Comfort on the Deathbed (Or: A Pastor’s Most Important Resource)

Simon Goulart was a Reformed theologian and pastor from France who served in Geneva in the middle of the 16th century.  His preaching and teaching were solidly biblical, clearly doctrinal, and very applicable.  One example of this is his biblical comfort he gave to Christians on their deathbed.  Scott Manetsch gives a good summary of Goulart’s pastoral care:

As Christians approach death, Goulart recognizes, they are frequently tempted to doubt God’s promised salvation and despair of their future hope.  In this spiritual drama, Satan is especially active.  Goulart’s discourse ‘Remedies Against Satan’s Temptations in our Final Hour’ enumerates the stinging accusations and doubts that Satan launches against God’s children as they struggle on their deathbeds.  The voice of Satan accuses: ‘You are a miserable sinner, worthy of damnation.’  ‘Your sins are too great to be forgiven.’  ‘How do you know that the promise of the gospel pertains to you?’  ‘Are you certain that your repentance and faith are genuine?’  ‘How do you know that you are among God’s elect?’  In response to each of these attacks, Goulart provides the faithful Christian a ready answer, drawn from the pages of Scripture.

For example, when Satan questions the believer’s election, the Christian responds: ‘All true believers are sheep of Jesus Christ, elected in him to eternal life.  Psalm 23 says that ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’  And Psalm 100 says ‘Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.’  So too, Jesus Christ says in John 10, ‘My sheep hear my voice.’  I have heard this voice and heeded it.  Thus, I am one of the sheep of this Great Shepherd, who has given his life to bring me into his sheepfold, having rescued me from your jaws, O roaring lion.’

Clearly, Goulart believed that God’s Word was to serve as the pastor’s most important resource in caring for Christians on their deathbeds.  Scripture is like a ‘pharmacy’ for wounded souls, he asserted.  It offers a ‘secure harbor for agitated consciences.’

The above quotes were taken from Scott Matnetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p 297-298.

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

Definite Atonement and Christian Comfort (Owen)

In Chapter seven of The Death of Death John Owen showed how Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (his “oblation”) is tightly connected with his intercession.  Owen argued that rather than say Jesus died for all and failed in his aim and design, we should agree with Paul, “grounding the assurance of our eternal glory and freedom from all accusations upon the death of Christ, and that because his intercession for us does inseparably and necessarily follow it.”  Owen then quoted Rom. 8:33-34 and wrote,

“Here is an equal extent of the one and the other; those persons who are concerned in the one are all of them concerned in the other.”

In other words, those for whom Jesus died are the same people for whom he intercedes.

A few pages later Owen noted that if a person separates and divides Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (oblation) from his intercession, that person cuts off all comfort the Christian has of assurance that Christ died for him.  Positively speaking,

“The main foundation of all the confidence and assurance whereof in this life we may be made partakers (which amounts to ‘joy unspeakable, and full of glory’) ariseth from this strict connection of the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ – that by the one he has procured all good things for us, and by the other he will procure them to be actually bestowed, whereby he does never leave our sins, but follows them into every court, until they be fully pardoned and clearly expiated (Heb. 9:26).  He will never leave us until he has saved to the uttermost them that come unto God by him.”

This isn’t theological nitpicking or dry, dusty doctrine that is irrelevant.  To say that Jesus’ death is tightly connected with his intercession echoes biblical truth, glorifies Christ and his saving power, and it gives the Christian firm comfort and assurance that Jesus who died for us will also intercede for us, that our faith will not fail (Lk. 22:32).

The above quotes are found in John Owen’s The Death of Death (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), chapter 7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WZI

Election and the Feeble Beginnings of Holiness

I just got a copy of Ichabod Spencer’s A Pastor’s SketchesThis book is a collection of spiritual conversations  Rev. Spencer had with the “seekers” of his day.  I haven’t read very many of his “sketches” yet, but one I did read today was quite helpful.  It was about a man who came to Spencer with a serious intellectual resistance to the doctrine of election.  Spencer gave some good counsel in his answer.  I really appreciated the following section (it is a bit lengthy, but stick with it because it’s worth the effort!):

[The third use of the doctrine of election is] to comfort God’s people. The grand trial of a life of religion is a trial of the heart. We have sins, we have weaknesses and temptations, which tend to a dreadful discouragement. Sin easily besets us. We easily wander from God. Holiness is an up-hill work. Our feet often stagger in the path of our pilgrimage, and tears of bitterness gush from our eyes, lest such weak, and tempted, and erring creatures should never reach heaven. Devils tempt us. The world presents its deceitful allurements, and more deceitful and dangerous claims. What shall cheer us when our heart sinks within us? Whither shall we fly for comfort, when our hearts are bleeding, when our sins are so many, when our gain in holiness is so little, when our light goes out, and the gloom of an impenetrable midnight settles down upon our poor and helpless soul?

We cannot, indeed, mount up to the inner sanctuary of God, open the seven-sealed book, and read our names recorded in it by the pen of the Eternal. But we can know that such a book is there; and that the pen of our Father has filled it with his eternal decrees, not one of which shall fail of accomplishment, as surely as his own throne shall stand. And when we find in ourselves, amid our tearful struggles, even the feeble beginnings of holiness, we know that God has commenced his work for us, a work which he planned before the world was; and that he who has ‘begun a good in work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,’ carrying into effect his eternal plan. Just as well as we know our likeness to God, we know our election to God.

We know that our holiness is his work, a work which he purposed from the beginning. If he had purposed it but just when he began it, if it were a work undertaken from some recent impulse, then we should have good reason to fear that some other impulse would drive him to abandon it. But when we know it from a part of his eternal counsels, and is no sidework, no episode, no interlude, or sudden interposition not before provided for – then we are assured that God is not going to forsake us; and deep as is our home-bred depravity, and many and malignant as are our foes, we are cheered with the assurance, that God will bring us off victorious, and ‘the purpose according to election shall stand.’ We love to see our salvation embraced in the eternal plan of God; and we know it is embraced there, if we are his children by faith in Christ Jesus.

We cannot read his secret counsels; but we can read his spiritual workings in us. We know the counsels by the evidence of the workings; and then we are cheered and encouraged amid our trials, by the idea that God will no more abandon us than he will abandon the eternal plan which his wisdom formed before the foundation of the world. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ He had their names in his book before they had shed a tear, before a devil existed to tempt them.

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, p. 238.

Shane Lems

An Answer For All Your Sins

Christ Set Forth: As the Cause of Justification and as the Object of Justifying Faith I’m enjoying this new “Puritan Paperback”: Christ Set Forth by Thomas Goodwin.  Goodwin’s prose is a bit more difficult than other Puritans, but most of the time the depth is the beauty.  In one section of Christ Set Forth, Goodwin mentions the fact that Christ’s suffering atones for all of our sins – not just those big ones we recently committed, but even those we committed long ago (and try to forget about).  He also mentions that it is good for us not to just confess general sins and think that Christ died for those general sins, but confess specific ones and meditate on the fact that Jesus died for those specific ones as well.  If we consider this,

“Thus might we find out that in Christ’s suffering and satisfaction made, that would fitly answer to anything in our sins; and so thereby we should be more relieved.  And though the whole body of his sufferings do stand and answer for the whole bulk of our sinnings, yet the consideration of such particulars will much conduce to the satisfying of an humbled and dejected soul, about the particulars of its sinnings.”

“Therefore get your hearts and consciences directly and particularly satisfied in the all-sufficiency of worth and merit which is in the satisfaction that Christ hath made.  As it is a fault and defect in humiliation, that men content themselves with a general apprehension and notion that they are sinners, and so never become thoroughly humbled, so it is a defect in their faith that they content themselves with a superficial and general conceit, that Christ died for sinners, their hearts not being particularly satisfied about the transcendent all-sufficiency of his death.”

“And thence it is, that in time of temptation, when their abounding sinfulness comes distinctly to be discovered to them, and charged upon them, they are then amazed their faith nonplussed, as not seeing that in Christ which might answer to all their sinfulness.  But as God saw that in Christ’s death which satisfied him, so you should endeavor by faith to see that worth in it which may satisfy God, and then your faith will sit down as satisfied also. [You should aim to see] Christ’s righteousness, how in its fullness and perfection it answereth to all your sinfulness.”

Thomas Goodwin, Christ Set Forth, p. 50-51.

shane lems

The Great Use of Knowing the Gospel (Perkins)

Early on in Galatians, Paul mentions the gospel: “…Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age… (NIV).  William Perkins has some encouraging words in his commentary on this verse, which I’ll post below.  (Note: my copy of this commentary is in poor condition and written in old English, so the “translation” below isn’t 100% perfect – but close enough to read it well.  If anyone knows of a readable version of this commentary, let me know!)

The knowledge of this point [that Christi is a sacrifice and ransom for sin] is of great use:

First, it works love in us, on this manner [in this way]:  We must in mind and meditation come to the cross of Christ.  Upon the cross we are to behold Christ crucified, and in his death and passion, behold his sacrifice; in his sacrifice for the sins of his enemies, we behold his endless love, and the consideration of his love will move us to love him again, and the Father in [through] him.

Secondly, the consideration of his endless pains for our sins in the sacrifice of himself, must breed in us a godly sorrow for them – for if he sorrow for me (he?) much more we for him.

