We Obey Because Christ Obeyed For Us

Herman_Witsius_Economy_of_the_CovenantsXIII. It would likewise be false to infer from this, that “if Christ performed obedience for us, we ourselves are under no necessity of obeying, because no demand can be made on the principal debtor, for what the surety has performed in his room.” Our obedience may be considered, either as it is the duty of the rational creature, with respect to his sovereign Lord; or as it is a condition of acquiring a right to eternal life: in the latter respect Christ accomplished it for us; and therefore, under that relation, it neither is nor can be required of us, as if for want of perfect obedience we could be excluded from eternal life. But in the former respect, we by all means owe obedience, and the obligation to it is rather increased than diminished by this instance of Christ’s love. For what more proper, than by this to show our gratitude, and declare, not so much by words as actions, that we acknowledge him for our Lord, who has purchased us for himself? And in fine, that as adopted sons we decline no obedience to our heavenly Father, whom his natural Son, and of the same substance with himself, so cheerfully obeyed.

Witsius, Herman (2014-08-21). Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 2 Vols. (Kindle Locations 3432-3439). . Kindle Edition.

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Gospel as Pure Promise

The following excerpts from The Economy of the Divine Covenants by Herman Witsius speak of the gospel as having a category of “pure promise”.  As Witsius writes, “…the gospel strictly taken, consists of pure promises of grace and glory.”

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 284

VIII. Divines explain themselves differently as to the CONDITIONS of the covenant of grace. We, for our part, agree with those who think, that the covenant of grace, to speak accurately, with respect to us, has no conditions properly so called: which sentiment we shall explain and establish in the following manner:

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 284

IX. A condition of a covenant, properly so called, is that action, which, being performed, gives a man a right to the reward. But that such a condition cannot be required of us in the covenant of grace, is self-evident; because a right to life neither is, nor indeed can be founded on any action of ours, but on the righteousness of our Lord alone; who having perfectly fulfilled the righteousness of the law for us, nothing can, in justice, be required of us to perform, in order to acquire a right already fully purchased for us. And indeed, in this all the orthodox readily agree.

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 286

XII. Besides, when God proposes the form of the covenant of grace, his words, to this purpose, are mere promises, as we have lately seen, Jer. xxxi. and xxxii. Our divines therefore, who, in consequence of the quirks of the Socinians and Remonstrants, have learned to speak with the greatest caution, justly maintain, that the gospel strictly taken, consists of pure promises of grace and glory.

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 286

XIII. And indeed if we were to take the promises of the covenant of grace altogether without exception, we could not, so much as in thought, devise anything in us, as the condition of these promises. For whatever can be conceived as a condition, is all included in the universality of the promises. Should God only promise eternal life, there might be some pretence for saying, that repentance, faith, and the like, were the conditions of this covenant. But seeing God does in the same breath, as it were, ratify both the beginning, progress, uninterrupted continuance, and in a word, the consummation of the new life; nothing remains in this universality of the promises which can be looked upon as a condition of the whole covenant. For we here treat of the condition of the covenant, and not concerning anything in man, which must go before the actual enjoyment of consummate happiness.

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 286-7

XIV. It is, however certain, that God has in a very wise and holy manner, so ordered it, that none should come to salvation but in a way of faith and holiness, and so ranged his promises, that none should attain to the more principal, or more perfect happiness, but they who should first be made partakers of the preceding promises. Whence we gather, that none can take comfort in the infallible hope of happiness, who has not sincerely applied himself to the practice of faith and godliness. And the scripture now and then assures us, that it is impossible for any to please God without faith, or see him without holiness. From this, many were induced to call faith, and a new life, the conditions of the covenant: whereas, to speak accurately, and according to the nature of this covenant, they are on the part of God, the execution of previous promises, and the earnest of future happiness, and on the part of man, the performance of those duties, which cannot but precede the consummate perfection of a soul delighting in God. Or if we will insist upon it, to call these things conditions: they are not so much conditions of the covenant, as of the assurance that we shall continue in God’s covenant, and that he shall be our God. And I make no doubt, but this was exactly the meaning of those very learned divines, though all of them have not so happily expressed themselves.

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 288-9

XVIII. But, which is the principal thing, we imagine, the best way to conceive of this constitution of the covenant, is as follows: since the covenant of grace, or the Gospel, strictly so called, which is the model of that covenant, consists in mere promises, prescribes nothing properly as duty, requires nothing, commands nothing: not even this, believe, trust, hope in the Lord, and the like. But declares, sets forth, and signifies to us, what God promises in Christ, what he would have done, and what he is about to do. All prescription of duty belongs to the law, as, after others, the venerable Voetius has very well inculcated, Disput. Tom. 4. p 24. seq. And we are, by all means, to maintain this, if, with the whole body of the Reformed, we would constantly defend the perfection of the law, which comprehends all virtues, and all the duties of holiness. But the law, adapted to the covenant of grace, and according to it, inscribed on the heart of the elect, enjoins to receive all those things which are proposed in the Gospel, with an unfeigned faith, and frame our lives suitably to that grace and glory which are promised. When God, therefore, in the covenant of grace, promises faith, repentance, and consequently eternal life, to an elect sinner, then the law, whose obligation can never be dissolved, and which extends to every duty, binds the man to assent to that truth, highly prize, ardently desire, seek, and lay hold on those promised blessings. Moreover, since the admirable providence of God has ranged the promises in such order, as that faith and repentance go before, and salvation follows after, man is bound, by the same law, to approve of, and be in love with this divine appointment, and assure himself of salvation only according to it. But when a man accepts the promises of the covenant, in the order they are proposed, he does, by that acceptance, bind himself to the duties contained in the foregoing promises, before he can assure himself of the fulfillment of the latter. And in this manner the covenant becomes mutual. God proposes his promises in the Gospel in a certain order. The man, in consequence of the law, as subservient to the covenant of grace, is bound to receive the promises in that order. While faith does this, the believer at the same time, binds himself to the exercise of a new life, before ever he can presume to entertain a hope of life eternal. And in this manner it becomes a mutual agreement.

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 288-9

XIX. But let none here object, that life is promised in the new covenant to him that believes and repents, no less than it was in the old covenant to him that worketh; in order thence, to conclude, that faith and repentance are now, in the same manner, conditions of the covenant of grace, that perfect obedience was the condition of the covenant of works. For when life is promised to him that doeth anything, we are not directly to understand a condition, properly so called, as the cause of claiming the reward. God is pleased only to point out the way we are to take, not to the right, but to the possession of life. He proposes faith, as the instrument, by which we lay hold on the Lord Jesus, and on his grace and glory: good works, as the evidences of our faith, and of our union with Christ, and as the way to the possession of life.

Vol. 1, Book III, Chapter I, p. 291

XXIII. In the discourses of the prophets, Christ and his apostles, there is a certain mixture of various doctrines, which, indeed, are closely connected, and mutually subservient; each of which ought to be reduced to their proper heads; so that the promises of grace be referred to the Gospel; all in junctions of duty, and all threatenings against transgressors, to the law.

Selections were taken from: The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, Vol I, Book III

Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, (Escondido, California: den Dulk Foundation, 1990) Vol. 1

Walther’s Warnings About Shepherds in Christ’s Church

CFW WaltherA pitiful object is the young minister who enters upon his office with the thought that his days of hard labor and toil are over, that he has now entered a haven of rest and peace, which he decides to enjoy since now he is his own boss and need not take orders from any person in the world. Equally as pitiable as the attitude to the sacred office which I have just sketched is that of the minister who looks upon his office as his craft, or trade, and resolves to prepare for himself a nice, comfortable parish by being careful not to make enemies and doing everything to make all his people his friends. These unhappy individuals plan to employ spiritual assets for temporal profit. They are not true ministers of Christ, and on the Last Day He will say to them: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:23.

But blessed is the minister who starts his official work on the very first day with the determination to do everything that the grace of God will enable him to do in order that not a soul in his congregation shall be lost by his fault. Such a one resolves that by the grace of God he will do all he can, so that, when the day comes for him to put down his shepherd’s staff, he may be able to say, as Christ said to His Father: Here I am and those that Thou gavest me, and none of them is lost. Even the blood of those who shall stand on the left side of the judgment-seat, he resolves, shall not be on his hands.

But now the question arises: What is the matter of chief concern to a minister who wants to attain this glorious object? He must approach the Lord with heartfelt prayer and earnest entreaties in behalf of his congregation and, when preaching the Word of God with great zeal publicly and privately, jointly or severally, rightly divide the Word of Truth. For that is what  Paul demands 2 Tim. 2:15, saying: “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

During your present year at the Seminary this very thing, you know, is the subject of our study — the proper division of the Word of God, of Law and Gospel. These two are the cardinal doctrines of all the Holy Scriptures, which are made up of these two. Any passage of Scripture, yea, any historical fact recorded in Scripture can be classified as belonging either to the Law or to the Gsopel. No one should be permitted to graduate from a school of theology who is unable to determine whether in any compound clause of Scripture the protasis is Law and the apodosis Gospel,or vice versa. It is your duty to become perfectly clear on this subject.

Twentieth Evening Lecture, pp. 209-210

Without question, the words which, in Rev. 3:15-16, Christ addressed to the bishop of the church at Laodicea are of a memorable and awful import. He said: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So, then, because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.’ We see from these words that in the infallible judgment of God it is worse to be a lukewarm than a cold minister; it is worse to be a lazy and indifferent minister, who serves in his office because it is the profession in which he is making his living, than to be manifestly ungodly. For when a minister, though not teaching or living in a plainly unchristian manner, is so sleepy, so void of all earnestness and zeal for the kingdom of God and the salvation of souls, the inevitable effect is that the poor souls of his parishioners become infected by him, and finally the entire congregation is lulled into spiritual sleep. On the other hand, when a minister leads a manifestly ungodly life and teaches ungodly doctrine, the good souls in his congregation do not follow, but turn away from him  with loathing. Now, although greater damage is inflicted on the Church by the lukewarmness of a minister than by his manifest ungodliness, still both kinds of ministers will at the end of the world receive the same sentence. Both the lukewarm and the cold minister will be addressed in those awful words: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:23.

A faithful servant of Jesus Christ, however, will one day hear himself addressed in these words of inexpressibly glad import: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matt. 25:21. A faithful minister must not only avoid being lukewarm or cold, he must be warm. His heart must glow with love of his Savior, Jesus, and of the congregation which his Savior has entrusted to his care, so that he may be able to say with Paul and all the apostles: “Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God.” 2 Cor. 5:13. This is a strange dictum. Paul says that a minister must manifest greater earnestness and zeal than the majority of the members of  his congregation may like or approve. The apostle does not mean to say that in his ministry at Corinth he displayed zeal without knowledge, Rom. 10:2, but that he was more zealous than the Corinthians desired. Every sincere preacher and minister of Jesus Christ shows himself full of zeal and earnest determination, though he may not reap any better reward from his congregation   than unpopularity, hatred, and enmity. A sincere minister will go through such experiences   rather than gain any one for himself by hushing the truth, veiling it, or grinding down its sharp points.

It is an undeniable fact, then, my friends, that a minister, in particular, a really zealous minister, has to take his ministry seriously, or he commits a grievous sin. However, he can commit a grievous sin also when his presentation of Christianity and the demands which he makes upon Christians are in excess of what the Word of God declares.

Twenty-ninth Evening Lecture, pp. 307-308

Jesus says regarding Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” John 14:6 Peter confirms this statement by his declaration before  the Jewish Sanhedrin, saying: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other  name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 Paul adds his testimony by telling his Corinthians: “ I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I Cor 2:2. Verily, then, it is a great and awful sin not to draw any soul that has been entrusted to us for instruction to Jesus and not to tell that soul again and again  what a treasure it has in the Lord Jesus, its Savior. To keep some one from believing in Christ is such an awful sin that words cannot express it. A preacher who restrains a soul from confidently laying hold of Christ — no matter whether he does it consciously or unconsciously, purposely or from blindness, through malice or as the result of a perverted zeal for the salvation of souls — deprives that soul, as far as he is concerned, of everlasting life. Instead of being a shepherd to that soul, he becomes a ravening wolf to it; instead of being its physician, he becomes its murderer; yea, instead of being an angel of God, he becomes a devil to that person. Alas, ever so many preachers have not realized until their dying day how many souls they have kept away from  Christ by their unevangelical preaching and by their own fault have cause the souls entrusted to them to die of spiritual starvation. The result was that these unhappy preachers shortly before their death have had a severe soul-battle to fight with self-accusations and despair, and not a few of them have departed this life without consolation, in anguish, misery, and despair.

The worst offenders in this respect are the so-called rationalistic preachers, who with diabolical audacity mount Christian pulpits and instead of preaching Christ, the Savior, to all sinners, recite their miserable moral precepts for a virtuous life and fill the ears of the people with their empty bombast. To these rationalistic mercenaries, “whose God is their belly,” Phil 3:19 the terrible woe is addressed, even in our day, which the Lord denounced, saying: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” Matt 23:13. What terror shall seize these preachers who used to call themselves friends and adorers of Jesus Christ when they must appear before His judgement-seat and hear Him address them in words of flaming anger: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt 7:23.

Thirty-Fifth Evening Lecture, pp. 361-362

All excerpts are from The Proper Distinction Between Lawn and Gospel by Dr. C.F.W. Walther