The Word of God from the pen of Peter in these verses reads as follows:
“As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (living); Because it is written: Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Surely it is imperative that we have the loins of our mind girt up, and be spiritually sober according to the clear teaching of this Scripture passage. Of this sobriety Peter spoke in the former verse, and it is a concept that is constantly in the mind of the writer of this Epistle. Inwe read: “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be ye sober and watchful to prayer”. Sobriety is therefore to have an eye for the realities of all things in the light of the Word of God and the grace of God in Christ Jesus. He, who is sober, sees his own greatness in Christ in faith and wills to live this new life in hope and sanctification. Only they who are not in their proper spiritual senses will not be careful of their walk in the midst of this world. They will flirt with sin and with the devil and fall a snare to his wiles, and be brought condemned into the court of God by Satan. Wherefore the apostle Peter writes in “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
This need of spiritual sobriety is brought to our attention in exhortations. Once more I repeat that these exhortations of the gospel must not be confused with, nor maliciously presented as being commandments of the law, but they must be left for what they are: precepts of the gospel! In these precepts of the gospel we are not admonished to become what we are not, but we are told to live out in holy fear and trembling what we have been made to be in the regeneration in Christ through the power of His resurrection. We are to work out, bring to a finished process our salvation in Christ; for God is the one who worketh (energizes) in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. We are to walk worthily of the calling wherewith we have been efficaciously called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.
Any other presentation simply makes the admonition such, that one practically makes of the gospel a new law (neonomism) and makes the “in the way of faith” a condition; it changes the faith as a means of receiving, of appropriating into a means of acquiring. And this latter then becomes a “pre-requisite” which man must fulfill in faith. That is the deep error of Rome, which is at bottom simply Pelagianism. Here penitence and contrition become meriting factors in acquiring the forgiveness of sins. Rome will have nothing of Calvin’s “in the way of faith”, and that “faith is an instrument”. We greatly appreciate the careful remarks of Dr. G.C. Berkhouwer in his “Geloof En Rechtvaardigmaking”, pages 193-194, where we read: “From this point Calvin, already in 1536, battles against the penance sacrament in a profound discussion in which one matter comes to stand in clear focus: the forgiveness of sins. The believer receives the forgiveness of sins in the way of penitence. (We underscore, G.L.) That “in the way of” is always again the Reformation answer to every meritorial penance teaching and every erroneous formulation of the correlation, (faith and justification, G.L.) It is doubtful whether dogmatically it can ever be formulated more clearly because here the secret of the correlation is set forth between this penitence and God’s grace”.
Although Berkhouwer is here speaking of faith and justification, what he says clearly has meaning also for faith and sanctification, for sanctification is simply walking in justifying faith, in putting off of the “old man” and the “putting on” of the new man in Christ Jesus.
Two errors we must avoid. The one is that of antinomism, that does not will to hear of admonitions of the gospel to a new obedience, and hence errs by putting apart what God has joined together, namely, walk and grace of godliness and exhortations of the gospel. This is indeed, as the fathers of Dordt say, a “tempting of God”. We are indeed exhorted unto this “in the way of faith”. The other is to so present this “in the way of faith” that it becomes a way of acquiring salvation. For as soon as we in any way change the receiving of salvation into acquiring of salvation we have lost the “only grace and through faith” of salvation!
All exhortations unto sanctification in Scripture are really a stirring up in us of the living hope that is ours, in the grace in which we stand. For only in this living in hope do we purify ourselves as he is pure. And even in sanctification we receive salvation, but we in no way acquire it. Sanctification is out of faith and conversion. The “in the way of faith” ought therefore, to be our constant watch-word as Reformation churches, lest we return as the dog to his vomit, and as the washed sow to her wallowing in the mire! In the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free let us stand, both in doctrine and in life!
It was necessary for us to give account of these careful distinctions in view of more than one consideration.
In the first place, because it has been insinuated and whispered that the undersigned does not reject the propositions condemned by Classis East from conviction, but rather as a matter of expediency or even because he lacks courage to disagree with his former professors; a certain lack of courage and cowardice submission motivates the undersigned. In view of this I have deemed it necessary to give the underlying motivation of the Standard Bearer column in the above paragraphs.
Secondly, it cannot do any harm, and I cannot believe but what it will do good to all of us to clearly see the point at issue. The “statements” surely ought to be retracted for the truth’s sake as it is in Jesus our Lord. This has nothing to do with personalities. When all the personalities are removed from the stage in humble confession, then still the truth of “in the way of faith” stands as the Rock of Gibraltor. No one has since the days of Calvin improved upon this formulation, and before his day this truth was buried beneath the “prerequisite” works of Roman Sacerdotalism. This ought to be seen and acknowledged for our very life’s sake.
Finally, it was necessary to also see the true nature of “exhortations” generally so that in the particular text before us, we might see clearly the pitfalls that we should avoid in the interpretation of Scripture. No one can really correctly instruct the people who does not carefully distinguish. In this respect we do not judge that we have attained, but we strive and ever press forward so that our progress may be evident to all!
Let us then turn to the Scripture passage under consideration.
It ought to be clear to all of us that Peter places the need of conversion on the foreground here in the verses 14-16.
Yes, the need of conversion.
Let us not forget, that the conversion of the Scriptures is also due to what we have in the faith in Christ as the gift of God. It is sometimes erroneously presented as if contrition and sorrow for sin precede faith and good works. Then the order is: Contrition, faith, good works. And the first of these is conversion, as a certain prerequisite to faith, justification, forgiveness, and walking in sanctification, good works. But this is erroneous, and has never been the position and teaching of the fathers of the Reformed protestism. Both Calvin in his Institutes and Ursinus in his Schatboek take the position that all conversion is out of faith, as must be viewed as the good fruit on a good tree.
Such is the conversion unto which Peter admonishes here in our text.
But since the matter is so important for a proper understanding of the truth of Scripture concerning conversion we will give the following quotations from Calvin, Ursinus and also from Dr. H. Bavinck.
Says Bavinck in “Geloof and Bekeering” Vol. 4, Geref. Dogmatiek, page 133 (we translate) “Thus the concept conversion was already limited on one side— it is not before and outside, but within the new life, and flows forth from faith, and is rooted in regeneration in the narrow sense” Sapienti sat!
Writes Calvin: “Now it ought not to be doubted that repentance not only immediately follows faith, but is produced by it. For since pardon or remission is offered (set forth seriously G.L.) by the preaching of the Gospel, in order that the sinner liberated from the tyranny of Satan, from the yoke of sin, and the miserable servitude of his vices, may remove into the kingdom of God—no one can embrace the Gospel, but he must depart from the errors of his former life, enter into the right way, and direct all his attention to the exercise of repentance. Those who imagine that repentance rather precedes faith, than is produced by it, as fruit by a tree, have never been acquainted with its power, and are induced to adopt that sentiment by a very insufficient argument.” Book 3, Chapter 3 of Institutes.
Ursinus, writing on the matter of the true conversion of the believer, has the following to say: “Both of these parts of conversion come forth out of true faith. The reason is that no one can hate sin and come to God or he must love God. And no one loves God or is gifted with faith, that is, he must certainly believe that God is merciful, and that he receives in grace, who take refuge to God in true faith. Wherefore that in neither part (putting off old man and putting on new men G.L.) mention is made of faith, is not because faith is excluded from conversion, but because faith must be understood to be in the whole teaching of conversion and thankfulness; just as always when we speak of an activity there is a cause.” Fol. 97.
And when it is objected that there is a sorrow before faith Ursinus meets this objection as follows: “I agree that there is a certain sorrow before faith, but not such a sorrow that is a part of conversion. For the sorrow of the godless is before and without faith, and is more a turning away from God than a conversion….But in the elect this sorrow is a preparation to conversion.”
(To be continued)