Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Evangelical Repentance

Is forgiveness prior to repentance? This was one of the critical questions Professor James B. Torrance of Scotland (my professor in theology) used to raise to his students. It was, of course, a question calculated to stop us in our tracks and to force us to reflect upon some of our assumptions about the heart of God the Father and the reconciling work Christ. I am not sure that I ever heard anyone answer ‘yes,’ at least not before they heard Professor Torrance lecture on the subject. Torrance’s abiding point was that God’s forgiveness is unconditional and is to be proclaimed as such to the world.

Two of Torrance’s main influences on this point were John Calvin and Thomas Erskine (see his book, The Unconditional Freeness of the Gospel, in the ‘essays’ section on our web site). Calvin himself says that “a man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God. But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs to God unless he has first recognized God’s grace” (Institutes, III.2). Yet how is one to recognize God’s grace if it is not proclaimed to him or her as a fact rather than a conditional promise?

Recently I had a conversation with a young man who was somewhat disturbed by my simple declaration that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2COR 5:19) and by the fact that I turned to the folks gathered at our meeting and declared that all without exception had been forgiven and embraced by the Father himself. In the conversation afterwards, I asked the young man, ‘what is the gospel?’ ‘what do you tell people to believe?’ ‘what is the good news?’ He answered, ‘I tell people to believe in Jesus.’ I then asked, ‘believe in what about Jesus?’ His response was telling, ‘I tell people that if they repent and believe in Jesus, they will be forgiven.’ ‘So,’ I said, ‘the object of our faith is not Jesus and our salvation in him, but the possibility that we can be forgiven, if we repent and believe in Jesus. So we are summoned to believe in a Jesus who may be our savior if we repent and believe in him correctly, and in doing so (which we can’t) we actually make him the savior?’

Either we believe in the fact of our forgiveness in Jesus, and thus have something real to believe in, or we believe in the possibility of our forgiveness, and thus believe in whatever it is (our faith, repentance or goodness) that makes the possibility a reality.

The gospel is not the news of what can be if we make it so; it is the news of what is, of what God has established in Christ. ‘God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos to himself.’ Torrance, Calvin and Erskine were right, forgiveness is prior to repentance, and indeed, prior to faith. For without the fact that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ there is nothing real to believe. And without the proclamation of this truth as truth we give people nothing to believe in except themselves and the existential power of their own faith and self-energized repentance.

Are we really afraid that there is someone out there who is not supposed to hear that they are forgiven, embraced and included, and thus may get into heaven without God’s permission?


Bill Ford said...

Baxter, as you probably know, James Torrance wrote an Introduction for the 1996 reprint of the 1867 edition of “The Nature of the Atonement” by John Macleod Campbell. Torrance’s excellent Introduction can be read (most of it) at googlebooks.com. I built my sermon this past Sunday on the Introduction and specifically the question you mentioned contained therein - re forgiveness prior to repentance. Apparently, the answer was encouraging to many in the congregations, as evidenced by an outpouring of appreciation for the uplifting content. It is such a simple concept, and should be an obvious “no brainer”, but we fail to grasp it because we have been so inundated with “you-must-do-your-partism”.
Bill Ford
Shrewsbury, MA (expatriate of MS)
You owe me an email.

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...


John Mcleod Campbell was one of the rare gems of Scotland in the 1800's along with Thomas Erskine and Edward Irving, and of course, George MacDonald (a fellow Aberdeen graduate). But these great men were not well received by the system of the day. Yet their work has endured and speaks volumes today. Thank you Holy Spirit for your insipiring presence, and for your love for irony. JB regarded these men as heroic, and rightly so. May the Spirit use their insights mightly to deliver us from our theological insanity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Baxter,
There must be something in the air! Last Sunday I preached on this very scripture after being asked to speak on evangelism. In Acts we are told to tell people the 'good news of God's grace'. What better news is there, what better way to describe God's grace then "God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, not counting our sin against us" I shared that if the good news is what Jesus can do for us, rather than what he has already done for us, we have slipped from gratitude to consumerism. Praise God that he forgave before we even knew what it meant. Kevin Hamer

Cam said...

Hi Baxter!

I love the thoughts in this post, although I think they're still finding their way into my full understanding! Some days I get it so well.. but others they seem to drift to just outside my understanding, which proves to be rather frustrating!

That aside, one thing that has bugged me, is Jesus talking about forgiveness and us forgiving others, otherwise the Father won't be forgive us. It has been a verse that I've struggled to fully believe at face value, simply because, if that were the case, none of us would ever be forgiven. It still haunts me though, and I was wondering if you have some insights on it.

Thanks again for some great insights!


Cam said...

Hi Baxter!

I love the thoughts in this post, although I think they're still finding their way into my full understanding! Some days I get it so well.. but others they seem to drift to just outside my understanding, which proves to be rather frustrating!

That aside, one thing that has bugged me, is Jesus talking about forgiveness and us forgiving others, otherwise the Father won't be forgive us. It has been a verse that I've struggled to fully believe at face value, simply because, if that were the case, none of us would ever be forgiven. It still haunts me though, and I was wondering if you have some insights on it.

Thanks again for some great insights!


Anonymous said...

I would like to offer a possible explanation for this "forgive or God won't forgive you" problem. It is:

"Forgive thy neighbour the hurt that he hath done unto thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest." This was a teaching of Jesus' time and is quoted here from a law wisdom book of that time called Sirach.
(verse 28:2 KJV Apoc)

But many of you are also thinking that this saying is very similar to Jesus' statement related to prayer found in Matthew 6:14-15, which is: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (NIV)

You see, when Jesus walked this earth, He did so under the law. But He also had the challenge of pressing people up against the cross so that, when grace came, they would be able to accept the wonders of grace and its logic.
To do this, Jesus presented people with law teachings, like that of Sirach 28:2, along with law's implications and ramifications, to show just how hard law is to successfully keep. In this case, Jesus was pointing out that
conditional law forgiveness from God is really tough for humans to earn.

However, this type of action by Jesus angered the law types so much that they killed Him. Jesus then countered by standing in resurrection and by swinging open wide the doors to the world of grace, wherein law is not allowed to stand. With this new way, a much different teaching on forgiveness came into view, which is unconditional and also reflective on the work of Jesus. This teaching is: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Eph 4:32

Yes! We are already forgiven! And with this realization, grace's logic can have its good work in us. This logic teaches us to responsively forgive others, as we see God's "done deal" grace (Jesus Christ) in us. And as for
law's demands on us, they were terminated for us 2000 years ago at the cross by Jesus.

The best to you all!

J. Richard Parker

Anonymous said...

I believe that one of the things that makes this concept difficult for many Christians is that God's forgiveness also applies to all those "worldly" people out there who aren't keeping the "rules." And God's forgiveness is not conditioned on their obedience! Obedience, in my view, is a response to God's grace, not a condition for it. I think even Calvin would agree with that. Our job as Christians is to tell all those worldy people out there that they are, in fact, forgiven, and to invite them to live in the freeness of God's grace. The Gospel is NOT a transaction. There is no if-then clause. It is a simple statemenbt that GOd was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Our job is to tell everyone.

Pastor Paul said...

GREAT POINT, Baxter. Since Jesus was slain from before the foundation of the world His sacriafice is applicable from Adam on. And, since we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world WHAT did we do or could have done to make this so? Jesus came to seek and to save "what was lost", and He did. "It is finished", He said. Forgiveness has to precede 'Metanoia'(coming to see and change our mind about WHO we are in Jesus Christ. And, since we were forgiven before we were even born, the only thing that can occur for us is to "repent" now.

Thanks again Baxter for, as always, making it PLAIN.

Paul Kurts
Madison, AL

Erin Lucas said...

Now this is GOOD NEWS actually worth talking about. Do I dare believe that the good news could really be this GOOD!

This makes me want to be a Christian! :-)

Unknown said...

Hey Baxter
That's from the Canandian north.
Just listened to an interview with Jeff McSwain by Mike Feazell on the same subject. Thank you Holy Spirit for your timing. Here is the website www.wcg.org. Enjoy! This site also has the interviews you did with Mike.

Anonymous said...

Hi Baxter,
I've enjoyed your teaching for many years now. On 2 Cor 5 - would you agree that there is a genuine imperative in v20: "Be reconciled to God." And that it is addressed to people who genuinely need to appropriate this reconciliation. I agree that the whole world is reconciled to God in Christ. I rejoice in the fact that "Be reconciled" is an aorist (once for all) *passive* imperative - "BE a true inhabitant of the world that Christ has reconciled." But it's still an imperative.

Is there not a whole realm that (somehow!) stands against this objective reconciliation (and may do so eternally)? Otherwise why this 'ministry of reconciliation' and why this imperative?

Jesus bless,
Glen Scrivener

Pastor Paul said...

Hi Glen,
Here is my take on II Cor.5:20, "Be reconciled to God."
When I coached little league years ago, often I would tell players on the field to, "get in the game." They WERE in the game but not evidencing it very well. So "get in the game" meant play like it. Participate like it. We might tell a young man not acting like a man to " Be a man". He is a man, but not demonstrating it as he should.

The first part of vs. 20 says that we are Ambassadors for Christ. Vs. 19 says that Christ has committed to us the Message of reconciliation. Then as Ambassadors we have a responsibility to proclaim (for Christ) that the world was reconciled in Jesus Christ. When Paul says in vs.20 that he implores you on Christ's behalf, "be reconciled to God" could it be that he is saying "get in the game, BE the Ambassador you ARE, Be active in your message and ministry of reconciliation--ACT and live like who you are( reconciled in Jesus) and proclaim to others their reconciliation in Christ as well." And, notice, it does not say , "BECOME reconciled" but BE reconciled.

That is my take on it. Maybe it will give us food for thought.

Paul Kurts
Madison, ALabama

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Yes 'Get in the game' is a good analogy - of course acknowledging that the players are currently playing frisbee with 3rd base, have their uniforms on backwards and their gloves on their heads!

It's to the person who is living *far* from their reconciled status that we declare the truth of Christ's universal reconciliation. And, yes, we tell them 'Get in the game'. But doesn't that admit that in a significant sense they aren't in it. In but not in. And once we acknowledge that the example is not so much a day-dreaming little-leaguer but a confused rebel, then the 'not in' sense is seen more clearly.

I affirm the reconciliation of the cosmos in Jesus with all my heart. But I concede (I'm pretty sure like Baxter) that many can, do and will stand (somehow) against that reconciliation. I believe that even the lake of fire is reconciled objectively to the Father (it twists my melon, but that's where the Scriptures lead me). And so the biblical language of separation from Christ has to be thought through carefully but not dismissed.

eg "At that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world." (Eph 2:12)

I mention this because it affects the discussion of forgiveness and repentance. Has Christ flung His arms wide open to His enemies to embrace them at infinite cost? Yes. Must we do the same? Absolutely. This is our objective work of 'forgiveness'. But Christ says to those who He has objectively reconciled - "Be reconciled". "Get in the game." And surely, unless that happens then the relationship is still characterized on some significant level by estrangement. The full enjoyment of reconciliation is not had whilever the other party remains unconquered by this all-conquering love. I don't like the langugage of conditionality at all, but I find it difficult to avoid when describing this situation. ie 'Unless the guilty party repents then the fulness of reconciliation (forgiveness) cannot be experienced.' With all the caveats I've tried to put in, I don't see any way around that kind of conditional language. I wish I could. Any help?


Pastor Paul said...

A couple of comments. First, man can not be separated from God. To do so would mean not exist. The Greek here in Eph.2:12, uses the word "apallotrioO", meaning alienated or estranged--not separated.

All belong to Christ, but all do not believe it and therefore do not behave like it.

We had no part in anything Jesus did for and to us BEFORE we were born.

Before our birth He forgave us, saved us, redeemed us, reconciled us, adopted us, included us, gave us new birth by His resurrection, resurrected us, and seated us with Him at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. ( Eph.2:6).

We did not get a vote, as Baxter says. We don't "make" any of this happen by anything we do. It has already happened for us in Jesus.

Our part, and only part, is to accept it for us and believe it so we can experience it. That is all we CAN do.

The Holy Spirit being poured out on all mankind from Acts 2 works with individuals on a personal basis to bring each to understand this and believe it in HIS time and each person's own 'order'.

You are right, most people do not know this. But Jesus "all conquering love" has conquered the entire cosmos and all humans once and for all.

Now His job is helping all to come to see this and believe it and enjoy it--forever.

Thank you Jesus, you are REALLY GOOD.

Paul Kurts

bill winn said...

Well Baxter, you know I have to throw in my $00.02 worth.
First: I really dig this blog post. We know, intellectually, that real repentance is not even possible for us. The New Testament's language for repentance is to change our way of thinking. Its a radical departure from our inherited fallen Greek paradigm of works and earnings.

Grace makes no sense to me personally- from a fallen point of view- but when I let Jesus "transform me through the renewing of my mind" I get a glimpse of something too beautiful to ever go back to believing anything other than the REAL Gospel of our Inclusion and Adoption IN Jesus.

Second: I think a real problem for us believing and experiencing the truth of Jesus and our forgiveness is that we have been duped by the evil one. We believe, in our falleness, the lie that we are not worthy of forgiveness and that we are even unforgivable! What a steaming pile of skubalon! We are worthy of forgiveness because of who is Jesus. He is us, for us, with us, and in us! Dare we believe it? Dare we live and operate in that "unconditional freeness"?


Unknown said...

Hi Paul and Glen
Thanks for your thoughtful input; it has caused me to think more deeply about this.
It's only been two years since I first read "The Mediation of Christ" I have not looked back since. Well maybe a few times! I am still just growing in little increments of freedom.
This I know about reconciliation by the Father through the Spirit in Jesus. It is done and complete for all humanity! It was done before their even was humanity. So why "be reconciled?" I live in space-time and I cannot add to truth or reality, who is Jesus, otherwise He can not be who He is, however understanding all this I can live in peace and abundant life by reconciling to my neighbor who has also received this great gift. They are part of the birthright reality! So within this truth my being reconciled to my neighbor is the same as being reconciled to God as His love has already covered us all. It is how I come to love my neighbor as myself.
This is only possible for me as "the imperative is couched within the indicative" (1). We are all (humanity) hidden with Christ in God. If I recall in the prodigal the older brother even though he did not understand his father, he also did not want to reconcile with his brother.
Just a few thoughts!
(1) Jeff Mcswain

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul (and others),

Two thoughts.

First, I'm still wrestling with this question of forgiveness before repentance. Can I say:

1) The objective cosmic reconciliation is acomplished in Christ
2) On this basis we recognize its truth not as a potential but an actual reconciliation.
3) Until this happens (which is itself a gift of the Spirit) there will remain an alienation between myself and the Father (even though there's been the objective reconciliation)
4) There's a significant sense in which the full experience of reconciliation is not had until there's repentance.

Any thoughts?

Second, I think the issues I'm having revolve around the reality of 'alienation'. So let me address that.

"apallotrioo" meaning "alienated" or "estranged" is fine by me (see it's use in Eph 2:12; 4:18; Col 1:21). And yes, this occurs even within the embrace of the triune God. But for that reason the estrangement is even more marked (not less). It is not simply a rejection of some 'god over there' it is the rejection of the God in Whom we live and move and have our being. It is a 'No' shouted in the face of God's 'Yes' - even on the basis of it!

Barth must be right that sin is the impossible possibility. But let's make sure we hold onto the "possibility" part of that. It still happens. And for this reason the estrangement is all the more heinous. How can we be godless given how God has lifted the whole creation to Himself in Christ? This is both a conceptual and a moral problem. But I fear from what I'm reading here that the problem is being ironed out. It's just being made an 'impossibility' - at best an apparent lag in some inevitable universal appropriation.

There must be a category in our thinking marked 'estangement' or 'alienation' - even if you don't like other words like separation. This reality of alienation is not dissolved away by Christ's universal reconciliation. In fact the reconciliation is the context in which (absurdly and horrifically) alienation is manifested.

See how Barth preached it:

“Dear brothers and sisters, where do we stand now? One thing is certain: the bright day has dawned, the sun of God does shine into our dark lives, even though we may close our eyes to its radiance. His voice does call us from heaven, even though we may obstruct our ears. The bread of life is offered to us, even though we are inclined to clench our fists instead of opening our hands to take the bread and eat it. The door of our prison is open, even though, strangely enough, we prefer to remain within. God has put the house in order, even though we like to mess it up all over again. By grace you have been saved! – this is true, even though we may not believe it, may not accept it as valid for ourselves and unfortunately in doing so may forego its benefits.” (Saved by Grace)

Note how Barth acknowledges the reality of humanity's 'no'. Note especially those last four words!

Your brother in our cosmic Saviour,


Unknown said...

Woke up and wanted to get this out, otherwise would lay awake all night. I am sure we have all done that!

The "Vicarious" Father in Jesus has spiritually saved (Redemption) all humanity from extinction, a God to man response of yes for all of us. We were all adopted and birthed into Jesus spiritually so that we could be presented in Heaven.

We have a new man in our hearts the hope of glory in all of us, a burning bush. Our spirit with His Spirit able to cry out Abba, Father, Romans 8:15&16, 2 Corth 1: 20-22

The Holy Spirit has been sent out into the entire world to proclaim this good news. He is in the process of convincing us (me) that we have been forgiven, are made right and do not need to judge each other any more. John 16:8-11. Do I believe this? That is the question! Reconciliation is here and we can participate.

The Holy Spirit is convicting the world. This means me and everyone else. This is a soul thing (mind, will and emotions). He is in the business of transforming or renovation our (my) mind and this is done from the faith that is in my new spiritual man, the author and finisher of it, Jesus. (Col 1:27, Ephesians 3:17)
The end of this faith is the salvation of my soul 1 Peter 1:9. (Redemption)

I can choose to live in separation, estrangement in the here and now in my darkened mind (the scriptures you quoted) or I can submit to the "Vicarious" God and have my heart enlightened so that my response comes into His cleansing response of repentance for me to the Father.

Forgiveness was given to all humanity in His being. It is our (my) response to this spiritual ontological identity in my heart that has me changing my mind because I see how great this darkness is in me. I can take off my designer shoes of independence and submit to the burning bush or defy His promptings.

His indicative of what He has done and is doing allows the imperative to work out in me as I choose (Phil 2:12&13)

It is all about Father, Son and Holy Spirit and who He is and what He has done for all of us so that we may come and just rest and be human in Him. Jesus is the yes from God to man and man back to God.

My body will be redeemed in the future (Romans 8:23)
I rambled on, now I can go back to bed.
Just a few thoughts!

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Bill, I would be ashamed to put a picture of a fish that small online for public viewing. Must be a Virginia thing. You need to get a real lure.

The Old Man said...

The future separation of the sheep and the goats:...
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory ... he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left ... Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."...
Have those on the left been forgiven?

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Well said, John Geerlings.

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Glen, It is the fact of our reconciliation in Christ that creates both the promises and warnings of the truth. Because it is true, believing it will impact your experience. If it were not true, you could believe it all day and nothing would happen. And because reconcilation is true, not believing it means that you are doing violence to your own being—and that is as painful as hell. And again, if it were not true, not believinng it would have no in-built consequence. For more on this, see the last 2 chaptes of my book, The Great Dance.

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Of course, 'old man' those onn the right and the left are forgiven, even you and me.

Anonymous said...

How do you deal with all the warnings in the new covenant scriptures?Faith is not merely assent to fact,it is appropriation by trust. Reconciliation is the bringing together of two parties-the objective ground of God to man has been laid concerning all men,but persons must receive that full and free pardon such that it's applied concerning them(this is what 2Cor5v19 means). Please have a look at Reid Ferguson's recent post on the atonement,where he quotes Shedd in conversation with a universalist in the comments at the end.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to give the address - its responsivereiding.com. Actually the exact link would be better;


You'd have to see Reid's gentle words in his reply - but I'll take the liberty of posting the extract from Shedd's comment he included;

Shedd: Christ could not have warned men so frequently and earnestly as he did against “the fire that never shall be quenched” and “the worm that dies not” had he known that there is no future peril fully corresponding to them. That omniscient being who made the statements respecting the day of judgment and the final sentence that are recorded in Matt. 25:31–46 could neither have believed nor expected that all men without exception will eventually be holy and happy. To threaten with “everlasting punishment” a class of persons described as “goats upon the left hand” of the eternal judge, while knowing at the same time that this class would ultimately have the same holiness and happiness with those described as “sheep upon the right hand” of the judge, would have been both falsehood and folly. The threatening would have been false. For even a long punishment in the future world would not have justified Christ in teaching that this class of mankind are to experience the same retribution with “the devil and his angels,” for these were understood by the Jews, to whom he spoke, to be hopelessly and eternally lost spirits.5 And the threatening would have been foolish, because it would have been a brutum fulmen,6 an exaggerated danger, certainly in the mind of its author. And for the persons threatened, it would have been a terror only because they took a different view of it from what its author did—they believing it to be true, and he knowing it to be false! (See supplement 7.6.3.)
The mere perusal of Christ’s words when he was upon earth, without note or comment upon them, will convince the unprejudiced that the Redeemer of sinners knew and believed that for impenitent men and devils there is an endless punishment. We solicit a careful reading and pondering of the following well-known passages:
When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory; and before him shall be gathered all nations, and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment. (Matt. 25:31–33, 41, 46)
If your right hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot offend you, cut if off: it is better for you to enter into life than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye offend you, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than having two eyes to be cast into hellfire, where their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:43–4
What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? What is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and be cast away? (Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25)
The rich man died and was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torments. (Luke 16:22–23)
Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:2
The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:41–42)
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. (Matt. 7:22–23)
He that denies me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. Unto him that blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it shall never be forgiven. (Luke 12:9–10)
Woe unto you, you blind guides. You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? (Matt. 23:16, 33)
Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born. (Matt. 26:24)
The Lord of that servant will come in a day when he looks not for him and at an hour when he is not aware and will cut him in sunder and appoint him his portion with unbelievers. (Luke 12:46)
He that believes not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)
You, Capernaum, which are exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell. (Matt. 11:23)
At the end of the world, the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. (Matt. 13:49–50)
Then said Jesus again to them, I go my way, and you shall seek me and shall die in your sins: whither I go you cannot come. (John 8:21)
The hour is coming in which all that are in their graves shall hear my voice and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28–29)
To all this, add the description of the manner in which Christ will discharge the office of the eternal judge. John the Baptist represents him as one “whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor and gather his wheat into the garner, but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). And Christ describes himself as a householder who will say to the reapers, “Gather together first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them” (13:30); as a fisherman “casting a net into the sea and gathering of every kind, which when it was full he drew to the shore and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away” (13:47–48); as the bridegroom who took the wise virgins “with him to the marriage” and shut the door upon the foolish (25:10); and as the man traveling into a far country who delivered talents to his servants and afterward reckons with them, rewarding the “good and faithful” and “casting the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:19–20).
Let the reader now ask himself the question: Do these representations and this phraseology make the impression that the future punishment of sin is to be remedial and temporary? Are they adapted to make this impression? Were they intended to make this impression? Is it possible to believe that that holy and divine person who uttered these fearful and unqualified warnings, eighteen hundred years ago, respecting the destiny of wicked men and devils, knew that a time is coming when there will be no wicked men and devils in the universe of God and no place of retributive torment? Did Jesus of Nazareth hold an esoteric doctrine of hell: a different view of the final state of the wicked from that which the common and natural understanding of his language would convey to his hearers and has conveyed to the great majority of his readers in all time? Did he know that in the far-off future, a day will come when those tremendous scenes which he described—the gathering of all mankind, the separation of the evil from the good, the curse pronounced upon the former and the blessing upon the latter—will be looked back upon by all mankind as “an unsubstantial pageant faded,” as a dream that is passed and a watch in the night?
Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed.) (888). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

Richard Fay said...

The transaction-based language of 1 John 1:9 is a challenge. IF we confess THEN (there by implication) he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us. The preceding verses make it clear that God's not holding out on us, we are holding out on him, yet even John seemingly gets drawn into the language of conditional grace, or at least seems to. Can anyone here help this befuddled pastor understand what he does not and possibly would if he exegeted the Greek or had more gray matter?

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

I know this is an old post but I am new to the blog and have a suggestion or two.

This isn't about the greek or exegesis but you might find it helpful to look into JB Torrance's discussions on the difference between "descriptive" and "prescriptive" ifs in some of his work on the difference between a covenant and a contract.

Essentially he comments that a "pre-scriptive if" is one that involves a contingency or condition - ie you need to do that particular thing in order to see the result. Hence it prescribes the relationship.

"Descriptive ifs" are those which do not create a particular result but rather expound or enable a preexisting fact to be seen or subjectively enjoyed more fully. What we do and don't do occurs from within the security of covenant, which enables our response and in fact describes the nature of how that relationship operates and how we are called to participate in it. We are only able to confess our sins in the first place when we know we are already loved and entirely accepted by the Father Son and Spirit - otherwise we'd have noone to truly confess to and no-one to "return" to in our repentance.

Another way JB put it was to speak of the fact that the "indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of human obligation". We are called to respond precisely because we have been restored to relationship in grace and are thus able to - and when we do respond, we will have clearer eyes with which to see that restoration.

Hope that helps and good to "meet" you!


PS JB discusses this somewhat in Worship Community and the Triune God of Grace, and also his article “Covenant or Contract? A study of the theological background of worship in seventeenth century Scotland” 1970 23(1) Scottish Journal of Theology 51.

I can also most highly recommend his lecture series Prayer and the Triune God of Grace which includes two lectures on the covenant/contract issue as well as discussion on ramifications of this for our discipleship, worship and prayer generally, if you are interested in following that up more.

That lecture series is available at Perichoresis USA (I think!) and Australia depending on which country you are closer to :)

Anonymous said...

Hi there, Baxter, I love your comments on grace. I have just started studying theology (and I am loving it, but get confused often). I have been doing a bit of research on your book "The dancing God" and about you and perichoresis for a tutorial I am leading. One thing that stumps me though, and I'm just wanting to clarify your stance on salvation. I understand that God's grace is universal - it is for all, an amazing gift that we dont deserve and yet is given freely - BUT (I know, there's the but) I have always been taught and understood that we must confess that Jesus is Lord and repent. That the grace is there irrespective, but we have our part to play in whether we choose to accept that or not. I would be very interested to hear your comments on this. Thanks


evision said...