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Saving Faith

(50 posts)

When God Kills

Erasmus feared that the teaching of a human will that is not free, even if true (which he denied), served no good purpose and would cause people to neglect their own responsibility to respond to the gospel. Luther responded: ‘What use or need is there, then, of publishing such things when so many harmful results seem likely to follow?’ I reply: It should be enough to say simply that God has willed their publication, and the reason of the Divine will is not to be sought, but simply to be adored, and the glory given to God, Who, since He alone is just and wise, wrongs none and can do nothing foolish or inconsiderate—however much it may seem otherwise to us. This answer will satisfy those who fear God. However (to say a little more than I need, since there is so much more that I can say), there are two considerations which require the preaching of these truths. The first is the humbling of our pride, and the comprehending of the grace of God; the second is the nature of Christian faith. For the first: God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another—God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation. So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God. This, I repeat, one reason—that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive His gracious promise. The second reason is this: faith’s object is things not seen. That there may be room for faith, therefore, all that is believed must be hidden. Yet it is not hidden more deeply than under a contrary appearance of sight, sense and experience. Thus, when God quickens, He does so by killing; when He justifies, He does so by pronouncing guilty; when He carries up to heaven, He does so by bringing down to hell. As Scripture says in 1 Kings 2, ‘The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up’ (1 Sam. 2.6). (This is no place for a fuller account of these things; but those who have read my books are well acquainted with them.) Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957) 100–101.

Works of the Law versus Works of Faith

Wednesday··2007·09·19 · 3 Comments
knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. —Galatians 2:16 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:8–9 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. —Romans 2:13 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. —James 2:24 Contradictions! The Bible is full of them. How are we to make sense of this? Let’s ask Dr. Luther: Here [in Romans 3:1–20] the question arises: How can a person be justified without the works of the Law, or how can it be that justification does not flow from our works? For St. James writes: “We see how that by works a man is justified, and and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). So also St. Paul: “Faith . . . worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6); and: “The doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). To this we reply: as the Apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace, so also he distinguishes between the works resulting from these. He calls those deeds “works of the Law” that are done without faith and divine grace, merely because of the law, moved by either fear of punishment or the alluring hope of reward. By works of faith he calls those deeds which are done in the spirit of (Christian) liberty and flow from love to God. These can be done only by such as are justified by faith. Justification, however, is not in any way promoted by the works of the Law, but they rather hinder it, because they keep a person from regarding himself as unrighteous and so in need of justification. When James and Paul say that a man is justified by works, they argue against the false opinion of those who think that (for justification) a faith suffices that is without works. Paul does not say that true faith exists without its proper works, for without these there is not true faith. But what he says is that it is faith alone that justifies, regardless of works. Justification therefore does not presuppose the works of the law, but rather a living faith which performs its proper works, as we read Galatians 5:67. By the law is the knowledge of sin (3:20). Such knowledge of sin is obtained in two ways. First, by meditation (of the Law), as we read in Romans 7:7: “I had not know lust except the law had said, thou shalt not covet.” Secondly, by experience, namely, by trying to fulfill the Law, or we may say, through the Law as was assure to fulfill its obligations. Then the Law will become to us as occasion to sin, for then the perverted will of man, inclined to evil, but urged by the Law to do good, becomes all the more unwillingly and disinclined to do what is good. It hates to be drawn away from what it loves; and what it loves is sin, as we learn from Genesis 8:21. But just so, man, forced by the Law and obeying it unwillingly, sees how deeply sin and evil are rooted in his soul. He would never notice this, if he did not have the Law and would not try to follow it. The Apostle here only mentions this though, since he intends to treat it more fully in Chapters 5 and 7. Here he merely meets the objection that the Law would be useless if its works could not justify. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 59–60.

Abraham Believed God

“I believe in God.” I have had some interesting conversations that began with that statement. Sadly, few who make it can honestly drop that little preposition: in. Most people I know will say, yes, I believe in God, but when confronted with what God has said about himself and about them, have to admit that, well, no, I don’t actually believe that. And that is the great stumbling block. Here are a few words from Luther on what it means to believe God: Abraham believed God (4:3). This must be understood in the sense that Abraham was always ready to believe God. He steadfastly believed God. This fact we learn from Genesis 12 and 13, where we are told that Abraham believed God who called and commanded him to leave his country and go into a strange land. Again he believed God when, according to Genesis 1:22ff., he was commanded to slay his son Isaac, and so forth. Whatever he did, he did by faith as the Apostle declares in Hebrews 11:8–10. So also what is stated in our text (v. 3) is said of Abraham’s faith in general, and not merely with regard to the one promise recorded in Genesis 15:4–6. To believe God means to trust him always and everywhere. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 66.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:28–39 When Jesus Died on the cross, he did not merely make our salvation possible; he actually secured that salvation—and all that it entails—for each of his elect. J. I. Packer expounds this truth from Romans 8: The thought expressed by Paul’s [question in v. 32] is that no good thing will finally be withheld from us. He conveys this thought by pointing to the adequacy of God as our sovereign benefactor and to the decisiveness of his redeeming work for us. Three comments will bring out the force of Paul’s argument. Note, first, what Paul implies about the costliness of our redemption. “He did not spare his own Son.” In saving us, God went to the limit. . . . We cannot know what Calvary cost the Father, any more than we can know Jesus felt as he tasted the penalty due to our sins. . . . Yet we can say this: that if the measure of love is what it gives, then there never was such love as God showed to sinners at Calvary, nor will any subsequent love-gift to us cost God so much. So if God has already commended his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (5:8), it is believable, to say the least, that he will go on to give us “all things” besides. . . . But this is not all. Note, second, what Paul implies about the effectiveness of our redemption. “God,” he says, “gave him up for us all”—and this fact is itself the guarantee that “all things” will be given us, because they all come to us as the direct fruit of Christ’s death. We have just said that the greatness of God’s giving on the cross makes his further giving (if the words may be allowed) natural and likely, but what we must note now is that the unity of God’s saving purpose makes such further giving necessary, and therefore certain. At this point the New Testament view of the cross involves more than is sometimes realized. That the apostolic writers present the death of Christ as the ground and warrant of God’s offer of forgiveness, and that we enter into forgiveness through repentance and faith in Christ, will not be disputed. But does this mean that, as a loaded gun is only potentially explosive, and an act of pulling the trigger is needed to make it go off, so Christ’s death achieved only a possibility of salvation, needing an exercise of faith on our part to trigger it off and make it actual? If so, then it is not strictly Christ’s death that saves us at all, any more than it is loading the gun that makes it fire: strictly speaking, we save ourselves by our faith, and for all we know, Christ’s death might not have saved anyone, since it might have been the case that nobody believed the gospel. But that is not how the New Testament sees it. The New Testament view is that the death of Christ has actually saved “us all”—all, that is to say, whom God foreknew, and has called and justified, and will in due course glorify. For our faith, which from the human point of view is the means of salvation, is from God’s point of view part of salvation, and is as directly and completely God’s gift to us as is the pardon and peace of which faith lays hold. Psychologically, faith is our own act, but the theological truth about it is that it is God’s work in us: our faith, and our new relationship with God as believers, and all the divine gifts that are enjoyed within this relationship, were all alike secured for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. For the cross was not an isolated event; it was, rather, the focal point in God’s eternal plan to save his elect, and it ensured and guaranteed first the calling (the bringing to faith, through the gospel in the mind and the Holy Spirit in the heart), and then the justification, and finally the glorification, of all for whom, specifically and personally, Christ died. Now we see why the Greek of this verse says literally (and so the KJV renders it), how shall he not with him also give us all things? It is simply impossible for him not to do this, for Christ and “all things” go together as ingredients in the single gift of eternal life and glory, and the giving of Christ for us, to remove the “sin barrier” by substitutionary atonement, has effectively opened the door to our being given all the rest. . . . Note, third, what Paul implies about the consequences of redemption. God, he says, will with Christ give us “all things.” What does that cover? Calling, justification, glorification (which in v. 30 includes everything from the new birth to the resurrection of the body) have already been mentioned, and so throughout Romans 8 has the many sided ministry of the Holy Spirit. Here is wealth indeed, and from other Scriptures we could add to it. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 264–266

A Fool’s Testimony

Friday··2011·04·01 · 1 Comments
For those who don’t know, Rob Bell is the leader of the euphemistically-named Mars Hill Bible Church and author of a number of books suitable only for hanging on the outhouse wall. His latest effluvium is Love Wins. Happy April Fool’s Day. Our topic for the day, appropriately, is Rob Bell, innocent victim of slander*, who offers the following answer to the question, “Do you think you’re going to go to heaven?” Yeah, and I say that because I trust Jesus and I believe in Jesus, but I say it because of my experiences now, that which I can’t explain: the peace and joy now, the sense of presence, especially for me in the midst of difficult things. I am loved, I am being guided, I am being supported . . . [more here] That is a terrifying testimony, especially coming from a man who has created his own Jesus, rejecting the Jesus of Scripture and the substitutionary atonement of the cross. The source of his assurance is his present experience and how he feels right now. It’s a fool’s testimony because it rests not on what the Christ of real history has done, but on his feelings about what a fictitious Jesus is presumed to be doing for him now. I write this not because anything more needs to be said about Bell’s heresy, but to warn you that if Bell’s testimony is your testimony, you have no cause for hope of salvation. Unless your faith is in the finished work of Christ as recorded in Scripture, in his life, death, and resurrection, your hope is empty. The Bible is quite clear on what the foundation of genuine saving faith is. It is never based even in part on our experiences or feelings. It is firmly founded upon absolute propositional truths. At the center of every one of those truths is Jesus, not you, and not your feelings about Jesus. When someone asks you if you think you’re going to heaven, you should be able to answer with those truths. I offer my own testimony as an example. * Slander: To accurately repeat and analyze the public statements of those not man enough to face examination.

Are You a Christian?

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul exhorts his readers to “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” Previously (2 Corinthians 6:14), he had instructed them to judge the faith of others. In spite of this clear teaching, it is virtually unthinkable in today’s church to question anyone’s profession of faith. To do so is deemed judgmental and uncharitable. Everyone must be given the benefit of the doubt, as though they can in some way take credit for their salvation. I suppose this may be a byproduct of the synergistic gospel embraced by most of the church in which God provides salvation, but man has to go get it (i.e., accept Christ, ask Jesus into his heart, make a decision for Christ). But that isn’t how it works. We can only give the benefit of the doubt (or not) in relation to things done or not done. Spiritual status (saved or unsaved) is not achieved by any work of man. It could be compared to physical stature. If a man is of short stature, it is no insult to admit it is so. On the other hand, the height of a tall man is no cause for praise. Neither man can take any credit for his height. Unlike physical stature, whether or not one is saved matters. We should waste no time praying for a short man to grow taller, or for an awkwardly tall man to shrink. We need not think of it at all. Discerning our spiritual state, and that of those around us, is eternally vital. Love demands it. Toward that end, Mike McKinley has written Am I Really a Christian?, in which he lists “five things Christians have,” indicators by which we can judge our profession of faith. Belief in true doctrine. You’re not a Christian just because you like Jesus. Hatred for sin in your life. You’re not a Christian if you enjoy sin. Perseverance over time. You’re not a Christian if you don’t persist in the faith. Love for other people. You’re not a Christian if you don’t have care and concern for other people. Freedom from love of the world. You’re not a Christian if the things of this world are more valuable to you than God. —Mike McKinley, Am I Really a Christian? (Crossway, 2011), 39. These are all expanded in following chapters. In short, what you believe, that is, the object of your faith, matters. Intellectual assent to biblical theology, however, is not by itself proof of genuine faith. Genuine faith bears specific fruits. And to the predictable objection to perfectionism, we admit that the fruit will not be perfect. Some apples are sour, others are mealy, and a few might contain a worm here and there. But a live apple tree produces apples.

You Must Be Born Again

Without Irresistible Grace, perhaps better called the “effectual call,” no sinner would believe. Salvation would be impossible. It is clear from the Bible that the Spirit’s regenerating work always precedes and causes faith. Jesus stated this to Nicodemus: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This is reflected more or less clearly in every conversion recorded in the New Testament. An excellent example is the conversion of Lydia, which Luke records by writing, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Likewise, Jesus ascribed Peter’s great confession not to the operations of his flesh but to divine grace: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). Regeneration—the new birth—precedes faith, so that prior to being born again it is impossible for anyone to believe on Jesus. Paul explains why: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, if regeneration had to result from faith—if unregenerate sinners had to believe in order to be saved—then according to Paul, no one would ever be regenerated and saved. Instead, the Bible uniformly teaches what our sinful condition demands: regeneration precedes and causes saving faith. The apostle John put it succinctly: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1). —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 76–77.

Word and Life

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. —John 1:4 Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” This is also the message of John 1:4. We should observe the link between John 1:4 and the preceding ones, that is, between Jesus as the Word and Jesus as the Life. It is through God’s Word that Christ’s life comes to us. This means that if you want to be green and growing—if you want to be flourishing with spiritual life—then you need to be drinking from God’s Word. Psalm 1 speaks of the man who is “blessed,” whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:2–3). —Richard D. Phillips, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 152.

No Benefit of the Doubt

Yesterday, I linked to 5 Signs Your Child Is Not Saved. Being a father, this is obviously of immense concern to me. Nothing delights me more than the evidences of genuine saving faith I see in some of my children, and nothing grieves me more than the absence of those evidences in others. I want nothing more than to see them all following Jesus. It would be nothing less than parental malpractice to assume their salvation and cease confronting them with their sin and their need to examine themselves to see if they “are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). It troubles me to see how many Christian parents assume the salvation of their children. It also troubles me to see how many Christians assume the salvation of virtually everyone around them who claims to be a Christian, attends church, and generally lives a moral life. Christianity, while certainly never less than that, is much more than that. Yet so often, when challenging those assumptions, I am charged with being judgmental and uncharitable, as though we should give the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit of the doubt only goes to those who are able to accomplish the goal in question. We may assume individuals to be honest until they lie to us or steal from us. We may assume new employees to be reliable until they are habitually tardy, absent, or lazy. We may assume the best of people until they give us reason to doubt them, because we may assume they are able to perform dutifully. Even unbelievers are capable of basic integrity. No one is capable of doing anything to save themselves. Salvation—in particular, regeneration—is a miracle, an act of God (John 3:1–8). Therefore, it is not uncharitable to assume someone is unsaved. In fact, since we are born as unregenerate sinners (Psalm 51:5), enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and Scripture clearly states that the people of God are the minority (Matthew 22:14), we should assume the vast majority to be unsaved and in need of the gospel. It is no loving act to assume sick people to be well, and thereby deny them the cure. The notion of assumed salvation is found nowhere in Scripture. On the contrary, we are repeatedly taught to judge the faith of others. Matthew 18:15–18 instructs us to treat unrepentant sinners as unbelievers. 2 Corinthians 6:14ff commands us not to “be bound together with unbelievers.” Both involve judgment of faith, and the latter in particular assumes we can—and must—make that judgment. So, how should we judge? We should assume anyone we don't know to be unsaved, because we love them and want them to be saved. To that, we should make the single following exception: we should treat as brothers and sisters anyone who belongs to a local church body that is theologically orthodox (notice, I do not say any and every church so-called) and practices biblical discipleship (meaning: first, that their testimonies have been judged credible by the elders before admittance; second, that the Word is taught faithfully and thoroughly; and third, Matthew 18 discipline is practiced). In other words, we should give the benefit of the doubt to the qualified shepherds who have already judged their profession, understanding that because no shepherd is omniscient or infallible, there are still tares among the wheat. Those we do know should be judged, in addition to the local church affiliation standard in the previous paragraph, by the same criteria as we judge ourselves. But that's another post, a whole book, even, which you will find here. The purpose of this is not simply to see who is in and who is out. The purpose is two-fold: to maintain the purity of Christ’s bride, and to prioritize evangelism. The mission field, for most of us, is not out there and far away. It is right next door, and in our own homes. It will not do to pray for unreached peoples far-off while pretending the unsaved nearby are safely in the fold.

The Spirit’s Work in Salvation

John MacArthur writes, “If we are to honor our divine Guest, treating Him with the reverence and respect that is His royal due, we must rightly discern His true ministry—aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His wondrous work.” Toward that end, he lists “six aspects of the Spirit’s work in salvation.” The Holy Spirit Convicts Unbelievers of Sin As the general, external call of the gospel goes forth, through the preaching of the message of salvation, unbelievers in the world are confronted with the reality of their sin and the consequences of their unbelief . For those who reject the gospel, the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction might be likened to that of a prosecuting attorney. He convicts them in the sense that they are rendered guilty before God and are, therefore, eternally condemned (John 3:18). The Spirit’s convicting work is not about making unrepentant sinners feel bad, but about delivering a legal verdict against them. It includes a full indictment of their hardhearted crimes, complete with irrefutable evidence and a death sentence. Yet for those whom the Spirit draws to the Savior, His convicting work is one of convincing, as He pricks their consciences and cuts them to the quick. Thus, for the elect, this work of conviction is the beginning of God’s saving, effectual call. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 184. The Holy Spirit Regenerates Sinful Hearts Regeneration is a transformation of a person’s nature, as the believer is given new life, cleansed, and permanently set apart from sin (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13). Those who formerly operated in the flesh now operate in the Spirit (Rom. 8:5–11). Though they were dead, they have been made alive, indwelt by the very Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (v. 10; cf. 6:11). The Spirit of life has come upon them, empowering them to resist temptation and live in righteousness. This is what it means to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). —Ibid., 188. The Holy Spirit Brings Sinners to Repentance A vivid illustration of this is found in Acts 11:15–18, where Peter reported the conversion of Cornelius to the other apostles in Jerusalem: ”As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” As Peter and the others realized, the undeniable proof Cornelius and his household had truly repented was that they had received the Holy Spirit. They had been convicted of their sin; their hearts were regenerated; their eyes were opened to the truth of Peter’s preaching; and they were given the gift of repentant faith (cf. Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:25)—all of which was the Holy Spirit’s work. —Ibid., 188–189. The Holy Spirit Enables Fellowship with God The Spirit produces an attitude of profound love for God in the hearts of those who have been born again. They feel drawn to God, not fearful of Him. They long to commune with Him—to meditate on His Word and to fellowship with Him in prayer. They cast their cares freely on Him, and openly confess their sins without trepidation, knowing that all has been covered by His grace through the sacrifice of Christ. Thus, the Spirit makes it possible for believers to enjoy fellowship with God, no longer fearful of His judgment or wrath (1 John 4:18). As a result, Christians can sing hymns about God’s holiness and glory without cowering in terror—knowing they have been securely adopted into the family of their heavenly Father. —Ibid., 190. The Holy Spirit Indwells the Believer It is important to emphasize that there is no such thing as a genuine believer who does not possess the Holy Spirit. It is a terrible error—one tragically promoted by many within Pentecostalism—to assert that a person could somehow be saved and yet not receive the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit’s work, no one could be anything other than a wretched sinner. To reiterate Paul’s statement from Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Put simply, those who do not possess the Holy Spirit do not belong to Christ. Genuine believers—people in whom the Holy Spirit has taken up residence—think, talk, and act differently. They are no longer characterized by a love for the world; instead, they love the things of God. That transformation is evidence of the Spirit’s power at work in the lives of those whom He indwells. —Ibid., 192. The Holy Spirit Seals Salvation Forever The Holy Spirit Himself personally guarantees that fact. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. He secures them unto eternal glory. —Ibid., 193.

Luther, Regeneration, and Faith

This might have surprised the Lutheran evangelists of my youth: Luther believed that regeneration precedes faith. The truth is that no sinner can believe and embrace the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit’s divine enabling. As Martin Luther observed, “In spiritual and divine things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yea, like a log and a stone, like a lifeless statue, which uses neither eyes nor mouth, neither sense nor heart. . . . All teaching and preaching is lost upon him, until he is enlightened, converted, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 225.

