Here’s a wonderful section of Walter Marshall’s 1692 publication, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:
The most effectual knowledge for your salvation is to understand these two points: 1) the desperate sinfulness and misery of your own natural condition, and 2) the alone sufficiency of the grace of God in Christ for your salvation, that you may be abased as to the flesh and exalted in Christ alone.
And, for the better understanding these two main points, you should learn how the first Adam was the figure of the second (Rom. 5:14); how sin and death came upon all the natural seed of the first Adam by his disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, and how righteousness and everlasting life come upon all the spiritual seed of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, by His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross.
You also should learn the true difference between the two covenants, the old and the new, or the law and the gospel: that the former shuts us up under the guilt and power of sin, and the wrath of God and His curse, by its rigorous terms: ‘Do all the commandments, and live; and, cursed are you if you do not do them, and fail in the least point’; the latter opens the gates of righteousness and life to all believers (i.e. the new covenant) by its gracious terms: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and live,’ that is, all your sins shall be forgiven, and holiness and glory shall be given to you freely by His merit and Spirit.
Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Direction 13.1.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015
The following quote by Martin Luther, from The Bondage of the Will, is one of the main points of the Reformation, the biblical truth that the salvation of sinners belongs completely and wholly to the Lord:
“A man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs of himself entirely, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.”
“…So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God. This, I repeat, is one reason – that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive his gracious promise.” Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, II.vii.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Here’s a nice excerpt from a sermon Charles Hodge gave on Romans 8:1 (Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. NASB):
Behold, O Christian the deed of thy inheritance. …Jesus Christ came down from heaven to seek and save his people, to accomplish the condition on which their salvation was suspended and [say] “It is finished.” For these he has suffered and obeyed. The demands of the holiness and justice of God are completely satisfied. And since Christ has died and God has justified, who is that condemneth? Can Satan their accuser before God effect it? We answer no, because he that died, has risen and standeth at the right hand of God where he maketh intercession for us and he it is whom the Father heareth always. Can our own corruptions condemn us? We answer no because the salvation of Jesus Christ is a salvation from sin, every believer has the promise of the Holy Spirit to abide with him forever, to be in him as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. The believers’ hold of heaven is not the grasp of his own palsied hand, it is the upholding of the Lord, it is being kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.
Charles Hodge, “No Condemnation,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).
God’s people should seek to be like Christ. As Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, NIV). But our imitating Christ is not the gospel. J. G. Machen explained this well:
“It seems never to have occurred to the adherents of this religion [an imitation of Jesus religion] that there is such a thing as sin, and that sin places an awful gulf between man and God. But those convictions, though they are unpopular at the present time, are certainly quite central in the Christian religion. From the beginning Christianity was the religion of the broken heart; it is based upon the conviction that there is an awful gulf between man and God which none but God can bridge. The Bible tells us how this gulf was bridged; and that means the Bible is a record of facts.”
Of what avail, without the redeeming acts of God, are all the lofty ideals of Psalmists and Prophets, all the teaching and example of Jesus? In themselves they can bring us nothing but despair. We Christians are not interested merely in what God commands, but also in what God did; in a triumphant indicative; our salvation depends squarely upon history; the Bible contains that history, and unless that history is true the authority of the Bible is gone and we who have put our trust in the Bible are without hope” (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ [New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932], 385).
Here’s a great Reformation treatment on the purposes (or uses) of God’s law.
“What purposes does the Law then serve?”
First, the Law helps to control violent outbursts of sin and keeps order in the world (a curb).
Second, the Law accuses us and shows us our sin (a mirror).
Third, the Law teaches us Christians what we should and should not do to live a God-pleasing life (a guide). The power to live according to the Law comes from the Gospel.”
That’s worth committing to memory: the law is a curb, a mirror, and a guide for the Christian to follow by the power of the gospel. Even young children can understand that!
This Q/A can be found in Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991). As I’ve mentioned here before, this is a sweet little hardcover book that goes through the basics of the Lutheran side of Reformation theology. Even though I disagree with some aspects of Lutheran theology, this book is a great one to own and read.
I appreciated this commentary and application by Charles Simeon as he discussed the story of the fiery snakes in Numbers 21 – the story Jesus referred to in his discussion with Nicodemus (John 3:14-15):
O how are we indebted to God for the light of his blessed Gospel! Little did the Israelites know what a stupendous mercy was here exhibited to their view. Doubtless, as a mere ordinance for the healing of their bodies, they would be thankful for it; but how thankful should we be, who see in it such a wonderful provision for our souls! Let us contemplate it: God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son, Jehovah’s Fellow, made incarnate! The Deity himself assuming our nature with all its sinless infirmities, and dying an accursed death upon the cross and this too for the salvation of his own rebellious creatures! O let us never for one moment forget, that this is the means which God has appointed for our deliverance from death and hell: let us contemplate it, till our hearts are altogether absorbed in wonder, love, and praise.
Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Numbers to Joshua, vol. 2 (London: Samuel Holdsworth, 1836), 128.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
I’m not on board with everything Miroslav Volf is doing in Exclusion and Embrace, but there are some helpful aspects of the book. Here’s one example where Volf talks about the self being de-centered and re-centered through the gospel:
‘It is Christ who lives in me,’ writes the Apostle Paul after giving the report of his own crucifixion. This suggests that the de-centering was only the flip side of re-centering. the self is both ‘de-centered’ and ‘re-centered’ by one and the same process, by participating in the death and resurrection of Christ through faith and baptism. ‘For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’ (Romans 6:5). By being ‘crucified with Christ’ the self has received a new center – the Christ who lives in it and with whom it lives.
Notice that the new center of the self is not a timeless ‘essence,’ hidden deep within a human being, underneath the sediments of culture and history and untouched by ‘time and change,’ an essence that waits only to be discovered unearthed, set free. …The center of the self – a center that is both inside and outside – is the story of Jesus Christ, which has become the story of the self. More precisely, the center is Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected who has become part and parcel of the very structure of the self.”
Volf goes on to say that the Christian who has a new center is finally free to love and serve others; it has to do with “self-giving love made possible by and patterned on the suffering Messiah.”
The above quotes are found on pages 70-71 of Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace.