Assurance, Good Works, and Sovereign Grace (Berkhof)

Assurance of Faith The Heidelberg Catechism says that the Christian’s good works help in the assurance of faith: “we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits” (Q/A 86).  The Westminster Larger Catechism notes under assurance that the Holy Spirit enables Christians to “discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made” (Q/A 80).  Biblically speaking, James said that true faith is shown to be true by works (James 2:18) and John wrote that we can tell we have new life when we love other Christians (1 John 3:14).

I appreciate Louis Berkhof’s explanation of how assurance of faith is related to good works in the Christian’s life:

…Reformed Confessional Standards also clearly indicate that assurance is based in part on the so-called syllogism of faith, in which the believer consciously and deliberately compares the graces that adorn his life and his general conduct, with the biblical description of the virtues and the godly conversation of those who are born of the Spirit, and on their relative correspondence bases the conclusion that he is indeed a child of God.

Berkhof ended the section this way – by emphasizing sovereign grace:

…Some object to this method of seeking assurance altogether. They claim that it directs believers to seek the ground of assurance within themselves, and thus encourages them to build on a self-righteous foundation. But this is clearly a mistake. Believers are not taught to regard their good works as the meritorious cause of their salvation, but only as the divinely wrought evidences of a faith that is itself a gift of God. Their conclusion is based exactly on the assumption that the qualities and works which they discover in their life, could never have been wrought by themselves, but can only be regarded as the products of sovereign grace.

 Louis Berkhof, The Assurance of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), chapter 6.

(As a side, The Assurance of Faith is only $5.99 on Logos.  It’s very much worth that!)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Grace: Free, Sovereign, Undeserved Love (Berkhof)

Louis Berkhof Collection (15 vols.) I always appreciate Louis Berkhof’s explanations of various biblical doctrines.  He had a good way of summarizing various parts of Scripture in a concise yet clear way.  I’ve put part of his discussion on grace below.  This is helpful to think about when considering that we’re saved by grace:

A. In the first place grace is an attribute of God, one of the divine perfections. It is God’s free, sovereign, undeserved favor or love to man, in his state of sin and guilt, which manifests itself in the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from its penalty. It is connected with the mercy of God as distinguished from His justice. This is redemptive grace in the most fundamental sense of the word. It is the ultimate cause of God’s elective purpose, of the sinner’s justification, and of his spiritual renewal; and the prolific source of all spiritual and eternal blessings.

B. In the second place the term “grace” is used as a designation of the objective provision which God made in Christ for the salvation of man. Christ as the Mediator is the living embodiment of the grace of God. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth,” John 1:14. Paul has the appearance of Christ in mind, when he says: “For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men,” Tit. 2:11. But the term is applied not only to what Christ is, but also to what He merited for sinners. When the apostle speaks repeatedly in the closing salutations of his Epistles of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he has in mind the grace of which Christ is the meritorious cause. John says: “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” John 1:17. Cf. also Eph. 2:7.

C. In the third place the word “grace” is used to designate the favor of God as it is manifested in the application of the work of redemption by the Holy Spirit. It is applied to the pardon which we receive in justification, a pardon freely given by God, Rom. 3:24; 5:2, 21; Tit. 3:15. But in addition to that it is also a comprehensive name for all the gifts of the grace of God, the blessings of salvation, and the spiritual graces which are wrought in the hearts and lives of believers through the operation of the Holy Spirit, Acts 11:23; 18:27; Rom. 5:17; 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 9:14; Eph. 4:7; Jas. 4:5, 6; 1 Pet. 3:7. Moreover, there are clear indications of the fact that it is not a mere passive quality, but also an active force, a power, something that labors, 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 12:9; 2 Tim. 2:1. In this sense of the word it is something like a synonym for the Holy Spirit, so that there is little difference between “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of grace and power” in Acts 6:5 and 8. The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” in Heb. 10:29. It is especially in connection with the teachings of Scripture respecting the application of the grace of God to the sinner by the Holy Spirit, that the doctrine of grace was developed in the Church.

 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 427–428.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Living By Grace (Bridges)

Packaging Martin Lloyd-Jones once famously said that the loud and clear preaching of salvation by grace alone will lead to a misunderstanding.  The misunderstanding is this: if we are saved by grace alone, then it doesn’t matter how we live.  Jerry Bridges comments on this topic:

That charge was brought against Martin Luther and all the other great preachers of the Reformation when they preached salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ.  The charge was brought against the apostle Paul himself: ‘Why not say – as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say – “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved’ (Romans 3:8).

The grace of salvation is the same grace by which we live the Christian life.  Paul said in Romans 5:2, ‘We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  We are not only justified by grace through faith, we stand every day in this same grace.  And just as the preaching of justification by grace is open to misunderstanding, so is the teaching of living by grace.

The solution to the problem is not to add legalism to grace.  Rather, the solution is to be so gripped by the magnificence and boundless generosity of God’s grace that we respond out of gratitude rather than out of a sense of duty….

We have loaded down the gospel of the grace of God in Christ with a lot of ‘oughts.’ ‘I ought to do this,’ and ‘I ought to do that.’  I ought to be more committed, more disciplined, more obedient.’  When we think or teach this way, we are substituting duty and obligation for a loving response to God’s grace.

Let me be very clear at this point.  I firmly believe in and seek to practice commitment, discipline, and obedience.  I am thoroughly committed to submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of my life.  And I believe in and seek to practice other commitments that flow out of that basic commitment….  But I am committed in these areas out of a grateful response to God’s grace, not to try to earn God’s blessings.

Bridges makes some helpful comments in this book on what it means to live by grace.  For example, in one chapter he talks about how holiness is a gift of God’s grace and in another chapter he describes the sufficiency of God’s grace for living the Christian life.  He nicely steers clear of both legalism and antinomianism in these pages by explaining the fact that both justification and sanctification are by grace:

We are brought into God’s Kingdom by grace; we are sanctified by grace; we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we are called to serve and enabled to serve by grace; we receive strength to endure trials by grace; and finally, we are glorified by grace.  The entire Christian life is lived under the reign of God’s grace.

The above quotes are found in  Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, p. 21 & 74.

(Note: I was given this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Father’s Grace (Bunyan)

Saved by Grace The phrase “saved by grace” is one that is rich with meaning and comfort.  John Bunyan noted well that saying “saved by the grace of God” means “saved by the grace of the triune God.”  He then took some time to explain the grace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in salvation.  Here’s what he said about the grace of God the Father in salvation:

1. The Father by his grace hath bound up them that shall go to heaven in an eternal decree of election; and here, indeed, as was showed at first, is the beginning of our salvation (2 Tim 1:9). And election is reckoned not the Son’s act, but the Father’s—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:3, 4). Now this election is counted an act of grace—“So then, at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom 11:5).

2. The Father’s grace ordaineth and giveth the Son to undertake for us our redemption. The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world—“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph 1:7; 2:7; 1 John 4:14; John 3:16; 6:32, 33; 12:49).

3. The Father’s grace giveth us to Christ to be justified by his righteousness, washed in his blood, and saved by his life. This Christ mentioneth, and tells us it is his Father’s will that they should be safe-coming at the last day, and that he had kept them all the days of his life, and they shall never perish (John 6:37–39; 17:2, 12).

4. The Father’s grace giveth the kingdom of heaven to those that he hath given to Jesus Christ—“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

5. The Father’s grace provideth and layeth up in Christ, for those that he hath chosen, a sufficiency of all spiritual blessings, to be communicated to them at their need, for their preservation in the faith, and faithful perseverance through this life; “not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim 1:9; Eph 1:3, 4).

6. The Father’s grace saveth us by the blessed and effectual call that he giveth us to the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:9; Gal 1:15).

7. The Father’s grace saveth us by multiplying pardons to us, for Christ’s sake, day by day—“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7).

8. The Father’s grace saves us by exercising patience and forbearance towards us all the time of our unregeneracy (Rom 3:24).

9. The Father’s grace saveth us by holding of us fast in his hand, and by keeping of us from all the power of the enemy—“My Father,” said Christ, “that gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

John Bunyan, Saved by Grace, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 343–344.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Grace Efficacious, Grace Unlosable (Hoekema)

Saved by Grace God’s saving grace is sovereign grace. That means so many things!  It means that election is gracious rather than meritorious (Eph 1:6); election is unconditional because it is all of God’s gracious good pleasure.  Regeneration is gracious: we were dead in sin, but God graciously gave us new life in Christ (Eph. 2:5).  Justification is not by works, but by grace alone (Titus 3:7).  God preserves his people and brings them to glory solely by grace (Acts 20:32; 2 Thes. 2:16).  We can’t even take credit for the good works that we actually do.  If we do good works, it is because God is graciously at work in us to work (1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 2:10).  The road to heaven is paved with grace, we walk that road by grace, and we “cross over Jordan” by grace.  I appreciate Anthony Hoekema’s comments on this in Saved by Grace:

The saving grace of God in the strict sense of the word is not universal but particular, being bestowed only on God’s elect (those who have been chosen by him in Christ to salvation).  God’s saving grace is therefore efficacious and unlosable.  This does not mean that, left to themselves, believers could not drift away from God, but it does mean that God will not permit his chosen ones to lose their salvation.  The spiritual security of believers, therefore, depends primarily not on their hold of God but on God’s hold of them.

Yes!  In Reformed theology “saved by grace alone” means “not by works at all.”  Salvation is all of the Lord, it is all of grace, and all the glory goes to God!

The above quote is found in Saved by Grace, p. 4.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Reigning Grace (Or: Cast Your Idol Works Away)

 John Newton’s hymns cover many different Scripture texts and themes.  One biblical theme that often comes up in his hymns is grace – the fact that salvation from start to finish, beginning to end is all of grace, only by grace, and of grace alone (Eph. 2:5).  Here are a few selections from various hymns that talk about grace:

Not of Works
1) Grace, triumphant in the throne,
Scorns a rival, reigns alone!
Come, and bow beneath her sway,
Cast your idol works away.
Works of man, when made his plea,
Never shall accepted be;
Fruits of pride (Vain-glorious worm!)
Are the best he can perform

Reigning Grace
1) Now may the Lord reveal his face,
And teach our stamm’ring tongues
To make his sov’reign, reigning grace,
The subject of our songs!
No sweeter subject can invite
A sinner’s heart to sing,
Or more display the glorious right
Of our exalted King.

3) Grace reigns, to pardon crimson sins,
To melt the hardest hearts;
And from the work it once begins
It never more departs.
The world and Satan strive in vain
Against the chosen few;
Secur’d by grace’s conqu’ring reign,
They all shall conquer too.

4) Grace tills the soil, and sows the seeds,
Provides the sun and rain;
Till from the tender blade proceeds
The ripen’d harvest grain.
‘Twas grace that call’d our souls at first;
By grace thus far we’ve come;
And grace will help us through the worst,
And lead us safely home.”

The Power of Grace
5) O thou whose voice the dead can raise,
And soften hearts of stone,
And teach the dumb to sing thy praise,
This work is all thine own!

7) Grace bid me live, and taught my tongue
To aim at notes divine;
And grace accepts my feeble song,
The glory, Lord, be thine!

Quite a few other hymns of Newton also magnify God’s electing, justifying, sanctifying, and preserving grace.  Newton knew it from Scripture and experience: a sinner is saved by grace alone.  By grace alone the Lord began a good work in me, and by grace alone he’ll finish it.  Salvation is not by works, performance, spiritual attempts, religious emotions, or proper feelings.  Salvation is all of grace, and only of grace!

The above hymns of Newton are found in volume 3 of his Works.

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

Grace: Radically Excluding All Merit (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics : Volume 2: God and Creation by [Bavinck, Herman] Here’s a helpful brief discussion of grace by Herman Bavinck:

…His (God’s) election and guidance, his rescue and redemption, and all the benefits that Israel received in distinction from other peoples, can only be attributed to God’s grace (Exod. 15:13, 16; 19:4; 33:19; 34:6–7; Deut. 4:37; 7:8; 8:14, 17–18; 9:5, 27; 10:14ff.; 33:3; Isa. 35:10; 42:21; 43:1, 15, 21; 54:5; 63:9; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9, 20; Ezek. 16; Hos. 8:14; 11:1; etc.). Whether in history or law, in psalmody or prophecy, the basic note is always: “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). He does all things for his name’s sake (Num. 14:13ff.; Isa. 43:21, 25ff.; 48:9, 11; Ezek. 36:22; etc.). That grace, accordingly, is continually being praised and glorified (Exod. 34:6; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 116:5; Jon. 4:2; Joel 2:13; Zech. 12:10).

In the New Testament that grace proves to be even richer and deeper in content. Objectively, χαρις means beauty, charm, favor (Luke 4:22; Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29); and, subjectively, it means favor, a positive disposition on the part of the giver, and gratitude and devotion on the part of the recipient. Ascribed to God, grace is the voluntary, unrestrained, and unmerited favor that he shows to sinners and that, instead of the verdict of death, brings them righteousness and life. As such it is a virtue and attribute of God (Rom. 5:15; 1 Pet. 5:10), demonstrated in the sending of his Son, who is full of grace (John 1:14ff.; 1 Pet. 1:13), and additionally in the bestowal of all sorts of spiritual and material benefits, all of which are the gifts of grace and are themselves called “grace” (Rom. 5:20; 6:1; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Titus 3:7; etc.), thus radically excluding all merit on the part of humans (John 1:17; Rom. 4:4, 16; 6:14, 23; 11:5ff.; Eph. 2:8; Gal. 5:3–4).

 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 214.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI