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