son, as God, did no more subject himself to the Father, than the Father with respect to the Son, to the owing that reward of debt, which he promised him a right to claim. All these things are to be conceived of in a manner becoming God. [9]

VIII. Nor ought it be urged, that the Son, even before His incarnation, was called the Angel, Gen. xlviii.16. Exod. xxiii. 20. For that signifies no inferiority of the Son, before the time appointed, for his incarnation; but only a form resembling the appearances of angels, and prefiguring his future mission into the world. [10]

As it can be seen, Witsius in context is discussing the status of the Mediator in relation to the law. He does this by looking at the Son firstly as God, secondly as Man, and thirdly as the God-Man. With regards to the law, the Son could not be subject to the Law as God, for He is God, as stated in section 6 above. Witsius continued this flow of thought in section 7 by stating that even the submission due to His incarnation and death did not make him inferior to the Father and thus “subject” to Him. Rather, as the Pactum binds the Son to submit, likewise the Father is bound to reward the Son for His submission (“the owing that reward of debt”), and therefore the Son is not inferior to the Father because of His earthly humiliation. Section 8 further continues the thought by stating that the pre-incarnate Son (i.e. before His humiliation) was not inferior despite being called “the angel.”

The context of Witsius’ quote therefore lies in exploring the implication of the Son’s submission to His ontology. First, Witsius states that the Son is co-equal to God and therefore is not inferior. Second, Witsius states that the Son’s humiliation does not make Him [ontologically] inferior because the Pactum is mutually binding. Thirdly, Witsius states that the Son’s pre-incarnate name of “the Angel” does not make Him inferior because the Angel is a prefigurement and only bears resemblance to actual angels.

How does that tie in with Brite’s citation? Brite’s citation fails because the verb “subject” as used by Witsius is ontological, whereas Brite is using it to argue that submission of any kind is not present in the Pactum. Brite also fails to notice that “the Father’s debt to the Son” is with regards to the owing of the reward the Father is bound to give the Son in the Pactum. “The Father’s debt to the Son” is not the submission of the Father to the Son. While Wistius is arguing that the submission of the Son does not imply inferiority (“subject to”) since both parties are bound to the conditions of the covenant, Brite uses the quote to argue that reading submission into the Pactum would imply mutual submission. But don’t just blindly agree with me. I would urge readers to read for themselves Witsius’ writings and decide who has adequately represented what Witsius says in that chapter in his book. Witsius has more to say about the Pactum, but I will look at those later when we deal with the issue of necessity.

[to be continued]

[5] Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenant between God and Man, 1.2.2. This version Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenant between God and Man (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 165

[6] Ibid., 1.2.9; This version, pages 170-1

[7] Ibid., 1.3.5. This version, page 179

[8] Ibid., 1.3.6; This version, pages 170-1

[9] Ibid., 1.3.7. This version, page 180. Bold added to highlight the cited portion.

[10] Ibid., 1.3.8. This version, page 180

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