Faith Seeking Understanding (Anselm)

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Bengt Hagglund’s History of Theology.  Here’s a section from chapter 17, specifically on Anselm.

“Anselm, like Augustine before him, represented that position with respect to faith and reason which was customarily characterized by the expression, ‘I believe in order that I may understand’ (credo ut intelligam).  Basing their opinion on the words found in Is. 7:9 (Vulgate), ‘If you do not believe, you will not understand,’  those who follow this line emphasize that faith is the presupposition of a rational insight into revealed truth.  As Augustine put it, understanding is the reward of faith.”

“Anselm developed this position in more detail, among other places, in his Proslogion.  It is clearly expressed, for example, in the following passage: ‘I do not attempt, Lord, to penetrate Thy depth, for by no means do I compare my intellect with it; but I desire to understand, to a degree, Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand’ (Ch. 1).”

“The credo ut intelligam concept presupposes that theology and philosophy can be harmonized.  That which forms the content of faith, and which man comprehends by faith, can also be understood by reason – at least to some extent.  Faith and the principles of reason are not antithetical.  It is the task of theology to present the content of faith in such a way that it can be understood and comprehended. …[Faith] has the primacy, for man does not come to faith through reason; but on the contrary understanding comes by faith.  The role of reason is simply to make clear, a posteriori, that the truths of faith are necessary even as seen from the point of view of logic and reason.  For it is only after one has grasped revealed truth in faith that he is able, through rational discussion and meditation, to perceive that that which he believes is also agreeable to reason.”

Good stuff.  In a day where values and feelings rule over truth and logic, it is good for Christians to remember that our faith is not irrational.  Many great theologians followed this Augustininan/Anselmian perspective.  For just one example, Herman Bavinck wrote Our Reasonable Faith, a nice summary of his longer Reformed Dogmatics. 

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Grace Makes Us Lovers of the Law (Augustine)

On Grace and Free Will by [St. Augustine] Here’s Augustine on love, law, grace, predestination, and choice:

Let no one, then, deceive you, my brethren, for we should not love God unless He first loved us. John again gives us the plainest proof of this when he says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Grace makes us lovers of the law; but the law itself, without grace, makes us nothing but breakers of the law. And nothing else than this is shown us by the words of our Lord when He says to His disciples, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him.

He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men. “You have not chosen me,” He says. If, therefore, you have not chosen me, undoubtedly you have not loved me (for how could they choose one whom they did not love?). “But I,” says He, “have chosen you.” And then could they possibly help choosing Him afterwards, and preferring Him to all the blessings of this world? But it was because they had been chosen, that they chose Him; not because they chose Him that they were chosen.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 459–460.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Faith and the Workplace (Keller)

Tim Keller has a helpful section in Center Church that has to do with the Christian faith and our daily vocations (callings).  I’m sure he goes into this more in his other book on this topic, but here’s a nice summary from Center Church:

  1. Our faith changes our motivation for work.  For professionals and others who are prone to overwork and anxiety, the gospel prevents us from finding our significance and identity in money and success.  For working-class people who are prone to captivation to what Paul calls ‘eyeservice’ (Col. 3:22) …and drudgery, our faith directs us to ‘work with all our heart, as working for the Lord’ (Col. 3:23).
  2. Our faith changes our conception of work.  A robust theology of creation – and of God’s love and care for it – helps us see that even simple tasks such as making a shoe, filling a tooth, and digging a ditch are ways to serve God and build up human community….
  3. Our faith provides high ethics for Christians in the workplace.  Many things are technically legal but biblically immoral and unwise and therefore out of bounds for believers.  The ethical norms of the Christian life, grounded in the gospel of grace, should always lead believers to function with an extremely high level of integrity in their work.
  4. Our faith gives us the basis for reconceiving the very way in which our kind of work is done.  …In most vocational fields, believers encounter workplaces in which ruthless, competitive behavior is the norm. A  Christian worldview provides believers with ways to interpret the philosophies and practices that dominate their field and bring renewal and reform to them.

Timothy Keller, Center Church, p. 332.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Assurance and Introspection (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 (or grows – spl) 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.

Shane Lems

Saved by Love (Machen)

What is Faith? Here are some great words from a great book:

“Even before we could love as we ought to love, even before we could do or feel anything aright, we were saved by faith; we were saved by abandoning all confidence in our own thoughts or feelings or actions and by simply allowing ourselves to be saved by God.”

“In one sense, indeed, we were saved by love; that indeed is an even profounder fact than that we were saved by faith.  Yes, we were saved by love, but it was by a greater love than the love in our cold and sinful hearts; we were saved by love, but it was not our love for God but God’s love for us, God’s love for us by which he gave the Lord Jesus to die for us upon the cross.  ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’  That  love alone is the love that saves.  And the means by which it saves is faith.”

“Thus the beginning of the Christian life is not an achievement but an experience; the soul of the man who is saved is not, at the moment of salvation, active, but passive; salvation is the work of God and God alone.”

J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith, p. 196-7.

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

As The Sun Shines on the Dung Hill (Or: Grace and Works Inconsistent)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.)  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) was a preacher-theologian who clearly preached and taught the gospel truth that a sinner is justified through faith alone apart from works.  God justifies a sinner only by grace, and faith is a God-given instrument that receives God’s free gift of Christ’s righteousness.  In a sermon on Ephesians 1:6, Boston noted that grace is “love and favor freely flowing, without anything in the object to draw it out.”

Later in the sermon Boston explained the way a sinner is accepted by God:

“First, It is “freely.” There is nothing in the sinner himself to procure it, or move God to it (Rom. 3:24), but as the sun shines without hire on the dung-hill, so God accepts sinners of mere grace.”

How is it free?

“It is without respect to any work done by the sinner (Titus 3:5). Grace and works are inconsistent in this matter. Men may render themselves acceptable to men, by some work of theirs, that is profitable or pleasant to them; but no work of ours can render us acceptable to God. It is natural for men to think to gain acceptance with God, by their doing better; and when they have set themselves to do and work for that end, they please themselves that they are accepted. But mistake it not, that way of acceptance is blocked up.”

This is true because:

(1.) All works of ours are excluded from our justification, whereof our acceptance is a part (Rom. 3:20), and faith and works are opposed in that matter (v. 28; Gal. 2:16).
(2.) Our best works are attended with sinful imperfections (Isa. 64:6), and mixed with many evil works (Jam. 3:2). So in them there is ground for God’s loathing and condemning us; how then can we be accepted for what is in itself loathsome and condemnable?
(3.) We can do no good works before we be accepted (John 9:31; Heb. 11:6). The tree must be good, ere [before] the fruit can be so. The person out of Christ can work no works, but dead works (John 15:5), for he is, while so, in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. And what is all that the man can do before he believe and be accepted in Christ, but a parcel of hypocritical works?

You can read this entire excellent sermon in Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Discourses on Prayer, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 11 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1852), 162.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

If He Would Just Show Me A Miracle… (Pascal)

Some people say that if God showed them a miracle, they would believe in him.  Blaise Pascal (d.1662) gave an excellent critique of this faulty approach to belief in God.  The following quote is a great apologetic:

“‘If I had seen a miracle,’ they say, ‘I should be converted.’  How can they be positive that they would do what they know nothing about?  They imagine that such a conversion consists in a worship of God conducted, as they picture it, like some exchange or conversation.  True conversion consists in self-annihilation before the universal Being whom we have so often vexed and who is perfectly entitled to destroy us at any moment, in recognizing that we can do nothing without him and that we have deserved nothing but his disfavor.  It consists in knowing that there is an irreconcilable opposition between God and us, and that without a Mediator there can be no exchange.”

Pascal, Pensees, fragment 470.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI