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Oliphint on Thomistic A Posteriori Knowledge of God

November 24, 2017 7 comments

Van Til’s disciple K. Scott Oliphint has been arguing for years that a rejection of scholastic, classical apologetics entails a rejection of classical theism as well. He says “much of systematic theology that’s done, especially in theology proper, needs a complete revision and re-write.” Oliphint himself has started such a re-write of theology proper. Pushing back against these revisions, and rightly defending classical theism, many reformed have regretfully felt the need to affirm Thomistic, classical apologetics as well. I do not believe that is necessary in order to affirm classical theism.

It is important to recognize that Oliphint sees deductive reasoning itself as Thomistic natural theology. When someone defends the doctrine of divine impassibility by stating “The Scripture speaks in such a way as to require viewing certain texts literally and others metaphorically or anthropopathically; otherwise we are left with seemingly contradictory propositions respecting the doctrine of God (cf. John 1:18 with Exod 33:23),” Oliphint objects that requiring Scriptural propositions to be non-contradictory is to impose Thomistic natural theology on Scripture. We should not seek to logically reconcile Scripture but should instead allow Scripture to limit our logic/reason.

So what is really a debate about the role of logic in the interpretation of Scripture has instead become a debate over Thomism vs presuppositionalism, regretfully (note that Oliphint has helpfully suggested that Van Til’s apologetic be called “Covenantal” rather than Presuppositional in order to distinguish his idiosyncratic view from other presuppositionalists).

Having said all of that, I actually found Oliphint’s recent 2-part lecture on Thomistic apologetics to be helpful insofar as it lays out Thomas’ a posteriori view of natural theology. Here are PDFs [1 and 2].

Implicit Knowledge

First, knowledge of God is not self-evident to men. All men possess implicit knowledge of God’s likeness, but it is very vague, general, ambiguous, and confused. We desire happiness (our “beatitude”), therefore we desire God.

“For man knows God naturally in the same way as he desires Him naturally. Now man desires Him naturally in so far as he naturally desires happiness, which is a likeness of the divine goodness. Hence it does not follow that God considered in Himself is naturally known to man, but that His likeness is.”

Natural Reason

To really have knowledge of God, we must observe the world around us and make various logical deductions until we arrive at who God is. This is known as a posteriori knowledge.

“Wherefore [because this implicit knowledge is vague] man must needs come by reasoning to know God in the likenesses to Him which he discovers in God’s effects.”

From Sense Experience

Thomas was not a fan of anything a priori. Knowledge was always and only gleaned by way of the senses…

[Rom 1:19] “Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things, but our mind cannot be led by sense so far as to see the essence of God, because the sensible effects of God do not equal the power of God as their cause. Hence from the knowledge of sensible things, the whole power of God cannot be known, nor therefore can His essence be seen. But because they are His effects and depend on their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God whether he exists and to know of Him what must necessarily belong to Him as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by Him.”

So Thomas’ understanding of Romans 1:19 is that Paul is speaking of the possibility of the human intellect, that is, natural reason, of itself to be able to demonstrate and conclude for the knowledge of God [based on sense experience].

Prove God’s Existence

“[T]here are certain things to which even natural reason can attain. For instance, that God is, that God is one, and others like these. Which even the philosophers proved demonstratively of God, being guided by the light of natural reason.”

So you can see in Thomas there’s no ambiguity in what he’s doing here and there’s no ambiguity in what he means by natural reason because he says his example is the philosophers did this – they demonstratively did this.

An Alternative

There was some precedence in the history of the church for the possibility of the beginning of a reformation in this area… John of Damascus, for example, argued that Romans 1 teaches that the knowledge of God is implanted in all men. Thomas is aware of that. What does he say about it? He cites John of Damascus in his argument against the self-evidence of God.

Objection 1. It seems that the existence of God is self-evident. Now those things are said to be self-evident to us the knowledge of which is naturally implanted in us, as we can see in regard to first principles. But as Damascene says (De Fid. Orth. i . 1, 3), the knowledge of God is naturally implanted in all. Therefore the existence of God is self-evident.

Reply Obj. 1. To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him. This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.

So he’s rejecting what John of Damascus has set forth because he cannot imagine a situation in which the proposition “God exists” is known by us in a way that the terms are self-evident.

Comments

[A] problem with Thomas is, if it is the case that the Logos has been revealing who God is from the beginning [John 1] such that we all know God, by virtue of being in the image of God, then guess what? The existence of God is self-evident to us – utterly so – and that’s what we suppress.

I completely agree with Oliphint here. The knowledge of God is not something arrived at as the result of contemplation of creation (wisdom). Rather, knowledge of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). And everyone, even infants – not simply those who rationally reflect upon nature – possess knowledge of God and what he requires of us. (I disagree with Oliphint that this knowledge is not propositional. I believe it is.)

This is not a new idea. These two epistemologies have wrestled against each other for centuries.

Arnobius asks, “What man is there who has not begun the first day of his nativity with this principle; in whom is it not inborn, fixed, almost even impressed upon him, implanted in him while still in the bosom of his mother?” (Stirling)

 

In the early chapters of his De fide orthodoxa, the Eastern Christian Father John of Damascus claims that human beings possess a naturally implanted knowledge of God’s existence. The Patristic tradition from which the Damascene draws his ideas emphasizes the ambiguity of this claim.

On the one hand, there are sources that treat such knowledge as naturally implanted propositional content. “God exists” is a proposition that governs our actions prior to any inferences we make about the world. On the other hand, there are sources that consider naturally implanted knowledge of God’s existence to be the conclusion of an innate inferential capacity. “God exists” is a proposition we arrive at posterior to our knowledge of the world.

“John of Damascus and the Naturally Implanted Knowledge of God’s Existence in Bonaventure and Aquinas” – Joseph Steineger

Augustine is a pre-eminent representative of the implanted, immediate, self-evident view, while Aquinas is a pre-eminent representative of aquired, mediate, a posteriori empiricism.

Augustine of Hippo stands unrivaled as the brilliant exponent of the Christian thesis that the knowledge of God and of other selves and the world of nature is not merely inferential. Whatever else is contributory to the content of human cognition, this knowledge involves a direct and immediate noesis because of the unique constitution of the human mind. Knowledge of God is no mere induction from the finite and nondivine, but is directly and intuitively given in human experience. However much knowledge of the self and of the physical world may be expounded by inference, it is brackted always by a primal antecedent relationship to the spiritual world which makes man’s knowledge possible and holds him in intuitive correlation with God, the cosmos, and other selves.

God, Revelation, and Authority – Carl F. H. Henry

Calvin followed Augustine in this regard.

The knowledge of God is given in the very same act by which we know self… That the knowledge of God is innate (I. iii. 3), naturally engraved on the hearts of men (I. iv. 4), and so a part of their very constitution as men (I. iii. 1), that it is a matter of instinct (I. iii. 1, I. iv. 2), and every man is self-taught it from his birth (I. iii. 3), Calvin is thoroughly assured.

Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God B. B. Warfield

B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge followed Calvin and Augustine.

Those who are unwilling to admit that the idea of God is innate as given in the very constitution of man, generally hold that it is a necessary, or, at least, a natural deduction of reason. Sometimes it is represented as the last and highest generalization of science. As the law of gravitation is assumed to account for a large class of the phenomena of the universe, and as it not only does account for them, but must be assumed in order to understand them;so the existence of an intelligent first cause is assumed to account for the existence of the universe itself, and for all its phenomena. But as such generalizations are possible only for cultivated minds, this theory of the origin of the idea of God, cannot account for belief in his existence in the minds of all men, even the least educated… We do not thus reason ourselves into the belief that there is a God; and it is very obvious that it is not by such a process of ratiocination, simple as it is, that the mass of the people are brought to this conclusion… Adam believed in God the moment he was created, for the same reason that he believed in the external world. His religious nature, unclouded and undefiled, apprehended the one with the same confidence that his senses apprehended the other.

Theology Proper, “The Knowledge of God is not due to a Process of Reasoning” – Charles Hodge

Kuyper likewise.

Adam possessed in himself, apart from the cosmos, everything that was necessary to have knowledge of God. Undoubtedly many things concerning God were manifest to him in the cosmos also; without sin a great deal of God would have become manifest to him from his fellow-men; and through the process of his development, in connection with the cosmos, he would have obtained an ever richer revelation of God. But apart from all this acquired knowledge of God, he had in himself the capacity to draw knowledge of God from what had been revealed, as well as a rich revelation from which to draw that knowledge. Our older theologians called these two together the “concreate knowledge of God”; and correctly so, because here there was no logical activity which led to this knowledge of God, but this knowledge of God coincided with man’s own self-knowledge. This knowledge of God was given eo ipso in his own self-consciousness; it was not given as discursive knowledge, but as the immediate content of selfconsciousness… [I]n this clear and immediate self-knowledge there was, without any further action of the logos in us, an equally immediate knowledge of God, the consciousness of which, from that very image itself, accompanied him who had been created in the image of God. Thus the first man lived in an innate knowledge of God, which was not yet understood, and much less expressed in words, just as our human heart in its first unfoldings has a knowledge of ideals, which, however, we are unable to explain or give a form to. Calvin called this the seed of religion (semen religionis), by which he indicated that this innate knowledge of God is an ineradicable property of human nature, a spiritual eye in us, the lens of which may be dimmed, but always so that the lens, and consequently the eye, remains.

pg 186-187, Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology

See also Kuyper’s The Natural Knowledge of God

It would be a mistake to assume Thomism is simply the historic Christian view.

Richard Muller

Oliphint’s selections from Muller are very interesting. I hope to get my hands on a copy to read in full.

“A generalized or pagan natural theology, according to the reformers, was not merely limited to non-saving knowledge of God. It was also bound in idolatry.”

The interpretation of that is that the theistic proofs, when done by one who is not regenerate, produces and idol – is bound by idolatry…

“This view, the problem of knowledge, is the single most important contribution of the early reformed writiers to the theological prolegomena of orthodox protestantism. Indeed, it is the doctrinal issue that most forcibly presses the protestant scholastics toward the modification of the medeival models for theological prolegomena.”

Conclusion

Thomism is merely one of the epistemologies offered in church history. There are good reasons to doubt that it is biblical. Instead, consideration should be given to the belief that general revelation is innate, propositional revelation implanted in every heart prior to any experience in the world – and that this latter view is more consistent with the reformed belief in the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. Oliphint has helped lay out these differences, even if his particular Van Tillian perspective is not to be embraced.

 

See also:

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A Puritan View of Logic

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment

The following is from Perry Miller’s “The New England Mind” (1939). Miller was an authority on American Purtianism, though some of his understanding of their theology was deficient.


 

CHAPTER V

THE INSTRUMENT OF REASON

In the Puritan view of man, the fall had wrought many melancholy effects, but none so terrible as upon his intellect: “O Grief! that most efficacious instrument for arriving at deeply hidden truth, for asserting it, vindicating it and eliminating all confusion” — that instrument was warped and twisted. Adam had been created in the image of God, possessed of perfect holiness and an intuitive grasp of the principles of right reason, but after the fall he was no longer able to tell what should follow upon what, or to perceive the interconnections of things. Had the race been left in the plight to which he reduced it, surely it would have perished. Fortunately, however, God is merciful as well as just, and He did not utterly forsake His creatures. Knowing that men now desperately required guidance from outside themselves, God gave them explicit commands through the Prophets and through revelation; in order that all aspiration might not be extinguished among them He regenerated the wills of His chosen, and in addition, out of the superfluity of His bounty, He enabled several mortals to reconstruct, to some degree, the method which Adam had possessed in his integrity of drawing conclusions from given premises. In the Puritan conception of the human saga, the art of logic was a particular gift of God, bestowed upon fallen and hapless humanity, in order that they might not collapse in the ineptitude they had brought upon themselves.

Considered therefore in the light of logic, the fall of man had amounted in effect to a lapse from dialectic; the loss of God’s image, reduced to the most concrete terms, was simply the loss of an ability to use the syllogism, and innate depravity might most accurately be defined as a congenital incapacity for discursive reasoning. Regarded in this light, whatever mastery of logical methods the heathens, Plato and Aristotle, had achieved resulted simply from God’s being graciously willing that a few individuals should recover certain elements of the pristine rectitude in order that the whole race might not be devastated. By the same token it followed that a return to God through His grace involved also a simultaneous return to Him through logic. Grace brought men through the direct intervention of the Holy Ghost to will the truth, but the most gracious would also stand in need of logic, which had been devised “to helpe us the rather, by a naturall order, to finde out the truthe.” Both grace and logic were divine gifts, though the logic had been formulated by heathens and could be learned by the unregenerate. Pagans could not have discovered it without some divine help, as they themselves realized: their myth of Prometheus was their allegory of logic, and the fire stolen from heaven was really dialectic. Therefore Christian schools could use the texts of Greeks and Romans, and all students, elect or reprobate, could be made to learn the rules in the class-room, for the authority of logic was divine no matter who employed it. The art was not man-made, though men had written it down; it was a portion of heavenly wisdom, a replica, however faint, of the divine intelligence. Whosoever learned it approximated once more the image of God. By logic “(in some sort) is healed the wound we received in our reason by Adams fall: and this daily tryall teacheth, because by the precepts of Logicke, things hidden and darke, are clearly objected to our judgement.*”

Since we have for the purposes of this study created an issue where the Puritans themselves would have denied that one existed, in the opposition or at least in the latent tension between their piety and their learning, we are compelled to ask, in accordance with the terms of our inquiry, how in Puritan thought the piety and the intellectual heritage were reconciled, how dogma and rationality were joined, how the concepts of man as fallen and the saint as regenerated by irresistible grace were made compatible with the Puritan passion for learning, for argumentation and demonstration.

No Puritan ever believed that logic of itself could redeem. Many learned doctors were obviously outside the Covenant of Grace, and many who were uninstructed in dialectic were clearly sanctified. But since logic was a fragment of the divine mind, the saints, being joined to the divinity, must become logical. According to the doctrine of imperfect regeneration they would no more achieve perfect logicality than they would come to flawless holiness; nevertheless, by receiving grace they regained something of Adam’s original power to reason correctly. They learned the rules and methods of study, and they were given an ability to use them by conversion. God demands that men judge between truth and falsehood, and Scripture is not addressed to irrational beings. Puritan piety was formulated in logic and encased in dialectic; it was vindicated by demonstration and united to knowledge. “Logic does not teach fallacies,” said a Harvard thesis. It did not teach fallacies because it was instituted by God Himself, and what could be proved by logic was sanctioned from on high.

[…]

This veneration of logic was in part an inheritance from the past and in part a characteristic of the epoch. Neither humanism nor Protestantism had diminished the prestige with which medieval theologians invested the art. The study of antiquity generally enhanced it, and Protestantism was, in one sense, an appeal to logic for the arbitration of belief, since logic alone could interpret the Bible. Keckermann declared truly at the end of the sixteenth century that no other era in the world’s history had been so devoted to logic, produced more books, or studied it more assiduously. The necessity for logic in theology was no less than in other disciplines: “so necessary and useful to the study of theology,” said Henry Diest, “that without it there is absolutely no theology, or one maimed in body and imperfect in many respects.” Had we not logic we could not analyze texts, clear up controversies, defend ourselves against sophistry, protect ourselves against heresy. English Puritans swelled the Protestant chorus; in 1621 Richard Bernard wrote in his manual of pastoral care. The Faithfull Shepherd, that by logic are doctrines collected, confirmed, and proved; a sermon without logic, he said, “is but an ignorant discourse,” and logic therefore must be “the sterne, to guide the course of our speech, that the sudden and stormie blasts of violent affections ouerwhelme it not.”

[…]

New Englanders contributed freely to the glorification of logic. Charles Chauncy said that without logic the milk of Scripture would be soured:

Yea how shall a man know when a Scripture is wrested, or falsly applyed, or a false use is made of it, or a false consequence is drawn out of it, or a true, without some principles of logick, especially to hold forth these things to others he must needs be a shamefull workman, and many times ridiculous, neither rightly apprehending, nor dividing the word of trueth, that hath no knowledg how to interpret the Scripture.

John Eliot considered logic so important a part of Christian knowledge that he translated into Algonquin a short treatise, “to initiate the Indians in the knowledge of the Rule of Reason,” wherein he taught them that as soon as they could read the Word they must learn to analyze it. Davenport exhorted his congregation to exercise their “understanding . . . the dianoetical, discoursing faculty, whch is the seat of conclusions.” Samuel Willard told young scholars that they must know grammar and rhetoric to read Scripture, and logic “for the analysing of the Text, and finding out the Method of it, and the Arguments contained in it.” He explained to the people that “logical Analysing of the Scripture” was absolutely prerequisite to understanding it, “and do require a great deal of Time and study righdy to perform it; yea and whereof is one great reason why the Scriptures are often quoted impertinendy, and besides the genuine intention of them.”

[…]

At Harvard College, by the laws of 1646, the study of Scripture was specifically declared to involve “observations of Language and Logicke”; the laws of 1655 required that Scripture be read at morning and evening prayers and that one of the Bachelors or Sophisters “Logically analyse that which is read.” The B. A. was bestowed upon those able to read the Testaments and “to Resolve them Logically.” Samuel Mather of the class of 1643 showed nine years later how well he had studied his lessons when he wrote in the preface to Samuel Stone’s defense of Hooker, “There is no art but useth the help of Logick; nothing can shew itself to the eye of the mind of man, but in this light.”

[…]

The reign of logic in the New England mentality was an inheritance from the seventeenth century, and the rule continued unbroken until the Transcendentalists consigned consistency to the sphere of hobgoblins and Dr. Holmes wrote its epitaph in the supremely logical construction of a one-hoss shay.

 

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Romans 2:7 and 2:13

November 12, 2017 4 comments

R. Scott Clark recently wrote a lengthy post Romans 2:13: Justified Through Our Faithfulness? As is often the case, Clark’s defense of sola fide is helpful and encouraging, while his handling of historical theology is not. Clark has a tendancy to always paint the reformed tradition to be in complete agreement with him, even when it is not.

In this particular post, Clark addresses Norman Shepherd’s erroneous reading of Romans 2:13 (“the doers of the law will be justified”) as referring to the believer at the final judgment. Clark rightly explains how “The whole of chapter 2 is a prosecution of the Jews according to the standard that had been revealed to them,” but he misleads the reader into thinking that has been precisely the reformed interpretation until 1978. He neglects to mention that many have interpreted 2:7 (“to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life”) as referring to believers at the judgment.

v7 = Gospel

Clark says “Calvin found no good news for sinners in this section [ch. 1-3] of Romans.” Yet commenting on v6-7, Calvin says “[A]s he sanctifies those whom he has previously resolved to glorify, he will also crown their good works… The meaning then is, — that the Lord will give eternal life to those who, by attention to good works, strive to attain immortality.”

On v.7 John Brown wrote “tho good works have no casual efficacy or influence on our salvation, as any meritorious cause, either procuring a right to life, or the actual possession thereof, (Christ’s merits being the sole procuring cause) and so are not necessary upon that score; yet are they necessary as the way carved out by infinite wisdom[.]”

Even Gill says “[S]uch who believe in Christ, and perform good works from a principle of grace, shall receive the reward of the inheritance, which is a reward of grace, and not of debt.”

Examples could easily be multiplied. Most of these men hold to a “mediating position” wherein they view v7 as referring to the gospel, but v13 as referring to the law. This has always seemed quite inconsistent to me. Sam Waldron agrees: “I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.”

v6-7 = Law

Recognizing this inconsistency, others have held that v6-7 refers to the law. The Geneva Study Bible (1560) notes “Glory which follows good works, which he does not lay out before us as though there were any that could attain to salvation by his own strength, but, he lays this condition of salvation before us, which no man can perform, to bring men to Christ, who alone justifies the believers, as he himself concludes; see (Romans 2:21-22).”

In 1692, in the midst of the Neonomian controversy in England, William Marshall wrote a very important book called The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification Opened. Marshall said

Those that endeavour to procure God’s salvation by their sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ, do act contrary to that way of salvation by Christ, free grace, and faith, discovered in the gospel… Christ, or his apostles, never taught a gospel that requireth such a condition of works for salvation as they plead for. The texts of scripture which they usually allege for this purpose, are either contrary to it, or widely distant from it… They grossly pervert those words of Paul, Rom. ii. 6, 7. Where they will have Paul to be declaring the terms of the gospel, when he is evidently declaring the terms of the law, to prove that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, and that no flesh can be justified by the works of the law, as appeareth by the tenor of his following discourse, Rom. iii. 9, 10.

Owen said

The words there [Rom 2:7] are used in a law sense, and are declarative of the righteousness of God in rewarding the keepers of the law of nature, or the moral law, according to the law of the covenant of works. This is evident from the whole design of the apostle in that place, which is to convince all men, Jews and Gentiles, of sin against the law, and of the impossibility of the obtaining the glory of God thereby.

Charles Hodge said

The question at his bar will be, not whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, whether he belongs to the chosen people or to the heathen world, but whether he has obeyed the law. This principle is amplified and applied in what follows, in vers. 7-11… [I]t is more pertinent to remark, in the second place, that the apostle is not here teaching the method of justification, but is laying down those general principles of justice, according to which, irrespective of the gospel, all men are to be judged. He is expounding the law, not the gospel. And as the law not only says that death is the stages of sin, but also that those who keep its precepts shall live by them, so the apostle says, that God will punish the wicked and reward the righteous. This is perfectly consistent with what he afterwards teaches, that there are none righteous; that there are none who so obey the law as to be entitled to the life which it promises; and that for such the gospel provides a plan of justification without works, a plan for saving those whom the law condemns… The principle laid down in ver. 6, is here [v7] amplified. God will render eternal life to the good, indignation and wrath to the wicked, without distinction of persons; to the Jews no less than to the Gentiles.

and in his Systematic Theology, Part II, Ch. VI, S6 “Perpetuity of the Covenant of Works he says

[W]hile the Pelagian doctrine is to be rejected, which teaches that each man comes into the world free from sin and free from condemnation, and stands his probation in his own person, it is nevertheless true that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Hence our Lord said to the young man, “This do and thou shalt live.” And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned.

Robert Haldane said

According to his deeds. – That is to say, either according to his righteousness, if any were found in himself righteous, which will not be the case, for all men are sinners, but it will be according to the judgment to require righteousness… [I]t will regard solely the works of each individual, and that their deeds will comprehend everything that is either obedience or disobedience to the law of God… a perseverance with resistance to all that opposes, namely, to all temptations, all snares… It is not meant that any man can produce such a perseverance in good works, for there is only one, Jesus Christ, who can glory in having wrought out a perfect righteousness… But here the Apostle only declare what the Divine judgment will demand according to the law, to which the Jews were adhering for justification before God… This shows how ignorantly the Church of Rome seeks to draw from this passage a proof of the merit of works, and of justification by works, since it teaches a doctrine the very contrary; for all that the Apostle says in this chapter is intended to show the necessiry of another mode of justification than that of the law, namely, by grace, which the Gospel sets before us through faith in Jesus Christ, according to which God pardons sins, as the Apostle afterwards shows in the third chapter. To pretend, then, to establish justification by works, and the merit of works, by what is said here, is directly to oppose the meaning and reasoning of the Apostle…

Eternal life – The Apostle does not say that God will render salvation, but ‘eternal life.’ The truth declared in this verse, and in those that follow, is the same as that exhibited by our Lord when the rich young man asked Him, ‘What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ His reply was, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,’ Matt. xix. 16… Luke x. 25… The verse before us, then, which delcares that eternal life shall be awarded to those who seek it by patient continuance in well-doing, and who, according to the 10th verse, work good, both of which announce the full demand of the law, are of the same import with the 13th verse, which affirms that the doers of the law shall be justified. In all these verses the Apostle is referring to the law, and not, as it is generally understood, the Gospel…

Note what else Haldane says.

I know that the view here given of these verses is contrary to that of almost all the English commentaries on this Epistle. I have consulted a great number of them, besides those of Calvin, and Beza, and Maretz, and the Dutch annotations, and that of Quesnel, all of which, with one voice, explain the 7th and 10th verses of this chapter as referring to the Gospel…

I have noticed that from this passage the Church of Rome endeavors to establish the merit of works, and of justification by means of works.

Accordingly, Quesnel, a Roman Catholic, in expounding the 6th verse, exclaims, ‘Merites veritables; necessite des bonnes oeuvres. Ce sont nos actions bonnes ou mauvaises qui rendent doux ou severe le jugement de Dieu!’ ‘Real merits; necessity of good works. They are our good or bad actions which render the judgment of God mild or severe!’ And indeed, were the usual interpretation of this and the three following verses the just one, it must be confessed that this Romanist would have some ground for his triumph. But if we take the words in their plain and obvious import, and understand the Apostle in this place as announcing the terms of the law, in order to prove to the Jews the necessity of having recourse to grace, and of yielding to the goodness and forbearance of God, leading them to repentance, while he assures them that ‘not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified,’ then the whole train of his discourse is clear and consistent. On the other supposition, it appears confused and self contradictory, and calculated not merely to perplex, but positively to mislead, and to strengthen the prejudices of those who were going about to establish their own righteousness. For in whatever way these expressions may with certain explanations and qualifications be interpreted in an evangelical sense, yet unquestionably, as taken by themselves, and especially in the connection in which they stand in this place, they present the same meaning as is announced in the 13th verse, where the Apostle declares that the doers of the law shall be justified.

v13 = Gospel

It is in the context of a great many commentators holding to a contradictory “mediating position” that Norm Shepherd argued that v13 refers to the gospel, just like v6. Thus it is not entirely out of nowhere, as R. Scott Clark implies (recall also Marshall above, who was writing against Presbyterian neonomians in his day). Shepherd said

20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).

In his rejection of the Covenant of Works, Shepherd was very much following in the steps of John Murray (see Murray on Lev. 18:5 – Why Did John Murray Reject the Covenant of Works?). On Romans 2, Murray held to the mediating position. On v7 he said

The reward of this aspiration is in like manner the eschatology of the believer, “eternal life”… Could God judge any unto the reward of eternal life (cf. vs. 7) if works are the criteria? ‘The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.

His rejection of the Covenant of Works left no reason for him to not follow through and carry this view on to v6, but he slammed on the brakes and argued for the hypothetical view of v13.

It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture…

This holds true as a principle of equity but, existentially, it never comes into operation in the human race for the reason that there are no doers of the law, no doing of the law that will ground or elicit justification – ‘there is none righteous, no, not one’ (vs. [3:]10)

Recall Sam Waldron

Though Murray clearly argues in his comments on verses 6-11 that the judgment in view is not hypothetical and that the works in view are evangelical works which vindicate one’s saving faith in the dya of judgment, yet to my surprise Murray also takes a hypothetical or empty-set view of Romans 2:13… Let me hasten to add that, though I respect John Murray a great deal and have sometimes named him as my patron saint (!), I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.

John Kinnaird was an OPC elder who taught Shepherd’s false gospel. He was brought to trial but was defended by Richard Gaffin. Note what Gaffin said during his testimony

[W]hile a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario there, the final judgment scenario there, on the positive side, in verse 7 and 10 and 13, have understood that in a hypothetical sense… there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that hypothetical understanding. And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary.

The prosecutor brought up Murray’s comments on v13 and said “Can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?” Gaffin replied

I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said,  and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in two … in verse six … that… it … that would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcome.  But he does, as you are pointing out,  back away from that.  But I can’t … see I think in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here.

John Kinnaird was found guilty of teaching a false gospel, but he appealed to the OPC General Assembly where he was exhonerated. Why? Because the OPC had just prior voted to add Romans 2:6,7,13,16 as proof texts to WLC 90. For more on this see OPC Report on Republication – Background.

Conclusion

So the issue really has a lot to do with a long history of inconsistent exegesis of Romans 2:6-7 and 2:13 that we have to wrestle with. I agree with those who see 2:6-7 and 13 as both referring to the law.