Owen’s Conclusion

The Works of John Owen, Volume 10: The Death of Christ I appreciate how John Owen ended his book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  I’ve put it in linear format to make it easier to read.

Only, for a close, I desire the reader to peruse that one place, Rom. 8:32–34; and I make no doubt but that he will, if not infected with the leaven of the error opposed, conclude with me,
that if there be any comfort,
any consolation,
any assurance,
any rest,
any peace,
any joy,
any refreshment,
any exultation of spirit,
to be obtained here below, it is all to be had in the blood of Jesus long since shed,
and his intercession still continued;
as both are united and appropriated to the elect of God,
by the precious effects and fruits of them both drawn to believe and preserved in believing,
to the obtaining of an immortal crown of glory, that shall not fade away.

Owen, John. The Works of John Owen Ed. William H. Goold. Vol. 10. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark), 421.

shane lems

A Metanarrative Distraction?

N.T. Wright and others in the New Perspectives on Paul movement have given us some helpful insights into biblical theology.  We should not deny this even if we might very much disagree [as I do] with the NPP’s [re]definitions of justification, covenant, law, etc.  I have to admit, though, when I read Wright, I often question his interpretive emphasis on Israel.  It seems to me that Wright finds the story of Israel under almost every interpretive stone in the Bible.  J. I. Packer hints at this well in his contribution to the book, In My Place Condemned He Stood.

“In recent years, great strides in biblical theology and contemporary canonical exegesis have brought new precision to our grasp of the Bible’s overall story of how God’s plan to bless Israel, and thorough Israel the world, came to its climax in and through Christ.  But I do not see how it can be denied that each New Testament book, whatever other job it may be doing, has in view, in one way or another, Luther’s primary question: how may a weak, perverse, and guilty sinner find a gracious God?”

“Nor can it be denied that real Christianity only starts when that discovery is made.  And to the extent that modern developments, by filling our horizon with the great metanarrative, distract us from pursuing Luther’s question in personal terms, they hinder as well as help in our appreciation of the gospel.”

“The church is and will always be at its healthiest when every Christian can line up with every other Christian to sing… P. P. Bliss’ simple words, which really say it all:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with this blood -
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

J. I. Packer, “Introduction: Penal Substitution Revisited” in In My Place Condemned He Stood ed. J. I. Packer and Mark Dever (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).

shane lems

Christ’s Passion, God’s Patience, Our Portion

In a sermon on Lamentations 1:12 called “No Sorrow Like Messiah’s Sorrow” John Newton explained how our sorrow and suffering is always mingled with God’s mercy and patience.  Christ’s suffering on the cross, however, included no mercy or mitigation.

“Did ever any other sufferer experience in an equal degree the day of God’s fierce anger?”

“In the greatest of our sufferings, in those which bear the strongest marks of the Lord’s displeasure, there is always some mitigation, some mixture of mercy.  At the worst, we still have reason to acknowledge that ‘he hath not dealt with us after our sins, or according to the full desert of our iniquities.’”

“If we are in pain, we do not feel every kind of pain at once, yet we can give no sufficient reason why we should not.”

“If we are exercised with poverty and losses, yet something worth the keeping, and more than we can justly claim, is still left to us; at least our lives are spared, though forfeited by sin.”

“If we are in distress of soul, tossed with tempest and not comforted, we are not quite out of the reach of hope.  Even if sickness, pain, loss, and despair should overtake us in the same moment, all is still less than we deserve.”

“Our proper desert is hell, an exclusion from God, and confinement with Satan and his angels, ‘where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.’  Everything short of this is a mercy.”

“But Jesus, though he had no sin of his own, bore the sins of many.  His sufferings were indeed temporary, limited in their duration, but otherwise extreme.  Witness the effects, his heaviness unto death, his consternation, his bloody sweat, his eclipse upon the cross, when deprived of that presence [of the Father] which was his only and exceeding joy.  On these accounts, no sorrow was like unto his sorrow!”

“The unknown sorrows of the Redeemer are a continual source of support and consolation to his believing people.  In his sufferings they contemplate his atonement, his love, and his example and they are animated by the bright and glorious issue [topic].  For he has passed from death to life, from suffering to glory.”

John Newton, Sermon #23, The Works of John Newton, Vol 4.

shane lems
hammond wi

The Blood of Christ

I’m reading through Blood Work by Anthony Carter.  I’m very impressed with this book – it is clear, biblical, concise, and very edifying.  It would be a good read for Christians who are still learning the basics about the atonement; it would also be a great book for a book club.  Actually, this is a good one for all Christians, since we always need to hear about the precious blood of Christ and what it means for sinners.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“The Bible says that Christ has paid the price for us. He bought us; therefore, He owns us. Furthermore, He did not purchase His people on credit; He paid in full. We are His” (Kindle Locations 397-398).

“He has purchased us by His blood. He will not return or exchange what He has bought” (Kindle Location 426).

“We have often heard it said, ‘The one who serves as his own attorney has a fool for a client.’ If this is true in our courts, how much more true is it in the courts of heaven? Self-defense may be plausible when we are standing before human judges. It is self-destructive when we stand before God” (Kindle Locations 633-635).

“…When the Bible speaks of election, it is not talking about the choice of presidents, mayors, or city council members. Biblical election is the sovereign act of God in choosing sinners to be saints. By comparison, human election is conditional—we elect those we like, who hold our values. God’s election is unconditional— before anyone is able to do good or bad, God chooses those upon whom He determines to show His saving love” (Rom. 9:11–13) (Kindle Locations 723-726).

At the time of this posting Blood Work is free on Kindle – or you can get a hard copy of it as well.  Highly recommended!

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Christian Sacrifices

  I’ve appreciated this “sleeper” layman’s commentary on Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews by R. T. France (Hendrikson: Peabody, 2001).  The comments are short, sweet, biblical, and practical.  For example, this week I’m studying Hebrews 13:15-16, where the author talks about how Christians should offer up sacrifices to God through Christ.  Here are some of France’s comments.

“Verses 9-14 (of Hebrews 13) have focused on the distance which has now developed between the old sacrificial regime of the temple/tabernacle and the new Christian place of exile ‘outside the camp.’  These comments, together with the teaching of chapters 9 and 10 about the inadequacy of the Old Testament sacrifices and their eclipse now by the one perfect sacrifice of Christ, might suggest that a Christian church may now safely forget about ‘sacrifice.’  Not at all, says our author!”

“Animal sacrifices are now obsolete: Christ has offered the only atoning sacrifice which we can ever need.  But there are other types of sacrifices for us to offer, not as a means of obtaining God’s grace and forgiveness, but in simple thanksgiving for the salvation we have received.”

“The first [sacrifice] is praise, the sort of ‘spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God’ which 1 Peter 2:5 calls for, and which is further defined there as ‘proclaiming the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (1 Peter 2:9).  For the lips that ‘confess his name’ cannot but speak of the saving acts which his very name denotes (especially in its Hebrew form Yahweh, the living God, and the name of Jesus, the Savior).”

“But secondly there is also the sacrifice of doing good, without which any claims to Christian faith is a sham (James 2:14-26).  ‘Doing good’ (v. 16) is very broad, but the author links it more specifically with ‘sharing.’  Here he uses a word (koinonia) which we often translate by ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion,’ but which in the New Testament is very often used with a more directly financial and material sense, and that is the focus of the ‘good works’ called for in verse 16.”

As with all commentaries, you probably won’t agree with every point France makes, but overall the commentary is well worth having.

R. T. France, Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews, p. 214.

shane lems

Arminians, Calvinists, and Limited Atonement

What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?Here’s a great insight from a great book: What’s So Great About The Doctrines of Grace? by Richard Phillips.

“…It is helpful to note that both Arminians and Calvinists believe in limited atonement.  The question is with regard to what is limited.  Arminians believe that the atonement is limited in terms of its efficacy.  Calvinists believe the atonement is limited in the scope of people for whom it was intended.  Arminians believe the atonement is unlimited in scope but limited in effect: it offers everyone the chance of salvation.  Calvinists believe the atonement is limited in scope but unlimited in effect: it effectually saves the elect.” 

“If we think of the atonement as a bridge spanning a great river, Arminians see it as infinitely wide, but not reaching all the way to the far bank; Calvinists hold that the atonement is a narrow bridge, wide enough only for the elect, but reaching all the way to the other side.  We [Calvinists] believe that Christ’s death actually saves those for whom He died” (p. 56).

Richard Phillips, What’s So Great About The Doctrines of Grace?

rev. shane lems

The Painful Practice of Piety



Here’s #924 of Pascal’s Pensees followed by fascinating comments from Peter Kreeft. 


“It is true that there is something painful in beginning to practice piety, but this pain does not arise from the beginnings of piety within us, but from the impiety that is still there….  We only suffer in so far as our natural vice resists supernatural grace, but it would be very wrong to impute this violence to God, who draws us to him, instead of attributing it to the world which holds us back.  It is like a child snatched by its mother from the arms of robbers….  The cruellest war that God can wage on men in this life is to leave them without the war he came to bring.  ‘I came not to send peace but a sword,’ he said.  …Before his coming the world lived in false peace.”


“The paints of piety are like the withdrawal symptoms when an addict goes clean and sober.  God does not cause pain; sin causes pain.  But the juxtaposition of God and sin also causes pain.”

“The surgeon who does not cut out the cancer is not kind but cruel.  The God of mere kindness whom we long for, the Grandfather God who leaves us alone to enjoy ourselves rather than the Father God who constantly interrupts us and interferes with our lives is really not kind but cruel.  (He is also non-existent!)  The ‘cruel’ God of the Bible is a God of battles.  He fights a spiritual war for us against the demons of sin in us.  This God is not cruel but kind, as kind as he can possibly be.  The sword he comes to us with (Mt. 10:34) is a surgeon’s scalpel, and this Surgeon’s hands are covered with his own blood.”

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 332-333.

rev shane lems