The Atonement in Evangelical and Liberal Thought: V

A law without imperatives

     There is no divine imperative in the law in the Moral Government theory. Man’s basic desire is either for personal happiness or the general good. Fuller swerves now to the one point of view and now to the other according to whether he was reading the earlier or the later New England divines at the time . Time and time again, we find Fuller arguing that the Biblical law is teleological and must be seen as a general rule of advice and catalogue of principles whereby man must guard himself against becoming bogged down in the finer points. There are no jots and tittles to Fuller’s law but a broad reliance on what Fuller calls ‘the spirit’ which is invariably ‘the nature and fitness of things.’ As Fuller’s moral law is a mere psychological rule of conduct, outlining duties according to natural abilities, it is not a true law at all. His positive law is also without imperatives as it is merely a temporal accommodation to God’s arbitrary will and needs the moral law to interpret it aright. Both of Fuller’s laws, however, reveal a very legal system as even Fuller’s view of gospel places the emphasis on the law-bound duty of a sinner to exercise faith savingly and not on the grace of God in supplying man with what the law could never awake in man and never provide him with (Acts 13:39). In Fuller’s system law is gospel but gospel is not law (in the Mosaic sense) but merely a legalistic Neonomian means to encourage sinners to keep the gospel revealed in the law. Thus, in boasting of their gospel which they say is worthy of all acceptation, Fullerites are abusing the call to evangelise by presenting man with a new covenant of works. They have turned the faith-bringing gospel provisions of Christ into a duty-bound, legal system.

Governmentalism has a totally false view of law

     There is obviously, as far as fallen man is concerned, nothing natural at all in the Natural Law. Even if there were such a law, man would have as little understanding of it as he would have ability to save himself through adhering to it. Though Fuller speaks much of the moral law, he really means natural law as he teaches that it is the law provided by natural religion and the law which each person has by nature. His gospel of ‘the nature and fitness of things’ could only be thought successful if it could be proven that man’s natural abilities have not suffered from his fall into sin and if, as Fuller taught, man’s reason and conscience were still the immaculate image of God in man. The revealed Word of God shows that such a perfection is not the lot of fallen man and fallen man has not even the natural sense to see this.

     The idea of ‘moral law’ is also open to serious question. It is a non-theological term handed down from ancient Greek thinking and has become part of the cultural thought of the Western World. The Greeks taught that any obligation to any law was a matter of reason and rational insight and the very idea of law was strictly teleological, merely reflecting the necessities of man in his pursuit of happiness. The jural sense of law reflects a corrective element outside of man, forcing him to accept or reject the will of another, be it a political entity or God. It is an instrument to assist man in conforming to the requirements of others or Another. The Christian view of law is not ‘moral’ in the traditional sense of the word as it is not man’s natural ideal but God’s ideal of how man should be. The Biblical, and therefore Christian, idea of law is thus not only jural but supremely theological and soteriological. ‘Moral law’ directs man to a basic longing to pull himself up by his own boot-strings. Divine law, as revealed in Scripture, provides a means of fulfilling the law on the sinner’s behalf by the God-Man who alone can do so and provide man with the helping Hand he needs.

The superiority of the revealed law

     Both ‘Natural Law’ and ‘Moral law’, of themselves, know no penalties other than man’s not reaching the ultimate end of personal bliss which the Bible – and experience – show to be fallen man’s inevitable fate. They are also laws which provide no means for them to be kept as Governmentalists and Fullerites claim that not even Christ has kept them fully for man. Besides, even if He had, the Moral Influence people do not believe that obedience and what it gains can be transferred or imputed. Those who accept Biblical law are ill-advised to use a conflict of terms such as ‘moral’ and ‘positive’ which invariably brings a conflict of ideas with it. The Biblical pattern of law goes far beyond ideas of natural, moral or positive laws. The Bible speaks of the Mosaic Law (or the law of works) and of God’s decrees regarding its fulfilment in the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) and the Law of Faith (Romans 3:27). These laws show that no saving faith can be produced by duties to the law of works because if salvation could be sought by such duties it would be of works and not faith. Faith however, is a gift of God at Christ’s intervention in our lives and has no relation to law-duties but is entirely of grace. The Governmentalist law of duty faith, therefore, is at variance with Scripture. It is thus spiritually profitable to keep to Scriptural terms of law as the convey Christian concepts and show the full scope of what is expected of man and how these expectations can be met in the saving work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These laws do not neglect the bliss of man but provide a means of knowing God and enjoying him for ever. Such a knowledge and such a union, however, can only come about when the Lawgiver is perfectly satisfied. This satisfaction is obtained in the act of Christ whereby He took upon Himself our sins and suffered punishment for them on our behalf, thus releasing His elect from all the penalties, but not the obligations and responsibilities of God’s law. These obligations and responsibilities are taken up in our union with Christ and we now do not serve the law as a taskmaster but serve the lawgiver Himself personally in Christ, looking to our Saviour for strength to live out His righteousness, supported by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the continuing assistance of God’s holy Word.

     It is symptomatic of modern Fullerites that they support their founder fully in this aberration of holy truth. They actually feel, following Fuller, that to argue that there are New Testament precepts not to be found in the Decalogue and to insist that these are objects of faith is ‘mere evasion’ and beside the point ! All that is necessary to saving faith is to be found in the Ten Commandments which they equate with the moral law! This is the sum total of duty for unbeliever and believer alike, and saving duty at that! Here Huntington’s query directed against Fullerism concerning why God should have decided to enter into a New Covenant with man, if the Old were sufficient, is certainly highly valid.

The gospel according to make-believe

     The Governmentalist view of the whole plan of salvation, i.e. the whole gospel as it is in Christ Jesus, is a matter of make-believe. The doctrines of baptism and the Lord’s Supper which Fuller interprets in a completely legal way and not in a gospel way are the only doctrines that Fuller accepts as fully signifying what they really are. All other doctrines are not couched in real, concrete terms but are highly metaphorical or merely de jure. This reflects the Grotian idea of revealed religion being but a covering for the ‘nature and fitness of things’ which comprise its rationale. Such a religion can thus never approach to a teaching of actual union with Christ, based on Christ’s objective atonement and Christ’s imputed righteousness as taught literally by the New Testament and followed by the Reformers, Puritans and earlier leaders of the Evangelical Awakening.

     This emphasis on the practical outcome of the new man’s union with Christ described vividly in the Bible as ‘putting on Christ’ has caused much protest amongst Fullerite Neo-evangelicals in recent years who claim that sovereign grace is thus emphasised too much leaving the believer with a mere passive sanctification. They want to know more about working out their own salvation. Under the misleading title An Appraisal of William Huntington, written in Issue 298 of the Banner of Truth Magazine, 1988 the anonymous author criticised Huntington for believing in the actual imputation of man’s sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to the new man. For this display of trust in what the Scriptures actually say, Huntington was called an Antinomian by the nameless accuser. As the systematic doctrinal views aired had nothing to do with the Voice of Years, a book which was allegedly being reviewed in the article, and hardly applied in the form given to Huntington, it was obvious that the writer was merely using the book and the subject for some other sinister purpose.  Though shielding the author with the cloak of anonymity, the Editorial Manager, Rev. Iain Murray, accepted full responsibility for inserting this dagger, believing that it would open up what he called ‘an important controversy’ . He was not disappointed as the article split the Reformed churches down the middle. Yet the massive flow of letters of protest were given hardly a mention by subsequent issues of the magazine. Huntington and orthodox theology had been killed and buried, and that was that. The fact that Huntington was being criticised for believing sound doctrines that were held by a number of authors whose works were formerly printed by the Banner of Truth, (one only has to think of Thomas Goodwin, John Owen and Luis Berkof), shows that the Christian publishing house was actually announcing a new trend in their theological thinking. Other writers such as Witsius, Trail and Warfield have been warmly recommended in the Banner pages in the past but presumably would find no favourable mention in those pages now as they hold to doctrines of grace completely opposed to the new Banner position.

Vowed opponents of the doctrine of actual imputation

     The Banner author, whose name is still kept tightly secret in spite of many requests for it to be published, implied that Huntington did not believe in a judicial imputation because he believed in an actual one. Governmentalists, of course, believe that the one element cancels the other out. This, they inherited from the Socinians who are vowed opponents of the doctrine of actual imputation. Huntington, on strong Biblical evidence, had emphasised that Christ’s imputed righteousness was both judicial and real. This was the very kernel of the triumphant message James Hervey had for John Wesley and His Arminian denial of imputation . Huntington was merely taking up Hervey’s Scriptural mantle, maintaining that sinners could be clothed with Christ’s righteousness. The joint friend of Hervey and Huntington, William Romaine, described the orthodox teaching on imputation in his sermon The Lord Our Righteousness based on Isaiah 45:8 and preached before the University of Oxford, March 20, 1757:

“There is no salvation without righteousness, and it is of the Lord’s free grace that he (the sinner) is received as righteous, through the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by faith. Christ’s righteousness can be made ours only by imputation. As our sins were actually imputed to him, so his righteousness is actually imputed to us. The Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all, and therefore he was wounded for our transgressions, and was bruised for our iniquities. As he thus took our sins upon himself, so we by faith take his righteousness upon us, and by it are saved.”

     The BOT author obviously believed that imputation was merely a judicial ‘as if’ ruling or a kind of make-believe on God’s part. Here, the Banner is following the Socinian, Grotian, Fullerite trend whereby the doctrine of actual imputation whether Adam’s sin to mankind or the elect’s sin to Christ or Christ’s righteousness to the elect has been rationalised out of their thinking.

Fuller’s denies justification by God’s decree

     Again we see Grotian Fullerism in the Banner attack on justification from eternity in the anti-Huntington tirade. Fuller denied that justification was a decree of God with its origin in what Fuller calls ‘the mind of God’. Huntington taught that our full salvation was settled in Christ before the foundation of the world and was objectively secured in the atonement. This sound theology is quite foreign to Fullerism. Surprisingly the Banner author also objects to the Reformed doctrine that when God sees His elect covered with Christ’s righteousness, He looks upon them as being without sin. Surely this was the whole aim and intention of Christ’s atoning death. The strange and unfounded argument against Huntington, that to him ‘sanctification is no evidence of justification but rather renders it more obscure,’ only displays the Grotian inability to distinguish between fruits of sanctification and works-righteousness and how God justifies the ungodly. Huntington taught that a believer does not prove his justification by deserving it but because he is justified and sanctified he brings forth fruit unto holiness. This is clearly the teaching of Romans 6:22, ‘But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.’ This, of course, is the fruit of the Spirit of God in the new man (Ephesians 5:9-11). Again, such orthodoxy leave Fullerites-cum-Governmentalists quite baffled as they have a legalistic view of good works.

The actualities of the gospel

     In my book William Huntington: Pastor of Providence, I took up this new lapse in sound doctrine on the part of the Banner of Truth to list all the actualities of the gospel, including the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. This was set in a framework of the two natures doctrine where it belongs, the latter being another vital doctrine dropped by modern pseudo-evangelicals. It was pointed out that there was no make-believe path to holiness and acceptance with God as God’s standards of holiness are framed by His own character. Christ actually bore our penalties and His actual death in our stead is a sure and certain actual fact. Christ actually covered our sins with His righteousness which He has imputed to us. Thus God actually sees Christ’s righteousness in us. He sees us as actually crucified with Christ. This is, however, by no means an ‘as if’ state. There is practical proof of it as it has practical consequences. The sinner actually becomes a new man (in Christ), clothed in Christ’s righteousness though the old man (in Adam) remains until death and resurrection. The actual life we now live is a life actually indwelt by Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is no fairy tale but the practical, concrete, non-metaphorical, factual teaching of Scripture. All this gained for man not a mere jural eternal life but an actual eternal life for those who have ‘put on Christ` and been ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ One would think that this argument was clear enough . It was further shown that unless a man has actual righteousness He cannot approach God. The question, ‘With what righteousness is the believer endued with so that he is accepted in the Beloved?’ was answered with, ‘The Beloved’s own.’ Is there a better answer than such Biblical, and indeed, Huntingtonian teaching? If this is called Antinomianism in the Banner of Truth’s dictionary, it is time they threw it away and bought a good Bible instead where these facts are clearly outlined.

Misunderstanding Christ’s imputed righteousness

     Yet Oliver Roberts took this reasoning from Scripture to task. Writing in the January, 1995 issue of the Banner magazine, he protested that in my demonstration of the actualities of the salvation story, I showed that I confuse the imputation of Christ’s righteousness with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer. One might ask, where else does the Holy Spirit dwell but in the one to whom Christ imputes His righteousness? Again, this is typical Governmental thinking. The great question of debate between Governmentalists and Calvinists is how can the benefits of the atonement be made available to the elect. Yes, Governmentalists also speak of an election but mean something quite different than the ‘elected from eternity’ view of the Calvinists. Traditional Calvinism points to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the union with Christ which brings with it the justification and sanctification appointed by God before the foundations of the world. This is fiercely rejected by Governmentalists and especially by their modern Fullerite counterparts. They see election as the identification with the benefits of Christ in a two-fold process, which they often wrongly call ‘progressive sanctification.’ The first stage is the act of belief which they call ‘conversion’. This does not settle the matter as afterwards comes the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the gospel encouraging the believer to follow his obligations to the moral law and his interpretation of the positive law according to right reason. This right reason helps the believer ‘infer’ (Fuller’s word) what is God’s will for him. This is the view outlined in Fuller’s various works on the Holy Spirit, Answers to Objections and Reply to Philanthropos. It must be added in all fairness that Fuller repeatedly confessed that he had changed his views here but as we can see from Fuller’s reaction to Booth’s attack on his pseudo-Calvinism, it was only to become more radically a Governmentalist than ever .

The two natures doctrine ignored

     Symptomatic of Robert’s plea for Fullerism rather than Huntington’s orthodoxy was that he failed completely to see (or rather ignored) the doctrine of the two natures in the Christian life which is part and parcel of Huntington’s view of imputation. Roberts also commented most negatively on the emphasis Huntington laid on the practical outworking of the indwelling of Christ and the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. It was this that caused him to protest that my defence was a misunderstanding of the work of the Spirit. This is what comes of substituting moral philosophy for the real thing! No alternative interpretation was offered but it would have been interesting to have read a better argument than Huntington’s as to how the ungodly can be justified and unholy men made holy .

     In Grotianism there is a fundamental lack of teaching concerning the practical outworking of the indwelling of Christ in the believer. This is because it neither holds to the doctrine of man being fallen in the first Adam nor the doctrine of man’s becoming a new creature in the second Adam, Christ. Man is ever in an in-between state of neither being in Adam nor in Christ. He is not in Adam because his natural abilities are not fallen, nor is he strictly speaking in Christ as Christ’s influence is not exercised through indwelling him but by providing an external moral deterrent to frighten him into God’s arms. There is thus no two-natures doctrine in Governmentalism whereby the Old Man remains in conflict with the New Man until death frees the believer from the relics of sin which have burdened him all his life and are part of his lot for being in Adam and inheriting a corrupt nature. Once this Pauline doctrine is abandoned, it is far easier for Grotianism to find refuge in human rationalism and metaphorical views of salvation. Modern Governmentalists, following Fuller, tend to adhere to the kind of Liberalism made popular by the Tübingen School in seeing several strands of gospel in the New Testament. Baur saw the Pauline and the Petrine strands whereas Fullerites see a Jamesian, Johannine and Petrine teaching with the victory being given James. Pauline teaching is tacitly ignored . It is, however, by the grace of God, that the Pauline epistles, comprising a large section of the New Testament, contain the doctrines of Grace taught also in other parts of Scripture but perhaps nowhere else so succinctly put. If we dismiss one part of Scripture, however, no matter how large or small, there will be a great deficiency left in our doctrines. Over the years, the doctrines of grace have been eased out of Banner of Truth teaching. The down-grading came slowly, doctrine by doctrine. Its start can be traced to Issue 92 containing the anti-Pauline article by Donald MacLeod entitled Paul’s Use of the Term ‘The Old Man.’