Faith and Submission (Hodge)

In chapter six of The Way of Life, Charles Hodge summarized some different ways the Bible speaks about justifying faith.  One of those examples is faith as submission (cf. Rom 10:3).

Another term by which faith is expressed is submitting. This is not to be understood as meaning a submission to the will of God as a sovereign ruler, a giving up all our controversy with him and resigning ourselves into his hands. All this is duty, but it is not saving faith. The submission required is submission to the revealed plan of salvation; it is the giving up all excuses for our sins, all dependence upon our own righteousness, and submitting to the righteousness which God has provided for our justification. This is what the Jews refused to do, and perished in unbelief.  This is what we must do, in order to be saved.

Men, when sensible of their guilt and danger, are perplexed and anxious about many things. But there is only one thing for them to do. They must submit to be saved as ungodly, as sinners, as entirely undeserving, solely for Christ’s sake. They must consent to allow the robe of his righteousness to be cast over all their nakedness and blood, that they may be found in him, not having their own righteousness, but the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ. Then will they be prepared to join that great multitude which stand before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palms in their hands, crying with a loud voice, ‘Salvation to our God who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and people, and tongue, and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests.’

It is thus that the Bible answers the question, What must we do to be saved? We are told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and to set forth the nature, the object and office of this faith, the Scriptures employ the most significant terms and illustrations, in order that we may learn to renounce ourselves and our works, and to be found in Christ depending solely upon what He has done and suffered as the ground of our acceptance with God. Those who thus believe, have passed from death unto life; they are no longer under condemnation; they have peace with God and rejoice in hope of his glory. As this faith unites them with Christ, it makes them not only partakers of his death, but of his life. The Holy Spirit, given without measure to him, is through him given unto them, and works in them the fruits of holiness, which are unto the praise and glory of God.

Charles Hodge, The Way of Life (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1841), 216–218.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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Christian Marriage and the Christian Church

Love That Lasts (Foreword by CJ and Carolyn Mahaney): When Marriage Meets Grace by [Ricucci, Gary, Ricucci, Betsy] A Christian marriage cannot flourish apart from the church.  This fact is sometimes ignored in Christian counseling and in Christian books on marriage.  But it’s true: the local Christian church is a vital ingredient in a solid biblical marriage.  I appreciate how one marriage book, Love That Lasts, emphasizes this fact:

“…[T]he local church is the biblical home for Christian marriage, the indispensable context where love and marriage are to be lived out. …There is no room in Scripture for Lone Ranger spouses.”

“The church is the place where marriages are fed and supported with truth.  The local church is God’s primary context for the teaching and application of God’s Word.  As helpful as recorded messages, Christian media, conferences, and even books can be, the Lord has established the church as the central depository and dispensary of the truth.  If you truly want to mature as a husband or wife, if you want your spouse to spiritually thrive, if you want to see your family nurtured into the truth, the local church is your God-given context.”

“…[T]he church is the place where marriages are helped in seasons of need.  In every marriage there are times of trial, struggles with sin, and seasons of suffering. …There are many ways in which serious trials can assault a marriage.  It is at these times that our brothers and sisters in the local church embody the love of Christ to us.”

“…And regardless of the cultural whirlwind around us, it is the local church – Christians living a shared life biblically before God and one another – that will ultimately secure the place and role of marriage and family from generation to generation.”

Love that Lasts by Gary and Betsy Ricucci, p. 24-26.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Liberty of the Will (Muller)

“The freedom or liberty of nature; viz., the liberty that is proper to a being given its particular nature.  No being, not even omnipotent God, can act contrary to its nature.  In man, this ‘libertas naturae’ can be distinguished into four distinct categories or states:

  1. The ‘libertas Adami,’ or freedom of Adam, before the fall – this is the ability or power not to sin, potentia non peccandi, and Adam and Eve are described, in the traditional Augustinian terminology, as ‘possse non peccare’, able not to sin.
  2. The ‘libertas peccatorum’, or freedom of sinners, a freedom that is proper to and confined within the limits of fallen nature and is therefore an absolute ‘impotentia bene agendi’, inability to do good or act for the good, with the sinner described as ‘non posse non peccare’, not able not to sin,
  3. The ‘libertas fidelium’, or freedom of the faithful, a freedom of those regenerated by the Holy Spirit that is proper to the regenerate nature and is characterized by the ‘potentia peccandi et bene agendi’, the ability to sin and to do good; the regenerate, because of grace, can be described as ‘posse peccare et non peccare’, able to sin and not to sin;
  4. The ‘libertas gloriae’, or liberty of glory, a freedom proper to the fully redeemed nature of the ‘beati’, who, as residents of the heavenly kingdom, as ‘in patria’, are now characterized by ‘impotentia peccare’, inability to sin, and as ‘non posse peccare’, unable to sin.

Richard Muller, Dictionary, p. 176.

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

What Does “The Empty Hand of Faith” Mean? (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.)You may have heard someone talk about coming to Christ with an empty hand of faith.  What does this mean?  This phrase has a historical background.  In the 17th century, some Christian teachers were saying in order to be forgiven and justified a sinner needs to have repentance.  [Repentance in this context has a broad meaning which includes hating sin, turning to God, and endeavoring unto new obedience (see WLC 76 or HC 88-90)].  For example, Richard Baxter taught that a person must be forsaking sin and following Christ to be pardoned and justified.  This led some Reformed preachers to say that Baxter was setting up a new covenant of works!

I appreciate how Thomas Boston discussed this topic.  Here are some things he said in a treatise on this topic:

“I conceive that such doctrine is injurious to the grace of God, and doth much darken the free pardon offered in the gospel, in regard the pardon is promised immediately to those that believe (Acts 10:43 ‘Through his name, whosoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins’).

Boston noted that if someone does need to be forsaking sin and following Jesus to obtain forgiveness, it would be like earning forgiveness.  Boston quotes Preston favorably: “It is a fault to think that God’s pardons are not free and that you must bring something in your hand.”

Upon the whole we may see that the gospel teaches us to come empty-handed to the market of free grace for remission of sins and God’s favor.  But he does not come empty-handed who brings repentance along with him.  If any shall say we screw up matters so high in this point that we must also cast away faith as well as repentance for obtaining pardon, as if faith is something we bring to attain pardon, I say this:

For the safety of God’s grace, let the ‘work-faith’ and the ‘inherent-quality-faith’ go, and be made to stand back, while the sinner stands before God’s tribunal to be justified – that the empty-handed, ‘taking-faith’ may alone have place.  Hasn’t the Lord made pardon to be only of faith, that it might be of grace, while faith comes with an empty hand and receives all?

Boston then said that in this matter there’s a big difference between faith and repentance (conversion/living a new life), for one receives (faith) and the other gives (repentance).  In fact, Boston exhorted readers not to turn the covenant of grace into a “bastard covenant of works” by saying we have to bring something when we come to Jesus to obtain his favor.

So what does “the empty hand of faith” mean?  It means coming to Christ empty-handed simply to receive the free, gracious gift of full forgiveness.  When we come to Jesus for pardon and justification, we don’t need to bring Him anything in exchange; we don’t need to clean up our act, put nice clothes on, or do a few good deeds so He notices us.  We come like a beggar would come before a king with nothing but an open hand to receive a gift from the king.  And as the Bible teaches, this King blesses beggars who come with an empty hand of faith!

The above-edited quotes are found in Thomas Boston, Works, Volume 6, p. 87ff

Shane Lems

Saved by Grace!

I’m very thankful to have grown up in a solid Christian home and church that stressed the truths of Reformed theology.  From the time I was a young boy, I learned the Bible verses and confessional phrases that talk about faith alone, Christ alone, grace alone, and so forth.  I would have told you when I was young that we are not saved by works.  Some of my Sunday School and catechism books had titles like “Saved by Grace.”  This teaching of salvation by grace alone has been dear to me for a long time.  I know my good works are neither the cause nor the foundation of my salvation.  My salvation is wholly found in Christ.

I was recently reminded of this when reading the Belgic Confession of Faith articles 22-25.  In these great paragraphs, the Confession says that all things “requisite to our salvation” are found in Christ and that those who “possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in him.”  It also says that the Christian’s good works “are of no account towards our justification.”  In fact, it says, “though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them.”  Here’s how John Calvin similarly discussed this in his commentary on Hebrews 6:10 (God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him [NIV]).

But here a difficulty arises, because he seems to say that God is bound by the services of men: “I am persuaded,” he says, “as to your salvation, because God cannot forget your works.” He seems thus to build salvation on works, and to make God a debtor to them. And the sophists, who oppose the merits of works to the grace of God, make much of this sentence, “God is not unrighteous.” For they hence conclude that it would be unjust for him not to render for works the reward of eternal salvation. To this I briefly reply, that the Apostle does not here speak avowedly of the cause of our salvation, and that therefore no opinion can be formed from this passage as to the merits of works, nor can it be hence determined what is due to works. The Scripture shews everywhere that there is no other fountain of salvation but the gratuitous mercy of God: and that God everywhere promises reward to works, this depends on that gratuitous promise, by which he adopts us as his children, and reconciles us to himself by not imputing our sins. Reward then is reserved for works, not through merit, but through the free bounty of God alone; and yet even this free reward of works does not take place, except we be first received into favour through the kind mediation of Christ.

We hence conclude, that God does not pay us a debt, but performs what he has of himself freely promised, and thus performs it, inasmuch as he pardons us and our works; nay, he looks not so much on our works as on his own grace in our works. It is on this account that he forgets not our works, because he recognises himself and the work of his Spirit in them. And this is to be righteous, as the Apostle says, for he cannot deny himself. This passage, then, corresponds with that saying of Paul, “He who has begun in you a good work will perfect it.” (Phil. 1:6.) For what can God find in us to induce him to love us, except what he has first conferred on us? In short, the sophists are mistaken in imagining a mutual relation between God’s righteousness and the merits of our works, since God on the contrary so regards himself and his own gifts, that he carries on to the end what of his own good-will he has begun in us, without any inducement from anything we do; nay, God is righteous in recompensing works, because he is true and faithful: and he has made himself a debtor to us, not by receiving anything from us; but as Augustine says, by freely promising all things.

John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 142–143.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

A Pastor’s Prayer (Luther)

Luther's Prayers by [Luther, Martin] This pastor’s prayer of Luther is one that resonates very much with me:

“[Lord,] you know how unworthy I am to fill so great and important an office.  Were it not for your counsel, I would have utterly failed long ago.  Therefore I call upon you for guidance.  Gladly will I give my heart and voice to this work.  I want to teach the people.  I want always to seek and study in your Word, and eagerly to meditate upon it.  Use me as your instrument.  Lord, do not forsake me.  If I were alone, I would ruin everything.  Amen”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Prayers, p 89.

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

Apostasy in Hebrews 6:4-6 (Owen)

Scripture teaches that those whom God loves, he never leaves.  Whom he predestines, he preserves.  Those he effectually calls, he effectually keeps.  Whom he regenerates, he never rejects.  The ones he forgives, he never forsakes (Ps. 37:28, John 10:28-29, Rom. 8:35-39, Phil. 1:6, 1 Cor. 1:7b-8a, etc.).  The perseverance of the saints is a clear – and comforting! – teaching of Scripture.

There are, however, some verses that might make one pause when it comes to perseverance.  One such text is Hebrews 6:4-6: For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame (NASB).

We can’t just throw those verses out if we don’t like them!  At the same time, we must realize they won’t contradict other teachings in Scripture.  I appreciate how John Owen handled these verses in his commentary on them.  Here’s a helpful excerpt which I’ve edited very slightly:

That the people here  intended (in Heb. 6:4-6) are not true and sincere believers, in the strict and proper sense of that name, at least they are not described here as such; so that from this nothing can be concluded concerning them that are so, as to the possibility of their total and final apostasy.

For, (1.) There is  no mention of faith in their full and large description, or believing, either expressly or in equivalent terms; and in no other place in the Scripture are such intended, but they are mentioned by what belongs essentially to their state.

And, (2.) There is not any thing ascribed to these persons that is peculiar to them as such, or discriminative of them, as taken either from their special relation unto God in Christ, or any such property of their own as is not communicable unto others. For instance, they are not said to be called according to God’s purpose; to be born again, not of man, nor of the will of flesh, but of God; nor to be justified, or sanctified, or united unto Christ, or to be the sons of God by adoption; nor do they have any other characteristical note of true believers ascribed to them.

(3.) They are in the following verses compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briers. But this is not so with true believers.  For faith itself is an herb peculiar to the enclosed garden of Christ, and fit for him by whom we are dressed.

(4.) The apostle afterwards discoursing of true believers, does in many particulars distinguish them from such as may be apostates; which is supposed of the persons here intended, as was before declared. For, [A.] He ascribes to true believers in general “better things, and such as accompany salvation,” verse 9. [B.] He ascribes to true believers a “work and labor of love,” as it is true faith alone which worketh by love, verse 10; whereof he speaks not one word concerning these. [C.] He asserts their preservation; 1st, On the account of the righteousness and faithfulness of God in verse 10; 2nd, of the immutability of his counsel concerning them, in verses 17 and 18. In all these and many other instances he puts a difference between these apostates and true believers. And whereas the apostle intends to declare the aggravation of the apostates’ sin in falling away by the principal privileges whereof they were made partakers, here is not one word, in name or thing, of those which he expressly assigns to be the chief privileges of true believers, Rom. 8:27–30.

John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 22, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), 84.

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