Faith Must Not Be Built Upon Works (Watson)

The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-10 Thomas Watson (d. 1686) is one of my favorite Puritan authors.  He wrote clearly, concisely, and biblically. Here’s one great example from his discussion of faith and works in The Beatitudes.

Julian [a Roman emperor who renounced Christianity when he became emperor] upbraided the Christians that they were Solifidians, and the Church of Rome lays upon us this aspersion, that we are against good works.  Indeed we plead not for the merit of them but we are for the use of them.  ‘Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses’ (Titus 3:14).  We preach that they are needful both as they are enforced by the precept and as they are needful for the general good of men.”

“…This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.’ (Titus 3:8). …Faith alone justifies but justifying faith is not alone.  You may as well separate weight from lead or heat from fire as works from faith.  Good works, though they are not the causes of salvation, yet they are evidences.  Though they are not the foundation yet they are the superstructure.  Faith must not be built upon works, but works must be built upon faith. …Faith is the grace which marries Christ and good works are the children which faith bears.”

Similarly, the Westminster Confession says (16.2):

“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.”

(The above quote by Thomas Watson is found in The Beatitudes, p. 155-156.)

This is a repost from July 15, 2015.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Greek Humor (Wallace)

 There are countless passages in the Hebrew and Greek texts that are relatively easy to translate and interpret.  On the other hand, there are some texts that are super difficult to translate and interpet.  After many hours/days of work (or more!), sometimes you just can’t figure it out.  One such example for me has been 1 Peter 3:21 (…and this prefigured baptism, which now saves you—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ… NET).

I understand that Peter is talking about what baptism signifies (the blood and resurrection of Christ), but the phrase about the “pledge” or “appeal” of a “good conscience” is pretty tough.  Exegetically or grammatically, how exactly does the “good conscience” phrase relate to “baptism which saves”?  There’s no verb in the “good conscience” phrase, but there is a nominative (pledge/appeal – επερωτημα).  What’s with that?  Is – or how is – that phrase related to the verb “save”?  While looking for meanings of the nominative in Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, I came across this category which I thought was worth a good laugh:

Nominative ad Nauseum – Also known as the aporetic nominative (from the Greek word απορεω, ‘I am at a loss’), this is the category one should appeal to when another slot cannot be found.  The title is descriptive not of the nominative but of the feeling one has in the pit of his/her stomach for having spent so much time on this case and coming up with nothing.

Ha! Yes! Agreed!

Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 64.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Calling, Gifts, Service (Guinness)

 If you haven’t read The Call by Os Guinness, you should put it on your “to read” Christian book list!  It’s an in-depth look at vocation (or calling).  I was looking over some of my highlights in this book today and came across the following quotes that really have been helpful for me and my own Christian life:

“…God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.”

“A sense of calling should precede a choice of job and career, and the main way to discover calling is along the line of what we are each created and gifted to be.  Instead of, ‘You are what you do,’ calling says: ‘Do what you are.'”

“In the biblical understanding of giftedness, gifts are never really ours or for ourselves.  We have nothing that was not given us.  Our gifts are ultimately God’s, and we are only ‘stewards’ – responsible for the prudent management of property that is not our own.  This is why our gifts are always ‘ours for others,’ whether in the community of Christ or the broader society outside, especially the neighbor in need.”

“The truth is not that God is finding us a place for our gifts but that God has created us and our gifts for a place of his choosing – and we will only be ourselves when we are finally there.”

Os Guinness, The Call, p. 45-46.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Ask Creation! (Augustine)

 In the opening comments of Augustine’s sermon on John 14:6 he noted that some wise philosophers had some sort of knowledge of God.  He said that they saw the Truth from afar, but because of their errors they didn’t know how to attain the Truth or come to possess it.  Augustine based his statements on Romans 1:18ff, explaining that people “saw (as far as can be seen by man) the Creator by means of the creature, the Worker by His work, [and] the Framer of the world by the world.”

The Apostle put it this way: “For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”  Augustine commented,

Ask the world, the beauty of the heaven, the brilliancy and ordering of the stars, the sun, that sufficeth for the day, the moon, the solace of the night; ask the earth fruitful in herbs, and trees, full of animals, adorned with men; ask the sea, with how great and what kind of fishes filled; ask the air, with how great birds stocked; ask all things, and see if they do not as if it were by a language of their own make answer to thee, “God made us.” These things have illustrious philosophers sought out, and by the art have come to know the Artificer.

What then? Why is the wrath of God revealed against this ungodliness? “Because they detain the truth in unrighteousness?” Let him come, let him show how. For how they came to know Him, he hath said already. “The invisible things of Him,” that is God, “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal Power also and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

They are the Apostle’s words, not mine: “And their foolish heart was darkened; for professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” What by curious search they found, by pride they lost. “Professing themselves to be wise,” attributing, that is, the gift of God to themselves, “they became fools.” They are the Apostle’s words, I say; “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

Augustine, NPNF 1.6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

God Has Many Keys [or: The Lord Opened Her Heart] (Sibbes)

I’ve always loved the story in Acts about Lydia coming to faith in Christ when Paul was telling her about Jesus by the side of a river near Philippi.  Here’s how Luke summarized it: “A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying” (Acts 16:14, CSB).  Here’s a helpful commentary – and I especially like that last paragraph:

…Observe then in the ‘opening of the heart’ these things.

1. First, The heart is naturally shut and closed up, as indeed it is to spiritual things. It is open enough to the world, and to base contentments here; but it is shut to heaven and heavenly things. Naturally it is clean locked up – partly in its own nature, being corrupt and earthly; partly because Satan he besiegeth all the senses, and shuts up all. There is a spirit of deafness and blindness, and a spirit of darkness and deafness in people, before God hath brought them by the powerful work of the gospel from the kingdom of Satan, that possesseth every man naturally. Naturally therefore our hearts are not open, but locked and shut up. That is supposed here. So that except God be merciful to break the prison, as it were, whereby by unbelief and the wickedness of our nature we are shut up, there is no hope of salvation at all. God opens the heart.

2. The second thing is this, that as our hearts are shut and closed up naturally, so God, and God alone, opens the heart, by his Spirit in the use of the means. God opened Lydia’s heart.

God hath many keys. He hath the key of heaven to command the rain to come down. He hath the key of the womb; the key of hell and the grave; and the key of the heart especially. ‘He opens, and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens,’ Rev. 3:7. He hath the key of the heart to open the understanding, the memory, the will, and affections. God, and God only, hath the key of the heart to open that. It is his prerogative. He made the heart, and he only hath to do with the heart. He can unmake it, and make it new again, as those that make locks can do. And if the heart be in ill temper, he can take it in pieces, and bring it to nothing as it were, as it must be before conversion; and he can make it a new heart again. It is God that opens the heart, and God only. All the angels in heaven cannot give one grace, not the least grace. Grace comes merely [altogether] from God. It is merely from God. All the creatures in the world cannot open the heart, but God only by his Holy Spirit. For nature cannot do above its sphere, as we say, above its own power. Natural things can do but natural things. For nature to raise itself up to believe heavenly things, it cannot be. Therefore as you see vapours go as high as the sun draws them up, and no higher, so the soul of man is lift up to heavenly things by the power of God’s Spirit. God draws us and then we follow. God, I say, only openeth the heart.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 523–524.

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

The Immutability of God: Application (Van Mastricht)

 Scripture quite clearly teaches that God is immutable.  This means he does not change, have mood swings, or go back on something he said.  God is the constant one.  James 1:17 says there is no change or shadow of turning with God.  Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the LORD, and I do not change” (NLT).  The Psalmist puts it this way in a prayer to the Lord: “You are always the same” (Ps. 102:25 NLT).  The doctrine of God’s immutability is a truth that brings much comfort to the Christian’s heart, mind, and soul.  Here’s how Petrus Van Mastricht applied the doctrine of God’s immutability:

“For this reason he is called the rock (Deut. 32:31; Ps. 73:26) upon which the church has been built (Matt. 16:18).  For if the godly are vexed, perhaps in regard to their eternal salvation, because of the inconstancy of their own heart, together with the immutable treacheries of their spiritual enemies, what will sustain them more effectively than the fact that their immutable God (Ma. 3:6) is a rock and unmoved builder, whose firm foundation stands, by which the Lord knows those who are his (2 Tim. 2:19), whose saving gifts are without repentance (Rom. 11:29)?

Or if they are vexed about the vicissitudes of temporal things, whether the stirrings of war, diseases, or whatever other calamities, what will more effectively comfort them than to consider that

1) the immutability of the one God is a law fixed in their favor, and that all other things are only immutable in their motion and flux (1 Cor. 7:29).

At the same time that 2) God, through all these motions and vicissitudes, will be present, unmoved, for the sake of his own (Ps. 46:1-7), present in his perfection and strength, that they may not be shaken (Ps. 90:1).

That 3) he is immutable in goodness, love, grace, and mercy (Is. 54:10; Ps. 117:2; 118:1, 2, 5),

and also 4) in his will and gracious decrees by which he  knows his own (2 Tim. 2:19; Heb. 6:17-18),

and in addition, 5) in his promises, so many and so great (Num. 23:19), all of which will be yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20; Heb. 13:15), and especially in his faithfulness and covenant (Is. 53:3; 54:10; Hos. 2:19).

What could be more effective for our consolation than all these things?

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2. p. 162.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Church As Family (Eclov)

Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything by [Eclov, Lee] One of the images used in Scripture for the church is that of family.  For example, Paul uses the term “household of God” (Eph. 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15).  Many of us know that Christians can rightly call each other “brother” or “sister” (James 2:15).  God is our Father, of course, and in Christ we are his adopted children (Gal. 4:5).  More references and examples could be given – it’s pretty clear that Christians are part of God’s family.  And it’s proper to think of your local church fellowship as your immediate Christian family.  Lee Eclov discusses these things in his helpful book, Feels Like Home.  In fact, he calls the church the Christian’s “first family.”

Here are some quotes that I thought were helpful – and they’ll give you an idea of the contents of the book:

“I’m motivated as a pastor to help create the right kind of environment for a church to be healthy and effective. That environment, to me, is best described as a home. As a pastor, I’m a ‘homemaker.’” (p. 20).

“The family members are the primary concern of a healthy home. So it is in the church. It sounds nearly heretical to say so, but the lost are not our first concern as church leaders nor as church members. Our first responsibility is God’s household…” [cf. 1 Peter 5:2; Gal. 6:10] (p. 24).

“In our congregation there is one complement we especially love. It’s when someone new says, ‘When I came here, I felt like I was home.”

“…I’ve seen too many Christian families who are not anchored in the relationships of God’s first family, the church. Christians are raising children who, like them, see church as an event, not a family; who see being with God’s people as an optional weekend activity. They skip church for all manner of activities, and do not regularly connect their families with others in the congregation” (p. 49).

“A healthy church home is God’s gift to any family” (p.52).

In this book, Eclov discusses the biblical nuances of the theme “church as family” and explores various applications of this biblical theme. He also highlights the importance of Sunday worship, prayer, fellowship, welcoming visitors, pastoral care, and other similar topics. It might not be the most detailed book on the topic, but it is a good one to discuss in a group setting or for personal information. I really appreciated this book and I think it’s given me a more robust view of “church as family.”

Lee Eclov, Feels Like Home (Chicago: Moody Press, 2019).

Shane Lems