If That Is Not Darkness…! (Luther)

As most of us know quite well, one biblical way to think about the Lord is that he’s our loving, kind, patient, and good shepherd (Ps. 23, John 10, etc.). He loves us, his sheep, so much that he laid down his life for us. Having the Lord Jesus as our shepherd is a source of amazing comfort in the Christian life.

As Martin Luther lectured on Psalm 23:1 he very clearly pointed out these comforting realities of having Christ as our shepherd. At one point in the lecture he applied the teaching by explaining how many in his day viewed Jesus not as a loving shepherd but as a stern and strict judge. The following quote is a good summary of how the recovery of the gospel was a central part of the Reformation:

From these words we can also see clearly how shamefully we have been led astray under the papacy. It did not depict Christ in so friendly a fashion as did the dear Prophets, Apostles, and Christ Himself, but portrayed Him so horribly that we were more afraid of Him than of Moses and thought that the teaching of Moses was much easier and more friendly than the teaching of Christ. Therefore we knew Christ only as an angry judge, whose anger we had to reconcile with our good works and holy life and whose grace we had to obtaion through the merit and intercession of the dear saints. That is a shameful lie that not only deceives poor consciences miserably but also profanes God’s grace to the extreme, denies Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, etc. together with all His inexpressible blessings, blasphemes and damns His holy Gospel, destroys faith, and sets up in its place nothing but horror, lies, and error.

If that is not darkness then I do not know what darkness is. Up to now no one was able to notice it, but everyone considered it the pure truth. To the present day our papists wish to have it preserved as right and hence shed much innocent blood. Dear friend, if we can feed and rule ourselves, protect ourselves against error, gain grace and forgiveness of sins through our own merit, resist the devil and all misfortune, conquer sin and death – then all Scripture must be a lie when it testifies of us that we are lost, scattered, wounded, weak, and defenseless sheep. Then we do not need a Christ either as a shepherd who would seek, gather, and direct us, bind up our wounds, watch over us, and strengthen us against the devil. Then He has also given His life for us in vain. For as long as we can do and gain al these things through our own powers and piety, we do not need the help of Christ at all.

Martin Luther, Psalm 23, Luther’s Works, volume 12, page 156.

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

To Distinguish is To Avoid Trouble (Manton)

In his treatise The Life of Faith Thomas Manton (d. 1677) spent a few paragraphs explaining from Scripture how to improve on cheerfully “walking with God in a course of obedience.” One way is to meditate on God’s promises. Another way is to plead those promises. Still another way is to “counterbalance things.”

What does Manton mean when he says we should counterbalance things? It means to distinguish between fearing God and fearing man (Mt. 10:28). It means to distinguish between eternal and temporal things (Rom. 8:18). It means to understand the use and profit of afflictions despite the present pain of them (Heb. 12:11). After briefly explaining several ways of “counterbalancing” or distinguishing things, Manton writes a few brief but brilliant lines. These are worth reading a few times!

All trouble comes from not right sorting and comparing things; Seeking that on earth which is only to be had in heaven; seeking that in the creature which is only to be had in God; looking for that from self which is only to be found in Christ; seeking that in the law which is only to be had in the gospel.

Thomas Manton, Complete Works

That’s a great quote for sure! If we think about it, so many of our troubles in the Christian life come from not distinguishing the things Manton mentions. Lord, help us to properly “counterbalance things!”

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

The Indicative and Imperative (Machen)

Virgin Birth of Christ

Here’s what J. G. Machen said about the “imitation of Christ” movement just over 100 years ago:

“It seems never to have occurred to the adherents of this religion that there is such a thing as sin, and that sin places an awful gulf between man and God.  But those convictions, though they are unpopular at the present time, are certainly quite central in the Christian religion.  From the beginning Christianity was the religion of the broken heart; it is based upon the conviction that there is an awful gulf between man and God which none but God can bridge.  The Bible tells us how this gulf was bridged; and that means the Bible is a record of facts.”

Of what avail, without the redeeming acts of God, are all the lofty ideals of Psalmists and Prophets, all the teaching and example of Jesus?  In themselves they can bring us nothing but despair.  We Christians are not interested merely in what God commands, but also in what God did; in a triumphant indicative; our salvation depends squarely upon history; the Bible contains that history, and unless that history is true the authority of the Bible is gone and we who have put our trust in the Bible are without hope” 

The last chapter of The Virgin Birth is outstanding (the whole book is, but some of it is a bit dated).  In the final chapter, Machen hammers home the gospel, showing how “imitating Jesus” is not the essence of Christianity because “imitating Jesus” doesn’t necessarily depend upon historical facts.  Nor is “imitating Jesus” the gospel.  Note well the imperative (law) and the “triumphant” indicative (gospel) above. Machen knew the difference and so should we!

The above quote is found in (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ [New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932], 385) (emphasis added).

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

The Two Principal Parts of Scripture (Beza)

Theodore Beza

Here’s a helpful explanation of the law/gospel distinction by Theodore Beza (d. 1564):

We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the “Law”, the other the “Gospel”. For all the rest can be gathered under the one or the other of these two headings.

What we call Law (when it is distinguished from Gospel and is taken for one of the two parts of the Word) is a doctrine whose seed is written by nature in our hearts. However, so that we may have a more exact knowledge, it was written by God on two Tables and is briefly comprehended in ten commandments. In these He sets out for us the obedience and perfect righteousness which we owe to His majesty and our neighbours. This on contrasting terms: either perpetual life, if we perfectly keep the Law without omitting a single point, or eternal death, if we do not completely fulfil the contents of each commandment (Deut. 30:15-20; James 2:10).

What we call the Gospel (“Good News”) is a doctrine which is not at all in us by nature, but which is revealed from Heaven (Matt 16:17; John 1:13), and totally surpasses natural knowledge. By it God testifies to us that it is His purpose to save us freely by His only Son (Rom. 3:20-22), provided that, by faith, we embrace Him as our only wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor 1:30). By it, I say, the Lord testifies to us all these things, and even does it in such a manner that at the same time he renews our persons in a powerful way so that we may embrace the benefits which are offered to us (1 Cor 2:4).

We must pay great attention to these things. For, with good reason, we can say that ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principle sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.

Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, trans. James Clark (Lewes, UK: Christian Focus, 1992).

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

Know These Two Things: Law and Gospel

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by [Marshall, Walter] Here’s a wonderful section of Walter Marshall’s 1692 publication, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:

The most effectual knowledge for your salvation is to understand these two points: 1) the desperate sinfulness and misery of your own natural condition, and 2) the alone sufficiency of the grace of God in Christ for your salvation, that you may be abased as to the flesh and exalted in Christ alone.

And, for the better understanding these two main points, you should learn how the first Adam was the figure of the second (Rom. 5:14); how sin and death came upon all the natural seed of the first Adam by his disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, and how righteousness and everlasting life come upon all the spiritual seed of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, by His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross.

You also should learn the true difference between the two covenants, the old and the new, or the law and the gospel: that the former shuts us up under the guilt and power of sin, and the wrath of God and His curse, by its rigorous terms: ‘Do all the commandments, and live; and, cursed are you if you do not do them, and fail in the least point’; the latter opens the gates of righteousness and life to all believers (i.e. the new covenant) by its gracious terms: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and live,’ that is, all your sins shall be forgiven, and holiness and glory shall be given to you freely by His merit and Spirit.

Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Direction 13.1.

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