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

Reformed Theology and the Kingdom of God

Coming of the Kingdom From time to time I read critiques that Reformed theology doesn’t really do justice to the kingdom of God, or that it is weak on kingdom theology.  In other words, some current theologians, teachers, and authors are critical of Reformed theology because (in their view) it relegates the kingdom of God to a minor place in the overall theological scheme.

Before disproving this accusation, I think it is worth nothing that in evangelical circles the term “kingdom” has taken on an almost faddish status.  In today’s evangelical world when a few popular figures emphasize the kingdom in a trendy way, others latch on and it goes viral overnight (“kingdom” becomes a hip evangelical word like “authentic” or “vintage”).  What happens then is those evangelicals who equate Reformed theology with TULIP/Calvinism say that Reformed theology has a weak view of God’s kingdom because TULIP doesn’t talk much about the kingdom.  I realize this is debatable, but it is worth discussion.

However, one thing is clear: historic Reformed theology does not ignore the kingdom of God.  Kingdom theology makes up one of the great and important threads of Reformation doctrine.  We have to remember that there’s much more to Reformed theology than TULIP.

First, God’s kingdom is discussed in the creeds and confessions.  In the Nicene Creed we confess together that Christ’s kingdom “shall have no end.”  In the Heidelberg Catechism the following topics are discussed: Christ as King (Q/A 31), the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Q/A 83-85), and the petition in the Lord’s prayer, Your kingdom come (Q/A 123; cf. Q/A 128).  The Belgic Confession mentions the kingdom of God in articles 27 and 36 while the Canons of Dort speak about the kingdom in III/IV.10.  Similarly, the Westminster Standards discuss the reign of Christ and his kingdom extensively: WCF 8:1, 5; 23:3, 25:2, 30:1-2, WLC 42, 45, 53, 191, 196 and WSC 23, 26, 102, and 107.  Very clearly the Reformed Creeds and Confessions have much to say about the kingdom of God.  It is no mere footnote.

Second, the kingdom of God was discussed quite often by Reformed theologians in the past.  John Calvin (d. 1564) wrote about the kingdom so often in the Institutes it would take too long to list the references here.  In commenting on the Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus (d. 1583) spoke in-depth about the kingdom (Commentary, p. 176, 440-463, and 632-637).  Similarly, Thomas Watson (d. 1680) wrote much about the kingdom in several of his books, including The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes, and Heaven Taken by Storm.  Dutch theologian Willem Teelinck (d.1629) wrote about the kingdom of grace and how it applies to godliness in The Path of True Godliness.  The following Reformed theologians also had a lot to say about Christ’s kingdom: Herman Witsius, Herman Bavinck, Wilhelmus a Brakel, William Ames, and the list goes on.

Third, and finally, Reformed theologians of recent history have written on the kingdom of God.  For example, Herman Ridderbos wrote The Coming of the Kingdom and Meredith Kline wrote Kingdom Prologue (see also Geerhardus Vos’ The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church).  Kim Riddlebarger speaks of it in A Case for Amillennialism while Anthony Hoekma did the same in The Bible and the Future (see also C. Venema’s work, The Promise of the Future).  David VanDrunen has also recently done extensive study in kingdom theology (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms).  And the list goes on; I’ve only mentioned a small handful here.

If you thought that Reformed theology neglected the topic of Christ’s kingdom, I encourage you to check out some of the above resources.  Or, next time you hear someone wrongly accuse Reformed theology of ignoring the kingdom theme, you can (lovingly!) prove otherwise.  Reformed theology has a rich, biblical, and edifying view of Christ’s kingdom and what it means to be a citizen of it.

(This is a repost from February 2013)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

How/Why Can Faith Resist Satan? (Watson)

 In his exposition of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one), Thomas Watson explains how faith can be so strong as to resist Satan’s temptations in such a way that he flees from us (cf. James 4:7):

[Faith can resist Satan and put him to flight because] it brings the strength of Christ into the soul. Samson’s strength lay in his hair—ours lies in Christ. If a child is assaulted, it runs and calls to its father for help. Just so, when faith is assaulted, it runs and calls Christ, and in his strength overcomes. “In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Ephesians 6:16

Faith furnishes itself with a store of promises. The promises are faith’s weapons to fight with. As David, by five stones in his sling, wounded Goliath—so faith puts the promises, as stones, into its sling. 1 Sam 17:40. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Heb 13:5. “A bruised reed shall he not break.” Matthew 12:20. “Who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able.” 1 Cor 10:13. “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Romans 16:20. “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:29. Here are five promises, like five stones, put into the sling of faith, and with these a believer may wound the red dragon. Faith being such a grace to resist and wound Satan, he watches his opportunity to batter our shield, though he cannot break it.

Indeed, this is why Paul said that faith is a shield “with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:17 NASB).

The above quote is from page 274 of Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer.

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

All Things for Good: Other People’s Sins? (Watson)

 Sin, of course, is not a good thing.  Sin is evil; sin is lawlessness.  However, in God’s sovereignty, he can use sin for the benefit of his people.  Paul said it very clearly: All things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28).  “All things” includes those instances when people sin and hurt us in doing so.  In “All Things for Good,” Thomas Watson listed several ways how the sins of others work for our good.  Here’s one of them worth contemplating:

“The sins of others work for good, as they are glasses [mirrors] in which we may see our own hearts.  Behold a picture of our hearts.  Such should we be, if God did leave us.  What is in other men’s practice is in our nature.  Sin in the wicked is like fire on a beacon that flames and blazes forth; sin in the godly is like fire in the embers.

Christian, though you do not break forth into a flame of scandal, yet you have no cause to boast, for there is much sin raked up in the embers of your nature.  You have the root of bitterness in you, and you would bear as hellish fruit as any, if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you by His grace.”

That’s a very insightful Christian thought!  When someone else sins, rather than bragging that I’m better, I remember that I too am sinful and if it weren’t for God’s grace and power, I too would act out in all sorts of evil ways.  So the sins of others should not make me proud, but humble.  It will still hurt when people are sinfully cruel to us, but as Christians we can be confident that God will use it for our good.

The above quote is found on page 47 of All Things for Good.

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

Loving Other Saints Who Are Sinners (Watson)

 Christians mess up and make mistakes.  Followers of Jesus sin and don’t always act in a kind and loving way.  Sometimes Christians are even difficult to love!  However, we as God’s people are called to love each other with a fervent and forgiving love (Col. 3:12-14).  Whether in a marriage or between family and friends, Christians must love each other.  I like how Thomas Watson talked about this on page 82 of All Things for Good:

We love a saint, though he has many personal failings.  There is no perfection here.  In some, rash anger prevails; in some, inconstancy; in some, too much love of the world.  A saint in this life is like gold in the ore, much dross of infirmity cleaves to him, yet we love him for the grace that is in him.

A saint is like a fair face with a scar; we love the beautiful face of holiness, though there be a scar in it.  The best emerald has its blemishes, the brightest stars have their twinklings, and the best of the saints have their failings.  You that cannot love one another because of his infirmities, how would you have God love you?

Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, p. 82.

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

A Hypocrite Will Come to Church (Watson)

 When we pray the Lord’s prayer we ask our Father to “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (NASB).  This is what Paul was getting at in Ephesians 4:32: “…forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (NASB).  Here are Thomas Watson’s comments on this reality:

He whose sins are forgiven is willing to forgive others who have offended him.  …A hypocrite will read, come to church, give alms, build hospitals, but cannot forgive wrongs; he will rather want (lack) forgiveness from God than he will forgive his enemies.  A pardoned soul agrees thus: “Has God been so good to me to forgive me my sins, and shall I not imitate him in this?  Has he forgiven me pounds, and shall I not forgive pence?”

…By this touchstone we may try whether our sins are pardoned.  We need not climb up to heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven, but only look into our hearts.  Are we of forgiving spirits?  Can we bury injuries, requite good for evil?  This would be a good sign that we are forgiven of God.  If we can find all these things wrought in our souls, they are happy signs that our sins are pardoned, and are good letters (of) testimonial to show for heaven.

Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 242-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justification Can Never Be Lost (Watson)

This is very good, very biblical, and very comforting:

Justification is ‘inamissibilis;’ it is a fixed permanent thing, it can never be lost.  The Arminians hold an apostasy from justification; today justified, tomorrow unjustified; today a Peter, tomorrow a Judas; today a member of Christ, tomorrow a limb of Satan.  This [Arminian doctrine] is a most uncomfortable doctrine.

Justified persons may fall from degrees of grace, they may leave their first love, they may lose God’s favor for a time, but not lose their justification.  If they are justified they are elected; and they can no more fall from their justification than from their election.  If they are justified they have union with Christ; and can a member of Christ be broken off?  If one justified person may fall away from Christ, all may; and so Christ would be a head without a body.

See from hence [this], that there is nothing within us that could justify but something without [outside] us; not any righteous inherent, but imputed.  We may as well look for a star in the earth as for justification in our own righteousness. The Papists say we are justified by works; but the Apostle confutes it, for he says, ‘not of works, lest any man should boast.’ (Eph 2.9).

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 229.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI