Justification Can Never Be Lost (Watson)

This is very good, very biblical, and very comforting:

Justification is ‘inamissibilis;’ it is a fixed permanent thing, it can never be lost.  The Arminians hold an apostasy from justification; today justified, tomorrow unjustified; today a Peter, tomorrow a Judas; today a member of Christ, tomorrow a limb of Satan.  This [Arminian doctrine] is a most uncomfortable doctrine.

Justified persons may fall from degrees of grace, they may leave their first love, they may lose God’s favor for a time, but not lose their justification.  If they are justified they are elected; and they can no more fall from their justification than from their election.  If they are justified they have union with Christ; and can a member of Christ be broken off?  If one justified person may fall away from Christ, all may; and so Christ would be a head without a body.

See from hence [this], that there is nothing within us that could justify but something without [outside] us; not any righteous inherent, but imputed.  We may as well look for a star in the earth as for justification in our own righteousness. The Papists say we are justified by works; but the Apostle confutes it, for he says, ‘not of works, lest any man should boast.’ (Eph 2.9).

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 229.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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John Wesley’s Hatred of Predestination

I was recently reading Lee Gatiss’ collection of essays on Reformed theology and history when I ran across his article called, “Strangely Warmed: John Wesley’s Arminian Campaigns.”  I have to admit I have not read much of Wesley’s writing (though what I have read has been less than impressive).  Since Gatiss mentioned Wesley’s oft-preached sermon on Romans 8:32, I thought I should read it.  In doing so, I found that Gatiss’ point is correct: Wesley was a firm, ferocious, and fierce opponent of unconditional election.

Wesley’s sermon that I’m referring to, interestingly called “Free Grace,” was published and republished quite a few times during his life.  It should be noted that the sermon is not at all an expository sermon on Romans 8:32.  Instead, it is a tirade against one of the doctrines of grace, specifically, the sovereignty of God in election.  Here are a few excerpts:

“Manifestly does this doctrine tend to overthrow the whole Christian Revelation by making it contradict itself. …[This doctrine] is a doctrine full of blasphemy; of such blasphemy as I should dread to mention….”

“[This doctrine] destroys all his (God’s) attributes at once: it overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.

“No scripture can prove that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.

So near the end of the sermon when Wesley said, “I abhor the doctrine of predestination,” he wasn’t exaggerating!   And, as others have noted, when Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” he did not change his views on the doctrines of grace and election.  In fact, Gatiss notes, Wesley’s opposition to Calvinism grew.  Gatiss puts it this way: “His heart was always strangely warmed against it.”  Similarly, as many know of Wesley, he taught perfectionism and was foggy on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  At one point George Whitefield told Wesley they were preaching two different gospels!

Why is this worth pointing out?  Well, as Gatiss notes, Wesley may have done Christian good in his life, “but we may also want to go on and ask whether celebrity men of action can really be so easily excused a little dodgy theology on basic issues of salvation.”  “…The extravagant Arminian eccentricities of the great and famous John Wesley have been hushed up or too easily excused – by Wesley, his followers, by [J. C.] Ryle, and others.”  It’s incorrect to paint Wesley as a solid evangelical who was patient and exceedingly tolerant.  Here is one of Gatiss’ main points:

“Wesley raised the temperature of debate amongst evangelicals in the eighteenth century.  For one supposedly devoted to evangelical unity and peace, his heart and pen were strangely warmed against Calvinists and Calvinism.  His behavior and tone have too often been excused or covered up, and many have been blinded by his celebrity and reputation, or wanted to keep him and his followers onside.  That has sometimes led to something of a whitewash.  In response we must do better church history, which, as Oliver Cromwell said about portrait painting, is best done ‘warts and all.'”

[The above info is found in and quoted in the 8th chapter of Cornerstones of Salvation.]

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

“A Strange Anomaly in Contemporary Evangelicalism” (Boice)

James Montgomery Boice made some good points on the perseverance of the saints in these following paragraphs:

This doctrine has a logical connection to the other Calvinistic distinctives, of course.  Because we are radically depraved and because salvation depends on God’s sovereign acts in our salvation, we have a security that is based on his ability and will rather than our own.  If salvation depended in any measure on what we were able to do or contribute to it, we would not be secure at all.

But there is a strange anomaly in contemporary evangelicalism at this point. The great majority of evangelicals are theologically Arminian.  That is, they do not believe in radical depravity or election.  They believe that the deciding factor in whether a person becomes a Christian and is saved is not God’s regenerating power but the individual’s free will, by which he can choose either to believe or disbelieve.  In other words, he is able to put himself into the kingdom or keep himself out.  But in spite of this synergistic and ultimately man-determined theology, most evangelicals nevertheless believe in perseverance, insisting that when a person is once saved, he is saved forever.  It is a correct point, but Arminian theology provides no basis for it.

The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly and wisely grounds our security in God’s acts when it says of perseverance, “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (chap. 17, sec 1).

James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, p.138

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

The Necessity of Effectual Calling (Or: We Need a Miracle!)

Saved by Grace by [Hoekema, Anthony A.] This is a very helpful discussion of effectual calling/regeneration:

If you believe that the natural state of human beings today is that of moral and spiritual neutrality, so that they can do good or bad as they please (the Pelagian view), you will not even feel the need for an effectual call or for regeneration. If you believe that our natural state is one of spiritual and moral sickness, but that we all still have the ability to respond favorably to the gospel call (the Semi-Pelagian view), you will not need an effectual call. If you believe that, though we are partially or totally depraved, God gives to all a sufficient enabling grace so that everyone who hears the gospel call is able to accept it by cooperating with this sufficient grace (the Arminian view), you will not feel the need for an effectual call. But if you believe that we are by nature totally dead in sin, and therefore unable to respond favorably to the gospel call unless God in his sovereign grace changes our hearts so that we become spiritually alive (the Reformed view), you will realize how desperately you need God’s effectual call. The view last described, I believe, most faithfully reflects biblical teaching.

Let me use an illustration. Let us suppose that you are drowning within earshot of friends on the shore. You cannot swim. Wishing to respect your integrity as a person, and wanting to enable you to help yourself as much as possible, one of your friends standing on the shore, an excellent swimmer, shouts to you that you should start swimming to shore. The advice, though well-meant, is worse than useless, since you can’t swim. What you need, and need desperately, is for your friend to jump in and tow you to shore with powerful strokes, so that your life may be saved. What you need at the moment is not just advice, good advice, even gracious advice—you need to be rescued!

This, now, is our situation by nature. We are lost sinners. We are dead in sin. Being dead in sin, we cannot make ourselves alive. Since we are dead in sin, our ears are deaf to the gospel call and our eyes are blind to the gospel light. We need a miracle. This miracle occurs when God in his amazing grace calls us effectually through his Spirit from spiritual death to spiritual life, from spiritual darkness into his marvelous light. After we have been made spiritually alive, we can once again become actively involved in the process of our salvation—in repentance, faith, sanctification, and perseverance. But at the very beginning of the process, at the point where, being spiritually dead, we need to become spiritually alive, we need nothing less than a miraculous rescue from the murky waters of sin in which, if left alone, we would drown. This is what happens in the effectual call.

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 91.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

He Does Really and Actually Save!

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 What does Reformed theology teach about the extent of Christ’s atonement?  Francis Turretin (d. 1687) explained definite atonement well:

“The common opinion of the Reformed is that Christ – from the mere good pleasure of the Father – was appointed and given as a Redeemer and head, not to all men, but to a certain number of men.  By the election of God, these compose his mystical body.  For these alone, Christ, in order to fulfill the decree of election and the counsel of his Father, was willing and determined to die, and also to add to the infinite price of his death a most efficacious and special intention to substitute himself in their place and to acquire faith and salvation for them.”

Turretin then  went on to mention the texts in Scripture that talk about Christ’s death being for “his people,” “his sheep,” “his friends,” “his church,” and “his body” (Mt. 1:21, Eph 5:23, Jn 10:15, Jn 15:13, etc.).  Turretin also noted how the acquisition and application of redemption are inseparable from the extent of it.  In other words, Jesus redeemed his people and applied redemption to the same ones, his elect.

“It is gratuitous [unwarranted] to say that Christ is the Savior of those for whom salvation is indeed acquired, but to whom it will never be applied.  Even the very word ‘to save’ denotes the actual communication of salvation, and Christ is Jesus, not only because he is willing and able to save and because he removes all obstacles out of the way of salvation, but because he does really and actually save his people, not only by his merit acquiring salvation for them, but also efficaciously applying it to them, which was the intent of God in sending Christ and the end of his mission (as the angel clearly intimates by the imposition of the name ‘Jesus’).

Jesus is not possibly a Savior; he’s not a potential Redeemer.  He actually saves and is a true Redeemer!

The above quotes are found in volume 2 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 458 & 461.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

“One Grain of Arminianism” A. Toplady

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.) I’ve recently been enjoying the writing of Augustus Toplady (d. 1778).  As you may know, Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages” and “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.”  He was a defender of the doctrines of grace and debated John Wesley’s Arminianism.  Here are a few sections from his sermon on Ps. 115:1 (Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. NIV).  In this first section, he compares idolatry to relying on one’s works/righteousness for justification:

But let me ask, If it be so very absurd to worship the work of other men’s hands; what must it be to worship the works of our own hands? Perhaps you may say, “God forbid that I should do so.” Nevertheless, let me tell you, that trust, confidence, reliance, and dependence for salvation, are all acts, and very solemn ones too, of divine worship: and upon whatsoever you depend, whether in whole, or in part, for your acceptance with God, and for your justification in his sight; whatsoever you rely upon, and trust in, for the attainment of grace or glory; if it be any thing short of God in Christ, you are an idolater to all intents and purposes.

Here’s a note on God’s glory in salvation:

And thus will it be, when God has accomplished the number of his elect, and completely gathered in the fullness of his redeemed kingdom. What, do you think, your song will be, when you come to heaven? Blessed be God, that he gave me free-will; and blessed be my own dear self, that I made a good use of it? O no, no. Such a song as that was never heard in heaven yet, nor ever will, while God is God and heaven is heaven. Look into the Book of Revelation, and there you will find the employ of the blessed, and the strains in which they sing. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, by thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation (a). There is discriminating grace for you! Thou hast redeemed us out of every kindred, etc. that is, from (b) among the rest of mankind. Is not this particular election, and limited redemption?

Finally, here’s Toplady on the “rust” of self-righteous pride and how we lose it when we enter glory:

I will venture to assert, that not one grain of Arminianism ever attended a saint into heaven.  If those of God’s people, who are in the bonds of that iniquity, are not explicitly converted from it, while they live and converse among men; yet do they leave it all behind them in Jordan (i. e. in the river of death) when they go through. They may be compared to Paul, when he went from Jerusalem to Damascus, and the grace of God struck him down: he fell, a free-wilier; but he rose a free-gracer. So, however the rust of self-righteous pride (and a cursed rust it is: may God’s Spirit file it off from all our souls) however that rust may adhere to us at present; yet, when we come to stand before the throne, and before the Lamb, it will be all done away, and we shall sing in one full, everlasting chorus, with elect angels and elect men, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 163-4, 168-9.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Receiving Christ?

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms Once upon a time, in a Reformed church, a visiting pastor used the phrase “receive Christ” in a sermon.  Some people afterwards said the man was Arminian because he used the phrase in a positive way.  On a similar note, I’ve heard Calvinists explain that we can’t use the term “accept Jesus” because it’s an Arminian phrase.

Now, I’m not an Arminian, but I think it is perfectly fine to use those phrases in the right context.  We can affirm total depravity, bondage of the will, irresistible grace, and also use the above phrases (accept/receive Christ) in a biblical and Reformed way.  Scripture doesn’t use those exact phrases, but it does use that kind of language.

For example, God’s people are called to “accept” the words of God’s wisdom and instruction as well as his discipline (Prov. 4:10, 19:20, Zeph. 3:7).  Jesus says that those who “accept” the word will bear fruit (Mk 4:20).  Unbelievers do not “accept” the things of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).  This is why the Westminster Confession says that the principle acts of saving faith include “accepting” Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life (WCF 14.2).  Used in the correct Biblical and confessional way, it isn’t Arminian to talk about accepting Christ and his benefits.

What about receiving Christ?  The Westminster Confession also says that a principle act of saving faith includes “receiving” Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life (WCF 14.2).  The Confession gets this language from Scripture.  For example, in John 1:11-12 we learn that some people did not “receive” Christ, but those who did “receive” him (that is, who believed in his name), he gave the right to become God’s children.  James talks about “receiving” the word with meekness (James 1:21).  Abraham “received” God’s promises (Heb. 11) and the Thessalonian Christians “received” the word as God’s word, not man’s (1 Thes. 2:13; cf. 1:6).  Paul said that just as we have “received” Christ Jesus the Lord, we should also walk in him (Col. 2:6).

In summary, while the above phrases might sometimes be used in an Arminian way that emphasizes free will and rejects the bondage of sin and irresistible grace, it is also possible to use these phrases in a biblical and Reformed way – those terms are confessional!  We don’t want to reject Arminianism to the extent that we go too far the other way into hyper-Calvnism!  Again, here’s the section of the Westminster Confession I quoted above:

“The principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”  WCF 14.2

shane lems
hammond, wi