Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vos on the Distinction between the Reformed and the Lutherans

Read this in a really interesting essay on the "Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology" from Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (pp. 246-247). The paragraph is long, and Vos' prose can be tedious at times, but for what it's worth, it does seem to highlight an important advantage the Reformed have over the Lutherans (though I'd be interested to hear some Lutheran feedback on the issue).
VosLet us now consider how the requirement of God's honor is reckoned with in this doctrine of the covenant of redemption. After the fall man will never again be able to work in a manner pleasing to God except a completed work of God be performed on his behalf. Earning eternal life has forever been taken out of his hands. Everything that subjectively happens within him can only be a principle and phenomenon of eternal life itself and in no way a prerequisite for eternal life. The obtaining of eternal life thus comes to lie in God, as a work that is His alone, in which His glory shines and of which nothing, without detracting from that glory, can be attributed to the creature. On this point the entire Reformation, both Lutheran and Calvinist, took exception to Rome, which failed to appreciate this fundamental truth. Yet the reasons which had driven both sides to this protest were different. With Luther it was the thirst for peace and stability for a restless conscience which could find no tranquility in Rome's salvation by works. As long as the sinner himself has to do something for his acquittal, his work remains unstable. Thus the sola fide became the shibboleth of the German Reformation, justification, its principle doctrine. One will agree that, despite all the purity with which this doctrine develops and in which, in developed form, it is given anew to the church, the highest point is still not reached, namely that point from which the Scripture itself views the matter when, in the words of Paul, it sees the heart of Abraham's faith in his "giving God the glory" (Romans 4:20). Even in its doctrine of justification Lutheranism did not catch hold of this idea in its fulness. Not a purely theological, but a partly anthropological motif ran through it. It was different with the Reformed. They, too, felt the same necessity to leave the waves of Rome's salvation by works and once again stand on solid ground. But beside and behind this necessity there lay a deeper longing: a thirst for the glory of God that did non primarily meditate on its own peace. When the Reformed takes the obtaining of salvation completely out of man's hands, he does this so that the glory which God gets from it might be uncurtailed. What is more important for him is the realization that God glorifies Himself in the salvation of sinners, whereas the Lutheran is satisfied when it merely becomes evident that man brings nothing of his own instability into the picture. For the Reformed the center of gravity does not lie in justification as such, but in the principle by which the latter is to be judged and which the Scripture everywhere applies when it teaches us to regard the work of salvation in its totality as being exclusively a work of God. [source]