Imputation (Thomas Ridgley)

A Body of Divinity (2 vols.) Thomas Ridgley (d. 1734) was an English Puritan who preached and taught at London for nearly 40 years.  One of his most memorable contributions to the church was his detailed commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism.  Called A Body of Divinity, this work was his magnum opus.  Here is a helpful section on justification and imputation as discussed in Q/A 70-71 of the WLC.

We shall now proceed, then, to consider what Christ did as our surety, in his paying all that debt which the justice of God demanded from us, and which consisted in active and passive obedience. There was a debt of active obedience demanded of man as a creature; and upon his failing to pay it, when he sinned, it became an outstanding debt due from us, but such as could never be paid by us. God determines not to justify any, unless this outstanding debt be paid. Christ, as our surety, engages to take the payment of it on himself. While, too, this defect of obedience, together with all actual transgressions, which proceed from the corruption of our nature, render us guilty or liable to the stroke of vindictive justice, Christ, as our surety, undertakes to bear that also.


This we generally call the imputation of our sin to Christ, the placing of our debt to his account, and the transferring to him of the debt of punishment which was due from us. On this account he is said to yield obedience, and suffer in our room and stead, or to perform active and passive obedience for us. These two ideas the apostle joins in one expression, when he says that he ‘became obedient unto death.’ (But this having been insisted on elsewhere, under the head of Christ’s satisfaction, where we not only showed that Christ performed active as well as passive obedience for us, but also endeavored to answer the objections which are generally brought against Christ’s active obedience being part of that debt which he engaged to pay for us, we shall pass it by at present.)


Again, that our sin and guilt was imputed to him, may be argued from his having been ‘made a curse for us,’ in order to his redeeming us from the curse of the law; from his having been ‘made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;’ and from other scriptures which speak of him as suffering, though innocent,—punished for sin, though he was the Lamb of God without spot or blemish,—dealt with as guilty, though he had never contracted any guilt,—and made a sacrifice for sin, though sinless. These things could not have been done consistently with the justice of God, had not our sins been placed to his account, or imputed to him.

Ridgley, Thomas. A Body of Divinity. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Limits of Book Endorsements

“Perhaps no country has abounded so much with religious books as our own: many of them are truly excellent, but a very great number of those which are usually more obvious to be met with (as they stand recommended by great names and the general taste of the public) are more likely to mislead an inquirer, than to direct him into the paths of true peace and wisdom” (John Newton, England c. 1800).

Over the past few years the Christian book industry and market have grown by leaps and bounds.  Christian books are promoted like crazy; most publishers have marketing teams or marketing programs to help sell books.  One major marketing strategy is the book endorsement – popular Christian preachers and leaders endorse a book to gain the attention of prospective buyers.  This happens in all Christian circles – from Pentecostal to Presbyterian, from Baptist to Reformed, etc.

I’ve come to the point where I’m skeptical about book endorsements.  More than a few times I purchased a book simply because a handful of famous preachers said the book was “an absolute must-have” (or something like that) – and the book just wasn’t that good.  I’m not questioning the integrity of the publishers or endorsers here, but I do want to note the limits of endorsements to help readers spend money wisely and make the most of their limited reading time.

1) Book endorsements can’t tell you if you really need the book.  For example, if you have three books on “gospel-centered” parenting and a new one comes out, no matter what the endorsements say, you probably don’t “need” a fourth book on the topic.  For another example, if you already have two Study Bibles, you probably don’t need a third (no matter who endorsed it!).  Endorsements can’t tell you if you already have a book like the one being endorsed.

2) Book endorsements don’t mention if the book has been written before.  A majority of Christian books written today don’t necessarily fill a gap in Christian literature.  You could probably find twenty books on the topic of “community” written in the last ten years alone.  Typically, endorsements don’t mention that there are quite a few books like the one they’re endorsing.  And as a side, though this certainly isn’t always the case, I’ve often found that older theological books are typically better than new ones.

3) Most book endorsements don’t mention the book’s weakness or weaknesses.  I believe it would be more helpful if book endorsements were constructively critical.  Sometimes you’ll find an endorser noting that he doesn’t agree with everything written – I appreciate endorsements like that.  We need to learn to be discerning when it comes to theology; uncritical endorsements don’t help us in the area of discernment.  (“Book endorsement” seems to have become a literary genre in itself, but that’s probably a different topic.)

4) An endorsement doesn’t necessarily mean the endorser read the entire book.  While publishers differ in their endorsement policies, I’m not sure all endorsers are required to read the entire book in order to endorse it.  I’ve had it before where a solid Calvinistic preacher heartily endorsed a book that leaned towards universalism.  This should make us at least pause before accepting endorsements without question.

Again, I’m not trying to throw Christian publishers or book endorsers under the proverbial bus.  I appreciate many Christian publishing companies and some of my good friends have endorsed books.  There is a place for endorsements and there is a place for book recommendations.  But they have limited value (including the recommendations of this blog!).

If you want to purchase Christian books in a level-headed, self-controlled, and mature way, don’t let the hype and/or endorsements “seal the deal” for you.  Before you read them, ask yourself these questions: 1) Do I really need this book?  2) Do I already have one or more like it? 3) Has this been written before in a better and more solid way? 4) What are the weaknesses of the book?  5) Am I buying this book simply because a celebrity pastor or two endorsed it?  These are some questions I ask myself before purchasing a new Christian book.

Agree?  Disagree?  Comments?

shane lems

My Faith Is Weak!

A Body of Divinity: Contained In Sermons Upon The Westminster Assembly's Catechism By Thomas Watson What happens when a Christian doubts his or her faith?  Thomas Watson answers well: “We must distinguish between weakness of faith and no faith.  A weak faith is true.  The bruised reed is but week, yet it is such as Christ will not break.  Though thy faith may be weak, be not discouraged.”

1) A weak faith receives a strong Christ.  A weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong one; and a weak eye might have seen the bronze serpent.  The woman in the Gospel did but touch Christ’s garment, and received virtue from him.  It was the touch of faith.

2) The promise is not made to strong faith, but to true faith.  The promise of God does not say ‘whoever has a giant-faith that can move mountains or stop the mouths of lions.’  Rather, it says ‘whosoever believes, though his faith be ever so small.’  Though Christ sometimes chides a weak faith, yet that it may not be discouraged, he makes a promise to it (Matt. 5:3).

3) A weak faith may be fruitful.  Weakest things multiply most; the vine is a weak plant, but it is fruitful.  Weak Christians may have strong affections.  How strong is the first love, which is after the first planting of faith!

4) Weak faith may be growing.  Seeds spring up by degrees; first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.  Therefore, be not discouraged.  God who would have us receive them that are weak in faith will not himself refuse them (Rom 14:1).  A weak believer is a member of Christ, and though Christ will cut off rotten members from his body, he will not cut off weak members.”

In other words, and to summarize Watson’s (slightly edited) points, true faith says, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).  Even weak faith saves, because it trusts in and receives a strong and gracious Savior.

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p.220.

shane lems

A Review of Bird’s “Evangelical Theology”

Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction Since I enjoy reading systematic theologies, I picked up Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).  It is roughly the same size, shape, and format as other systematic theologies that Zondervan has recently published, such as Michael Horton’s Christian Faith and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.  Bird’s systematic theology (ST) is 800+ pages and includes a Scripture index, a subject index, and an author index (all of which are quite comprehensive).

I appreciated this book because it was well written.  Bird writes clearly and concisely – in a detailed yet understandable manner.  There are a few charts and visible helps throughout the book, along with study questions and summary sentences at the end of each section.  The book is edited in a way that makes reading and reference easy.

I was also happy to see Bird interact with the church fathers and ancient creeds from time to time, along with some Jewish sources and some current theologians.  Bird didn’t attempt to proof-text every doctrine he explained, but he did constantly refer to Scripture and show biblical reasons and explanations for each point of theology.  Specifically, I appreciated Bird’s discussion of the Holy Trinity, his emphasis on the gospel, his explanation of infant baptism, and his emphasis on ecclesiology.  I also enjoyed his critique of biblicism.  These are a few strong points of the book.

One interesting aspect of this ST is that Bird organized it according to the gospel rather than according to the standard ST outline.  He says that since the gospel is at the center of Christianity and the Bible, it should be at the center of theology as well, so that’s where he starts.  Here’s the outline: 1) Prolegomena, 2) the Triune God, 3) The Kingdom, 4) Christology, 5) Soteriology, 6) Pneumatology, 7) Anthropology, 8) Ecclesiology.  It would take too much time to interact with this outline here, but I will say that though I’m not convinced this is the ideal outline, his emphasis on the gospel was laudable.

I do have notable concerns about several theological positions Bird advocates.  First, and most importantly, Bird departs from historic Reformed theology in the areas of covenant and justification.  Major red flags here: he rejects the covenant of works and disagrees with imputation in justification (he likes the term “incorporation” – i.e. union with Christ).  Second, Bird’s view of the atonement is Amyraldian rather than Calvinistic (Bird calls it a “lite” Calvinism).  Third, I disagree with Bird’s eschatology – he defends a preterist view of Matthew 24 and a historic pre-millennial view of eschatology.   There are a few other positions Bird takes that I disagree with, but these are the main ones.

In summary, although Evangelical Theology is not a historic/confessional Reformed ST , I do appreciate it – especially since Bird doesn’t claim that all his positions are Reformed.  I wouldn’t recommend this book for those who want a confessional Reformed theology reference, but I would recommend it if you are looking for a “conversation partner” in theology.  I’m glad I own Bird’s ST, and think it is a helpful contribution to theology, even though it has some serious weaknesses of which our readers should be aware.

shane lems
hammond, wi

A Pastor’s Prayer (Valley of Vision)

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions Here’s an excellent pastor’s prayer (slightly edited) from the Valley of Vision:

“O my Lord,
Let not my ministry be approved only by men,
or merely win the esteem and affections of people…
Save me from self-opinion and self-seeking;
Make my every sermon a means of grace to myself,
and help me to experience the power of thy dying love,
For thy blood is balm, thy presence bliss, thy smile heaven,
and thy cross the place where truth and mercy meet.

Look upon the doubts and discourages of my ministry,
and keep me from self-importance;
I beg pardon for my many sins, omissions, infirmities,
as a man, as a minister;
Command thy blessing on my weak, unworthy labors
and on the message of salvation given.

When I preach to others
Let not my words be merely elegant and masterly
My reasoning polished and refined
My performance powerless and tasteless,
But may I exalt thee and humble sinners.”

Valley of Vision, p 184.

rev. shane lems
hammond, wi

Internet Addiction

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG This is an interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful book: The Digital Invasion by Archibald Hart and Sylvia Frejd.  From a Christian perspective, this book discusses media technology (computers, smart phones, Facebook, email, etc.) and its effect on people.  Hart and Frejd’s book is not an outright attack on technology, but it is a call to be wise in a world where media technology can seriously alter a person’s life for the worst.

One section I appreciated was the one on Internet addiction.  The authors say that Internet addictions share the following four components (the same could be said for any digital addiction):

1) Excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives and duties.
2) Withdrawal symptoms, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible.
3) Tolerance, including the need for upgraded computer equipment, more software programs, and longer hours of use (for example, with drug addictions it means you have to take more and more of a drug to get the same effect.  The same is true for digital addictions – you need more and more).
4) Negative repercussions, including arguments, family abuse, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.

Here are some of the consequences of Internet addiction:

1) The important relationships that need nurturing will increasingly be neglected.  This could result in more marriage failures, affairs, and family breakdowns (either parents neglecting their children or children avoiding their parents).
2) Loss of employment because of excessive use of the Internet for personal uses while at work.  Or, the distraction of the Internet interfering with work effectiveness.
3) Loss of sleep, where excessive use of the Internet at home and late night can lead to insomnia or just plain ‘sleep robbing.’
4) Diminished energy, not just from sleep deprivation, but also from excessive digital engagement in general.
5) Health problems associated with sitting for long periods, including eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, back aches, and obesity.
6) Internet addiction opens the pleasure-center door on a lot of other addictions, such as gambling, gaming, and pornography, as well as drugs and alcohol.

There’s much more to the discussion, obviously (I edited the above very slightly).  I realize we may sometimes joke about being an Internet junkie or a smart phone junkie, but these things can be seriously addicting in a most debilitating way.  In fact, it is something that we should pray about – pray that God would give us wisdom and self-control when it comes to our use of Internet and other media technology.

Here’s the book to get if you want wise words and counsel about this topic: Archibald Hart and Sylvia Frejd, The Digital Invasion (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013).

shane lems

Point of Contact

He is There and He is Not Silent Here’s a note from Francis Schaeffer on the point of contact between Christians and non-Christians:

“As a Christian approaches the non-Christian, he still has a starting place from which to know the person in a way that the non-Christian does not have, because he knows who the person is.  One of the most brilliant men I have ever worked with sat in my room in Switzerland crying, simply because he had been a real humanist and existentialist.  He had gone from his home in a South American country to Paris, because this was the center of all this great humanistic thought.  But he found it was so ugly.  The professors cared nothing.  It was inhuman in its humanism.  He was ready to commit suicide when he came to us.  He said, ‘How do you love me, how do you start?’  I said I could start.  ‘I know who you are,’ I told him, ‘because you are made in the image of God.’  We went on from there.”

“Even with a non-Christian, the Christian has some way to begin: to go from the façade of the outward to the reality of the inward, because no matter what a man says he is, we know who he really is.  He is made in the image of God; that’s who he is.  And we know that down there somewhere – no matter how wooden he is on the outside, or how much he has died on the outside, no matter if he believes he is only a machine – we know that beyond that façade there is the person who is a verbalizer and who loves and wants to be loved.  And no matter how often he says he is amoral, in reality he has moral motions.  We know that because he has been made in the image of God.  Hence, even with a non-Christian, the Christian has a way to start, from the outside to the inside, in a way that non-Christians simply do not have” (p. 82-3).

Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.

shane lems