Righteous in Christ, Not Ourselves (Calvin)

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.) In volume 3 of Tracts and Treatises you can find Calvin’s 1547 critical commentary on the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent.  It’s an excellent resource that not only sheds theological light on the central aspects of the Reformation, it’s also a wonderful and edifying defense of the solas and the doctrines of grace.  Here are some of Calvin’s helpful comments on the distinction between justification and sanctification:

It is not to be denied, however, that the two things, Justification and Sanctification, are constantly conjoined and cohere; but from this it is erroneously inferred that they are one and the same. For example: The light of the sun, though never unaccompanied with heat, is not to be considered heat. Where is the man so undiscerning as not to distinguish the one from the other? We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself, to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith from repentance.

The whole dispute is as to The Cause of Justification. The Fathers of Trent pretend that it is twofold, as if we were justified partly by forgiveness of sins and partly by spiritual regeneration; or, to express their view in other words, as if our righteousness were composed partly of imputation, partly of quality.

I maintain that it is one, and simple, and is wholly included in the gratuitous acceptance of God. I besides hold that it is without us [outside of us], because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it [righteousness of works] in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. Will they produce to us one passage which declares that begun newness of life is approved by God as righteousness either in whole or in part? But if they are devoid of authority, why may we not be permitted to repudiate the figment of partial justification which they here obtrude [impose]?

…I, on the contrary, while I admit that we are never received into the favour of God without being at the same time regenerated to holiness of life, contend that it is false to say that any part of righteousness (justification) consists in quality, or in the habit which resides in us, and that we are righteous (justified) only by gratuitous acceptance. For when the Apostle teaches that “by the obedience of one many were made righteous,” (Rom. 6:19,) he sufficiently shews, if I mistake not, that the righteousness wanting in ourselves is borrowed elsewhere. …For however small the portion attributed to our work, to that extent faith will waver, and our whole salvation be endangered.

 John Calvin and Hendry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 115–116.

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

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Nothing Done By Us… (Hodge)

Hodge ST Charles Hodge wrote that justification is…

…[A] declarative act in which God pronounces the sinner just or righteous, that is, declares that the claims of justice, so far as he is concerned, are satisfied, so that he cannot be justly condemned, but is in justice entitled to the reward promised or due to perfect righteousness.

The meritorious ground of justification is not faith; we are not justified on account of our faith, considered as a virtuous or holy act or state of mind. Nor are our works of any kind the ground of justification. Nothing done by us or wrought in us satisfies the demands of justice, or can be the ground or reason of the declaration that justice as far as it concerns us is satisfied. The ground of justification is the righteousness of Christ, active and passive, i.e., including his perfect obedience to the law as a covenant, and his enduring the penalty of the law in our stead and on our behalf.

The righteousness of Christ is in justification imputed to the believer. That is, is set to his account, so that he is entitled to plead it at the bar of God, as though it were personally and inherently his own.

What’s missing from these statements?  Scripture!  However, Hodge later gives all sorts of biblical references and implications as the source of these statements, including Romans 4:6-8; 5:18; 8:1, 33-34; John 3:17-18; Gal. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:24; Col. 2:14, and so forth.  The entire section is for sure reading when considering the great topic of justification by faith alone.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 118.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Justification by Grace Alone: Defense Against Satan’s Attacks (Gurnall)

 There are quite a few Bible truths and texts that help us when Satan comes to accuse and trouble us.  For example, we can think about the armor of God in Ephesians 6.  We could think about God’s promise that he’ll soon crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16.20).  William Gurnall gave some helpful Christian advice on this topic as well.  One thing he said was this: when Satan comes to trouble and accuse you, study the “grand gospel truth” of justification by grace alone through faith alone:

“Acquaint yourself with justification in all its causes: the moving cause (the free mercy of God, being justified freely by his grace), the meritorious cause (which is the blood of Christ), and the instrumental cause (faith).  Also acquaint yourself with all the sweet privileges that flow from justification by grace alone (Rom. 3:24).  If an effectual door was opened into a person’s soul to let this truth in it would not only spoil the pope’s market but also the devil’s.”

Gurnall then gives an illustration of dogs chasing a rabbit.  Even if a rabbit hides in a hole or burrow, the dogs can follow its scent to find it.  Similarly, everything the Christian does has a scent of sin in it and Satan follows that scent until he finds us and makes us “ready to fall down in despair at his feet.”  What do we do then?   Well, we don’t point to our repentance or reformation since these are imperfect.  There are “sinful mixtures” in them.  Here’s Gurnall:

“This truth of justification by grace alone would choke all of Satan’s bullets, that you believe in him who said, ‘But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness’ (Rom. 4:5).  Therefore get into this tower of the gospel covenant, and roll this truth on the head of Satan as the woman who rolled the stone on the head of Abimelech (Jud 9:53).”

William Gurnall, The Christian’s Complete Armor, I.95.

[NOTE: I edited the above quotes for readability.]

Shane Lems
Hammond WI, 54015

A Proverb for Social Media

BRidgesProverbs Here’s an excellent inspired proverb for using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and the like: Proverbs 27:2.  This verse doesn’t use the term “brag” nor does it specifically refer to what we call a “humblebrag,” but the concepts are for sure there:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips. (NASB)
Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (NIV)
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips. (NET)

Here’s how Charles Bridges commented on this verse.  I’ve edited it slightly for length and readability:

‘Praise’ – says an old expositor – ‘is a comely garment.  But though thyself doth wear it, another must put it on, or else it will never sit well about thee.  Praise is sweet music, but it is never tuneable in thine own mouth.  If it comes from the mouth of another, it sounds most tuneably in the ears of all that hear it.  Praise is such a rich treasure but it will never make thee rich unless another tell the same.’  Indeed…nothing so degrades a man with his fellow-men as setting out his own praise….

[Therefore] let our works – not our tongues – ‘praise us in the gates’ (ch. 31:31).  And while our works shine, see to it that ourselves be hid.  ‘Confess your faults to one another’ but leave to another to speak our praise (James 5:16).

Our name will lose nothing by this self-renouncing spirit.  If our own mouth is silent, another’s will be opened.  John was ‘unworthy’ in his own eyes to ‘unloose the latchet of his Master’s shoes.’  Yet his Lord’s mouth did proclaim him as ‘the greatest of all that had been born of women’ (Mt. 3:11).  The centurion spoke of himself as ‘not worthy that Christ should come under his roof.’  Yet his elders did testify that ‘he was worthy for whom he should do this.’  Yes, the Savior’s own mouth confirmed the testimony – ‘I have not found so great faith in all of Israel’ (Lk. 7.3, 4, 9).

Self-seeking is a shameful blot upon Christian profession.  Shall one that has said before God, ‘Behold, I am vile!’ be ready to say before his fellow-men, ‘Come, see my zeal for the Lord! Come, see how humble I am!’  Oh for the self-abased spirit of our glorious Master – ever ready to endure reproach, never seeking his own glory (John 5:41; 8:50). …Surely that we are so little truly humble is matter enough for the deepest humiliation.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs, p. 502-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Not a Twofold Justification (Turretin)

Turretin Scripture teaches that those who are justified have peace with God and will be glorified (Rom. 5:1; 8:30).  This means, among other things, that God continually forgives the sins of those he justified and that once they are justified, they cannot fall from the state of justification (see WCF 11.5).  What does this mean for Christians on the last day, the day of judgment?  Here’s how Francis Turretin nicely explained it:

Although our justification will be fully declared on the last day (our good works also being brought forward as the sign and proof of its truth, Mt. 25:34-40), still falsely would anyone maintain from this a twofold gospel justification – one from faith in this life (which is the first); the other (and second) from works on the day of judgment (as some hold, agreeing too much with the Romanists on this point).

The sentence to be pronounced by the supreme Judge will not be so much a new justification, as the solemn and public declaration of a sentence once passed and its execution by the assignment of the life promised with respect to an innocent person from the preceding justification.  Thus it is nothing else than an adjudicatory sentence of the possession of the kingdom of heaven from the right given before through justification.  And if works are then brought forward, they are not adduced as the foundation of a new justification to be obtained then, but as signs, marks and effects of our true faith and of our justification solely by it.

Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, p. 687.

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

 

Anger and Us – Our Anger (Powlison)

PowlisonAnger  David Powlison’s book Good and Angry is an outstanding resource on anger.  It does a good job balancing and summarizing the biblical teaching about anger – God’s and ours.   In chapter five Powlison noted the truth that our anger isn’t just a “thing” or an “it,” but something we do as humans.  Here’s a summary of Powlison’s explanation:

  1. Your body operates in the agitated mode.  Anger involves physiology and anatomy.  It has a marked bodily component, obvious in the more dramatic forms of anger.  A general nervous tension pervades your body.  Your adrenaline surges.  The muscles in your face and chest – maybe your fists too! – clench.  Your stomach churns.  The sympathetic nervous system fires up.  You actually feel hot, as blood rushes to your muscles preparing you for action.  Your face gets red….
  2. Your emotions operate in the hot displeasure mode.  Anger is a feeling of distress, trouble, and hatred.  When someone says, ‘I’m angry,’ we usually think first of an emotion of intense displeasure.  Your emotional equilibrium is upset, not calm or happy.  When you don’t like what’s going on, anger adds the emotional charge that says, ‘I really don’t like that!’ …Anger is a passion….
  3. Your mind operates in the judicial mode.  Anger actively involves your thought life.  …When you’re mad, an intense mental conversation takes place. …Anger involves pointed, articulate attitudes and judgments that express the criteria by which you evaluate something as acceptable or unacceptable. …In fact, a microcosm of the criminal justice system plays out in the courtroom of your mind.  You play all the prosecuting roles simultaneously…. [But the] trial is rigged…the verdict is predetermined.  [The other person is guilty as charged.]
  4. Your actions operate in the military mode.  Anger doesn’t only operate in your body, feelings, and mind.  It breaks out into behavior.  And that behavior – whether words or deeds – is about conflict and combat.  Anger goes into action as a military operation.  It’s about winning or losing, identifying enemies and allies, attacking and defending.
  5. Your motives operate in the godlike mode. Anger occurs not only in your body, emotions, thoughts, and actions.  It comes from your deepest motives.  Underlying desires and beliefs are at work – always. …When anger goes bad, it’s because motives operate in the godlike mode.  ‘I want my way.  I demand that you love me on my terms.  I will prove that I am right at all costs…. I want to be in control.  You should obey me, listen to me, attend to my every want….

There’s obviously much more to the discussion, but these are some great observations on how we “do” anger.  For better or worse – usually worse since we’re quite sinful – we all are angry sometimes.  If you want to learn more about good anger and bad anger, how anger relates to the gospel, and what it means to fight against sinful anger, I highly recommend this book: Good and Angry by David Powlison.

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

Assurance, Introspection, and Religious Feelings (Hodge)

 Assurance of faith is one of the great blessings of the Christian life.  To be sure, it comes and goes, waxes and wanes.  Sometimes the Christian is certain he or she is a beloved child of God.  Other times the Christian doubts whether it is so.  But assurance is something Christians should pray for, strive for, and be thankful when they have it.  Charles Hodge has a good word on the grounds, or basis, for assurance in volume three of his Systematic Theology:

Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated [grows] by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience. This, except in rare cases, can never lead to the assurance of hope. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards in his work on “The Religious Affections,” and never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt.

The grounds of assurance are not so much within, as without us. They are, according to Scripture,

(1.) The universal and unconditional promise of God that those who come to Him in Christ, He will in no wise cast out; that whosoever will, may take of the water of life without money and without price. We are bound to be assured that God is faithful and will certainly save those who believe.

(2.) The infinite, immutable, and gratuitous love of God. In the first ten verses of the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and in the eighth chapter of that epistle from the thirty-first verse to the end, the Apostle dwells on these characteristics of the love of God, as affording an immovable foundation of the believer’s hope.

(3.) The infinite merit of the satisfaction of Christ, and the prevalence of his continued intercession. Paul, in Romans 8:34, especially emphasizes these points.

(4.) The covenant of redemption in which it is promised that all given by the Father to the Son, shall come to Him, and that none of them shall be lost.

(5.) From the witness of the Spirit, Paul says, “We … rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given unto us. That is, the Holy Ghost assures us that we are the objects of that love which he goes on to describe as infinite, immutable, and gratuitous. (Rom. 5:3–5.) And again, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”

If, therefore, any true believer lacks the assurance of faith, the fault is in himself and not in the plan of salvation, or in the promises of God.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 107.

(This is a re-blog from December 2016.)

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