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


The Importance of “Christ Alone” (Luther)

Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (recently reprinted by Lexham Press) is an excellent resource to have when studying Matthew 5-7.  The language/translation is a bit dated, but it is outstanding and well worth the effort.  Today I read the following, which I marked up quite a bit:

For if I cling to this, that Christ alone is my righteousness and holiness, no monk will ever persuade or mislead me by his hood, rosary, this or that work and childish human notion. For through faith I am a judge of all imaginable conditions and ways of living, so that I can condemn everything that offers to show me anything else that is to avail before God.

In other words, Luther said that if we understand that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we’ll rightly reject and condemn any other way to be right with God.  Luther continued:

But if I neglect this, and let the treasure go, and am instructed to seek elsewhere and otherwise to be pious, to conciliate God and atone for sin, then I am already prepared for all sorts of snares and nets of the devil, and to let myself be led as he pleases; then presently comes someone who preaches to me: ‘If you want to be pious and serve God, then put on a hood, pray daily so many rosaries, burn so many little candles to St. Anna.’  Then I fall in with this like a blind man and everybody’s fool and prisoner, and do everything I am told, so completely that I cannot defend myself from even the most trifling mistake.

If you take away the teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, people will believe and do anything they are told to be accepted by God.  This is a rejection of the gospel.  Therefore we should, following the Apostle Paul’s insistence, clearly preach and firmly believe that we are not justified by works, but through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 3:28, Gal. 2:16, etc.).

Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, p. 68.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

All Our Works Excluded (Vos)

  When it comes to being right with God – being declared righteous by God and accepted by him – all our works are completely excluded.  Or, as the Bible says, we are not justified by works, but by faith in Christ (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 3:28, 10:10, etc).  This is the meaning behind these solas: faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.  Geerhardus Vos explains justification apart from works in volume three of his dogmatics:

Not only the works that we do in our own strength, or that we do before regeneration, or that we do without the merits of Christ, but all [our] works, of whatever sort, are excluded from justification.

This is so repetitively certain in Scripture that proof is almost superfluous. Galatians 2:16 reads, “… nevertheless, knowing that a man is not justified by law-works [ἐξ ἔργων νόμου].” In no way is the reference here to works prescribed by one or another specific law, because the article is missing. All law-work as such is excluded from justification. According to Paul, faith and works form an absolute contrast in the matter of justification (Rom 11:6).

This must be maintained against the Roman Catholic teaching about the instrumentality of works in justification, as well as against Pelagians, Rationalists, and Remonstrants. The first two mentioned, the Pelagians and Rationalists, maintain that Scripture excludes only the works of the Jewish law, that is, the ceremonial law, but that the moral law certainly has to be observed by us for justification.

The last, the Remonstrants [the 17th century Arminian group], go one step further, and in place of the moral law in all its severity put a lighter form, the law of the obedience of faith. They speak of a fides obsequiosa [submissive faith] and of an obedientia evangelica [evangelical obedience], which, while in itself not perfect, is accepted by God as perfect.

Vos also summarizes the “causes” of justification.  Notice the work of the triune God in justification:

      The effective cause (causa efficiens) of justification is God, more accurately God the Father, and still more accurately His grace and righteousness. The meritorious cause is the obedience of Christ the Mediator (causa meritoria). The instrumental cause (causa instrumentalis) is faith worked in the heart through the Holy Spirit and then put into action. The final cause (causa finalis) is the glorification of God regarding all His virtues related to justification.

Of course we want God to receive all the glory in everything – especially our redemption.  When we submit to Scripture and acknowledge that God justifies sinners because of Christ’s imputed righteousness received by faith alone, we give God all the glory.  When we admit that even our faith is a gift of God the Holy Spirit, we give God all the glory.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
(Ps. 115:1 NASB)

Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 4 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2014), 143, 151–152.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Martin Luther: Christ Alone!

Product Details (This is a re-post from March 2012)

When Martin Luther preached from the Gospel passages on John the Baptist, he always emphasized how John’s finger pointed to Christ, and how the church most follow in John’s footsteps and point people to the Lord without fail.  Salvation can only be found in Jesus and in no one or nothing else; that is the message the church must constantly preach.  But preaching this isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

“…The devil does not intend to allow this testimony about Christ.  He devotes all his energy to opposing it and will not desist until he has struck it down and suppressed it.  In this respect, we humans are weak and stubbornly perverse and are more likely to become attached to saints than to Christ.  Within the papacy they have preached about the service rendered by these beloved saints, that one ought to rely on their merit.”

“And I, too, believed and preached thus.  St. Ann was my idol, and St. Thomas my apostle.  I patterned myself substantially after them.  Others ran to St. James and strongly believed and firmly trusted that, if they conformed, they would received all they wished and hoped for.  Prayers were said to St. Barbara and St. Christopher in order to avert an early and sudden death, and there was no uncertainty here.  So completely is man by nature bent on renouncing this testimony of John the Baptist.”

“For this reason it is necessary constantly to persevere and adhere to John’s testimony concerning Christ.  For it requires toil and effort to continue with word and testimony, for a person at death to be able to say, I must die, but I have a Savior concerning whom John the Baptist testifies; on him and on no other creature, either in heaven or on earth, do I rely.  However, that a person can die as cheerfully by believing in St. Barbara, in an indulgence, or in a pilgrimage to Rome, as in the man to whom alone John the Baptist points, is out of the question.  Also, that a person can build as strongly on monkery or monastery life as on holy baptism is a forlorn hope.”

“What I am telling you is that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”

Here we see one of the major issues of the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic Church clouded the gospel by adding assistants and helpers into the mix of salvation.  Rome preached a gospel of “Jesus and:” Jesus and Mary, Jesus and purgatory, Jesus and the saints, Jesus and works of charity.  Luther and the Reformers cleared the fog by ridding the church of helpers in salvation.  They preached the gospel once again in all its clarity: Christ and Christ alone is sufficient for salvation.  Since Rome has not changed, and since our own hearts constantly look elsewhere for salvation, the issue is still before us today.  So it is still the duty of the church to clear away all helpers and assistants in salvation and preach Christ and him alone.  He is all we have for salvation, but he is all that we’ll ever need.

These quotes are taken from volume five of Baker Publishing’s 7-volume set of Luther’s sermons (page 79).

shane lems

Charles Hodge on Justification

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes If you haven’t read Charles Hodge’s (d. 1878) explanation of justification in his Systematic Theology, I recommend you do so sooner than later.  You’re in for a real treat!  It’s not too tough to read (aside from the untranslated Latin), it’s well structured, and it is under 100 pages long.  Here are a few excerpts I’ve edited very slightly and put together.

“Justification is an act, and not, as sanctification, a continued and progressive work.  The two gifts (justification and sanctification), although inseparable, are distinct, and justification, instead of being an efficient act changing the inward character of the sinner, is a declarative act, announcing and determining his relation to the law and justice of God.  It 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.”

“According to the doctrine of the Lutherans and Reformed, the works excluded from the ground of our justification are not only ritual or ceremonial works, nor merely works done before regeneration, nor the perfect obedience required by the law given to Adam, but works of all kinds, everything done by us or wrought in us.  The declaration of Scripture is that we are not justified ‘by works.’  No specific kind of works is designated to the exclusion of all others.  But it is ‘works;’ what we do, anything and everything we do.”

“Grace of necessity excludes works of every kind, and more especially those of the highest kind, which might have some show of merit.  But merit of any degree is of necessity excluded, if our salvation be by grace (Rom. 4:4, 11:6).”

“The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer for his justification.  It is not what we do or are, but solely what Christ is and has done that can avail for our justification before the bar of God.  Faith is never said to be the ground of justification.  We are saved simply ‘by’ faith, by receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation.  The thing received is out of ourselves.  It is Christ, his righteousness, his obedience, the merit of his blood or death.  We look to him.  We flee to him.  We lay hold on him.  We hide ourselves in him.  We are clothed in his righteousness.”

I could go on; Hodge certainly does.  Again, if you want a great Reformation discussion of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, read Charles Hodge’s section on justification in volume three of his Systematic TheologyAs many of you may know, the Kindle version is inexpensive and sometimes the hardcovers go on sale at CBD for under $20.  It is worth the time and money for sure.  Highly recommended!

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Not What My Hands Have Done (I Cast It All Away)

Faith and Life Here’s a snippet of  B.B. Warfield’s outstanding exposition of Philippians 3.9 found in Faith and Life (reblogged from July 22, 2011).

“All that he [Paul] is, all that he has sought after, all that he has done – though from a fleshly point of view far superior to what most men can appeal to – all, all, he counts (not merely useless but) loss, all one mass of loss, to be cast away and buried in the sea, ‘that he may gain Christ and be found in him.’  On the one side stand all human works – they are all loss.  On the other hand stands Christ – he is all in all.  That is the contrast.”

“The contrast is between the righteousness which a man can make for himself and the righteousness that a God gives him.  And the contrast is absolute.  On the one, in the height and the breadth of its whole idea – we cannot exaggerate here – Paul pours contempt, as a basis or, nay, even the least part of the basis, of salvation.  On the other, exclusively, he bases the totality of salvation.  The outcome is, that not merely polemically but alien righteousness, with the express exclusion of every item of our own righteousness.  The whole contents of the passage demands this as Paul’s fundamental thought.”

“The gospel, to Paul, consists precisely in this: that we do nothing to earn our salvation or to secure it for ourselves.  God in Christ does it all.”

“It must be faith or works; it can never be faith and works.  And the fundamental exhortation which we must ever be giving our souls is clearly expressed in the words of the hymn, ‘Cast your deadly doing down.’  Only when that is completely done is it really Christ only, Christ all in all, with us; only then, do we obey fully Paul’s final exhortation: ‘let your joy be in the Lord.’  Only then do we renounce utterly ‘our own righteousness, that out of law,’ and rest solely on ‘that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God on [by] faith.’”

What a great way to explain Paul’s teaching of sola fide and solus Christus – and what a comfort the gospel is, knowing that salvation belongs totally to the Lord, from start to finish, from beginning to end.

rev shane lems

All Boasting Excluded

As I mentioned earlier, as I read through John Newton’s works this winter, I plan to pass along some “gems” I find.  I hope to do this weekly (give or take).  This week’s quote is from a letter Newton wrote in April of 1772.  It is basically an explanation of the great phrase he spoke at the end of his life: “Two things I know – first, that I am a great sinner.  Second, that Christ is a great Savior.” 

“The unchangeableness of the Lord’s love, and the riches of his mercy, are likewise more illustrated by the multiplied pardons he bestows upon his people, than if they needed no forgiveness at all.”

“Hereby the Lord Jesus Christ is more endeared to the soul; all boasting is effectually excluded, and the glory of a full and free salvation is ascribed to him alone.”

“If a mariner is surprised by a storm, and after one night spent in jeopardy is presently brought safe into port; though he may rejoice in his deliverance, it will not affect him so sensibly, as if, after being tempest-tossed for a long season, and experiencing a great number and variety of hair-breadth escapes, he at last gains the desired haven.”

“The righteous are said to be scarcely saved, not with respect to the certainty of the event, for the purpose of God in their favor cannot be disappointed—but in respect of their own apprehensions, and the great difficulties they are brought through. But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls.”

“They love much, because much has been forgiven them. They dare not, they will not ascribe anything to themselves—but are glad to acknowledge, that they must have perished (if possible) a thousand times over, if Jesus had not been their Savior, their shepherd, and their shield. When they were wandering—he brought them back; when fallen—he raised them; when wounded—he healed them; when fainting—he revived them. By him, out of weakness—they have been made strong:  he has taught their hands to war, and covered their heads in the day of battle.”

“In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the humiliating proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of him—if they had not known so much of themselves.”

John Newton, Works, volume 1, page 450-1.

shane lems