Election, Love, and Foreknowledge (Goodwin)

In Romans 8:29 the apostle Paul talks about people whom God “foreknew.” This word is a very important one in a well-known verse: “…Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…” (NASB). Paul uses the word “foreknew” in the same context as the word “predestined” because the two are very much related. Speaking of God’s foreknowledge and of predestination, Puritan Thomas Goodwin wrote some helpful comments. Note how Goodwin ties it into the grace and love of God:

This their election, that makes them His, and is here signified by foreknowledge — ‘whom he foreknew’ — is a word appropriated to the elect and their election by God; and election is ascribed unto it, as in Rom. 8:29, ‘Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate’ and 1 Peter 1:1, ‘Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ that is, out of that special foreknowledge which God took of those whom He chose; even such a foreknowledge as is common to no other creatures or persons….

…And thus the sense or meaning of this foreknowledge riseth up to this, that those particular persons, whom out of pure grace and love, without any consideration of works of any kind that were to be in them, He casting His love freely upon them, did, from everlasting, and out of that love, choose to be His, and they are alone His people

Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 17.

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

Definite Atonement (Horton)

(This blog post was originally published in October, 2011.)

For me, one of the most comforting doctrines of grace is the biblical teaching that Christ’s death actually accomplished salvation for his people.  In other words, Jesus’ atoning death didn’t merely make salvation possible – it actually saved people from sin and misery.  In Calvinism, this is called ‘limited atonement,’ though I prefer the terms ‘definite atonement’ or ‘particular redemption.’  In Jesus’ words, he said that he laid down his life for his sheep whom no one can snatch from his hand (cf. John 10).  Elsewhere in Scripture, his people are called the “elect” whom no one can bring a charge against because God is the one who justified them (Rom. 8.33).  I’ve been enjoying Mike Horton’s book, For Calvinism, to prepare for an upcoming sermon series on the doctrines of grace, and his chapter on definite atonement is a great explanation of this truth.  Here are a few excerpts.

“All orthodox Christians maintain that the atonement is limited either in its extent or its nature.  Calvinists believe that it is limited (or definite) in its extent, but unlimited in its nature or efficacy: Christ’s death actually saved the elect.  Arminians believe that it is unlimited in its extent, but limited in its nature or efficacy: Christ’s death makes possible the salvation of everyone, but does not actually save any.”

“As the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen observed, every position that recognizes that some will finally be lost places a limit on the atonement at some point – either it is limited in its extent or in its effect.  Owen summarizes the points: Christ died for (1) all of the sins of all people; (2) some of the sins of all people, or (3) all of the sins of some people.  If unbelief is a sin and some people are finally condemned, there is at least one sin for which Christ did not make adequate satisfaction.”

Horton then gives some explanations that help prove the doctrine of definite atonement (I’ve summarized them):

“First, this view maintains that Christ’s death actually saves.”

“Second, this view emphasizes the relationship between the Trinity and redemption.”

“Third, this view places the focus entirely on Christ rather than on the believer.”

Near the end of the chapter Horton writes this (with which I’ll conclude).  It brings us back to the application of this doctrine: it is a great comfort for the Christian.

“…The depths of God’s love are revealed in the fact that he sent his Son to accomplish everything necessary to our salvation, not merely to make humanity ‘savable.’  He did not come halfway, as if to say, ‘I did my part, and now you need to do yours.’  Rather, he has carried his loving purposes all the way, accomplishing and applying redemption to those who were ‘dead in… trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2.1).”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, chapter 4.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

John Newton, William Law, Justification & Sanctification

Near the end of 1768, John Newton exchanged a series of letters with a pastor friend who had been reading William Law’s writings.  Law, who died in 1761, was a priest in the Church of England who later became a private teacher.  Law’s popular work focused on things like devotion, holiness, sanctification, and perfection.  Newton’s friend believed that righteousness and sanctification were synonymous.  In other words, in his reading of Law’s call to devotion, Newton’s friend thought his sanctification was his righteousness.  He believed that if he wasn’t devout enough, sincere enough, or zealous enough, God would not accept him.  In fact, he even was afraid that he would end up forsaking the Lord; he lacked peace, comfort, and assurance.

In these letters, Newton explained and applied the gospel by saying that our righteousness and sanctification are not the same.  In other words, he said that God does not accept us based on what Christ is doing in us, but what he has done for us; justification and sanctification are distinct.  Here are some slightly edited excerpts from Newton’s letters:

“…With respect to the grounds of a sinner’s acceptance in the sight of God, and the all-sufficiency, the alone-sufficiency of Jesus Christ to do all for, in, and by, those who believe on his name, I do have that conviction… and perhaps I sometimes seem to pass my proper bounds, and to speak in a too positive tone.  But I think that the views which constrain me to dissent from Mr. Law, Dr. Smith, and many other respectable names, would embolden me to contradict even an angel from heaven, if I should hear him propose any other foundation for hope than the person, obedience, sufferings, and intercession of the Son of God.”

“The desires we feel towards Him [the Lord], faint and feeble as they are, are the effect of His own operation on our hearts, and what He plants he will water.  He does nothing by halves.  Far be it from us to think that He should make us sensible of our need of Him, teach us to pray for assistance, make so many express promises for our encouragement, and then disappoint us at last.”

“…It is my prayer, that he [the Lord] may comfort you with those views of the freeness and riches of His grace, which enable me to maintain a hope in His mercy even though I feel myself polluted and vile.  For, when my state and acceptance with God is the point in question, I am in a measure helped not to judge of it by what He has done in me, so much as by what He has done for me.  I can find no peace but by resting in the blood of Jesus, His obedience to death, His intercession and fullness of grace; and so, claiming salvation under Him as my Head, Surety, and Advocate, answer all objections which my conscience or Satan interpose, with the Apostle’s arguments in Romans 8:33-34.”

“The admission of a mixed gospel [that is, equating righteousness with sanctification], which indeed is no gospel at all, will bring disquiet into the conscience.  If you think you are in the same circumstances, as to choice and power, as Adam was, I cannot blame you for fearing lest you should acquit yourself no better than he did.”

“…It appears to me necessary for our comfort, when we know what [evil] is in our hearts, and necessary likewise to give the Redeemer the glory due His name, that we be sensible that our sanctification is not the cause, but the effect of our acceptance with God.  …The precise reason why we are saved, is not because we are changed, …but simply and solely because He lived and died for us, paid the ransom, and made the atonement on our behalf.  This is our plea and hope when we first come to Him (John 3:14-15), when we have finished our course upon earth (2 Tim. 1:12), and when we appear in judgment (Rom. 8:34).”

“…My hope is built, not upon what I feel in myself, but upon what He felt for me; not upon what I can ever do for him, but upon what has been done by Him upon my account. …It appears to me, therefore, that though the blessings of justification and sanctification are coincidental, and cannot be separated in the same subject (a believing sinner,),yet they are in themselves as distinct and different as any two things can be.”


These letters can be found in Volume 6 of Newton’s Works.

(This is a re-post from March 2016.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Justice and Rearranged Bigotries (Dreher)

Social justice is a huge topic being that is being discussed all over the place. It’s not a new term, concept, or discussion. It’s been discussed before the year 2020 and it’ll be discussed after this year is over. Christians, of course, are pro-justice. The Hebrew prophets talked about justice all the time. God is a just God. And so on. But not all ideas or theories of social justice are actually just and good. Rod Dreher explains this quite well in chapter three of his latest book, Live Not by Lies. Here’s the section:

Without Christianity and its belief in the fallibility of human nature, secular progressives tend to rearrange their bigotries and call it righteousness. Christianity teaches that all men and women – not just the wealthy, the powerful, the straight, the white, and all other so-called oppressors – are sinners in need of the Redeemer. All men and women are called to confession and repentance. ‘Social justice’ that projects unrighteousness solely onto particular groups is a perversion of Christian teaching. Reducing the individual to her economic status or her racial, sexual, or gender identity is an anthropological error. It is untrue, and therefore unjust.

Moreover, for Christians, no social order that denies sin, erecting structures or approving practices that alienate man from his Creator, can ever be just. Contrary to secular social justice activists, protecting the right to abortion is always unjust. So is any proposal – like same-sex marriage – that ratifies sin and undermines the natural family. …Christians cannot endorse any form of social justice that denies biblical teaching.

…Christians must work for social justice, but can only do so in the context of fidelity to the full Christian moral and theological vision through which we understand the meaning of justice.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 64-65.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Conscience As God’s Courtroom (Ash)

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience

One of the best resources I’ve found on the topic of the conscience is Christopher Ash’s Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience. I was recently paging through the book again and found this helpful section in chapter two (“The Guilty Conscience”). It’s worth sharing here:

Someone has said that conscience is like God’s courtroom set up in the human heart. It contains five things that we find in a courtroom.

First, it keeps records, just as the clerk of a court will write things down accurately. Conscience keeps diaries; it writes down everything we have ever said, seen and done, and also the things we have not said or done that we ought to have done. It is all recorded and cannot be erased.

Second, conscience acts as a witness. There is such a thing as ‘the testimony of our conscience.’ Our conscience speaks up, either for or against us, in any given instance.

Third, conscience functions like a prosecuting counsel, cross-examining us and exposing our guilt. Conscience can accuse (Rom. 2:15).

Fourth, conscience acts as a judge inside us. It passes judgment on us, saying, ‘That was right. That was wrong.’

Fifth and finally, conscience is like an executioner or agent of punishment, carrying out the punishment decreed by the judge. …Just as David’s heart ‘smote him’ (1 Sam. 24:5), so our consciences give us grief, which is an anticipation of the punishment to come.

A guilty conscience is a terrible thing. …If a way exists that will really make a guilty conscience clean, it is of the utmost importance that we find it.

Ash, Discovering the Joy of A Clear Conscience, p.67-68.

Ash goes on in later chapters to talk about the cleansing blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and what it means to have a clear conscience before God. Again, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience is a good book and I highly recommend it!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015