Know These Two Things: Law and Gospel

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by [Marshall, Walter] Here’s a wonderful section of Walter Marshall’s 1692 publication, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:

The most effectual knowledge for your salvation is to understand these two points: 1) the desperate sinfulness and misery of your own natural condition, and 2) the alone sufficiency of the grace of God in Christ for your salvation, that you may be abased as to the flesh and exalted in Christ alone.

And, for the better understanding these two main points, you should learn how the first Adam was the figure of the second (Rom. 5:14); how sin and death came upon all the natural seed of the first Adam by his disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, and how righteousness and everlasting life come upon all the spiritual seed of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, by His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross.

You also should learn the true difference between the two covenants, the old and the new, or the law and the gospel: that the former shuts us up under the guilt and power of sin, and the wrath of God and His curse, by its rigorous terms: ‘Do all the commandments, and live; and, cursed are you if you do not do them, and fail in the least point’; the latter opens the gates of righteousness and life to all believers (i.e. the new covenant) by its gracious terms: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and live,’ that is, all your sins shall be forgiven, and holiness and glory shall be given to you freely by His merit and Spirit.

Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Direction 13.1.

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

American Revivalist Hymns (Marsden)

(This is a repost from February, 2012).

Many aspects of today’s shallow American hymnody are rooted in the 19th-century revivals.   This is a huge topic, of course, but to get a little glimpse I like how George Marsden writes about it in Fundamentalism and American Culture.

“The surge of revivalism associated with the rise of Charles Finney in the 1820s which developed in the ‘New School’ tradition certainly did not forsake intellect, but it did create new channels for emphasis on emotion throughout American evangelicalism.  Sandra Sizer in her analysis of the rise of the gospel song in nineteenth-century America has suggested that Finney’s revivals marked the beginning of the attempt to build a new Christian community united by intense feeling.  The focal point for the emphasis was the ‘social religious meeting,’ small groups gathered for prayer, Bible study, witnessing, and song.  Witnessing, or testifying to one another about how God had transformed their lives, was an important way in which these communities built themselves up and provided emotional support.”

“Finney added emphasis on such meetings to his more-or-less conventional mass-preaching services, but by the time of the remarkable businessmen’s revival of 1857-1858 the awakening itself originated in noon hour prayer meetings which were just such ‘social religious meetings.’  Every new evangelical movement of this entire area, through the rise of fundamentalism and including the holiness, pentecostal, and premillennial movements, had a base in some form of ‘social religious’ gathering.”

“The revivals of Moody and Sanky, Sizer argues persuasively, in a sense applied to the principles of the smaller group meetings on a massive scale.  The use of a song leader, which Sankey made a lasting part of evangelicalism, was a conspicuous means of building emotional ties.  The most common theme was the distress of sin, to be relieved by a passionate surrender to the incredible love of Jesus.  Hymns that told stories of prodigals reclaimed and the like made the song itself a kind of witnessing.”

“In contrast to eighteenth-century hymns like those in the influential collection of Isaac Watts, the focus of revivalist songs shifted from praise of the awful majesty of God and the magnitude of his grace revealed in Christ’s atoning work, to the emotions of those who encounter the Gospel.  Similarly, Moody’s sermons virtually abandoned all pretense of following conventional forms of explicating a text, and were closer to ‘layman’s exhortation’ filled with touching anecdotes with an emotional impact comparable to that of personal testimony.”

There is more to it, but these are some of the theological, historical, and practical reasons why confessional Reformed churches typically do not sing these songs.  In other words, we avoid these songs and worship techniques for several different reasons and not just to be “traditional” or “conservative.”  I recommend Marsden’s book Fundamentalism and American Culture if you want to dig deeper into hymnody and other aspects of American Christianity.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Why God Allows Satan’s Temptations (Watson)

Why does God allow Satan to tempt Christians?  If he is sovereign, why doesn’t he just make some kind of force field around us, so to speak, so that Satan can’t touch us?  Temptations are a hard part of the Christian life, so why does our heavenly Father allow us to be tempted?  Thomas Watson gives some reasons from Scripture and experience:

  1. He lets them be tempted to try them.  Temptation is a touchstone to try what is in the heart.  The devil tempts that he may deceive, but God lets us be tempted to try us.  This is how God tries our sincerity (like he did Job).
  2. By temptation God tries our love.  When the devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, such was Christ’s love to his Father, that he abhorred the temptation.  True love will not be bribed.  When the devil’s darts are most fiery, a saint’s love to God is most fervent.
  3. By temptation God tries our courage.  He is a valiant Christian that brandishes the sword of the Spirit against Satan, and will rather die than yield.  The heroic spirit of a saint is never more seen than in a battle-field when he is fighting with the red dragon, and by the power of faith puts the devil to flight.
  4. God allows his children to be tempted so that they may be kept from pride. Pride keeps grace in the heart low, that it cannot thrive.  God resists pride; and so that he may keep his children humble, he allows them sometimes to fall into temptation (2 Cor. 11:7).
  5. God lets his people be tempted that they may be more fit to comfort others who are in the same distress, and speak a word in due season to such as are weary.  Paul was trained up in the fencing-school of temptation and was able to acquaint others with Satan’s wiles and strategies (2 Cor. 2:11).
  6. God lets his children be tempted to make them long more for heaven, where they shall be out of the range of Satan’s guns, and free from the hissing of the old Serpent.  Heaven is the place of rest, no bullets of temptation fly there.  Temptations make the saint long to receive the crown of victory in the resting place of heaven.

I’ve edited and summarized Watson’s helpful discussion about why God allows Satan to tempt his children.  You can read the entire section in Thomas Watson’s book, The Lord’s Prayer, chapter six.

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

Rational but not Rationalistic (Guinness)

God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt by [Guinness, Os] As I’ve mentioned here before, Guinness’ God in the Dark is my favorite book when it comes to tackling doubt from a solid Christian perspective.  I was reading part of it again this morning and came across a helpful section on reason and faith and how they relate to doubt.

Guinness notes that many doubts about the Christian faith (or doubts that arise in the Christian faith) have to do with wrong thinking or no thinking rather than with too much thinking.  Mature thinking is needed to counter doubt.  He goes on:

“The Christian wholeheartedly supports genuine rationality.  But we must add a qualification to give this balance.  The Christian faith is second to none in the place it gives to reason, but it is also second to none in keeping reason in its place.  We never know the value of a thing until we know its limits.  Put unlimited value on something and in the end you will exhaust it of all value.  This is as true of reason as it is of natural resources such as oil.  This is why the Christian faith is thoroughly rational but not the least bit rationalistic.  It is also why rationalism – and not Christian faith – leads to irrationality.”

Guinness also says that though there are sufficient reasons for believing in God, it doesn’t mean we’ll know all the answers or have all our questions answered.  Since we’re finite, and since we “see through a glass darkly,” we will never know everything as God knows it.  So the Christian faith is reasonable, but there is room for mystery in it.  Here’s where this applies to our lives when we’re struggling in the faith:

“If the Christian’s faith is to be itself and let God be God at such times, it must suspend judgment and say, ‘Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you.’  Notice what this means.  Christians do not say, ‘I do not understand you at all, but I trust you anyway.’  Rather we say, ‘I do not understand you in this situation, but I understand why I trust you anyway.”

In other words, as Guinness wrote, the Christian’s faith and reason go hand in hand, but sometimes as they walk by faith “their trust may sometimes be called to go on by itself without their understanding.”  Or, as one Puritan said, “We can trust God even when we cannot trace his ways.”

The above quotes are found in Os Guinness, God in the Dark, p. 167-168.

Shane Lems

The Importance of “Christ Alone” (Luther)

Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (recently reprinted by Lexham Press) is an excellent resource to have when studying Matthew 5-7.  The language/translation is a bit dated, but it is outstanding and well worth the effort.  Today I read the following, which I marked up quite a bit:

For if I cling to this, that Christ alone is my righteousness and holiness, no monk will ever persuade or mislead me by his hood, rosary, this or that work and childish human notion. For through faith I am a judge of all imaginable conditions and ways of living, so that I can condemn everything that offers to show me anything else that is to avail before God.

In other words, Luther said that if we understand that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we’ll rightly reject and condemn any other way to be right with God.  Luther continued:

But if I neglect this, and let the treasure go, and am instructed to seek elsewhere and otherwise to be pious, to conciliate God and atone for sin, then I am already prepared for all sorts of snares and nets of the devil, and to let myself be led as he pleases; then presently comes someone who preaches to me: ‘If you want to be pious and serve God, then put on a hood, pray daily so many rosaries, burn so many little candles to St. Anna.’  Then I fall in with this like a blind man and everybody’s fool and prisoner, and do everything I am told, so completely that I cannot defend myself from even the most trifling mistake.

If you take away the teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, people will believe and do anything they are told to be accepted by God.  This is a rejection of the gospel.  Therefore we should, following the Apostle Paul’s insistence, clearly preach and firmly believe that we are not justified by works, but through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 3:28, Gal. 2:16, etc.).

Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, p. 68.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

In the Pastoral Ministry… (Miller)

An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office by [Garretson, James M.] Samuel Miller was a Presbyterian pastor in New York City and Princeton Seminary professor from around 1793-1850. Below is one example of his excellent pastoral teaching.  It is still applicable for pastors today:

In preaching the gospel, and in all your ministrations, whether public or private, set the Lord Jesus Christ himself before you, and next to him, his inspired apostles, as your models. Be not afraid to tell men, with all plainness, of their total depravity by nature, and of that state of condemnation and wrath under which they lie while strangers to the grace of Christ. Be not afraid to sound in their ears the thunders of Sinai, as well as the still small voice of Calvary. Be not backward to proclaim the humbling and self-denying, but most glorious, doctrines of free and sovereign grace, however unpalatable they may be to some, or whatever your fidelity may cost you. Warn men boldly of every danger. Strive to bring them off from every false foundation. Give them no rest till they are brought humbled and trembling to the foot of the Cross: and then, and not till then, pour into their bleeding wounds the oil of consolation, the balm of heavenly grace.

The above quote by Samuel Miller is found in James Garretson, An Able and Faithful Ministry, p.36. 

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

Read the Bible Like Whom?

I recently saw a Christian book advertisement that said, “How to Read the Bible Like (famous pastor’s name here).”  Now, the book is probably decent, and the pastor is a solid Christian man, but the advertising line was troubling to me for several reasons.  First, it further adds to the celebrity pastor problem in our culture (see this related post: The Popes of Evangelicalism).  Second, it’s quite individualistic (see this related post: Reading the Bible in and with the Church).   Third, the advertising line seems to go against the biblical method of biblical interpretation.  Let me explain that final point a bit.

When we read Scripture, we want to do so biblically.   This is more important than reading it passionately or enthusiastically.  We want to read Scripture like God wants us to read it since it is his inspired Word.  Other people can and should help us interpret Scripture, but ultimately the Christian must interpret Scripture as it interprets itself.   This was one way the Reformers pointed the people to the authority of the Word: they stressed the fact that Scripture interprets Scripture.  For example, the Westminster Confession points away from itself to Scripture’s authority:

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself” (WCF 1.9).

Speaking more narrowly, when we read Scripture, we also want to read it like Christ and his apostles read it.  There’s too much to discuss in one blog post, but suffice it to say that Christ and his apostles read the Scriptures (specifically the OT for them) as God’s Word which testified of the Messiah.  So if we want to learn the biblical way to read Scripture, we should sit at Jesus’ feet with the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  They heard Jesus explain the OT in a Christ-centered way (Luke 24:27).  One resource I recently mentioned here that explains what it means to learn how to read the Bible from Jesus is Walking with Jesus through His Word.  I also like how another author put it:

“…Jesus Christ is the key to the interpretation of the whole Bible, and the task before us is to discern how he interprets the Bible. (Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy, p 105)”

In other words, we should learn how to read and interpret Scripture from Paul, James, Peter, (etc.), who were instructed by Jesus himself.  I know that the advertising blurb I mentioned above is just an advertising line and it’s not worth flipping out over.  But it is a good opportunity to discuss biblical interpretation of the Bible!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI