They Shall Come To Me (Bunyan)

In John 6:37 Jesus said, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (NIV). These words of Jesus convey a precious relatity and a comforting promise. They are well worth memorizing! Here’s how John Bunyan commented on these words in Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ. I’ve updated the language slightly for ease of reading:

[I conclude] that coming to Jesus Christ rightly is an effect of their being, by God, given to Christ beforehand. Note: They shall come. Who? Those that are given. They come, then, because they were given, “They were Yours, and You gave them Me.”

Now, this is indeed a singular comfort to those that are coming in truth to Christ, to think that the reason why they come is because they were given by the Father beforehand to him. Thus, then, may the coming soul reason with himself as he comes: “Am I coming, indeed, to Jesus Christ? This coming of mine is not to be attributed to me or my goodness, but to the grace and gift of God to Christ. God gave first me to him, and, therefore, has now given me a heart to come.”

John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, p. 254 (Works, Volume 1).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Music Monday: "Yet Not I but through Christ in Me"

For me, music is one of the greatest blessings in life. I deeply enjoy music in general, but specifically solid Christian music has helped me in my walk with Christ in so many ways at so many different times in my life. Here on this blog in the past I’ve noted various Christian lyrics (from John Newton to Andrew Peterson) and for some time I’ve been thinking about doing a “Music Monday” blog post. I’m not sure I’ll do it every Monday, but from time to time I hope to post the words from some songs that have encouraged me in the Christian faith.

Today’s song is “Yet Not I but through Christ in Me” by CityAlight. I know it’s not possibly to wear out a digital copy of a song, but if it were, I would’ve worn this one out! Here it is:

What gift of grace is Jesus my redeemer
There is no more for heaven now to give
He is my joy, my righteousness, and freedom
My steadfast love, my deep and boundless peace

To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to his
Oh how strange and divine, I can sing: all is mine!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me

The night is dark but I am not forsaken
For by my side, the Saviour He will stay
I labour on in weakness and rejoicing
For in my need, His power is displayed

To this I hold, my Shepherd will defend me
Through the deepest valley He will lead
Oh the night has been won, and I shall overcome!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me

No fate I dread, I know I am forgiven
The future sure, the price it has been paid
For Jesus bled and suffered for my pardon
And He was raised to overthrow the grave

To this I hold, my sin has been defeated
Jesus now and ever is my plea
Oh the chains are released, I can sing: I am free!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me

With every breath I long to follow Jesus
For He has said that He will bring me home
And day by day I know He will renew me
Until I stand with joy before the throne

To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
All the glory evermore to Him
When the race is complete, still my lips shall repeat:
Yet not I, but through Christ in me!

To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
All the glory evermore to Him
When the race is complete, still my lips shall repeat:
Yet not I, but through Christ in me!

CityAlight, “Yet Not I but through Christ in Me.”

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Kindness of God in the Gospel (Luther)

 In Titus 3:4-5 the apostle Paul wrote about the goodness (χρηστότης) and kindness (φιλανθρωπία) of God in saving sinners by his mercy and not their merit.  While it is true that God is just and will punish the hard-hearted unrepentant sinner, it is equally true that he is good and kind towards sinners.  We can’t forget that great reality as we tell others about Jesus and as we follow him ourselves.  In other words, the gospel is not law, it is good news of God’s great kindness and love shown in Christ to sinners.

Martin Luther discussed this reality – God’s goodness and kindness in the gospel – in a sermon on Titus 3:4-7.  Here are a few parts of it that are good reminders of the kindness of God shown in the gospel:

So God also, by the gospel, is preached and offered unto us wholly good, bountiful, and sweet, open to all, rejecting none, bearing all our sins and offences, repelling no man with excessive severity; for we read and hear nothing declared in the gospel but mere grace and goodness, whereby he most mercifully hears us, and most gently handles us, and not any man according to his deserts [deserving].

…The meaning of the Apostle is this; our God hath in the gospel shewed himself unto us not only bountiful, kind, gentle, and sweet, which can bear and will receive all, but also he so loveth us, that of his own accord he joineth himself unto us, seeketh to have to do with us, voluntarily showeth and offereth his grace unto us, and most gently embraceth as many as only do not refuse his grace and love, and desire to draw nigh unto him.

What should he do more? Who cannot see why we count the gospel a preaching, joyful, and full of all consolation of God in Christ? For what can be spoken more lovingly and sweetly to a sinful and afflicted conscience than these words?

Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon, “Of Salvation by Grace, without Works,” in Thirty-Four Sermons on the Most Interesting Doctrines of the Gospel (London: Gale and Fenner, 1816), 98.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015

Death Swallowed Up (Young/Cyril)

Isaiah 25:7-8 is an awesome prophetic promise: “On this mountain he [Yahweh] will destroy the burial shroud, the shroud over all the peoples, the sheet covering all the nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove his people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken (CSB)”.

E. J. Young (d. 1968) wrote some great comments on these verses:

Isaiah uses the definite article with death to stress the fact that it is well known that death bas been a terror to mankind.  Hitherto, death itself had swallowed up all else.  As in Genesis 2:17 so here, the word ‘death’ includes all the evils which attend it.  When death is swallowed up, so also are all the miseries that it brings.  Furthermore, death is to be swallowed up forever; it will never again reappear. Paul’s interpretation is entirely true to the Old Testament: ‘death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:45b).  The book of Revelation brings out the meaning clearly: ‘there shall be no more death’ (Rev. 221:4b).  [Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 2 p. 196]

Here’s how Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444 AD) similarly reflected on Isaiah’s prophecy:

Death overcame our forefather Adam on account of his transgression and like a fierce wild animal it pounced on him and carried him off amid lamentation and loud wailing. Men wept and grieved because death ruled over all the earth. But all this came to an end with Christ. Striking down death, he rose up on the third day and became the way by which human nature would rid itself of corruption. He became the firstborn of the dead, and the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. [ACCS, Vol. X]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Law Is Not a Remedy for Sin

 (This is a re-post from October 2010)

You cannot fully understand Martin Luther’s work unless you understand his distinction between the theologian of the cross and the theologian of glory.  This distinction is also important for us today especially when some are leaving the biblical truths of the Reformation for the traditions of Rome.  I myself will not and cannot go to Rome because I believe the five solas are eminently biblical and also because I believe Luther was right in declaring that Rome taught a theology of glory in opposition to the theology of the cross.

Interested in this discussion?  You should be.  And you should get this outstanding book, On Being A Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde.  The book is sort of a commentary on Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.  Though it is only around 100 pages long, it is one of the most profound discussions of the cross and salvation you’ll ever read.  The book will not only lead you away from Rome’s theology of glory, but it will also lead you away from yourself (your own righteousness, good works, and fig leaves) and lead you away from the things of this world.  It will lead you to the cross, and the cross alone.

I’ve blogged on this book before, so I won’t go into all the details.  But I do want to give an example of the contents of the book.  Here’s a small sample.

“The cross is the death of sin and the sinner.  The cross does the ‘bottoming out.’  The cross is the ‘intervention.’  The addict/sinner is not coddled by false optimism but is put to death so that a new life can begin.  The theologian of the cross ‘says what a thing is.’  The theologian of the cross preaches to convict of sin.  The addict is not deceived by theological marshmallows but is told the truth so that he might learn at last to confess, to say, ‘I am an addict,’ ‘I am an alcoholic,’ and never to stop saying it.  Theologically and more universally all must learn to say, ‘I am a sinner,’ and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true.”

“It is commonplace among evangelical Christians to believe that we can’t perfectly fulfill the law, but we often try to because we assume that if we only could we would do it.  Some believe that we must try to do something at least, and then, it is assumed, Christ will make up for our ‘shortcomings.’  But here is the bombshell: doing the law does not advance the cause of righteousness one whit.  It only makes matters worse.”

“The law is not a remedy for sin.  It does not cure sin but rather makes it worse.”

“Thesis 25.  He is not righteous who works much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

“Thesis 26. The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.

I could go on and on.  Again, trust me when I say that you need to get (and read!) this book if you haven’t yet: Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross.

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

Philip and the Ethiopian (Hays)

From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, Vol. 14 (New Studies in Biblical Theology) The story in Acts 8 where Philip meets an important Ethiopian man is a great story.  The Ethiopian was on his very long trip home after worshiping Yahweh in Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit led Philip to the point where he eventually shares the gospel with the Ethiopian starting in Isaiah 53.  There are many application points in this story.  One of them is brought out well by J. Daniel Hays in From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race.

The actual story of the Ethiopian’s conversion to Christianity is familiar.  Philip, led by an angel of the Lord, left Samaria and went to the Gaza road, where he encountered this Ethiopian official in his chariot.  After Philip explained ‘the good news about Jesus’ to him, they drove by some water and the Ethiopian asked, ‘What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ (8:36, NRSV).  Polhill notes the theological significance of the verb in this question (koluo, to hinder forbid, prohibit), and suggests that Luke records this question for his Gentile Church audience, thus clarifying that no one is to be denied full membership into the Church through baptism.  Remember that this official was a eunuch and was prohibited from full membership in Judaism.  He was also from a region that lay outside the limits of the Roman Empire.  Polhill summarizes by writing, ‘The verb indicates that barriers have been removed, hindrances to the spread of the gospel to all people.  In this case a double barrier of both physical and racial prejudice had fallen.’

Hays ends the section like this:

As in this entire unit of Acts, the Spirit plays a major role.  So we can conclude that it was clearly part of God’s plan for the gospel to reach this Black African in the most initial stages of the Christian evangelistic explosion.  A Greek-speaking Semitic Jew led a Black African eunuch to Christ in one of the first evangelistic encounters recorded in Christian history, thus setting the stage for the explosion of the gospel into the world that took place over the next thirty years, and giving a foretaste of the mixed composition of the new people of God that will fill the kingdom of Christ.

J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation, p. 174, 176. 

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

The Law, The Gospel, Our Salvation (Witsius)

 I like how Herman Witsius ended his discussion on the antinomian and neonomian controversy in Britain around 1700.  In the concluding part of this book Witsius discussed the preaching of the law and the gospel.  Here are the last two sections which I’ve slightly edited for length:

…The beginning of the new life is not from the preaching of the law, but of the gospel. The gospel, is the seed of our regeneration, and the law of the Spirit of life, which makes us free from the law of sin and death. Doubtless, while Christ is preached, and life through him, his Spirit falls upon the souls of the elect, and infuses into them a principle of spiritual life. [James 1:18; Galatians 3:2].

…But when that [new] life, infused by the Spirit, through means of the gospel, begins to exert itself; if I am not deceived, it generally proceeds in the following order. That the soul, awakened as from a deep sleep, or faint, or rather death, views itself polluted with sin, guilty of many crimes, abominable unto God, most miserable in every respect, and altogether unable to deliver itself, and therefore seized with pungent grief, and despairing of itself, it pants after salvation, about to come to it from another quarter, to which purpose, the ministry of the law is useful: later it sees Christ held forth in the gospel, and discovering, that in him there is a fulness of salvation, and an abundance of grace, it immediately betakes itself to him, altogether empty of itself, that it may be filled by him; destroyed in and of itself, that it may be saved by him.

It is not possible, that apprehending Christ, and being apprehended by him, it should not, through his inestimable goodness, be inflamed with love to him, and be willing to devote itself wholly to his service, to whom it professes to owe its salvation, nor is it possible that it should not acknowledge him for a Lord, whom it hath found by experience to be a Saviour. And thus again, the gospel brings us back to the law as a rule of gratitude. Hence it is evident, how law and gospel mutually assist one another, in promoting the salvation of the elect; and how sometimes the former, sometimes the latter, takes the lead.

 Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 190–191.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015