Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Herman Witsius on Self-Denial

1. What is the first lesson that we must learn in the school of Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ Himself teaches us: "If anyone desires to follow Me, let Him deny himself."

2. What does "self-denial" mean? Self-denial in general includes three things. First, we should not imagine ourselves to be worthy at all of the grace of God or salvation. Second, we should recognize our inability to do any spiritual good. Third, we should renounce our own wills and desires and submit them in all things to the will of God.

3. Must we consider ourselves as being completely unworthy of salvation? Yes. We should always recognize that God could have thrown us into hell from the very moment of our conception, since from that very moment we were by nature children of wrath on account of original sin. And since that time, we have committed many actual sins for which God could have cut the cord of our life and brought us into judgment. According to the law of God and the threats that are attached to it, whoever violates a single law even once merits the loss of eternal life. How much more have we merited it, since we have offended God a thousand times more?

4. Must we also consider ourselves completely unworthy of the grace of God? Just as we consider ourselves unworthy of salvation, we ought to think of ourselves as completely unworthy of the gifts and grace of God because we ruin and corrupt everything that goes through our hands. We are unworthy to hear the Gospel of peace because we defile the pure Word of God as soon as we receive it in our impure hearts. We are unworthy to live among Christians; on the contrary, we are worthy of being excluded from the society of Christians so that we would no longer scandalize any Christian by our evil actions and since we are not able to edify them by any good example. We should regard ourselves as unworthy of absolutely any physical blessing, even of a little piece of bread or a glass of cold water.

5. What should the condition of our hearts be in relationship to this unworthiness that we find in ourselves? It is not enough for us to have a simple knowledge of it and to speak of it with little interest as we would news from a far away country. Rather, it should powerfully penetrate our hearts, and we should feel a profound grief over it. When we look up into heaven, we should sigh that it is a place from which are banished by our own fault. We should consider hell to be a place that has opened its mouth wide in order to swallow us up. We should think of the devil as an enemy who desires us and powerfully pursues us from hell. All this should lead us to sigh, weep, cry, and lament without allowing any restoration of peace to our souls until we are assured by solid reasons that God has imputed to us the merit of Jesus Christ so that for the love of Christ and by His pure grace we can be esteemed worthy of eternal life.

6. But doesn’t this sort of talk lead man to despair? There is a despair that is good and praiseworthy. Good despair is a despair man has of himself and of his own ability to do anything leading in the direction of salvation. This is the despair that Jesus Christ produced by His Word and Spirit in the hearts of His disciples when they said: "Then, who can be saved?" Insofar as a man stops in himself, he finds nothing that is not worthy of condemnation and thus nothing that would not give place to a holy despair. But he must by this holy despair be pushed toward Jesus Christ so that, being found in Christ, he might never despair of the grace of God.

7. But can’t someone be overly distressed and worried about his own spiritual misery? We can distinguish people by their misery, distresses, and the greatness of their distress. Following these different categories, we can answer the question in different ways. Man can be considered either in his miserable natural estate and insofar as he is not yet actually reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, or he can be considered as already in grace and having received the redemption of Jesus Christ by faith.

One can also consider the misery of man either uniquely in itself, separated from the grace of God or in comparison with this grace.

One can also consider distress either as sorrow over sin or as a natural effect of reason or the understanding. It can also be considered as being found only in the rational soul of man or as a sadness that truly affects the soul and powerfully moves the emotions.

Finally, we can distinguish the greatness of the distress either in relation to violence or in relation to duration and continuation.

After having made these distinctions, I respond as follows.

A man who still remains in his misery and who is not yet reconciled with God through faith in Jesus Christ, when he sees his misery in itself and reflects on his own and all creature’s inability to deliver him, cannot be too distressed at his misery whether in the understanding or in the emotions. He should not stop the course of this distress, at least in the relationship to its direction, until he finds himself reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. The reason is that the misery of this man is as great as one could possibly conceive and (in its own manner) infinite. Thus, it is reasonable that his sadness might be proportional to the greatness of his misery.

But a man who is already in a state of grace can have too much of a feeling of his misery when he compares that misery with the grace of God and thinks that it could not or should not be taken away and says that his sins are too great to be pardoned (as Cain said). He can also be swallowed up by too much sadness and become demoralized in such away that the strength of the body and the soul collapse under the weight of it so that he becomes incapable by this of serving his God who wants not just to be served but to be served with joy. Finally, this distress can last too long when the believer looks too often and too long at his misery in order to be distressed by it and does not give enough attention to the goodness of God so that he might rejoice in it and be consoled by it.

8. Must we also recognize ourselves to be totally without strength for and incapable of any spiritual good? Yes, for when we consider ourselves in and of ourselves, we cannot do any good. We are not capable of ourselves of having any good thought. And whatever good works that we do when we are animated and strengthened by the Spirit of God, the glory for those works does not go to us but to God. And whenever the devil or our flesh want to use the occasion of these good works to hurl us into pride, we must always remember what the Apostle says, "Yet not I but the grace of God that is in me."

9. But in doing that, don’t we humble ourselves too much in order to make all the more of the honor of God by a mere appearance of humility? We cannot humble ourselves too much in spiritual matters. And whatever humility there may be, we cannot fear that it will be too much for Jesus Christ. Can we put ourselves lower than nothing? However, that’s what the Apostle does to us. He says, "If anyone imagines himself to be something when he is nothing, such a man deludes himself." We cannot take away from man an understanding and reason and a will accompanied with intelligence which loves or hates something in consequence of the judgment that the understanding pronounces on the subject. But there is nothing but the natural in that. We cannot deny that a man cannot by custom, education, or other considerations have in some way a morally good conduct and perform externally some of the duties of Religion without the special cooperation of the grace of God. But to do some spiritual good or perform external duties in a spiritual manner is what a man cannot do at all, and man cannot humble himself too much for this inability.

Source: Johannes Weslianus, "Herman Witsius on Self-Denial".

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In Everything, In Christ

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is "of Him." If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in His anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in His dominion; if purity, in His conception; if gentleness, it appears in His birth. For by His birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in His passion; if acquittal, in His condemnation; if remission of the curse, in His cross; if satisfaction, in His sacrifice; if purification, in His blood; if reconciliation, in His descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in His tomb; if newness of life, in His resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of all blessings, in His Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.

John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.19.

D.A. Carson on a Species of Perfectionism

D.A. Carson recognizes a strain of perfectionism "that owes no connection to Keswick or Wesley," but yet often rears its ugly head in the lives of more orthodox Christians. He appears to appeal to a misappropriation of two ages theology in describing a plausible explanation for this predicament, which he describes as "a species of over-realized eschatology," not intending to lump it alongside the hubris that Paul lambasts in 1 Cor. 4 nor the inanity of the prosperity gospel.

What he describes, it seems to me, is the classic struggle with assurance of salvation, borne out of the failure to make the biblical distinction between justification and sanctification and a low view of the nature of sin, that leaves the believer in despair over what he knows he must do based on what he also knows he already is—but does not do!

Carson offers two considerations:

1.) The narrative testimony of Scriptue to the Romans 7 reality of the sanctified life in the lives of some "heroes of the faith":

"First, the Bible itself speaks to this issue in various ways, and some of those ways are cast as stark antitheses. In apocalyptic literature, for example, there are faithful followers of Christ, and there are diabolical opponents. People wear either the mark of the beast or the sign of Christ; there is nothing in between. Similarly in wisdom literature: one follows Dame Folly or Lady Wisdom, but not both. That is why a wisdom psalm like Ps 1 casts the choice in absolute antithesis: either one does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the path of sinners, and sit in the seat of mockers, while delighting in the law of the Lord day and night and meditating on it, finding one's life before God is like a wellwatered fruit-bearing tree, or the wicked are simply 'not so.' The Lord recognizes and owns one path, while the other perishes. There is nothing in between. The Lord Jesus can preach in many different styles, but included among them is wisdom polarity: reflect on the antitheses at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. On the other hand, over against such antithetical presentations of holiness and sin, of faithfulness and unbelief, are the many narrative portions of the Bible where God's people are depicted with all their inconsistencies, their times of spectacular faithfulness and their ugliest warts. Abraham the friend of God repeatedly tells half truths; Moses the meekest man loses his temper and consequently does not get into the promised land; David the man after God's own heart commits adultery and murder; Peter the primus inter pares, the confessor of Caesarea Philippi and the preacher of Pentecost, acts and speaks with such little understanding that he earns a rebuke from Jesus and another from Paul. In such narratives there is no trace of the moral polarities of apocalyptic and of wisdom. There is instead an utterly frank depiction of the moral compromises that make up the lives of even the 'heroes' of Scripture. In short, the Bible itself includes genres and passages that foster absolutist thinking and others that warn us to recognize how flawed and inconsistent are even those we recognize as the fathers of the faithful. Certainly we need both species of biblical literature, and most Christians see a sign of God's kindness in the Bible that provides us with both. The narratives without the absolutes might seem to sanction moral indifference: 'If even a man after God's own heart like David can fall so disastrously, it cannot be too surprising if we lesser mortals tumble from time to time.' The absolutes without the narratives might either generate despair ('Who can live up to the impossibly high standards of Ps 1?') or produce self-righteous fools ('It's a good thing the Bible has standards, and I have to say I thank God I am not as other people are.'). We need the unflinching standards of the absolute polarities to keep us from moral flabbiness, and in this broken world, we need the candid realism of the narratives to keep us from both arrogance and despair. Most of us, I suspect, muddle along with a merely intuitive sense of how these twin biblical heritages ought to shape our lives."

2.) The objectivity of Christ and His benefits:

"The second factor is how we attach the cross of Christ to all this. The intensity of the struggle against sin easily generates boundless distortions when we do not return, again and again, to God's love for us manifested in the cross. There alone is the hope we need, the cleansing we need, the grace we need. Any pursuit of perfection that is not awash in the grace of God displayed on a little hill outside Jerusalem is bound to trip us up."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gratitude in Francis Schaeffer's Spirituality

Further, I think there are two practical tests as to when we are coveting against God or men; first, I am to love God enough to be contented; second, I am to love men enough not to envy.

Let us pursue these two tests. First, in regard to God: I am to love God enough to be contented, because otherwise even our natural and proper desires bring us into revolt against God. God has made us with proper desires, but if there is not a proper contentment on my part, to this extent I am in revolt against God, and of course revolt is the whole central problem of sin. When I lack proper contentment, either I have forgotten that God is God, or I have ceased to be submissive to him. We are now speaking about a practical test to judge if we are coveting against God. A quiet disposition and a heart giving thanks at any given moment is the real test of the extent to which we love God at that moment. I would like to give some strong words to you from the Bible to remind us that this is God's own standard for Christians. "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not convenient; but rather giving of thanks" (Ephesians 5:3, 4).

Thus, the "giving of thanks" is in contrast to the whole black list that stands above. In Ephesians 5:20 it is even stronger: "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." How inclusive are these "all things" for which we are to give thanks? These same "all things" are also mentioned in the book of Romans (chapter 8, verse 28): "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." This is not a kind of magic-the infinite-personal God promises that he will work all things together for the Christian's good.

Here I am told that if I am a true Christian, "all things" work together for my good. It is not all things except the sorrow; it is not all things except the battle. We throw the words "all things" in Romans 8:28 around all things. We do honor to God and the finished work of Christ as we throw that circle around the whole; all things work together for good to those who love God, for those who are the called according to his purpose. But to the extent to which we properly throw the term "all things" around all things, it carries with it also the "all things" of Ephesians 5:20: "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father. . . ." We cannot separate these two. The "all things" of Ephesians 5:20 is as wide as the "all things" of Romans 8:28. It must be giving of thanks for all things-this is God's standard.

Philippians deals with this also. In Philippians 4:6 we read, "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."

"Be careful for nothing" here means: Do not be overcome by care in anything, by worry in anything, but rather by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. Of course, this is a statement concerning prayer in contrast to the worry, but at the same time it carries with it the direct command to thank God in the midst of the prayer for the "everything." Or we may note Colossians 2:7: "Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." You will notice this is linked to the sixth verse: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." What does it mean to walk in Christ? It is to be "rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith." (And there are many of us who think this is by faith; the instrument to do this is faith) ". . . abounding therein with thanksgiving." The final note is on the thanksgiving.

Then we find in Colossians 3:15: "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body, and be ye thankful." And verse 17: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." And again in Colossians 4:2: "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving."

These words about thanksgiving are in one sense hard words. They are beautiful, but they do not give us any room to move-the "all things" includes all things.

We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." And this is linked to the next verse, verse 19: "Quench not the Spirit." Surely one thing is clear. God says to us: in everything give thanks.

I think we can see all this in its proper perspective if we go back to Romans 1:21: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasoning, and their foolish heart was darkened." This is the central point: they were not thankful. Instead of giving thanks they "became vain in their reasonings and their foolish heart was darkened." Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. The beginning of mens' rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart. They did not have proper, thankful hearts-seeing themselves as creatures before the Creator and being bowed not only in their knees, but in their stubborn hearts. The rebellion is a deliberate refusal to be the creature before the Creator, to the extent of being thankful. Love must carry with it a "Thank you," not in a superficial or "official" way, but in being thankful and saying in the mind or with the voice, "Thank you" to God.

Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (downloaded e-book, italics original).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Godwardness of It All

"From different points of view, look at Christ's work for us: He perfectly obeyed the Law of God. He satisfied the justice of God. He exhausted the wrath of God. He removed our sins from the presence of God. He redeemed us from the curse of God. He reconciled us to God.

One thing is readily apparent: Every work of Christ is directed toward God. It's God's Law that was obeyed, His justice that was satisfied, His wrath that was propitiated, His holy presence from which our sins were removed, His curse from which we were redeemed, and alienation from His divine presence that has been reconciled.

This Godward focus tells us that the integrity of God's moral government and the upholding of His honor and glory are the primary issues in our salvation. It's true that God's love for sinful people such as you and me is the wellspring of our salvation, but this love could be shown only in such a way that the glory of His holiness and the honor of His Law would be magnified. Jesus in His sinless life and sin-bearing death did just that. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

As we contemplate the glory of the cross, we see that not only is our deepest need of salvation met, but it was met in the way that brings the most glory to God Himself. At the cross both God's Law and God's grace are most brilliantly displayed, and His justice and mercy both glorified. It's also at the cross where we're most humbled, where we admit to God and ourselves that absolutely nothing we do can earn or merit our salvation. As someone has well said, 'We bring nothing to our salvation except our sin that made it necessary.'"

Jerry Bridges in The Gospel for Real Life, cited in The Primary Issue, Holiness, Day by Day (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2008), ed. Thomas Womack, 157 (italics original).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Zombie Walks Amongst Us (Logical Positivism and Adam)

Philosopher John Arthur Passmore has stated that, "Logical positivism...is dead, or as dead as a philosophical movement ever becomes. But it has left a legacy behind." If the recent trend of formerly orthodox, evangelical scholars embracing theistic evolution is any indication, then it does seem that the zombie of logical positivism still walks amongst us!

Of course, the first thing to walk out the door when evolution is considered as the more tenable explanation for the origin of man is the historicity of the one whom the Bible calls "the first man" (1 Cor. 15:45), Adam: "Was Adam an Historical Person? And What Difference Does It Make?" If Adam is merely a creature of mythology, then the biblical-historical account of the Fall did not actually happen, we were not created by God as good (Gen 1:31), and there never was a need for Christ to take on humanity in His redemptive work. In short, the whole of biblical Christianity disentangles and dissipates.

See also: Theistic Evolution: A Hermeneutical Trojan Horse

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gratitude-Grounded Assurance

It can be said, and almost unanimously, that many approach the obedience and performance of good works, that are the heritage of the saints, in the spirit of fear of punishment or loss of rewards. They reason, always introspectively, that as a Christian, they must render obedience to the revealed will of God or else they might not be saved at all or suffer loss of divine real estate in the future kingdom. But is this how Scripture portrays the "working out of our salvation" to be? Must we always be laying our hearts bare, anxiously searching for the evidence of salvation that was there yesterday but somehow today feels absent?

Michael Horton writes that "John Wesley used to argue that he could not accept the doctrine of election because it undermined the main supports of holiness: fear of punishment and hope of reward" ('Putting Amazing Back into Grace,' (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 80). In opposition to this erroneous line of thinking, Paul stated, "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father'" (Rom 8:15). So if Scripture denies the fear of punishment or loss as the motivation for godly living, what then is the proper impetus? The Heidelberg Catechism provides this response in its answer to Question 86, "...that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings..." The only acceptable ground for all our obedience and good works, in God's sight, is gratitude.

This is where the study of theology, the immersion in the doctrines of Scripture, come into play. Of course, no one becomes a child of God without first having known the truths about the person and work of Christ, believed in these truths, and trusted in the object of these truths, Christ Himself. So then a progression emerges: the more we know of God—His attributes, His nature, and His work—the more we realize the glories of the redemption that is ours in Christ and the benefits conferred on us by virtue of this union; and the more that this knowledge is ours, the more grateful we become! This gratitude then "...hits us...we have been predestined to a high and holy calling, we discover a higher and holier motivation for pursuing God's revealed will...we realize we are part of 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession' (1 Peter 2:9 NASB), we begin to reflect that awareness in our daily living" (Michael Horton, 'Putting Amazing Back into Grace,' (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 81).

We obey God's law not because we want to prove that we are children of God but because we already are! We constantly look to Christ for the assurance of our salvation, and this produces in us the gratitude that is the stuff of obedience—an obedience born of faith.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Assurance and Union with Christ

Christ said, "I know my sheep" (John 10:14). Our salvation is in the hands of a loving Savior who not only chose us, but offered his body as a human sacrifice for our sins! That is why it is so important to frame any discussion of election within the scope of Christ's person and his work. Throughout Ephesians 1, prepositional phrases such as "in Christ," "in him," and "in the One he loves," occur frequently. God did not just choose us; he chose us in Christ. Christ, then, is the center of our election. That means we do not discover our election by looking anywhere but to Christ. Do we trust in him? Is he alone our Savior? Are we in him through faith in his finished work? This is the only infallible test we have of whether "he chose us in him before the creation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). We must not look to our works or to our success or failure, or to anything or anyone outside of Christ for confirmation of our election. Any discussion that places anything at the center of the discussion—even every good and holy thing—is bound to be distorted and unbiblical.

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 63-64 (italics original).

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification

Did the Reformers then have any doctrine of sanctification? Of course they did. We are all familiar with the biblical announcements as to what is involved in sanctification: the Word, the sacraments, prayer, fellowship, sharing the gospel, serving God and neighbor. And the Reformation tradition acknowledges that there are biblical texts that speak of sanctification as complete already. This is not a perfection that is empirical or observable, but a definitive declaration that because we are "in Christ," we are set apart and reckoned holy by his sacrifice (1 Cor. 1:30; Heb. 10 and so on). Anybody who is in Christ is sanctified, because Christ's holiness is imputed to the Christian believer, just as Jesus says in John 17:19, "For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." God sees the believer as holy. That means that Wesley should not have terrified Christian brethren with texts such as, "Without holiness, no one will see the Lord." The Christian is holy; it is all imputed. And then there are texts such as, "Be holy as I am holy." What would the Reformers do with that? They would say we are called to be holy. But why should we be holy if we are already perfect in Christ? Because we are saved unto good works, not unto licentiousness, according to Romans 6; the question has been asked before. Good works are done out of thankfulness of heart by the believer who has been saved, not by one who is trying to be saved.

Clearly the Reformers had a doctrine of sanctification. They believed that the law in the Bible has three uses. First, it is a civil ordinance to keep us from stealing each other's wives, husbands, and speedboats. The civil use of the law applies to the whole of culture. Second, the theological use of the law is to reveal our sin and drive us to despair and terror so that we will seek a savior. Luther believed that is a primary use of the law in all of Scripture. But the Reformers also believed in a third use of the law, and that is a didactic use, to teach the Christian God's will for holy living.

If a Christian is reading the law and says, "This is not yet true of me: I don't love God with all my heart, and I certainly don't love my neighbor as I love myself. In fact, just today I failed to help a poor man on the side of the road who was having car trouble. I must not yet be a Christian, " here the Reformers would counsel, "You hurry back to the second use of the law and flee to Christ where sanctification is truly, completely, and perfectly located." After this experience, the believer will feel a greater sense of freedom to obey, and this is the only way that one will ever feel free to obey. The difference between all Higher Life movements and the Reformation perspective finally turns on the question of what Baptists call the assurance of salvation and what the Reformers called fides reflexa (reflexive faith). The answer of the Higher Life movement to the struggling Christian is, Surrender more, or, What are you holding back from the Lord? The Reformation answer is different.

A friend of mine was walking down a street in Minneapolis one day and was confronted by an evangelical brother who asked, "Brother, are you saved?" Hal rolled his eyes back and said, "Yes." That didn't satisfy this brother, so he said, "Well, when were you saved?" Hal said, "About two thousand years ago, about a twenty minutes' walk from downtown Jerusalem."

The most important thing to remember is that the death of Christ was in fact a death even for Christian failure. Christ's death saves even Christians from sin. There is always "room at the cross" for unbelievers, it seems. But what we ought to be telling people is that there is room there for Christians, too. This, then, is what was meant earlier by the motif of law—gospel—law in many evangelical circles. The law condemns, driving us to Christ the gospel, from whom we receive both instantaneous justification and progressive sanctification for the rest of our lives, according to the Reformation perspective. While the law still guides, it can never make threats. But in contemporary evangelicalism, the law can come back to undermine the confidence of the gospel. It can still make threats; it can still condemn. There is wonderful grace for the "sinner," and the evangelical is at his best in evangelism. But the question as to whether there is enough grace for the sinful Christian is an open one in many gatherings, and I have had many students tell me, "My last state is worse than the first. I think I've got to leave the faith because feel worse now than I did before." I have had people come up to me after I had spoken and tell me, "This is about the last shot I've got. My own Christian training is killing me. I can understand how, before I was a Christian, Christ's death was for me, but I am not at all sure that his death is for now because I have surrendered so little to him and hold so much back. My trouble really began when I committed myself to Christ as Lord and Savior." That perversion can be the result of pastoral teaching, Sunday school curriculum, and the declarations of evangelical Christian leaders.

Instead, there must be a clear and unqualified pronouncement of the assurance of salvation on the basis of the fullness of the atonement of Christ. In other words, even a Christian can be saved. The other "gospel," in its various forms (Higher Life, legalism, the "carnal Christian" teaching, and so on) is tearing us to pieces. I must warn you that the answer to this devastating problem is not available on every street corner. It is available only in the Reformed tradition. This is not because that particular tradition has access to information other traditions do not possess. Rather, it is because the same debate that climaxed in that  sixteenth-century movement has erupted since in less precise form. In fact, since Christ's debates with the Pharisees and Paul's arguments with the legalists, this has been the debate of Christian history. At no time since the apostolic era were these issues so thoroughly discussed and debated, as they were in the sixteenth century. To ignore the biblical wisdom, scholarship, and brilliant insights of such giants as the Reformers is simply to add to our ignorance the vice of pride and self-sufficiency. The Reformation position is the real evangelical position.

The only way out is an exposition of the Scriptures that has to do with law and gospel—an exposition of the Scriptures that places Christ at the center of the text for everybody, including the Christian. All of the Bible is about him. All of the Bible is even about him for the Christian!

I used to tell my students at an evangelical Christian college that they had never heard real preaching, with the exception of a few sound evangelistic appeals. Their weekly diet in the congregation was not, as it should have been, a proclamation of God's grace to them because of the finished and atoning death of Christ—God's grace for them as Christians. That emphasis is desperately needed. And the only way to find that kind of preaching is to go back to when it was done, and it was done in the sixteenth century. The real hope for the church in the West, humanly speaking, lies with evangelicals. Barring an unusual act of God, the mainline churches are not going to get the church back on its feet. Generally speaking, they simply do not have a high enough view of the inspiration of Scripture to listen to it anymore.

The evangelicals do. They believe that the Scriptures are true, but tend to read them as a recipe book for Christian living, rather than for the purpose of finding Christ who died for them and who is the answer to their unchristian living. We must have that kind of renewal, and it can only come from the evangelicals. The evangelical movement in America must begin reading from the Reformers instead of pretending that they are committed only to the Bible, without any system of doctrine, when it is clear what books, tapes, and sermons have shaped their faith and practice. Another thing we are going to have to re-examine in connection with Christian growth is the question of the sacraments—not sacramentalism, but the very nature of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), which receives far more attention in the Scriptures than in contemporary evangelical discussion and piety. We are going to have to talk about them again. The major themes of the Reformers are precisely the ones the evangelical must be encouraged to recover.

Rod Rosenbladt, "Conclusion, Christ Died for the Sins of Christians, Too," Christ the Lord (The Reformation and Lordship Salvation), ed. Michael Horton (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1992), 204—208 (italics original).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Assurance: The Calvin—Puritan Distinction

There is no question that a difference in emphasis exists between the Reformers and the English and New England Puritans over the question of assurance. The Reformed tradition in Europe, in agreement with Calvin's exegesis, argued that assurance is the essence of faith. In other words, to trust in Christ is to have the assurance that "there is therefore now no condemnation." If saving faith is more than the conviction that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, but that he did this for me, then that conviction is synonymous with assurance. To trust in Christ alone for salvation is to be assured that he will fulfill his promise. If we are not assured, we are not trusting.

Of course, this was never to suggest that assurance is complete, any more than faith. Our faith and assurance may be weak, sometimes barely distinguishable, but it is impossible to truly exercise a justifying faith that does not contain the assurance that Christ's saving work has guaranteed what has been promised in one's own case.

In the Puritan context, however, the Reformed doctrine of assurance underwent a slight shift in emphasis. The Reformation had been a biblical response primarily to legalism, as justification in the medieval church was confused with sanctification and assurance was impossible because being rightly related to God depended on whether one cooperated with grace from day to day. The Reformers rightly emphasized the objective character of the gospel: Christ crucified outside of my own personal experience and behavior, two thousand years ago, as a once-and-for-all satisfaction of divine justice in my place. But before a generation passed, there were those who had embraced the Reformation because they saw in it an opportunity to be saved by what we today might call "easy-believism." All they had to do was assent to the teachings of the Reformed or the Lutheran churches, just as they had to the Roman church, and they could be "safe and secure from all alarm." Although the Reformers protested that this was merely "devil's faith," the stuff of which hypocrites were made, it seemed that the profession of these growing ranks of hypocrites risked proving Rome's point, that the evangelical doctrine promotes license and presumption.

It was in this setting that the English Puritans pastored, convinced that the believer's inner life, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the concerns of piety had been almost abandoned by those who, in fleeing Rome for the Reformation, had merely leaped from the frying pan into the fire. Even though the Puritans shared an identical theological system with the Reformed on the continent of Europe, the former insisted that it is a mistake to say that assurance is of the essence of faith. In one case, it encourages presumption among the hypocrites who think they are justified even though there are no fruits; in the other, it creates anxiety among those who, instead of worrying about whether they have enough works, are now wondering if they have enough assurance! Calvin insisted that it is not the degree of faith or assurance that secured justification, but even the weakest grasp of faith, like the father of the demon-possessed son, who replied to Christ's invitation to believe with moving honesty: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). Nevertheless, the pastoral setting provided for a variety of applications and Puritanism on this score was a deviation, not from the theology of the Reformation, but from the practical pastoral counsel on the matter of assurance. For instance, few leaders from the Continental Reformed side of the assurance question were as intimately associated with the English Puritans as Zacharias Ursinus (1534—83), principal author of the Heidelberg Catechism. And yet, Ursinus, following Calvin's line, argued from a number of texts, "No man can indeed know, or judge with certainty from second causes [i.e., the fruit of conversion], or from events whether good or evil; for the external condition of men furnishes no safe criterion either of the favor or disapprobation of God....We may therefore be ignorant of our salvation, as far as it is dependent upon second causes, but we may know it in as far as God is pleased to reveal it unto us by His Word and Spirit."

This did not mean that one could not use evidences of true conversion to support one's assurance; nor did it mean that one could never be without such evidences. Even in committing great sinful acts, the truly converted man or woman is sorrowful and repentant. Nevertheless, it is always dangerous to build one's assurance on a foundation of works, even though one denies the place of works in justification.

As the Heidelberg Catechism is the most important representative document from the Continental consensus, so the Westminster Confession and Catechisms is the principal document from the Puritan and Presbyterian side of the assurance question. Again, this is not a matter of doctrine so much as of practical pastoral application of doctrine. Nevertheless, the shift from warning believers against introspection in an effort to discern evidences to encouraging it was very important practically. If assurance is not of the essence of saving faith, and it can be lost because of sin, sensitive persons will inevitably scrape their consciences raw until they find clues and, as Calvin warned, there will be no satisfaction with evidences; there will never be enough to secure the soul's confidence.

Michael Horton, "Christ Crucified between Two Thieves," Christ the Lord (The Reformation and Lordship Salvation), ed. Michael Horton (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1992), 132—134 (italics original).


It must be  remembered, however, that Puritanism was a diverse movement. The leading figures—Perkins, Owen, Ames, Goodwin, Sibbes, and Hooker, were Reformed pastors who simply wanted to breathe new life into "dead orthodoxy," by showing how the objective work of Christ for us related to the subjective work of Christ in us...For the Reformers, and for the better Puritans, the accent fell on judicial verdict, not moral renewal, although both were clearly taught as inseparable acts of God.

ibid., 140—141.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Calvin on "Lordship Salvation"

The Reformers regarded the doctrine of justification as the cardo (Latin for "hinge") upon which the whole of Christian doctrine hangs. It is the cardinal doctrine based on the words of the Apsotle Paul, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8). So a sinner is justified before God by grace, through faith in Christ.

Now faith consists of three elements: notitia (knowledge of the objective person and work of Christ in the economy of redemption), assensus (belief that these objective facts are true), and fiducia (trusting personally in the efficacy and sufficiency of Christ and His work). These three work together to form the content of saving faith. Remove "fiducia" and you get the Hodges/Ryrie/Stanley formula for antinomian, semi-Pelagian, "free grace" faith, wherein assent to fact is all that's needed to be justified (Lose your faith down the line? No worries. A one-time expression of belief is the sole requirement for salvation. But heavenly rewards? You need lots of good works for that!). On the other hand, replace "fiducia" with "the determination of the will to obey truth" (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 173) and you get JMac's semi-legalistic, works-based faith. It is clear that the former kind of faith best describes the Apostle James' "devil's faith", warranting no further exposition here, while the latter expression confuses justification with sanctification, something which I believe merits discussion.

Christ's 33 years of life and subsequent death earned for His elect both justification and sanctification. The sinner who puts faith in Christ is justified in the sight of God by virtue of Christ's active and passive obedience; the former fulfilling for him the requirement of perfect holiness/obedience and the latter appeasing the wrath of God. But what of personal obedience and good works? If sanctification is the domain of these two, wherein the Christian is conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ through the Holy Spirit, can a person who appears to lack personal holiness have the assurance of salvation?

Firstly, it must be asserted that the elect, by virtue of union with Christ, must by necessity be justified and sanctified. In other words, sanctification always flows from justification, but they are distinct. This distinction is no small point to make for on it hangs the issue of assurance. Michael Horton states, referring to the "lordship salvation" debate between Hodges and JMac, "This question of assurance is at the root of the present controversy. After all, it is not enough to be saved by grace. We must also have assurance that we are saved by grace" (Christ the Lord, p. 51). Secondly, given this distinction, it is apparent that assurance is chiefly concerned with justification—with the question of "Has my faith really saved me?" Given the Reformed definition of faith above, it can be seen that the nature of saving faith is objective and outward-oriented. It is not one's faith per se that saves, but Christ upon whom this faith rests.

So then, is assurance of salvation grounded on faith itself or on the fruits of faith (obedience and good works)? I will let John Calvin give the answer:

Now if we ask in what way the conscience can be made quiet before God, we shall find the only way to be that unmerited righteousness be conferred upon us as a gift of God. Let us ever bear in mind Solomon's question: "Who will say, 'I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin'?" [Prov. 20:9]. Surely there is no one who is not sunken in infinite filth! Let even the most perfect man descend into his conscience and call his deeds to account, what then will be the outcome for him? Will he sweetly rest as if all things were well composed between him and God and not, rather, be torn by dire torments, since if he judged by works, he will feel grounds for condemnation within himself? The conscience, if it looks to God, must either have sure peace with his judgment or be besieged by the terrors of hell. Therefore we profit nothing in discussing righteousness unless we establish a righteousness so steadfast that it can support our soul in the judgment of God....For no one can ever confidently trust in it [one's obedience—M.H.] because no one will ever come to be really convinced in his own mind that he has satisfied the law, as surely no one ever fully satisfied it through works....First, then, doubt would enter the minds of all men, and at length despair, while each one reckoned for himself how great a weight of debt still pressed upon him, and how far away he was from the condition laid down for him. See faith already oppressed and extinguished!...Therefore, on this point [assurance—M.H.] we must establish, and as it were, deeply fix all our hope, paying no regard to our works, to seek any help from them...For, as regards justification, faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours [not even repentance and a determination of the will to obey—M.H.] to the recovering of God's favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack (Institutes, 3.13.3—5, cited in Michael Horton, Christ the Lord, p. 52—53).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jonathan Edwards, a Good Yardstick of Reformed Orthodoxy? Nah!

Given the recent wave of sentiment (mostly negative) over John Piper's endorsement of Rick Warren—with the former's thumbs up chiefly predicated on the latter's supposed interest in Jonathan Edwards—I have compiled the following quotes which will serve to cast light on some of Edwards' elemental beliefs:

"One suspects, however, that confessional Reformed folk might not be so ready to identify with Edwards' theology if they understood its debt to modernity and specifically to certain forms of rationalism and idealism." — Dr. R. Scott Clark, 'Recovering the Reformed Confession', p. 84.

"Charles Hodge (1797—1878) offered strong criticism of Edwards's doctrine of original sin and 'continued creation.' Hodge said, 'According to the theory of continued creation there is and can be no created substance in the universe. God is the only substance in the universe.' He concluded that this 'doctrine, therefore, in its consequences, is essentially pantheistic.'" — ibid., p. 85

"He rejected the traditional Reformed doctrine of concursus, that God works fully in every thing but does so through 'second causes' (WCF 5.2), which led to his occasionalism whereby the world is said to be re-created (which notion the earlier Reformed orthodox had rejected) moment by moment." — ibid., p. 87.

"...the measure of one's ministry was no longer whether a minister proclaimed the law and the gospel and administered the means of grace according to Scriptures as understood by the Reformed confessions. Rather, the measure of one's ministry was now the result of that preaching...specifically the degree to which it generated a certain religious enthusiasm or experience." — ibid., p. 89.

"Because of his neo-Platonism, Edwards established an ideal, a paradigm of conversion and religious experience, to be wrought not only progressively by the ordinary means of grace, but immediately by the Spirit." — ibid., p. 93.

"For Edwards, true religion was not simply an orthodox profession of faith...accompanied by an ordinary Christian life lived in the communion of the saints. But he demanded more, an extraordinary experience of grace...Attention is no longer on the objective work of Christ for his people and the secret but ordinary work of the Spirit in his elect through the Word and sacraments." — ibid., pp. 94—95.

"Edwards taught a doctrine of divinization. The only thing missing is the word itself." — Michael J. McClymond, 'Salvation and Divinization: Jonathan Edwards and Gregory Palamas and the Theological Uses of Neoplatonism'.

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