Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sanctification: Not under Law but under Grace...

Following up on the last post of John Owen's short exposition on the Law we turn to the grace of the gospel as considered in Rom. 6:14. Lest there be any confusion as to the role of the law in the believer's life, Owen writes that the "law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin." And yet when looked to by the believer for aid and power in order to dethrone and mortify sin, that holy Law remains
"utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God: nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: 'The strength of sin is the law.'" 
... Sin will never be dethroned by it; it will not give place unto the law, neither in its title nor its power.
In other words, when confronted with temptation or sin's remaining power in our lives, it's a fool's errand to look to the law for help. When in direct conflict with sin, the law is powerless to help us. When we look to the law for help against sin, the law just points right back at us, in turn exposing our complete lack of inward righteousness and inherent weakness in that battle. Yet, as is the case today, there were some in Owen's day who were advocating that after justification, which is received through faith alone, we should then to look primarily to the law for our sanctification in order to fight sin and produce works of righteousness - the old "in by grace, complete by works"salvation formula. Owen continues:
It is otherwise with them that are “under grace.” Sin shall not have dominion over them; strength shall be administered unto them to dethrone it.
“Grace” is a word of various acceptations in the Scripture. As we are here said to be under it, and as it is opposed unto the law, it is used or taken for the gospel, as it is the instrument of God for the communication of himself and his grace by Jesus Christ unto those that do believe, with that state of acceptation with himself which they are brought into thereby, (Rom. v. 1, 2). Wherefore, to be “under grace” is to have an interest in the gospel covenant and state, with a right unto all the privileges and benefits thereof, to be brought under the administration of grace by Jesus Christ, — to be a true believer...
1. Is it that there shall be no sin in them any more? Even this is true in some sense. Sin as unto its condemning power hath no place in this state, (Rom. viii. 1). All the sins of them that believe are expiated or done away, as to the guilt of them, in the blood of Christ, (Heb. i. 3, 1 John i. 7). This branch of the dominion of sin, which consists in its condemning power, is utterly cast out of this state. But sin as unto its being and operation doth still continue in believers whilst they are in this world; they are all sensible of it. Those who deceive themselves with a contrary apprehension are most of all under the power of it, (1 John i. 8). Wherefore, to be freed from the dominion of sin is not to be freed absolutely from all sin, so as that it should in no sense abide in us any more. This is not to be under grace, but to be in glory.
2. Is it that sin, though it abides, yet it shall not fight or contend for dominion in us? That this is otherwise we have before declared. Scripture and the universal experience of all that believe do testify the contrary; so doth the assurance here given us that it shall not obtain that dominion: for if it did not contend for it, there could be no grace in this promise, — there is none in deliverance from that whereof we are in no danger.
But the assurance here given is built on other considerations; whereof the first is, that the gospel is the means ordained and instrument used by God for the communication of spiritual strength unto them that believe, for the dethroning of sin. It is the “power of God unto salvation,” (Rom. i. 16), that whereby and wherein he puts forth his power unto that end. And sin must be really dethroned by the powerful acting of grace in us, and that in a way of duty in ourselves. We are absolved, quitted, freed from the rule of sin, as unto its pretended right and title, by the promise of the gospel; for thereby are we freed and discharged from the rule of the law, wherein all the title of sin unto dominion is founded, for “the strength of sin is the law:” but we are freed from it, as unto its internal power and exercise of its dominion, by internal spiritual grace and strength in its due exercise. Now, this is communicated by the gospel; it gives life and power, with such continual supplies of grace as are able to dethrone sin, and forever to prohibit its return...
... This is one principal difference between the law and the gospel, and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, “What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?” Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: “The strength of sin is the law.” 
But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them. Hereon then depends, in the first place, the assurance of the apostle’s assertion, that “sin shall not have dominion over us,” because we are “under grace.” We are in such a state as wherein we have supplies in readiness to defeat all the attempts of sin for rule and dominion in us.
All quotes are from Treatise of the the Dominion of Sin and Grace

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

John Owen on The Law...

From John Owen's Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace:
The law is taken two ways:—
1. For the whole revelation of the mind and will of God in the Old Testament. In this sense it had grace in it, and so did give both life, and light, and strength against sin, as the psalmist declares, (Ps. xix. 7–9). In this sense it contained not only the law of precepts, but the promise also and the covenant, which was the means of conveying spiritual life and strength unto the church. In this sense it is not here spoken of, nor is anywhere opposed unto grace.
2. For the covenant rule of perfect obedience: “Do this, and live.” In this sense men are said to be “under it,” in opposition unto being “under grace.” They are under its power, rule, conditions, and authority, as a covenant. And in this sense all men are under it who are not instated in the new covenant through faith in Christ Jesus, who sets up in them and over them the rule of grace; for all men must be one way or other under the rule of God, and he rules only by the law or by grace, and none can be under both at the same time.
In this sense the law was never ordained of God to convey grace or spiritual strength unto the souls of men; had it been so, the promise and the gospel had been needless: “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law,” (Gal. iii. 21). If it could have given life or strength, it would have produced righteousness, we should have been justified by it. It discovers sin and condemns it, but gives no strength to oppose it. It is not God’s ordinance for the dethroning of sin, nor for the destruction of its dominion.
This law falls under a double consideration, but in neither of them was designed to give power or strength against sin:—
1. As it was given unto mankind in the state of innocency; and it did then absolutely and exactly declare the whole duty of man, whatever God in his wisdom and holiness did require of us. It was God’s ruling of man according to the principle of the righteousness wherein he was created. But it gave no new aids against sin; nor was there any need that so it should do. It was not the ordinance of God to administer new or more grace unto man, but to rule and govern him according to what he had received; and this it continueth to do forever. It claims and continues a rule over all men, according to what they had and what they have; but it never had power to bar the entrance of sin, nor to cast it out when it is once enthroned.
2. As it was renewed and enjoined unto the church of Israel on Mount Sinai, and with them unto all that would join themselves unto the Lord out of the nations of the world. Yet neither was it then, nor as such, designed unto any such end as to destroy or dethrone sin by an administration of spiritual strength and grace. It had some new ends given then unto it, which it had not in its original constitution, the principal whereof was to drive men to the promise, and Christ therein; and this it doth by all the acts and powers of it on the souls of men. As it discovers sin, as it irritates and provokes it by its severity, as it judgeth and condemneth it, as it denounceth a curse on sinners, it drives unto this end; for this was added of grace in the renovation of it, this new end was given unto it. In itself it hath nothing to do with sinners, but to judge, curse, and condemn them.
There is, therefore, no help to be expected against the dominion of sin from the law. It was never ordained of God unto that end; nor doth it contain, nor is it communicative of, the grace necessary unto that end, (Rom. viii. 3).
Wherefore, those who are “under the law” are under the dominion of sin. “The law is holy,” but it cannot make them holy who have made themselves unholy; it is “just,” but it cannot make them so, — it cannot justify them whom it doth condemn; it is “good,” but can do them no good, as unto their deliverance from the power of sin. God hath not appointed it unto that end. Sin will never be dethroned by it; it will not give place unto the law, neither in its title nor its power.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sanctification & The Means of Grace - Michael Horton...

Here is a pretty accurate transcription of Dr. Michael Horton giving a definition for sanctification in response to Dr. R. Scott Clark's question on Office Hours. Both men are professors at Westminster Seminary California:
Sanctification is the process of being made holy, being cut-off or separated from that which is common - not necessarily just that which is dirty or sinful but of taking something out of the category of common or ordinary an associating it with God himself.
God, ultimately, is holy in a qualitatively different way than anything that he makes holy. He may make us holy, but we aren't holy essentially as God is holy. So God, primordially, is the one who is set apart from everything else. He is the creator. We are the creature.
Set apart, consecrated or holy use - We have been set apart by the blood of Christ. And by faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by union with Christ, we have been set apart from death and sin and the dominion of sin and death; and have been transferred into the kingdom of God and his dear Son...
A little later Dr. Horton addresses the word grace:
Grace is not [a] something. Grace is God being favorable. It's God's favor. It's also God's gift. God no longer looks on me as an outcast, as a rebel, as a wicked sinner who must be condemned. He looks on me as his son, as a co-heir with his natural son, Jesus Christ... taken me into his family. He has justified me. He is sanctifying me. He will glorify me one day. That is his favor, due to his favor, his grace. 
His grace is the motive and his grace is also the gift, the gift of justification, the gift of sanctification, the gift of his Spirit who also sanctifies us. That gift is not some thing. It is a person, namely Jesus Christ with all his benefits and the Holy Spirit as the deposit, indwelling me, guaranteeing my final redemption.
Dr. Horton continued, explaining that God's ordinary way of communicating his grace to his people is through ordinary means. To communicate his grace God has always used, and does today, creaturely means such as the spoken Word, human ministers of the gospel, bread and wine, the written Word. He does that rather than ordinarily working through the extraordinary, i.e. immediate and direct acts of his Spirit within individuals. This is borne out by the scriptural record. It's not that God can't work in extraordinary ways, for on occasion he does. But rather, he has shown himself as the God who has chosen to ordinarily communicate his favor to his people through common means of his creation.  This may sound foreign to many Christians today because the extraordinary view has gained such predominance in much of the church over the last 100-150 years.

Listen to Part One here!

Friday, February 21, 2014

We Feebly Obey, Christ Powerfully Sanctifies...

When the doctrine of justification is under consideration there are few who would argue against the notion that a perfect righteousness before the law of God is required. And that perfection is graciously given in Christ and received through faith. Yet the requirement of perfection before the law seems to get a bit blurry when the topic of sanctification comes up. The idea put forth by some is that our obedience to the law contributes to our sanctification, only not in a meritorious way. That's a distinction that leaves me scratching my head.

If we contribute to our sanctification, do we not then contribute in part to our salvation? Now I don't disagree that as justified sinners we are called to obedience and good works. Obedience to Christ isn't optional for the believer. But does our obedience add to or contribute to our sanctification? And can our good works really contribute to our sanctification if there is nothing meritorious about them? Logically, if our works have no merit before the law then they have no perfect righteousness before the law and therefore contribute nothing to our sanctification. We feebly obey. Christ powerfully sanctifies.

Concerning our obedience to the law, Calvin writes:
In the precepts of the law, God is seen as the rewarder only of perfect righteousness, (a righteousness of which all are destitute) and, on the other hand, as the stern avenger of wickedness. But in Christ his countenance beams forth full of grace and gentleness towards poor unworthy sinners...
For those who trust in Christ's perfect payment and satisfaction for their salvation...
It [the law] does not now perform toward us the part of a hard taskmaster, who will not be satisfied without full payment; but, in the perfection to which it exhorts us, points out the goal at which, during the whole course of our lives, it is not less our interest than our duty to aim. It is well if we thus press onward. Our whole life is a race, and after we have finished our course, the Lord will enable us to reach that goal to which, at present, we can only aspire in wish. (Institutes, Book I)
Looking to another of Calvin's writings, he quotes the apostle Paul:
“If righteousness is by the law, faith is nullified, and the promise abolished.” (Romans 4:14.) 
Calvin explains:
For he means, that not an individual among mankind will be found in whom the promise of salvation may be accomplished, if it involves the condition of innocence; and that faith, if it is propped up by works, will instantly fall. This is true; because, so long as we look at what we are in ourselves, we must tremble in the sight of God, so far from having a firm and unshaken confidence of eternal life. I speak of the regenerate; for how far from righteousness is that newness of life which is begun here below
It is not to be denied, however, that the two things, Justification and Sanctification, are constantly conjoined and cohere; but from this it is erroneously inferred that they are one and the same. For example: — The light of the sun, though never unaccompanied with heat, is not to be considered heat. Where is the man so undiscerning as not to distinguish the one from the other? We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself, to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith from repentance.
The whole dispute is as to The Cause of Justification. The Fathers of Trent pretend that it is twofold, as if we were justified partly by forgiveness of sins and partly by spiritual regeneration; or, to express their view in other words, as if our righteousness were composed partly of imputation, partly of quality. I maintain that it is one, and simple, and is wholly included in the gratuitous acceptance of God. I besides hold that it is without us, because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. (Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote) 
[emphasis added]

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Requirement of the Law Might Be Fulfilled in Us...

Romans 8:1-4 reads, 
"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, *who do not walk according to the
flesh but according to the Spirit."
*[Who do not walk (live) according to works of righteousness done in or according to the flesh but walk (live) by the righteousness of faith in Christ (Rom. 1:17b), i.e. according to the Spirit]

John Calvin in his Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote writes: 
There is no room for the righteousness of faith until we have discovered that it is in vain that salvation is promised us by the law. But that which the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God performed by his own Son, by expiating our sins through the sacrifice of his death, so that his righteousness is fulfilled in us.
Thomas Cranmer elaborates further on the believer's salvation in Christ and the his standing visa-vis the Law:
For all the good works that we can do be imperfect and therefore not able to deserve our justification, but our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God. And of so great and free a mercy, that whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy without any our desert or deserving to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ’s body and blood whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied so that Christ is now the Righteousness of all them that truly do believe in him.  He for them paid their ransom by his death.  He for them fulfilled the law in his life.  So that now in him and by him every true Christian man may be called a fulfiller of the law. Forasmuch as that which their infirmity lacked, Christ’s righteousness hath supplied.
 Of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ Our Saviour from Sin and Death Everlasting

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints...

Jude 1:3b.

The following quote was put forth by a commenter at Old Life as a defense of the Roman Catholic Church, and as an indictment of the Reformed churches that parted ways with Rome in the 16th century.
"If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy. As a schismatic, you have torn and divided the body of Christ. Choose heresy every time.” 
- Rev. James I. McCord, Presbyterian leader in the ecumenical movement and longtime president of Princeton Theological Seminary
Then logically on that basis, a completely heretical church is preferable to a doctrinally pure schism?? Please... And this is not said to defend schisms.

The schism condemned in the Bible is that which begins with a departure from the doctrine of faith handed down by the apostles as recorded in the Scriptures, not merely a break away from some outward organizational structure of the church. A fixed departure from truth into heresy or error would ultimately result in outward schism. So the concern of the apostles was the preservation of pure doctrine. Those that did depart from the apostolic faith as recorded in God's Word were those who were judged as schismatic. Thus the verdict of the reformers during the 16th century Reformation was that Rome, at the Council of Trent in 1563, departed from the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints. In officially separating herself from pure doctrine, Rome separated herself from the true church. In effect, Trent was a schismatic document.

As set forth in Scripture the unity of Christ's church, which is his body, is not measured by something solely outward, nor is that unity maintained apart from holding fast to Christ’s true faith. To argue for Rome’s claim as the one true church on the basis of organizational history or succession of bishops sadly ignores the centrality of the gospel of Christ. And it was that gospel that Rome rejected at Trent (see Canons). The gospel declares that sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. It is the power of  God unto salvation for the lost (Rom. 1:16). And that gospel message is the means by which God establishes the church of Christ and the ground upon which He nourishes and maintains it. Without the true apostolic faith there is no church.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Uses of the Law...

The law serves numerous and important purposes, both to the unregenerate and to the regenerate. Some of these uses may be briefly stated: - 
First. To the unregenerate the moral law is of use in the following respects:—  
1. To restrain them from much sin.—1 Tim. i. 9. 
2. To convince them of their sinfulness and misery.— Rom. iii. 20, vii. 9.  
3. To discover to them their absolute need of Christ, and drive them to him as their all-sufficient Saviour.—Gal. iii. 24.  
4. To render them inexcusable, if they continue in their sins, and finally reject the only Saviour of lost sinners.— Rom. i. 20, ii. 15; John iii. 18, 36.  
Second. The moral law is of use to the regenerate in the following respects: -  
1. To render Christ more precious to them, and excite their gratitude to him who so loved them as to obey its precepts and suffer its penalty, that he might deliver them from it as a covenant.—Gal. iii. 13, iv. 4, 5.  
2. To show them the will of God, and regulate their conduct.—Mic. vi. 8.  
3. To serve as a standard of self-examination, in order to discover the pollutions of their hearts and lives—to keep them self-abased—to lead them to a constant dependence upon Christ, and to excite them to a progressive advancement in holiness.—Phil. iii. 10-14.  
4. To serve as a test of their sincerity, that they may assure their hearts that they are of the truth, and that they delight in the law of God after the inward man, notwithstanding their manifold defects in duty.—1 John iii. 19; Rom. vii. 22, 25; 2 Cor. i. 12.
The Reformed Faith, WCF Chapter 19, Robert Shaw.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Did Jesus Do Everything?!

There are some who always want to answer that question in the negative while affirming that of course we have no part in our justification (Jesus did it all) and yet insisting that our Spirit enabled good works are surely necessary in order to complete our sanctification, increase our heavenly reward and/or ultimately secure our salvation. I know the distinction raised is that these works of ours which we contribute to our salvation are not meritorious, only necessary. Well, I affirm, they are necessary inasmuch as dead trees produce no fruit. Live ones do.

So, good works are necessary in the Christian life as evidence of the existence of a Christian life. The question is why? The reason isn't to just simply show evidence of faith. Simply put, as followers of Christ we are called by him to godly living. We are called to dutifully obey the law he has written on our hearts, which law our inward man now embraces as good. God means to work that law written on our hearts into new godly motives and behaviors. We are called unto good works, to love God and neighbor. And yet though good works are not optional, they add nothing to our salvation (they are evidence of it) - which is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-10). God's law still requires absolute perfection in our good works. And our good works fall way short of that perfection. They add nothing because each of our works carries with it the remnant of sin. Except for Christ's righteousness imputed to us they would be rejected.
5. We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment. (WCF 16 - Of Good Works)
We are but unprofitable servants in that what proceeds from us is yet still defiled. But inasmuch as our works are received as good by God, they are deemed as such for the sake of Christ, preceding from his Spirit by grace. In a word - "So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood" (Heb. 13:12); and as the confession states, "They...are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them..." (WCF 13 - Of Sanctification).

J. Gresham Machen adds his two cents:
They [the Judaizers of the Galatian letter], believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they also believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer's own effort to keep the Law...

Paul saw very clearly that the difference between the Judaizers and himself was the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace...

The difference which divided him from the Judaizers was no mere theological subtlety, but concerned the very heart and core of the religion of Christ. "Just as I am without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me" - that is what Paul was contending for in Galatia; That hymn would never have been written if the Judaizers had won. And without the thing which that hymn expresses there is no Christianity at all...
If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.
(Christianity and Liberalism)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When Considering Sanctification...

and the attendent aspects such as obedience from the heart... consider this crucial element found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, but not in the chapter on Sanctification. Who cannot relate and say, "Amen?"
5. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.
-Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5 - Of Providence

Yet another reason we must not separate the justification we have through faith in Christ from the sanctification we have in him (1Cor. 1:30).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Gospel Sanctification...

"This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls...
"The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel."
John Owen - Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mark Jones' "Antinomianism" - Reflections by Mark McCully

From my friend and compatriot in the gospel -
Let me say that I am at least equally bored with those who make everything to be about “union with” the resurrected Christ so that we Christians “can and will” now do what Christ did.
It's all right here and worth reading >  Is the Law/Gospel Antithesis Boring? 

I don't think so...