Our Foundation of Grace (Owen)

In one part of his exposition of Psalm 130, John Owen discussed receiving forgiveness and being assured of it.  One of his “rules” was this: “Mix not foundation and building-work together.”  By this Owen meant that the Christian’s foundation of forgiveness and acceptance with God is not by works, but by grace alone and found in Christ alone.  Here’s what he wrote:

“Our foundation in dealing with God is Christ alone, mere grace and pardon in him.  Our building is by holiness and obedience, as the fruits of that faith by which we have received the atonement.

And great mistakes there are in this matter, which bring great entanglements on the souls of men. Some are all their days laying the foundation, and are never able to build upon it any comfort to themselves or usefulness to others; and the reason is, because they are mixing with the foundation stones that are fit only for the building. They will be bringing their obedience, duties, mortification of sin, and the like, to the foundation. These are precious stones to build with, but unmeet to be first laid, to bear upon them the whole weight of the building.

The foundation is to be laid, as was said, in mere grace, mercy, and pardon in the blood of Christ. This the soul is to accept of and to rest in as mere grace, without the consideration of any thing in itself, but that it is sinful and obnoxious unto ruin. This it finds a difficulty in, and would gladly have something of its own to mix with it. It cannot tell how to fix these foundation-stones without some cement of its own endeavors and duty; and because these things will not mix, they spend a fruitless labor about it all their days.

But if the foundation be of grace, it is not at all of works; for “otherwise grace is no more grace. ” If any thing of our own be mixed with grace in this matter, it utterly destroys the nature of grace; which if it be not alone, it does not exist at all….

This, then, is the soul to do who would come to peace and settlement.  Let it let go of all former endeavors, if it has been engaged unto any of that kind, and let it alone receive, admit of, and adhere to, mere grace, mercy, and pardon, with a full sense that in itself it has nothing for which it should have an interest in them, but that all is of mere grace through Jesus Christ: ‘Other foundation can no man lay.’ Depart not hence until this work be well over. Cease not from an earnest endeavor with your own heart to acquiesce in this righteousness of God, and to bring your souls unto a comfortable persuasion that “God for Christ’s sake hath freely forgiven you all your sins. “

This is a great reminder of that biblical truth that we are justified, forgiven, and accepted by God only through Christ and only because of God’s grace (Rom 3-4, Gal 2-3, Eph 2, etc.).  Our justification, forgiveness, and acceptance are not in any way dependent upon our works, deeds, or merits.  As we begin to grow in understanding of this foundational truth, our assurance also grows and we learn more about what it means to give God all the glory.

The above quote is found in John Owen’s exposition of Psalm 130, chapter 13, rule 7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Advertisements

Dear Devil, Go Eat the Dung (Luther)

In 1532 Martin Luther preached a sermon at the funeral of Duke John of Saxony.  He preached on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.  It’s a good sermon in many ways.  One helpful part of this sermon is where Luther explained how Satan, the accuser, uses the law in a crafty way.  He first tells us that we have to be good and keep the law, but then he reminds us that we haven’t kept the law.  “And with that thought he brings one into such anxiety that one is ready to despair.”  Luther continues:

And again when occasionally I have done something good, Satan is nevertheless able to turn it around in such a way that my holiness is reduced to nothingness. Then I make haste to seize hold of the article of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for my sins [I Cor. 15:31]; and this is precisely what Satan does not want to let into my heart. But what does go into the heart is that I have done this and not done that, that I have given alms, been good, etc., just as I can say of our beloved prince that he had a faithful heart, devoid of malice and envy.

In other words, if Satan can’t get us to despair about our many sins, he tries to get us to be proud of our obedience.  Again, Luther:

But by all means take care not to let anybody persuade you of this on your deathbed; for then the devil is not far away; he can throw in your face a little sin which reduces all such fine virtues to nothing, so that finally you come to such a pass that you say: Devil, rage as much as you please, I do not boast of my good works and virtues before our Lord God at all, nor shall I despair on account of my sins, but I comfort myself with the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again, as the text here says.

Lo, when I believe this with my whole heart, then I have the greatest treasure, namely, the death of Christ and the power which it has wrought, and I am more concerned with that than with what I have done. Therefore, devil, begone with both my righteousness and my sin. If I have committed some sin, go eat the dung; it’s yours. I’m not worrying about it, for Jesus Christ died. St. Paul bids me comfort myself with this, that I may learn to defend myself from the devil and say: Even though I have sinned, it doesn’t matter; I will not argue with you about what evil or good I have done. There is no time to talk of that now; go away and do it some other time when I have been a bad boy, or go to the impenitent and scare them all you please. But with me, who have already been through the anguish and throes of death, you’ll find no place now. This is not the time for arguing, but for comforting myself with the words that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. Thus I am sure that God will bring me, along with other Christians, with Christ to his right hand and carry me through death and hell.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 51, p. 241.

Shane Lems

Israel, the Church, and Replacement Theology

Numbers (PTW) I appreciate and agree with Iain Duguid’s discussion of “replacement theology” in his commentary on Numbers 24:

Some Christians believe that Old Testament promises that speak of “Israel” are only intended for ethnic Israel and not for the church. For them, Balaam’s prophecies speak of a glorious future for the physical descendants of Israel, but they would call any attempt to apply these promises to the church “replacement theology.” I would suggest that this is a misunderstanding of what the Scriptures teach about Israel. It is not that the church has replaced Israel in the New Testament so much as that Old Testament Israel—ethnic Israel—finds its true goal and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is himself the star of Jacob, the Israel of God.

In the person of Jesus, therefore, the true Israel has arrived, and all those who come to God by faith in him—Jews and Gentiles alike—become God’s children and are thereby incorporated into this new people of God (John 1:11, 12). In Christ, Jews and Gentiles together become the true heirs of the promise given to Abraham, his spiritual descendants (Galatians 3:29). Outside of Christ, on the other hand, there is no longer any true Israel. It is those who are in Christ who are the true chosen people: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been chosen by God for exactly the same special relationship that he had with his Old Testament people. In his incredible grace and mercy, God chose us before the foundation of the world, so that we might be blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3, 4). He has rescued us from the final judgment that awaits all those who remain outside his people and has given us the glorious inheritance of a relationship with himself. In Jesus, the star of Jacob has risen for us and for our salvation.

Iain M. Duguid and R. Kent Hughes, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 287–288.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Prophets, Suffering, and Jesus (Vos)

 In an article on Jeremiah 31:3 (I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. NIV) Geerhardus Vos explained the context of Jeremiah’s ministry as one of suffering and the burden of having a prophetic understanding of Israel’s dismal future.  In that context, a reminder of God’s love must have been like a bright, warm ray of sunshine that penetrated the weeping prophet’s darkness.  Here’s how Vos discussed it:

In taking the comfort of the prophetic promises to our hearts we do not, perhaps, always realize what after the tempests and tumults, in the brief seasons of clear shining which God interposed, such relief must have meant to the prophets themselves. For they had not merely to pass through the distress of the present; besides this they were not allowed to avert their eyes from the terrifying vision of the latter days. In anticipation they drank from the cup “with wine of reeling” filled by Jehovah’s hand.

Nor did the prophets see only the turbulent surface, the foaming upper waves of the inrushing flood, their eyes were opened to the religious and moral terrors underneath. The prophetic agony was no less spiritual than physical: it battled with the sin of Israel and the wrath of God, and these were even more dreadful realities than hostile invasion or collapse of the state or captivity for the remnant. In a sense which made them true types of Christ the prophets bore the unfaithfulness of the people on their hearts. As Jesus had a sorrowful acquaintance with the spirit no less than the body of the cross, so they were led to explore the deeper meaning of the judgment, to enter recesses of its pain undreamt of by the sinners in Israel themselves.

So we can find a preview of Christ’s sufferings in the sufferings of the prophets.

You can find this quote in Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 288.

Shane Lems

Saying No to Church = Divorcing Christ from His Bride (Murray)

Some people today believe they can be a Christian without being part of a church.  I know of people who call themselves Christians yet purposely do not associate with a local church fellowship.  This is an unbiblical attitude that results in an unbiblical lifestyle.  Hebrews 10 talks about not forsaking the assembly, and 1 John says that people who went out from the Christian group were really not part of the group (Heb 10:25 & 1 John 2:19).  John Murray gave a good reminder of the tight bond between Christ and his bride, the church:

“We cannot think of Christ properly apart from the church.  All the offices he exercises as head over all things, he exercises on behalf of the church.  If we think of the church apart from Christ, or transfer to the church prerogatives that belong only to Christ, then we are guilty of idolatry.  But if we think of Christ apart from the church, then we are guilty of a dismemberment that severs what God has joined together.  We are divorcing Christ from his only bride.  The central doctrine of the Christian faith should remind us of the evil of such divorce, for this doctrine is that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it’ (Eph. 5:25).”

Since Christ loved his church that much, so should his followers!  True, the church is not perfect.  But Christ didn’t run away from it or forsake it, instead he loved the church and died for it!  So the Christian must not run away from the church or forsake it, but love it, pray for it, and join with it – out of love for and obedience to Christ.

John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 1, p. 238.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Many Names of Christ

Most of us have read a list of the various names of Christ; these are great lists to read as they teach us more about our great Savior.  Herman Bavinck, when talking about Jesus the mediator, also discussed the various names Scripture gives to our Lord.  After studying the names “Jesus” and “Christ,” Bavinck listed many more found in Scripture. This is an edifying list!

In addition to this historical and official name, Christ is given many other names in Scripture. He is called the Son of God, the only-begotten, beloved Son of God, the Word, the image of God, the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, the firstborn of all creation, the true God and eternal life, God to be praised above all (or perhaps more correctly: God overall, to be praised forever [Rom. 9:5]), Immanuel.

In addition, he is called the Son of Man, the son of Joseph and David, the Nazarene [Matt. 2:23], the Galilean, the holy and righteous one, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, the firstborn of all creatures, and the firstborn of the dead.

Finally, in terms of his office and work, he is called Prophet, Master, Teacher, Priest, the Great Priest, the High Priest, the Servant of the Lord, the Lamb of God, the King, the King of the Jews, the King of Israel, the King of kings, the Lord, the Lord of glory, the Lord of lords, the head of the church, the bridegroom of the church, the shepherd and guardian of souls, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, the pioneer of salvation, the way, the truth, and the life, the bread of life, the prince of life, the resurrection and the life, the shepherd of the sheep, the door of the sheepfold, the light of the world, the shining morning star, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the judge of the living and the dead, the heir of all things by whom, in whom, and for whom all things have been created.

All these names sufficiently prove the incomparable dignity and entirely unique place that belong to Christ.

(Usually Bavinck gives all the Scripture citations for these types of lists; here, however, he refers to Warfield’s book, The Lord of Glory, for more information on these names which are found in Scripture.)

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 362–363.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Has The Passover Been Abolished?

It is a trend in some Christian circles and churches to host and celebrate Jewish sort of meals that are connected to the Passover.  You don’t have to look too hard online to see what I mean.  I suppose it’s one thing to watch a video or read a book to learn how Jews celebrate the Passover; it’s another thing to actually partake and make these Jewish meals part of church or Christian life.

In Reformed theology we say that the Old Testament’s “ceremonial laws are now abrogated” in the New Testament era (WCF 19.3).  “We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished, so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians (BCF 25).  There is firm biblical reason for this Reformed position.  Zacharias Ursinus comments:

That the ancient Passover, with all the other types which prefigured the Messiah which was to come, was abolished at the coming of Christ, is evident,

1. From the whole argument of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews respecting the abolishing of the legal shadows in the New Testament. “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.” (Heb. 7:12; 8:13.)

2. From the fulfillment or these legal shadows. “These things were done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken.” “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (John 19:36. 1 Cor. 5:7.)

3. From the substitution of the New Testament; for Christ, when he was about to suffer, and die and sacrifice himself as the true Passover, closed the ordinance relating to the paschal lamb with a solemn feast, and instituted and commanded his Supper to be observed by the church in the place of the old passover. “With desire, I have desired to eat with you this passover, before I suffer.” “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:15, 19.) Christ here commands the supper, not the ancient passover, to be celebrated in remembrance of him. As baptism has, therefore, succeeded circumcision, so the Lord’s supper has succeeded the passover in the New Testament.

It may seem interesting and even spiritual to reenact ancient Jewish feasts and meals, but doing so is actually going back to the copies and shadows of the old covenant which is obsolete (Heb 8: 5, 13).  As Hebrews makes very clear, you can’t have the old and the new together – the old is fulfilled, the new is here, so don’t go back!  Or, like Paul notes in Galatians 4:9-11, for the Gentile Galatian Christians to go under the Jewish ceremonies and laws is the same as going back to their pagan religions!  Commenting on Galatians 4:9, C. K. Barrett said, “To go forward into Judaism is to go backward into heathenism” (see also Douglas Moo and F. F. Bruce on Gal. 4:9).

Since we have Christ, the Passover Lamb, and his final sacrifice, we don’t need to sacrifice animals, have altars, celebrate Jewish ceremonies, feasts, Passovers, and so forth.  Instead, we celebrate the Lord’s death by blessing and sharing bread and wine like he told us to do until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:23ff).

The above quotes are found in Zacharias Ursinus trans. by G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 440.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI