God Clothed in His Word and Promises (Luther)

Luther’s Works (55 vols.) Here’s a wonderful selection from Martin Luther’s commentary on Psalm 51:1a (Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love! NET).  These comments have a lot to do with Luther’s critique of Rome’s “theology of glory.”  Notice how Luther talked about God “clothed in His Word and promises,” which have to do with Christ.  In fact, Luther’s contempt for the theology of glory had to do with his love for the biblical teaching of “Christ alone.”  We don’t find a loving, merciful God apart from His Word which reveals the suffering Messiah; this is the theology of the cross.  Here’s Luther’s comment:

“…Here at the very beginning [of the commentary on Psalm 51:1] you should be reminded of something so that you do not think that David is talking about God like a Mohammedan [Muslim] or like some other Gentile [unbeliever]. David is talking with the God of his fathers, with the God who promised. The people of Israel did not have a God who was viewed ‘absolutely,’ to use the expression, the way the inexperienced monks rise into heaven with their speculations and think about God as He is in Himself. From this ‘absolute God’ everyone should flee who does not want to perish, because human nature and the ‘absolute God’ are bitterest of enemies. Human weakness cannot help being crushed by such majesty, as Scripture reminds us over and over.

Let no one, therefore, interpret David as speaking with the ‘absolute God.’ He is speaking with God as He is dressed and clothed in His Word and promises, so that from the name ‘God’ we cannot exclude Christ, whom God promised to Adam and the other patriarchs. We must take hold of this God, not naked but clothed and revealed in His Word; otherwise certain despair will crush us.  This distinction must always be made between the Prophets who speak with God and the Gentiles.  The Gentiles speak with God outside His Word and promises, according to the thoughts of their own hearts; but the Prophets speak with God as He is clothed and revealed in His promises and Word. This God, clothed in such a kind appearance and, so to speak, in such a pleasant mask, that is to say, dressed in His promises—this God we can grasp and look at with joy and trust.

The above slightly edited quote is found in Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Volume 12, page 312.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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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

 

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