The Word and Assurance (Bavinck)​

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity Herman Bavinck cover image Here’s a nice section on faith, the Spirit, the Word, and the Christian’s assurance of salvation.  It’s found in volume one of Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics:  (Note: if you want to know why the language is somewhat choppy, see below.)

“The Holy Spirit… brings us to that point; first, through the Word by making the major premise – God’s promises are true – clear to us.  The Word, with the sacraments – in a word, the promises of God – are always the objective foundation of our assurance.  Faith must ground its assurance in the Word.  Those grounds are innumerable; think of all those passages that we mentioned in connection with the perseverance of the saints.  God, his attributes (faithfulness, goodness, love, power, etc.), the permanence of the covenant of grace that is confirmed with sacramental oath, God’s delight in conversion; Christ’s love, grace, divine and human natures, his person and work, his office and state; likewise, the work of the Holy Spirit, how he remains within us, comforts, etc.

Scripture is full of promises upon which believers can base their existence. Now it is true that Holy Scripture speaks in general: whoever believes is saved. It does not say: You, Person A or Person B, are saved. But the particular is included within the general, the universal contains the singular. Nevertheless, no matter how firm and rich those promises may be, our eyes may well be closed to them. Doubt can enter our soul regarding those promises through various causes, including the whisperings of Satan, historical criticism, the misunderstanding and ignorance of Scripture, and through various doubts: Would God, Christ even, desire to have me, such a great sinner? Am I included among those called by God? Preaching from the pulpit and pastoral visitation must counter these doubts regarding the major premise by emphasizing the permanence, richness, extensiveness, omnipotence, etc., of God’s promises. This is foundational and must be established.

This is then the means whereby the Holy Spirit usually delivers people from those doubts. By means of sermons, home visiting, reading of Scripture, etc., the Holy Spirit occasionally allows new light to fall, so that we suddenly behold the permanence of the promises and are assured.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, vol. 1, p. 399.

(Note: The manuscripts of Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics were seminary lectures that were not ready for publication.  What has been published recently in English is the product of taking Bavinck’s own manuscripts and filling them out a using extensive class notes taken by two men in Bavinck’s ethics class.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

You Are My God (Lloyd-Jones)

 The first words of David’s prayer in Psalm 63 are, “[O] God, my God you are” (אֱלֹהִ֤ים אֵלִ֥י אַתָּ֗ה).  Or, in better English: “O God, you are my God!”  I like how Martyn Lloyd-Jones reflected on these words:

Listen to David in this psalm; here is the language always of the true children of God. He begins with an expressive exclamation: “O God.” No one ever uses that unless he or she is a child of God. I know that the world in its blasphemy utters these two words as an expletive, but it does not know what it is saying. But here the psalmist offers it from the very depth of his being: “O God.” You sense the feeling—the whole man is involved in it. He turns to the one whom he knows is going to listen. He flees to Him.

And further, he is able to say, “Thou art my God.” Not merely God as such but “my God” in particular. In other words, there is a consciousness of this personal relationship. He does not go doubtfully and uncertainly; he knows that God is his God and that he is God’s child. He turns to God as a child turns to his father and with the same instinctive movement. There is no query, no doubt, no uncertainty. He knows the way is open; he has traveled so often upon it that he can at times utter nothing but “O God.”

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Christopher Catherwood, Seeking the Face of God: Nine Reflections on the Psalms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 104.

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

Faith Must Not Be Built Upon Works (Watson)

The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-10 Thomas Watson (d. 1686) is one of my favorite Puritan authors.  He wrote clearly, concisely, and biblically. Here’s one great example from his discussion of faith and works in The Beatitudes.

Julian [a Roman emperor who renounced Christianity when he became emperor] upbraided the Christians that they were Solifidians, and the Church of Rome lays upon us this aspersion, that we are against good works.  Indeed we plead not for the merit of them but we are for the use of them.  ‘Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses’ (Titus 3:14).  We preach that they are needful both as they are enforced by the precept and as they are needful for the general good of men.”

“…This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.’ (Titus 3:8). …Faith alone justifies but justifying faith is not alone.  You may as well separate weight from lead or heat from fire as works from faith.  Good works, though they are not the causes of salvation, yet they are evidences.  Though they are not the foundation yet they are the superstructure.  Faith must not be built upon works, but works must be built upon faith. …Faith is the grace which marries Christ and good works are the children which faith bears.”

Similarly, the Westminster Confession says (16.2):

“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.”

(The above quote by Thomas Watson is found in The Beatitudes, p. 155-156.)

This is a repost from July 15, 2015.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand (Luther/Bernard)

Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount Martin Luther, in his Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, noted how some people build their house upon the sand by resting on their own works or merits for acceptance with God.  Luther then gave a helpful insight from the life and faith of Bernard of Clairvaux:

St. Bernard himself had also to feel and acknowledge this, who had nevertheless led a very strict life, with praying, fasting, bodily mortification, etc., so that he was deficient in no respect, and served as an example for all others, so that I know of no one among the monks who wrote or lived better than he. Yet, when he came to die, he had himself to pronounce this judgment upon his entire holy life: ‘O, I lived a damnable life, and spent my life shamefully!’ Ah, how so, dear St. Bernard? You were surely a pious monk all your life. Is then chastity, obedience, your preaching, fasting, praying, not an admirable thing? No (says he,) it is all lost and belongs to the devil. There comes the wind and rain, and throws foundation, basis and building all into a heap, so that he would have had to be eternally damned, by his own judgment, if he had not turned about, and, made wiser by his loss, deserted monkery, seized upon another foundation and clung to Christ, and been kept in the faith that the children use in their prayers, when he said: “Although I am not worthy of eternal life, nor can attain it by my own merit, yet my Lord Christ has a double right to it, once as Lord and heir to it, inherited from eternity; secondly, attained through his suffering and death. The first he retains for himself; the other he bestows upon me,” etc.

 Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, trans. Charles A. Hay (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1892), 487–488.

Shane Lems

Not the Preacher, but the Word (Luther)

Luther’s Church Postil: Gospels: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons
Luther’s Sermons

I have always appreciated Martin Luther’s sermons. And this time of year I especially enjoy his Christmas sermons. Below is a great section of his sermon on Luke 2, where the angel told the shepherds about the birth of the Messiah and Lord, Jesus. The shepherds believed the announcement as God’s word and quickly went to find the baby. Luther’s comments below make me think about the situation today where people follow, cling to, and adore certian celebrity preachers:

One, however, might say: Yes, I would also gladly believe if an angel thus from heaven were to preach to me. This is very foreign to the subject. Whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake, will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him. And he who receives it because of the preacher does not believe in the Word, neither in God through the Word, but he believes the preacher and in the preacher. Hence the faith of such persons does not last long. But whoever believes the Word, does not care who the person is that speaks the Word, and neither will he honor the Word for the sake of the person; but on the contrary, he honors the person because of the Word, and always subordinates the person to the Word. And if the preacher perishes, or even falls from his faith and preaches differently, he will forsake the person of the preacher rather than the Word of God. He abides by what he has heard, although the person of the preacher may be what he will, and come and go as he may.

Exactly! The preacher is subordinate to the word. Preachers come and go; they rise and fall, but the word of the Lord remains forever. Luther again:

The true difference between godly faith and human faith consists also in this, that human faith cleaves to the person of the preacher, believes, trusts and honors the Word for the sake of him who spake it. But godly faith, on the other hand, cleaves to the Word, which is God himself; he believes, trusts and honors the Word, not because of him who preaches it; but because he feels it so surely the truth that no one can ever turn him again from it, even if the same preacher were to try to do it.

This faith triumphs in life and death, in hell and heaven, and nothing is able to overthrow it; because it rests upon nothing but the Word without any regard whatever to persons.

Martin Luther, “Second Christmas Day (Luke 2:15–20),” in Luther’s Church Postil: Gospels: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons, ed. and trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. I, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1905), 162–163.

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

How/Why Can Faith Resist Satan? (Watson)

 In his exposition of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one), Thomas Watson explains how faith can be so strong as to resist Satan’s temptations in such a way that he flees from us (cf. James 4:7):

[Faith can resist Satan and put him to flight because] it brings the strength of Christ into the soul. Samson’s strength lay in his hair—ours lies in Christ. If a child is assaulted, it runs and calls to its father for help. Just so, when faith is assaulted, it runs and calls Christ, and in his strength overcomes. “In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Ephesians 6:16

Faith furnishes itself with a store of promises. The promises are faith’s weapons to fight with. As David, by five stones in his sling, wounded Goliath—so faith puts the promises, as stones, into its sling. 1 Sam 17:40. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Heb 13:5. “A bruised reed shall he not break.” Matthew 12:20. “Who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able.” 1 Cor 10:13. “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Romans 16:20. “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:29. Here are five promises, like five stones, put into the sling of faith, and with these a believer may wound the red dragon. Faith being such a grace to resist and wound Satan, he watches his opportunity to batter our shield, though he cannot break it.

Indeed, this is why Paul said that faith is a shield “with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:17 NASB).

The above quote is from page 274 of Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer.

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

The Art of Faith; or A Holy Defiance (Sibbes)

The Works of Richard Sibbes (7 vols.) Psalm 27:1 says this: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” (NASB).  Richard Sibbes preached an outstanding sermon on this text around 1630.  Sibbes noted that in the first part of this Psalm, David explained his comfort, his courage, and his care.  Here’s part of what Sibbes wrote on David’s comfort:

His comfort. It was altogether in the Lord, whom he sets out in all the beauties and excellency of speech he can. He propounds the Lord to himself in borrowed terms. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, the strength of my life’ (Ps. 27:1). So he fetcheth comfort from God, the spring of comfort, ‘the Father of all comfort’ (2 Cor. 1:4). He labors to present God to him in the sweetest manner that may be. He opposeth him to every difficulty and distress. In darkness, he is ‘my light;’ in danger, he is ‘my salvation;’ in weakness, he is ‘my strength;’ in all my afflictions and straits, he is the ‘strength of my life.’

Here is the art of faith in all perplexities whatsoever, to be able to set somewhat [something] in God against every malady in ourselves. And this is not simply set out, but likewise with a holy defiance. ‘The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?’ Ps. 27:1. It is a question proceeding from a holy defiance, and daring of all other things. ‘The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ That is one branch of his comfort.

In other words, the art of faith is to take an attribute or characteristic of God and put it against troubles, calamities, or difficulties that arise in our lives.  It means to do so in the way of holy defiance, knowing that (for example) if God is for us, who can be against us?  What can separate us from his love?  Faith trusts in God and finds comfort in his attributes.

 Sibbes, Richard. The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. Ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart. Vol. 2. Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862. Print.

Shane Lems