Archive for the ‘Witsius’ Category

Witsius Explains the Righteousness of Christ

August 8, 2008
Herman Witsius
The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man
Book II, Chapter V

XI. But we must proceed a step further, and affirm, moreover to that the obedience of Christ was accomplished by him, be believed, that it was in our room, in order thereby to obtain for us a right to eternal life. The law, which God will have secured inviolable, admits none to glory but on condition of perfect obedience, which none was ever possessed of but Christ, who bestows it freely on his own people. This is what the apostle declares, Rom. v. 16: “But the free gift of Jesus Christ is of many offenses unto justification:” that is, though we want those works, for which the reward may be due; nay, though for so many sins we may have deserved an eternal curse; nevertheless, there is something sufficient, not only for abolishing many offenses, but likewise to be the meritorious cause of righteousness; namely, the obedience of one; and it becomes ours by gratuitous gift. More clearly still, ver. 19, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made [constituted] sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made [constituted] righteous.” The former “one man” was Adam, the root and federal head of mankind. By his disobedience, all mankind, as belonging to him, were involved in the guilt of the curse: and as he sustained the person of all, what he did amiss is accounted as done by all. The other is the “one man” Christ, who neither sinned in and with Adam, nor had the dominion of sin and death passed upon him, and who is worthy to be both lord and head, a second Adam, and the origin and source of the inheritance to be devolved on his brethren. He is possessed of an obedience, even to the whole law of God, which enjoined him to have a perfect love for the glory of his Father, and for the salvation of his brethren. By that obedience, the collective body of those who belong to him are constituted righteous; that is, are judged to have a right to eternal life, no less than if every one had performed that obedience in his own person.

*** Emphasis in original. Edited by TurretinFan (2008) to modernize spelling — found at pages 178-79 of Volume 1 of the 1837 edition of this eminent work in systematic theology ***

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Unity, Liberty, and Charity – Who said it first?

April 28, 2008

Introduction

I happened to be reading LP Cruz’s blog today, and noticed an article in which he ascribed to “a 17th century Lutheran pastor” the famous saying, “In the essentials, unity, in the non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, Charity,” or something to that effect.

It seems like sound-thinking and appeals to our softer side; but who said it first? LP Cruz’s post sparked my interest to dig deeper into the subject.

Melancthon

Ramage’s “Beautiful thoughts from Latin Authors,” ascribes the maxim to Melancthon, and notes that it has been carved in stone above his garden gate. (link) Cox too seems to maintain Melancthon as the originator, posting that quotation prominently on the title page of his biography of that reformer (link). Matthes likewise seems to be of the same view in his life and works of Melancthon (link), though my German and ability to read the older scripts is not good enough for me to be definitive. Hoefer also seems to be willing to attribute the saying to Melancthon (link).

Unknown

Belton thinks that the origin of the phrase is “really unknown,” though he seems to have found it in a few 17th century writers (link). This is perhaps the most honest and direct conclusion we could give, but it is our part as scholars to dig, guess, and delve. To that end, we cannot be satisfied with Belton’s willing agnosticism on the matter.

Witsius

Remarkably, the earliest I was able to find a reference (published 1719) to this famous maxim was in the works of the unworthy son of Francis Turretin, Jean Alphonse, who provides the saying with the addition of Prudence to the final line of the saying (link). J.A. Turretin appears to ascribe the phrase to Witsius. Cunningham (and others) agree that Witsius adopted this as his favorite motto (link).

Meldenius – not Augustine
Stanley ascribes the quotation to Rupertus Meldenius, and notes that it had for a time been falsely ascribed to Augustine (link). Jones notes the dubious ascription to Augustine here as well (link). Hamerton appears to have bought the Augustine line (link).

Narrowing it down Further

Hoyt lists both Meldenius (his preference) and Melancthon (link) (much the same thought here, as well).

Conclusion

Augustine was a rather obvious misattribution, his weighty name getting the credit for anything good in Latin among many Protestants. Ironically, the saying eventually came to be approved by a pope, as this thoughtful web page noted (link) and seems to have become taken essentially as dogma in other Catholic writings (e.g.). This may perhaps have been due to its misattribution to Augustine, though the pope seemed to have been aware of the dubious origin of the maxim.

Witsius probably did help popularize the expression, but does not seem to have taken credit for its origin. Furthermore, the 1626 date of Meldenius’ publication is slightly before Witsius’ birth, which naturally seals Witsius off from further consideration.

Melancthon (1497-1560) is old enough to antedate Meldenius’ publication, and would even be old enough to cast Meldenius’ originality into question, but it seems that the garden gate of Melancthon’s garden may simply not date to Melancthon’s time (which would hardly be surprising), and there appears to be no other record of Melancthon having heard of the saying.

At the end of the day, Meldenius has the edge on the others, given that his usage was the first to appear in print – that we have been able to recover (though I have not even been able to recover that). Here’s an interesting brief discussion of Meldenius for those who may be interested (link). In short, L.P. Cruz appears to be justified in attributing the famous phrase to “Peter Medeirlin, a Lutheran pastor of the 17th Century.” If you explore the final link above, you will find some reasonable speculation that Meldenius is a pseudonym (yes folks, people did publish pseudonymously before the Internet) for Medeirlin, based on a rearrangement of letters.

Regardless of who originated the saying let us follow the modified form published by J.A. Turretin, in which we maintain unity among Christians on the essentials (the gospel), liberty among Christians on the non-essentials (other doctrines), and both charity and prudence in all things.

-TurretinFan

P.S. Thanks to Albert for catching an error in the original version of this post.


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