Friday, January 31, 2014

Equipped for the conflict...

... in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
"We need all the helps we can get in the conflict. We need the help of the promises of God's word. We need the help of the exhortations of God's word. We need the help of the warnings of God's word. We need the fellowship of God's people. We need the structure of God's church. All of these things are given to us to help us in the conflict, so that we will realize in our experience and in our lives the conquest Christ has won for us."
W. Robert Godfrey commenting on Romans 8:31-39, "Sanctification Summarized"

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Justified, Sanctified, i.e. Saved by Grace through Faith...

Ephesians 2:8-10:  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship,created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

From John Calvin's Ephesian commentary:
For by grace are ye saved... This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us...
What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle's words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God's work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul's argument would have no force. He means to prove that man does not in any way procure salvation for himself, but obtains it as a free gift from God. The proof is, that man is nothing but by divine grace. Whoever, then, makes the very smallest claim for man, apart from the grace of God, allows him, to that extent, ability to procure salvation.
Could these be Anti-nomian musings or are John Calvin's words understood to be
the Gospel proper - the power of salvation unto everyone who believes in Christ alone? 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Christian's Progress on the Road to Salvation...

Are we comfortable with the fact that we don’t and never will in this life measure up to the standard of even one command of God's holy law? In one sense, hopefully, Yes… and yet in another, certainly No! It's not that we don’t feverntly wish that we could truly and faithfully obey, even as we - now born of the Spirit - under grace and not under law, with our own insufficient means (the remnant of sin hanging on our back) work to that end… but it is by trusting in Christ, that we who are still sinners now understand ourselves to be at peace with God through Christ our Savior who died for us, who has justified us and has given us the seed of willingness, by the Holy Spirit, to now walk in faith unto (towards) obedience of that holy law. Yet(!) we do so with much limitation and imperfection, so that we look not to ourselves for the evidence of our salvation, but look "to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”

Let’s not kid ourselves as to our present capabilties and the inherent qualities of our works before God’s judgment seat. Rather we should rightly tremble... and in faith look to the throne of grace, to which Christ our Surety implores us to approach. We have no other sure avenue of salvation.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Gospel According to H. Bullinger...

"WHAT IS THE GOSPEL PROPERLY SPEAKING? And although our fathers had the Gospel in this way in the writings of the prophets by which they attained salvation in Christ through faith, yet the Gospel is properly called glad and joyous news, in which, first by John the Baptist, then by Christ the Lord himself, and afterwards by the apostles and their successors, is preached to us in the world that God has now performed what he promised from the beginning of the world, and has sent, nay more, has given us his only Son and in him reconciliation with the Father, the remission of sins, all fulness and everlasting life. Therefore, the history delineated by the four Evangelists and explaining how these things were done or fulfilled by Christ, what things Christ taught and did, and that those who believe in him have all fulness, is rightly called the Gospel. The preaching and writings of the apostles, in which the apostles explain for us how the Son was given to us by the Father, and in him everything that has to do with life and salvation, is also rightly called evangelical doctrine, so that not even today, if sincerely preached, does it lose its illustrious title."
(The Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XIII)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Justification: Wherein, Then Do We Disagree?

From The Church Society:

"The fact is that Rome teaches Forgiveness through Sanctification, while Scripture teaches Sanctification through Forgiveness. Rome confuses Justification and Sanctification, and says that the former is by the infusion of grace and includes both remission and renovation. But this is really to rob the soul of the objective ground of righteousness and confuses spiritual acceptance with spiritual attainments. Not only so, it tends to base Justification on our own merit. Justification in the Scriptural sense is independent of and anterior to the spiritual state or condition, which, however, necessarily follows. [6] It must, therefore, be evident that between the doctrine of Justification as taught in our Article and that inculcated by Rome, there is “a great gulf fixed,” as indeed, our great theologian Hooker clearly teaches."
“Wherein, then, do we disagree? We disagree about the nature of the very essence of the medicine whereby Christ cureth our disease; about the manner of applying it; about the number and the power of means which God requireth in us for the effectual applying thereof to our soul’s comfort. … This is the mystery of the Man of sin. This maze the Church of Rome doth cause her followers to tread when they ask her the way of justification.” [7]
Footnote [6] “Protestants claim that justification is complete from the first. The father of the parable does not leave his prodigal son outside the house until he has shown his repentance by his works; but he goes forth to meet him, and falls upon his neck and kisses him, and has the best robe put on him, and a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet, and kills for him the fatted calf. The sinner is not taken back into the Divine favour by degrees, cautiously and grudgingly, but he is restored to all his privileges as a child of God. This is the only way to make the work of sanctification, which immediately begins, complete. It is a work which can go forward only after the relation of fatherhood and sonship is fully re-established. It is only by such love that the sinner’s love can be made perfect. ‘We love Him because He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19),” (Stearns, ut supra, p. 447

Is Rome a True Church?

I was asked this question, via email, in the context of what Anglicans believe.  To answer that I think it is helpful to look initially at the Church of England's own doctrinal and confession statements. Otherwise, we are left to any number of positions by various Anglicans that may or may not agree with their own standards.

More precisely, the question put to me was: Is Rome part of the visible church? The Church of England's own standard's, at a minimum, make the case that the Church of Rome has erred in doctrine and practice. That is not to say that there aren't any true Christians in the RCC and not that vestiges of the gospel cannot be found there. Rather, Rome since the Council of Trent has officially established herself in opposition to the gospel and specifically the doctrine of justification by faith only and not by any works, grace assisted or not.

Rome claims justification is initially begun by baptism and kept and grown by faith and grace assisted works of righteousness thus conflating justification and sanctification. Their teaching, in a nutshell, says we are saved by the combination of Christ's finished work and our continuing works.

 Article XI of the Church of England's 39 Articles of Religion reads:
XI. Of the Justification of Man. We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
At Trent Rome anathematized the teaching of this article, a doctrine succinctly expressed in any number of places in the Old and New Testament such as Rom 4:5; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 2:16-21. As to the question of whether Rome has erred as a church or not let's look again at the 39 Articles:
XIX. Of the Church. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
XXVIII. Of the Lord's Supper. The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
So according Anglicanism's own confession of doctrine and faith, Rome as a church has erred in matters of doctrinal faith and administration of the Lord's Supper, teaching and requiring things not in accord with the Word of God. Finally John Jewell, in the Homily for Whit-Sunday (Book Of Homilies - part of the CoE's confessional standards) teaches what the Church of England believes to be the necessary  characteristics of a true church. These three marks are consistent with the other reformed churches of Europe of that time, and agree with the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession of Faith written 80 years later:
"The true church is a universal congregation or fellowship of GOD's faithful and elect people, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner stone (Eph. 2:20). And it hath always three notes or marks whereby it is known. Pure and sound doctrine, the Sacraments ministered to Christ's holy institution, and the right use of Ecclesiastical discipline. This description of the Church is agreeable both to the Scriptures of God, and also to the doctrine of the ancient fathers, so that none may justly find fault therewith."
A fair conclusion based on the Church of England's own doctrinal standards would be that Rome does indeed fall short of the measure of a true visible church.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Considering Christian Liberty (3)

In the last post we found that Calvin insists that the believer, when seeking assurance of conscience, "give no place to the law." What does he mean here? Doesn't Calvin teach in many places the value and need of the law in the believer's life?  Indeed, he brings up that very point:
Still it cannot be rightly inferred from this that believers have no need of the law. It ceases not to teach, exhort, and urge them to good, although it is not recognized by their consciences before the judgment-seat of God.
Is he speaking of two different laws? Yes and no. What he means by 'law' in the case of conscience is the law or covenant of works, i.e. the law as a means of justification.  If one is to seek justification, i.e. assurance of conscience, via his works as measured by the law then he is done for. Game over! Even if he were to keep the entirety of the law and yet fail at only one point - one thoughtless inclination or impure thought - then he would be guilty of the entire law (James 2:10) and put under its condemnation. And even more, if one were to attain to living completely righteous before the law there would still be the matter of his former sins. Sins which, according to the same law, have earned him a death sentence.  There simply is no peace nor help to be found in the law for the troubled conscience. 

Yet for the one in Christ, who has been justified solely on the basis of faith, Jesus' perfect obedience and his payment for sin satisfies the law of works. For the believer the law takes on a new dimension. Yet it is still binding. That is what Calvin is referring to in the above quote. The law no longer judges but guides and directs the believer in the way of obedience. For in his place Christ has already been judged under the law. Are we commanded to obey? Yes. Are we still called to perfect obedience? Yes. But we are no longer judged by our works as measured by that law - rather by grace through faith in Christ. 

The believer's relationship to the law has been forever transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. And so as those who believe in Him we no longer need to obey the law... What?! Are you saying that it is OK if we sin?  Well, you sin, don't you? Of course you do. All believers sin. So in other words, when we sin (failure to obey the law in any way) we are no longer judged according to the law's demands but according to grace. This is an amazing thing. The righteousness we have is the righteousness of faith, not that of the law through our works. This first liberty we have as Christians is that for Christ's sake we have been set free from the law as a covenant of works so as to no longer be under obligation to meet its demands for righteousness. We are now set free under a new covenant, the covenant of grace. Calvin:
In regard to this liberty there is a remarkable passage in the Epistle to the Romans, where Paul argues, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace," (Romans 6:14.) For after he had exhorted believers, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof: Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God;" they might have objected that they still bore about with them a body full of lust, that sin still dwelt in them. He therefore comforts them by adding, that they are freed from the law; as if he had said, Although you feel that sin is not yet extinguished, and that righteousness does not plainly live in you, you have no cause for fear and dejection, as if God were always offended because of the remains of sin, since by grace you are freed from the law, and your works are not tried by its standard.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Considering Christian Liberty (2)

Now back to Christian Liberty... John Calvin opens the chapter on this topic in his Institutes with the following:
We are now to treat of Christian Liberty, the explanation of which certainly ought not to be omitted by any one proposing to give a compendious summary of Gospel doctrine. For it is a matter of primary necessity, one without the knowledge of which the conscience can scarcely attempt any thing without hesitation, in many must demur and fluctuate, and in all proceed with fickleness and trepidation. In particular, it forms a proper appendix to Justification, and is of no
little service in understanding its force.
Something about having a good handle on the liberty we have in Christ - the liberty that Jesus purchased for us with his blood - is linked to our justification. Calvin writes that "without the knowledge of which [i.e. the matter of liberty] the conscience can scarcely attempt any thing without hesitation, in many must demur and fluctuate, and in all proceed with fickleness and trepidation." And as Scripture makes clear, it is in our conscience that the doctrine of justification is intended to have a powerful and liberating effect (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22). It's in the conscience where the assaults of guilt and condemnation come. And those accusations are effectually rebuffed only by God's liberating good news (Acts 13:39).

As those born under the law (covenant) of works, we are wired to look to ourselves and our works (Romans 2:15) for a ground of acceptance in our own eyes, the eyes of others, and ultimately God. The problem is that we know on some level we do fall short, and that something really is wrong with us.  As sinners our righteousness is as filthy rags measured against the standard we are meant to live by. Yet reflexively we often do everything we can to find some ground of justification in ourselves when presented with any accusation, real or imagined. We find ourselves looking to quell questions of conscience (you didn't do what you should have... you shouldn't have done that) with rationalized proofs of our good intentions, that we're being misunderstood, or denial of short-comings even though we know on some level that we do come-up-short.  When it comes to the righteousness of the law and our conscience, search and rationalize as we might, no help is to be found within us or in our works.  Before the law of God we stand condemned.  Before others we often don't measure up (and we judge them likewise!). Where are we to turn?  Calvin:
First, the consciences of believers, while seeking the assurance of their justification before God, must rise above the law, and think no more of obtaining justification by it. For while the law, as has already been demonstrated, (supra, chap. 17, sec. 1,) leaves not one man righteous, we are either excluded from all hope of justification, or we must be loosed from the law, and so loosed as that no account at all shall be taken of works. For he who imagines that in order to obtain justification he must bring any degree of works whatever, cannot fix any mode or limit, but makes himself debtor to the whole law. Therefore, laying aside all mention of the law, and all idea of works, we must in the matter of justification have recourse to the mercy of God only; turning away our regard from ourselves, we must look only to Christ.
What we need can't be found in us or in our works of the law! We are found exceedingly short of the mark when it comes to measuring up to the law. So the question really is the one Calvin poses:
For the question is, not how we may be righteous, but how, though unworthy and unrighteous, we may be regarded as righteous. If consciences would obtain any assurance of this, they must give no place to the law.
The answer isn't in trying harder to measure up in order to ward off guilt. The answer isn't found within us or in what we do but is found only in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us: his death in our place for our sins, his righteous obedience accounted to us by God in place of our lack. And the sinner/saint receives and holds this, that which Christ has done, only as an unmerited gift of grace from God through faith. As Paul wrote,
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus [who trust in him]. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:1-2). 
It would seem that this is a good starting place for understanding Christian liberty, a place we shouldn't leave behind as we live the Christian life.

Considering Christian Liberty (1)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sweet Lorraine...

Folk rock tune to bring in the new year. I was hoping to have this completed to post on the first day of the year. Made it!

Many thanks Vic Holman, the dean of electric guitar, for adding his slide guitar. We've done many
songs together over the years (Goodwillys and duo collabs) and I continue to be impressed with his talent and generosity.

Vocals, guitar, harmonica, bass, organ, drums: Jack
Slide guitar: Vic

Visit Jack Miller's Site At
For More Music

Come to me Sweet Lorraine
I'm calling to you once again
The time is long past to remain, so
Come to me Sweet Lorraine

Oh, you know I didn't want to go
I have no bags to unpack
The wise men counseled me to just lay low
Now there's no turning back

Come to me Sweet Lorraine
Gather all that you've been given
To the coastland o're the sea
Come to me Sweet Lorraine

The plan has change, we're much older now
It really never had a chance
I thought you knew it was just a dream
I wasn't sure myself

Come to me Sweet Lorraine
Let me hold you in the night
I'll light the candle once again
Come to me Sweet Lorraine

I know that I may have let you down
Being gone all these days
And if I could come back, you know I would
But Lorraine, you know my ways

[Harmonica break]

Was it our bad luck to take this road?
We didn't plan it well
Yet the wrong turns have turned out all right
Heaven instead of hell

Come to me Sweet Lorraine
Don't delay anymore
Take a boat or fly a plane, just
Come to me my Sweet Lorraine.