The Sanctity of the Moral Law (or: Constrained to Come to Calvary) (Murray)

Murray vol 1 In 1935, at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, John Murray gave an address called, “The Sanctity of the Moral Law.”  (“Sanctity” in this context means holiness or sacredness.)  In this address Murray  talked about the moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  Murray’s lecture is a very helpful discussion of the moral law and its importance for Christians.  I appreciate how he ended this address:

“As we recognize the awful sanctity that surrounds the law, we shall certainly be crushed with a sense of our own hell-deserving guilt and hopeless inability.  We shall certainly be constrained to cry out, ‘Woe is me for I am undone.’  ‘Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I have not the understanding of a man’ (Is. 6:5; Prov. 30:2).  But in that condition there falls upon our ears and into our hearts the sweet news of the gospel, the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer and Lord.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:13).  We shall be constrained to come to Calvary.

But when we come to Calvary for the expiation of our guilt and the remission of our sin, it is not to diminish our esteem of that law nor relax our sense of its awful sanctity and binding authority.  Oh no!  …When we are possessed by the sense of the authority and sanctity of the moral law, we must come to Calvary if any true and living hope is to be engendered within us.  But when we rise from our prostration before the Cross, it is not to find the moral law abrogated, but to find it by the grace of God wrought into the very fiber of the new life in Christ Jesus.

If the Cross of Christ does not fulfill in us the passion of righteousness, we have misinterpreted the whole scheme of divine redemption.  ‘For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3).  Is it that the moral law might cease to bind and regulate?  Oh no! But ‘that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’

John Murray, Collected Writings vol. 1, p. 203-204.

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

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Inquiring after the Weeds (Owen)

The Works of John Owen (24 vols.) I appreciate this section in John Owen’s “Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers”:

There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men, and they are, first, a due consideration of God, and then of themselves; of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition. Now, of all things in our condition, there is nothing so suited unto this end and purpose as that which lies before us; namely, the vile remainders of enmity against God which are yet in our hearts and natures.

And it is no small evidence of a gracious soul when it is willing to search itself in this matter, and to be helped therein from a word of truth; when it is willing that the word should dive into the secret parts of the heart, and rip open whatever of evil and corruption lies therein. The prophet says of Ephraim, Hos. 10:11, “He loved to tread out the corn” he loved to work when he might eat, to have always the corn before him: but God, says he, would “cause him to plough;” a labor no less needful, though at present not so delightful. Most men love to hear of the doctrine of grace, of the pardon of sin, of free love, and suppose they find food therein; however, it is evident that they grow and thrive in the life and notion of them. But to be breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, to be inquiring after the weeds and briers that grow in them, they delight not so much, though this be no less necessary than the other.

This path is not so beaten as that of grace, nor so trod in, though it be the only way to come to a true knowledge of grace itself. It may be some, who are wise and grown in other truths, may yet be so little skilled in searching their own hearts, that they may be slow in the perception and understanding of these things. But this sloth and neglect is to be shaken off, if we have any regard unto our own souls

 Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 6, pp. 200–201). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

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

The “Old Filth” of Legalism (Fisher)

 Legalism is one of those things that keeps creeping up in the Christian life and in the Christian church.  For example, some people say that there’s a final justification which depends upon our works.  Others talk about justification by faith alone, but then go on to define faith as faithfulness.  Still others have rules for the Christian life or church that aren’t taught in Scripture, such as which Bible translation to use, how to dress for worship, which type of schooling is best for children, and so forth.  This error of legalism is nothing new, of course.  The church has been dealing with it a long time.  One good example is found in Edward Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity, where by way of dialogue he explains legalism and refutes it with Scripture and an emphasis on the gospel of grace.

In one section of The Marrow called “The Natural Bias Towards the Covenant of Works,” Fisher explains how people in general think according to the covenant of works.  That is, people generally believe that God is the great Master of heaven, and man is the servant that must work to receive wages.

“…It is the general opinion of men’s reason throughout the whole world, that righteousness is gotten by the works of the law; and the reason is, because the covenant was engendered in the  minds of men in the very creation, so that man naturally can judge no otherwise of the law than as a covenant of works, which was given to make righteous, and to give life and salvation.”

Fisher then writes, quoting Luther, that this view of the law and obedience

‘is so deeply rooted in man’s reason, and all mankind so wrapped in it, that they can hardly get out; yea, I myself,’ says he, ‘have now preached the gospel nearly twenty years, and have been exercised in the same daily, by reading and writing, so that I may well seem to be rid of this wicked opinion; yet, notwithstanding, I now and then feel this old filth cleave to my heart, whereby it cometh to pass that I would willingly have so to do with God, that I would bring something with myself, because of which he should give me his grace.’

In other words, even Luther struggled with the “old filth” of legalism, the idea that we can earn God’s favor by obedience.  Later Fisher writes this:

…It is to be feared that there be divers [many] who in words are able to distinguish between the law and the gospel, and in their judgments hold and maintain, that man is justified by faith without the works of the law; and yet in effect and practice, that is to say, in heart and conscience, do otherwise.  And there is some touch of this in us all; otherwise we should not be so up and down in our comforts and believing as we are still, and cast down with every weakness as we are.

What is the antidote or medicine for the “old filth” of legalism?  A constant and continual emphasis on the great truths of Scripture: we’re justified by grace alone, through faith alone (apart from all of our works), in Christ alone! We need to let these gospel truths saturate our hearts and minds – in doing so, we’ll be able to better fight legalism and it’s effects.

The above quotes are found on pages 105-106 of Fisher’s Marrow.

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

Grace, Gentiles, and the OT (Davis)

 God’s plan of salvation always included both Jews and Gentiles.  Including the Gentiles as recipients of grace was not God’s plan B, but part of his original plan.  This is clearly seen already in the Old Testament.  Dale Ralph Davis has a helpful commentary on 1 Kings 17:8-12 that talks about God’s grace shown to a foreigner.  Specifically, this is the story where Elijah goes to the widow in Zarephath during the famine brought on by Ahab’s idolatry.

Let us look more closely at this widow. What really fascinates us is her mailing address: ‘Rise, go to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon’ (v. 9). Zarephath stood about eight miles south of Sidon and thirteen miles north of Tyre (and about 80 miles north of Samaria), in the domain of Jezebel’s daddy Ethbaal (16:31). So Elijah is headed for Baalsville in Gentileland. Here one of Baal’s subjects will trust in Yahweh’s word (vv. 14, 15) and will find that Yahweh daily sustains her (v. 16), though Baal had left her in the pit of hopelessness and on the verge of death (v. 12). Yahweh will press her into his service for the benefit of his prophet and yet in the process give her far more than he demands of her. Here is a gentile widow awash in the wideness of God’s mercy; here is grace that moves beyond the boundaries of the covenant people and embraces one of Baal’s most hopeless pawns. We know her address but not her name, and yet this nameless widow joins the likes of Melchizedek (Gen. 14), Jethro (Exod. 18), Rahab (Josh. 2, 6), Ruth, Naaman (2 Kings 5), and Ebedmelech (Jer. 38) as one of those standing within the circle of Yahweh’s grace long before the glad day when Peter preached Jesus in Cornelius’ house and the Holy Spirit fell upon all the riff-raff (Acts 10–11). What happens in the street and house in Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 is but a foregleam of that day when God would grant ‘even to the gentiles repentance that leads to life’ (Acts 11:18).

 Davis, D. R. (2002). 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (pp. 211–212). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

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

Am I A Christian? Doubts and Grace (Brooks)

 One normal but difficult part of the Christian life is when doubts arise and a person wonders whether he or she is truly a Christian.  When Christians struggle with sin, lack strong feelings for the things of God, or find it difficult to pray and read Scripture, doubts creep up.  “Am I really a Christian?”  There are many good biblical themes to discuss at this point, but one of them I’d like to bring up for now is a wise word from Thomas Brooks about God’s work of grace in the hearts of his people.  Brooks’ argument in the following selection basically goes like this: “If a person has even the smallest work of grace in his or her heart, he or she is most definitely a Christian.”  Here’s how Brooks put it (I edited it slightly to make it easier to read):

Consider that the least degree of grace—if it is true grace—is sufficient to salvation; for the promises of life and glory, of forgiveness and salvation, of everlasting happiness and blessedness, are not made to high degrees of grace—but to the reality and truth of grace in the heart.  The promises are not made to faith in a person’s triumph—but to faith in God’s truth. Therefore the sense and evidence of the least grace, yes, of the least degree of the least grace, may afford some measure of assurance. Grace is the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. And the tree is known by his fruit, Mat. 12:33; Mark 16:16; John 3:16, 36; Mat. 5:1; John 6:40.

I do not say that weak grace will afford a strong assurance, or a full assurance, for strong assurance rather arises from strength of grace than from truth of grace in the heart—but I do say, weak grace may give some assurance.  An eminent minister, who was a famous instrument of converting many to God, was accustomed to say, that for his own part, he had no other evidence in himself of being in the state of grace, than that he was sensible of his spiritual deadness!  Oh, that all weak Christians would seriously lay this to heart, for it may serve to relieve them against many fears, doubts, discouragements, and jealousies, which do much disturb the peace and comfort of their precious souls.

Though the least measures of grace cannot satisfy a sincere Christian—yet they ought to quiet his conscience, and cheer his heart, and confirm his judgment of his saving interest in Christ. The least measure of grace is like a diamond, very little in bulk—but of high price and mighty value.  Therefore we are to improve it for our comfort and encouragement. A goldsmith makes reckoning of the least filings of gold, and so should we of the least measures of grace in our hearts. A man may read the king’s image upon a silver penny, as well as upon a larger piece of coin. The least grain of grace bears the image of God upon it; and why then should it not evidence the goodness and happiness of a Christian’s estate? Slight not the lowest evidences of grace!

Again, and in other words, just like a tiny faith is true and saving faith, so a “small” work of grace in the heart is true grace, and proof that a person is a Christian.

You can find the above section in its entirety here: Thomas Brooks, A Cabinet of Jewels, chapter I.VI.  It’s also found in volume three of Brooks’ Works (p. 259-60).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

All of Grace, From Beginning to the End (Kuyper)

 It is true that when God sovereignly changes our hearts and gives life to what is dead, we ourselves repent, believe, and begin to obey him (see Eph. 2:1-10).  We are passive in regeneration but are active in sanctification.  True faith always shows up in truly good works.  However, it’s all of grace.  Abraham Kuyper put it well in his book on the work of the Holy Spirit.  He noted that the regenerate Christian is not passive, but active in the Christian life.  Then Kuyper wrote this:

But it is not implied that the elect and regenerate sinner is now able to do anything without God; or that if God should cease working in him, conversion and sanctification would follow of themselves.  Both these representations are untrue, un-Reformed, and unchristian, because they detract from the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect.

No; all spiritual good is of grace to the end; grace not only in regeneration, but at every step of the way of life.  From the beginning to the end and throughout eternity the Holy Spirit is the Worker, of regeneration and conversion, of justification and every part of sanctification, of glorification, and of all the bliss of the redeemed.  Nothing may be subtracted from this.

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 339.

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

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