Theology Derived from Scripture (Berkhof)

Systematic Theology (Berkhof) One chief characteristic of Christian doctrines or “dogmas” is that they originate in Scripture.  I appreciate how Louis Berkhof explained this near the opening of his introduction to systematic theology (prolegomena):

Their Subject-Matter is derived from Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word, the book which is His continuous revelation of redemption for all successive generations. It acquaints us with the mighty redemptive acts of God, and also furnishes mankind with a reliable interpretation of these acts. It may therefore be said to be both a word—and a fact—revelation; and both these words and facts have doctrinal significance. Naturally, the meaning of the facts can only be expressed in words. Both the facts and the words have doctrinal significance, and therefore furnish the subject-matter of dogmas.

 L. Berkhof, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1932), 21.

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

The Three-fold Use of the Law (Berkhof)

Systematic Theology For quite some time Reformed theologians have, following various texts and nuances in Scripture, said there is a three-fold use of God’s moral law.  Here’s how Louis Berkhof explained it:

It is customary in theology to distinguish a three-fold use of the law.

1. The three defined. We distinguish:

a. A usus politicus or civilis. The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.

b. A usus elenchticus or pedagogicus. In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.

c. A usus didacticus or normativus. This is the so-called tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.

 Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic Theology (pp. 614–615). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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

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

Media Gratiae (Means of Grace)

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology In Reformed theology we talk about the ordinary means of grace.  How would we define “means of grace?”  Richard Muller answers this well:

media gratia: means of grace; i.e., Word and sacraments as the means by which the grace of God is operative in the church.  The term is used by both Lutheran and Reformed orthodox, although the Lutherans often substitute a stronger term, organa gratiae et salutis, instruments of grace and salvation.

The identification of Word and sacraments as media gratiae does not intend to exclude a general or common operation of grace but rather it indicates the function of both Word and sacraments in the regeneration (regeneratio) and sanctification (sanctificatio) of man as the instruments or objective channels of special or saving grace (gratia specialis).  Word and sacraments are thus instrumental both in the inception of salvation and in the continuance of the work of grace in the Christian life.

In addition, Word and sacraments are the sole officially ordained or instituted instruments or means of grace.  God has promised the presence of his grace to faithful hearers of the Word and faithful participants in the sacraments.  Thus the right preaching of the Word and right administration of the sacraments are the marks or identifying features of the true church (notae ecclesiae). Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, sv media gratiae

Because God has promised to bless those who with true faith hear his word and partake of his sacraments, Reformed churches stress the importance of corporate worship.  God speaks to us, blesses us, feeds us, helps us (etc.) through these means of grace, so we should want to be there every time he is graciously at work.  Louis Berkhof said it well:

“God has appointed them as the ordinary means through which He works His grace in the hearts of sinners, and their wilful neglect can only result in spiritual loss.”

Therefore, let us not forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25)!

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI