Christ’s Blood and the Christian Conscience (Ash)

 One absolutely wonderful part of being a Christian is having a clear conscience before God and others.  It all has to do with what Jesus did for me: he lived a perfect life for me, died on the cross for me, and was raised from the dead for me.  Because of this, by faith I receive his righteousness and my sins are washed away: I am justified by God.  Therefore I have peace with God and there is no condemnation in my future (Rom. 5:1, 8:1).  Over and over I look to Christ to remember and rejoice in the fact that these things are true – this helps my conscience remain free and clear.  Christopher Ash comments well on this:

Learning to do this [look to Christ and his cleansing blood] is important for Christian stability.  If I am not sure about what Christ has done for me, I will always be dissatisfied how I relate to God, dogged by uncertainty and insecurity.  When someone (a peddler in the spirituality marketplace) offers me a new technique that will cure my spiritual depression, I will be the first to sign up.  If someone tells me about a church on the other side of the world where this cure is being experienced, I will save up and fly out there to get the cure, the ‘new thing that God is doing,’ all because I will not believe what God says.  Instead of wasting my money, I need to think about the new and living way Jesus has opened up for me into the immediate presence of God.  When my heart is filled with the wonder of this truth, I will be oblivious to the attraction of second-rate substitutes.

So the death of Christ not only deals with the objective truth of our guilt before God, but also addresses our subjective awareness of that guilt.  It changes not only the way we are before God, our actual status, but also our perception and our inward thoughts about ourselves. By faith we say to ourselves, ‘God says I have been made perfect in and by the obedience of Jesus Christ.  And I believe that what God says is true.  I have been made perfect.  I am cleansed at the deepest level of human personhood.  Not only my actions and words, but my memories are cleansed too.  So that when conscience drags up in my memory something of which I am ashamed, faith says to conscience that this thing, this sin, this impurity, this greed, this omission, this cowardice, whatever it may be, has been made clean by the blood of Christ.  All of it.”

I take it that this is what John means in 1 John 1:9 when he says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’

Christopher Ash, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, p.146-7.

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

 

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Grace: More Than Unmerited Favor!

 Since I read this around ten years ago, I’ve really been helped and even comforted by Meredith Kline’s explanation of saving grace.  He noted that “in the biblical proclamation of the gospel, grace is the antithesis of the works principle.”  Later he wrote,

“The distinctive meaning of [saving] grace in its biblical-theological usage is a divine response of favor and blessing in the face of human violation of obligation.  Gospel grace takes account of man in his responsibility under the demands of the covenant and specifically as a covenant breaker….  Accordingly, the grace of Christ comes to expression in his active and passive obedience, together constituting a vicarious satisfaction for the obligations and liabilities of his people, who through failure and transgression are debtors before the covenant Lord, the Judge of all the earth.  Gospel grace emerges in a forensic framework as a response of mercy to demerit.

In other words, because we transgressed the law, we rightly deserve its curses and punishments.  But God shows grace and mercy in sending Christ to save us – to both obey the law and suffer the curse in our place.  We deserve death, by grace alone he gives life!

Theologically it is of the greatest importance to recognize that the idea of demerit is an essential element in the definition of grace.  In its proper theological sense as the opposite of law-works, grace is more than unmerited favor.  That is, divine grace directs itself not merely to the absence of merit but to the presence of demerit.  …It is a granting of blessing, as an act of mercy, in spite of previous covenant breaking by which man has forfeited all claims to participation in the kingdom and has incurred God’s disfavor and righteous wrath.  It bestows the good offered in the covenant’s blessing sanctions rather than the evil of the threatened curse even though man has done evil rather than good in terms of the covenant stipulations.

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, pages 112-113.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Principal Foundation of our Salvation (Turretin)

 I’ve always appreciated Francis Turretin’s discussion of justification by faith alone.  Here are some of his quotes on this topic that I’ve found quite comforting:

For the righteousness of Christ alone imputed to us is the foundation and meritorious cause upon which our absolutary (absolving) sentence rests, so that for no other reason does God bestow the pardon of sin and the right to life than on account of the most perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us and apprehended by faith.  Hence it is readily gathered that we have not here a mere dispute about words (as some falsely imagine), but a controversy most real and indeed of the highest moment.  In it we treat of the principal foundation of our salvation, which being overthrown or weakened, all our confidence and consolation both in life and in death must necessarily perish.

…The gospel teaches that what could not be found in us was to be sought in another, could be found nowhere else than in Christ, the God-man; who taking upon himself the office of surety most fully satisfied the justice of God by his perfect obedience and thus brought to us an everlasting righteousness by which alone we can be justified before God; in order that covered and clothed with that garment as though it were of our first-born (like Jacob), we may obtain under in the eternal blessing of our heavenly Father.

…The obedience of Christ rendered in our name to God the Father is so given to us by God that it is reckoned to be truly ours and that it is the sole and only righteousness on account of and by the merit of which we are absolved from the guilt of our sins and obtain a right to life….”

Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol 2, p. 639, 647, 648.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Hiding Place of His Righteousness (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 Here’s a wonderful section of a letter Augustus Toplady wrote in 1767 to a friend who was very ill:

I hope, sir, you are enabled to trust your soul to Christ, and to cast your care on God. Satan, no doubt, will be ever ready to bring in the indictment, and conscience cannot help pleading guilty to a great part of the charge: but remember, that your judge is, at the very same time, your advocate and Saviour. He is a lover of your soul, and was the propitiation for your sins; they cannot be too numerous, nor too heinous, for mercy like his to pardon, nor for merit like his to cover. Only flee to him for refuge, fly to the hiding place of his righteousness, death and intercession; and then, the enemy can have no final advantage over you, nor the son of wickedness approach to hurt you, in your everlasting interest. Assault you he may, in your way to the kingdom of God; overcome you he cannot, if you look, or desire to look, to Jesus for safety; lie at his blessed feet for protection; lay hold on his victorious cross for salvation; and then you shall find him gracious to relieve, mighty to deliver, and faithful to uphold.

Cast anchor on his love, and be happy, rely on his omnipotence, and be safe. …In life, in death, in eternity, may he be your light, your strength, and your exceeding great reward! I know that your health is so bad, you cannot read much, but you can pray; you can send up your desires as incense, to the throne of God, almost every moment. As you sit, as you walk, as you take an airing, you may cultivate an intimacy with heaven; you may carry on a correspondence with God, you may hold silent intercourse with the Spirit of grace. Every sigh, if directed to him, is a prayer; every tear shed for sin, is a sort of oblation, acceptable to him in Christ, and shall be noted in his book.

Yet, not the sighs we breathe, nor the tears we pour, are our justifying merit; but the sigh, the tears, the obedience, the death, of his co-eternal Son: his are the propitiations; ours are the memorial, and the proof of the work of grace, which his Spirit begins in the soul. Resign yourself to his will in every dispensation; lie passive in his hand, stir not from his footstool, take all your spiritual distresses, as commissioned from him. The cup, the medicinal cup, is of his mixing; the chastisement is the chastisement of a father, who loves while he strikes, and whose seeming wrath is real mercy. May his everlasting arms be spread beneath you; may his grace (as I doubt not it will) be sufficient for you…

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes, 1825), 136–138.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Pray Hard, For You Are Quite A Sinner (Luther)

The following paragraph is from a famous letter of Martin Luther to Phillip Melanchthon.  I’ve posted it on this blog before, but it’s worth doing again.  This letter shows two things: 1) Luther well understood Rome’s unbiblical doctrines [note the “imaginary” language below] and 2) he understood the gospel clearly.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but
the true mercy.  If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the
true, not an imaginary sin.  God does not save those who are only
imaginary sinners.  Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let
your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the
victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we
are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We,
however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new
heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that
through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the
sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to
kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think
such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager
sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

What Does “The Empty Hand of Faith” Mean? (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.)You may have heard someone talk about coming to Christ with an empty hand of faith.  What does this mean?  This phrase has a historical background.  In the 17th century, some Christian teachers were saying in order to be forgiven and justified a sinner needs to have repentance.  [Repentance in this context has a broad meaning which includes hating sin, turning to God, and endeavoring unto new obedience (see WLC 76 or HC 88-90)].  For example, Richard Baxter taught that a person must be forsaking sin and following Christ to be pardoned and justified.  This led some Reformed preachers to say that Baxter was setting up a new covenant of works!

I appreciate how Thomas Boston discussed this topic.  Here are some things he said in a treatise on this topic:

“I conceive that such doctrine is injurious to the grace of God, and doth much darken the free pardon offered in the gospel, in regard the pardon is promised immediately to those that believe (Acts 10:43 ‘Through his name, whosoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins’).

Boston noted that if someone does need to be forsaking sin and following Jesus to obtain forgiveness, it would be like earning forgiveness.  Boston quotes Preston favorably: “It is a fault to think that God’s pardons are not free and that you must bring something in your hand.”

Upon the whole we may see that the gospel teaches us to come empty-handed to the market of free grace for remission of sins and God’s favor.  But he does not come empty-handed who brings repentance along with him.  If any shall say we screw up matters so high in this point that we must also cast away faith as well as repentance for obtaining pardon, as if faith is something we bring to attain pardon, I say this:

For the safety of God’s grace, let the ‘work-faith’ and the ‘inherent-quality-faith’ go, and be made to stand back, while the sinner stands before God’s tribunal to be justified – that the empty-handed, ‘taking-faith’ may alone have place.  Hasn’t the Lord made pardon to be only of faith, that it might be of grace, while faith comes with an empty hand and receives all?

Boston then said that in this matter there’s a big difference between faith and repentance (conversion/living a new life), for one receives (faith) and the other gives (repentance).  In fact, Boston exhorted readers not to turn the covenant of grace into a “bastard covenant of works” by saying we have to bring something when we come to Jesus to obtain his favor.

So what does “the empty hand of faith” mean?  It means coming to Christ empty-handed simply to receive the free, gracious gift of full forgiveness.  When we come to Jesus for pardon and justification, we don’t need to bring Him anything in exchange; we don’t need to clean up our act, put nice clothes on, or do a few good deeds so He notices us.  We come like a beggar would come before a king with nothing but an open hand to receive a gift from the king.  And as the Bible teaches, this King blesses beggars who come with an empty hand of faith!

The above-edited quotes are found in Thomas Boston, Works, Volume 6, p. 87ff

Shane Lems

No Harbor In My Own Righteousness (Sibbes)

One of the greatest things about being a Christian is knowing that Jesus loves me despite my sin and sinful struggles.  I know I’m sinful but I also know I have a great Savior in whose righteousness I stand accepted by God.  I appreciate how Richard Sibbes (d. 1635) wrote about this:

“[The love of Christ] should teach us not to wrong ourselves with false judgement.  We should have a double eye: one to see that which is amiss in us, our own imperfections, thereby to carry ourselves in a perpetual humility; but another eye of faith to see what we have in Christ, our perfection in him, so to account of ourselves, and glory in this our best being, that in him we have a glorious being – such a one whereby God esteems us perfect, and undefiled in him only.

Sibbes is saying that on the one hand, we need to understand our sin and be humble because of it.  On the other hand, we need to understand our Savior and realize that in him God sees us as perfect, forgiven, justified.  Speaking of knowing, these two things (our sin and our Savior),

The one of which sights should enforce us to the other, which is one reason why God in this world leaves corruption in his children.  Oh, since I am thus undefiled, shall I rest in myself?  Is there any harbor for me to rest in mine own righteousness?  Oh no – it drives a man out of all harbor.  No, I will rest in that righteousness which God has wrought by Christ, who is the God-man.  That will endure the sight of God, being clothed with which, I can endure the presence of God.  So, this sight of our own unworthiness and wants should not be a ground of our discouragement, but a ground to drive us perfectly out of ourselves, that by faith we might renew our title to that righteousness, wherein is our especial glory.  Why should we not judge of ourselves as Christ does?  Can we see more in ourselves than he does?  Yet notwithstanding all he sees, he accounts us as undefiled.”

As the Apostle said, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9 NIV).

Richard Sibbes, The Love of Christ, p. 150-151.

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