New Evidence of Your Depravity? (Packer)

 Many of us know the words of Paul in Romans 8 quite well, including verses 33-34: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us” (NET).  J.I. Packer said that in these words Paul gives us a “reminder of God’s sovereignty in judgment.”  This is comforting for the Christian, and a source of solid assurance:

‘It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?’  If it is God, Maker and Judge of all, who passes the justifying sentence – that is, who declares that you have been set right with His law and with Himself, and are not now liable to death for your sins, but are accepted in Christ — and if God has passed this sentence in full view of all your shortcomings, justifying you on the explicit basis and understanding that you were not righteous, but ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5), then nobody can ever challenge the verdict, not even ‘the accuser of the brethren’ himself.  Nobody can alter God’s decision over his head – there is only one Judge! – and nobody can produce new evidence of your depravity that will make God changed his mind.  For God justified you with (so to speak) His eyes open.  He knew the worst about you at the time when He accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which He passed then was, and is, final.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 248.

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

Not an Invented Sort of Religion (Horton)

Michael Horton

In the opening section of Michael Horton’s two volume work on justification he gives a helpful explanation of this doctrine in contrast to the newer perspectives on Paul:

So I remain unmoved by dismissals of the Reformation’s formulation of justification and it’s broader quest as little more than the product of an early modern obsession with the self. “Tortured subjectivity” is what you get when “God is dead,” while you nevertheless feel a sense of guilt and despair that vaguely comes from somewhere other than your inner self or the people around you. Say whatever you like about the Protestant Reformers, but they were not obsessed with introspection. On the contrary, they were gripped by the experience of meeting a stranger, an other, to whom they were accountable. Luther didn’t fear an inner judgment but a real one on the great stage of history, with banners flying and a fight to the death. Whoever this God was, he was not manipulable by the subjective wants or wish-projections of mortals. One would never invent this sort of religion as therapy for self-improvement, self-empowerment, and tranquility of mind. And regardless, Luther would not have recognized such a religion, much less sympathize with it. If there are lingering doubts about that, I hope that this will leay them to rest.

Michael Horton, Justification (vol. 1) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), p. 23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54105

The Marrow of Modern Divnity: Edited and Abridged (Wilson)

 Many of our readers are perhaps familiar with Edward Fisher’s excellent 17th century publication called “The Marrow of Modern Divinity.”  It is a wonderful treatment of the great Reformation themes of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.  I’ve mentioned it quite a few times here on the blog and it has been helpful to me in my own Christian walk.  The thing is, it’s not overly easy to read since it’s somewhat lengthy and the language is quite dated.  It’s not a book that every Christian would be able to sit down and read through and understand well.

However, Andy Wilson has given much of his time and energy to make “The Marrow” easier to read by abridging it and updating the language.  His abridgment is called, “The Marrow of the Marrow of Modern Divinity: A Simplified Version of Edward Fisher’s Seventeenth-Century Classic.”  Andy sent me a copy, which I was excited to read and now I am happy to recommend.  To be sure, abridging and editing a book like “The Marrow” is no easy task, and we all might go about it in a slightly different way.  But in my opinion Wilson’s summarization is a good and accurate one.  I’ll give a few quotes below in case you’re interested:

“…Adam and his offspring are no more freed from their duties because they have no strength to perform them than a debtor is freed from his debt because he lacks money to pay it” (p. 17).

“So if you desire to be justified before God, you must either bring him a perfect righteousness of your own, and wholly renounce Christ, or else you must bring the perfect righteousness of Christ, and wholly renounce your own” (p. 56).

“Because the law’s threatenings of eternal death have been satisfied for the believer in Christ, those threatenings cannot be renewed against the believer any more than a debt that ahs been paid can be held against a person” (p. 65).

“Certainly, the strongest believer of us all needs to take heed to the advice of Tyndale, who says, ‘Seek the Word of God in all things, and without the Word of God do nothing” (p. 97).

Again, no abridgement will be perfect in everyone’s eyes, but if you’re looking for a more readable version of Fisher’s Marrow, you should for sure check out Wilson’s summary.  If you read the summary first, I’m pretty confident it will help you better read and understand the full text of The Marrow.  In fact, one of Wilson’s goals of writing the summary was to get more people to read the original Marrow.  Both the abridgement and the full text will help you understand what Scripture says about “free grace,” “faith alone,” and “Christ alone” in the sinner’s justification.

