An “Inferior Operation of the Spirit” in the Reprobate – Continued

June 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

My friend David, in his comment on the previous post reminded me of a portion of Institutes 3.2.12 that I wish I would have included. In the following quote, Calvin, speaks of the reprobate being impressed with a sense of divine grace. He reference King Saul as an example of this from Saul’s knowledge of being treated with paternal kindness. I will begin the quote from where I left off in the previous post. Here is the quote:

“Meanwhile, we must remember that however feeble and slender the faith of the elect may be, yet as the Spirit of God is to them a sure earnest and seal of their adoption, the impression once engraven can never be effaced from their hearts, whereas the light which glimmers in the reprobate is afterwards quenched. Nor can it be said that the Spirit therefore deceives, because he does not quicken the seed which lies in their hearts so as to make it ever remain incorruptible as in the elect. I go farther: seeing it is evident, from the doctrine of Scripture and from daily experience, that the reprobate are occasionally impressed with a sense of divine grace, some desire of mutual love must necessarily be excited in their hearts. Thus for a time a pious affection prevailed in Saul, disposing him to love God. Knowing that he was treated with paternal kindness, he was in some degree attracted by it. But as the reprobate have no rooted conviction of the paternal love of God, so they do not in return yield the love of sons, but are led by a kind of mercenary affection.”

A couple of things I want to emphasize is: first, Calvin is clear that even though the grace given to the “reprobate” is just temporary, yet is is still sincere and no deception on God’s part, second, Saul, who certainly was a member of the covenant (though non-elect), was treated with paternal kindness, as are all “reprobate”, but because of their own lack of conviction, i.e. unbelief, they do not respond to God as sons.

Thank you, David, for reminding me of this portion of section 12. It was a few hours between my reading and my comments on the blog. I had forgotten to add this part.

Blessings in Christ,
Terry W. West

An “Inferior Operation of the Spirit” in the Reprobate

June 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

As I was reading through a section of the Institutes of the Christian Religion today, it struck me that some comments by John Calvin on faith are relevant to the current debate over Federal Vision. One of the major points of contention, is how we are to view “non-elect” covenant members and “elect” covenant members. The question is over the idea of “union” with Christ. There is, in my opinion, as I understand both sides of the debate, no disagreement about the “elect” as being in spiritual union with Christ, possessing a true saving faith unto an infallible salvation resulting in perseverance for the “elect” of God chosen before the foundation of the world. As far as I can tell, there is no substantial disagreement between the FV proponents and the anti-FV proponents at this point. The disagreement seems to be focused on the “non-elect” covenant members and how we are to understand their “union” (if there is any union) to Christ. And by extension, is there any participation in any benefits “spiritually” by “non-elect” covenant members.

This being prefaced, I would like to post the following quotes from John Calvin taken from the Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 2, Sections 11&12. In this book and chapter, Calvin, is defining faith and it’s particular properties. What I found interesting is Calvin’s use of language to describe what is happening in the “reprobate” in regards to the operation of the Spirit in them and God’s grace in operation towards them. Now I think we can surely say that “non-elect” covenant members can be viewed as synonymous with how Calvin is using the term “reprobate” in these sections of the Institutes. He obviously has in view false professors or those who are associated with the church. I will highlight the portions that I find most thought provoking with “italicized bold print”.

11. I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them.

My comments: What I find interesting here is the phrase, “temporary faith”, I would like to know how each side of the debate would view this language by Calvin and if either side would view it as appropriate. If I am understanding the FV proponents correctly, they are arguing for a sort of “temporary participation” in the covenant, and the lack of perseverance in “faith” resulting in apostasy is a demonstration of the “temporary” nature of the benefits enjoyed by the “non-elect” covenant member.

Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full
assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate.

My comments: It is interesting that Calvin here is arguing for an operation of the Spirit “in” the reprobate, certainly an inferior one, but an real operation nonetheless.

Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying
it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy.

My comments: Now this last sentence is very interesting to me. Calvin is clearing speaking of a present/”temporary” mercy, but light of the statement that in this way God is showing himself “propitious” to the reprobate by manifesting this present mercy, Calvin seems to certainly imply that God is being sincere here to the reprobate in His work in them, enabling them to recognize His grace. So, my question is this, are the FV proponents arguing for more than this? And if not, would the anti-FV proponents be comfortable with this language?

In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.
12. Although faith is a knowledge of the divine favor towards us, and a full persuasion of its truth, it is not strange that the sense of the divine love, which though akin to faith differs much from it, vanishes in those who are temporarily impressed. The will of God is, I confess, immutable, and his truth is always consistent with itself; but I deny that the reprobate ever advance so far as to penetrate to that secret revelation which Scripture reserves for the elect only. I therefore deny that they either understand his will considered as immutable, or steadily embrace his truth, inasmuch as they rest satisfied with an evanescent impression; just as a tree not planted deep enough may take root, but will in process of time wither away, though it may for several years not only put forth leaves and flowers, but produce fruit. In short, as by the revolt of the first man, the image of God could be effaced from his mind and soul, so there is nothing strange in His shedding some rays of grace on the reprobate, and afterwards allowing these to be extinguished. There is nothing to prevent His giving some a slight knowledge of his Gospel, and imbuing others thoroughly.

My concluding comments: The analogy of the tree I believe is so apt to this debate. Here we have a tree that bears fruit, though temporarily, and is easily mistaken for a well planted tree, and only a long period of perseverance can prove which tree is the “good” one. This tree that only bears fruit for a temporary time, does so within the context of the covenant and the operation of the Spirit. Certainly the operation of the Spirit is different in “quality” in the “non-elect” as opposed to the “elect” but both operations of grace take place within the institution in which God shows Himself “propitious” towards men, i.e. the Church.

I would love to see those on both sides of this debate comment on the language used here by Calvin, and how each side would accommodate it in light of how they believe we should view the “non-elect” covenant member.

Blessings in Christ,
Terry W. West

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