Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Comfort of Justification...

In A Treatise on Spiritual Comfort, John Colquhoun presents a truth taught by many Reformed ministers and theologians before and after his time:
"The comfort of justification, because it is founded upon a righteousness which is perfect, and always the same, is more stable and permanent, than that of sanctification. The great things, which believers have in possession, and the greater, which they have in hope, are the sustenance of their consolation. The suitableness of those inestimable blessings to their hearts, together with their sense of personal interest in them, affords them unspeakable joy '. As to their experiences and evidences of grace, these are, strictly speaking, not grounds, upon which they build their comfort "; but they are proofs, of their saving interest in those grounds of consolation, above mentioned, as well as, encouragements to build their comfort upon them; and so, they are matter of consolation to their souls. The most comfortable of the saints; are they who, trusting at all times in the second Adam. as given for a covenant to them, can think of all dispensations, of all conditions, and of all duties, with comfort. They who have the love of Christ displayed in the covenant of grace, most constantly in their view, and most frequently warm on their heart; are of all believers, the most free from perplexing doubts and fears."
More than 250 years earlier, John Calvin wrote similarly in his Institutes of Religion 3.19.2:
Therefore, laying aside all mention of the law, and all idea of works, we must in the matter of justification have recourse to the mercy of God only; turning away our regard from ourselves, we must look only to Christ. For the question is, not how we may be righteous, but how, though unworthy and unrighteous, we may be regarded as righteous. If consciences would obtain any assurance of this, they must give no place to the law. Still it cannot be rightly inferred from this that believers have no need of the law. It ceases not to teach, exhort, and urge them to good, although it is not recognized by their consciences before the judgment-seat of God. The two things are very different, and should be well and carefully distinguished.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5: 1-2)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"It is finished!" Calvin unpacks...

John 19.30 - “It is finished.”
"He repeats the same word which he had lately employed. Now this word, which Christ employs, well deserves our attention; for it shows that the whole accomplishment of our salvation, and all the parts of it, are contained in his death. We have already stated that his resurrection is not separated from his death, but Christ only intends to keep our faith fixed on himself alone, and not to allow it to turn aside in any direction whatever. The meaning, therefore, is, that everything which contributes to the salvation of men is to be found in Christ, and ought not to be sought anywhere else; or -- which amounts to the same thing -- that the perfection of salvation is contained in him… 
"If we give our assent to this word which Christ pronounced, we ought to be satisfied with his death alone for salvation, and we are not at liberty to apply for assistance in any other quarter; for he who was sent by the Heavenly Father to obtain for us a full acquittal, and to accomplish our redemption, knew well what belonged to his office, and did not fail in what he knew to be demanded of him. It was chiefly for the purpose of giving peace and tranquillity to our consciences that he pronounced this word, It is finished. Let us stop here, therefore, if we do not choose to be deprived of the salvation which he has procured for us."
[emphasis added]
Calvin, John. Complete Commentaries, Gospel of John

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Holy Spirit: Comforter and Advocate

"The Spirit, therefore, not only openeth and applieth the promises to the heart; but, openeth the heart for the comfort of the promises; and then pours consolation into it. He comforts the saints also, by enabling them to trust that, in the Lord Jesus, they have righteousness and strength, forgiveness of sins, and a title to eternal life; as well as, by renewing them after the image of the Son of God, and so, uniting their hearts to the holy will of God. The original word, in the New Testament, which we have translated, a Comforter, signifies likewise, an Advocate [John 14.16]. 
One special way, in which, the Holy Spirit comforts believers, is the exercise of his Advocacy or intercession in them. The more they are enabled to pray in faith, the more do they walk in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost."
John Colquhoun. A Treatise on Spiritual Comfort, 1814 

Monday, March 21, 2016

The God Of All Comfort...

All believers struggle at times with doubts and fears pertaining to their standing with God. This often descends upon one as a pall of inward discomfort and guilt issuing forth from no readily discernible source. Other times the source is known to the believer, i.e. sin. Maybe there are duties of obedience that are being neglected or sins that are being glossed over or "protected." Maybe what disrupts our peace are the subtle yet fiery darts of temptation from our Adversary the Devil that we mistake for our own sins. Inevitably though, one begins look within - automatically it seems - measuring, bargaining with God, and adjusting one's self as if to possibly rectify whatever is amiss and regain peace of mind. But at this point to focus on one's self is to look only with the lens of the law as if the law was a friend offering a remedy or power to change. Now this isn't all that odd considering we, by nature, are born under the law as a covenant of works. The promise of the law indeed is "Do this and live!" So understandably one is inclined to run to works and inner renovation (stop the bad, renew the good) as the law's promised road to peace and life. And this might be true except for that inconvenient reality of something called indwelling sin (Rom. 7.21). This legal path therefore leads only to a dead end of frustration and condemnation as one mistakenly looks away from the only source of comfort held out by God to sinners, that of Jesus Christ as presented in the gospel. 