Examine Yourself (3)

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:27–29 Participation in the Lord’s Table requires faith. Examine thy faith. This grace is thy spiritual taste, without which thou canst relish nothing on the table. This is the bucket, and if it be wanting, I may say to thee, as the woman to Christ, ‘The well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with.’ This is the hand to receive Christ, John i. 12. This is as the arms whereby we embrace Christ; they ‘embraced the promises’ by faith, Heb. xi. 13. As loving friends that have been a great while asunder, when they meet together, hug and embrace each other in their arms; so the Christian who longeth to see Jesus Christ in the promises, when at a sacrament he meeteth him, huggeth and embraceth him in the arms of faith. Examine not so much the strength as the truth of thy faith. The wings of a dove may help her to mount up towards heaven, as well as the wings of an eagle. Try whether thy faith be unfeigned, 1 Tim. i. 5. What price dost thou set upon Christ? ‘To them that believe, Christ is precious,’ 1 Pet. ii. 7. An unbeliever, like the Indians,* seeth no worth in this golden mine, but preferreth a piece of glass, or a few painted beads, mean, earthly things, before it; but a believer, like the Spaniard, knoweth the value of it, and will venture through all storms and tempests that he may enjoy it. Dost thou prize the precepts of Christ, the promises of Christ, the people of Christ, the person of Christ, (is that altogether lovely in thine eyes?) and the passion of Christ? Is thy greatest glory in Christ’s shameful cross? Dost thou esteem it above the highest emperor’s most glorious crown? . . . God forbid,’ saith Paul, ‘that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ,’ Gal. vi. 14. Doth thy faith purify thine heart? ‘Having their hearts purified by faith,’ Acts xv. 9. The hand of faith, which openeth the door to let Christ into the heart, sweepeth the heart clean. Faith looks to be like Christ in glory, and faith labours to resemble Christ in grace. An unbeliever . . . though he keep the room of his life a little clean, which others daily observe, yet he cares not how dirtily those rooms of his inward man lie, which are out of their sight; unbelieving and defiled are joined together, Tit. i. 15. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:183–184 * To those who might take offense at this simile: consider the times (1627–1673) before making any anachronistic judgments.
But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. —John 12:37 While the purpose of Jesus' miracles was the authentication of himself and his word (Hebrews 2:1–4), that fact should not lead us to believe that miracles have any power to convince unregenerate minds (Luke 16:31). Calvin writes, That no man may be disturbed or perplexed at seeing that Christ was despised by the Jews, the Evangelist removes this offense, by showing that he was supported by clear and undoubted testimonies, which proved that credit was due to him and to his doctrine; but that the blind did not behold the glory and power of God, which were openly displayed in his miracles. First, therefore, we ought to believe that it was not owing to Christ that the Jews did not place confidence in him, because by many miracles he abundantly testified who he was, and that it was therefore unjust and highly unreasonable that their unbelief should diminish his authority. But as this very circumstance might lead many persons to anxious and perplexing inquiry how the Jews came to be so stupid, that the power of God, though visible, produced no effect upon them, John proceeds further, and shows that faith does not proceed from the ordinary faculties of men, but is an uncommon and extraordinary gift of God, and that this was anciently predicted concerning Christ, that very few would believe the Gospel. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:40. Only one miracle has the power to produce faith, and that is the miracle of regeneration (John 3:4–8).

A True Sight of God

Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. —John 12:42–43 Theologians break faith into three components: noticia, assensus, and fiducia, or, for the rest of us, knowledge, assent, and trust. Faith must have a known foundation and we must agree with—give assent to—that foundation. But those two components indicate belief only, and belief alone does not equal faith. “The rulers” who “believed in [Christ]” only gave assent to the facts about him. They did not entrust themselves to his care. They did not dare to follow him. While Jesus’ messianic identity was clear to them, they had not truly encountered the living God. They had learned truth about him, yet did not know him. The Evangelist expressly states that those men were not guided by any superstition, but only endeavored to avoid disgrace among men; for if ambition had greater influence over them than the fear of God, it follows, that it was no vain scruple of conscience that gave them uneasiness. Now, let the reader observe how great ignominy is incurred before God, by the cowardice of those who, from the fear of being hated, dissemble their faith before men. Can any thing be more foolish, or rather, can any thing be more beastly, than to prefer the silly applause of men to the judgment of God? But he declares that all who shrink from the hatred of men, when the pure faith ought to be confessed, are seized with this kind of madness. And justly; for the apostle, in applauding the unshaken steadiness of Moses, says that he remained firm, as if he had seen him who is invisible, (Heb. xi. 27.) By these words he means that, when any person has fixed his eyes on God, his heart will be invincible, and utterly incapable of being moved. Whence, therefore, comes the [delicacy], which causes us to give way to treacherous hypocrisy, but because, at the sight of the world, all our senses grow dull? For a true sight of God would instantly chase away all the mists of wealth and honors. Away with those who look upon an indirect denial of Christ as some trivial offense, or, as they call it, a venial sin! For, on the contrary, the Holy Spirit declares that it is more base and monstrous than if heaven and earth were mingled. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:47.

If You Abide

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7 The Lord promises that he will do whatever we ask, and there is no “except for this or that” added. ”Whatever” really means whatever. This does not, however, mean that there is no limit to God will do. Of course there is. But the limiting factor is not found in the promise, but in the recipients of the promise. The promise is given to a particular kind of people, who will have a particular kind of desire, stemming from a particular source. If you abide in me. Believers often feel that they are starved, and are very far from that rich fatness which is necessary for yielding abundant fruit. For this reason it is expressly added, whatever those who are in Christ may need, there is a remedy provided for their poverty, as soon as they ask it from God. This is a very useful admonition; for the Lord often suffers us to hunger, in order to train us to earnestness in prayer. But if we fly to him, we shall never want what we ask, but, out of his inexhaustible abundance, he will supply us with every thing that we need, (1 Cor. i. 5.) If my words abide in you. He means that we take root in him by faith; for as soon as we have departed from the doctrine of the Gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us leave to form wishes according to our own fancy. God would do what was ill fitted to promote our welfare, if he were so indulgent and so ready to yield to us; for we know well that men often indulge in foolish and extravagant desires. But here he limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule subjects, to the good pleasure of God, all our affections. This is confirmed by the connection in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honours, or any thing of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, Which enables them to bear fruit. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:111.

Union with God through Christ

In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. —John 16:26–27 From this passage some might conclude that God does not love his elect until they come to Christ in faith. The analogia scriptura prevents such an erroneous interpretation. Because you have loved me. These words remind us that the only bond of our union with God is, to be united to Christ; and we are united to him by a faith which is not reigned, but which springs from sincere affection, which he describes by the name of love; for no man believes purely in Christ who does not cordially embrace him, and, therefore, by this word he has well expressed the power and nature of faith. But if it is only when we have loved Christ that God begins to love us, it follows that the commencement of salvation is from ourselves, because we have anticipated the grace of God. Numerous passages of Scripture, on the other hand, are opposed to this statement. The promise of God is, I will cause them to love me; and John says, Not that we first loved Him, (1 John iv. 7.) It would be superfluous to collect many passages; for nothing is more certain than this doctrine, that the Lord calleth those things which are not, (Rom. iv. 17) raises the dead, (Luke vii. 22,) unites himself to those who were strangers to him, (Eph. ii. 12,) makes hearts of flesh out of hearts of stone, (Ezek. xxxvi. 26,) manifests himself to those who do not seek him, (Isa. lxv. 1; Rom. x. 20.) I reply, God loves men in a secret way, before they are called, if they are among the elect; for he loves his own before they are created; but, as they are not yet reconciled, they are justly accounted enemies of God, as Paul speaks, When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, (Rom. v. 10.) On this ground it is said that we are loved by God, when we love Christ; because we have the pledge of the fatherly love of Him from whom we formerly recoiled as our offended Judge. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:158–159.

The Only Leap of Faith

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; —1 Peter 3:15 A while ago, as I was working (or, possibly, napping) in my study, I overheard this line from a movie that was playing in the next room: “Sometimes you just have to make a leap of faith. The trust part comes later.” That is, without a doubt, one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard. Faith, as theologians define it, consists of three elements: notitia, assensus, and fiducia, or knowledge, agreement, and trust, with trust being the most defining element. There is no faith without trust. But that is the kind of ignorant philosophy one expects to find in movies. More troubling is the philosophy often encountered in the church. While few there would divorce faith from trust, many separate faith from knowledge. Faith is not only thought to be a nonintellectual exercise, it is often set in opposition to the intellect. Biblical Christianity rejects that notion. Some Christians tell those who inquire that we simply take a leap of faith with no bother about the credibility or the rational character of the truth claims of the Bible, but that response goes against the teaching of this text. The only leap of faith we are to take is out of the darkness and into the light. When we become Christians, we do not leave our mind in the parking lot. We are called to think according to the Word of God, to seek the mind of Christ and an understanding of the things set forth in sacred Scripture. The Bible is a big book, and every bit of it, I believe, has been inspired by God the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the author of this Book is God. He gave it to us to be understood, and we cannot understand it if we close our mind to the careful study of it. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 115.

A Rational Faith

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; —1 Peter 3:15 Peter says that after we sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, we are to be ready to give an apologia, a defense, to everyone who asks us a reason for our hope—not a feeling, but a reason. . . .A while ago I was involved in a serious controversy involving a professor who had been teaching that biblical truth cannot be understood by reason but through some kind of mystical intuition. That is the position that was taken by the heretical Gnostics in the second and third centuries. They believed that their mystical apprehension of truth was superior to the Apostles’ because the Apostles relied on the mind. Relying on the mind is criticized by some who say that if you rely on the mind to understand the content of the Christian faith, you have submitted to the heresy of rationalism. I asked this particular professor, “When you talk about rationalism, what do you mean? Are you talking about the Cartesian rationalism of the seventeenth century? Are you talking about the Enlightenment rationalism of the eighteenth century? Are you speaking about the Hegelian rationalism of the nineteenth century that deified reason itself?” He was completely unaware of those radically different types of rationalism. To say that you are a rationalist because Christianity is rational simply does not follow. One can be rational without being a rationalist, just as one can be human without being a humanist, or can exist without being an existentialist, or be feminine without being a feminist. On the basis of Scripture, we must never negotiate the principle that the truth we receive from God is rational. It is not irrational or illogical. To say that the Word of God is irrational, contradictory, or absurd is to accuse the Holy Spirit of speaking with a forked tongue. As Peter said, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). What they had witnessed was the sober truth of the Word of God, which is intelligible and reasonable for any reasonable person to embrace. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 120–121.

A Transformed Life

The Christian life is a transformed life. The final paragraph of this excerpt describes that transformation perfectly. Hebrews 12:14 haunts me when I meet people who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not agree: “Sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Second Timothy 2:19 says that the Lord knows them that are His. And who are they? Those that name the name of Christ and depart from iniquity. Titus 1:16 says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deeds.” Profession means nothing without obedience, without righteousness, without holiness, without departing from iniquity. Once, I actually heard a pastor preach, “Isn’t it wonderful that you can come to Jesus Christ and you don’t have to change anything on the inside or the outside?” . . . Of course we can come to Jesus just as we are, but if we come away from conversion just as we were, how can we call it conversion? Second Corinthians 5:17 sums it up well: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Being righteous does not mean that we never sin. First John 1:9 says Christians are constantly confessing their sin. That certainly indicates that we do sin. But it is sin that we deal with sooner or later. We confess it, we turn from it, we repent of it, we despise it. We do not love it. “If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). James puts it this way, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” There will be a whole new approach to life. We will have sin, yes, but when sin appears we will hate it as Paul did in Romans 7. We will hunger and thirst for that which is right. We will seek to obey; we will seek to love our brother and hate the evil system of the world. That’s the way it is, if true salvation exists. You cannot prove that you are a Christian by waltzing down the same old path. Having made a decision, having walked an aisle, having gone into an inquiry room, or having read through a little book was never the biblical criterion for salvation. . . . if a person does not come to Jesus Christ shattered to the very depths of his being and mourning over his sinfulness, with a hunger and thirst after righteousness more than anything else, there is a possibility that that person is not a Christian. —John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 10–12 (emphasis added).

“He who lacks these qualities”

We must never believe that we are saved by any good works. We are saved by the work of Christ alone, applied to us through faith. At the same time, an obedient life is a necessary result of genuine saving faith (James 2:17). Therefore, while Christ alone is the ground of assurance, our sole source of hope and object of trust, we can have no assurance if our faith is not demonstrated in our lives (2 Corinthians 5:17). Assurance is a gift of God, not enjoyed by a disobedient believer. Read what Peter says. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, Christian love (2 Peter 1:5–7). What is the purpose of such a virtuous life, such true spiritual character? For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:8–10). The point is not that we are gaining salvation or even keeping salvation. Those great realities are bound up eternally with the sovereignty of God. Peter’s point is that we may enjoy the sense of assurance, confidence, security that should accompany our entrance into the kingdom. —John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 10–13.

At the root of all saving Christianity

In the coming year, I’ll make another attempt to restart the blog. I intend to begin by blogging through several works of J. C. Ryle, beginning with what is probably his most-read, Holiness. Here is a taste: He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness, must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. . . . The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are ‘words and names’ which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner. The material creation in Genesis began with ‘light,’ and so also does the spiritual creation. God ‘shines into our hearts’ by the work of the Holy Ghost, and then spiritual life begins. (2 Cor. 4:6).—Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies. I believe that one of the chief wants of the Church in the nineteenth century has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin. . . . I say, then, that ‘sin,’ speaking generally, is, as the Ninth Article of our Church declares, ‘the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone (quam longissime is the Latin) from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth alway against the spirit; and, therefore, in every person born into the world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.’ Sin, in short, is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race, of every rank, and class, and name, and nation, and people, and tongue; a disease from which there never was but one born of woman that was free. Need I say that one was Christ Jesus the Lord? —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 1–2. Merry Christmas!

Chosen to Be Holy

Ryle lists twelve propositions for the purpose of defining the nature of sanctification. Among them, “Sanctification . . . is the only sure mark of God’s election.” The names and number of the elect are a secret thing, no doubt, which God has wisely kept in His own power, and not revealed to man. It is not given to us in this world to study the pages of the book of life, and see if our names are there. But if there is one thing clearly and plainly laid down about election, it is this—that elect men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives. It is expressly written that they are ‘elect through sanctification—chosen unto salvation through sanctification—predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son—and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world that they should be holy.’—Hence, when St. Paul saw the working ‘faith’ and labouring ‘love’ and patient ‘hope’ of the Thessalonian believers, he says, ‘I know your election of God.’ (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:3, 4). He that boasts of being one of God’s elect, while he is wilfully and habitually living in sin, is only deceiving himself, and talking wicked blasphemy. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 25–26.

If this is saving Christianity . . .

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, ‘Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 94—95 Jesus never said following him would be easy. Instead, he promised us a cross to bear, suffering, and a battle to the death. The path of a disciple is a hard road, and we are warned to count the cost—which will be considered in coming posts.

Remember Lot’s Wife

Many of us were raised in godly homes and good churches, or if not, have since found homes in living, Bible-teaching congregations. I hope you have. Those are good things. They are privileges, gifts from God for which we should give thanks. But those privileges do not save. We can live our entire lives in the best of Christian environments, and still be lost. For this reason, we are reminded to “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). It is a solemn warning, when we think of the persons to whom it was first given. The Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples: He was not addressing the scribes and Pharisees, who hated Him, but Peter, James, and John, and many others who loved Him; yet even to them He thinks it good to address a caution. . . . It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. . . . He speaks as if we were all in danger of forgetting the subject; He stirs up our lazy memories; He bids us keep the case before our minds. He cries, ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ . . . When Abraham first received the promises, it is probable Lot’s wife was there. When he built his altar by his tent between Hai and Bethel, it is probable she was there. When her husband was taken captive by Chedorlaomer, and delivered by God’s interference, she was there. When Melchizedek, king of Salem, came forth to meet Abraham with bread and wine, she was there. When the angels came to Sodom and warned her husband to flee, she saw them; when they took them by the hand and led them out of the city, she was one of those whom they helped to escape. . . . these were no small privileges. Yet what good effect had all these privileges on the heart of Lot’s wife? None at all. Notwithstanding all her opportunities and means of grace—notwithstanding all her special warnings and messages from heaven, she lived and died graceless, godless, impenitent, and unbelieving. The eyes of her understanding were never opened; her conscience was never really aroused and quickened; her will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God; her affections were never really set upon things above. The form of religion which she had was kept up for fashion’s sake and not from feeling: it was a cloak worn for the sake of pleasing her company, but not from any sense of its value. She did as others did around her in Lot’s house: she conformed to her husband’s ways: she made no opposition to his religion: she allowed herself to be passively towed along in his wake: but all this time her heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in her heart, and her heart was in the world. In this state she lived, and in this state she died. . . . Learn, then, that the mere possession of religious privileges will save no one’s soul. You may have spiritual advantages of every description; you may live in the full sunshine of the richest opportunities and means of grace; you may enjoy the best of preaching and the choicest instruction; you may dwell in the midst of light, knowledge, holiness, and good company. All this may be, and yet you yourself may remain unconverted, and at last be lost for ever. . . . It is all a mistake. It is an entire delusion. It requires something more than privileges to save souls. Joab was David’s captain; Gehazi was Elisha’s servant; Demas was Paul’s companion; Judas Iscariot was Christ’s disciple; and Lot had a worldly, unbelieving wife. These all died in their sins. They went down to the pit in spite of knowledge, warnings, and opportunities; and they all teach us that it is not privileges alone that men need. They need the grace of the Holy Ghost. Let us value religious privileges, but let us not rest entirely upon them. Let us desire to have the benefit of them in all our movements in life, but let us not put them in the place of Christ. Let us use them thankfully, if God grants them to us, but let us take care that they produce some fruit in our heart and life. If they do not do good, they often do positive harm: they sear the conscience, they increase responsibility, they aggravate condemnation. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay; the same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree, and prepares it for burning. Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things. Once more I say, it is not privileges alone which make people Christians, but the grace of the Holy Ghost. Without that no man will ever be saved. I ask the members of Evangelical congregations, in the present day, to mark well what I am saying. You go to Mr. A’s, or Mr. B’s church: you think him an excellent preacher; you delight in his sermons; you cannot hear anyone else with the same comfort; you have learned many things since you attended his ministry; you consider it a great privilege to be one of his hearers! All this is very good. It is a privilege. . . . I ask the children of religious parents to mark well what I am saying. It is the highest privilege to be the child of a godly father and mother, and to be brought up in the midst of many prayers. It is a blessed thing indeed to be taught the Gospel from our earliest infancy, and to hear of sin, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and holiness, and heaven, from the first moment we can remember anything. . . .I pray God that all professing Christians, in these days, may lay these things to heart. May we never forget that privileges alone cannot save us. Light and knowledge, and faithful preaching, and abundant means of grace, and the company of holy people are all great blessings and advantages. Happy are they that have them! But, after all, there is one thing without which privileges are useless: that one thing is the grace of the Holy Ghost. Lot’s wife had many privileges: but Lot’s wife had no grace. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 219–224.

The Faith of a Thief

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39–43 If not for the declaration of Christ, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” we might rightly wonder if the thief on the cross had truly been born again. But by examining his words, we can see the elements of the true saving faith that all genuine believers possess. See then, for one thing, how strong was the faith of this man. He called Jesus ‘Lord.’ He declared his belief that He would have a ‘kingdom.’ He believed that He was able to give him eternal life and glory, and in this belief prayed to Him. . . . See, for another thing, what a right sense of sin the thief had. He says to his companion, ‘We receive the due reward of our deeds.’ He acknowledges his own ungodliness, and the justice of his punishment. He makes no attempt to justify himself, or excuse his wickedness. He speaks like a man humbled and self-abased by the remembrance of past iniquities. This is what all God’s children feel. They are ready to allow they are poor, hell-deserving sinners. They can say with their hearts as well as with their lips, ‘We have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and we have done those things that we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 251ndash;253. So, even without the spoken promise of eternal life, we can see three proofs of saving faith: knowledge of who Jesus is, trust in his ability to save, and repentance.

Christ the Foundation

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:15–18 The church is built on the solid rock of Christ. What is the foundation on which your faith is built? The Lord Jesus Christ tells us, ‘Upon this rock will I build my Church.’ What did the Lord Jesus Christ mean when He spoke of this foundation? Did He mean the Apostle Peter, to whom He was speaking? I think assuredly not. I can see no reason, if He meant Peter, why He did not say, ‘Upon thee’ will I build my Church. If He had meant Peter, He would surely have said, I will build my Church on thee, as plainly as He said, ‘to thee will I give the keys.’—No, it was not the person of the Apostle Peter, but the good confession which the Apostle had just made! It was not Peter, the erring, unstable man, but the mighty truth which the Father had revealed to Peter. It was the truth concerning Jesus Christ Himself which was the rock. It was Christ’s Mediatorship, and Christ’s Messiahship. It was the blessed truth that Jesus was the promised Saviour, the true Surety, the real Intercessor between God and man. This was the rock, and this the foundation, upon which the Church of Christ was to be built. . .  Look to your foundation, if you would know whether or not you are a member of the one true Church. It is a point that may be known to yourself. Your public worship we can see; but we cannot see whether you are personally built upon the rock. Your attendance at the Lord’s table we can see; but we cannot see whether you are joined to Christ, and one with Christ, and Christ in you. Take heed that you make no mistake about your own personal salvation. See that your own soul is upon the rock. Without this, all else is nothing. Without this, you will never stand in the day of judgment. Better a thousand times in that day to be found in a cottage ‘upon the rock,’ than in a palace upon the sand! —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 293–294.

I Know Thy Works

To make justification in any way contingent on works would be no less than heresy. But to deny that works have any necessary connection to faith would be a great error, as well. Reading the book of Revelation, J. C. Ryle notes that “in every epistle [to the seven churches] the Lord Jesus says, I know thy works” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). This cannot be insignificant. That repeated expression is very striking. It is not for nothing that we read these words seven times over. To one Church the Lord Jesus says, I know thy labour and patience—to another, thy tribulation and poverty—to a third, thy charity, and service, and faith. But to all, He uses the words I now dwell on: ‘I know thy works.’ It is not, ‘I know thy profession—thy desires—thy resolutions—thy wishes,’—but thy works. ‘I know thy works.’ The works of a professing Christian are of great importance. They cannot save your soul. They cannot justify you. They cannot wipe out your sins. They cannot deliver you from the wrath of God. But it does not follow because they cannot save you, that they are of no importance. Take heed and beware of such a notion. The man who thinks so is fearfully deceived. I often think I could willingly die for the doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. But I must earnestly contend, as a general principle, that a man’s works are the evidence of a man’s religion. If you call yourself a Christian, you must show it in your daily ways and daily behaviour. Call to mind that the faith of Abraham and of Rahab was proved by their works (James 2:21–25). Remember it avails you and me nothing to profess we know God, if in works we deny Him (Titus 1:16). Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Every tree is known by its own fruit’ (Luke 6:44). But whatever the works of a professing Christian may be, Jesus says, ‘I know them!’ ‘His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good’ (Prov. 15:3). . . . The darkness is no darkness with Him. All things are open and manifest before Him. He says to every one, ‘I know thy works.’ (a) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all impenitent and unbelieving souls, and will one day punish them. . . . (b) The Lord Jesus knows the works of His own people, and weighs them. ‘By Him actions are weighed’ (1 Sam. 2:3). He knows the why and the wherefore of the deeds of all believers. He sees their motives in every step they take. . . . (c) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all His own people, and will one day reward them. . . . If you love the Lord Jesus and follow Him, you may be sure your work and labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. . . . But it is all very wonderful. I can well understand the righteous in the day of judgment saying, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee?’ (Matt. 25:37–39). It may well seem incredible and impossible that they can have done anything worth naming in the great day! Yet so it is. Let all believers take the comfort of it. The Lord says, ‘I know thy works.’ It ought to humble you. But it ought not to make you afraid. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 310–311, 313.

Fight and Overcome

A needed warning to those of us who are well-taught in the doctrines of grace: I often fear much for those who hear the Gospel regularly, I fear lest you become so familiar with the sound of its doctrines, that insensibly you become dead to its power. I fear lest your religion should sink down into a little vague talk about your own weakness and corruption, and a few sentimental expressions about Christ, while real, practical fighting on Christ’s side is altogether neglected. Oh! beware of this state of mind. ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.’ No victory—no crown! Fight and overcome! (James 1:22). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 316.

The True Christian

Ryle reduces the character of saving faith to one fundamental question: Do you love Christ? A true Christian . . . is not a person who only goes, as a matter of form, to a church or chapel on Sundays and lives all the rest of the week as if there was no God. Formality is not Christianity. Ignorant lipworship is not true religion. The Scripture speaketh expressly: ‘They are not all Israel which are of Israel’ (Rom. 4:6). The practical lesson of those words is clear and plain. All are not true Christians who are members of the visible Church of Christ. The true Christian is one whose religion is in his heart and life. It is felt by himself in his heart. It is seen by others in his conduct and life. He feels his sinfulness, guilt and badness, and repents. He sees Jesus Christ to be that Divine Saviour whom his soul needs, and commits himself to Him. He puts off the old man with his corrupt and carnal habits and puts on the new man. He lives a new and holy life, fighting habitually against the world, the flesh and the devil. Christ Himself is the corner-stone of his Christianity. Ask him in what he trusts for the forgiveness of his many sins, and he will tell you in the death of Christ.—Ask him in what righteousness he hopes to stand innocent at the judgment day, and he will tell you it is the righteousness of Christ.—Ask him by what pattern he tries to frame his life, and he will tell you that it is the example of Christ. But, beside all this, there is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ. Knowledge, faith, hope, reverence, obedience, are all marked features in a true Christian’s character. But his picture would be very imperfect if you omitted his ‘love’ to his Divine Master. He not only knows, trusts, and obeys. He goes further than this—he loves. . . . Hear what St. Paul says to the Corinthians: ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema . . .’ (1 Cor. 16:22). . . . Hear what St. Paul says to the Ephesians, ‘Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity’ (Eph. 6:24). The Apostle is here sending his good wishes, and declaring his good will to all true Christians. Many of them, no doubt, he had never seen. Many of them in the early Churches, we may be very sure, were weak in faith, and knowledge, and self-denial. How, then, shall he describe them in sending his message? What words can he use which will not discourage the weaker brethren? He chooses a sweeping expression which exactly describes all true Christians under one common name. All had not attained to the same degree, whether in doctrine or practice. But all loved Christ in sincerity. Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says to the Jews, ‘If God were your Father, ye would love Me’ (John 8:42). . . . He lays down the broad principle that no man is a child of God who does not love God’s only begotten Son. No man has a right to call God ‘Father’ who does not love Christ. . . . Hear once more what our Lord Jesus Christ said to the Apostle Peter after He rose from the dead. Three times He asked him the question, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me’ (John 21:15–17). . . . He might have said:—‘Believest thou? Art thou converted? Are thou ready to confess Me? Wilt thou obey Me?’ He uses none of these expressions. He simply says, ‘lovest thou Me?’ This is the point, He would have us know, on which a man’s Christianity hinges. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 322–324.

Love for Christ

According to J. C. Ryle, the most basic characteristic of saving faith is love for Christ. What does that love look like? Ryle lists several indicators of genuine love. Three are presented below: frequent thoughts of him, a desire to please him, and love for his people—the church. (a) If we love a person, we like to think about him. We do not need to be reminded of him. We do not forget his name, or his appearance, or his character, or his opinions, or his tastes, or his position, or his occupation. He comes up before our mind’s eye many a time in the day. Though perhaps far distant, he is often present in our thoughts. Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ! Christ ‘dwells in his heart,’ and is thought of more or less every day (Eph. 3:17). The true Christian does not need to be reminded that he has a crucified Master. He often thinks of Him. He never forgets that He has a day, a cause, and a people, and that of His people he is one. Affection is the real secret of a good memory in religion. No worldly man can think much about Christ, unless Christ is pressed upon his notice, because he has no affection for Him. The true Christian has thoughts about Christ every day that he lives, for this one simple reason, that he loves Him. . . . (d) If we love a person, we like to please him. We are glad to consult his tastes and opinions, to act upon his advice, and do the things which he approves. We even deny ourselves to meet his wishes, abstain from things which we know he dislikes, and learn things to do which we are not naturally inclined, because we think it will give him pleasure. Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ! The true Christian studies to please Him, by being holy both in body and spirit. Show him anything in his daily practice that Christ hates, and he will give it up. Show him anything that Christ delights in, and he will follow after it. He does not murmur at Christ’s requirements as being too strict and severe, as the children of the world do. To him Christ’s commandments are not grievous and Christ’s burden is light. And why is all this? Simply because he loves Him. (e) If we love a person, we like his friends. We are favourably inclined to them, even before we know them. We are drawn to them by the common tie of common love to one and the same person. When we meet them we do not feel that we are altogether strangers. There is a bond of union between us. They love the person that we love, and that alone is an introduction. Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ! The true Christian regards all Christ’s friends as his friends, members of the same body, children of the same family, soldiers in the same army, travellers to the same home. When he meets them, he feels as if he had long known them. He is more at home with them in a few minutes than he is with many worldly people after an acquaintance of several years. And what is the secret of all this? It is simply affection to the same Saviour, and love to the same Lord. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 329–331.

Without Christ (1)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 The verse above describes every Christian who has, and will, ever live. Every Christian was a stranger, indeed, an enemy, of God, born outside “the covenant of promise,” and has, by grace, through regeneration by the Spirit, been brought into that covenant. We were once “separate from Christ”; many still are. Ryle dedicates a chapter to explaining what it means to be without Christ. First, he says, those without knowledge are without Christ. But bare knowledge does not constitute saving faith. It is quite possible to know all about Christ, and yet not to put our trust in Him. There are multitudes who know every article of the Belief, and can tell you glibly that Christ was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.’ They learned it at school. They have it sticking fast in their memories. But they make no practical use of their knowledge. They put their trust in something which is not ‘Christ.’ They hope to go to heaven because they are moral and well-conducted—because they say their prayers and go to Church—because they have been baptized and go to the Lord’s Table. But as to a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ—a real, intelligent confidence in Christ’s blood and righteousness and intercession—these are things of which they know nothing at all. And of all such persons I can see but one true account. They are ‘without Christ.’ I am aware that many do not admit the truth of what I have just said. Some tell us that all baptized people are members of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Others tell us that where there is a head-knowledge, we have no right to question a person’s interest in Christ. To these views I have only one plain answer. The Bible forbids us to say that any man is joined to Christ until he believes. Baptism is no proof that we are joined to Christ. . . . Head-knowledge is no proof that we are joined to Christ. The devils know Christ well enough, but have no portion in Him. God knows, no doubt, who are His from all eternity. But man knows nothing of anyone’s justification until he believes. The grand question is, ‘Do we believe?’ It is written, ‘He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.’ ‘He that believeth not shall be damned.’ (John 3:36; Mark 16:16.) If Bible words mean anything, to be without faith is to be ‘without Christ.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 341–342.

Without Christ (2)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 How serious a matter is it to be without Christ? Is it really to be with “no hope and without God”? Or are there other ways to God? One very popular view says, yes, there are. J. C. Ryle takes the biblical view: Reconciliation with God is necessarily mediated, and there is but one mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). To be without Christ is to be without God. The Apostle St. Paul told the Ephesians as much as this in plain words. He ends the famous sentence which begins, ‘Ye were without Christ,’ by saying, ‘Ye were without God in the world.’ And who that thinks can wonder? That man can have very low ideas of God who does not conceive Him a most pure, and holy, and glorious, and spiritual Being. That man must be very blind who does not see that human nature is corrupt, and sinful, and defiled. How then can such a worm as man draw near to God with comfort? How can he look up to Him with confidence and not feel afraid? How can he speak to Him, have dealings with Him, look forward to dwelling with Him, without dread and alarm? There must be a Mediator between God and man, and there is but One that can fill the office. That One is Christ. Who art thou that talkest of God’s mercy and God’s love separate from and independent of Christ? There is no such love and mercy recorded in Scripture. Know this day that God out of Christ is ‘a consuming fire.’ (Heb. 12:29.) Merciful He is, beyond all question: rich in mercy, plenteous in mercy. But His mercy is inseparably connected with the mediation of His beloved Son Jesus Christ. It must flow through Him as the appointed channel, or it cannot flow at all. It is written, ‘He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him.’—‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.’ (John 5:23; 14:6.) ‘Without Christ’ we are without God. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), PP.

Without Christ (3)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 What is the ground for assurance of salvation? Many would say it is the appearance of godliness in one’s life. Surely, the absence of the fruit of the Spirit indicates an absence of the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit is absent, Christ is absent. But one may lead a very good and moral life without Christ, and consequently, without the Holy Spirit. Therefore, what may look very much like a Spirit-filled life may not indicate a genuine saving faith in Christ. There is but one ground for assurance: the atoning blood of Christ. To be without Christ is to be without peace. Every man has a conscience within him, which must be satisfied before he can be truly happy. So long as this conscience is asleep or half dead, so long, no doubt, he gets along pretty well. But as soon as a man’s conscience wakes up, and he begins to think of past sins, and present failings, and future judgment, at once he finds out that he needs something to give him inward rest. But what can do it? Repenting, and praying, and Bible-reading, and church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and self-mortification may be tried, and tried in vain. They never yet took off the burden from anyone’s conscience. And yet peace must be had! There is only one thing can give peace to the conscience, and that is the blood of Jesus Christ sprinkled on it. A clear understanding that Christ’s death was an actual payment of our debt to God, and that the merit of that death is made over to man when he believes, is the grand secret of inward peace. It meets every craving of conscience. It answers every accusation. It calms every fear. It is written, ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.’ ‘He is our peace.’ ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (John 16:33; Eph. 2:14; Rom. 5:1.) We have peace through the blood of His cross: peace like a deep mine—peace like an everflowing stream. But ‘without Christ’ we are without peace. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), PP.

In Name and Form Only

One hundred and forty years ago, J. C. Ryle made an observation that should sound familiar to us: I think there can be no question that there is an immense difference among those who profess and call themselves Christians. Beyond all dispute there are always two classes in the outward Church: the class of those who are Christians in name and form only, and the class of those who are Christians in deed and in truth. All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not Christians who are called Christians. . . . Some worship God as a mere form, and some in spirit and in truth. Some give their hearts to God, and some give them to the world. Some believe the Bible, and live as if they believed it: others do not. Some feel their sins and mourn over them: others do not. Some love Christ, trust in Him, and serve Him: others do not. In short, as Scripture says, some walk in the narrow way, some in the broad; some are the good fish of the Gospel net, some are the bad; some are the wheat in Christ’s field, and some are the tares. I think no man with his eyes open can fail to see all this, both in the Bible, and in the world around him. Whatever he may think about the subject I am writing of, he cannot possibly deny that this difference exists. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 124–125. The reason for the difference should be obvious. Now what is the explanation of the difference? I answer unhesitatingly, Regeneration, or being born again. I answer that true Christians are what they are, because they are regenerate, and formal Christians are what they are, because they are not regenerate. The heart of the Christian in deed has been changed. The heart of the Christian in name only, has not been changed. The change of heart makes the whole difference. —Ibid., 125. We should expect the number of these formal Christians to be much smaller in churches that practice biblically meaningful membership, but even then, there will be some unregenerate members along with (we should hope) unconverted nonmembers. This means that our mission field is not only out there in the world, but inside each church, as well. We can never assume that everyone sitting in our pews are converted. We can never stop preaching, “You must be born again.”

Six Marks of Regeneration

It is very unfashionable these days—not only in the world, but also within the church—to engage in anything resembling judgment. It is particularly unpopular to form opinions of the spiritual state of others. Doubting the profession of anyone who claims to be a Christian is simply not kosher. Yet we are given instructions such as “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), which we can hardly obey without—[gasp!]—judging. Far more importantly, we must judge ourselves (2 Corinthians 6:5). To that end, J. C. Ryle offers “six great marks of regeneration,” laid down in Scripture. (1) First of all, St John says, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin’, and again, ‘Whosoever is born of God sinneth not’ (1 John 3:9; 5:18). A regenerate man does not commit sin as a habit. He no longer sins with his heart and will, and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin;—they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. . . . (2) Secondly, St John says, ‘whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God’ (1 John 5:1). A regenerate man believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour by whom his soul can be pardoned and justified, that He is the Divine Person appointed and anointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and that beside him there is No Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness, but in Christ he sees ground for the fullest confidence, and trusting in him he believes that his sins are all forgiven, and his iniquities all put away. He believes that for the sake of Christ’s finished work and death upon the cross he is reckoned righteous in God’s sight, and may look forward to death and judgment without alarm. He may have his fears and doubts. . . . [But] he would say he found a preciousness in Christ, a suitableness to his own soul in Christ, that he found nowhere else, and that he must cling to Him. (3) Thirdly, St John says, ‘Everyone that doeth righteousness is born of [God]’ (1 John 2:29). The regenerate man is a holy man. He endeavours to live according to God’s will, to do the things that please God, to avoid the things that God hates. His aim and desire is to love God with heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love his neighbour as himself. . . . No doubt he is not perfect. None will tell you that sooner than himself. He groans under the burden of indwelling corruption cleaving to him. He finds an evil principle within him constantly warring against grace, and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence. In spite of all short-comings, the average bent and bias of his way is holy,—his doings holy,—his tastes holy,—and his habits holy. . . . (4) Fourthly, St John says, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14). A regenerate man has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for them who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. . . . They are Jesus Christ’s people: they are His Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them. (5) Fifthly, St John says, ‘Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world.’ (1 John 5:4). A regenerate man does not make the world’s opinion his rule, of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the stream of the world’s ways, notions, and customs. ‘What will men say?’ is no longer a turning point with him. He overcomes the love of the world. . . . He overcomes the fear of the world. He is content to do many things which all around him think unnecessary, to say the least. They blame him: it does not move him. They ridicule him: he does not give way. He loves the praise of God more than the praise of man. . . . (6) Sixthly, St John says, ‘He that is begotten of God keepeth himself’ (1 John 5:18). A regenerate man is very careful of his own soul. He endeavours not only to keep clear of sin, but also to keep clear of everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He feels that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is far more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. . . . He finds by experience that his soul is ever among enemies, and he studies to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man. . . . I know there is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks among those who are ‘regenerate’. In some people they are faint, dim, feeble, and hardly to be discerned. Yon almost need a microscope to make them out. In others they are bold, sharp, clear, plain, and unmistakable, so that he who runs may read them. Some of these marks are more visible in some people, and others are more visible in others. It seldom happens that all are equally manifest in one and the same soul. All this I am quite ready to allow. But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted the six marks of being born of God. . . . Now what shall we say to these things? What they can say who hold that Regeneration is only an admission to outward Church privileges, I am sure I do not know. For myself, I say boldly, I can only come to one conclusion. That conclusion is, that those persons only are ‘regenerate’ who have these six marks about them, and that all men and women who have not these marks are not ‘regenerate’, are not born again. And I firmly believe that this is the conclusion to which the Apostle wished us to come. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 138–144.

Misplaced Faith

It is not uncommon for Christians to lack peace about the state of their souls. At times, the cause is legitimate: a guilty conscience should provoke self-examination. Often, however, we suffer from a misplaced faith. While justification unfailingly produces sanctification, our sanctification is not the ground on which our salvation rests. Another cause of disquiet is, that men by a natural kind of popery seek for their comfort too much sanctification, neglecting justification, relying too much upon their own performances. St Paul was of another mind, accounting all but dung and dross, compared to the righteousness of Christ, Philip. iii. 8, 9. This is that garment, wherewith being decked, we please our husband, and wherein we get the blessing. This giveth satisfaction to the conscience, as satisfying God himself, being performed by God the Son, and approved therefore by God the Father. Hereupon the soul is quieted, and faith holdeth out this as a shield against the displeasure of God and temptations of Satan. Why did the apostles in their prefaces join grace and peace together, but that we should seek for our peace in the free grace and favour of God in Christ? No wonder why papists maintain doubting, who hold salvation by works, because Satan joining together with our consciences will always find some flaw even in our best performances; hereupon the doubting and misgiving soul comes to make this absurd demand, as, Who shall ascend to heaven? Ps. xxiv. 3, which is all one as to fetch Christ from heaven, and so bring him down to suffer on the cross again. Whereas if we believe in Christ we are as sure to come to heaven as Christ is there. Christ ascending and descending, with all that he hath done, is ours. So that neither height nor depth can separate us from God’s love in Christ, Rom. viii. 39. —Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:138–139

Sin, Neglected, Kills Assurance

In the previous post, Richard Sibbes listed seeking too much comfort from our sanctification as a cause of spiritual unease. Next, he presents a neglect of growth in holiness. While apparent spiritual fruit is no ground of assurance, a lack thereof is surely a warning sign. Where there is no fruit, the life must be doubted. We must remember, though the main pillar of our comfort be in the free forgiveness of our sins, yet if there be a neglect in growing in holiness, the soul will never be soundly quiet, because it will be prone to question the truth of justification, and it is as proper for sin to raise doubts and fears in the conscience, as for rotten flesh and wood to breed worms. And therefore we may well join this as a cause of disquietness, the neglect of keeping a clear conscience. Sin, like Achan, or Jonah in the ship, is that which causeth storms within and without. Where there is not a pure conscience, there is not a pacified conscience; and therefore though some, thinking to save themselves whole in justification, neglect the cleansing of their natures and ordering of their lives, yet in time of temptation they will find it more troublesome than they think. For a conscience guilty of many neglects, of allowing itself in any sin, to lay claim to God’s mercy . . . God will let us see what it is to make wounds to try the preciousness of his balm; such may go mourning to their graves. And though, perhaps, with much wrestling with God they may get assurance of the pardon of their sins, yet their conscience will be still trembling, like-as David’s, though Nathan had pronounced unto him the forgiveness of his sin, Ps. li., till God at length speaks further peace, even as the water of the sea after a storm is not presently still, but moves and trembles a good while after the storm is over. A Christian is a new creature and walketh by rule, and so far as he walketh according to his rule, peace is upon him, Gal. vi. 16. Loose walkers that regard not their way, must think to meet with sorrows instead of peace. Watchfulness is the preserver of peace. —Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:139

The Foundation of Religion

Faith is no unthinking thing. We are created as thinking, reasoning beings, and it is not without reason that we believe and trust in God. That the soul of man being an understanding essence, will not be satisfied and settled without sound reasons. Comfort is nothing else but reasons stronger than the evil which doth afflict us; when the reasons are more forcible to ease the mind than the grievance is to trouble it. It is no difficult matter to commit our souls to God when we are once persuaded that he is a faithful Creator. A man commits himself to another man, and hath no other reason for it, but only he is persuaded of his ability and credit in the world; that he is a man of estate and power to do him good. So it is in this business of religion. Our souls are carried to anything strongly when they are carried by strong reasons, as in this particular of trusting God with our souls. When we see sufficient reasons inducing thereto, we easily resign them into his hands. This shews that popery is an uncomfortable religion, which brings men to despair. They have no reason for what they maintain. What reason can they give for their doctrine of doubting, transubstantiation, perfect obedience to the law, &c.? These are unreasonable things. The soul cannot yield to such absurdities. It must have strong reasons to stablish it, as here, to consider God as a faithful Creator, &c. There is something in God to answer all the doubts and fears of the soul, and to satisfy it in any condition whatsoever. This is the very foundation of religion; not that any worth can accrue to the Creator from the creature, but that there is an all-sufficiency in the Creator to relieve the poor creature. If a man consider in what order God created him, it will make him trust God. —Richard Sibbes, The Saint's Hiding-Place in the Evil Day, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:409.

The Essence of Saving Faith

Saving faith has been defined as the combination of three elements: knowledge, assent, and trust (or, if you want to get uppity, notitia, assensus, fiducia). David Clarkson writes, 1. Knowledge. Faith is expressed by knowledge, Isa. liii. 11. If knowledge be not faith, yet there can be no faith without knowledge. That blind faith of the papists is good for nothing but to lead them into the ditch. That ignorance is the mother of devotion, is one of the principles of the father of lies. Sure it is the nurse of unbelief. It is Satan’s muffler, which he makes use of to lead sinners blindfold into hell; it brings them there before they know where they are. Ignorant persons are like the Syrians, struck with blindness, 2 Kings vi. 20. They thought they were going on a hopeful design, but when their eyes were opened, they found themselves in the midst of Samaria, in the midst of their enemies. The first step to conversion is to open the eyes, to scatter darkness, Acts xxvi. 18. He begins the new creation as he did the creation of the world: ‘Let there be light,’ Gen. i. The first thing he produces is light. There is a dawning of the day before the day-star arise; some light goes before the sun rising. Such a dawning of knowledge there is before the Sun of righteousness arise, before Christ dwell in the heart by faith; some light from the law discovering sin and misery; some light from the gospel discovering Christ’s excellency and all-sufficiency. There is a competent knowledge of the mysteries of the gospel, a knowledge more distinct, more convincing, more affecting, than that which he had in the state of unbelief. 2. Assent. As to the principles of the doctrine of Christ, so especially to these two truths: 1, that he has a necessity of a Saviour; 2, that Christ is the only all-sufficient Saviour. (1.) There is an absolute necessity of a Saviour, which the Scripture declares upon three grounds: 1, the sinfulness of a natural man; 2, his misery; 3, his inability to free himself from it. There must be a full and effectual assent to, and belief of, what the Lord declares concerning his sinful, miserable, impotent state. 3. Recumbence, relying upon Christ. To rely upon Christ alone for salvation is saving faith. . . . It is not to give credit to him, but to rely on him; it is to trust in him. To trust in him is more than to believe him, to assent to his word as true. . . . This is the essence, the formality of saving faith. There cannot be justifying faith without knowledge and assent, but there may be knowledge and assent without it; these are as the body to faith, this relying is the soul; without this, knowledge and assent are but a carcase. The devils and hypocrites may have more knowledge, and they may have as firm an assent, but this act is above their reach, and they never attain it. —David Clarkson, Of Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:64–65. Knowledge and assent are indispensible, but the essence of saving faith is trust—to know that we are utterly dependant, and believe that he who holds us in his hand will never fail us (Hebrews 13:5). It is to give up all hope in ourselves, and rest fully upon him. This kind of faith does not come naturally, proud as we are by nature. That is why we must be reborn (John 3) as new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Cling to Christ

To believe in Christ is to adhere to him, to cleave to him, cling about him. . . . A man that has suffered shipwreck is left to the mercy of the waves; has nothing in his reach to secure him but some planks or mast. How will he cling to it! how fast will he clasp! He will hold it as if it were his life, 2 Kings xviii. 5, Deut. iv. 4. He knows he is a dead man if he leave it; and therefore if any wave drive him off, he makes to it again with all his might, and clasps it faster. He knows there is no way but sink and perish if he part with it. A sinner, when the Lord begins to work faith in him, apprehends himself in a gulf of wrath; all the billows and waves go over him, and the depths are ready to swallow him up. Now in this case he sees no other security but Christ; he is . . . the only plank that is left (after our miserable wreck in Adam) to bring a sinner to shore; and therefore he cleaves to him; his soul clasps about him; he holds him as he would hold his soul ready to leave him, if it could come into his embraces. He knows, if he part, he sinks for ever; and therefore if any apprehension of wrath, of sin, of unworthiness, would drive him off, he clings closer to him, or he sinks eternally. —David Clarkson, Of Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:68.

Relying upon Christ Alone

Faith is a rejecting of all other supports, a sole dependency on Christ alone. While the sinner depends upon anything else, in himself, or without himself, for safety, he believes not on Christ, he stands no longer upon his own legs. While the sinner stands upon his own bottom, his own righteousness, his good meaning, good nature, good deeds, his charitableness or religiousness, his being better than others, or not so bad as most, and upon this raises hopes of pardon, he is far from faith, he is but in the condition of the unjustified Pharisee. But when he looks upon these as no greater securities than tow or stubble would be, to shroud him from a consuming fire, then he will look out for a better screen to interpose betwixt his soul and that fiery indignation that his sins have kindled. When the soul, feeling the flame of wrath kindling on her, cries out as one that is already perishing, None but Christ, none but Christ, then he is in the highway to faith. If the dove which Noah sent out could have found rest for the sole of her feet elsewhere, she would not have returned unto the ark, Gen. viii. 12. Such an averseness there is in our natures to Christ, as he is the last thing a sinner looks after. If he can rest in anything else, if he can find rest in his friends, in his boon companions, in his accommodations, in his worldly employments, in his religious duties, in his good accomplishments; if he find rest to the sole of his foot here, the ark* is forgotten, he returns not to Christ. But when he sees a deluge of wrath overwhelm him, when the waters of God’s wrath rise so high as nothing appears but the ark, nothing to rest on but Christ, nothing but drowning and perishing in the common deluge, except he get into the ark, then he rests not till he gets into Christ, then he flies to him as for his life. See faith thus working in Ephraim, Hosea xiv. 4. They reject all foreign dependences: Asshur shall not save us; they reject all dependence on themselves: we will not ride, &c. They reject all that they had formerly idolised, and that by relying on them, they knew that this was the high way to mercy. . . . Till the sinner apprehend himself as an orphan, without strength, without counsel, all his supports dead which were a father to him, he will not betake himself to Christ as his only guardian; till he thus betake himself to Christ, he believes not. —David Clarkson, Of Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:78. * This parallel to the ark is exactly appropriate (see here).

Faith Is Humble

A believing heart is a humble heart. Faith lays the soul low, in sense of its own vileness, emptiness, impotency; in sense of former sinfulness, present unworthiness; in sense of its many wants, weaknesses, distempers, corruption. As nothing more exalteth Christ, so nothing more debaseth man. As it advances man high in the account of God, so it lays him low in his own eyes. The Lord, having a design to display the riches of his grace, made choice of faith as the fittest instrument, as that which gives all to God, and nothing to man. It is the soul’s going out of himself, as having nothing but sin and misery, unto Christ for all. It has a double aspect: one to himself, there it sees nothing but guilt, weakness, emptiness; another to Christ, and there it sees righteousness, strength, all-sufficiency. Faith empties a man of himself, self-conceit, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, makes him seem nothing, that Christ may be all in all. Where the strongest faith, the greatest humility, Mat. viii. 7–10; judges himself unworthy of the least favour, counts himself the greatest of sinners, less than the least of all mercies, thinks better of others than of himself, patient of reproofs, and ready to stoop to the meanest service that Christ shall call him to; ascribes all he has to Christ and grace. —David Clarkson, Of Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:108–109.

Faith and the Attributes of God (1)

My righteous one shall live by faith —Hebrews 10:38 The efficacy of faith is not in its strength, but in its object. “The object of faith,” writes David Clarkson, “is God in Christ, as made known in his attributes, offices, relations, promises, and providences.” Just as our trust in any person depends on what we know of his character, our trust in God can only rest on his character as he has revealed himself to us. [God’s Divine attributes] are the pillows and grounds of faith, rocks of eternity, upon which faith may securely repose: ‘Though the earth should be removed,’ &c. ‘The name of the Lord’ (i. e., his attributes) ‘is a strong tower, the righteous fly into it,’ and faith admits and there secures them. Hence this is faith’s ordinary plea in Scripture. ‘For thy name’s sake,’ i. e., for the glory of those attributes whereby thou art known to us, as men are known by their names. These are frequently propounded and made use of as the objects and supports of faith. Power. This is it on which the heroical faith of Abraham fixed: Rom. iv. 21, ‘Being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able to perform.’ Wisdom. This upheld Peter’s faith, when Christ, so often questioning his love, might have made him doubt of it: ‘Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest I love thee,’ John xxi. 17. And David’s faith acts upon the omnisciency and immensity of God, Ps. cxxxix. Justice. This was David’s plea: Ps. cxliii. 11, ‘For thy righteousness sake bring my soul out of trouble.’ And Daniel’s, ix. 16, ‘Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee,’ &c. Faithfulness. This was the foundation on which Solomon raised that prayer, so full of faith, 1 Kings viii. 33, ‘There is no God like unto thee, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants;’ and Dan. ix. 4, Heb. x. 23. Truth. David useth this, Ps. cxv. 1, ‘For thy truth’s sake;’ and frequently, ‘Do this according to thy word,’ Ps. cxix. 154. Mercy. Faith never finds more strong support, nor ever fixes with so much delight as here: Ps. cxix. 149, ‘Hear my voice, according to thy loving-kindness;’ Ps. cxxx. 7, ‘Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy;’ Ps. lii. 8, ‘I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.’ —David Clarkson, Of Living by Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:176.

Faith Which Is Saving

That you may live and die in the state of faith, get into that happy state. Get faith rooted and grounded in your hearts, and then you are sure: “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” You can neither live nor die without faith. While ye live without faith you are under the sentence of condemnation, and if ye die without faith, death will lead you to execution. Be not deceived, think not that to be faith which is not; think not you have faith, because you believe the word of God is truth, and what it reveals concerning God, and Christ, and holiness, and happiness, is true. This is faith indeed, but such a faith as the devils have; such a faith will be no advantage either in life or death; it will distinguish thee from an infidel, but not from an unbeliever. That faith which is saving, which receives testimony from God, &c., is such a faith as will make you willing to embrace Christ both as prince and Saviour; willing to obey him, as to be saved by him; to be sanctified as well as justified; that worketh by love, purifieth the heart, brings forth the fruits of the Spirit. This is the faith by which ye must live, in which ye must die, if ye will die happily, comfortably, &c. That you may attain this faith, be diligent in attending upon the word. This direction is the apostle's, Rom. x. 14, 17. It is the word that both begets faith, and nourishes it. —David Clarkson, Of Dying In Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:240.

Halfway to Christ

Do you come to Christ as a Saviour to deliver you from the wrath to come? It is well; but if ye go no further, ye go but half the way to Christ. If you will come home to Christ indeed, you must go to him, not only as a Saviour, but as a Lord; not only to receive pardon from him, but to be ruled by him; not only to be saved, but to be sanctified; not only for happiness, but for holiness too, for Christ is both or neither; and if ye come for one and not for the other, indeed you come not at all; you do but delude yourselves with thoughts that you are already come; Christ will have as much cause to complain of you as of the Jews, ‘Ye will not.’ —David Clarkson, Men by Nature Unwilling to Come to Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:335.

True, Justifying Faith

Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. —Genesis 22:10–13 From hence we may learn the nature of true, justifying faith. Whoever understands and preaches the truth, as it is in Jesus, must acknowledge, that salvation is God’s free gift and that we are saved, not by any or all the works of righteousness which we have done or can do. No, we can neither wholly nor in part justify ourselves in the light of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is our righteousness and if we are accepted with God it must be only in and through the personal righteousness, the active and passive obedience, of Jesus Christ his beloved Son. This righteousness must be imputed, or counted over to us and applied by faith to our hearts, or else we can in no wise be justified in God’s sight. And that very moment a sinner is enabled to lay hold on Christ’s righteousness by faith, he is freely justified from all his sins and shall never enter into condemnation, notwithstanding he was a fire-brand of hell before. Thus it was that Abraham was justified before he did any good work. He was enabled to believe on the Lord Christ. It was accounted to him for righteousness. That is, Christ’s righteousness was made over to him and so accounted his. This, this is the gospel. This is the only way of finding acceptance with God. Good works have nothing to do with our justification in his sight. We are justified by faith alone, as saith the article of our church, agreeable to which the Apostle Paul says, ‘By grace ye are saved, through faith. And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.’ Notwithstanding, good works have their proper place. They justify our faith, though not our persons. They follow it and evidence our justification in the sight of men. Hence it is that the Apostle James asks, ‘was not Abraham justified by works?’ (alluding no doubt to the story on which we have been discoursing) That is, did he not prove he was in a justified state, because his faith was productive of good works? This declarative justification in the sight of men, is what is directly to be understood in the words of the text, ‘Now know I, says God, that thou fearest me, since thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.’ Not but that God knew it before. But this is spoken in condescension to our weak capacities and plainly shows, that his offering up his son was accepted with God, as an evidence of the sincerity of his faith and for this, was left on record to future ages. Hence then you may learn, whether you are blessed with and are sons and daughters of, faithful Abraham. You say you believe. You talk of free grace and free justification. You do well. The devils also believe and tremble. But has the faith, which you pretend to, influenced your hearts, renewed your souls and, like Abraham’s, worked by love? Are your affections, like his, set on things above? Are you heavenly-minded and like him, do you confess yourselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth? In short, has your faith enabled you to overcome the world and strengthened you to give up your Isaacs, your laughter, your most beloved lusts, friends, pleasures and profits for God? If so, take the comfort of it. For justly may you say, ‘We know assuredly, that we do fear and love God, or rather are loved of him.’ But if you are only talking believers, have only a faith of the head and never felt the power of it in your hearts, however you may bolster yourselves up and say, ‘We have Abraham for our father, or Christ is our Saviour,’ unless you get a faith of the heart, a faith working by love, you shall never sit with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Jesus Christ, in the kingdom of heaven. —George Whitefield, “Abraham’s Offering Up His Son Isaac” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:93–95.

To Become Like a Child

Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 18:3 I now proceed to show in what sense we are really to understand the words, that we must be converted and become like little children. The Evangelist tell us, ‘that the disciples at this time came unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ These disciples had imbibed the common prevailing notion, that the Lord Jesus Christ was to be a temporal prince. They dreamed of nothing but being ministers of state, of sitting on Christ’s right hand in his kingdom and lording it over God’s people. They thought themselves qualified for state offices, as generally ignorant people are apt to conceive of themselves. Well, say they, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ Which of us shall have the chief management of public affairs? A pretty question for a few poor fishermen, who scarcely knew how to drag their nets to shore, much less how to govern a kingdom. Our Lord, therefore, in the 2nd verse, to mortify them, calls a little child and sets him in the midst of them. This action was as much as if our Lord had said, ‘Poor creatures! Your imaginations are very towering; you dispute who shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven; I will make this little child preach to you, or I will preach to you by him. Verily I say unto you (I who am truth itself, I know in what manner my subjects are to enter into my kingdom; I say unto you, ye are so far from being in a right temper for my kingdom, that) except ye be converted and become as this little child, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (unless ye are, comparatively speaking, as loose to the world, as loose to crowns, sceptres and kingdoms and earthly things, as this poor little child I have in my hand) ye shall not enter into my kingdom.’ So that what our Lord is speaking of is not the innocency of little children, if you consider the relation they stand in to God and as they are in themselves when brought into the world. But what our Lord means is that as to ambition and lust after the world we must in this sense become as little children. . . . Now in this sense we must be converted and become as little children, that is, we must be as loose to the world, comparatively speaking, as a little child. . . . When our Lord says, we must be converted and become as little children, I suppose he means also, that we must be sensible of our weakness, comparatively speaking, as a little child. . . . Are little children sensible of their weakness? Must they be led by the hand? Must we take hold of them or they will fall? So, if we are converted, if the grace of God be really in our hearts, my dear friends, however we may have thought of ourselves once, whatever were our former high exalted imaginations, yet we shall now be sensible of our weakness. . . . And as little children look upon themselves to be ignorant creatures, so those that are converted do look upon themselves as ignorant too. Hence it is, that John speaking to Christians calls them little children: ‘I have written unto you, little children.’ . . . Hence that great man . . . the Apostle Paul, when he speaks of himself, says, ‘Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ . . . And as a little child is looked upon as an harmless creature and generally speaks true so, if we are converted and become as little children, we shall be guileless as well as harmless. What said the dear Redeemer when he saw Nathanael? As though it was a rare sight he gazed upon and would have others gaze upon it: ‘Behold an Israelite indeed.’ Why so? ‘In whom is no guile.’ Do not mistake me, I am not saying that Christians ought not to be prudent. They ought exceedingly to pray to God for prudence, otherwise they may follow the delusions of the devil and by their imprudence give wrong touches to the ark of God. . . . We should pray for the wisdom of the serpent, though we shall generally learn this wisdom by our blunders and imprudence. And we must make some advance in Christianity before we know our imprudence. —George Whitefield, “Marks of a True Conversion” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:390–393.

Justification by Faith: A Licentious Doctrine?

What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He? —Matthew 22:42 To you that have tasted the good word of life, who have been enlightened to see the riches of God’s free grace in Christ Jesus, I am persuaded it is precious and has distilled like the dew into your souls. And O that all were like-minded! But I am afraid, numbers are ready to go away contradicting and blaspheming. Tell me, are there not many of you saying within yourselves, ‘This is a licentious doctrine; this preacher is opening a door for encouragement in sin.’ But this does not surprise me at all, it is a stale, antiquated objection, as old as the doctrine of justification itself. And (which by the way is not much to the credit of those who urge it now) it was made by an infidel. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, after he had, in the first five chapters, demonstrably proved the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in the sixth brings in an unbeliever saying, ‘Shall we continue in sin then, that grace may abound?’ But as he rejected such an inference with a ‘God forbid!’ so do I. For the faith which we preach, is not a dead speculative faith, an assenting to things credible, as credible, as it is commonly defined. . . . It is a living principle wrought in the soul, by the Spirit of the ever-living God, convincing the sinner of his lost, undone condition by nature, enabling him to apply and lay hold on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, freely offered him in the gospel and continually exciting him, out of a principle of love and gratitude, to show forth that faith, by abounding in every good word and work. This is the sum and substance of the doctrine that has been delivered. And if this be a licentious doctrine, judge ye. No, my brethren, this is not destroying but teaching you how to do good works, from a proper principle. For to use the words of our Church in another of her Articles, ‘Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; rather, for that they are not done as God has willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.’ So that they who bid you do and then live are just as wise as those who would persuade you to build a beautiful magnificent house, without laying a foundation. It is true, the doctrine of our free justification by faith in Christ Jesus, like other gospel truths, may and will be abused by men of corrupt minds, reprobates concerning the faith. But they who receive the truth of God in the love of it, will always be showing their faith by their works. —George Whitefield, “What Think Ye of Christ?” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:411–412.

Where Christianity Begins

As usual, I received a few good books for Christmas. Among them was Albert Mohler’s recent publication, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits. I began reading it this morning. In the popular culture, we hear much of “faith.” But the object of that faith is usually something less than certain; often, it is simply faith itself, as though simply believing has power to make things happen. In his introduction, Mohler emphasizes a point that bears frequent repetition: “Christianity is not belief in belief.” I believe. These two words are among the most explosive words any human can utter. They open the door to eternal life and are the foundation of the Christian faith. Belief stands as the very center of Christian faithfulness and is where Christianity begins for the Christian. We enter the faith and find eternal life in Christ by responding to the truth with trust—that is, with belief. But Christianity is not belief in belief. It is belief in a propositional truth: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and savior of sinners. We do not believe in a Christ of our imagination but in the Christ of Scripture—the Christ believed in by every generation of true Christians. Furthermore, beyond belief in Christ stands belief in everything Jesus taught his disciples. Matthew recorded that Jesus instructed his disciples to teach others to observe all that he had commanded them (Matt. 28:18–20). Therefore, there is no Christianity without belief, without teaching, and without obedience to Christ. —Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), xvi.

An Ordinary God?

God is not a philosophical construct, malleable to our personal notions of what we would like him to be. He is a real, living being, whose attributes are not only nonconformable to our preferences, but are eternally unchanging. He is who he says he is, and to believe anything else is to believe in someone—or something—else. It is to place faith in fiction. A. W. Tozer brilliantly summarized the entirety of Christian discipleship when he said, “What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us.” What the church means when it says the word God reveals everything about our worship and theological integrity If we begin with a wrong conception of God, we will misconstrue the entirety of the Christian faith. This fact is why heretics and false teachers so often begin by rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity. If we can reject God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, then we can and will reject everything else. From the time of the apostles onward, the church has taken its stand on the phrase, Credo in Deum Patrem Omnipotentem. I believe in God, the Father Almighty. Notice, the Apostles’ Creed does not begin merely with the words: “I believe in God.” Rather, it goes beyond that simple phrase to describe the identity and character of God. The Christian faith is not established on some abstract deity or on “some god.” We do not confess, “I believe in the numinous. We are here in the name of the supernatural, the sacred, and the divine.” We do not call ourselves together in the name of the “thrice unconditioned,” or some other form of speculation. . . . Our hearts are corrupted to such a degree that we are ignorant without God’s self-revelation. Calvin described the human heart in its fallen state as a “perpetual factory of idols,” constantly producing and processing new idols of the imagination. Sometimes these idols take material form, but in our day, idols usually take philosophical and ideological forms. This fact was demonstrated several decades ago when sociologists in Great Britain conducted a massive study on the religious convictions of British people—specifically of their belief in God. What the survey revealed is that even many who believe in a god do not believe that he is personal, intervenes in human history, or has anything to do with the person and work of Christ. One responder to the survey summarized this view of god quite succinctly. When asked, “How would you describe the god in whom you believe?” he said, “Oh, just an ordinary god.” Many people we interact with in our neighborhoods and work places believe only in an “ordinary god.” Far more hauntingly, even many people who sit next to us in worship believe in “just an ordinary god.” This ordinary god is not the God of the Bible. Our concern with the first article of the creed is not with just an ordinary god or with the god of the philosophers but with the holy God who has revealed himself in Scripture. —Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), 3–5.


Who Is Jesus?

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What I Believe

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