Clark’s case

Among other problems in Clark’s lecture, he insists that Romans 2.27-29 is somehow a blanket condemnation of his targets:

Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

The problem here is that a great deal of material is being driven through this verse. There is an entire Western philosophical/theological tradition of speaking of “the external world,” over against one’s “internal” self. None of this can be proven from Paul’s passage in Romans. Paul says what everyone believes: that some in covenant do not believe and will not inherit the promises (actually, he says that some don’t “keep the law,” but that’s for another day). Some are sincere believers and others are not and only sincere believers are really God’s people in an ultimate sense.

Paul goes on to write of these outward Jews:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen (Romans 10.4, 5).

Paul goes on to point out that only the elect will actually benefit savingly from these things–which are, by God’s sovereign grace, those and only those who actually trust God as father, glory in the cross, identify themselves according to their true covenant identity (rather than pervert it and reject Christ because he reveals the perversion), worship God in spirit and in truth, believe and hope in God’s promises, and confess Jesus is the Christ. But he doesn’t deny they are in the covenant. What he denies is that they are predestined to final glory. To deny that they have the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and the Christ would not be to affirm God’s sovereign grace but to deny their guilt in refusing these gifts.

This is precisely what Paul says to the Christian readers, not to think they are beyond such possibilities, but to take them to heart and not sin as these Israelites did:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree (Romans 11.17-24).

Here, suddenly, in the new metaphor, the Gentiles are the relatively superficial covenant members and the Jews are the more deeply natural ones, though they have been cut off. Of course, Paul is speaking metaphorically, but his statement in Romans 2 is no less metaphorical. To claim that “inward” and “outward” are metaphysical entities is itself an assumption brought to the text rather than taken from it.

The point is that we must assure present professing believers of God’s love and also warn them against unbelief without undermining their present trust in God’s acts of love toward them–acts including baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the declarations of forgiveness from a minister of the Gospel, and instruction in God’s word (which are only given to disciples and thus always reaffirm one’s standing in grace no matter how convicting). Head for head, baptism admits all believers into the institutional Church which is the house and family of God outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. We are thus to asssure all baptize professing believers that “because God is the Lord, and our God, and redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments” (WSC #44) for God “is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom” (WLC #101).

No one in this brawl–no one–denies a distinction between special grace and common grace. All teach and preach that those who are predestined to glory are given the faith that causes them to inherit glory and only they do so inherit. Rather, they point out that the distinction between these two groups is found in how they respond to real (albeit common between them) grace. They have all be grafted in the tree, made branches in the vine (John 15.1ff), made members of one body (1 Cor 12.12, 13, 27). They should trust in God to fulfill the promises made to all members of his body and tremble at the thought of rejecting these promises in unbelief.

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