To Be Sin For Us (Witsius)

2 Corinthians 5:21 is one of those great verses that many Christians have memorized because it is such a clear explanation of the gospel: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB). Herman Witsius, a 17th century Dutch Reformed pastor and theologian, discussed this verse in detail in one of his publications against the antinomians and neonomians. Here’s one helpful section from Witsius’ discussion:

XIV. How they are ours, not Christ’s; and again Christ’s not ours: Both may be said in a sound sense, viz, that our sins, as many of us as are elect, are ours, not Christ’s – and that the same sins are Christ’s, and no more ours.

They are ours, because committed by us, and because by them we brought upon ourselves the guilt of eternal death, and thus far they will remain ours for ever: that is, it will be always true that we committed them, and, in so doing, deserved the wrath of God. For what is done, can never become undone, and thus they are not Christ’s, because he did not commit them, neither did he contract any personal guilt. Neither could they become his sins; because the nature of things does not suffer that the same numerical act which was committed by us, should be done by Christ.

But the sins which we committed became Christ’s, when imputed to him as Surety, and he on account of his suretiship took them upon him, that in the most free and holy manner he might satisfy for them; and they cease to be ours, in as much as for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, we neither ought, nor can, in the judgment of God, be brought to condemnation or satisfaction in our own person on their account.

Witsius, Herman. Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain. Translated by Thomas Bell. Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pastors Protecting People from the Real God? (Lovelace)

This section of Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life caught my eye this morning. The following quote comes right after Lovelace’s mention of the Protestant Reformation and its emphasis on Scripture’s teaching about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and man’s need for justification by faith, not works.

Subsequent generations, however, gradually moved away from the Reformation in these areas. Rationalist religion, reacting against exaggerated and overexplicit portrayals of human wickedness and divine wrath among many Puritans, began to stress the goodness of man and the benevolence of the Deity. By the time of the Second Awakening, many leaders of the revival were adjusting to this critique by presenting an increasingly kindly, fatherly and thoroughly comprehensible God. In the late nineteenth century, D.L. Moody determined to center his message around the truth that ‘God is Love’ and to tone down the mention of hell and the wrath of God to the point of inaudibility. But this was only one example of the sentimentalizing of God in every sector of the church, among evangelicals and the rising Liberal movement alike.

The whole church was drifting quietly toward Marcionism, avoiding the biblical portrait of the sovereign and holy God who is angry with the wicked every day and whose anger remains upon those who will not receive his Son. Walling off this image into an unvisited corner of its consciousness, the church substituted a new god who was the projection of grandmotherly kindness mixed with the gentleness and winsomeness of a Jesus who hardly needed to die for our sins. Many American congregations were in effect paying their ministers to protect them from the real God. The decay of spirituality resulting from this deception can already be traced in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is partially responsible not only for the general spiritual collapse of the church in this century but also for a great deal of apologetic weakness; for in a world in which the sovereign and holy God regularly employs plagues, famines, wars, disease and death as instruments to punish sin and bring mankind to repentance, the idolatrous image of God as pure benevolence cannot really be believed, let alone feared and worshipped in the manner prescribed by both the Old and New Testaments.

Richard Lovelace, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p. 83-84.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

I Will Not Remember Your Sins… (Smith)

Isaiah 43:25 is one of those great and comforting texts of Scripture that is sometimes overlooked. It’s where Yahweh says “I, I am the one who blots out your rebellious deeds for my sake; your sins I do not remember” (NET). This is an amazing reality that finds its source in the sovereign mercy of God (c.f. Ex. 34: 6-7). It’s even more amazing because the words right before this says of Jacob and Israel: “You burdened me with your sins; you made me weary with your evil deeds” (NET). We might expect God to say, “Since you burdened me with your sins, I will blot out your name!” Instead, he shows his mercy by saying: I will blot out your sins and forget them!

Gary Smith has a helpful commentary on this verse (Is. 43:25):

Suddenly the attention turns from the terrible failures of the Israelites to what God himself wants do about this situation. In bold contrast to what has preceded, God declares to his wayward children that it is not the sacrifice but he himself who wants to wipe out441 their sins. The forgiveness of sin is a prerequisite for worship and fellowship with God (59:1–2). God freely offers atonement for sin for those who confess and turn from their sins. The sacrificial system was designed to encourage people to confess their sins and be forgiven. Only then would God not be burdened by their sins but could forget them and bury them in the deepest sea (Mic 7:18–19). Although it may not make much sense for God to blot out a person’s sins and not hold him guilty for the evil done, such is the indescribable grace of God that is born out of his amazing love. He forgives because of who he is. He desires to be reconciled with his people so much that he makes the renewal of the God-man relationship possible. Being forgiven is not a thing that a person does; it is accomplished solely on account of God’s merciful granting of complete freedom from guilt. In order to bring glory to God (“for my own sake” lĕmaʿănî), God will do what is not required, expected, or thought conceivable. He will completely blot out the problem of sin that separates himself from his people….

441 The verb is a participle מֹחֶה meaning God is the one who “blots out, dissolves, erases,” like a disappearing mist (cf. 44:22). It reflects a situation that is the opposite of remembering sin.

The above quote is from Smith, Gary. Isaiah 40-66. Vol. 15B. The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2009.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Giving Jesus Your Heart? (Giertz)

This is a repost from January, 2008.

A LCMS pastor and dear friend of mine recently gave me Bo Giertz’s Hammer of God to read as a sort of “fun” read.  It was not only fun, it was outstanding.  This book is fiction but it is based on historical and theological happenings in 19th century Sweden.  This book could be C. F. W. Walther’s lectures on the Law and Gospel set in narrative/story form.  Here’s a blurb from a dialogue between an old confessional Lutheran pastor and a young pietist Lutheran minister named Fridfeldt.

“So you are a believer, I’m glad to hear that.  What do you believe in?”  Fridfeldt stared dumbfounded at his superior.  Was he jesting with him?  “But sir, I am simply saying that I am a believer.”

“Yes, I hear that my boy, but what is it that you believe in?”  Fridfeldt was almost speechless.  “But don’t you know, sir, what it means to believe?”

“That is a word which can stand for things that differ greatly, my boy.  I ask only what it is that you believe in.”

“In Jesus, of course,” answered Fridfeldt, raising his voice. “I mean – I mean that I have given Him my heart.”  The older man’s voice became suddenly as solemn as the grave.  “Do you consider that something to give him?”  By this time, Fridfeldt was almost in tears.  “But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”

“You are right, my boy.  And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved.  You see, my boy…it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give Him one’s heart and commit oneself to Him, and that He now accepts one into His little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on Him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is the chief.  One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to Him.  The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap.  A fine birthday gift, indeed!  But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks His walking cane through it and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with Him.  That is how it is….  And now you must understand that these two ways of believing are like two different religions, they have nothing whatever to do with each other.”

Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God trans. Clifford Ansgar Nelson (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1960), 147-8.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

We Dare Not Trust Ourselves… (Packer)

knowing god j i packer cover image

Here’s an excellent devotional thought for today. It’s from one of my favorites: Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

What is the purpose of grace? Primarily, to restore man’s relationship with God. …Grace is God drawing sinners closer and closer to Himself.

How does God in grace prosecute this purpose? Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh, and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely.

This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another—it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast. The reason why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak is that God spends so much of his time showing us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find or follow the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, likely we would impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm brewing and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we would thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself — in the classic scriptural phrase for the secret of the godly man’s life — to “wait on the Lord.”

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 227.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015