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Salvation by Grace


Bloesch, Essentials, chapt. viii




  1.   Bl. says that salv’n is a free gift of God in that our works can’t satisfy “the stringent requirements of God’s law.”
    NB: [1] they can’t;
    [2] they were never meant to be the basis of our standing with God.  Recall [a] the preface to the decalogue, [b] the fact that the OT as a whole attests the gospel rather than contradicts it. (Romans 3)
  2.   The law as vehicle of our standing with God is a perversion of the law.  If we don’t understand this, [1] we misread and reject the OT; [2] we write off the synagogue. (See Rom. 9:4-5)
  3.   Not only are we saved by grace, we are kept by grace.
  4.   Bl. correctly denies that when grace comes upon us we remain passive; rather we are “compelled” to respond.”  [1] Don’t “thingify” grace;
    [2] Don’t overpress “compelled”;
    [3] recognize the response to be authentically human.
  5.   Bl. is correct: because the woman is forgiven she loves much.  God’s mercy is primordial.
  6.   In Bl.’s discussion of the parable of sheep and goats: “We are to be judged according to our works, but we are saved despite our works.”
    NB [1] the judg’t that the Xn faces cannot condemn us.
    [2] our works are to be judged in that our concrete, daily obedience matters.
    [3] God’s judg’t also has the force of “vindication”: the Xn will be displayed as “right”.
  7.   re: Cornelius, a ‘God-fearer”.
    [1] in the synagogue he would hear the declaration of God as in the OT
    |[2] he “feared” God.  This means (chiefly) he recognized God and honoured God by responding appropriately.
    [3] One aspect of his response was his righteous doing.
    [4] the “man in bright apparel” = an angel = messenger of God ( or visitation by God himself.)
    [5] Corn. recognizes that J of Nazareth embodies the substance of what he had already responded to in “fearing God.”
  8.   Note the discussion between Calvin and Bloesch re: Cornelius.  Calvin’s point is most important: the one and only Mediator (i.e., the gospel) was known to Israel under the economy of the Torah.
  9.   Bl., in the wake of the Calvinist  tradition, speaks of “common grace.”  Calvin himself spoke of providence.  (These aren’t exact synonyms.)  Neither is to be confused with prevenient grace.



Pelagius: by our natural powers we can will ourselves not to sin.

Augustine: fallen humans retain free will w.r.t. creaturely goods, but not w.r.t. the Good: the kingdom of God, the truth of the gospel, the righteousness of Christ.  I.e., we can’t will ourselves out ofour fallen state and into right-relatedness with God.
Our every attempt means [1] we haven’t grasped the fact as sinners we’ve violated God;
[2] God seeks not the discharge of our “debt”; he seeks us ourselves, reconciliation;
[3] we’ve lost sight of our predicament: [a] we are blind to our need, to the gospel, to the nature of what God wants for us, [b] we are powerless to alter our condition; to will, in this matter, is to continue willing our depravity.  (Prot. Reformers: in se curvatus.)

Semi-Pelagianism: while we don’t author our salv’n, we contribute to it.  P,m and Semi-P’m have been condemned at several church councils.  Only by grace can we ask for grace or appropriate grace.
p.190.  Bl.  says that Semi-P’m appears repeatedly “in the Roman church.”  It does too in the Prot. church  E.g., [1] the liberal ch.>> moral effort
[2] the evan’l ch.>> the “pursuit” of holiness, where the pursuit, understood as simply our striving, is deemed meritorious.
>> inculcation of a psychological (rather than a moral) condition: e.g., we strive to be “yielded.”

  1.   w.r.t Bl.’s discussion of Aquinas, Scotus, etc., it’s important to understand that some forms of Prot’m, rightly eschewing synergism, propose monergism: in someone’s coming to faith there is only one will willing: God’s.
    Monergism ult’ly makes God the author of evil, sin and damnation.
    Synergism ult’ly makes us co-authors of our salvation.
    In this matter we must speak of co-operation without synergism.  Such co-operation (recall Augustine’s distinction between gratia operans and gratia co-operans) is facilitated by grace but not forced by grace.
  2.   NB Biel’s trademark: an outer structure of grace with an inner content of works; i.e., grace makes it possible for us to earn our salvation.  (NB the evangel’l Prot. varieties of this.)
  3.   w.r.t Bl’s discussion of the Prot. Reformers, the following points need to be kept in mind:
    [1] justification is an instantaneous act: (“once-for-all”, rather than Augustine’s life-long process) whereby God declares or pronounces the sinner righteous. |
    [2] we cannot prepare ourselves (by ourselves) for the reception of grace; grace facilitates the reception of grace.
    [3] fallen humankind doesn’t seek God but rather flees him; the “seeking” is proof of fleeing, since God hasn’t hidden himself from us.  (Recall Genesis 3: who is hiding?)
    [4] all sin is “mortal”.  What we do expresses what we are.  See Romans 14:23.
    [5] our good works, like our religiosity, are  [a] that barricade behind which (try to) hide from God,
    [b] a bargaining “coin” we think we can use with God.
    In 18th century Anglicanism (Wesley’s era), but not in the 16th century English Reformation, justification was God’s pronouncement upon (i.e., evaluation of) the sanctity we had achieved at the time of our death.  I.e., it was God’s recognition of us at the end of life rather than the beginning of the Xn life and stable basis for everything in it.
  4.   Grace is not simply an “offer”; it is Christ’s embracing us, not his offer to embrace us.  (Therefore to reject him is shockingly ungrateful and perverse.)
  5.   The Prot. Reformers never denigrate good works, but rather insist they arise from a salvation received and enjoyed, not in order to merit a salvation not yet ours.
    The Xn’s motivation is gratitude and filial (non-servile) fear.
  6.   Jansenism is the most “Augustinian” of the RC schools of thought on the nature of grace and the human will.  (The Jesuits are the least Augustinian.)
  7.   Bl’s point is no doubt correct for some areas of “modern Catholicism”, but not all; e.g., Hans Urs von Balthasar: Mary isn’t the prime example of “co-operation” (=synergism); rather she typifies the response of the church to the annunciation of the gospel: “Let it be to me according to your word.”
  8.   Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Xn” has been hugely controversial: salv’n is by grace, and grace is imparted by the creaturely order: there is an “implicit saving structure” to religion(s) and ethics and even secularism.  Even what appears more-or-less explicitly contradictory w.r.t. the gospel implicitly provides a saving vehicle, the right response to which entails salvation.
    NB [1] there’s no biblical sanction for Rahner’s thesis.
    [2] if the “world’s great religions” provide the implicit vehicle, what about the “non-great” religions?  what about satanism, etc.?  then is it only ethics that saves us?  All of this denies scripture.
    [3] what about irreligious ideologies such as Marxism?
    [4] R. confuses his “anonymous Xn” with prevenient grace: the latter fosters our embracing Christ, but never rendering embracing him unnecessary for salv’n.
    [5] R. has been criticized severely by RC missionaries who feel he’s undercut their work.
    [6] still, we have to ponder the fact that vast numbers of people will live and die without hearing the gospel (one motivation of his “anonymous Xn”)
    [7] he correctly sees the problems in Ref. Prot. und’g of the relation of grace, faith and the human.
  9.   Bl. returns to a discussion of the ghost of Semi-P’m: e.g., Pietist/Puritan emphasis on the reception of Christ fostered an emphasis on the heart’s inner turbulence as the condition of receiving Christ.  Whereas RCm tended toward a volitional condition, Piet./Pur. tended toward a psychol’l cond.
    (In 19th cent. North American evangelistic services the emphasis shifted from the conversion of the sinner as that which glorifies God to the inner vividness of the experience itself of conversion.
  10.   Shepherd doesn’t think Bl. is entirely fair to Wesley here.  Wesley (like Calvin) admitted there to be repentance both before and after faith.  (see Shepherd, The Nature…Calvin, chapt. 5)
    Points to remember: [1] we can’t repent apart from grace.
    [2] repentance and faith are ultimately one event.
    [3] there must always be rep’ce after we’ve come to faith.  (See the 1st of Luther’s 95 theses: “JC…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”)




  1.   The genuinely human must be honoured and preserved in the exercise of faith, since faith is a human event, however God-wrought.  We lapse into monergism or synergism when we fail to admit the mystery surrounding someone’s coming-to -faith.  Faith is neither something God “implants” in us nor a predisposition in us nor that which arises from a predisposition in us.
  2.   “…God’s grace appeals to [man’s] deepest yearnings, and therefore when exposed to grace man is intrinsically drawn toward it.”  At first Bl. might appear to contradict all he’s said for the last 20 pages, even appear to approach Semi-P’m, even reflect Rahner.  But his “intrinsically” is none of the above; rather, he means that grace sets the heart yearning for grace; grace finds the “responsive chord” that grace has first quickened in the human heart.  [What is meant by “Jesus the good (kalos rather than agathos) shepherd”?]
  3.   Bl. carefully contrasts seeking for God with yearning for God.  The latter presupposes something akin to Calvin’s sensum divinitatis; yet because we are fallen, our “seeking” is always a fleeing.
  4.   Bl. speaks of Melanchthon’s “liberalizing tendency.”  Rather, M. insisted that [1] sin isn’t the essence of fallen humankind (contra Matthias Illyricus.)  Sin doesn’t define our humanness even after the Fall.  (If it did, redemption could only render us non-human rather than “fulfilledly” human.)
    [2] in the life of faith, especially in the decision/act whereby faith begins, our humanness isn’t overridden or denied; faith isn’t merely a human event, even as it most certainly is a human event.

p.204.  Edwards attempts to capture this: “God is the only proper author and fountain; we are the only proper actors.”  (But why didn’t Edwards speak of God as “actor” too?)

  1.   “Irresistible grace”, a concept so important to Reformed Scholasticism, must be weighed carefully.  Remember: grace is the attitude and act of God reflecting the heart of the One who is Person.  (Consider the foregoing w.r.t. God’s will.  His will isn’t an arbitrary decree hidden in depths in him that are inaccessible to us; his will is the expression of his heart or identity.)
    (Shepherd) Grace is “irresistible” in the sense that [1] when I met my wife I “couldn’t resist” falling in love with her; [2] (206) grace is that judge whom we can’t avoid and whose final judgement we can’t resist.  Grace welcomed is salvation; grace spurned is condemnation.  But grace can’t be denatured.

p207. Bl’s twofold caution about the abuses of grace must be heard and heeded:
[1] grace confused with magic.  E.g., baptismal regeneration.
[2] grace rendered “cheap”.  E.g., thinking we can benefit from Christ’s cross without being commissioned to shoulder our own cross; refusing to acknowledge that the saviour (salvager) who salvages us has an exclusive right to us and claim upon our obedience.



  1.   Preaching as a sacrament.  (A sacrament is a creaturely event that becomes the occasion of a divine event: the incursion of JC.)
  2.   Barth maintains that JC is the means of grace; preaching attests JC but isn’t a vehicle or means of the hearer’s appropriation in faith.
    (Shepherd) Barth is right about the first, wrong about the second.  See Luke 10:16 and Romans 10:5-14.  (Unless preaching is a means of grace, it is purely “informational.”)
  3.   Bl. says that only baptism and Lord’s Supper are sacraments.  (Symbol+dominical command.)

Compare Hendrikus Berkhof:

1)     instruction (catechetics)

2)     baptism

3)     sermon

4)     discussion

5)     the meal (Lord’s Supper)

6)     diaconate

7)     the meeting (worship)

8)     office

9)     church polity (church order)

Berkhof says #8 and #9 serve to make the other seven operative.

  1.   To be sure, the Xn life is a fruit of grace; yet Xns are the sign of X’s presence.  (NB:  whenever, in Jesus’s public ministry, he is asked for a “sign”, he refuses to give it; we are the sign of God’s manifest presence!)

Reverend  V. Shepherd