Thursday, April 23, 2009

Warfield: the Christian ever a debtor to God's grace in Christ

B. B. Warfield nails it:
IT belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners”: “miserable sinners” saved by grace to be sure, but “miserable sinners” still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ. There is emphasized in this attitude the believer’s continued sinfulness in fact and in act; and his continued sense of his sinfulness. And this carries with it recognition of the necessity of unbroken penitence throughout life. The Christian is conceived fundamentally in other words as a penitent sinner. (Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism, Volume 1 , chapter 3)
Warfield does not have the reputation of being the most easily-accessible theologian ever to write. That's because he isn't. He's better than Edwards... but that isn't saying much.

(If this is dense to you, try reading it aloud slowly and thoughtfully. It's worth the effort.)

Warfield makes a rich, important, central, and richly Gospelly point: we never get beyond needing grace, needing Christ, needing all the rich benefits purchased for believers on the Cross. Any teaching that in any way implies that Christ is where we start, that grace is Square A and we get beyond it into the really good stuff, is sub-Christian and un-Biblical.

Paul didn't reminisce about the old days, when he was a sinner who needed grace. It was a present and rich reality to him, to the end of his course (1 Timothy 1:15).

Thank God for Christ! Thank God for the Gospel! Thank God for the Cross! Thank God for His rich and overflowing grace — today, no less than the day I believed, nor less than a million years from now!
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
(Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson 1758)


Al said...

first, that is my favorite Hymn of all time.

second, didn't Piper write a book that dealt with this? I seem to recall that he said we should not couch our "in Chirst-ness" in terms of debt. I also recall that he did not deal with Romans 8 (vs 12 specifically). Do you know what I am talking about?

al sends

JOYce ~♥~ said...

Philippians 4:8-9 worthy of thinking on these things; thanking God ~

Does it get to you that believers are referenced as saints...balances it out. Who we were, who we are without Christ, who we are in Him and He in us.

DJP said...

Al, I think you may be thinking of Future Grace, which I've read (and profited from) several times.

His big argument there, though, is that we should not live motivated by indebtedness. That is, he doesn't see gratitude as the motivator for Christian living, but rather "faith in future grace."

I don't think that he makes the argument that we shouldn't always count ourselves as needing grace and Christ.

The Squirrel said...

Thanks, Dan. I've always profited from reading Warfield, but the water he sails is very deep. Read a bit... go back to the wading pool and think about it for a long while.

"Continuously unworthy of the grace by which (I) live..." that thought will be with me all day!


Al said...

Thanks Dan, yes that is it.

It has been some time since I read it. I remember profiting from it as well, but was struck by the one verse I can think of that may run contrary to the motive theme: Romans 8:12.

thanks again... I return you to the late, great Warfield.

al sends

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Love that hymn... now if you could set Warfield to music...

Meat needs more chewing than Twinkies.



Kim said...

If this is dense to you, try reading it aloud slowly and thoughtfully. It's worth the effort.That pretty much explains how you have to read Warfield ... slowly. But always worth the effort.

Andy Dollahite said...


It's been about five years since I read Future Grace, but I recall Piper's argument being that looking back is not the primary motivation. I don't think he eliminated it altogether though.

Stefan said...

See, this is it: this is the Holy Grail! The intimate connection between justification and sanctification.

God is the sovereign author of both. Both begin with conviction of the Holy Spirit, bringing the burden of consciousness of sin upon us. Both entail prayerful repentance, laying it all at the Cross, for our Saviour bears our burden with us. Both ensue in Spirit-led obedience to Christ. Both are premised on the finished work of Christ, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

In both, God is sovereign and man is responsible. The only difference that I can see, is that in justification, man has responsibility but no natural ability to respond, except by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit; whereas in sanctification, man is both responsible and able to respond, due to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Am I far off?

I had been so struggling with sanctification since I came to faith in Christ two years ago. I didn't know how it worked, without drifting into legalism on the one hand, or antinomian passivity on the other.

I think I thought that, as long as I had my doctrine right, that was all that really mattered. Our sins were nailed to the Cross and we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit when we are converted, after all.

Yet the Holy Spirit has been laying heavy conviction upon me these last six weeks or so, as He worked through the Word as I re-read the Gospels, as He led me through the Easter season, and as He led me through particular life circumstances, that challenged me to apply what He was teaching me.

Now, prayerful obedience to Christ means something to me deep in my heart, and isn't just an abstract intellectual concept.

Just last night, I was trying to sum it all up—everything God has been leading me through these last six weeks—but I just came up with a page of short, handwritten jottings.

Your whole post—and especially your excerpt from Warfield—is such a wonderful articulation of what I struggled to put into words!

And it's all by the Father's grace, through the Son's work on the Cross, and the ministry of the Spirit, for the eternal glory of God.

You vex me, Pastor Dan. Sometimes you write stuff that's maddening (though I love you), and then you write stuff like this.

DJP said...

Hunh. I didn't know I ever maddenized you, Stefan. Just everyone else.


Stefan said...


Sorry. Please don't let that one word be your take-away from my comment.

When you're teaching on Scripture, you are edifying and convicting, and your pastoral calling is on full display.

When you tackle certain other subjects, though, you do so in your own inimitable personal style that is in equal parts, well, both maddening and endearing.

It's just generally not worth getting into a blog argument over, so I keep my mouth shut.

Kristine said...

I'm currently in the middle of Piper's 'Future Grace', which was in one reason, why this post caught my eye.

After reading what Warfield (love reading Warfield) has to say here, and reflecting on my very recent contemplations motivated by Piper's 'Future Grace', it would seem that they more more-or-less saying much the same thing...

Thanks for posting Warfield. We could all stand to profit from golden little reminders such as these :)

DJP said...

It's probably just about the right size helping of Warfield, too.


NoLongerBlind said...


It seems, IMO, that you are sound in your view of a believer's responsibility in sanctification.

These verses sum it up well:

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure".
(Philippians 2:12-13)

Keep fighting the good fight, brother!

Stefan said...



Kristine said...

(A very late and totally unrelated comment) : I really ought to edit those comments I post more closely. Yikes!

{{Shakes her head in utter yet laughable embarrasment}}