To Be Sin For Us (Witsius)

2 Corinthians 5:21 is one of those great verses that many Christians have memorized because it is such a clear explanation of the gospel: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB). Herman Witsius, a 17th century Dutch Reformed pastor and theologian, discussed this verse in detail in one of his publications against the antinomians and neonomians. Here’s one helpful section from Witsius’ discussion:

XIV. How they are ours, not Christ’s; and again Christ’s not ours: Both may be said in a sound sense, viz, that our sins, as many of us as are elect, are ours, not Christ’s – and that the same sins are Christ’s, and no more ours.

They are ours, because committed by us, and because by them we brought upon ourselves the guilt of eternal death, and thus far they will remain ours for ever: that is, it will be always true that we committed them, and, in so doing, deserved the wrath of God. For what is done, can never become undone, and thus they are not Christ’s, because he did not commit them, neither did he contract any personal guilt. Neither could they become his sins; because the nature of things does not suffer that the same numerical act which was committed by us, should be done by Christ.

But the sins which we committed became Christ’s, when imputed to him as Surety, and he on account of his suretiship took them upon him, that in the most free and holy manner he might satisfy for them; and they cease to be ours, in as much as for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, we neither ought, nor can, in the judgment of God, be brought to condemnation or satisfaction in our own person on their account.

Witsius, Herman. Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain. Translated by Thomas Bell. Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Emotions, Depression, and Body/Soul (Borgman)

One major part of being human is having emotions and feelings. We all have emotions. From joy to anger to terror to elation, we experience a range of emotions each day. Although the words “emotion” or “emotions” aren’t found in biblical Hebrew or Greek, there are plenty of biblical words that convey emotion (e.g. despair, gloom, happy, hesitation, etc.).

It’s important to note that since we are “body and soul” creatures, emotions have to do with both. For example, biologically, when a person is super tired he might be more prone to anger than when he’s fully awake. Or when a person’s diet consists of way too much sugar and caffiene, it might lead to emotional highs and emotional crashes. At the same time, spiritually speaking, if a person refuses to admit sin and fault, it might cause him to be very grouchy. We also know from Scripture that refusal to submit to God can lead to emotional and mental unstability, as we see from the story of King Saul. Here are a few other examples by Brian Borgman of the “body and soul” relationship to emotions in the area of depression:

“The Bible distinguishes between the body and the soul (Matt. 10:28). It also affirms the interpenetration and interdependence between the body and the soul (e.g., Ps. 38:3). It should not surprise us that physical problems can lead to both depression and spiritual problems. Some physical sources of depression might include prolonged illness, childbirth, surgery, hormonal changes, changes in diet, and fatigue. Many other physical factors may also contribute to depression. The important point to remember as we proceed is that we are body-soul creatures.

There are also spiritual sources of depression. The most common spiritual source is the guilt caused by sin. …[In Psalm 32] the root cause of the psalmist’s depression is unconfessed sin. The results were physical depletion, guilt, and emotional heaviness.

…Depression can also occur because of the grief of losing a loved one, losing a job, or some major life change. Stress over children, marriage, and finances can also spin us out of control emotionally, landing us in depression. Behind much of this activity is the enemy of our souls, the Devil….

Borgman says more, of course, and even goes on to give help through depression with some good physical and spiritual advice. If you want to read more about depression and emotions in general from a biblical perspective, do check out Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman. (The above quotes are found in chapter 12.)

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

The Corruption of the Affections (Boston)

One of Thomas Boston’s most well-known works is “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.” In this book he explained from Scripture these four states: “The State of Innocence,” “The State of Nature,” “The State of Grace,” and “The Eternal State”. The second part (“The State of Nature”) is a summary from Scripture on the fallen condition of humanity. In this part, Boston describes the corruption of the understanding, will, affections, conscience, memory, and the corruption of the body. This morning I read and highlighted the section on the corruption of the affections. This is a penetrating description of an unregenerate person’s affections and emotions:

The unrenewed man’s affections are wholly disordered and distempered: they are as the unruly horse, that either will not receive, or violently runs away with, the rider. So man’s heart naturally is a mother of abominations (Mark 7:21, 22): “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness,” etc. The natural man’s affections are wretchedly misplaced; he is a spiritual monster. His heart is, where his feet should be, fixed on the earth; his heels are lifted up against heaven, which his heart should be set on (Acts 9:5). His face is towards hell, his back towards heaven; and therefore God calls to him to turn. He loves what he should hate, and hates what he should love; joys in what he ought to mourn for, and mourns for what he should rejoice in; glories in his shame, and is ashamed of his glory; abhors what he should desire, and desires what he should abhor (Prov. 2:13–15).

They hit the point indeed, as Caiaphas did in another case, who cried out against the apostles, as men that turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6), for that is the work which the gospel has to do in the world, where sin has put all things so out of order, that heaven lies under, and earth on top. If the unrenewed man’s affections be set on lawful objects, then they are either excessive or defective. Lawful enjoyments of the world have sometimes too little, but mostly too much of them….

Now, here is a threefold cord against heaven and holiness, not easily to be broken; a blind mind, a perverse will, and disorderly distempered affections. The mind, swelled with self-conceit, says, the man should not stoop; the will, opposite to the will of God, says, he will not; and the corrupt affections, rising against the Lord, in defence of the corrupt will, say, he shall not. Thus the poor creature stands out against God and goodness, till a day of power comes, in which he is made a new creature.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Human Nature in Its Fourfold State and a View of the Covenant of Grace, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 8 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 80–81.

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

The Incomplete Sin of the Amorites? (Gen. 15:16)

 I was studying 1 Thessalonians 2:16 this morning where Paul says this about those Jewish opponents of the Messiah and the gospel: “…they always fill up the measure of their sins” (NASB).  There is a lot going on in the context of this phrase; too much to summarize here!  However, the phrase itself is probably an allusion to Genesis 15:16, where Yahweh tells Abram that “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (NASB).  One reason we can say that Paul might be alluding to Genesis 15:16 is that in the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek word for “complete” (ἀναπληρόω) is the same word as “fill up” in 1 Thes. 2:16.  If Paul is indeed alluding to Genesis 15:16 in 1 Thes. 2:16 it’s quite a heavy statement – putting the NT Jewish opponents of the gospel in the same category as the Amorites, who were Canaanite enemies of Israel in the OT!

But back to the phrase in Genesis 15:16: “…the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”  What does this figure of speech mean? Here are two helpful descriptions of it:

The last clause of the verse [v. 16] explains why God was not giving them [Abram’s offspring] the land right away: the wickedness of the Amorites has not “reached its full measure” (v. 16b). “Amorites” fluctuates in meaning either designating the whole of Canaan’s populations (v. 16; Amos 2:10) or one of many diverse groups inhabiting the land (v. 21; see vol. 1a, pp. 446, 456). The prophecy implies that the returning Hebrews will be instrumental in God dealing with the sin of the Amorites. The reference to the “fourth generation” may be a double entendre; the notion of a completed exile converges with the idea of the Amorites’ complete moral decay. The extent of Amorite depravity is condemned in Mosaic legislation (Lev 18:24–25; 20:22–24; Deut 18:12; cf. 1 Kgs 14:24; 21:26; 2 Kgs 21:11) and illustrated by the violence and sensuality of their religious myths (e.g., Baal cycle from Ugarit). By delaying his judgment against the Amorites, the Lord expresses forbearance toward the nations. Retribution against their sins only at “its full measure” attests that judgment is neither capricious nor unwarranted (cf. 18:20–25). Nevertheless, divine temperance toward their iniquity reaches an appropriate point of intolerance. [K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 175.]

Here’s an excerpt from the UBS Translator’s Handbook on Genesis:

For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete: this clause suggests a reason for God’s action against the Amorites that is not explained in detail but must be stated explicitly in translation to make it clear. The sense is that the Amorites are evil, but their sin has not yet reached the point where God has decided to drive them out of the land. The nature of the wickedness of the Canaanites is described in Lev 18; see particularly verses 24–28. tev provides a model that places God’s action at the beginning and end, “because I will not drive out the Amorites until they become so wicked that they must be punished.” Various translations use different expressions to convey the idea of iniquity becoming *complete; for example, “because the bad behavior of the Amorite people who live here now has not reached its full mark yet” and “This will happen when the Amorite people who live here now have become really bad; when they become really bad, I will punish them and I will bring back.…”  [William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 344.]

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

Why Does God Allow Sin to Remain in His Children? (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.) (This is a re-post from May 2016).

“Why do I keep struggling with the same sinful thoughts?”  “Why can’t I just gain victory over lust and pride?”  “Why in the world does God allow sin to remain in his people?”  These are questions Christians ask from time to time.  We think of how nice it would be if we didn’t have to struggle with sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  But, in his sovereignty, God has a reason for allowing sin to remain in his children.  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) gave some helpful answers to the question of why God allows sin to dwell in his elect while on earth.  Here are some of Boston’s answers (which I’ve edited and summarized):

  1. God has ordered the matter of the believer’s sanctification, that sin is left to be active in their souls while here on earth, for their further humiliation.  For example, God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him low.  And so we find David, after his grievous fall, grows in the grace of humility.
  2. The Lord allows sin to remain in his people so they are stirred to the frequent exercise of prayer.  The soul feels the continual need of pardon, and therefore must be much lying at God’s footstool.  When his children grow remiss in their duty, the Lord sometimes allows them to fall into some grievous sin to awaken them and wound their conscience, so they cry to Him like a child who falls into a small fire.
  3. The sin left in us makes us more watchful of our hearts which still are prone to wander.  When a prisoner escapes, and they catch him, they will put him in more close custody than before.  We walk through a world filled with many snares; if we were not watchful, we would be caught in them.
  4. Just like God allowed some Canaanites to remain in the land to try his people, so he has left remains of natural corruption in them for their exercise and trial.  Therefore Christ’s soldiers know whom they fight against, and by whose strength they may overcome.  God gives his people armor at their conversion; is it reasonable that it should lie beside them rusting?  Indwelling sin makes us lean on Christ’s strength and use God’s armor in the battle.
  5. Through sin left in us, we are made more and more to feel our need for Christ, and his precious blood for the removal of our guilt daily contracted anew, and for the strengthening of our souls in our Christian course, so that we come out of the wilderness resting upon our Beloved.  So we see that our security is not in our hand; if it were, we would be quickly lost.
  6. It is God’s ordinary way to bring about a great work by degrees – including the great work of the believer’s sanctification.  God could have created all things in one moment; instead, he was pleased to take six days to do it.  He could have sent Christ immediately after Adam fell, but he instead let thousands of years pass.  He could have brought Israel to the Promised Land immediately; instead it pleased him that they should wander in the wilderness for forty years.  So it is with sanctification.
  7. Finally, through the indwelling sin that remains, Christ is glorified.  While the enemy (sin) does dwell in us, Christ’s grace and Holy Spirit are at work in us so that the enemy cannot overcome, domineer, or destroy us.  Because of indwelling sin we know that we cannot justify ourselves, but can only be justified by the perfect obedience of Christ, which we lay hold of by faith.  In this, Christ is glorified.

After noting these seven points, Boston wrote, “To see how God makes such an excellent medicine of such poisonous ingredients cannot be but very delightful.”  The struggle against indwelling sin is difficult for sure.  But when we remember God’s sovereign use of indwelling sin in his people for their good and his glory, it helps us press on in the faith with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  He will one day graciously give us the full victory over sin.

Near the end of the treatise, Boston wrote this:

“Finally, to summarize all; it is plain, that the more difficulties the work of man’s salvation is carried through, the free grace of God is the more exalted; our Lord Jesus, the author of eternal salvation, hath the greater glory: but in this way it is carried on over the belly of more difficulties, than it would have been, if by the first grace the Christian had been made perfect.”

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons and Discourses on Several Important Subjects in Divinity, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 6 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 124.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI