He Will Not Send You To Purgatory (Ryken)

Philip Ryken’s When You Pray is a very helpful resource for studying the Lord’s Prayer and for learning more about prayer and praying.  When I recently studied the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our debts...”), I found the following paragraphs helpful:

“As soon as we start trying to figure out how to pay God what we owe for our sins, we realize how much trouble we are really in.  Obviously, we cannot pay off our debts by ourselves.  How could we ever make up for all the sins we have committed?  Yet this is precisely the error most religions make, including false versions of Christianity.  They all operate on the basis that human beings can do something to make things right with God.  Their reasoning goes something like this: ‘Lord, I know I keep messing up, but I’m trying really, really hard to be good.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have a list here of some of the good things I’ve done – charitable work, and that sort of thing.  Yes, I know my list isn’t as long as it could be, but why don’t we just call it even?’  This kind of approach is based on the principle of works righteousness, the idea that doing good works can make someone good enough for God.”

“The truth is, however, that forgiveness is not something we can work for, it is only something we can ask for.  Even if we worked for all eternity, laboring in the very pit of hell, we could never work off the debt we owe to God.  What could we ever pay to God?  Jesus posed the question this way: ‘What can a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mt. 16:26b NIV).  The answer, of course, is nothing.  Our souls are the most valuable thing we have.  When, because of our sin and guilt, we owe God our very souls, there is nothing left for us to pay.”

Later Ryken notes that “we owe God far more than we or anyone else could ever pay.”  So what can we do about our massive debt to God?  The only thing we can do is beg God for forgiveness: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! (Lk. 18:13).

“This is precisely what we do in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We ask our Father to forgive us our debts.  With these words we declare our moral bankruptcy, freely admitting that we owe God more than everything we have.  Then we do the only thing we can, which is to ask him to forgive us outright.  Because he is our loving Father, God does what we ask.  ‘He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities… As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Ps. 103:10, 13 NIV).  God the Father offers forgiveness as a free gift of his grace.  When you go to him, weighed down with the debt of all your guilt and sin, he will not sit down with you to work out a payment plan.  He will not scheme to charge you more interest.  He will not send you to Purgatory or anywhere else to work off your debts.  On the contrary, God is a loving Father who offers forgiveness full and free.”

Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2000), p. 125-6.

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

My Evil Thoughts (Newton)

 For me, one difficult part of the Christian life is the troubling sinful thoughts that burden my mind daily.  Sometimes I know why a sinful thought arose in my mind; other times I have no clue why and no idea where a thought came from.  Satan is for sure to blame for at least some of our evil thoughts!  Speaking of horrifying thoughts, wouldn’t it be a terrible nightmare if other people knew all of our sinful thoughts?  If thoughts were crimes, I’d have been tried, found guilty, and executed long ago!

John Newton wrote a letter to a certain Miss W who had talked to him about her anxiety over sinful thoughts.  Newton’s pastoral note is outstanding; this comforted me today.

As to evil thoughts, they as unavoidably arise from an evil nature, as steam from a boiling tea-kettle. Every cause will have its effect, and a sinful nature will have sinful effects. You can no more keep such thoughts out of your mind than you can stop the course of the clouds. But, if the Lord had not taught you, you would not have been sensible of them, nor concerned about them. This is a token for good. By nature your thoughts would have been only evil, and that continually. But you find something within you that makes you dislike these thoughts; makes you ashamed of them, makes you strive and pray against them. These evil thoughts convince you, that, though you do not willfully speak or do evil, yet upon the account of your evil thoughts alone, you are a sinner, and stand in need of such great forgiveness; that if there were not a precious, compassionate, and mighty Savior, you could have no hope.

Now, this something that reveals and resists your evil thoughts—what can it be? It cannot be human nature; for we naturally have vain imaginations. It is the grace of God! The Lord has made you sensible of your disease, that you might love and prize the great Physician. The knowledge of his love shall make you hate these thoughts; and faith in his blood shall deliver you from the guilt of them; yet you will be pestered with them more or less while you live in this world, for sin is wrought into our bodies, and our souls must be freed from our bodies—before we shall be fully freed from the evils under which we mourn!

Later in the letter Newton talked about how Satan temps God’s people.  He then wrote:

Be thankful, my dear, that he treats you as his enemy; for miserable is the state of those to whom he behaves as a friend. And always remember that he is a chained enemy! He may terrify, but he cannot devour those who have fled for refuge to Jesus. And the Lord shall over-rule all for good. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil!” Ephesians 6:10-11.

Sinful thoughts are difficult to deal with; I hate them!  But, as Newton noted from Scripture, there is forgiveness now and in the future there is victory in Christ!

The above quote is found in volume 6 of Newton’s Works (p. 254-5).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Most Powerful Thing We Can Say

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love “Sin weighs a lot.” So Ed Welch says in chapter four of his helpful book, Side By Side.  He explains that sometimes suffering might feel like our biggest problem, but it’s not.  Sin is.  “Sin is the heaviest of weights; forgiveness is the greatest deliverance.”  It isn’t always easy to own up to our sin – especially those heinous sins hiding privately in the corners of our hearts.  But opening up and confessing our sin to God (and sometimes others) brings blessings.  Though there are more, Welch lists three and explains them.  The first two are (minus his explanation):

  1. Seeing the weight of our sin drives us to Jesus.

  2. Seeing the weight of our sin brings humility.

Blessing #3 is “Seeing the weight of our sin is the beginning of power and confidence.”  Here’s how Welch unpacks the statement:

“…Spiritual power feels like a struggle, or weakness, or neediness, or desperation.  It is simply, ‘I need Jesus,’ which is the most powerful thing we can say.  It means that our confidence is not in ourselves or in either our righteousness before God or our reputation before others.  Our confidence is in Jesus, and that confidence cannot be shaken.”

“Just imagine: no more hiding from God, no more defensiveness in our relationships.  When we have wronged others, we simply ask their forgiveness.  Our security in Jesus gives us the opportunity to think less often about what others think of us.  It gives us freedom to make mistakes and even fail.  No longer do we have to build and protect our own freedom.”

“Sin weighs a lot, but those who can see their sins see something good.  When we confess these sins, knowing that they are forgiven, we see something better – Jesus himself.”

Ed Welch, Side By Side, p. 45.

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

Forgiveness and the Infinite Largeness of God’s Heart

If a person seriously contemplates the hideousness of his sin in light of God’s law, and if he seriously contemplates the reality of forgiveness through Christ’s blood, it is a gospel truth that our minds cannot fully understand.  The person who has sinned against God in the worst ways imaginable can have his sins freely washed away by the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19, 1 John 1:9, etc).  This is a staggering truth that’s hard for us to contemplate!  Here’s how John Owen explains this truth of grace:

It is an object for faith alone, which can rest in that which it cannot comprehend.  It is never safer than when it is, as it were, overwhelmed with infiniteness.  But set mere rational thoughts, or the imaginations of our minds, at work about such things, and they fall inconceivably short of them.  Were not forgiveness in God something beyond what men could imagine, no flesh could be saved.  This God himself expresses: ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, and he will abundantly pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Is. 55:7-9).

They are, in as is plain in the context, thoughts of forgiveness and ways of pardon of which he speaks.  These our apprehensions come short of; we know little or nothing of the infinite largeness of his heart in the matter. They are, as is plain in the context, thoughts of forgiveness and ways of pardon whereof he speaks. These our apprehensions come short of; we know little or nothing of the infinite largeness of his heart in this matter. He that he speaks of is “an impiously wicked man,” and “a man of deceit and perverse wickedness;” he whose design and course is nothing but a lie, sin, and iniquity; such a one as we would have little or no hopes of — that we would scarce think it worth our while to deal withal about — a hopeless conversion; or can scarce find in our hearts to pray for him, but are ready to give him up as one profligate and desperate.

But let him turn to the Lord, and he shall obtain forgiveness. But how can this be?  Is it possible there should be mercy for such a one? Yes; for the Lord “will multiply to pardon” (Hebrew).  He hath forgiveness with him to outdo all the multiplied sins of any that turn unto him and seek for it. But this is very hard, very difficult for us to apprehend. This is not the way and manner of men. We deal not thus with profligate offenders against us. “True,” saith God; “but ‘your ways are not my ways.’ I do not act in this matter like unto you, nor as you are accustomed to do (John Owen, The Forgiveness of Sin: A Practical Exposition of Psalm 130, p 212-213).”

Indeed – where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more!

shane lems

The Final Answer to the Devil

Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints The Christian’s salvation is securely founded on historical facts and truths of God.  We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone.  These gospel truths give us solid ground to stand upon and a bulletproof defense against Satan’s attacks.  Lloyd-Jones explains this well in his comments on Romans 8:33-34.

“How important it is to understand the doctrine of justification by faith only!  There is no type of Christian who is so utterly foolish as the one who says, ‘I am not interested in doctrine; I have my experience.’  It is only as you understand the doctrine of justification by faith that you will have security and safety and joy.  Doctrine is essential.”

“Have you realized the meaning of justification?  You are not merely pardoned and forgiven; you are declared by God to be just in his sight.  This is a matter of status, a matter of standing.  There is no going back and forth from being justified to not being justified, and then being justified again.  God has done this one and for ever, and the Law is ended as far as you are concerned.  ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.’  (Romans 10:4).  That is the complete answer to any charge that can ever be brought against us.  It is the only answer.  If you rely on anything else the devil will soon shake you.  There is only one answer to give him, and it is, ‘God himself has justified me, so all you say is a lie.”

“This, then, is the way to meet the devil and his accusations.  If you begin to listen to the devil and say to yourself, ‘Well, after all, he is right; I did sin yesterday and I am not as good as I ought to be,’ you will soon be feeling under condemnation again because you have brought in works once more.  You should rather say, ‘I know I am unworthy, I know I am sinful; no one knows how bad I am, but God has justified me in Christ.  I do not rely upon myself; I am relying utterly, only, absolutely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and upon what he has done on my behalf, and upon God’s declaration with respect to me.’”

“Stand on justification by faith only.  It is the only ground on which you can stand.  We must learn to do this; it is the final answer to the devil.  ‘It is God who justifieth.’”

D. M. Lloyd Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-39, p.411.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi