Justifying Faith: Receiving Christ (Owen)

When the Westminster Confession explains justifying faith, it uses the term “receiving.”  Here’s chapter XI.2: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification…” (emphasis mine).  The Heidelberg Catechism also uses this word in answer 30: “For either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior must have in him all that is necessary to their salvation” (emphasis mine).  Are there biblical reasons to use the phrase “receiving Christ” when talking about faith?  Yes, for sure!  Here’s how John Owen nicely explained it:

That faith whereby we are justified is most frequently in the New Testament expressed by receiving…  First, That it is so expressed with respect unto the whole object of faith, or unto all that does any way concur unto our justification; for we are said to receive Christ himself: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” John 1:12; “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Col. 2:6.  In opposition hereunto unbelief is expressed by not receiving of him, John 1:11, 3:11, 12:48, 14:17.

And it is a receiving of Christ as he is “The Lord our Righteousness,” as of God he is made righteousness unto us. And as no grace, no duty, can have any co-operation with faith herein — this reception of Christ not belonging unto their nature, nor comprised in their exercise — so it excludes any other righteousness from our justification but that of Christ alone; for we are “justified by faith.”

Faith alone receiveth Christ; and what it receives is the cause of our justification, whereon we become the sons of God. So we “receive the atonement” made by the blood of Christ, Rom. 5:11; for “God hath set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” And this receiving of the atonement includes the soul’s approbation of the way of salvation by the blood of Christ, and the appropriation of the atonement made thereby unto our own souls. For thereby also we receive the forgiveness of sins: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins …… by faith that is in me,” Acts 26:18. In receiving Christ we receive the atonement; and in the atonement we receive the forgiveness of sins. But, moreover, the grace of God, and righteousness itself, as the efficient and material cause of our justification, are received also; even the “abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness,” Rom. 5:17.

So that faith, with respect unto all the causes of justification, is expressed by “receiving;” for it also receiveth the promise, the instrumental cause on the part of God thereof, Acts 2:41; Heb. 9:15.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 291–292.

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

Paul or the Papists? (Latimer)

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God: Interpretation, Theology, and Practice

Hugh Latimer was a 16th-century English preacher who came out of the Roman Catholic church to join the Reformation because of its biblical foundation and emphases. The following is a selection from a 1552 sermon by Hugh Latimer which contrasts the Roman Catholic view of salvation with the Reformation view.   You can read more about it in chapter three of The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God.

The papists, which are the very enemies of Christ, make him to be a Savior after their own fantasy, and not after the word of God; wherein he declares himself, and set out and opened his mind unto us. They follow, I say, not the Scripture, which is the very leader to God, but regard more their own inventions; and therefore they make him a Savior after this fashion. They consider how there shall be, after the general resurrection, a general judgment, where all mankind shall be gathered together to receive their judgment: then shall Christ, say the papists, sit as a judge, having power over heaven and earth: and all those that have done well in this world, and have steadfastly prayed upon their beads, and have gone a pilgrimage, etc., and so with their good works have deserved heaven and everlasting life,—those, say they, that have merited with their own good works, shall be received of Christ, and admitted to everlasting salvation.

As for the other, that have not merited everlasting life, [they] shall be cast into everlasting darkness: for Christ will not suffer wicked sinners to be taken into heaven, but rather receive those which deserve. And so it appeareth, that they esteem our Savior not to be a Redeemer, but only a judge; which shall give sentence over the wicked to go into everlasting fire, and the good he will call to everlasting felicity.

And this is the opinion of the papists, as concerning our Savior; which opinion is most detestable, abominable, and filthy in the sight of God. For it diminishes the passion of Christ; it taketh away the power and strength of the same passion; it defileth the honor and glory of Christ; it forsakes and denies Christ and all his benefits. For if we shall be judged after our own deservings, we shall be damned everlastingly.

Therefore, learn here, every good Christian, to abhor this most detestable and dangerous poison of the papists, which go about to thrust Christ out of his seat: learn here, I say, to leave all papistry, and to stick only to the word of God, which teaches thee that Christ is not only a judge, but a justifier; a giver of salvation, and a taker away of sin; for he purchased our salvation through his painful death, and we receive the same through believing in him; as St Paul teaches us, saying, Gratis estis justificati per fidem, “Freely ye are justified through faith.” In these words of St. Paul, all merits and estimation of works are excluded and clean taken away. For if it were for our works’ sake, then it were not freely: but St. Paul saith, “freely.”

Whether will you now believe St. Paul, or the papists? …

-Hugh Latimer (see p. 80-81 of The Irrepressible Word of God).

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

Union, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification (Horton)

Justification: Two-Volume Set (New Studies in Dogmatics) Horton, Michael ; Michael Allen, Swain, Scott R. cover imageI appreciate the following selection from Michael Horton’s Justification (Vol 2).  It’s about union with Christ, justification, sanctification, and glorification:

Union is not a goal but the source of our life.  Chosen in him [Christ], redeemed by him, and crucified, buried, and raised with him, we share in Christ’s pioneering journey in an ‘already’ and ‘not-yet’ manner.  Justification is the fundamental turning point in the sinner’s status before God, while sanctification is the turning point in the sinner’s condition, and glorification will be the turning point in the whole existence of the saints.

Although we will be all that he is in his glorified humanity, we are not yet raised bodily.  Yet we have been raised from spiritual death, justified and definitively renewed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ daily, suffering in the joy of the prize that has already been won for us. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1).  Although we still struggle mightily against Satan, sin, and the realities of a fallen world, Christ has already subdued Satan.  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom 16:20).

Union with Christ (or the ‘great exchange’) is the braoder intersection where rival perspectives demand a fork in the road – the false choices that we have met frequently along the way – but where, in a more integrated account, they meet without any contradiction. Covenantal and apocalyptic, personal and corporate, soteriology and ecclesiology, the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, forensic justification and transforming renewal, faith and works all find unity without conflating one with the other.

Michael Horton, Justification, Vol 2, p. 451.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Finney’s Firm Rejection of Imputation

Finney's Systematic Theology A New Bicentennial Edition of the Theology of America's Greatest Evangelist Charles Finney is well known for his part in the 19th century American revivals.  Obviously,  Finney and these revivals are major topics that many books have covered. But it is worth mentioning that Finney did write a systematic theology where one can learn what he himself taught.  I don’t think it’s a good systematic theology, but it is informative and helpful for thinking about the history of American Christianity and theology.

For example, Finney very strongly rejected the Reformation teaching that Christ’s obedience is imputed to the believer and received by faith alone.  In other words, he firmly denied the imputation of Christ’s obedience.  Here are his own words:

…Gospel justification is not to be regarded as a forensic or judicial proceeding.

…Gospel justification is the justification of sinners; it is, therefore, naturally impossible, and a most palpable contradiction, to affirm that the justification of a sinner, or of one who has violated the law, is a forensic or judicial justification.

…For sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd.

 The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption; to wit, that Christ owed no obedience to the law in his own person, and that therefore his obedience was altogether a work of supererogation, and might be made a substitute for our own obedience; that it might be set down to our credit, because he did not need to obey for himself.

…If Christ owed personal obedience to the moral law, then his obedience could no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us. He was bound for himself to love God with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself. He did no more than this. He could do no more. It was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf. This doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s obedience to the moral law to us, is based upon the absurd assumptions, (1.) That the moral law is founded in the arbitrary will of God, and (2.) That of course, Christ, as God, owed no obedience to it; both of which assumptions are absurd. But if these assumptions are given up, what becomes of the doctrine of an imputed righteousness, as a ground of a forensic justification? “It vanishes into thin air.”

Finney wrote more on this topic; the above is a summary.  And there are many things that come to mind when I read this section of Finney’s ST.  While he does cite some Scripture references, he does not do any exegetical work at all in his points.  For example, he cites Romans 5:9 in passing, which actually goes against his main point: by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Furthermore, Finney misses major imputation/justification texts like 2 Cor. 5:21 and Phil. 3:9 (for just two examples).

Writing like Finney’s reminds me why I am Reformed – not because it’s cool or trendy, but because Reformed theology is thoroughly derived from Scripture and deep biblical exegesis.  And thankfully Finney was wrong!  Thankfully I don’t have to rely on any aspect of my obedience for justification.  My hope is in the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ: not my own righteousness, but the righteousness of God in Christ (Phil. 2:9).  All other ground is sinking sand.

The above quotes are found in Charles Finney, Systematic Theology, section 32.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

 

He Justifies the Ungodly…

  One of my favorite phrases that the apostle Paul wrote is found in Romans 4:5.  The NASB translates it like this: “…Him who justifies the ungodly….”  I like how W. G. T. Shedd commented on this aspect of justification.

The justification of the “ungodly” (Rom. 4:5; 5:6) includes both pardon and acceptance. Either alone would be an incomplete justification of the ungodly. In the case of a sinner, the law requires satisfaction for past disobedience and also perfect obedience. When a criminal has suffered the penalty affixed to his crime, he has done a part, but not all that the law requires of him. He still owes a perfect obedience to the law in addition to the endurance of the penalty. The law does not say to the transgressor: “If you will suffer the penalty, you need not render the obedience.” But it says: “You must both suffer the penalty and render the obedience.” Sin is under a double obligation; holiness is under only a single one. A guilty man owes both penalty and obedience; a holy angel owes only obedience.

Consequently, the justification of a sinner must not only deliver him from the penalty due to disobedience, but provide for him an equivalent to personal obedience. Whoever justifies the ungodly must lay a ground both for his delivery from hell and his entrance into heaven. In order to place a transgressor in a situation in which he is dikaios or right in every respect before the law, it is necessary to fulfill the law for him, both as penalty and precept. Hence the justification of a sinner comprises not only pardon, but a title to the reward of the righteous. The former is specially related to Christ’s passive righteousness, the latter to his active. Christ’s expiatory suffering delivers the believing sinner from the punishment which the law threatens, and Christ’s perfect obedience establishes for him a right to the reward which the law promises.

The right and title in both cases rest upon Christ’s vicarious agency. Because his divine substitute has suffered for him, the believer obtains release from a punishment which he merits; and because his divine substitute has obeyed for him, the believer obtains a reward which he does not merit.

 William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 793–794.

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

Faith Must Not Be Built Upon Works (Watson)

The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-10 Thomas Watson (d. 1686) is one of my favorite Puritan authors.  He wrote clearly, concisely, and biblically. Here’s one great example from his discussion of faith and works in The Beatitudes.

Julian [a Roman emperor who renounced Christianity when he became emperor] upbraided the Christians that they were Solifidians, and the Church of Rome lays upon us this aspersion, that we are against good works.  Indeed we plead not for the merit of them but we are for the use of them.  ‘Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses’ (Titus 3:14).  We preach that they are needful both as they are enforced by the precept and as they are needful for the general good of men.”

“…This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.’ (Titus 3:8). …Faith alone justifies but justifying faith is not alone.  You may as well separate weight from lead or heat from fire as works from faith.  Good works, though they are not the causes of salvation, yet they are evidences.  Though they are not the foundation yet they are the superstructure.  Faith must not be built upon works, but works must be built upon faith. …Faith is the grace which marries Christ and good works are the children which faith bears.”

Similarly, the Westminster Confession says (16.2):

“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.”

(The above quote by Thomas Watson is found in The Beatitudes, p. 155-156.)

This is a repost from July 15, 2015.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Receiving” in Article IV of The Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531) uses the terms “receive” or “received” (etc.) well over thirty times (I lost count!). This is very significant because Article IV is on justification sola fide. I don’t have time and space to explain all the details here and now, but this article uses the terms “receive” or “receives” so many times because it is echoing Scripture’s truth that a sinner is justified by faith alone in Christ alone, not by works. In other words, faith receives a gift: God’s mercy, forgiveness, and the righteousness of Christ. Faith is not a work that God rewards with justification now or in the future. Justifying faith doesn’t give anything to God, it receives from him. Faith is the open hand of a beggar receiving a blessing from God. Here are just a few examples of how Article IV uses the “receive” words (I’ve emphasized them in bold):

“Faith justifies and saves, not because it is a worthy work in itself, but only because it receives the promised mercy.”

“By faith alone in Christ – not through love, not because of love of works – we receive the forgiveness of sins, although love follows faith.”

“…A promise cannot be received except by faith alone.”

“…We receive Christ’s benefits by this [faith] alone.”

“Because faith receives forgiveness of sins and reconciles us to God, we are <like Abraham> counted as righteous for Christ’s sake before we love and before we do the works of the Law, although love necessarily follows.”

There is obviously more to the discussion. I just wanted to point out a great emphasis in the Apology that I thought was helpful and edifying!

The above quotes were taken from Article IV of the Apology in Concordia.

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