Purgatory, Grace, and Works (Hodge)

Systematic Theology (3 vols.) The Roman Catholic Church still believes and teaches that purgatory is real.  Paragraph 1030 of Rome’s catechism says this:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Rome’s catechism uses good words like “grace” and “eternal salvation,” but this teaching is anything but good and it is certainly not biblical!  Charles Hodge wrote a helpful critique of purgatory in his Systematic Theology.  I’ll quote parts of it below:

The first, most obvious, and, for Protestants, the most decisive argument against the doctrine [of purgatory] is, that it is not taught in the Bible.  ….There is no passage that asserts it.  There is no evidence that it formed a part of the instructions of Christ or his Apostles.

…[The doctrine of purgatory] rests avowedly on the assumption that notwithstanding the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Christ, the sinner is bound to make satisfaction for his own sins. This the Bible declares to be impossible. No man does or can perfectly keep the commandments of God, much less can he not only abstain from incurring new guilt, but also make atonement for sins that are past.

The doctrine [of purgatory] moreover assumes the merit of good works. Here again it is clearer than the sun that the New Testament teaches that we are saved by grace and not by works; that to him that worketh, the reward is a matter of debt; but to him who simply believes, it is a matter of grace; and that the two are incompatible.

What is of grace is not of works; and what is of works is not of grace. There is nothing more absolutely incompatible with the nature of the Gospel than the idea that man can “satisfy divine justice” for his sins. Yet this idea lies at the foundation of the doctrine of purgatory. If there be no satisfaction of justice, on the part of the sinner, there is no purgatory, for, according to Romanists, purgatory is the place and state in which such satisfaction is rendered. As the renunciation of all dependence upon our own merit, of all purpose, desire, or effort to make satisfaction for ourselves, and trusting exclusively to the satisfaction rendered by Jesus Christ, is of the very essence of Christian experience, it will be seen that the doctrine of purgatory is in conflict not only with the doctrines of the Bible but also with the religious consciousness of the believer….

 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 757–758.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Our Foundation of Grace (Owen)

In one part of his exposition of Psalm 130, John Owen discussed receiving forgiveness and being assured of it.  One of his “rules” was this: “Mix not foundation and building-work together.”  By this Owen meant that the Christian’s foundation of forgiveness and acceptance with God is not by works, but by grace alone and found in Christ alone.  Here’s what he wrote:

“Our foundation in dealing with God is Christ alone, mere grace and pardon in him.  Our building is by holiness and obedience, as the fruits of that faith by which we have received the atonement.

And great mistakes there are in this matter, which bring great entanglements on the souls of men. Some are all their days laying the foundation, and are never able to build upon it any comfort to themselves or usefulness to others; and the reason is, because they are mixing with the foundation stones that are fit only for the building. They will be bringing their obedience, duties, mortification of sin, and the like, to the foundation. These are precious stones to build with, but unmeet to be first laid, to bear upon them the whole weight of the building.

The foundation is to be laid, as was said, in mere grace, mercy, and pardon in the blood of Christ. This the soul is to accept of and to rest in as mere grace, without the consideration of any thing in itself, but that it is sinful and obnoxious unto ruin. This it finds a difficulty in, and would gladly have something of its own to mix with it. It cannot tell how to fix these foundation-stones without some cement of its own endeavors and duty; and because these things will not mix, they spend a fruitless labor about it all their days.

But if the foundation be of grace, it is not at all of works; for “otherwise grace is no more grace. ” If any thing of our own be mixed with grace in this matter, it utterly destroys the nature of grace; which if it be not alone, it does not exist at all….

This, then, is the soul to do who would come to peace and settlement.  Let it let go of all former endeavors, if it has been engaged unto any of that kind, and let it alone receive, admit of, and adhere to, mere grace, mercy, and pardon, with a full sense that in itself it has nothing for which it should have an interest in them, but that all is of mere grace through Jesus Christ: ‘Other foundation can no man lay.’ Depart not hence until this work be well over. Cease not from an earnest endeavor with your own heart to acquiesce in this righteousness of God, and to bring your souls unto a comfortable persuasion that “God for Christ’s sake hath freely forgiven you all your sins. “

This is a great reminder of that biblical truth that we are justified, forgiven, and accepted by God only through Christ and only because of God’s grace (Rom 3-4, Gal 2-3, Eph 2, etc.).  Our justification, forgiveness, and acceptance are not in any way dependent upon our works, deeds, or merits.  As we begin to grow in understanding of this foundational truth, our assurance also grows and we learn more about what it means to give God all the glory.

The above quote is found in John Owen’s exposition of Psalm 130, chapter 13, rule 7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Created for What? (Bucer)

In 1523, Reformer Martin Bucer wrote a treatise called “How to Live for Others and Not for Oneself.”  I liked the title of the treatise so much I had to read it!  It’s a good read; I’ve put a helpful excerpt below:

…I will use a clear text from St. Paul to show that people with true faith have become altogether different from what they were – new creatures in Christ, who can no longer live selfishly but are compelled to live for the benefit of others and the glory of God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph 2:8–10).

See how clear it is that, if we believe, we are saved through faith, that is, we have everything that is necessary, not from ourselves and our good deeds but as a free gift from God? We are thus a work of God, created through Jesus Christ for doing good deeds, not however for ourselves but in the way God prepared them to become our way of life. These works are without question those which God everywhere commands, namely, deeds by which we serve our neighbors. God demands no other works from us, and Christ has taught us no others, alluding therefore frequently to the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6), and declaring that he will judge us accordingly.

If believers are a work of God created for deeds of that kind, they cannot ignore such deeds and pursue solely their own advantage. What God has created through Christ Jesus must be good and right and accomplish the purpose for which it is created, just as all other works and creatures of God attend to that for which they were created: birds to flying, fish to swimming, and humans to speaking. No creature or work of God can disregard that for which it was created unless prevented by an accident. Likewise, no true Christians and believers can live without doing good works unselfishly for all people according to their disposition.

Martin Bucer, How to Live for Others and Not for Oneself in Early Protestant Spirituality, ed. Scott H. Hendrix and Bernard McGinn, trans. Scott H. Hendrix, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2009), 149–150.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

If A Man Attempt To Blend Them Together…

I’ve been enjoying Charles Simeon’s commentary on Galatians.  Here’s part of his exposition of Galatians 4:8-11:

Men, by nature, are born under the law: and they invariably look to their obedience to the law as the ground of their hope towards God. But, as it is impossible for fallen man ever to render to the law that perfect obedience which it requires, God has given him a Savior, through whom he may obtain a perfect righteousness, fully commensurate with all the demands of law and justice. But, in order to his obtaining an interest in this, every other ground of hope must be renounced. He must be saved wholly, either by works or by grace. The two grounds of hope cannot exist together. If a man attempt to blend them together, even in the smallest possible degree, he will fail: the slightest dependence on his works will altogether invalidate the work of Christ, and make void all that he has done for the salvation of men. If, therefore, a person still practice any works of the law, in order to obtain, either in whole or in part, justification by them, all the labor that has ever been bestowed on him will be in vain.

The above quote is found in Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Galatians-Ephesians, vol. 17 (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833), 168.

Shane Lems

Our Best Works (Witsius)

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain I’ve been enjoying Herman Witsius’ discussion of antinomianism and neonomianism in Britain during the 17th century.  The full title is a mouthful: Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain.  Below is a section near the end where Witsius talks about a believer’s good works and why they cannot be part of or count in our justification:

When Paul testifies in Philippians 3:8 that he “counts all things but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, and that he might gain Christ” by these words he excludes, as to justification before God, all works, whether previous to faith, or following it (as is excellently observed by Beza). For the elucidation of which point, it is proper to make the following remarks:
1. The graces of the sanctifying Spirit flow clear and pure from their fountain.
2. But running through the channels of our hearts, infected with corruption, from their filth, they contract uncleanness.
3. And hence it is that all our best duties and exercises are polluted.
4. And consequently they cannot be reckoned for our righteousness before God’s tribunal.
5. There is therefore no reason why we should glory in duties well performed, or on their account commend ourselves to God; but that rather being covered with shame, we should implore pardon.
6. Whatever proceeds from us, compared with the most immaculate holiness of God, and in respect of the imperfection cleaving to it, a rising from a mixture of sin dwelling in us, causes that the duties performed by us, if considered in themselves, are nothing but dung.
7. Nevertheless by faith in Christ all the filthiness of our sins is washed away by him, who presents to God these duties cleansed by his blood alone, and makes them pleasing and acceptable to him: which he does not, except we entirely renounce ourselves and our own righteousness, and count it all but loss and dung.
8. In fine [summary], since we ourselves, and the spiritual sacrifices which we offer unto God, are not acceptable to him but by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5) it is unlawful to presume so much upon our own holiness, however great, as to ask that on its account, considered in itself, and separately from Christ, we may please God.

Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 157–158.

shane lems

“Believing is not Doing”or “Sins Countless as the Stars”

 Octavious Winslow to the those struggling with sin, guilt, imperfection, and doubt about the gospel:

“It is not for your worth that you are saved, but for Christ’s worth.  It is not on the ground of your personal merits that you are justified, but on the ground of Christ’s merits alone.  It is not upon the plea of your fitness, your tears, your confessions, your prayers, your duties, that God forgives and accepts you, but simply and exclusively upon the one plea of the Savior’s sacrifice.  The blood of Christ pardons, the righteousness of Christ justifies you, and this is all that you require, or that God demands.  The great work is all done – it is not to BE done.  It is complete, finished, accepted, sealed.  And you, as a lost sinner, without holiness, without strength, without one plea that springs from what you are, have nothing to do.   Believe, and you are saved.  Believing is not doing, it is not meriting.  It is trusting, it is the simple exercise of a faith in Christ which God gives and which the Holy Spirit produces in the heart, so that your salvation, from beginning to end, is entirely out of yourself, in another.”

“…And do you still ask, ‘What then must I DO to be saved?’ Do! I answer – nothing!  All is done, completely and forever done!  Christ has done it all, paid it all, endured it all, suffered it all, finished it all, leaving you, O sin burdened, anxious, trembling, hesitating soul, nothing to do, and only to believe.  …Your sins, countless as the stars, are no barrier to your salvation if you but believe in Jesus.”

Octavious Winslow, Help Heavenward (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), 121-122.

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Mixing Law and Gospel: A Deadly Brew

Luther's Works, Volume 51 In November 1532, some princes of Germany who were sympathetic to the Reformation invited Martin Luther to preach for them in Worlitz.  His text was 1 Timothy 1:5-7.  In the sermon, among other things, Luther explained to the princes the dangerous error of mixing God’s judgment seat and his mercy seat, the law and the gospel:

“For the Scriptures teach me that God establishes two seats for men, a judgment seat for those who are still secure and proud and will neither acknowledge nor confess their sin, and a mercy seat for those whose conscience is poor and needy, who feel and confess their sin, dread his judgment, and yearn for his grace.   …We must now learn to distinguish between the two parts which are called the law and the gospel.”

“…[In 1 Tim. 1] Paul is rebuking the error and ignorance of those who were extolling and preaching the law and yet neither understanding it themselves nor showing how what one can do about it or how it can be performed.  They could do no more than babble words: keep the law, keep the commandments and be saved, do good works, and so on.  Just as to this day they are scribbling books and spewing the churches full of this idle wish-wash.  …They talk a lot about faith but they mix things together, as a barkeeper mixes water and wine, by saying if you live in such and such a way God will be gracious to you, and they turn the mercy seat into a judgment seat and the judgment seat into a mercy seat.”

“…They mix it all up in one brew….  What good is all this shrieking: if you want to get to heaven, you must keep the commandments?  You won’t accomplish it that way, not by a long shot!  For just look into yourself and search out the evil within you and you will find that you were born in sin and have lived in sin and are unable to produce what the law demands.”

“And now I am compelled to say: even though I may have lived a good life before men, let everything I have done or failed to do remain there under the judgment seat as God sees fit, but as for me, I know of no other comfort, help, or counsel for my salvation except that Christ is my mercy seat, who did no sin or evil and both died and rose again for me, and now sits at the right hand of the Father and takes me to himself under his shadow and protection, so that I have no doubt that through him I am safe before God from all wrath and terror.  Thus faith remains pure and unalloyed, because then it makes no pretensions and seeks no glory or comfort save in the Lord Christ alone.”

Martin Luther, “On the Sum of the Christian Life,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, volume 51.

shane lems