Thirdly, this knowledge is the true beginning of amendment of life.  For if Christ gave himself to redeem us from iniquity, we must take up a purpose of not sinning, and never wittingly sin more.

Lastly, this knowledge is the foundation of comfort in them that truly turn to Christ.  For the price is paid for their sins, and they which are eased of their sins are blessed (Ps. 32:1).  And in temptation they may boldly oppose the satisfaction of Christ against hell, death, the law, and the judgment of God, and if at any time they sin, they must recover themselves, and remember that they have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

William Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, 1:4.

shane lems

The Practical Benefits of Peace

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….” (Rom. 5.1a; NIV).  Concerning this peace, we might ask a question: “What does this peace do for us?”  Or, in other words, “What are the benefits of this ‘peace-with-God-through-Jesus’?”  Horatius Bonar answers the question well:

1) It calms our storms.  In us the tempests rage perpetually.  The storms of the unforgiven spirit are the most fearful of all…. But peace comes, and all is still.  The great Peacemaker comes, and there is a great calm.  The holy pardon which he bestows is the messenger of rest.

2) It removes our burdens.  A sinner’s heaviest burdens must ever be dread of God, lack of conscious reconciliation with him, uncertainty as to the eternal future.  Peace with God is the end of all these.  A sight of the cross relieves our burdens, and connection with the sin-bearer assures us that these shall never be laid upon us again.

3) It breaks our bonds.  Sharp and heavy are the chains of sin, not merely because sin is a disease preying upon our spiritual nature, but because it is guilt which must be answered for before a righteous Judge.  Unpardoned guilt is both prison and fetters.  Forgiveness brings with it peace, and with peace every chain is broken.  Our prison doors are opened; we walk forth into liberty.

4) It strengthens us for warfare.  Without peace we cannot fight.  Our hands hang down, and our weapons fall from them; our courage is gone.  So long as God is our enemy, or so long as we know not whether God is our friend, we are disabled men.  But when reconciliation comes and God becomes our assured friend, then we are strong, well-nerved for battle, fearless in the conflict, full of hope and heart: ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’

5) It cheers us in trial.  The peace of God within us is our chiefest consolation when sorrows crowd in upon us.  Lighted up with this true lamp, we are not greatly moved because of the darkness without.  Peace with God is our anchor in the storm, our strong tower in adverse times, the soother of our hearts, and the dryer-up of our tears.

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, chapter 9.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Bible Was My Lifeline

I could not set this book down: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi.  It’s an autobiography of a Pakistani-American man’s leaving Islam to follow Jesus.  Qureshi’s journey was (is!) a long, hard, thought-filled, prayer-filled, journey into the Christian family.  The book is well written, respectful of Muslims, a testimony to Jesus the Son of God, and it strengthened my faith in the truths of Scripture.

There are many excellent parts of this book; here’s one section that has stuck with me.  He wrote it after several years of agonizing over the teaching of Islam and the teaching of Christianity.  His past foundation was crumbling, his world was turning upside down, so he put the Bible and the Quran next to each other.  He first opened the Quran:

“[I was] frantically flipping from page to page, hoping for something, anything that would comfort me.  There was nothing there for me.  It depicted a god of conditional concern, one who would not love me if I did not perform to my utmost in pleasing him, one who seemed to take joy in sending his enemies into the hellfire.  It did not speak to the broken nature of man, let alone directly to the broken man in need of God’s love.  It was a book of laws, written for the seventh century.”

“Looking for a living word, I put the Quran down and picked up the Bible.  I had never read the Bible for personal guidance before [Note: he had read parts of it before this time].  I did not even know where to start.  I figured the New Testament would be a good place, so I opened to the beginning of Matthew.  Within minutes, I found these words: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’”

“The words were like a current sent through my dead heart, electrifying it once more.  This is what I was looking for.  It was as if God had written these words in the Bible two thousand years prior specifically with me in mind.  It was almost too incredible to believe.  To a man who had seen the world only through Muslim eyes, the message was overwhelming.  ‘I am blessed for mourning?  Why? How?  I am imperfect.  I do not perform to His standard.  Why would he bless me?  And for mourning, no less.  Why?’”

“I continued reading [the Beatitudes] fervently. …I hunger and thirst for righteousness, I do, but I can never attain it.  God will bless me anyway?  Who is this God who loves me so much, even in my failures?  Tears flowed from my eyes once more, but now they were tears of joy.  I knew that what I held in my hands was life itself.  This was truly God’s word, and it was as if I was meeting Him for the first time. …I could not put the Bible down.  I literally could not. …The Bible was my lifeline” (p. 276-7).

Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

shane lems