Am I A Christian? Doubts and Grace (Brooks)

 One normal but difficult part of the Christian life is when doubts arise and a person wonders whether he or she is truly a Christian.  When Christians struggle with sin, lack strong feelings for the things of God, or find it difficult to pray and read Scripture, doubts creep up.  “Am I really a Christian?”  There are many good biblical themes to discuss at this point, but one of them I’d like to bring up for now is a wise word from Thomas Brooks about God’s work of grace in the hearts of his people.  Brooks’ argument in the following selection basically goes like this: “If a person has even the smallest work of grace in his or her heart, he or she is most definitely a Christian.”  Here’s how Brooks put it (I edited it slightly to make it easier to read):

Consider that the least degree of grace—if it is true grace—is sufficient to salvation; for the promises of life and glory, of forgiveness and salvation, of everlasting happiness and blessedness, are not made to high degrees of grace—but to the reality and truth of grace in the heart.  The promises are not made to faith in a person’s triumph—but to faith in God’s truth. Therefore the sense and evidence of the least grace, yes, of the least degree of the least grace, may afford some measure of assurance. Grace is the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. And the tree is known by his fruit, Mat. 12:33; Mark 16:16; John 3:16, 36; Mat. 5:1; John 6:40.

I do not say that weak grace will afford a strong assurance, or a full assurance, for strong assurance rather arises from strength of grace than from truth of grace in the heart—but I do say, weak grace may give some assurance.  An eminent minister, who was a famous instrument of converting many to God, was accustomed to say, that for his own part, he had no other evidence in himself of being in the state of grace, than that he was sensible of his spiritual deadness!  Oh, that all weak Christians would seriously lay this to heart, for it may serve to relieve them against many fears, doubts, discouragements, and jealousies, which do much disturb the peace and comfort of their precious souls.

Though the least measures of grace cannot satisfy a sincere Christian—yet they ought to quiet his conscience, and cheer his heart, and confirm his judgment of his saving interest in Christ. The least measure of grace is like a diamond, very little in bulk—but of high price and mighty value.  Therefore we are to improve it for our comfort and encouragement. A goldsmith makes reckoning of the least filings of gold, and so should we of the least measures of grace in our hearts. A man may read the king’s image upon a silver penny, as well as upon a larger piece of coin. The least grain of grace bears the image of God upon it; and why then should it not evidence the goodness and happiness of a Christian’s estate? Slight not the lowest evidences of grace!

Again, and in other words, just like a tiny faith is true and saving faith, so a “small” work of grace in the heart is true grace, and proof that a person is a Christian.

You can find the above section in its entirety here: Thomas Brooks, A Cabinet of Jewels, chapter I.VI.  It’s also found in volume three of Brooks’ Works (p. 259-60).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Christ’s Blood and the Christian Conscience (Ash)

 One absolutely wonderful part of being a Christian is having a clear conscience before God and others.  It all has to do with what Jesus did for me: he lived a perfect life for me, died on the cross for me, and was raised from the dead for me.  Because of this, by faith I receive his righteousness and my sins are washed away: I am justified by God.  Therefore I have peace with God and there is no condemnation in my future (Rom. 5:1, 8:1).  Over and over I look to Christ to remember and rejoice in the fact that these things are true – this helps my conscience remain free and clear.  Christopher Ash comments well on this:

Learning to do this [look to Christ and his cleansing blood] is important for Christian stability.  If I am not sure about what Christ has done for me, I will always be dissatisfied how I relate to God, dogged by uncertainty and insecurity.  When someone (a peddler in the spirituality marketplace) offers me a new technique that will cure my spiritual depression, I will be the first to sign up.  If someone tells me about a church on the other side of the world where this cure is being experienced, I will save up and fly out there to get the cure, the ‘new thing that God is doing,’ all because I will not believe what God says.  Instead of wasting my money, I need to think about the new and living way Jesus has opened up for me into the immediate presence of God.  When my heart is filled with the wonder of this truth, I will be oblivious to the attraction of second-rate substitutes.

So the death of Christ not only deals with the objective truth of our guilt before God, but also addresses our subjective awareness of that guilt.  It changes not only the way we are before God, our actual status, but also our perception and our inward thoughts about ourselves. By faith we say to ourselves, ‘God says I have been made perfect in and by the obedience of Jesus Christ.  And I believe that what God says is true.  I have been made perfect.  I am cleansed at the deepest level of human personhood.  Not only my actions and words, but my memories are cleansed too.  So that when conscience drags up in my memory something of which I am ashamed, faith says to conscience that this thing, this sin, this impurity, this greed, this omission, this cowardice, whatever it may be, has been made clean by the blood of Christ.  All of it.”

I take it that this is what John means in 1 John 1:9 when he says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’

Christopher Ash, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, p.146-7.

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

 

Assurance, Good Works, and Sovereign Grace (Berkhof)

Assurance of Faith The Heidelberg Catechism says that the Christian’s good works help in the assurance of faith: “we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits” (Q/A 86).  The Westminster Larger Catechism notes under assurance that the Holy Spirit enables Christians to “discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made” (Q/A 80).  Biblically speaking, James said that true faith is shown to be true by works (James 2:18) and John wrote that we can tell we have new life when we love other Christians (1 John 3:14).

I appreciate Louis Berkhof’s explanation of how assurance of faith is related to good works in the Christian’s life:

…Reformed Confessional Standards also clearly indicate that assurance is based in part on the so-called syllogism of faith, in which the believer consciously and deliberately compares the graces that adorn his life and his general conduct, with the biblical description of the virtues and the godly conversation of those who are born of the Spirit, and on their relative correspondence bases the conclusion that he is indeed a child of God.

Berkhof ended the section this way – by emphasizing sovereign grace:

…Some object to this method of seeking assurance altogether. They claim that it directs believers to seek the ground of assurance within themselves, and thus encourages them to build on a self-righteous foundation. But this is clearly a mistake. Believers are not taught to regard their good works as the meritorious cause of their salvation, but only as the divinely wrought evidences of a faith that is itself a gift of God. Their conclusion is based exactly on the assumption that the qualities and works which they discover in their life, could never have been wrought by themselves, but can only be regarded as the products of sovereign grace.

 Louis Berkhof, The Assurance of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), chapter 6.

(As a side, The Assurance of Faith is only $5.99 on Logos.  It’s very much worth that!)

Shane Lems
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

Judge Not the Lord by Feeble Sense (Feelings and Faith)

 The way we react or respond to the gospel is not the gospel.  My feelings and emotions about Christ are not good news.  The empty tomb does not depend upon how much I treasure Jesus.  My delighting in Christ is not at the heart of the apostolic preaching of the cross.  The level of my satisfaction in Jesus doesn’t affect the historical facts that he died and was raised.

Why are these things worth mentioning?  Well, for one thing, they have to do with assurance of salvation.  If a Christian thinks his response to the gospel is part of the gospel, his assurance will be like a roller coaster that rises and falls with his feelings.  If a believer thinks her delighting in Christ or finding satisfaction in Christ is part of the good news, her assurance will ebb and flow with her emotional state.  In other words, if I think my feelings and emotions are part of the gospel, my assurance will quickly decline on days I’m not treasuring Christ above all.

I appreciate how Thomas Brooks discussed this in his book The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.  When talking to Christians about growing in grace, one bit of counsel he gives is this: “Take heed of making sense and feeling a judge of your condition.”

Though there is nothing more dangerous, yet there is nothing more ordinary, than for weak saints to make their sense and feeling the judge of their condition. Ah, poor souls, this is dishonorable to God and very disadvantageous to yourselves.  Sense is sometimes opposite to reason, but always to faith.  Therefore do as those worthies did, ‘We walk by faith, and not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5.8-9).

Brooks then lists many emotional worries a Christian may have, like not feeling God’s “enlivening presence” or not being “melted” or “enlarged” as earlier in his Christian life.  A Christian might not feel God’s nearness or perhaps not find prayer as sweet as before.  Brooks writes,

If you will make sense and feeling the judge of your state and condition, you will never have peace or comfort all your days.  Your state, O Christian, may be very good, when sense and feeling says it is very bad.  …The best of Christian men have at times lost that quickening, ravishing, and comforting presence of God that once they have enjoyed.  And verily, he that makes sense and carnal reason a judge of his condition, shall be happy and miserable, blessed and cursed, saved and lost, many times in a day, yes, in an hour.

The counsel that I would give to such a soul that is apt to set up reason [or feeling] in the place of faith is this: Whatsoever your state and condition is, never makes sense and feeling the judge of it, but only the word of God.  …It will never be well with you as long as you are swayed by carnal reason, and rely more on your five senses than the four evangelists.  Remember Job was famous for his confidence as for his patience: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).

I don’t always feel like a good Christian.  I sometimes don’t think about satisfaction in Christ.  Other times I feel quite close to the Lord and am abundantly thankful for his blessings.  However, no matter how I feel, no matter what emotional state I’m in, I know that the gospel is still true.  The blood of Jesus that he shed on the cross still cleanses me from all my sin.  The tomb is still empty even if at the moment I’m not emotionally moved by that awesome truth.  My assurance stands firm because my faith rests in facts, not feelings.  Feelings come and go, but facts stay put.  As the old hymn says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace.”

The above quote by Brooks is found on pages 94-95 of his Works, Volume III.

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

God Has Willed My Salvation (Motyer)

The Message of Philippians (The Bible Speaks Today Series) by [Motyer, J. Alec] I came across these comforting words yesterday when reading Motyer’s comments on Philippians 1:6 (…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. NIV)

Salvation would be a wretchedly unsure thing if it had no other foundation than my having chosen Christ. The human will blows hot and cold, is firm and unstable by fits and starts; it offers no security of tenure. But it is the will of God that is the ground of salvation. No one would be saved had not the Lord been moved by his own spontaneous and unexplained love to choose his people before the world was, and, at the decisive moment, to open our hearts to hear, understand and accept ‘the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation’.  This, then, is assurance: God has willed my salvation.

J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 43–44.

Shane Lems

The Rich Comfort of Justification by Faith Alone (Bavinck)

I’m so thankful to Jesus for his perfect and complete work to save me from my sin and misery.  I’m so thankful that my justification doesn’t depend upon my feelings, emotions, prayers, devotion, or good works.  Although my Christian life is far from perfect, and although I lament my sin and sporadic coldness in the faith, I have good confidence that I stand righteous before God because of what Christ has done in my place.  The biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone (apart from works) in Christ alone (and nothing else) has truly given me a rock on which to stand and comfortably rest.  Herman Bavinck put this truth well around 100 years ago.

“The benefit of justification through faith alone has in it a rich comfort for the Christian.  The forgiveness of his sins, the hope for the future, the certainty concerning eternal salvation, do not depend upon the degree of holiness which he has achieved in life, but are firmly rooted in the grace of God and in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.  If these benefits had to derive their certainty from the good works of the Christian they would always, even unto death, remain unsure, for even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.  Accordingly, the believers would be constantly torn between fear and anxiety, they could never stand in the freedom with which Christ has set them free, and, nevertheless being unable to live without certainty, they would have to take recourse to church and priest, to altar and sacrament, to religious rites and practices.  Such is the condition of thousands of Christians both inside and outside of the Roman church.  They do not understand the glory and the comfort of free justification.”

“But the believer whose eye has been opened to the riches of this benefit, sees the matter differently.  He has come to the humble acknowledgement that good works, whether these consist of emotional excitements, of soul experiences, or of external deeds, can never be the foundation but only the fruit of faith.  His salvation is fixed outside of himself in Christ Jesus and His righteousness, and therefore can never again waver.  His house is built upon the rock, and therefore it can stand the vehemence of the rain, the floods, and the wind.”

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, p. 466.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI