Feelings of Guilt: Satan’s Conniving or the Spirit’s Conviction?

The Works of Thomas Goodwin (12 vols.) In one section of Thomas Goodwin’s book called “A Child of Light Walking in Darkness,” he explains how Satan tricks and deceives a true Christian so that he doubts his salvation.  Sometimes Satan will remind us that if a person is a hypocrite, if sin reigns in a person, and if a person is full of self-love, that person is not a Christian.  Then Satan says to us: “You played the hypocrite last week and last month.  You constantly give in to the sin of anger.  You love yourself more than your family and more than God.  Therefore you are not a true Christian.”

Notice how this works.  Satan uses half-truths to get us to doubt our salvation.  It is true that hypocrites, lovers of self, and those who are ruled by sin will not inherit the kingdom of God.  However, there’s more to the discussion.  A true Christian can stumble into hypocrisy, can give in to sin for a time, and can disobey God by loving self more than Him or others – but this doesn’t mean he is not a true Christian!  It just means he’s not yet perfectly sanctified, and that the Spirit in him struggles against the sinful flesh (Gal. 5:17).  Satan, the lying deceiver and enemy of Christ and his people, takes our sin, our failings, our stumbling, and our sinful nature and rubs them in our face in order to get us to feel guilty to the point of doubt and despair.

A question comes up: How do we know if the guilt we feel is due to Satan’s conniving or due to the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8)?  Goodwin says that the difference is this: when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins He deals “sweetly” with us without putting any “sting” in the conclusion by making us think we’re condemned sinners.  He deals sweetly with us, convicting us of our sin, but He doesn’t then infer that sin reigns in us, that we are children of darkness, or that we are under God’s wrath.   Satan’s conniving is not sweet at all, but it is full of sting: you are a lost hypocrite, not a child of God, and sin reigns in you.  The Spirit’s conviction is followed by sweetness: God forgives you in Christ.

Another way Goodwin put it is that Satan presents our sins to us alone, by themselves, with the intention of making us forget God’s mercies and comforts.  Satan doesn’t remind us of our sins and our Savior.  He makes our sins bigger and supremely visible while making God’s mercy small and invisible.  The Holy Spirit works in the opposite way: he convicts us of sin, but with the purpose of driving us to the mercy of God in Christ.  The Holy Spirit reminds us that sin does indeed abound in us, but then he tells us that grace abounds all the more.  The Spirit convicts us of sin, but then sweetly brings us to the Savior.

Satan may attack us and make our lives miserable sometimes, but we can press on knowing 1) that Christ’s blood has washed all our sins away, and 2) that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet (Rom 16:20).  Then Satan will never be able to touch or torment us again, because he’ll be where he belongs: in the lake of eternal fire.

(The above references to Thomas Goodwin’s book is found in volume 3 of Goodwin’s Works.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

“The Pastor’s Book” – A Review

As a pastor, I’m also a student.  That is, I constantly want to learn; I always want to be taught so I can grow in various Christian ways.  For this reason, I try to read pastoral type books several times a year.  One that I recently picked up is The Pastor’s Book by R. Kent Hughes and Douglas O’Donnell.  The subtitle of the book tells what it is about: “A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry.”  I did have several excellent pastoral courses in seminary, but I can always use a refresher!  Here are my thoughts on this pastoral resource.

First, the strengths: This book is indeed comprehensive.  It just under 600 pages, it covers the topics of worship, public prayer, creeds, songs, baptism, communion, and non-Sunday services (weddings, funerals, Good Friday, Christmas, etc.).  There are also shorter sections on counseling and hospital visitation.  I also appreciate the authors’ emphasis on the importance of biblical, gospel centered ministry that finds roots in historic Christianity.  It was also helpful to see a discussion on the importance of liturgy along with some examples of Christian liturgy.  Very clearly the authors are committed to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as it intersects with Christian worship and the pastoral ministry.  The bulk of the book is about leading public worship; it doesn’t talk much about the pastor’s private life.

Second, the weaknesses: Since I did have training in the pastoral ministry, and since I have read two or three other books on the pastoral ministry, big sections of this book were simply review.  In other words, a few other books I own cover the same topics.  Also, in my opinion there are too many samples of liturgies, prayers, and other parts of the liturgy.  Two examples: there are 10 wedding homilies which take up around 30 pages and there are around 30 pages of sample public prayers.  The same could be said for other parts of the liturgy.  I don’t mind a few examples, but after 10-15 pages, I thought there were just too many and I didn’t read nearly all of them.  These examples make it seem like the book is aimed at pastors who haven’t experienced many public worship services and aren’t very familiar with liturgies, weddings, and funerals.

As a final note, this book is written from a free church perspective.  It’s not really a resource for Reformed pastors in confessional churches, but at Baptist or free church pastors.  I only note this to help pastors decide if they want the book or not.  To be honest, even though this is a pretty good resource, a seasoned pastor in a confessional Reformed church probably doesn’t need it (unless he didn’t receive good training and hasn’t read other pastoral books).  For me, sections of this book were not applicable because I’m a confessional Presbyterian; other parts were basic things I learned in seminary and read in other books.

In my opinion, this book would be a great one for young Baptist or free church pastors, especially those who need more training and want a solid, detailed resource for pastoral ministry (especially the aspect of leading worship).  If that describes you, I recommend this one:  R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O’Donnell, The Pastor’s Book (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Law, The Gospel, And The Means of Grace (Berkhof)

Systematic Theology (Berkhof)  I’ve always appreciated Louis Berkhof’s clear and concise theological and biblical discussions.  Here’s a good one that I read some time ago but just recently read again.  It’s on the Reformed law/gospel distinction and the means of grace.

The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus. And each one of these two parts has its own proper function in the economy of grace.

The law seeks to awaken in the heart of man contrition on account of sin, while the gospel aims at the awakening of saving faith in Jesus Christ. The work of the law is in a sense preparatory to that of the gospel. It deepens the consciousness of sin and thus makes the sinner aware of the need of redemption. Both are subservient to the same end, and both are indispensable parts of the means of grace.

This truth has not always been sufficiently recognized. The condemning aspect of the law has sometimes been stressed at the expense of its character as a part of the means of grace. Ever since the days of Marcion there have always been some who saw only contrast between the law and the gospel and proceeded on the assumption that the one excluded the other. They based their opinion in part on the rebuke which Paul administered to Peter (Gal. 2:11–14), and partly on the fact that Paul occasionally draws a sharp distinction between the law and the gospel and evidently regards them as contrasts, 2 Cor. 3:6–11; Gal. 3:2, 3, 10–14; cf. also John 1:17. They lost sight of the fact that Paul also says that the law served as a tutor to lead men to Christ, Gal. 3:24, and that the Epistle to the Hebrews represents the law, not as standing in antithetical relation to the gospel, but rather as the gospel in its preliminary and imperfect state.

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 612.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Some Remarks on Assurance (Newton)

The Christian’s assurance of salvation is sort of like the moon.  Sometimes it’s full and bright.  Other times it’s hidden behind dark clouds.  It can even be just a sliver in the night sky.  Our assurance of salvation waxes and wanes.  Speaking of assurance, John Newton made some great observations on it when he preached from Job 19:25-26.  Here’s a summarized and edited version of his remarks.

I believe that true assurance is not entirely due to the strength of our faith.  It is also due to the fact that we have faint and weak views of some spiritual truths.  If we had a more powerful impression of these truths, even the strongest assurance would totter unless our faith was strengthened at the same time.

Let me explain.  If I told you that I myself do not doubt that my interest in the Gospel leads me to believe that God accepts me and will preserve me, you might then think my faith is strong.  However, I have a very slight understanding of the evil of sin, of the deceitfulness of my own heart, of the force and subtlety of my spiritual enemies, of the strictness and spirituality of the law, or of the awful majesty and holiness of our great God.  If God would be pleased to impress these solemn realities upon my mind with a conviction ten times greater than I have ever known (which would still be vastly short of the truth), you would probably see my countenance change and my speech falter – unless God also gave me a tenfold clearer and more powerful discovery of the grace and glory of Jesus.

The Lord, in compassion to our weakness, shows us these things, little by little, as we are able to bear them.  And if, as we advance in the knowledge of ourselves and of our dangers, our knowledge of the unsearchable riches of Christ advances equally, we may rejoice in hope and we may even possess an assured hope.

How far our assurance is solid and true may be estimated by the effects.  It will surely make us humble, spiritual, peaceful, and patient.  I pity those who talk confidently of their hope, as if they were out of the reach of doubts and fears, while their tempers are unsanctified and their hearts are visibly attached to the love of this present world.  I fear they know but little of what they say.  I am better pleased when persons of this character complain of doubts and darkness.  It proves at least that they are not destitute of feeling, nor, as of yet, lulled into a spirit of careless security.

If you can find this sermon by Newton called “Job’s Faith and Expectation,” I highly recommend it, especially the remarks he makes on assurance of faith.  It is right and proper to long for an assured faith that says with Job, As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take his stand on the earth.  Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26 NASB).

(The above edited/summarized quotes are found in John Newton, Works Volume IV, p. 441ff.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

About Regeneration

Essential Truths in the Heart of a Christian (Classics of Reformed Spirituality) Wilhelmus Schortinguis was a pastor who served in German and Dutch Reformed churches until he died in 1750.  Though not all of his work was widely accepted and read, his booklet that summarized the Christian faith in catechetical form was quite popular.  The title of this booklet is Essential Truths in the Heart of A Christian.  I enjoyed his section on regeneration; I’ll post a few of his Q/A’s on this topic below:

Q: What is regeneration?  A: A total change of the total person (2 Cor. 5:17) whereby he passes from death to life through the inner working of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; 1 John 3:14).

Q: What is the condition of the whole man before regeneration? A: His mind is totally darkened (1 Cor. 2:14), his judgement erroneous (Job 21:15), his will unholy (Rom. 8:7), his inclinations totally impure (2 Pet. 2:10), his passions unbridled (2 Pet. 2:12), and his bodily members weapons of unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13).

Q: How does God change the depraved person through regeneration? A: His mind is enlightened through the working of the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 4:6), his judgment cleared up (…), his will turned and sanctified (Acts 9:6), his inclinations purified (Ps. 119:97), his passions controlled (Ps. 131:2), and all his bodily members made weapons of righteousness (Rom. 6:13).

Q: What are the characteristics of regeneration? A: It is supernatural (John 3:5), powerful (Eph. 1:19), experiential (Is. 42:16), immediate, and changes a person completely (2 Cor. 5:17).  It encompasses (Rom 12:2) all intentions, habits, language, morals, and associations.

Q: Does regeneration make a person perfect instantaneously? A: Although this change affects the whole person, corruption and shortcomings of body and soul remain, which give birth to a constant struggle between Spirit and flesh (Gal. 5:17, Phil. 3:12).

Q: Why is this change called regeneration?  Because it resembles the first and natural birth in so many remarkable aspects (John 3:3-5).

William Schortinghuis, Essential Truths in the Heart of A Christian, ch 23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Why Does God Allow Sin to Remain in the Regenerate? (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.) “Why do I keep struggling with the same sinful thoughts?”  “Why can’t I just gain victory over lust and pride?”  “Why in the world does God allow sin to remain in his people?”  These are questions Christians ask from time to time.  We think of how nice it would be if we didn’t have to struggle with sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  But, in his sovereignty, God has a reason for allowing sin to remain in his children.  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) gave some helpful answers to the question of why God allows sin to dwell in his elect while on earth.  Here are some of Boston’s answers (which I’ve edited and summarized):

  1. God has ordered the matter of the believer’s sanctification, that sin is left to be active in their souls while here on earth, for their further humiliation.  For example, God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him low.  And so we find David, after his grievous fall, grows in the grace of humility.
  2. The Lord allows sin to remain in his people so they are stirred to the frequent exercise of prayer.  The soul feels the continual need of pardon, and therefore must be much lying at God’s footstool.  When his children grow remiss in their duty, the Lord sometimes allows them to fall into some grievous sin to awaken them and wound their conscience, so they cry to Him like a child who falls into a small fire.
  3. The sin left in us makes us more watchful of our hearts which still are prone to wander.  When a prisoner escapes, and they catch him, they will put him in more close custody than before.  We walk through a world filled with many snares; if we were not watchful, we would be caught in them.
  4. Just like God allowed some Canaanites to remain in the land to try his people, so he has left remains of natural corruption in them for their exercise and trial.  Therefore Christ’s soldiers know whom they fight against, and by whose strength they may overcome.  God gives his people armor at their conversion; is it reasonable that it should lie beside them rusting?  Indwelling sin makes us lean on Christ’s strength and use God’s armor in the battle.
  5. Through sin left in us, we are made more and more to feel our need for Christ, and his precious blood for the removal of our guilt daily contracted anew, and for the strengthening of our souls in our Christian course, so that we come out of the wilderness resting upon our Beloved.  So we see that our security is not in our hand; if it were, we would be quickly lost.
  6. It is God’s ordinary way to bring about a great work by degrees – including the great work of the believer’s sanctification.  God could have created all things in one moment; instead, he was pleased to take six days to do it.  He could have sent Christ immediately after Adam fell, but he instead let thousands of years pass.  He could have brought Israel to the Promised Land immediately; instead it pleased him that they should wander in the wilderness for forty years.  So it is with sanctification.
  7. Finally, through the indwelling sin that remains, Christ is glorified.  While the enemy (sin) does dwell in us, Christ’s grace and Holy Spirit are at work in us so that the enemy cannot overcome, domineer, or destroy us.  Because of indwelling sin we know that we cannot justify ourselves, but can only be justified by the perfect obedience of Christ, which we lay hold of by faith.  In this, Christ is glorified.

After noting these seven points, Boston wrote, “To see how God makes such an excellent medicine of such poisonous ingredients cannot be but very delightful.”  The struggle against indwelling sin is difficult for sure.  But when we remember God’s sovereign use of indwelling sin in his people for their good and his glory, it helps us press on in the faith with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  He will one day graciously give us the full victory over sin.

Near the end of the treatise, Boston wrote this:

“Finally, to shut up [summarize/end] all; it is plain, that the more difficulties the work of man’s salvation is carried through, the free grace of God is the more exalted; our Lord Jesus, the author of eternal salvation, hath the greater glory: but in this way it is carried on over the belly of more difficulties, than it would have been, if by the first grace the Christian had been made perfect.”

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons and Discourses on Several Important Subjects in Divinity, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 6 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 124.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges (A Review)

I’ve appreciated many of Jerry Bridges’ books because they are level-headed, full of Scripture themes and texts, centered on the gospel, and because they are not trendy or faddish like many Christian books today.  I also like how Bridges always emphasized the fact that we have a “dependent responsibility” as Christians to follow the Lord Jesus: we are responsible to follow him, but dependent on his grace and Holy Spirit to do so.  In his final book (posthumously published) The Blessing of Humility, Bridges echoes many of these same themes from his other books.

In around 100 pages, Bridges talks about Christian humility as displayed by the beatitudes (Mt. 5:3ff).  After giving a brief summary of the Bible’s emphasis on humility, he gives examples of what that humility looks like by focusing on some of the phrases in the beatitudes.  Bridges doesn’t talk about every phrase in the beatitudes; mostly he focuses on the first half of each beatitude and doesn’t really discuss the last half.  To be honest, this was a slight disappointment for me, but it wasn’t his plan to give a commentary on the beatitudes.  (As a side note, I’m not impressed with the publishing quality of this book.  The book feels quite flimsy since the cover is thinner than a cheap paper plate!)

This book isn’t groundbreaking, but it is a simple, clear, and helpful series of lessons on Christian humility.  Bridges nicely emphasized the gospel, that through faith in Christ we are justified – our sins are forgiven and we are credited with Christ’s perfect righteousness.  Based on that, we should desire and seek to grow in holiness, which includes humility.  He notes that through prayer, God’s Word, and the Spirit’s help, we grow in Christ-like humility and our pride will slowly die.  In the final chapter, Bridges comes back to the gospel and explains how we are to grow in humility by focusing on the gospel: “He [Jesus] lived a life we could not live and died the death we deserved to die” (p. 86).

Most Christians will be able to read and understand this book.  It includes some study questions at the end.  I’m glad I own it; I’ll for sure look at it again later when I study the beatitudes or the topic of humility.  If you’re interested in how the beatitudes show humility in action, and if you want to grow in humility, you should check out this book: The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges.

[I was provided a complementary copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI