Bavinck on the Gospel UPDATED

2013/06/01

Courtesy of Heidelquotes.

Bavinck goes on in the passage from Reformed Dogmatics to emphasize that we never get the gospel abstracted from the law. This makes sense because by the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). We would neither know how great our sin and misery are nor how we are to thank God for such deliverance. It’s helpful to look at how Francis Turretin explains this matter of conditions:

We think the matter may be readily settled by a distinction, if we bear in mind the different senses of a condition. It may be taken either broadly and improperly (for all that man is bound to afford in the covenant of grace) or strictly and properly (for that which has some causality in reference to life and on which not only antecedently, but also causally, eternal life in its own manner depends). If in the latter sense, faith is the sole condition of the covenant because under this condition alone pardon of sins and salvation as well as eternal life are promised (Jn. 3:16, 36; Rom. 10:9). There is no other which could perform that office because there is no other which is receptive of Christ and capable of applying his righteousness. But in the former, there is nothing to hinder repentance and the obedience of the new life from being called a condition because they are reckoned among the duties of the covenant (Jn. 13:17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:13).

(Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.3.15)

All of this points to the fact that whether we call the Covenant of Grace conditional or unconditional (a debate in Reformed theology that may never be resolved this side of glory), Scripture does relate election to the covenant and does so precisely for our comfort. If you call the covenant conditional, don’t forget that it’s all of grace, that even our faith, repentance and perseverance are gifts and that our God will not be frustrated in His purposes. God chose the weak things, the things that are despised, the things that are not to frustrate the things that are (see I Corinthians 1). If you prefer an unconditional covenant, remember that the Lord saved us by grace through faith and created us unto good works, even ordaining that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10). There comes a point at which saying that the onus is on our shoulders to fulfill conditions, such that God’s grace is contingent on our performance, on what we chip in, that we’re left with a construct little different than Arminianism. Turretin says, “Although the covenant of grace be conditional, the promises of the law and the gospel are not therefore to be confounded” (12.3.6). And also this: “The covenant does not rest upon a condition in us, but upon the mere grace of God and his inviolable faithfulness and the infinite merit of Christ” (12.3.7). There is most certainly a place for clarifying the sense in which we talk of conditions in the Covenant of Grace.

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