No Condemnation (Hodge)

Select Sermons of Charles Hodge 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).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Imitating Christ: Good, but not Gospel

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).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Three Uses of the Law (Luther’s Catechism)

Luther's Small Catechism (with Scripture explanation) 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.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Wonder, Love, and Praise (Simeon)

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae Commentary (21 vols.) 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.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

De-centered, Re-centered (Volf)

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.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


The ‘Principle Doctrine’ of Scripture (Olevian)

 One of the lesser known but important early Reformed theologians is Caspar Olevian (d. 1587), who may have had a hand in writing the Heidelberg Catechism.  One of the many Reformed truths Olevian taught is the distinction between law and gospel.  Scott Clark summarizes Olevian’s distinction (I’ve underlined Olevian’s words for clarity):

Law and gospel perform radically different functions in the economy of justification.  It is only from the law that one knows sin and only from the gospel that one knows justification.  It was out of this very commitment that [Olevian] argued that the gospel, not the law, is the ‘principle doctrine’ of the Scriptures.  For the law does not teach ‘how sin, the wrath of God, and eternal death, are removed, but rather the principle life-giving doctrine, by the outpouring of the Spirit of God was, is, and shall be, the promise of the Gospel.’

Indeed, like Luther, Olevian interpreted the entire book of Galatians as being about nothing more than the distinction between law and gospel: ‘The sum of the Epistle is to teach what is that righteousness by which we are able to stand before God, that is to say at it is not from the law, but from the Gospel.’  Likewise, he also read the Epistle to the Romans through the lenses of his law-gospel dichotomy.  At the beginning of the commentary, he made it clear that it was at the heart of his conception of the evangelium (gospel).

Thus the Holy Spirit constantly affirms through Paul that the doctrine of the gospel about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life given freely for the sake of the Son to those who believe, is not in any new way.  But from the beginning of the world Christ was promised with his gospel.  In order that this might be understood the distinction between law and Gospel must be considered.

Olevian wasn’t at odds with Reformed theology when he taught the law-gospel distinction.  Indeed, the law-gospel distinction is a big part of Reformed/Reformation theology!

The above are found on pages 149-150 of Clark’s Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Church Will Not Fail (Witsius)

Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles' Creed (2 Volumes) In the Apostles’ Creed we confess that we believe “a holy catholic church.”  Catholic here means universal or worldwide.  But what does it mean to say that we believe a holy catholic church?  Notice that it doesn’t say “we believe in the holy catholic church.”  The Creed doesn’t call the Church a Savior or the object of our faith.  Instead, we confess that we believe there is such a thing as a holy catholic church that belongs to Jesus.  Dutch Reformed pastor-theologian Herman Witsius (d. 1708) wrote some helpful comments on this:

When we affirm, therefore, that we believe the Church, we profess, that there has existed from the beginning of time, still exists, and will continue to the end of the world to exist, a society of men chosen by God to salvation, called by the Gospel and the Spirit, professing faith and piety with the mouth, and practicing them in the conduct. We declare, also, that neither the machinations of the world that lieth in wickedness, nor the gates of hell, shall ever prevail against this society.

For it is utterly impossible that the decree of God should fail;
that the promises of God should come to nought;
that the word of salvation should be preached in vain;
that the prophecies respecting the perpetuity of Christ’s kingdom should fall to the ground;
or that Christ should lose the reward of his labor, and become a Master without disciples,
a King without subjects,
a Bridegroom without a bride,
a Head without a body.

(Witsius cites 2 Tim. 2.19, Mt. 16.18, Is. 55.10-11, Ps. 45.6, Dan. 2.44, Lk 1.33, and Is 54.5-6)

Herman Witsius and Donald Fraser, Sacred Dissertations, on What Is Commonly Called the Apostles’ Creed, vol. 2 (London: Khull, Blackie & Co., 1823), 362.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI