Are Future Grace and Covenant THeology at Odds?

Purpose and importance

My aim in what follows is to show that John Piper’s teaching on future grace is consistent with traditional covenant theology. To establish this it is not necessary to show that every covenant theologian would agree with Dr. Piper, but only that the distinctives of his theology are present either explicitly or implicitly in representatives of covenant theology (even if they do not emphasis the distinctives to the extent Dr. Piper does). I will argue that four of the five distinctives of Piper’s theology of future grace are explicit in James Buchanan’s book The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of its History in the Church and of its Exposition from Scripture (Great Britain: Banner of Truth, 1997, first edition 1867), which is a sound representation of traditional covenant theology, and that the fifth is implied in his affirmation of these four.

If this is indeed the case, then it relieves the objection that Dr. Piper’s theology on future grace is new (and therefore probably not true) and demonstrates that one need not choose between the traditional, biblical categories of covenant theology and future grace. For if future grace is taught in the writings of the Puritans and covenant theologians as represented by Buchanan, then it goes a long way towards demonstrating that future grace is not opposed to the system of covenant theology–which would be a tragedy.

Why compare Piper with a book from over 100 years ago?

James Buchanan is a covenant theologian who lived in the 1800s. Because he is so conversant with traditional covenant theology and because his great book The Doctrine of Justification is intended by him as an exposition of the traditional view of covenant theology on justification and the issues relating to it, I have selected him as a trustworthy spokesperson for covenant theology. The wide breadth and deep accuracy of his knowledge of covenant theology and the Bible are evident from his manner of writing and his extensive footnotes, as well as the approbation of his book by many today.

Though he wrote in the 1800s, he is not an outdated spokesperson for traditional covenant theology because, first, by traditional covenant theology I mean the system of theology general accepted by the Reformers and Puritans up to Buchanan’s day–not mainly covenant theology as it is today--and, second, because covenant theology today has not changed greatly from the traditional form which Buchanan espoused. But my main concern on this issue is what the great Christians of the Reformation era to Buchanan’s day believed, and thus Buchanan is a more than qualified spokesperson for my purposes.

Why is it important to me what these old covenant thinkers thought? Because I think that both Dr. Piper’s teaching on future grace and these old thinkers’ system of covenant theology are biblical and helpful–not only because they teach truth, but because they do it with unction. The two systems of theology compliment one another, and I think that Piper’s theology of future grace is mainly a matter of placing greater emphasis on old truths that are affirmed in covenant theology. Also, to some extent they provide helpful clarifications to each other. But there are many who claim that these two systems are not in agreement, but rather in contradiction to one another. As one who has beheld so much of the glory of God in both systems of theology–which really overlap and are not separate, as I hope to show–it is important to me to be confident that they both are in agreement and part of the one harmonic unity of biblical theology. One of the best ways I know to show this is to show that covenant theologians held to the central tenants of future grace.

The theology of future grace

There are five distinctives of Piper’s theology that I am calling here "future grace." I select these five not because they fully describe what is meant by "future grace," but because they are the main distinctives which are often asserted to be contrary to traditional covenant theology.

The first distinctive is that the faith which justifies also sanctifies. That is, that the same faith whereby we are justified also produces love, obedience, and holiness of life. Second, the power for obedience is the affection of joy in God. Third, saving faith involves the affections. Thus, faith and joy are in a profound sense not two different motives for obedience, but one. In other words, faith sanctifies because it prefers God over sin. Fourth, faith is not merely backward looking, but in some sense also forward looking. Fifth, though the law shows us what pleases God, sanctification is not motivated by the law anymore than justification comes by the law, but by faith alone; and this is so because of the joy faith has in Christ and its future looking element (points three and four).

It should briefly be noted here that I am not viewing Piper’s unique approach to the covenant of works as a distinctive of his theology of future grace. In other words, that is not an issue I will be treating in this paper. While I think that Piper would agree with the essentials of the covenant of works as covenant theology sees it, his wording often makes it appear otherwise. Therefore, a demonstration of the agreement that really exists between Piper and covenant theology on the covenant of works would be helpful. But I will not be taking up that task here.

The faith that justifies, sanctifies

This is the first distinctive of Piper’s theology of future grace, and the following lines of evidence show that covenant theology also affirms this truth. Thus, it is not new with Piper, and it is not at variance with the system of covenant theology.

Buchanan sees saving faith as the motivation and cause behind obedience.

To say that faith is the motive and cause of obedience is to say that faith produces sanctification, which is growth in Christ-likeness and obedience. Thus, if it can be shown that Buchanan teaches that faith is the cause of obedience, it follows that he affirms that, in other words, the faith that justifies, sanctifies. That he does indeed affirm this is evident from what he writes in chapter 8:

But the distinction between actual and declarative Justification must be viewed in connection with the distinction between a living and a dead faith, in order to afford a full explanation of the apparent discrepancy between the teaching of the two Apostles. When Paul and James speak of the faith of Abraham, they both regard it as a genuine, vital, operative principle; for Paul, not less strongly than James, describes it as ‘working by love,’ and bringing forth the fruits of new obedience; for ‘by faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should afterward receive for an inheritance, obeyed;’ and so, ‘by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son.’ He acted by faith on both occasions; so that faith was prior to his obedience; and if every believer is justified, he was actually pardoned and accepted before he manifested his faith in these signal acts of obedience (p. 246, all emphasis except fourth added).

Here Buchanan is clear that faith "brings forth" obedience and "works by love," as evidenced by what Hebrews 11 says about Abraham’s obedience. That Buchanan is speaking of saving faith here, and not some different form of faith, is evident from the fact that he makes no distinction between the faith whereby Abraham was justified and the faith whereby he obeyed. The flow of his thought makes clear that he is describing how the faith that saved Abraham acted brought forth obedience.

In fact, Buchanan’s argument is based upon his understanding that the faith which justified Abraham motivated his obedience. For he is seeking to show that Paul and James are consistent because, among other things, they both teach that justifying faith is a living and not a dead faith. The evidence Buchanan gives for this is that, in Paul, faith is said to "work by love" and Abraham is said to have obeyed by faith (it seems that he thinks Hebrews was written by Paul). But he could not argue that Abraham’s obedience from faith in Paul’s writing proves that his faith, according to Paul, is an operative faith if he did not view the faith by which Abraham obeyed as the same faith by which he was justified.

This is especially evident in the last sentence quoted above, where he argues that since Abraham obeyed by faith, his faith preceded his obedience (for it is impossible for a cause to be after the effect). And since all who have faith are justified, he concludes that Abraham was justified before he obeyed and thus apart from his obedience. This argument would only make sense if in Buchanan’s mind the faith by which Abraham obeyed was the same faith by which he was justified. Otherwise, the fact that Abraham obeyed from faith could not prove, in the argument as Buchanan states it, that he was justified before he obeyed because it could not prove that he had justifying faith before he obeyed.

In expounding the meaning of James later on the same page, he adds

The case supposed [in James] is that of a faith professed merely, and not productive of obedience–and the question raised is, whether that be saving faith? He compares it to a mere profession of charity, which leads to no deeds of active beneficence, and concludes that the one is as worthless as the other" (246, emphasis added).

It is evident here that Buchanan understands James as teaching that a faith which does not produce (that is Buchanan’s word!) obedience is not "saving faith." Thus, the only faith that saves is the kind of faith that produces obedience. Which is the same as saying that the faith which justifies, sanctifies.

Buchanan sees works as the effects of faith and therefore the evidence of faith and, therefore, the evidence of justification

In chapter 13, on the relation of grace and works to justification, Buchanan argues that works are the effects of faith (which means that they are caused by faith). And because faith necessarily causes obedience, works are a reliable evidence of whether faith is present. Since faith always brings justification, and works evidence faith, it follows that works also evidence justification. But works could not be the evidence of justification if they were not the evidence of the faith which justifies. And they could not be the evidence of justifying faith if they are not necessarily produced by justifying faith. Thus, Buchanan’s discussion of the relation between faith, works, and justifications is the second line of evidence that he taught that the faith which justifies also sanctifies. To an examination of the relationship he sees between faith, works, and justification we will therefore now turn.

In discussing how judgment according to works and justification by faith alone are consistent, he writes:

This will become more evident if we further consider how Good Works stand related to Faith, and to Justification, respectively. They are the effects of faith, and, as such, the evidences both of faith, and of justification. That they are the effects of faith is clear; for ‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin;’ and ‘without faith it is impossible to please God...’ It is equally clear that, being the effects, they are also the evidences, of a true and living faith; for ‘a man may say, ‘Thou hast faith, and I have works show me thy faith without they works, and I will show thee my faith by my works;’ and all the good works, which are ascribed to believers under the Old Testament, are traced to the operation of faith [Heb 11] (357, emphasis added).

Buchanan explicitly states here that works are the effects and evidence of faith. That he means saving faith here, and not some other kind of faith, is evident merely from the context of the paragraph, chapter, and book–Buchanan never in the whole book speaks approvingly of any kind of faith that fallen sinners have, in the subjective sense, other than justifying faith. I say in the subjective sense because he does make reference approvingly to the fact that the body of truth in Christianity is sometimes called "the faith" in an objective sense. But when he speaks of faith in the subjective sense, as an act of individuals, the only other kinds of faith he refers to in reference to fallen individuals are either the "dead" faith which cannot justify or the inadequate view some have of saving faith as being only intellectual assent. He never speaks of a "secondary" faith that comes after saving faith and produces works.

That he is speaking of saving faith in the quote above is also evident from what he goes on to argue:

But if, besides being the effects and evidences of faith, they are also, as such, the evidences of Justification, it will follow that Justification is connected inseparably with faith, so as to be the privilege of every one as soon as he believes, and simply because he believes, in Christ,–otherwise good works might prove the existence of faith, without proving the possession of that privilege; whereas they are applied in Scripture as evidences of both (357-358).

His argument is that, in Scripture, obedience is an evidence of justification because (see his "as such") it is an evidence of faith--and, therefore, it follows that all who believe are justified (for obedience, being the evidence of faith, could not also be the evidence of justification unless all who have faith are justified). But if the faith that Buchanan sees as producing obedience is something other than the faith whereby we are justified, then there is a gaping hole in his argument. If the faith that justifies, in Buchanan’s mind, does not sanctify, then he could not consistently argue that works are an evidence of justification because they are an evidence of faith.

Buchanan calls faith the "germ of holiness"

On page 365, he writes,

When the doctrine of Justification by Works has been abandoned as untenable, and that of Justification by Grace has been admitted, the fact that Faith, which is an infused and inherent grace, and the germ of holiness in heart and life, is indispensably required for our pardon and acceptance with God, has been made the plea or pretext for holding, that we are still justified by it as our evangelical righteousness (emphasis added).

Here Buchanan is confronting the error that views faith as our righteousness instead of what connects us with the alien righteousness of Christ. Notice that in disapproving of this error, he does not disapprove of the fact that those who hold this error believe that faith is the "germ of holiness in heart and life." Their problem is what they do with this truth, not their holding of this truth. In fact, he calls this truth a "fact."

Buchanan explicitly says that saving faith produces holiness in us

Buchanan asserts this truth in these words:

...while the same faith which justifies us ‘worketh by love,’ ‘purifieth the heart,’ and animates us in the path of cheerful and devoted obedience. For ‘the end of the law is charity;’ but it must be ‘charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned’ (p. 409).

This was a stunning statement to me when I first read it because I am so accustomed to hearing from Dr. Dan Fuller, one of Piper’s most helpful teachers, that the puritans did not believe that the faith which justified also sanctified. But here was a crystal clear and explicit statement showing that Dr. Fuller has unjustly stereotyped covenant theologians on this issue.

The Reformers agreed with Buchanan on this

What is even perhaps more amazing and even more powerful in refuting the erroneous stereotype of Puritan theology is that Buchanan declares that the Reformers had the same understanding of faith and sanctification. Perhaps some covenant theologians do not think that justifying faith also sanctifies. But the following statement from Buchanan shows that the general opinion of traditional covenant theology has been the opposite: faith justifies and produces holiness in us:

They [the Reformers–see previous context] held this faith to be necessary to salvation; but they held it also to be immediately, invariably, and infallibly effectual for salvation, insomuch that he in whom it exists may be fully assured that ‘he has passed from death unto life, and that he will never come into condemnation.’ They did not deny, on the contrary they affirmed, that this faith [that is, the faith he has just referred to–namely, justifying faith] ‘worketh by love,’ and through love, as the main spring of new obedience, produces all ‘the peaceable fruits of righteousness;’ but its justifying efficacy they ascribed, not, as the Church of Rome did, to its ‘enclosing charity, as a ring encloses a diamond,’ which enhances its intrinsic worth, but to its ‘enclosing Christ, the pearl of great price,’ whose righteousness alone makes it of any avail (121).

But we do not need to merely take Buchanan’s word for it that the Reformers believed this. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin writes:

...[certain heretics] pointlessly strive after the foolish subtlety that we are justified by faith alone, which acts through love, so that righteousness depends upon love. Indeed, we confess with Paul that no other faith justifies ‘but faith working through love’ [Gal 5:6]. But it does not take its power to justify from that working of love. Indeed, it justifies in no other way but in that it leads us into fellowship with the righteousness of Christ. Otherwise, everything that the apostle insists upon so vigorously would fall (Volume I, book III, p. 750).

The faith that justifies, Calvin says, also works. He is not merely saying that all who believe in Christ necessarily obey. He is saying, in addition to this, that this obedience comes from saving faith. Calvin could not be clearer–which is why I am so befuddled when Dr. Fuller presents Calvin as denying this very thing. The crucial distinction that Calvin makes, however, is that, though faith does work by love, that is not why it justifies us. Rather, it justifies us because it connects us with Christ. Only Christ’s righteousness could avail before God for us, not anything we do. This distinction is at the heart of the gospel. To deny it is to seriously destroy the foundation of the church and lead people astray–probably into the false gospel that is accursed in Galatians 1:8.

Many contemporary covenant theologians agree with this

In discussion to this day, it is very common for covenant theologians to say that faith produces obedience. For example, Michael Horton writes that

Once justified, faith and works are not at odds–the former produces the latter...

Nevertheless, while faith does not encompass obedience, it does produce it. And while trust is certainly not ‘the determination of the will to obey the truth,’ trusting Christ by faith alone will inevitably lead to a new willingness to obey the inevitably produces obedience due to God’s sovereign initiative (Putting Amazing Back into Grace, 185, first emphasis added).

Obedience is motivated by joy in God

Not only do Buchanan and covenant theology in general very evidently embrace the first distinctive of future grace, Buchanan also embraces the next, and almost most central, element of future grace: that obedience is motivated not mainly by gratitude, but by joy. This is evident from several lines of evidence.

According to Buchanan, joy in God enables obedience

Buchanan describes how faith results in obedience, it seems, in the following passage where he describes the experience of a justified person:

As soon as he betakes himself to this ground [the righteousness of Christ], and begins to rest upon it alone, he will find, in his blessed experience, that it is adequate to sustain his troubled soul,–to relieve it at once from all the anxieties of unforgiven guilt,–to set it free from ‘the spirit of bondage which is unto fear,’–and to impart ‘joy and peace in believing;’ even that ‘peace which passeth all understanding’–‘the very peace of God reigning in the conscience through Jesus Christ,’ and that ‘joy of the Lord’ which will be his ‘strength’ in duty, and his support in trial, enabling him to ‘run in the way of His commandments’ when the Lord has thus ‘enlarged his heart’ (8, emphasis added).

It is amazing that Buchanan explicitly says that resting in the righteousness of Christ will "impart ‘joy and peace in believing’...and that ‘joy of the Lord’ which will be his strength in duty." And not only is joy in God the power, or strength, of our obedience, it is also what enables us to "run in the way of His commandments."

Thus, one of Piper’s central emphasis–that the power for obedience comes from deep joy in the Lord–is explicitly affirmed by Buchanan.

Joy is a necessary element of all true obedience

One of Piper’s central teachings is that obedience is not merely an external duty, but something you must feel–something you must want to do in your heart. Though Buchanan does not use the word joy here like Piper does, in the following quote he is getting at the same point Piper emphasizes--that one must obey from the heart because he wants to if he is to truly please God:

If [obedience] be not an expression of real heartfelt love, supreme towards God, and disinterested toward men, it has no right to a place among the duties of either table of God’s Law; for ‘the first and great commandment is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart’ (353).

Thus, according to Buchanan, it is not merely a good thing for obedience to come from a cheerful heart, it is essential.

Adam was to be motivated by a desire for enjoying God

On page 20, Buchanan describes that God’s placing the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden was

a test of man’s submission to God’s authority–of his faith in God’s word, and his obedience to God’s will–of his love to God, and his desire for the continued enjoyment of His favor and fellowship... (emphasis added)

Buchanan is saying that the test God gave to Adam concerning eating from the tree was to reveal whether he believed God, would obey God, loved God, and desired to continue enjoying fellowship with God. The implication is that if Adam had believed God, loved God, and desired God, then he would have passed the test–that is, he would have obeyed. So the motives behind Adam’s obedience were to be love, faith, and a desire for enjoying God. Buchanan is almost as hedonistic here as Piper.

The Christian is to obey God from faith and joy in believing

Buchanan finds the Roman Catholic doctrine that assurance of salvation would be injurious to the pursuit obedience as destructive. This is because it teaches people to be motivated to obey God from doubts and fears instead of faith and joy. For Roman Catholicism,

assurance of salvation is unattainable in the case of the maturest believer, by reason of the uncertainty of his final perseverance; and that, so far from being necessary, it is not even desirable, since it might operate, as they conceive, injuriously on his character, by relieving him from the pressure of those doubts and fears, which are supposed to be a salutary restraint on evil passions, and a better safeguard against sin, than ‘faith working by love,’ or ‘joy and peace in believing’ (377).

According to Buchanan, assurance of salvation is not destructive to motivation for obedience because obedience is to be motivated by joy and peace in believing, which cannot thrive where there is no assurance. Once again, his comments reveal that joy in the Lord places a central role in his theology of Christian motivation.

Having seen that both faith and joy are the central motives from which Buchanan thinks Christian obedience must spring, the question arises of how these two motives are related. In his book Desiring God, Piper speaks of two aspects of joy. One is at the root of faith and an element of faith (see John 3:17-21). The other is a result of faith (see Romans 15:16). Future grace teaches that it is both aspects of joy that motivate obedience. What we have seen from Buchanan, though, makes it seem as though his focus is almost entirely on the joy that comes from faith as the motivation for obedience. If that is the case, then though Buchanan is very close to Piper on this point, he is nonetheless leaving out Piper’s emphasis that faith contains in itself a joy that is the engine of obedience.

It is true, I think, that the joy which Buchanan sees as empowering obedience is mainly the joy that comes from faith, and not the joy that is necessarily in faith itself. Buchanan seems to merely see faith as leading to the joy which empowers obedience. Piper, however, emphasizes that it is also the joy in faith that motivates obedience. So Piper does supply a helpful lack in Buchanan’s theology here. However, it should be noted that Piper’s emphasis does not contradict Buchanan and is consistent with his thought. For we have already seen that Buchanan views both faith and joy as essential motives of true obedience. These two motives are at the essence of Piper’s theology, and Buchanan upholds them. So both agree at the core on the question "what motivates sanctification" because they both answer "faith and joy."

Further, Piper is not affirming something that contradicts anything in covenant theology when he affirms that the joy in faith produces obedience because Buchanan himself admits that faith is the "germ of holiness in heart and life" (365) and is "a spiritual grace, a gift of God, and one of the fruits of His Spirit, which is in its own nature acceptable and pleasing to Him" (121). So surely he would have no problem with one of the spiritual graces in faith, which makes it be the "germ of holiness," is joy in God. Piper is merely emphasizing what Buchanan has slightly overlooked, not bringing forth a truth that Buchanan would have opposed.

In fact, I think that Piper’s emphasis on the joy that is in faith motivating obedience is "explicitly implicit" in Buchanan. This is shown by the fact that Buchanan himself explicitly acknowledges that faith contains joy and therefore implicitly acknowledges that, since faith and joy produce obedience, the joy that is in faith is one of the motivations for obedience. In other words, since Buchanan sees both faith and joy as central motivating causes of obedience, and since (as we will see), Buchanan affirms that faith includes an element of joy, it would seem to follow that, on his terms, it is not only the joy that comes from faith that produces obedience, but also the joy that is in faith. Which is to say that faith and joy are not simply two separate motives for obedience, but in a profound sense one motive. Faith sanctifies because it prefers God over sin.

Thus, in order to establish that Buchanan’s theology affirms Piper’s teaching that faith justifies because it prefers God over sin, it only needs to be shown that, in Buchanan’s thought, saving faith involves joy in Christ.

Saving faith is not merely intellectual assent to the truths of the gospel,but involves the affections

In agreement with the Reformers, Buchanan held that faith

does not consist in the bare assent of the understanding, but involves the cordial consent of the whole mind–which not only apprehends but appropriates, Christ and all His benefits,–receiving and resting upon Him alone for salvation,–and looking to His righteousness as its only prevailing plea (120-121, emphasis added).

Later, Buchanan rejects the view, which "some have held," that faith "is a mere intellectual belief, involving no gracious affection of any kind" (374). He writes that

In opposition to both, Protestant divines have generally held, that faith itself is a spiritual grace, and that every act of faith is an act of obedience; since it is one of the fruits of the Spirit, which can only be implanted along with spiritual apprehension of the truth, and a cordial approbation of it, while every exercise of faith is in conformity with the requirements of God’s revealed will; and yet they have denied that its being such is at variance with the doctrine of a free justification by the vicarious satisfaction and righteousness of Christ, simply because they exclude faith itself, as well as all its fruits,–whether more or less immediate,–from forming any part of the ground of our acceptance with God (375, emphasis added).

Buchanan rejects the notion that faith is mere intellectual assent. His general description of faith, rather, is that it involves a "cordial approbation" of the truth (121). But what can this mean, other than that the affections are involved in our approval of the truth? The "cordial assent" that he refers to cannot be mere intellectual agreement, for he has expressly said that faith is more than intellectual agreement (374). What can this more be? It can only be the involvement of the affections. This is what he means, then, by "cordial approbation." When we approve something, it means that we agree with it, and when we do so cordially it means that we do so out of a desire to. Faith is a cordial approbation–that is, a liking approval, of the truth. And to "like" the truth is to, in Piper’s words, take joy in it.

To the objection that making joy an element of saving faith would blur the crucial distinctions involved in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Buchanan would, I think, respond that

If it once be proved [as he has done], by clear testimonies of Scripture, that faith is not itself the righteousness by which we are justified, but only the channel through which we receive another righteousness,–not a personal, but imputed,–we need have little solicitude about the question how much, or how little, is included in it, and no jealousy of its being represented as invariably accompanied, or immediately followed, by other graces of the Spirit (375).

Thus, it seems clear that Buchanan agrees with Piper that joy is, in some sense, an element of saving faith and that this does not endanger the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Therefore, the implication here, in light of Buchanan’s emphasis that both joy and faith motivate obedience, seems to be that faith sanctifies because it prefers God over sin.

Faith is not only backward looking, but also forward looking

If faith prefers God over sin, then it seems to follow that saving faith does not merely look back to the finished work of Christ, but also banks its hope on the promises of God to provide Christians with a happy eternity. The next question on this issue, then, is whether traditional covenant theology sees saving faith is something that only looks backward to the death of Christ, or whether it agrees with Piper that faith has a future orientation.

My conviction is that Piper’s emphasis on the future orientation of faith is consistent with traditional covenant theology. Like Piper, Buchanan does not see saving faith as merely backward looking. It does not appear that way at first, however, for we read in Buchanan that the work of Christ "must be the sole and immediate ground of our faith and hope" (384). The work of Christ was in the past, and he says that it is the sole and immediate ground of our faith and hope.

But wait a minute. Buchanan has also just said that the work of Christ is the object of our hope. Hope is by definition future oriented. So how could it look merely to the past? The answer seems to be that hope does look to the future, but the warrant for hope is the work of Christ which secured this happy future for the people of God.

I think we can look at faith in Buchanan and covenant theology in a similar way. It seems to go without saying that faith trusts Christ for forgiveness and righteousness, for that is what we must be saved from. But it also seems to go without saying that the reason faith trusts Christ for these things is because it wants to have the joy of fellowship with Him. Our sin and the wrath of God we deserve prevent us from having joyful communion with God. So faith trusts Christ for justification so that these barriers can be removed. There is, then, in faith an object of trust and a reason for putting one’s trust in that object. The object of trust is the work of Christ in the past and the Person of Christ, who accomplished that work, in the present. But the reason for trusting Him is because one wants to be with Him–now and forever. Additionally, faith also trusts the promise of Christ that He will keep safe all who come to Him and give them a happy eternity with him (see Buchanan, p. 378). Thus, faith is future oriented.

We can see this in Buchanan. In laying out the various metaphors the Scripture uses to describe saving faith, he shows that he conceives of saving faith as being motivated by a concern for the future, as involving a turning oneself over to Christ for peace and joy now and in the future, and relying on His work for forgiveness as what makes these things possible. He writes that saving faith is presented in Scripture

sometimes as trust in a Person,–sometimes as ‘looking unto Jesus,’ like the wounded Israelite when he looked to the brazen serpent,–sometimes as ‘fleeing for refuge to the hope that is set before us,’–sometimes as ‘coming to Christ’ that we may ‘find rest to our souls,’–sometimes as ‘receiving Christ,’–sometimes as ‘resting on Him’ as the sure foundation,–sometimes as ‘committing our souls to Him, as One who is ‘able to keep them until the great day’ (375-376).

So faith is motivated by a concern for the present and future–a desire to have Christ, rest, and the hope that is set before us. And it rests on the finished work of Christ as the basis which secured this happy future for us.

Because of the future motivation in faith, faith relies not merely on the work of Christ on the cross for justification, but also relies on the promises of God for its sanctification. The same faith that trusts the work of Christ for justification also trusts the promises of Christ for sanctification because it prefers not only to be with Christ (which comes in justification) but to be like Christ (which comes in sanctification) because its supreme regard is for Christ. But, and this is crucial, the reason faith justifies is not because it trusts the promises of Christ for sanctification, but because it trusts the work of Christ for justification. This is, I think, expressly taught by the covenant theologian Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edward's grandfather, in his book The Safety of Appearing in the Righteousness of Christ in the Day of Judgment:

The act of faith that is the condition of the covenant [of grace] is a relying upon God through Jesus Christ for salvation as offered in the gospel. There are many acts of saving faith besides this. Faith respects the whole book of God--all the promises, threatenings, and prophecies therein. By saving faith, we believe the creation of the world, the general deluge, and the coming of Christ in the flesh. But these actions of it are not the condition of the covenant. So, likewise, by faith, we depend upon Christ for particular outward blessings; but though that is a thing that accompanies salvation, yet it is not the condition of the covenant (p. 95).

....Christ is not a Priest only, but a Prophet and a King; and our faith does not justify us merely as it relies upon the blood and righteousness of Christ, which are the matters of our justification, but as it entertains Jesus Christ, for that is the condition of the covenant (97).

Sanctification is by faith and not the law

This affirmation is included in and follows from what has gone before. But it is significant to note that Buchanan makes this explicit:

We are not sanctified by the law, any more than we are justified by law; for the Apostle insists on its inefficacy in both respects, and shows that without the grace of Christ, the law, so far from subduing our corruptions, serves only to inflame and irritate them... (409).

The reason it is important to make this explicit is because some have wrongly said that covenant theologians taught that we are not sanctified by faith and faith alone. One person has even declared that the heresy that is condemned in Galatians 1:8-9 is the denial of sanctification by faith alone, and that therefore many Reformers and Puritans are guilty of the horrible heresy of Galatia. While I think that this is a horrible misunderstanding of what the Galatian heresy is (for I think it involved justification and not sanctification), traditional covenant theology must still be solidly vindicated from the charge that it taught sanctification by the law. And this is what I think the things we have seen explicitly in the previous sections and expressly in this passage from Buchanan does.


In sum, I think that all of this goes to show that Piper’s theology of future grace is not at odds with traditional covenant theology, but in express agreement with it. Covenant theology, of whom Buchanan was our trustworthy spokesperson, affirms explicitly four of the central distinctives of future grace and, in explicitly affirming these, implicitly affirms the other. Piper has, nonetheless, done a great service to the church by taking this implicit affirmation of covenant theology and made it explicit and clear. Likewise, covenant theology also has a helpful corrective for Piper’s theology concerning the covenant of works. But that will be examined at a later time.

Scripture quotations are generally from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.


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