Posted by: reformedmusings | August 15, 2007

Saving Graces for the Unregenerate?

I’ve written before on Steve Wilkins’ thoughts in the book The Federal Vision (Monroe, Louisiana: Athanasius Press, 2004), “Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation” on page 62 concerning apostates from the visible church:

They may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatize and fall short of the grace of God.

So Wilkins is saying that the baptized unregenerate get some of the saving benefits classically reserved for those elected from before the foundation of the world. I call this “baptismal regeneration lite.” While I treated this in another post, I wanted to add a few things. First, let’s see what the Westminster Shorter Catechism says:

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

Q. 33. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Q. 34. What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Q. 36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

So following the Smaller Catechism, only those effectually called are justified, adopted, and sanctified, and these gifts only follow our effectual call. Further, the Catechism goes on to define these graces in a way that excludes the unregenerate from them. Now from the Larger Catechism:

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

Q. 67. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called: although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

Only those elected from before the foundation of the world are effectually called. There is no equivalent section for similar blessings provided to the reprobate in the visible church. Surely the Divines would have included such a section had they thought that Scriptures supported them. In fact, the only thing that the Standards say about the visible church:

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

The Confession in Chapter 25.3 – 25.4 cover the same territory as the Larger Catechism. Collectively, then, the Standards clearly lay out the privileges for both the visible and invisible church members. None of those blessings mentioned in Wilkins’ and others’ writings appear in the Standards for the reprobate in the visible church. Given the extent of the Standards’ material covering the benefits in both the visible and invisible churches, surely the Divines would have included Wilkins’ so-called “blessings of the covenant.” But they didn’t, because the reprobate have a different father than the elect (John 8:44).

Working through the Scriptural proofs for these sections of the Standards leads one inevitably to the PCA Study Report’s Declarations #2, 6, 7, and 8:

2. The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

6. The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

7. The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

8. The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

According to Scripture and the Standards, perseverance cannot be separated from justification, adoption, and sanctification. Again the Federal Vision is found to be incompatible with the Westminster Standards.

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  1. […] the baptized reprobates in the visible church, who even FVers agree aren’t saved in the end. As Steve Wilkins wrote of these baptized […]


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