Posted by: reformedmusings | August 3, 2007

Common Operations of the Spirit

pduggie wrote a reply to my Trinity post on his blog. I have been part of discussions with pduggie on Green Baggins’ blog and, though we usually disagree, I respect his argumentation. I don’t have time to reply to every detail in pduggie’s post, but I thought that the titled topic is one which reaches far into the Federal Visions errors.

In my original post, I said of Dr. Leithart’s statement that the entire visible church as fellowship with the Trinity:

So Leithart clearly says that the reprobate in the visible church have fellowship and participation in the Trinity.

pduggie commented:

The confession affirms “common operations of the Spirit”. Are we to understand that the whole Trinity is not involved in such operations? If “in him we live and move and have out [sic] being”, how much more is that true of the household of God and kingdom of Jesus Christ? Don’t “saints by profession” have common fellowship with saints by election in the visible church?

I have consistently argued, along with the orthodox, confessional Reformed community and the Westminster Standards, that only the elect have fellowship and participation in the Trinity. The reprobate never have this. pduggie addresses this by appealing to the “common operations of the Spirit” in WCF 10.4. So, what are those common operations? From the Confession:

Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.

Going to my favorite commentary on the Confession, Robert Shaw’s The Reformed Faith, I find this on WCF 10.4:

The doctrines stated in this section are the following:—

1. That though those who are not elected have the external call of the gospel addressed to them, in common with those who are elected, yet “they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved.”

2. That there are “common operations of the Spirit,” which produce convictions of sin, by means of the law in the conscience; and joyous emotions, by means of the gospel, in the affections of men in their natural state; which do not issue in conversion.

3. That those cannot be saved who are totally destitute of revelation. “Though the invitation which nature gives to seek God be sufficient to render them without excuse who do not comply with it (Rom. i. 20), yet it is not sufficient, even objectively, for salvation; for it does not afford that lively hope which maketh not ashamed, for this is only revealed by the gospel; whence the Gentiles are said to have been without hope in the world.—Eph. ii. 12. It does not show the true way to the enjoyment of God, which is no other than faith in Christ. It does not sufficiently instruct us about the manner in which we ought to worship and please God, and do what is acceptable to him. In short, this call by nature never did, nor is it even possible that it ever can, bring any to the saving knowledge of God; the gospel alone is the “power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth.’—Rom. i. 16. We are persuaded there is no salvation without Christ (Acts iv. 12); no communion of adult persons with Christ, but by faith in him (Eph. iii. 17); no faith in Christ without the knowledge of him (John xvii. 3;) no knowledge but by the preaching of the gospel (Rom. x. 14); no preaching of the gospel in the works of nature; for it is that mystery which was kept secret since the world began.”—Rom. xvi. 25. [bold emphasis added, italics in the original]

Note that the common operations of the Spirit do not include ANY of the saving graces that the Federal Vision attributes to the reprobate in the visible church–justification, adoption, forgiveness of sins, and sanctification. Nor do they include fellowship with or in the Trinity. The Confession, however, does talk about fellowship in 26.1:

All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.

Note that the saints only have this fellowship.

The other thread of pduggie’s comment talks about Acts 17:27, 28:

27 Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for In him we live and move and have our being; (ESV)

This verse speaks to the sustaining providence of God upholding His creation, not any kind of special grace for the visible church. The visible church is no where in view in the Athens passage.

But what about the household of God? Let’s examine that for a moment. God’s is predominately described as our Father in the New Testament. In John 8:44, Jesus addresses the Pharisees:

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. (ESV)

Now, presumably the Pharisees were in the Mosaic Covenant. They had, after all, received the covenant sign of circumcision that identified them, they studied and followed the law as they understood it (tithed their mint and cumin, etc.) Yet, rather than Jesus declaring Trinitarian fellowship with them, he lambastes them as not even being in the same family with the elect. Different father, different family.

Just as the Pharisees Jesus admonished in John 8, the reprobate in the visible church today have a different parentage. Even though they received baptism as the Pharisees received circumcision, rather than fellowship and participation in the Trinity, they serve a different father according to Jesus. I discuss this in more detail in another post.

pduggie asserts:

I think the FV answer here is that in a limited covenantal sense, the visible church is looked at as “that body of people united to Christ and filled with the Spirit so as to be reconciled with the Father”

Limited covenantal sense? As the children of a different father, the reprobate in the visible church are NOT united to Christ or filled with the Spirit to be reconciled to THE Father. As I and others have demonstrated in a host of posts, these benefits fall only to the elect. The Federal Vision folks are constantly trying to give away saving benefits (benefits that aren’t theirs to give, by the way) to the children of a different father. Far from receiving any kind of reconciliation with the elect’s Father in heaven, that other family sorely needs air conditioners.

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