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

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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

Law and Gospel in the Canons of Dort

I really like how the Canons of Dort talks about the law and the gospel.  It’s found in the 3rd and 4th points of doctrine:

ARTICLE 5
Neither can the decalogue delivered by God to His peculiar people, the Jews, by the hands of Moses, save men. For though it reveals the greatness of sin, and more and more convinces man thereof, yet, as it neither points out a remedy nor imparts strength to extricate him from this misery, but, being weak through the flesh, leaves the transgressor under the curse, man cannot by this law obtain saving grace.

ARTICLE 6
What, therefore, neither the innate understanding nor the law could do, that God performs by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the word or ministry of reconciliation; which is the glad tidings [good news] concerning the Messiah, by means whereof it has pleased God to save such as believe, as well under the Old as under the New Testament.

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

Feeling is not a Fruit (Or: Feelings and the Faith)

Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something by [Hansen, Brant] In evangelical circles, there’s a major emphasis on feelings.  Much popular Christian music is aimed at making us feel good so the lyrics are aimed at the emotions.  Many popular Christian books say so much about experiences and feelings.  Preachers preach with emotion and feeling and they preach to people’s emotions and feelings.  I’ve heard sermons where preachers spend quite a bit of time telling the congregation how a verse makes them feel.  They are very passionate and emotional about their feelings.  This even happens in Reformed and Calvinistic circles.

There’s a negative consequence when feelings are over-emphasized: Christians who don’t feel that way begin to think of themselves as inferior, less spiritual believers.  When a preacher talks about how a verse makes him feel, a Christian in the pew thinks, “I don’t feel that way at all…am I a bad Christian?”  Brant Hansen puts it this way:

“It’s no wonder so many analytical types find themselves estranged from a Christian subculture that traffics in emotional appeals.  We find ourselves wondering what’s wrong with us, perhaps even begging God to make Himself real to us in the way He clearly is to others.  When we’re told we’re not ‘open to the Spirit’ or ‘leaning too much on our intellect,’ we may redouble our efforts to somehow fix what’s wrong with us, before finally drifting away.”

“…The absence of feeling is not the absence of love.  Yes, you may occasionally feel things, maybe even intensely, but when those feelings vacillate, it doesn’t mean you love God less [or that he loves you less – SPL].  He doesn’t seem to prioritize emotion.  He’s looking for obedience.  For faithfulness.  For mercy.  For justice.  For compassion on the poor.”

Hansen later says that “Jesus said if you want to judge a tree, you look at its fruit.”  “Feeling” is not a fruit of the Spirit.

“Someone might immediately, like clockwork, break down in tears of genuine emotion at the first chord of every worship song.  Wonderful.  But that’s not ‘fruit,’ biblically speaking.  A Christianity that’s one-emotional-size-fits-all simply isn’t fair.  You may have Asperger’s, like I do.  You may have gone through trauma as a kid.  You might grapple with depression and just not emote like other people.  You may be wired differently.

When one person insinuates that another must be spiritually lacking because of a dearth of feeling, it’s worthwhile pointing out this is utterly foreign to the biblical concept of bearing fruit.”

Of course, feelings aren’t necessarily bad or sinful.  God created us as humans who laugh, cry, hurt, and have emotions.  The problem with feelings and emotions is that they are not trustworthy since we are sinful.  Proverbs 28:26 says he who trusts in his own heart is a fool (NASB)It follows that we should be very hesitant to trust the emotions that arise from our hearts.  Feelings come and go; they rise and fall.  Feelings depend on how much sleep you’ve had (or not had!) in the past week.  Feelings depend on how much coffee you had today (or didn’t have!).  Sometimes feelings change when the seasons change!  Emotions often change when circumstances change.  So don’t base your Christian faith on your feelings and don’t judge your commitment to Christ on how you feel at the moment.  If your feelings don’t match that of “better” Christians, don’t panic or get down on yourself. It’s okay; it’s no big deal.

The Christian faith is based on fact, not feeling.  Dear Christian, the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin even if it doesn’t feel like it.  The tomb is empty even when you’re way down in the dumps and you’re emotionally drained.  God’s love for you is constant and steady, even when you feel like a pile of crap.  You are justified even if that truth doesn’t make you emotional.  You’re being sanctified despite the fact you can’t “feel” sanctification.  Believe the truth of the gospel and rest in it.  Just rest.  Don’t panic.  Feelings about the gospel may come and go, but the fact of it remains.

The above quotes are found in chapters 5-6 of Blessed are the Misfits. (I received this book to review and was not compelled to write positive remarks about it.)

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

Death to the Legalist (in Me)!!

  “Through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God” (Gal. 2:19 NASB).  “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal. 5:18 NASB).  In Reformed theology, these words are taken to mean that the believer is not under the law as a covenant of works, demanding obedience upon the pain of curse and death.  Because of what Jesus has done, we’re not under the law for justification nor are we under its curse for our sin.  Like Thomas Boston said, Christians are neither under the law’s commanding power nor its condemning power.  Boston also noted that since the Christian is not completely sanctified, sometimes the Christian sadly believes he or she is still under the law’s demands:

“In the best of the children of God here, there are such remains of the legal disposition and inclination of heart to the way of the covenant of works, that as they are never quite free of it in their best duties, so at sometimes their services smell so rank of it, as if they were alive to the law, and still dead to Christ.”

That’s true.  Sometimes Christians think they are or act as if they are still under the law, so they believe their obedience will make God love them more.  Or they think their disobedience makes God love them less.  They are then terribly frustrated by their failures and try harder to obey God only to fail and feel worse.  Or they deceive themselves and think they’ve succeeded in obedience and thus becoming proud.  They think they are still under the law and they act like it.  Boston:

“And sometimes the Lord for their correction, trial, and exercise of faith, suffers the ghost of the dead husband, the law, as a covenant of works, to come in upon their souls and make demands on them, command, threaten, and affrighten them, as if they were alive to it, and it to them.  And it is one of the hardest pieces of practical religion, to be dead to the law in such cases.  This death to it admits of degrees, is not alike in all believers, and is perfect in none till the death of the body.”

In God’s fatherly discipline, sometimes he allows the Christian to think he or she is under the law.  It’s tough, but he does this to show them not to trust in themselves or their works but in Jesus.  Boston is right: Christians are dead to the law, but we don’t always live that truth consistently because we still struggle with sin.  It has to do with sanctification.  The more God grows us in grace, the less we view ourselves under a covenant of works.  As we are gradually sanctified, the legalist in us gradually dies.  Remember what Boston and others have noted: the remedy for a legal spirit is not antinomianism, but the gospel of grace.  God loves you in Christ with a steadfast, unchangeable love.  Rest in that truth!

The above quote is found on page 176 of the Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI