Sunday, January 31, 2010

Temporary Forgiveness? - Responding to Dr. Robert Rayburn

Dr. Robert Rayburn (PCA pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA) wrote:
Justification – whatever else it is – is the forgiveness of sins. It is perfectly obvious that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness because the Bible says there is (cf. Num. 14:20 with 1 Cor. 10:5; Ezekiel 16:1-14; Matthew 18:32-34; etc.). Whether we are entirely satisfied with Dr. Leithart’s effort to incorporate this biblical material into the larger picture of the way of divine grace, the fact is, temporary forgiveness is a biblical datum.
(source)(brought to my attention here)

Dr. Rayburn's statement that it is "perfectly obvious" that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness in Scripture does not seem to be well supported. He provides four passages to support his claim.

1) Numbers 14:20-21
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: but as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.

It is hard to see how Dr. Rayburn thinks that this verse evidences temporary forgiveness. In context, the punishment that God was threatening was a pestilence, disinheritance and re-formation of the people from the loins of Moses:

Numbers 14:11-12
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

God did not execute this judgment on the people. Instead, in answer to Moses' prayer, God imposed a lesser judgment on them:

Numbers 14:22-24
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: but my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.

Since Dr. Rayburn doesn't provide an argument (just an assertion), it is unclear why Dr. Rayburn thinks that Numbers 14 evidences "temporary forgiveness," but if there is any sense in which it does, that sense is far from obvious.

2) 1 Corinthians 10:5
But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

This seems to be a similar reference to the reference above. However, in 1 Corinthians 10, we are given some specific examples of what provoked God's judgment:

a) Worshiping God with an image (the golden calf) (vs. 7)
b) Committing fornication (the Moabite's influence as counseled by Balaam) (vs. 8)
c) Complaining about the manna (vs. 9)
d) Murmering against Moses (for example, Korah's rebellion) (vs. 10)

There again is no obvious "temporary forgiveness" in this passage.

3) Ezekiel 16:1-14
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, And say,

Thus saith the Lord GOD unto Jerusalem;

Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite. And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, "Live;" yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, "Live."

I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare.

Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee,
saith the Lord GOD,
and thou becamest mine. Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.

I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers' skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.

And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee,
saith the Lord GOD.
This part of the passage doesn't directly deal with forgiveness at all. The passage goes on to explain that Jerusalem was basically like a wife who was extremely unfaithful (the text, though it uses some euphamisms, is pretty explicit), and that consequently God was going to bring judgments upon her. However, the passage concludes that God will use those judgments to turn her back and finally:

Ezekiel 16:61-63
Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger: and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD.

That part at the end really sounds rather permanent, but again - since Dr. Rayburn has provided assertion rather than argument - it is practically impossible to figure out why he thinks that temporary forgiveness is in view.

4) Matthew 18:32-34
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

This parable is the one place where an argument for "temporary forgiveness" might at first seem to find support. This understanding, however, is drawn from trying to draw a lesson from an aspect of the parable that is not the principal point of the parable.

Matthew Poole elaborates:
All these verses (except the last) are but a parable, which (as I before showed) is a similitude brought from the usual actions of men, and made use of to open or apply some spiritual doctrine. The main scope, or the proposition of truth, which our Saviour designs to open or press, is that which is first and principally to be considered and intended; and that, as I before showed, is to be known, either by the particular explication given by our Saviour, or by what went immediately before, or followeth immediately after. The scope of this parable is plainly expressed, ver. 35, So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. Nor is it obscurely hinted to us in what went before, where our Saviour was instructing Peter in the great duty of forgiving men their trespasses. This being agreed, as we use to say, that similitudes run not on four feet, so we are not to expect that all the actions of men, mentioned in the parable, should be answered by some correspondent actions of God: as similitudes always halt, so never more than when by them God's actions are expressed and represented to us. The main points which this parable instructeth us in are, 1. That it is our duty, especially theirs who have received forgiveness from God, to forgive their brethren. 2. That if they do not, they may justly question whether God hath forgiven them, and expect the same severity from him which they show unto their brethren. These being the main things for instruction in which this parable is brought, and which we ought chiefly to eye as the things taught us by this parable, nothing hindereth but that it may also instruct us in some other things, though we cannot raise a proposition of truth from every branch of the parable, and some things be put in according to the passions and usual dealings of men, which possibly are in them unrighteous actions, and may follow from their ungoverned passions, which will by no means agree to the pure and holy nature of God.
When Poole thinks about the unrighteous actions of men, he means the same thing that Calvin means.

Calvin puts it this way:
31. When his fellow-servants saw what was done. Though we ought not to search for mystery in these words—because they contain nothing but what nature teaches, and what we learn by daily experience—we ought to know that the men who live among us will be so many witnesses against us before God; for it is impossible but that cruelty shall excite in them displeasure and hatred, more especially, since every man is afraid that what he sees done to others will fall upon his own head. As to the clause which immediately follows, it is foolish to inquire how God punishes those sins which he has already forgiven; for the simple meaning is this: though he offers mercy to all, yet severe creditors, from whom no forgiveness can be obtained, are unworthy of enjoying it.
Thus, the appropriate understanding to draw from the initial pardon is the offer of pardon - namely the general offer of the gospel.

John Gill explains it this way:
till he should pay all that was due unto him; which being so vast a sum, and he but a servant, could never be done: but inasmuch as this man was fully and freely pardoned before, how comes it to pass, that full payment of debt is yet insisted on? It is certain, that sin, once pardoned by God, he never punishes for it; for pardon with him is of all sin; he forgives all trespasses, though ever so many, and remits the whole debt, be it ever so large; which act of his grace will never be revoked: it is one of his gifts which are without repentance; it proceeds upon, and comes through a plenary satisfaction for sin made by his own Son, and therefore it would be unjust to punish for it: by this act, sin is covered out of sight; it is blotted out, and entirely done away, and that for ever. Hence some think this man had only the offer of a pardon, and not that itself; but it is not an offer of pardon, that Christ, by his blood, has procured, and is exalted to give, but that itself; and this man had his debt, his whole debt forgiven him: others think, that this was a church forgiveness, who looked upon him, judged him, and received him as one forgiven; but for his cruel usage of a fellow member, delivered him to the tormentors, passed censures on him, and excommunicated him, till he should give full satisfaction, which is more likely: others, this forgiveness was only in his own apprehensions: he presumed, and hoped he was forgiven, when he was not; but then his crime could not have been so aggravated as is: rather, this forgiveness is to be understood of averting calamities and judgments, likely to fall for his iniquities, which is sometimes the sense of this phrase: [see 1 Kings 8:34] and so his being delivered to the tormentors may mean, his being distressed with an accusing guilty conscience, an harassing, vexing devil, many misfortunes of life, and temporal calamities. Though after all, this is not strictly to be applied to any particular case or person, but the scope of the parable is to be attended to; which is to enforce mutual forgiveness among men, from having received full and free pardon at the hands of God; and that without the former, there is little reason to expect the latter, as appears from what follows.
Later in the same letter, Rayburn writes:
[T]here is obviously a sense in which forgiveness may be temporary, holiness temporary, a family relationship with God temporary, “life” itself temporary, even the love of God temporary (Deut. 7:7-11; Hos. 11:1). ... Where, pray tell, do the Standards “reject any form of `theoretical’ or temporary justification”? Do the Standards teach us to deny that the Lord pardoned Israel in the wilderness notwithstanding that she perished in her sins or to deny that he himself says that he washed Israel and made her clean (Ezek. 16:4,9)?
We'll pass over Dr. Rayburn's further assertions regarding Deuteronomy and Hosea. As to the Lord's pardon of Israel in the wilderness, the Lord kept his word and did not wipe out Israel with a pestilence in favor of Moses. They did die in the wilderness, but there was no revocation of the pardon given them, as shown above.

Similarly, while there was mention of Israel (Jerusalem, actually) being washed and made clean - this is (a) within a larger analogy relating to the birth of Jerusalem, (b) relates to Jerusalem being set apart as a nation, and (c) is something that the passage itself and Paul's epistles confirm is not something that has been destroyed, even if God is presently provoking Jerusalem to jealousy.



Coram Deo said...

I admit that it's strange to see a PCA pastor attempting to undermine the doctrine of forensic justification.

His appeal to the standards by employing an argument from silence is equally perplexing.

In Christ,

Anonymous said...

Being generous, I can kinda see what the Pastor is trying to do?

Maybe not??

There is a datum in Law that loosely goes something like this:

Argue the facts of the case,if there are any to argue.

Argue the Law of the case if there are any to argue.

If all else fails, and you have no law or facts of the case to argue, argue whatever sticks.

The problem for me, after dipping my toe in the water of this matter, rightly placed, is the word TEMPORARY.

That, to me, opens up so much trouble as both your thread and Keister's thread and the article by Mattes have proven.

The question I would put directly to the man is "how does God temporarily forgive someone forgiven?"

At the Numbers portion, we read there is a struggle for the Faith in the heart of those law bound believers. There, one verse jumped off the page and clocked me!

Num 14:15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say,

For me, that goes to the heart of these verses from Hebrews and should put fear and trembling in the soul? Moses, there at Numbers 14, is agreeing with God about the judgment they deserve. They deserve to be killed. Don't I? Yes, why yes I do, too!

Heb 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
Heb 6:2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

A maturing Christian should have an ever growing awareness of pending "eternal judgment". We should not hesitate, but quickly pick up our cross each day as the days go by. I am training my mind to see everyone as either a Saint or a reprobate at exactly the same time, knowing full well that Faith comes to the Elect by Hearing and Hearing by the Word of God. That's how I came to a place to repent and receive His Faith dropping mine like a molten bar of iron in the palms of my hands.

Well, much more could be said and should be hopefully, for that Pastor's sake and for the Dr. Leithart's sake and really for all of our sakes, those of us choosing to have some discipline and guidance from here in this blog?.

Turretinfan said...

Hi argument about the standards is simply that they don't address the subject and that consequently someone cannot be ruled as "contrary to the standards" on a subject that the standards don't address. He seems to have chosen a very poor way of enunciating this argument.

Anonymous said...

That being said, TF, does that beg the question about the Standards and their perspecuity?

I have read most of everything to be linked to this case now.

Leithart, Rayburn and the complaints and counter-remands and complaints and counter-remands.

One gets the sense that there is a heavier issue in play and I am reluctant to open up to it except to express sympathy to you and the PCA.

I will allude to it with a couple of verses, however, which is my practice, that if I cannot find a basis in Scripture, then there is no basis for it in the open:

Psa 72:1 Of Solomon. Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!
Psa 72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!
Psa 72:3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!
Psa 72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!
Psa 72:5 May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!


Joh 12:28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
Joh 12:29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."
Joh 12:30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine.
Joh 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
Joh 12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

and finally, the Apostle in question as to the NPP/FV:::>

Rom 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

For me, I am firmly set on this daily prayer, this Word of God penned by King David:::>

1Ch 16:29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
1Ch 16:30 tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
1Ch 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
1Ch 16:32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!
1Ch 16:33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.