Today and for a time, I will occasionally be posting quotes from John Colquhoun's book, A Treatise on Spiritual Comfort (1814) which very helpfully addresses this normal yet distressing Christian experience. Here is the first installment:
"Peace of conscience is that inward serenity, or tranquility of mind, which arises from the faith and sense of being justified in the sight of God, or of being in a state of union with Christ, and of conformity to him. "Being justified by faith," says the apostle Paul, "we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." The peace, with which the God of hope filleth the hearts of the saints, is peace in believing*...
  • *Luther says, that 'All things come from Christ to his church, in contraries : he is righteousness, but it is in sin felt : he is life, but it is in death : he is consolation, but it is in calamity.' Augustine likewise observes, that 'the Christian's life runs on between these two; our crosses and God's comforts.' 
"When the blood of Christ is, by faith, applied to the conscience, the conscience is purged by it from dead works; and the heart also is, at the same time, sprinkled by it from an evil conscience. The subject of spiritual peace, is a conscience that is purged. Purity and peace are connected together in the conscience; and they are both necessary to render it a good conscience. When the conscience is sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, it is thereby set free from the dread of revenging wrath. The mind is not as formerly, disturbed with alarming fears of God’s indignation, - nor disquieted by his judgments. This is accompanied usually, with a cordial acquiescence in, the will of the Lord, founded on a persuasion of his wisdom and sovereignty, of his holiness and goodness : and so far as a man attains this holy acquiescence in the Divine will, he is secure from disappointment; and free from uneasiness. Now, this peaceful serenity of soul, is the first degree of spiritual comfort. When the Lord Jesus would comfort his disconsolate disciples, he said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in me ye might have peace.""

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Two Justifications for believers? One for our person - Another for our good works?

On the sidebar of this blog is a quote from John Calvin that has caused confusion to some readers. The question that arises is, "Is Calvin saying there are two separate justifications for believers?" That is, is there one justification for the person of the believer and a separate and subsequent justification for his good works? The quote is:
In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified; and that the justification of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause. (John Calvin, Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote)
Calvin explains from his commentary comments on verse 2 Corinthians 5:10 - [We must all stand before Christ to be judged. Everyone will get what they should. They will be paid for whatever they did—good or bad—when they lived in this earthly body.]
As the passage relates to the recompensing of deeds, we must notice briefly, that, as evil deeds are punished by God, so also good deeds are rewarded, but for a different reason; for evil deeds are requited with the punishment that they deserve, but God in rewarding good deeds does not look to merit or worthiness. For no work is so full and complete in all its parts as to be deservedly well-pleasing to him, and farther, there is no one whose works are in themselves well-pleasing to God, unless he render satisfaction to the whole law. Now no one is found to be thus perfect. Hence the only resource is in his accepting us through unmerited goodness, and justifying us, by not imputing to us our sins. After he has received us into favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying, that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously. On this point I have expressed myself more fully in the preceding Epistle, and my Institutes will furnish a full discussion of it.
As shown in the diagram at the upper right, it is precisely because we are justified by God's grace through faith alone in Christ (A) that God also justly and graciously looks upon or accepts those works done by us (B), those good works of ours that Scripture defines as good (WCF 16.1) - not for any perfection or merit that is in them but due solely to the forgiveness of sins wrought for us in Christ. The latter (B) flows from the former (A) as a necessary consequence and benefit of our justification. As Calvin notes, this justification or acceptance in Christ is effected for both our person and our works inasmuch as God in Christ is "not imputing to us our sins." Thus God graciously forgives us for those acts (thought, word, and deed), which violate his moral law as well as not imputing to us the imperfections or the remnant of sin, which resides within even our best good works (WCF 16.5,6).

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Saturday Night: And now for something completely different...

A song about second chances that I recorded about two years ago.  The lyrics are partially from a poem called Aran written by my daughter Laura Rosenkranz (who also happens to be quite an artist) when she and my wife were walking Ireland many moons ago. 


We cycle by inches hillward
After the howling day
... On saltswept rock

Rushing to a silent symphony
Of distant pluming waves

The curtain call echoes
Through this deserted concert hall.
The footlights of Galway are floating
Between sky and sea,

A necklace leading home...
Like Hansel's white pebbles
Pointing... where?