The Law Says, the Gospel Says (Hamilton)

Charles Bridges, “The Christian Ministry”

In his 19th century book, The Christian Ministry, Charles Bridges takes some time to explain the necessity of preaching the law and the gospel rightly.  He talks clearly about a law/gospel distinction as well as the third use of the law (the law as a guide of gratitude).  At one point, he quotes Scottish reformer, Patrick Hamilton (d. 1528), who wrote Loci Communes Theogogici (also known as “Patrick’s Places”).  Here are a few excerpts from Hamilton on the law/gospel distinction.

The Law shows us,
Our sin.
Our condemnation,
Is the word of ire.
Is the word of despair.
Is the word of displeasure.

The Gospel shows us,
A remedy for it.
Our redemption,
Is the word of grace.
Is the word of comfort.
Is the word of peace.

The Law says,
Pay thy debt.
Thou art a sinner desperate.
And thou shalt die.

The Gospel says,
Christ hath paid it.
Thy sins are forgiven thee.
Be of good comfort, thou shalt be saved.

The Law says,
Make amends for thy sin.
The Father of Heaven is angry with thee.
Where is thy righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction?
Thou art bound and obliged unto me, to the devil, and to hell.

The Gospel says,
Christ hath made it for thee.
Christ hath pacified him with his blood.
Christ is thy righteousness, thy goodness, and satisfaction.
Christ hath delivered thee from them all.

– Patrick Hamilton –

NOTE: This is a re-post from July, 2014

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


Don’t Forget about Satan! (Kuyper)

Abraham Kuyper, “To Be Near Unto God”

For various reasons, sometimes Christians forget that Satan and his demonic horde really exist.  We know the stories in the Gospels where Jesus sent the demons running, but we sometimes forget the fact that Satan really prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet 5:8).  We know that the NT epistles tell us to watch out for Satan’s schemes and attacks, but it’s not always on our minds (Eph 6:11, 2 Cor 2:11, etc.).  No doubt Satan loves it when Christians forget about him and his demonic ways.  I appreciate how Abraham Kuyper put it:

It should be carefully observed, that like a thief, Satan is most pleased when his presence and his work are not noticed. In circles where his existence is denied or ridiculed, his hands are altogether free to murder souls according to his liking. But that he can be so strangely forgotten by those who are more inclined to believe the Gospel, offers him the finest chances to poison souls. We may be sure that in all this denial and in all this forgetting of the actual existence of Satan, a trick of Satan himself operates. When the mighty spirit of Christ moved the waves of the sea of life in Palestine, Satan did not succeed with this for a moment, and Jesus compelled him to show himself. But now he succeeds in keeping himself in hiding, and unseen and unnoticed, from the ambush, to inwork his character, and consequently with better effect.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near unto God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co., 1918), 553.

Satan is crafty in his evil and even disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4).  This isn’t to say that Satan is behind every door and every bad thing that happens, but it is to say he’s real, he’s on the prowl, and he’s trying his demonic best to wreck the peace and purity of the Church and the life of the Christian. Be on your guard, brother or sister!

Thankfully, Christ is on the throne and not even Satan and the hordes of hell can separate us from our Lord (John 10:28).  Satanic attacks may be real and fierce, but just as Jesus prayed for Peter, he’s praying for his people today, that their faith will not fail (Lk 22:32).  In Christ, and clothed with the armor of God, we can do all things through his strength – including resisting the devil or fleeing from him (depending on the circumstance).  The victory belongs to the Lord – and those who are in Him!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Warfield’s Pen, Warfield’s Compassion (Riddlebarger)

The Lion of Princeton: B.B. Warfield as Apologist and Theologian
The Lion of Princeton by Kim Riddlebarger

I just started reading “The Lion of Princeton” by Kim Riddlebarger.  It’s a biography of B. B. Warfield with a special emphasis on his theology and apologetics.  So far I’m really enjoying it.  Today I read about Warfield’s wife Annie, who suffered from some sort of problem with her nervous system.  As the years went by, she became more and more of an invalid.  Although he spent much time teaching and writing, Warfield faithfully stuck by Annie’s side to the end of her life, providing her with care and comfort:

Warfield’s remarkable literary output is due greatly to the frail condition of his wife and his amazing devotion to her. O. T. Allis recalls, “I used to see them walking together and the gentleness of his manner was striking proof of the loving care with which he surrounded her. They had no children. During the years spent at Princeton, he rarely, if ever, was absent for any length of time.”  J. Gresham Machen remembers Mrs. Warfield as a brilliant woman to whom Dr. Warfield would read several hours each day. During his own student days Machen dimly recalled seeing Mrs. Warfield in her yard, but notes that she had been long since bed-ridden. Dr. Warfield almost never ventured away from her side for more than two hours at a time. In fact, he left the confines of Princeton only one time during a 10-year period—for a trip designed to alleviate his wife’s suffering, which ultimately failed. As Colin Brown points out, Warfield’s lectures on the cessation of the charismata, given at Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina shortly after her death, are quite remarkable and demonstrate “a certain poignancy [which] attaches itself to Warfield’s work in view of the debilitating illness of his wife throughout their married life.” Although Warfield may have been known as a tenacious fighter, the compassion he directed toward his wife demonstrates his deep capacity for tenderness and caring.

(Riddlebarger, ch. 1)

One of the marks of a good Christian theologian is that his life echoes the theology he teaches.  Warfield’s loving care of his wife was one way he “lived out” the theology he taught.  As others have said, theology is not just theoretical, it is also very practical.  

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

If Thou Drawest Me Not (Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.) In 1415 John Huss was in prison for “heresies” such as saying that belief in the Pope is not necessary for salvation, that laypeople should be able to drink the wine in the Lord’s Supper, and for pointing out other inconsistencies and immorality in the Church.  Huss also faced many false accusations, such as the one where he supposedly called himself the fourth person of the Trinity.

Although Huss was suffering terribly in prison (headaches, toothaches, vomiting, [kidney or gall] stones, and horrific nightmares), he would not recant.  Some thought he should just admit to the false accusations – since they were obviously false, everyone would understand.  Others even tried to sort of trick Huss into recanting.  But he continually said he would not recant of anything he taught that agreed with the truth of Scripture.  “I would not for a chapel full of gold recede from the truth,” he wrote.  Huss said that if he did recant, he would be breaking the 9th commandment and scandalizing God’s people who had heard his sermons.

The last letters Huss wrote from prison are very much worth reading.  He knew he was going to die, and at times he was afraid that he would waver in his faith.  Here’s one moving prayer he wrote in a letter to his friends at Constance in 1415:

O loving Christ, draw me, a weakling, after Thyself; for if Thou drawest me not, I cannot follow Thee. Grant me a brave spirit that it may be ready. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace prevent, come in the middle, and follow; for without Thee I can do nothing, and, especially, for Thy sake I cannot go to a cruel death. Grant me a ready spirit, a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, and a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.

Although many of us reading this are not in prison for the sake of the gospel, the attitude and ethos of this prayer is one we all should share as we call on the name of the Lord.  Indeed, we are weak, but he is strong!

[The above info and quote is found in  Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Huss: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 253.]

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

True Church, False Church (Bavinck)

 Herman Bavinck’s discussion of ecclesiology is, in my opinion, one of the best Reformed treatments of this doctrine available in English.  Since I am presbyterian in my ecclesiology, I appreciate Bavinck’s robust and biblical view of the church: its spiritual essence, spiritual government, spiritual power, and so forth.  I also like how he appealed to the post-reformation context to discuss the true/false church distinction that the Belgic Confession speaks of in article 29.  Bavinck (in IV.315-16) mentions how Calvin and other Reformers taught that there is no perfectly pure church.  Therefore, when we say “true church” we don’t mean “perfectly pure church.”  He explains how the post-reformation teachers wrestled through this.

“On the one hand, one had to admit that a true church in an absolute sense is impossible here on earth; there is not a single church that completely and in all its parts, in doctrine and in life, in the ministry of the Word and sacrament, meets the demand of God.  On the other hand, it also became clear that an absolutely false church cannot possibly exist, for in that case it would no longer be a church at all.”

Even though Rome was a false church insofar as it was papal, nevertheless there were many remnants of the true church left in it.  There was a difference, therefore, between a true church and a pure church.  ‘True church’ became the term, not for one church to the exclusion of all others, but for an array of churches that still upheld the fundamental articles of Christian faith but for the rest differed a great deal from each other in degrees of purity.  And ‘false church’ became the term for the hierarchical power of superstition or belief that set itself up in local churches and accorded itself and its ordinances more authority than the Word of God” (p. 315-316).

Well stated.  In the post-reformation context, there were true churches whose doctrine was more or less pure.  These churches were true because they upheld the fundamental articles of the faith as they displayed the three marks (word, sacrament, discipline).  False churches were those that denied fundamental articles of the faith by subverting the authority of the Word (this is where the Reformers discussed Rome and anabaptistic sects).

I think Bavinck is right here, and though others may disagree, I also believe that a proper reading of the Belgic Confession of Faith article 29 is the Westminster Confession of Faith’s application of this teaching.  WCF 25.4 explains how local churches that are part of the visible church catholic [universal] “are more or less pure.”  In other words, and in summary, “true church” doesn’t mean “most pure church.”  “True church” means churches that uphold – more or less purely – the biblical fundamentals of the faith displayed in the biblical three marks (preaching, discipline, and the sacraments).

(Note: This is a repost from March, 2011)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Preaching and the Holy Spirit (Kuyper)

 Most of us know that God uses preachers to bring the gospel to the lost (Rom 10:14).  It’s equally true that the preacher is not the one who deserves credit when someone comes to saving faith in Christ (cf. Acts 16:14).  In Reformed theology, we say that ordinarily God effectually calls the elect by the preaching of the gospel.  Abraham Kuyper explained this well in his book The Work of the Holy Spirit.  Specifically, in chapter 28, Kuyper discussed “The Coming of the Called.”  Kuyper said that sometimes a preacher will learn that a sermon he preached some time ago was the means God used to convert a person:

…Frequently he did not even know that person; much less his spiritual condition. And yet, without knowing it, his thoughts were guided and his word was prepared in such a way by the Holy Ghost; perhaps he looked at the man in such a manner that his word, in connection with the Spirit’s inward operation, became to him the real and concrete Word of God. We hear it often said: “That was directly preached at me.” And so it was. It should be understood, however, that it was not the minister who preached at you, for he did not even think of you; but it was the Holy Spirit Himself. It was He who thought of you. It was He who had it all prepared for you. It was He Himself who wrought in you.

The ministers of the Word should therefore be exceedingly careful not in the least to boast of the conversions that occur under their ministry. When after days of failure the fisherman draws his net full of fishes, is this cause for the net to boast itself? Did it not come up empty again and again; and then was it not nearly torn asunder by the multitude of fishes?

To say that this proves the efficiency of the preacher is against the Scripture. There may be two ministers, the one well grounded in doctrine, the other but lightly furnished; and yet the former has no conversions in his church, while the latter is being richly blessed. In this the Lord God is and remains the Sovereign Lord. He passes by the heavily armed champions in Saul’s army, and David, with scarcely any weapons at all, slays the giant Goliath. All that a preacher has to do is to consider how, in obedience to his Lord, he may minister the Word, leaving results with the Lord. And when the Lord God gives him conversions, and Satan whispers, “What an excellent preacher you are, that it was given you to convert so many men!” then he is to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” giving the glory to the Holy Spirit alone.

 Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), 346.

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

No Matter How Wretched… (Bucer)

 Martin Bucer’s writing on pastoral theology is an outstanding Reformation resource on this topic.  It’s called Concerning the True Care of Souls.  There are many excellent parts in it, but one that stood out to me today as I was reading my underlines is this one on the free offer of the gospel in the pastoral ministry:

“… it is not the Lord’s will to reveal to us the secrets of his election; rather he commands us to go out into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature.  He says: ‘into all the world’ and ‘to every creature.’  The fact that all people have been made by God and are God’s creatures should therefore be reason enough for us to go to them, seeking with the utmost faithfulness to bring them to eternal life.

That is why the Lord has expressed it in general terms: ‘to every creature.’  He does not want to be invited to his banquet only those who show themselves to be citizens and inhabitants of his city, but he tells his servant: ‘go out into the streets and alleys and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’   And again: ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in.’  From this the Lord teaches us that his ministers are simply to endeavor to lead to his church and to the perfect fellowship of his salvation all those who wish to come, no matter how wretched and corrupted they may be – indeed, not only to lead but to urge and compel them.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, p. 77.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015