14 August 2009

Bavinck: Sanctification

This past year I've been dipping into Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, recently translated from the Dutch into English under a board led by Joel Beeke in 4 volumes published by Baker (2003-2008). Part of my motivation in familiarizing myself with Bavinck was the way my theology prof Mike Williams spoke of Bavinck, and also Henri Blocher's comment here at Wheaton that Bavinck is the most significant reformed thinker since Calvin himself.

(Packer said: 'Bavinck's Dutch masterwork was the Everest of which the textbooks by Louis Berkhof and Auguste Leoerf were foothills and Berkouwer's studies in dogmatics were outliers. Like Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, Bavinck was a man of giant mind. . . . Bavinck's magisterial Reformed Dogmatics remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind.')

So in my attempts to relate (progressive) sanctification to justification this past 12 months or so I've recently gone to Bavinck. I'm finding him extremely helpful (the translator, John Vriend, has done a great job by the way) on this and other things (e.g. his discussion of 'all Israel' in Rom 11:26 is wonderful; and it is remarkable to see a systematic dogmatician so comfortable with not only Greek and Hebrew but the intertestamental Jewish literature--before Bibleworks!).

Anyway here are a few statements from his duscussion of how santification and justification go together. These deserve careful and submissive reflection. Italics are mine.

All the sects that arose in Protestant churches more or less proceeded from the idea that the confession of justification by faith was, if not incorrect, at least defective and incomplete and had to be augmented with sanctification. Pietism prescribed a specific method of conversion and then gathered the devout in small sealed-off circles . . . marked by a rigorous but also in many ways narrowly defined moral life. Methodism not only advanced a specific method of conversion but also gradually arrived at a special doctrine of sanctification. John Wesley not only distinguished justification from sanctification but separated the two. . . . (4:245)

To understand the benefit of sanctification correctly, we must proceed from the idea that Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. He is a complete and all-sufficient Savior. He does not rest until, after pronouncing his acquittal in our conscience, he has also imparted full holiness and glory to us. By his righteousness, accordingly, he does not just restore us to the state of the just who will go scot-free in the judgment of God, in order then to leave us to ourselves to reform ourselves after God's image and to merit eternal life. But Christ has accomplished everything. He bore for us the guilt and punishment of sin, placed himself under the law to secure eternal life for us, and then arose from the grave to communicate himself to us in all his fullness for both our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor 1:30). The holiness that must completely become ours therefore fully awaits us in Christ. Many people still acknowledge that we must be justified by the righteousness that Christ has acquired but believe or at least act in practice as if we must be sanctified by a holiness we bring about ourselves. If that were the case, we would not--contrary to the apostolic witness (Rom 6:14; Gal 4:31; 5:1, 13)--live under grace and stand in freedom but continue always to be under the law. Evangelical sanctification, however, is just as distinct from legalistic sanctification as the righteousness that is of faith differs from that which is obtained by works. . . . (4:248)

[F]aith is not intellectual assent to a historical truth but a practical knowledge of the grace that God has revealed in Christ, a heartfelt trust that he has forgiven all our sins and accepted us as his children. For that reason this faith is not only needed at the beginning in justification, but it must also accompany the Christian throughout one's entire life, and also play a permanent and irreplaceable role in sanctification. In sanctification, too, it is exclusively faith that saves us. . . . (4:257; see also 3:528)

Faith . . . is the one great work Christians have to do in sanctification according to the principles of the gospel (John 6:29); it is the means of sanctification par excellence. . . . Faith breaks all self-reliance and fastens on to God's promise. It allows the law to stand in all its grandeur and refuses to lower the moral ideal, but also refrains from any attempt, by observing it, to find life and peace; it seizes upon God's mercy and relies on the righteousness and holiness accomplished in Christ on behalf of humans. It fosters humility, dependence, and trust and grants comfort, peace, and joy through the Holy Spirit. (4:257)

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