The Freeness of Grace… (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)

Augustus Toplady used the term “legal fear” to describe the fear people have that makes them think they need to earn God’s favor. They’re afraid that if they don’t do enough to meet God’s standards he will not accept them. It’s a fear that tells a person he cannot be certain of God’s love – to do so would be presumptuous. At other times, Toplady noted, legal fear says

“You must bring…a price in your hand to God the Father or Christ’s redemption will profit you nothing. Do not undervalue yourself by supposing that you can do no good work before you are justified. I tell you that you must work for life and justification. You must do good works in order to be accepted – and fulfill a string of terms and conditions, seeing you are to be saved for your works, because of your works, yea, according to the merits of your works.”

That’s what legal fear says. Toplady responds:

But thou, O believer in Christ, flee these abominable doctrines. Listen not to them, as you value the glory of God, the freeness of grace, the riches of Christ, the interests of real holiness, and your own happiness. Remember that the conditions of fallen man’s salvation are two, and no more: namely, perfect atonement for sin, and perfect obedience to the law. Both of these conditions Christ has completely fulfilled, in the stead, and for the infallible salvation, of every soul that comes to his blood for cleansing, and to his righteousness for clothing. “To what end, then, serves faith?” To let thee into the knowledge, possession, and enjoyment of this free and finished redemption. “And to what end serve good works?” Not to entitle us to God’s favor, or even to pave (much less to pay) our way to his kingdom: but to glorify his name, to adorn his gospel, to evidence our adoption, and benefit others on our road to heaven.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 369.

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

Salvation by Grace: Everywhere in Scripture (Hodge)

Systematic Theology “Salvation by grace alone” is a sweet sounding phrase in the ear of the Christian.  Here’s a nice explanation of this truth by Charles Hodge:

Another decisive fact is that salvation is of grace. The two ideas of grace and works; of gift and debt; of undeserved favour and what is merited; of what is to be referred to the good pleasure of the giver, and what to the character or state of the receiver, are antithetical. The one excludes the other. “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Rom. 11:6.

Nothing concerning the plan of salvation is more plainly revealed, or more strenuously insisted upon than its gratuitousness, from beginning to end. “Ye are saved by grace,” is engraved upon almost every page of the Bible, and in the hearts of all believers.

(1.) It was a matter of grace that a plan of salvation was devised for fallen man and not for fallen angels. (2.) It was a matter of grace that that plan was revealed to some portions of our race and not to others. (3.) The acceptance, or justification of every individual heir of salvation is a matter of grace. (4.) The work of sanctification is a work of grace, i.e., a work carried on by the unmerited, supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. (5.) It is a matter of grace that of those who hear the gospel some accept the offered mercy, while others reject it. All these points are so clearly taught in the Bible that they are practically acknowledged by all Christians. Although denied to satisfy the understanding, they are conceded by the heart, as is evident from the prayers and praises of the Church in all ages and in all its divisions.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 342–343.

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

To Thy Grace I Ascribe It (Augustine)

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Many of us have heard the story about Augustine stealing pears when he was a teenager.  Indeed, he stole them not because he was hungry or poor, but simply because he wanted to sin (he “lusted to theive”).  Afterwards Augustine even said that he didn’t even really enjoy the pear but he did enjoy the theft and sin itself.  Only a few pages after he talked about stealing pears he wrote these words in his ConfessionsWhenever we hear the pear story, we should remember these words too!

Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!

What shall I render unto the Lord, that, whilst my memory recalls these things, my soul is not affrighted at them? I will love Thee, O Lord, and thank Thee, and confess unto Thy name; because Thou hast forgiven me these so great and heinous deeds of mine. To Thy grace I ascribe it, and to Thy mercy, that Thou hast melted away my sins as it were ice. To Thy grace I ascribe also whatsoever I have not done of evil; for what might I not have done, who even loved a sin for its own sake? Yea, all I confess to have been forgiven me; both what evils I committed by my own wilfulness, and what by Thy guidance I committed not.

 Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

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

None Shall Seek Thy Face in Vain (Cowper)

 I just love the hymns and poems of William Cowper.  In fact, I’d recommend a book of his hymns and poems to use as a short daily devotional.  My wife and I have used this one: William Cowper’s Olney Hymns (Curiosmith, 2009). It’s not expensive but it is a great resource.  Here’s a great hymn I read today that I’d like to share:

LOOKING UPWARDS IN A STORM

God of my life, to thee I call,
Afflicted at thy feet I fall;
When the great water-floods prevail,
Leave not my trembling heart to fail!

Friend of the friendless, and the faint!
Where should I lodge my deep complaint?
Where but with thee, whose open door
Invites the helpless and the poor!

Did ever mourner plead with thee,
And thou refuse that mourner’s plea?
Does not the word still fix’d remain,
That none shall seek thy face in vain?

That were a grief I could not bear,
Didst thou not hear and answer prayer;
But a pray’r-hearing, answ’ring God,
Supports me under ev’ry load.

Fair is the lot that’s cast for me!
I have an advocate with thee;
They whom the world caresses most,
Have no such privilege to boast.

Poor tho’ I am, despis’d, forgot,
Yet God, my God, forgets me not;
And he is safe and must succeed,
For whom the Lord vouchsafes to plead.

-William Cowper-

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

Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine (Cowper)

William Cowper Collection (6 vols.) William Cowper, a friend of John Newton and the author of many hymns (including “God Moves in A Mysterious Way”) suffered from bouts of depression and panic attacks from a young age.  Some historians say it ran in his family.  Things became so dark for him that he tried to take his own life several times.  When he was around 30 years old he was in a mental hospital because of an especially deep period of depression and despair.  Later in his life, Cowper said that during that time the devil would even attack him and accuse him in his dreams at night.

At some point during that stay in the mental hospital Cowper read Romans 3:25.  The verse softened his heart and made him remember gospel truths he had learned earlier in life.  He later wrote that during this time he was “overwhelmed with joy unspeakable.”  He eventually left the mental hospital and went on to live until he was around 70 years old.  He always did suffer bouts of depression, but the Lord graciously brought him through.

This, of course, is a very brief summary of Cowper’s life struggles and his faith.  But it’s enough to make one appreciate his excellent poem called “A Song of Mercy and Judgment.”  As you read it, note how he refers to his depression and also note the rhythmic repetition of grace:

Lord! I love the Habitation
Where the Savior’s Honor dwells,
At the Sound of thy Salvation
With Delight my Bosom swells.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace that I have found.

Me thro’ Waves of deep affliction
Dearest Savior! thou hast brought,
Fiery Deeps of sharp Conviction
Hard to bear and passing Thought.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine

From the cheerful Beams of Morning
Sad I turn’d mine Eyes away:
And the Shades of Night returning
Fill’d my Soul with new Dismay.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace that I have found.

Food I loath’d nor ever tasted
But by Violence constrain’d,
Strength decay’d and Body wasted,
Spoke the Terrors I sustain’d.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which make me thine.

Bound and watch’d lest Life abhorring
I should my own Death procure,
For to me the Pit of Roaring
Seem’d more easy to endure.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

Fear of Thee with gloomy Sadness,
Overwhelm’d thy guilty Worm,
’Till reduced to moping Madness,
Reason sunk beneath the Storm.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

Then what Soul distressing Noises
Seem’d to reach me from below,
Visionary Scenes and Voices,
Flames of Hell and Screams of Woe!
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

But at length a Word of Healing
Sweeter than an Angel’s Note,
From the Savior’s Lips distilling
Chas’d Despair and chang’d my Lot.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

’Twas a Word well-timed and suited
To the Need of such an Hour,
Sweet to One like me polluted,
Spoke in Love and seal’d with Pow’r.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

I, he said, have seen thee grieving,
Lov’d thee as I pass’d thee by,
Be not faithless but Believing,
Look, and Live, and never Die.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

Take the Bloody Seal I give thee,
Deep impress’d upon thy Soul,
God, thy God, will now receive thee,
Faith hath sav’d thee, thou art Whole.
Grace Divine, how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

All at once my Chains were broken,
From my Feet my Fetters fell,
And that Word in Pity spoken,
Snatch’d me from the gates of Hell.
Grace Divine, how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

Since that Hour in Hope of Glory,
With thy Foll’wers I am found,
And relate the wondrous Story
To thy list’ning Saints around.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

(The above information about Cowper is found in A Portrait of William Cowper by Louis B. Risk.)

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

Works, Idolatry, Uncertainty, and Luther’s Monastic Life

The Martin Luther Collection (42 vols.)Many of our readers know about Luther’s spiritual journey out of the darkness of Rome into the light of the gospel.  In one of his sermons given on the tenth Sunday after Trinity, Luther was preaching on 1 Cor. 12:1-11.  In verse 2 of 1 Cor. 12 Paul reminds the Corinthians how, before coming to Christ, they were led astray by idols.  Luther understood Paul’s point by his own experience, which he mentioned in the sermon.  I’ve emphasized a sentence below that stands out to me – one that shows the futility of trying to earn God’s favor by works.  After pointing out the futility of salvation, Luther points to hope and comfort in Christ:

And what did we under the papacy but walk blindly? We suffered ourselves to be led just as we were directed by the names of God and the saints. I was myself a pious monk and priest, holding mass daily, wherein I worshiped St. Barbara, St. Anna, St. Christopher and others—more saints than the calendar mentions, some of whom no one knew anything about. I had no knowledge of Christ, I knew not why I should find comfort in him nor what I should expect of him. I was as much afraid of him as of the devil himself, regarding him more a stern Judge than a Saviour. How many shameful pilgrimages were made to dead idols of wood and stone, images of Mary and of the saints! How many were the pilgrimages to the graves of the dead, and to bones called “holy relics”! These relics were mere open deception, devised by shameless impostors; yet such worship was established by popes and bishops, and indulgences granted therefore.

How many new saints, new brotherhoods, new psalms to Mary, and new rosaries and crowns did the monks daily invent! In fact, everything each individual monk might dream of had to be a special form of worship, and no one inquired whether or not it was at all authorized by God’s Word. When we had done all, we were uncertain that we had pleased God. What was this sort of worship but a worship of dumb idols in the place of the living God—idols which could not talk with us and could not give any definite information or comfort, but left the people fettered and ruined with eternal doubts?

But Christians, as Paul says, have not a dead and dumb god, for which the Lord be praised! Nor will we countenance such idols. We have a living, speaking God, who gives us his infallible Word. We know how he is disposed toward us and what we may expect from him; namely: through faith in Christ we have forgiveness of sins and are his beloved children; and as evidence of acceptance with God, we have baptism and the Holy Supper, the office and gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which he works in our hearts. We know that in the faith of Christ our works and lives are pleasing to God, and that he will hear and help when in our distress and weakness we cry unto him.

 Martin Luther, “Tenth Sunday after Trinity (First Corinthians 12:1–11),” in Luther’s Epistle Sermons: Trinity Sunday to Advent, trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. III, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1909), 202–203.

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

The Gracious, Sovereign, Effectual Call (Murray)

 John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied is an outstanding resource that gives a clear and concise summary of what the Bible teaches about Christ’s saving work (redemption accomplished) and how the sinner benefits from it (redemption applied).  If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend doing so sooner than later!  You’ll come away with a greater appreciation of Christ and what he did (and does) for you!  Here’s one section where Murray highlights God’s gracious, sovereign, effectual call:

1. God is the author. “God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). “Be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:8, 9). In this respect calling is an act of God’s grace and power just as regeneration, justification, and adoption are. We do not call ourselves, we do not set ourselves apart by sovereign volition any more than we regenerate, justify, or adopt ourselves. Calling is an act of God and of God alone. This fact should make us keenly aware how dependent we are upon the sovereign grace of God in the application of redemption. If calling is the initial step in our becoming actual partakers of salvation, the fact that God is its author forcefully reminds us that the pure sovereignty of God’s work of salvation is not suspended at the point of application any more than at the point of design and objective accomplishment. We may not like this doctrine. But, if so, it is because we are averse to the grace of God and wish to arrogate to ourselves the prerogative that belongs to God. And we know where that disposition had its origin (p. 89).

Here’s a link to the paperback on Amazon and Logos also has it digitally for $9.99.

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