Andy Wilson, The Marrow of the Marrow of Modern Divinity.

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

 

The Difference Betwixt the Law and the Gospel (Boston)

The Marrow of Modern Divinty by [Fisher, Edward] In my opinion, one of the best brief discussions about the law/gospel distinction was written by Thomas Boston and it’s found in the second part of his comments on Edward Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity. In this section Boston explains why a law/gospel distinction is necessary, what the difference is between the law and the gospel, and how to properly distinguish between the two.  Below is one section that I found very helpful and comforting – and notice how he explains justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone in light of the law/gospel distinction (the emphasis below is mine):

Briefly, then, if we would know when the law speaks, and when the gospel speaks, either in reading the word, or in hearing it preached; and if we would skilfully distinguish the voice of the one from the voice of the other, we must consider,

Law. The law says, “Thou art a sinner, and therefore thou shalt be damned;” Rom. 7:2; 2 Thess. 2:12.

Gos. But the gospel says, No; “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;” and therefore “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” 1 Tim. 1:15; Acts 16:31.

Law. Again the law says, “Knowest thou not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God; be not deceived,” &c. 1 Cor. 6:9. And therefore thou being a sinner, and not righteous, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Gos. But the gospel says, “God has made Christ to be sin for thee, who knew no sin; that thou mightest be made the righteousness of God in him, who is the Lord thy righteousness,” Jer. 23:6.

Law. Again the law says, “Pay me that thou owest me, or else I will cast thee into prison,” Matt. 18:28, 30.

Gos. But the gospel says, “Christ gave himself a ransom for thee,” 1 Tim. 2:6; “and so is made redemption unto thee,” 1 Cor. 1:30.

Law. Again the law says, “Thou hast not continued in all that I require of thee, and therefore thou art accursed,” Deut. 27:6.

Gos. But the gospel says, “Christ hath redeemed thee from the curse of the law, being made a curse for thee,” Gal. 3:13.

Law. Again the law says, “Thou art become guilty before God, and therefore shalt not escape the judgment of God,” Rom. 3:29; 2:3.

Gos. But the gospel says, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son,” John 5:12.

And now, knowing rightly how to distinguish between the law and the gospel, we must, in the fifth place, take heed that we break not the orders between these two in applying the law where the gospel is to be applied, either to ourselves or to others; for albeit the law and gospel, in order of doctrine, are many times to be joined together, yet, in the case of justification, the law must be utterly separated from the gospel.

Therefore, whensoever, or wheresoever, any doubt or question arises of salvation, or our justification before God, there the law and all good works must be utterly excluded and stand apart, that grace may appear free, and that the promise and faith may stand alone: which faith alone, without law or works, brings thee in particular to thy justification and salvation, through the mere promise and free grace of God in Christ; so that I say, in the action and office of justification, both law and works are to be utterly excluded and exempted, as things which have nothing to do in that behalf. The reason is this; for, seeing that all our redemption springs out from the body of the Son of God crucified, then is there nothing that can stand us in stead, but that only wherewith the body of Christ is apprehended.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 461–462.

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

Excluding Our Righteousness (Buchanan)

James Buchanan Collection (2 vols.) When it comes to justification, the terms “the righteousness of God” and “his righteousness” are very important (Rom 3:21-22, 2 Cor 5:21, etc.).  These phrases have to do with the fact that an ungodly sinner is not justified by his own righteousness, but by the righteousness of Another that is given by grace alone and received by faith alone.  James Buchanan explained this well (I’ve divided the paragraphs to make it easier to read):

…This righteousness is called ‘the righteousness of One,’ and ‘the obedience of One’—expressions which serve at once to connect it with the work of Christ, and to exclude from it the personal obedience of the many who are justified.

It is called ‘the free gift unto justification of life,’ and ‘the gift of righteousness,’ to show that it is bestowed gratuitously by divine grace, and not acquired by our own obedience.

It is called ‘the righteousness which is of faith,’ or ‘the righteousness which is by faith,’ both to distinguish it from faith itself, and also to contrast it with another righteousness which is not received by faith, but ‘sought for as it were by the works of the law.’

It is called ‘the righteousness of God without the law,’ to intimate that, while it was ‘witnessed by the law and the prophets,’ and while, as ‘a righteousness,’ it must have some relation to the unchangeable rule of rectitude, it was above and beyond what the law could provide, since it depends, not on personal, but on vicarious obedience.

And it is called the righteousness ‘which God imputes without works,’ to show that it is ‘reckoned of grace,’ and not ‘of debt,’—that ‘God justifies the ungodly’2 by placing this righteousness to their account,—and that He makes it theirs, because it was wrought out for them by Him, ‘who was delivered for their offences, and rose again for their Justification.’

All these expressions relate to one and the same righteousness—the only righteousness which God has revealed for the justification of sinners — they are all applicable to the vicarious righteousness of Christ — and they serve, by their very diversity, to exhibit it in all its various aspects and relations, and to exclude every other righteousness from the ground of our pardon and acceptance, since there is no other to which all these terms can possibly be applied.

In the next section, Buchanan moves on to prove this related point:

This righteousness —being the merit of a work, and not a mere quality of character —may become ours by being imputed to us, but cannot be communicated by being infused; and must ever continue to belong primarily and, in one important respect, exclusively to Him by whom alone that work was accomplished.

James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 319–320.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Whole Curse Spent on Him (Bunyan)

Justification by an Imputed Righteousness One of the wonderful and comforting truths of the Christian faith is the fact that a sinner is justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  This truth is full of hope, peace, joy, happiness, and assurance.  One aspect of justification is what Scripture teaches about Christ suffering the curse of law-breaking in the place of his people (Gal. 3:13).  John Bunyan gave an excellent explanation of how Christ suffered the curse in our stead and completely freed us from it by doing so:

As we are said to suffer with him, so we are said to die, to be dead with him; with him, that is, by the dying of his body. ‘Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’ (Rom 6:8). Wherefore he saith in other places, ‘Brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ’; for indeed we died then to it by him. To the law that is, the law now has nothing to do with us; for that it has already executed its curse to the full upon us by its slaying of the body of Christ; for the body of Christ was our flesh: upon it also was laid our sin.

The law, too, spent that curse that was due to us upon him, when it condemned, killed, and cast him into the grave. Wherefore, it having thus spent its whole curse upon him as standing in our stead, we are exempted from its curse for ever; we are become dead to it by that body (Rom 7:4). It has done with us as to justifying righteousness. Nor need we fear its damning threats any more; for by the death of this body we are freed from it, and are for ever now coupled to a living Christ.

 John Bunyan, Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 304.

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

Three Great Acts of Imputation (Machen)

 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, summarizing the biblical teaching on the topic, says that all mankind sinned in Adam, “and fell with him in that first transgression.”    Because Adam was in a covenant situation, our representative, his trespass led to our condemnation (Rom. 5:18).  How does this work?  How come I bear the guilt for Adam’s sin?  J. Gresham Machen explained this very well in The Christian View of Man.  Note how he ties it in with the gospel:

…I should just like to point out to you that if it is impossible in the nature of things for one person to bear the guilt of another person’s sins, then we have none of us the slightest hope of being saved and the gospel is all a delusion and a snare.  At the heart of the gospel is the teaching of the Bible to the effect that Jesus Christ, quite without sin himself, bore the guilt of our sins upon the cross.  If that be true, then we cannot pronounce it impossible that one person should bear the guilt of another person’s sins.

The Apostle Paul insists upon this analogy in the latter part of the fifth chapter of Romans.  In that part of that chapter we find set forth the great Scripture doctrine that is called the doctrine of imputation.

That doctrine, if you take it as the Bible sets it forth as a whole, involves three great acts of imputation.  First, Adam’s first sin is imputed to his descendents.  Second, the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ.  Third, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people.

When the Bible teaches that the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ, that means that Christ on the cross bore the penalty rightly resting on saved people.  He was not deserving of death; he had not sinned at all.  Yet he suffered as though he had sinned.  God treated him as though he had sinned, although he was not a sinner.  The sin for which he died was not a sin that he had committed; it was our sin that was imputed to him.

So when the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people, that does not mean that the saved people are then actually righteous.  On the contrary, they are sinners.  But they receive the blessed reward of life which Christ’s righteousness deserved.  Christ’s righteousness is not actually theirs, but it is imputed to them.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about being justified by faith alone!

J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 215-216.

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