Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Justification of Life is Only Upon the Ground of a Perfect Righteousness

Scottish minister John Colquhoun closes his two-part sermon on Justification with this appeal:
"This subject [justification] suggests grounds of trial. — Are you justified or not? I do not ask if you justify yourselves, or if men justify you; but does God justify you? If you are guilty but of one sin, and have not repented, you are as certainly condemned as if you had been guilty of ten thousand. The chains of natural corruption with which you are girded declare you to be still under condemnation. Now, have you seen and felt yourselves in a state of condemnation? 
"Justification is a judiciary sentence, and before you can expect it, you must appear in court, and answer to your libel. Do you see your want of a perfect righteousness, the insufficiency of your own performances, and at the same time, the gift, suitableness, and sufficiency of the righteousness of Jesus Christ? Do you trust cordially in Christ as Jehovah your Righteousness? And are you humbled for your unbelief? Have you ever been grieved and troubled for the legal propensity of your heart? Is your self-righteous temper a burden, and a sore grievance to you? If so, it is a favourable sign. Do you rely on Christ's righteousness for all your title to eternal life? Believe more, trust more; for they who believe are justified from all things, etc.  
"Let secure sinners consider, that every sermon addressed to them is a summons put into their hands, to answer for their innumerable sins at the bar of that omniscient God whose eyes are as a flame of fire. What consternation will seize you, O condemned and impenitent sinner, when you shall see an infinitely just Judge upon his great white throne; when you shall find a strict law before you, and an accusing conscience within! Like Shimei you have broken through your rules of confinement, and are men of death. Be persuaded that you cannot be justified but on the ground of a perfect righteousness; and you have no such righteousness of your own. Rely, then, for the justification of life on the surety-righteousness of the Lord Jesus, freely offered in the Gospel to you. Renew frequently your actings of faith on Him as your righteousness and strength, and glory in his finished work."
John Colquhoun. Sermons, Chiefly on Doctrinal Subjects - Justification, Sermon IX, 162-163

*Earlier posts with excerpts from Colquhoun's Justification Sermon are here and here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Manner of a Sinner's Justification - Colquhoun

John Colquhoun (1748-1827): excerpts from his sermon on Justification -
"IV. Under the fourth general head, I was to consider the manner of a sinner's justification. The elect were justified, 1. Intentionally, or in the absolute purpose and decree of God. It is called "the justification of life." It is legal life, in opposition to legal death under the condemning sentence of the violated law, and as such is a constituent part of eternal life. Now, we are told that eternal life was promised and given to the elect in Christ, or to Christ as Representative of the elect, before the world began. "In hope of eternal life, that God who cannot lie promised before the world began." "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." Hence justification, as a fundamental part of that life, was according to the purpose and grace of God, promised and given to the elect in Christ, before the world began. It was promised to Christ their Representative, in their name, upon condition of his fulfilling all righteousness for them in time. Thus on the ground of their federal union with their adorable Surety, they were justified according to the purpose and grace of God, even from eternity. Hence is this cheering declaration, "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all," Isa. liii.6...
"2d, They were justified virtually, in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. — When Jesus died, he died in order to satisfy Divine justice, as Surety of the elect: when he rose, he rose as their Representative, and in him they all virtually arose...
"3d, They are justified actually, when they apply this justification, each of them to himself by faith — "All who believe are justified from all things;" that is, are justified actually, so as to have the sentence declared, both in the court of heaven and in the court of conscience...
"Lastly, They shall be publicly justified at the last day. — Then they shall be solemnly absolved before an assembled world, and have their title to eternal life publicly proclaimed. In that day, judgment shall be passed, an irreversible sentence shall be pronounced on them. On this account, it is called the day of judgment, Matth. xii. 36. In that day, the good works of the saints shall be proclaimed, not as the ground of their justification, but as evidences of their interest in the spotless righteousness of Christ, and of their title to life eternal. This, the sentence of the righteous Judge implies, — "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you..."
"Thus the elect are justified... In the day of eternity, their justification was actually secured; in the day of Christ's resurrection, it was acually merited; in the day of believing, it is actually applied to the conscience; and in the day of judgment it shall be actually declared in the most public and solemn manner. From eternity, they were justified in the purpose of God; at Christ's resurrection, they were justified in the Son of God as their representative; at the time of their beginning to believe, they are justified in the court of God, the court of heaven, and the court of conscience; and in the last day, they shall be justified publicly at Christ's august tribunal."
 -John Colquhoun. Sermons, Chiefly on Doctrinal Subjects - Justification, Sermon IX, 152-156.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On the Back Burner...

1. The way to... 
WLC 32: ... giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.
'Holy obedience... the way... to salvation', i.e. the way by which believers obtain salvation or the way in which believers walk to possess salvation already obtained? I prefer the latter.
"Christ is the way to life, because he purchased us a right to life. The practice of Christian piety is the way to life, because thereby we go to the possession of the right obtained by Christ."  (Witsius, Animadversions, 162)
2. "The law is indeed by itself, as it teaches us what righteousness is, the way to salvation: but our depravity and corruption prevent it from being in this respect an advantage to us." (John Calvin)

3. Christians are forward-looking by looking back... to the cross of Jesus.

4. A wrong prescription always follows a wrong diagnosis. The two may be logically consistent (which makes it seem so right) and yet still be wrong. Get the diagnosis right!

5. There is a Man in the glory, seated at the right hand of God.

6. "Sacred euphemisms" of the experiential-centered-life:
a. experience life
b.  touch the Lord
 c. live in your spirit, not in your mind... (really?)
d. the highest authority is the Spirit within you... (oh my...) 
 e. to share your experience of the Lord...
 f. how to make a right decision... follow the "peace" within you 
 g. to be "blessed" is to be moved emotionally 
 h. Scripture is the Word of God only when "by the Spirit" we experience it so.         (conveniently supports letter 'd'... thank you, Karl)
7. One mark of a true Christian is the struggle against sin, even though it may be occasioned by frequent setbacks.

8. Christians don't so much progress as persevere.

9. "For Calvin the promises of God flow from the covenants of God by which God has bound himself, and the covenants flow from election." (Robert Godfrey, John Calvin - Pilgrim and Pastor)

10. Axiom of linguistics and theology: "A term or word doesn't necessarily have to be present in order for the substance of a concept to be present." (Brian Estelle)

11. Apostolic tradition... Scripture.

12. "God the Son became incarnate to obey as the substitute for sinners, to die in their place as a payment for sin, their propitiation and expiation, to rise from the dead on the third day for their justification, whose person and benefits (righteousness, life, sanctity) are received through faith (trusting) alone in him alone." (R. Scott Clark)

13. "The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried"--that is history. "He loved me and gave Himself for me"--that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church." (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 29)

14. When moving away from a set liturgy defined by Scripture in favor of the spontaneous  "Spirit-led" form of worship, the church merely moves from one type of set liturgy to another. There is no re-inventing the wheel every week via the Spirit. Untethered from Scripture as a guide, Christ-centered worship inevitably morphs into a "worshipper-centered" experience both in its means and its end. **

15. "And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32).  What was once our disqualification before God's Law is now our qualification for God's grace in Christ; that grace being our sure ground in the Christian-life-liturgy of faith and repentance...

**I know, controversial to many...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How shall man be just with God?

"From what has been stated, we may learn a satisfactory answer to this question, How shall man be just with God? How can an unrighteous person be accepted as righteous by an infinitely righteous Judge? It can not possibly be on the ground of his own performances; for though he should even from the moment of his birth till that of his death, obey the law perfectly, it could never satisfy for the sin in which he was born. It is by the consummate righteousness of Jesus Christ received by faith, that he can be just in the eye of the law, or the sight of God. 
"Hence learn, that the righteousness which is the ground of a sinner's justification, is not the believer's because it is imputed to him; but it is imputed to him because it is already his. In God's imputation of it, he reckons it to be what it is already, the believer's justifying righteousness. It is the believer's, in virtue of his legal union with Christ from eternity, and of his vital union with him in time."
John Colquhoun. Sermons - Chiefly on Doctrinal Subjects, 160.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thomas Bell: Let Christ's Doing and His Dying Be Your Only Boast...

"We may see what must be the only ground of our confidence before God.
"It is not our own works of righteousness, nothing wrought in us, or done by us. Neither faith, repentance, nor new obedience. It is Christ's surety-righteousness, nothing without, nothing beside it, It and it only. What he did in satisfaction of law and justice, that only can be a poor sinner's confidence, when standing at the divine tribunal: nothing else can be sustained there. Every other thing, however fair, firm or bulky in the carnal eye, is but unstable water, or yielding air, and shall leave the unhappy man who leans upon it, under an eternal disappointment. Being originally under a covenant of works, a broken covenant, nothing but what was done by Christ to fulfil its precept, and to satisfy its penalty, can be sustained as the ground of our confidence before God. To think any less sufficient, would be saying that sinners can be justified to the prejudice of the covenant of works; that divine justice has abated its demands, and can be pleased without an adequate satisfaction. Be wise, therefore, sinners, be instructed, as ye value your salvation. Trust not in yourselves, in your own hearts, or your own works. Turn away your eyes from everything, in point of confidence, but Christ, and his surety-righteousness." 
Thomas Bell. A Treatise on the Covenants of Works and Grace, 225

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Covenant of Grace is a Costly Covenant

"The two covenants differ in this — the one was vastly more expensive than the other. The one cost the Almighty but the breath of his lips. He spake and it was done, he commanded, and it stood fast. But the other required vastly more. There was need of more than words to establish it. Who can fully declare what the covenant of grace has cost a Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost? To accomplish its great ends,  
"God behoved to tear his Son as from his bosom, and to send him forth made of a woman, made under the law, Gal. iv. 4. To recover enemies, he behoved to part with an only Son. Ere he could smile on them, he was to frown on him and to desert him: before he could put the sword of justice as into its scabbard, he behoved, Father as he was, to plunge it into the bowels of his own, his only Son.  
"The Son, the Mediator and Surety of the covenant, behoved in virtue of his suretyship, to forego the ineffable pleasures of a Father's bosom, to be clothed in the likeness of sinful flesh, to be a reproach of men, covered with darkness, surrounded with sorrow, overwhelmed with fear, attacked by devils, stricken, smitten, and forsaken of God, and at last to die. What amazing cost is here! To use the words of one, " It is an expended Deity on human weal!"  
"The Holy Spirit whose it is to apply the Covenant to sinners, how costly work is it to him! He strives more with one sinner in a day, than ever he did with angels since they fell. He never knocked at their door, but, oh, how long he stands at that of mankind-sinners! How he strives and expostulates, ere he get access. What rebellion often against him! what resistance! and when received, what untender treatment often follows! Sons and daughters vex, grieve, and well nigh quench him. And thus as violence was done to the Son, so also to the Holy Spirit. He suffers in his influences and operations, though he cannot in his adorable person. He bears with the manners of his people, though often grievous to him, and does not altogether cast them off.  
"Thus the covenant of grace is a costly covenant. Nothing could be equally so. The salvation of one sinner has cost God more than creation in all its extent, pomp and splendour. Ten thousand worlds had been as easily created as one. But to accomplish the ends of the covenant, what did God do? I shall tell you in the language of inspiration, and if not inspired, perhaps it had not been safe to use it, " God laid down his life," 1 John iii. 16. And now, my brethren, what could have been done more for the vineyard than has been done? Isa. v. 4. Surely a synod of angels could not say. The cost could not possibly rise higher: God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all: Awake, said he, O sword, against the man that is my fellow." 
Thomas Bell. A Treatise on the Covenants of Works and Grace, 213-214

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wise Counsel For Preachers

"The year was 1768. A twenty-eight year old preacher by the name of Augustus Toplady, who wrote many of our best hymns, including "Rock of Ages", spent the afternoon in London with Mr. Brewer — an older, veteran Gospel preacher, whom he greatly admired and from whom he learned much. This is what Mr. Brewer said to the young Toplady, as Toplady later recorded in his diary:"

I cannot conclude without reminding you, my young brother, of some things that may be of use to you in the course of your ministry:
1. Preach Christ crucified, and dwell chiefly on the blessings resulting from His righteousness, atonement, and intercession. 
2. Avoid all needless controversies in the pulpit; except it be when your subject necessarily requires it; or when the truths of God are likely to suffer by your silence. 
3. When you ascend the pulpit, leave your learning behind you. Endeavor to preach more to the hearts of your people — than to their heads
4. Do not affect too much oratory. Seek rather to profit your hearers — than to be admired by them.
HT: Grace Gems

Saturday, November 21, 2015

B. B. Warfield on the Prodigal Son...

"In other words, its lesson is not that God loves His children, but that God loves sinners. And thus this parable is seen ranging with the preceding ones. The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, have only this one thing in common, that they are lost; and the three parables unite in commending the one common lesson to us, that as men rejoice in the recovery of what is lost, so God rejoices in the recovery of sinners since sinners are the things that to Him are lost... What it teaches is that God will receive the returning sinner with the same joy that the father in the parable received the returning prodigal; because as this son was to that father's heart above all other things that he had lost, his lost one, and his return was therefore above all other things that might have been returned to him his recovery; so sinners are above all else that God has lost in the world His lost ones, and their return to Him above all other restorations that may be made to Him His recovery. The vivid picture of the father not staying to receive the returning son, but, moved with compassion as he spied him yet a great way off, running out to meet him and falling on his neck and kissing him in his ecstasy again and again; cutting short his words of confession with the command that the best robe be brought to clothe him, and shoes for his blistered feet, and a ring for his finger, and the order that the fatted calf be killed and the feast be spread, and the music and the dance be prepared because, as he says, "This my son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found " —  all this in the picture is meant to quicken our hearts to some apprehension of the joy that fills God's heart at the return of sinners to Him. 
"O brethren, our minds are dulled with much repetition, and refuse to take the impression our Lord would make on them. But even we - can we fail to be moved with wonder today at this great message, that God in heaven rejoices — exults in joy like this human father receiving back his son when sinners repent and turn to Him? On less assurance than that of Jesus Christ Himself the thing were perhaps incredible. But on that assurance shall we not take its comfort to our hearts? We are sinners. And our only hope is in one who loves sinners; and has come into the world to die for sinners. Marvel, marvel beyond our conception; but, blessed be God, as true as marvellous. And when we know Him better, perhaps it may more and more cease to be a marvel. At least, one of those who have known Him best and served Him most richly in our generation, has taught us to sing thus of His wondrous death for us:"
That He should leave His place on high,
And come for sinful man to die,
You count it strange ?—so do not I,
Since I have known my Saviour. 
Nay, had there been in all this wide
Wide world no other soul beside
But only mine, then He had died
That He might be its Saviour; 
Then had He left His Father's throne,
The joy untold, the love unknown,
And for that soul had given His own,
That He might be its Saviour!
"Is that too high a flight for us-that passion of appropriation by which the love of Jesus for me - my own personal soul - is appreciated so fully that it seems natural to us that He, moved by that great love that was in Him for me — even me — should leave His throne that He might die for me, — just me, — even were there none else beside? At least we may assent to the dispassionate recognition that in the depths of our parable is hidden the revelation of that fundamental characteristic of Jesus Christ by virtue of which He did become the Saviour at least of sinners. And seeing this and knowing ourselves to be sinners, we may acknowledge Him afresh today as our Saviour, and at least gratefully join in our passionate sinner's prayer:"
And oh! that He fulfilled may see
The travail of His soul in me,
And with His work contented be,
As I am with my Saviour! 
Yea, living, dying, let me bring
My strength, my solace from this spring,
That He who lives to be my King,
Once died to be my Saviour!
The Prodigal Son by B. B. Warfield, preached in the Chapel of Princeton Seminary on the text of Luke 15: 11-32, somewhere between 1910-1913.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Through Which Covenant-Lens?

Just some questions... Could the answers indicate the covenant-lens through which you tend to view your sanctification: through the Covenant of Works (Law) or the Covenant of Grace (Gospel)?
1. Are you more conscious of your good works or your sins?
2. Are you more aware of your strengths or your weaknesses?
3. Are you more attuned to your successes or your failures?
4. Are you more acquainted with your confidence or your fears?
5. Are you more certain of your moral growth or your lack thereof?
6. Are you more familiar with your other-centeredness or your self-centeredness?
7. Are you more cognizant of a love for God or a lukewarm heart?
8. Are you more witting of the rightness of your positions or the wrongness of your attitudes?
9. Are you  more up-to-date with your moral consistency or your too-oft ambivalence?
10. Are you more versed in your basic goodness or your too-oft hypocrisy?
11. Are you more alive to the comfort of your good works or Christ's finished work of the cross for you?
12. Are you  more sensible to your obedience or the obedience of Christ? 
13. Are you more enlightened to your love for God or God's love for you
14. Do you see the strength of your obedience as increasing your standing with God? 
15. Do you see the weakness of your of obedience as decreasing your standing with God?
Though justified by grace from the Covenant of Works through faith in Christ, isn't our fallen tendency or bent to still look at ourselves to see how we measure up (self-justify)? Can't it be said, as believers seek to walk in the direction of obedience, that  sanctification is yet a slow, life-long process of removing from our eyes that lens of measuring ourselves against ourselves?... dying to the esteem of our works, our goodness, our strengths... becoming more aware of the lack of true righteousness within us?... and moving toward finding all our righteousness, indeed everything we need for salvation, in Jesus Christ and his finished work alone? For those who think I'm ignoring good works, not to worry. Exhortations to love God and neighbor are commanded and necessary, the path we walk as Christians. But is that what sanctifies? We should seek to love God and neighbor while resisting sin. But do those works make one holy? It is the power of the gospel that sanctifies. No longer under the law as a covenant of works but under the covenant of grace we find
"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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jesus: A Parable-Centered Ministry

A few weeks ago Rick Philips wrote a post asking whether a gospel-centered ministry is sufficient for the church's ministry. To answer that question he focused on the ministry of Jesus as presented in the book of Mark. Philips writes:
This raises the question to me as to whether Jesus himself can be said to have a "gospel-centeredTM ministry?"
To satisfy my curiosity, I turned to the Gospel of Mark, which is currently being read during the morning worship services of the church I serve. I do realize that the Gospels are not given as a statistical sample of Jesus' ministry day-to-day. Still, we should be able to get a fair sense of our Lord's own priorities if we categorize the types of messages recorded in his Gospels...
But how was Jesus gospel-centered? The answer is that he revealed himself as the divine Messiah and enlightened man about God, he showed the power and grace to live a new kind of life, he exposed darkness and unbelief as false and ungodly, and he offered forgiveness to broken sinners.
I think Rick Philips makes some fair points regarding the ministry of the church. But I also think he is making a questionable assumption about the connection between the priorities of Jesus's ministry and that of the church by offering an approach which may not be as helpful as it seems on its face. Do the gospels present Jesus as a ministry-template for the church? Is the focus and mix of the church's preaching and teaching to be shaped by reflecting how and what Jesus did in his spoken ministry? One obvious caveat to that last question: in one crucial sense what Jesus did and taught is not only central to the church's ministry it is the church's ministry. Yet to look at the mix of what Jesus taught isn't necessarily the pointer for pastors. One obvious difference is that Jesus did many miracles. He raised the dead, healed the sick, made the blind to see and the lame to walk. Do we? No. But more to the point of this post is the nature of Jesus's spoken ministry. In his spoken ministry did Jesus reveal himself as the divine Messiah? He certainly came as the divine Messiah. And the gospel writers certainly present him as such. But it seems that Jesus himself wasn't as intent on making himself known as Philips' conclusion states. By and large when addressing the crowds that followed him, the gospels present Jesus speaking in what were confusing parables and less than clear teachings. In fact, a center-piece of his public ministry was speaking in mysteries or parables, cloaking the true nature of his identity and mission:
And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. Mark 1:34
for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. Mark 3:10-12
As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” Mark 4:10-12 
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. Matt. 13:34
It was primarily to the apostles that Jesus revealed himself. And even at that, his words were often cryptic and misunderstood by them. This approach is in stark contrast with the purpose and ministry of the church in the New Testament as well as today. The apostle Paul writes in Colossians that his purpose was to proclaim and reveal Jesus Christ to all men:
Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. Col. 1:25-29
In contrast, one can argue that Jesus's priority was to not reveal himself (thus his parables and other cloaked teachings) but rather, as the One purposely unrecognized by Israel (Isaiah 53:2b-3), to offer himself as a sacrificial Lamb for the sins of his people. Whereas the church's mission is to fully reveal Christ as Lord and Savior, God who came in the flesh and who has accomplished salvation by his death on the cross. In examining Jesus's spoken ministry it's helpful to keep in view that Jesus had not yet died on the cross. In a sense, his was a moment between the two covenants. The New Covenant in his blood had not yet been inaugurated. And inaugurating that covenant was the end or goal of his ministry. Redemption had not yet been accomplished. The very definitive fullness of the gospel would only at Pentecost be first proclaimed - Christ crucified and risen and ascended. What Jesus taught and how he taught in the gospels worked together to both proclaim the kingdom of heaven at hand and yet in such a way for himself to remain hidden. He not only spoke in parables, Jesus was a walking, living Parable to those around him. He was headed somewhere. 
When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined [lit. set his face] to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
This was even more clearly seen when the disciples were approached by 'certain Greeks' who had heard about Jesus and wanted to see him. The word was getting out about Jesus, even beyond the borders of Israel! It was as if that moment of unwanted wider fame was an alarm going off. What Isaiah 53:10 prophesied was about to be fulfilled.
Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip *came and* told Andrew; Andrew and Philip *came and* told Jesus. And Jesus *answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. John 12:20-23
But why would Jesus, the Son of God come in the flesh, speak in parables and hide his identity? One reason it seems is that the Jews who were looking for the Messiah wanted fervently the restoration of Israel's past glory. That could only be accomplished by reestablishing the throne on David in the earthly Jerusalem. And that road to recognition and glory was not the path to the cross. The gospel of John tells us, as Jesus's identity became more widely known he took measures so that he would not be diverted from Calvary and the one thing necessary to complete his mission. He had no interest in being fully revealed and getting sidetracked from his purpose.
Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. John 6:14-15
His was an unique ministry both in purpose and execution. His was not the Christian church's ministry of proclaiming Christ crucified. His was the ministry of the Sin-bearer come to die. And because of that I would suggest that we should be cautious when trying to find patterns in Jesus's life and ministry to be used as templates or examples for the life and ministry of the church.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Calvin on Election...

A few of John Calvin's thoughts on the doctrine of election as found in the Institutes of Religion:

"In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory." 
"If the end of election is holiness of life, it ought to arouse and stimulate us strenuously to aspire to it, instead of serving as a pretext for sloth." 
"Those, therefore, whom God has chosen he adopts as sons, while he becomes to them a Father. By calling, moreover, he admits them to his family, and unites them to himself, that they may be one with him. When calling is thus added to election, the Scripture plainly intimates that nothing is to be looked for in it but the free mercy of God." 
"Then what is the end of election, but just that, being adopted as sons by the heavenly Father, we may by his favor obtain salvation and immortality? How much soever you may speculate and discuss you will perceive that in its ultimate object it goes no farther. Hence, those whom God has adopted as sons, he is said to have elected, not in themselves, but in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 1:4;) because he could love them only in him, and only as being previously made partakers with him, honor them with the inheritance of his kingdom. But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to engraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sanctification - the Necessary Consequence of Justification

"Since we have been focusing of Romans 3-5 it may be helpful to see how Paul continues his argument in Romans 6-7, for here he answers explicitly an objection from an imagined interlocutor about the moral life and justification. The objection is this: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?" (6:1). In other words, if the grace of justification is proclaimed to sinners, should we sin more in order to magnify God's grace? Does Paul's doctrine of justification make holy living irrelevant or perhaps even undesirable? Paul explains his short answer - "By no means!" - from 6:2 through 7:6. He argues that justified believers united to Christ are no longer under the law but under grace, and that having died to the law they are no longer under the dominion of sin but bear good fruit for God and walk by his Spirit. The precise point is striking. Paul does not say that a sanctified moral life is still possible despite his doctrine of justification, which wold have answered the objection narrowly taken. What he says is that a sanctified moral life is the necessary consequence of justification and that justification is the necessary prerequisite of the sanctified moral life. Dying to the law in justification somehow results in believers for the first time being able to do the holy works acceptable before God."
David VanDrunen, Divine Covenants and Moral Order, 437 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Believer's Good Works: Evidence of Title to the Reward of Life

7thly. The two covenants differ as the order of acceptance. In the covenant of works acceptance began at the work, and then went on to the person. In the covenant of grace this order is quite inverted, acceptance beginning at the person, and then goes on to the work.
This difference naturally follows on what was observed respecting the conditions of the covenants, for, if works, or perfect obedience, was the condition of the first covenant, then that condition behoved to be performed before Adam could be accepted, and entitled to the reward. It was not sufficient that he had a righteousness of innocence: he behoved to have that of perseverance also, in order to the acceptance of his person. But as our works are not the condition of the second covenant, they cannot be the condition of our acceptance with God. They do not go before, but necessarily follow it. The end of Adam's obedience was to procure his title to the reward. That of ours is to evidence our title. His working could procure his acceptance, inasmuch as his person was not under a curse either before, or while he was working. His state was purely probationary, he being neither accepted nor condemned. He had also a sufficiency of strength to give perfect obedience, his nature being perfectly holy. But, ah! it is quite otherwise with us, both as to our persons and our nature. The one is already under a curse: the other totally polluted. Hence our works can never procure our acceptance. By the curse our persons are odious in the sight of divine justice, and if so, how can our works be acceptable? By the corruption of our nature we are without strength to give any holy, and therefore any acceptable obedience, for nothing but what is holy can be so. Therefore of necessity our persons must be accepted, and our nature changed before our works can be pleasing to God*."
Thomas Bell, A Treatise on the Covenant of Works and Grace, pp. 206-207. 
[emphasis added]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

John Calvin: The Recompense of Good Works

Concerning works of believers and their justification, John Calvin writes in The Necessity of Reforming the Church:

Lastly, there was another most pestilential error, which not only occupied the minds of men, but was regarded as one of the principal articles of faith, of which it was impious to doubt, viz., that believers ought to be perpetually in suspense and uncertainty as to their interest in the divine favor. By this suggestion of the devil, the power of faith was completely extinguished, the benefits of Christ’s purchase destroyed, and the salvation of men overthrown. For, as Paul declares, that faith only is Christian faith which inspires our hearts with confidence, and emboldens us to appear in the presence of God, (Romans 5:2.) On no other view could his doctrine in another passage be maintained, viz., that 
“we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” (Romans 8:15.)
But what is the effect of that hesitancy which our enemies require in their disciples, save to annihilate all confidence in the promises of God? Paul argues, that
“If they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect,” (Romans 4:14.)
Why so? Just because the law keeps a man in doubt, and does not permit him to entertain a sure and firm confidence. But they, on the other hand, dream of a faith, which, excluding and repelling man from that confidence which Paul requires, throws him back upon conjecture, to be tossed like a reed shaken by the wind. And it is not surprising that after they had once founded their hope of salvation on the merit of works, they plunged into all this absurdity. It could not but happen, that from such a precipice they should have such a fall. For what can man find in his works but materials for doubt, and, finally, for despair? We thus see how error led to error...
It would seem that the error Calvin refers to was similar to the one Paul confronted in his letter to the Galatians. Those first century believers had reverted to a grace plus works understanding of salvation, i.e. faith in Christ's death and resurrection for forgiveness of sins and justification - to which was added grace-enabled works under the Law for final salvation. Concerning the Judaizers and those who followed their teaching, J. Gresham Machen wrote:
They, 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)
For Paul, though believers in Christ are obligated to do good works as evidence of their faith and thankfulness in Christ (faith working through love), their good works of themselves contribute nothing of moral weight, acquittal, or vindication in their final salvation.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as 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 so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10)
So then how are we to think about the good works of believers who are justified through faith alone? How do they contribute to their sanctification? Do they contribute in any way to salvation that is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone?  And in what way are the good works of believers judged? Again, Calvin:
... Our third and last exception relates to the recompence of works — we maintaining that it depends not on their own value or merit, but rather on the mere benignity of God. Our opponents, indeed, admit that there is no proportion between the merit of the work and its reward; but they do not attend to what is of primary moment in the matter, viz., that the good works of believers are never so pure as that they can please without pardon. They consider not, I say, that they are always sprinkled with some spots or blemishes, because they never proceed from that pure and perfect love of God which is demanded by the Law. Our doctrine, therefore, is, that the good works of believers are always devoid of a spotless purity which can stand the inspection of God; nay, that when they are tried by the strict rule of justice, they are, to a certain extent, impure. But, when once God has graciously adopted believers, he not only accepts and loves their persons, but their works also, and condescends to honor them with a reward. In one word, as we said of man, so we may say of works, - they are justified [i.e. accepted] not by their own desert, but by the merits of Christ alone; the faults by which they would otherwise displease being covered by the sacrifice of Christ. This consideration is of very great practical importance, both in retaining men in the fear of God, that they may not arrogate to their works that which proceeds from his fatherly kindness; and also in inspiring them with the best consolation, and so preventing them from giving way to despondency, when they reflect on the imperfection or impurity of their works, by reminding them that God, of his paternal indulgence, is pleased to pardon it. (The Necessity of Reforming the Church)
I doubt that on that wonderful Judgment Day any who belong to Christ will be thinking about, looking upon, or dare to offer up their best works of sanctification. Then we will be robed both within and without in only the Righteousness of the Lamb; and yet even our blood-washed garments of righteousness will not draw our attention. Rather, all eyes will be fixed on him who died for us.

“The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace:
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory,
And my eternal stand!”
 O Christ, He is the Fountain

[emphasis added in above texts]

Monday, October 12, 2015

John Owen - The Redemptive Bottom Line - The Blood of Christ

"The sum of all is,--The death and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ hath wrought, and doth effectually procure, for all those that are concerned in it, eternal redemption, consisting in grace here and glory hereafter... 
"The main foundation of all the confidence and assurance whereof in this life we may be made partakers (which amounts to "joy unspeakable, and full of glory") ariseth from this strict connection of the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ;---that by the one he hath procured all good things for us, and by the other he will procure them to be actually bestowed, whereby he doth never leave our sins, but follows them into every court, until they be fully pardoned and clearly expiated, Heb. 9: 26. He will never leave us until he hath saved to the uttermost them that come unto God by him."
John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

Friday, October 9, 2015

Thomas Bell - Limited Atonement: Extent and Application

"This must be granted, unless we make his federal representation wider than the communication of life and righteousness: the purchase of redemption more extensive than the application: which, in our apprehension, would be making the work of God crooked. It would be reckoned strange doctrine, to teach that the first Adam represented some persons, to whom he never in fact conveys sin and death; and equally absurd would it be to say, that the second represented any, to whom he never actually conveys life and righteousness. To what end was that, if not to convey these? According to the holy scripture, the one representation is as effectual with respect to the represented, as the other is. As by the disobedience of the one, many, even all that he represented, were made sinners; so by the obedience of the other, shall many, even all that he represented, be made righteous, Rom, v. 19. This inequality of the two covenants as to their extent, was strongly intimated, in the very first revelation of the covenant of grace, Gen. iii. 15. There God speaks of two opposite seeds: the seed of the serpent, and the seed of the woman. By the former must be meant, all that persevere in their enmity against God, John viii. 44. By the latter must be understood, Christ primarily, and next, all those who come over as to his side. Now from this view of the matter, it is evident, that to aver the covenant of grace is as extensive as that of works, is saying in effect, that the personal seed of the woman, represented the seed of the serpent, which is a glaring absurdity. We see from the following context, Gal. iv. 28, 29. that the children of the promise, or covenant of grace, (Acts iii. 25.) are born after the Spirit, while the children of the covenant of works, are born after the flesh. It is evident therefore, that the two covenants, are just as unequal in their extent, as corrupt nature, and regenerating grace. The one reaches all mankind without exception: the other extends to the elect only...
"In a word, Christ did not represent the world, but the men whom his Father gave him out of the world, John xvii. 6."
Thomas Bell. A Treatise on the Covenant of Works and Grace, pp. 190-191

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Healing Grace For Thy Soul: Look To the Brazen Serpent

"Soul, whoever thou art, that at any time art bitten with the guilt of sin, or by the prevalent working of any corruption; if thou wilt but look up to Jesus Christ with an eye of faith, thou mayest as certainly expect a cure to be wrought on thy soul as the Israelites, who, in looking up to the brazen serpent in the wilderness, might expect a cure to be done on their bodies. Therefore is salvation tendered upon this act of the soul, in looking up to Christ by an eye of faith, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth," Isa. xlv. 22. Therefore, O soul, have a care, thou dost not leave looking up to Christ; there is nothing else will or can damn thy soul, but thy not looking up to Christ, as a Saviour and Redeemer, and resting upon him alone for life and salvation, as one that is "able to save to the uttermost," as the apostle speaks in Heb. vii. 25."
Thomas Worden, The Types Unveiled. P. 86

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Believers - Dead to the Law as a Covenant of Works

"Dead to the law. — By the term the law, in this place, is intended that law which is obligatory, both on Jews and Gentiles. It is the law, the work of which is written in the hearts of all men ; and that law which was given to the Jews in which they rested, chap. ii., 17. It is the law, taken in the largest extent of the word, including the whole will of God in any way manifested to all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. All those whom the Apostle was addressing, had been under this law in their unconverted state...

"Dead to the law means freedom from the power of the law, as having endured its curse and satisfied its demands. It has ceased to have a claim on the obedience of believers in order to life, although it still remains their rule of duty. All men are by nature placed under the law, as the covenant of works made with the first man, who, as the Apostle had been teaching in the fifth chapter, was the federal or covenant-head of all his posterity; and it is only when they are united to Christ that they are freed from this covenant... 
"What is simply a law implies no more than a direction and obligation authoritatively enforcing obedience. A covenant implies promises made on certain conditions, with threatenings added, if such conditions be not fulfilled. The language, accordingly, of the law, as the covenant of works, is, " Do and live;" or, " If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments;"' and " cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." It thus requires perfect obedience as the condition of life, and pronounces a curse on the smallest failure. This law is here represented as being man's original or first husband. But it is now a broken law, and there fore all men are by nature under its curse...

"But though believers, in virtue of their marriage with Christ, are no longer under the law in respect to its power to award life or death, they are, as the Apostle says, 1 Cor. ix., 21, "Not without law to God, but under law to Christ." They receive it from his hand as the rule of their duty, and are taught by his grace to love and delight in it ; and being delivered from its curse, they are engaged by the strongest additional motives to yield to it obedience. He hath made it the inviolable law of his kingdom. When Luther discovered the distinction between the law as a covenant and as a rule, it gave such relief to his mind, that he considered himself as at the gate of paradise."

- Robert Haldane's Romans commentary, pp. 283-284

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Calvin: Justified By Faith Alone - No Dread of Judgment Deserved

Although, in the section quoted below, John Calvin is making an argument against the heretical teaching of Osiander, he nonetheless asserts the all important and central truth that also refutes any doctrine which would state that, along with the imputed righteousness of Christ, a believer must present some measure of inherent righteousness derived from his own works of obedience in order to attain heaven. Calvin declares that the only righteousness that will stand for the elect sinner on the judgment day is a righteousness that is whole and thoroughly approved by the Law, i.e. the imputed righteousness of Christ.
But it ought to be remembered, as I already observed, that the gift of justification is not separated from regeneration [i.e. sanctification], though the two things are distinct. But as it is too well known by experience, that the remains of sin always exist in the righteous, it is necessary that justification should be something very different from reformation to newness of life. This latter God begins in his elect, and carries on during the whole course of life, gradually and sometimes slowly, so that if placed at his judgment-seat they would always deserve sentence of death. He justifies not partially, but freely, so that they can appear in the heavens as if clothed with the purity of Christ. No portion of righteousness could pacify the conscience. 
It must be decided that we are pleasing to God, as being without exception righteous in his sight. Hence it follows that the doctrine of justification is perverted and completely overthrown whenever doubt is instilled into the mind, confidence in salvation is shaken, and free and intrepid prayer is retarded; yea, whenever rest and tranquility with spiritual joy are not established. Hence Paul argues against objectors, that "if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise," (Galatians 3:18.) that in this way faith would be made vain; for if respect be had to works it fails, the holiest of men in that case finding nothing in which they can confide. This distinction between justification and regeneration [i.e. sanctification] (Osiander confounding the two, calls them a twofold righteousness) is admirably expressed by Paul. Speaking of his real righteousness, or the integrity bestowed upon him, (which Osiander terms his essential righteousness,) he mournfully exclaims, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24;) but retaking himself to the righteousness which is founded solely on the mercy of God, he breaks forth thus magnificently into the language of triumph: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth." "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Romans 8:33, 35.) 
He clearly declares that the only righteousness for him is that which alone suffices for complete salvation in the presence of God, so that that miserable bondage, the consciousness of which made him a little before lament his lot, derogates not from his confidence, and is no obstacle in his way. This diversity is well known, and indeed is familiar to all the saints who groan under the burden of sin, and yet with victorious assurance rise above all fears. Osiander's objection as to its being inconsistent with the nature of God, falls back upon himself; for though he clothes the saints with a twofold righteousness as with a coat of skins, he is, however, forced to admit, that without forgiveness no man is pleasing to God. If this be so, let him at least admit, that with reference to what is called the proportion of imputation, those are regarded as righteous who are not so in reality. But how far shall the sinner extend this gratuitous acceptance, which is substituted in the room of righteousness? Will it amount to the whole pound, or will it be only an ounce? He will remain in doubt, vibrating to this side and to that, because he will be unable to assume to himself as much righteousness as will be necessary to give confidence. 
It is well that he who would prescribe a law to God is not the judge in this cause. But this saying will ever stand true, "That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judges," (Psalm 51:4.) What arrogance to condemn the Supreme Judge when he acquits freely, and try to prevent the response from taking affect: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." And yet the intercession of Moses, which God calmed by this answer, was not for pardon to some individual, but to all alike, by wiping away the guilt to which all were liable. And we, indeed, say, that the lost are justified before God by the burial of their sins; for (as he hates sin) he can only love those whom he justifies. But herein is the wondrous method of justification, that, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, they dread not the judgment of which they are worthy, and while they justly condemn themselves, are yet deemed righteous out of themselves.                    [emphasis and bracket comments added]
Calvin, John. Institutes: Christian Religion 3.11.11

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Clark on the Conditions in the Covenant of Grace...

If the latest discussion on faith alone and works of obedience has left some a bit confused, then here is some more help. Dr. Scott Clark explains the conditions of and the differences between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. There is a lot at stake in this debate, and yet little is served by pigeonholing those on either side of the argument. Clark's blog links at the bottom of his post are a valuable resource and worthy of reasoned consideration and engagement.
Some thoughts relative to the current discussion about the nature of conditions in the covenant of grace: First, we cannot get this right unless we distinguish between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Part of the problem in this discussion is that the covenant of works is either rejected or neglected. I understand the exegetical and historical reasons why that happened and have addressed them at length in print and online. Beginning in the early 1560s in Heidelberg Reformed theologians began articulating explicitly what at least some had been implying prior, that God made a legal covenant with Adam before the fall, which covenant he had the ability to fulfill as the federal representative of all humanity. This formulation was confessed by the Westminster Divines in the mid-17th century in the Westminster Standards (e.g., WCF 7.2, 19.1,6; WLC 30, 97; Savoy Declaration 6, 7, 19, 20). The divines used the expression “covenant of works” 4 times in the confession alone. They set up a strict contrast between the covenants of works and grace. Since, in the modern period, many have abandoned this distinction the table is set for confusion of the principles of works and grace and this is what has happened...
As they say, read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Piper: Salvation by faith alone and just a little bit more?

John Piper writes concerning how one is made right with God in the forward to a new book by Thomas Schreiner. Now this excerpt may just be the result of a poorly expressed thought concerning justification and salvation. But it is worrisome. Does he understand what the words faith alone mean?
The stunning Christian answer is: sola fide—faith alone. But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He says right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions. 
“We are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” Faith that is alone is not faith in union with Christ. Union with Christ makes his perfection and power ours through faith. And in union with Christ, faith is living and active with Christ’s power. 
Such faith always “works by love” and produces the “obedience of faith.” And that obedience— imperfect as it is till the day we die—is not the “basis of justification, but... a necessary evidence and fruit of justification.” In this sense, love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven, not for entering a right-standing with God.
J. Gresham Machen responded emphatically to Piper 92 years ago in Christianity and Liberalism:
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.
And over 450 years ago John Calvin weighed in with his more comprehensive rebuttal in his commentary on 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.
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 Antinomian musings or are Machen's and Calvin's words fairly understood to be the Gospel proper - the power of salvation unto everyone who believes - in Christ alone? 

Update:  John Calvin just called this in from his Institutes of Christian Religion. He felt the need to add an exclamation point to his previous words:
When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must beware of deriving even the minutes portion of it from any other quarter...
Hence the Scriptures make the sum of our salvation to consist in the removal of all enmity, and our admission into favor; thus intimating, that when God is reconciled all danger is past, and every thing good will befall us. Wherefore, faith apprehending the love of God has the promise both of the present and the future life, and ample security for all blessings, (Ephesians 2:14.)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Marks of a Christian - Thomas Bell

"These are the three decisive marks of being in the covenant of grace: conviction of sin, faith in Christ, and holiness of life. By the first we see our misery, by the second we accept of deliverance, and by the third we testify our thankfulness to him who delivered us. The first has a relation to the covenant of works, the second to the covenant of grace, and the third to the law of Christ."
Thomas Bell, A Treatise on the Covenants of Works and Grace. p. 183

Monday, September 14, 2015

Beware... the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees...

"Does a good man forfeit his holy comfort, by making his graces, or performances, or lively frames, his ground of right to trust in Jesus for salvation? He should hence learn the need that he has, to be daily exercising himself in mortifying the legal spirit, which remains in him. It is this, that prompts him to make his graces and duties, his warrant to renew his actings of trust in the Saviour; and thereby, to forfeit the comfort of his soul. Next to unbelief itself, his legal temper is, perhaps, the worst enemy of his pure consolation. It is a secret and subtle foe, that seems to intend him a kindness; whilst it is always putting him, upon seeking for some good qualifications in himself, on the ground of which, he may trust that God loveth him, and that Christ saveth him. Let him, therefore, if he would retain spiritual comfort, be diligent in mortifying his sell-righteous spirit; and know that, the way to conquer and destroy it, is, by faith, to bring daily into his conscience a better hope, from a better righteousness than that of the law. All the spiritual distress of the exercised Christian, may be traced to a legal spirit in him. He seldom wants comfort, but by looking less or more to his own righteousness, instead of looking off, to the consummate righteousness of Jesus Christ. Believer, it is not sufficient, in order to maintain spiritual comfort, that thou dost not rely on thy graces and performances, for a title to eternal life. Thou must not presume to rely on them, for even so much as a right to trust in Christ: thou must not make them, the smallest part of thy warrant, to renew thy exercise of confidence in him."
John Colquhoun, Treatise on Spiritual Comfort - pp 115-117
... all true and solid peace is built upon justification by the blood of Christ, so it can only be maintained by the daily exercise of faith, in this comfortable doctrine. " Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." Rom v. 1. But so far as the legal temper prevails, their peace is set upon another foundation; is built upon their enlargements in duty, their frames, and attainments in religion; and therefore must be unstable as water (The Evangelical Preacher, vol. iii. p. 199.)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Two Laws, Two Righteousnesses...

I'm reading an excellent book (1814) written by the 18th century Scottish divine, Thomas Bell. I came across it on Nick Batzig's blog Feeding On Christ. This work arguably had influence on the likes of John Colquhoun, someone I have quoted quite a bit on this blog. Below is a small section of the larger first part of the book on the covenants of works and grace in which he goes through Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia. I imagine this excerpt might be seen today as somewhat controversial among some. Yet as I see it, Bell makes sense of Paul as does the rest of what I have read so far.
"6thly. We read of two laws, Rom. iii. 27. The one is called the law of works, the other the law of faith. The one justifies by deeds of obedience to it, i. e. if men would satisfy its demands, it would justify them. The other justifies by faith. The one justifies in such a manner that boasting is not excluded, inasmuch as it promises life to sinners, on condition of their own personal obedience only. For Adam the head of the first covenant having
failed, if any of his posterity will still have life by that covenant, they themselves must yield it perfect obedience in their own persons, and by their own strength; for the law supposeth strength, promiseth none. Now if they could do this, they might boast indeed, as of some mighty achievements performed by themselves. Every one might glory in himself as the cause of his own salvation. And thus, boasting instead of being excluded, would be established. But the apostle expressly tells us that boasting is excluded, and that by the law ot faith. Now faith is not a working, but a receiving of righteousness, the righteousness of another: and therefore it effectually excludes all boasting of personal worth or works. He that is justified by faith, can no more boast of any thing done by himself, than a beggar enriched by the undeserved gift of another, can boast of it as his own acquisition. In the one case, it becomes the poor man to magnify his generous friend; and in the other, the believer glorieth only in the Lord his righteousness. Now these two laws, the one establishing, and the other excluding boasting, what are they? What else can they be, but the two covenants of works and of grace? For by grace are we saved, through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast, Eph. ii. 8, 9.
"These two laws of works and of faith, I take to be the same with those mentioned, Rom. viii. 2. called the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, and the law of sin and death. The covenant of works is called the law of sin and death, because it bindeth sin and death upon us till Christ set us free. The covenant of grace is called the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, because it enables and quickens a man to spiritual life through Christ. (Practical use of Saving Knowledge *). To these two laws of works and of faith, may be referred the two very different answers given by our Lord and the disciples, to sinners enquiring after happiness. The one says to the haughty young man, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments, Matth. xix. 17. This is the law of works. The others say to the trembling jailor, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, Acts xvi. 31. This is the law of faith. The law of works saith, the man who doeth those things, shall live by them, Rom. x. 5). The law of faith says, the just by faith, shall live by it, Gal. iii. 1 1. li. 20.
Footnote * If any would rather refer the two laws, Ram. viii. 2. to the two opposite principles in the believer, I should not contradict. For certain it is, that agreeably to the apostle's phraseology, chap. vii. 28. there is a law in the members, the law of sin warring against the law of the mind. What is called the law of sin, may he called the law of death, as well as the body of death, verse 24. inasmuch as to be carnally minded is death, chap. viii. 6.: the law of the Spirit of Life may very fitly be under stood of the law of the mind, chap- vii. 23. inasmuch as to be spiritually minded is life, chap. viii. 6. Taking the passage thus, it has reference to the words immediately preceding, "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." How or whence is it that they who are in Christ do so walk? The apostle answers, The law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. The law of the spiritual mind, which I have from Christ Jesus, delivers me from absolute bondage to the law of sin and death, which is in my members. Though I feel its awful power, and am at times ready to succumb in the conflict, yet I am not brought under its dominion. I walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. This freedom therefore from the law of sin and death is not absolute, as appears from chap. vii. 21, 23. but comparative. The man being dead to sin, liveth no longer in it, chap. vi. 2. though still it liveth and lusteth in him, chap. vii. 17.; he that is dead is freed from sin; it hath not dominion over him, chap. vi. 7, 14. After all, it is obvious that the two laws taken in this sense, necessarily imply the two covenants.
"7thly. We read of two righteousnesses, Rom. x. 5 — 10. The one is called the righteousness of the law, the other, the righteousness of faith. The one is described by Moses, that the man who doeth these things shall live by them. But the righteousness of faith speaketh in a very different strain, viz. that salvation is to be obtained, not by doing, but by a cordial believing unto, or resting upon, a righteousness already wrought out by the Lord Jesus Christ. Here the blessing sought is the same, viz. life and salvation. But two very opposite ways of obtaining it are pointed out, doing and believing. The one according to the law, or covenant of works; the other according to the gos pel, or covenant of grace. The one according to the Sinai covenant, Lev. xviii. .5.; the other according to
the covenant in the land of Moab, which was very dif ferent from it, Deut. xxix. 1. xxx. 11-14. The two righteousnesses here are just as opposite as the law and faith: And we know that the law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them, shall live in them. The law commands doing, in order to obtain Ijife: the gospel directs to believing. The one points out the old way, once practicable indeed, but now impossible. The other reveals a new way to reach the same end, even Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Rom. x. 4. Thus these two righteousnesses are perfectly consonant to the two covenants. The one is the man's own, who seeks it as it were by the works of the law. And therefore if the least imperfection be found in it, he must be subject to the curse of that law by which he seeks to be justified. The other righteousness is not the sinner's own, that is, it is not wrought out in whole, or in part by him, but by the Surety, the Son of God, and apprehended by the sinner's faith: therefore called the righteousness of God, Rom. x. 3. and the righteousness of faith, verse 6. Phil. iii. 9. And as sure as this righteousness is altogether perfect, so sure shall that sinner's salvation be, who renouncing every other ground of dependence, rests on it alone."
Thomas Bell,  A View of the Covenant of Works and Grace and a Treatise on the Nature and Effects of Saving Faith: pp. 156-159