Results tagged “Thomas Goodwin” from Reformation21 Blog

Christian Assurance: Rome and Thomas Goodwin

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In its theological response to the teachings of the Reformation, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) maintained that a "believer's assurance of the pardon of his sins is a vain and ungodly confidence". More pointedly the Council declared in Canon 16 on Justification, 'If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema' (The Council of Trent, The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent, Ed. and trans. J. Waterworth, London: Dolman, 1848). Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, perhaps the greatest of the Roman post-Tridentine theologians, called assurance of salvation "a prime error of heretics."1

According to the Church of Rome, a few especially holy men and women, through special revelation, may attain to assurance of salvation, but they are the exception and certainly not the rule. It is not hard to understand why Rome is so opposed to the doctrine of Christian assurance: If 'ordinary' Christians can, and should, be assured of their salvation, what need do they have of the church's priestly, sacramental mediation?

For Protestants, the controversy with the Church of Rome over assurance was at heart a controversy over its failure to understand the nature of the holy Trinity, especially the grace of the Father's love, the perfection of the Son's atonement, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence. Rather than leave his believing children uncertain of his love and uncertain of the perfect efficacy of the Saviour's atonement, the Bible assures us that God, being the good God he is, wants his children to live in the joy and assurance of his love and his Son's 'It is finished' (Jn.19:30).

Christian assurance was a major theme in the writings of Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), along with John Owen perhaps the greatest of the Puritan pastoral theologians. In his Christ Set Forth, Goodwin seeks to persuade us that we especially find assurance first, and supremely by looking to Christ and trusting in him and his finished work on the cross. He is not saying that we should not be encouraged by the gospel transforming presence of God's grace in our lives. He is saying, however, that too many Christians 'in the ordinary course and way of their spirits have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself.'3

Later in life, Goodwin reflected on his own early struggle to find assurance of salvation: 'I was diverted from Christ for several years, to search only into the signs of grace in me. It was almost seven years ere I was taken off to live by faith on Christ, and God's free love, which are alike the object of faith."4

Goodwin`s experience of God`s grace has much to teach us. Above all, that the believer's primary focus is Christ, not himself. "I am come to this pass now," wrote Goodwin to a Mr Price, "that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much to habitual grace for assurance of salvation; I tell you Christ is worth all'. He writes, let us 'see what matter of support and encouragement faith may fetch from Christ's death for justification. And surely that which hath long ago satisfied God himself for the sins of many thousand souls now in heaven, may very well serve to satisfy the heart and conscience of any sinner now upon earth, in any doubts in respect of the guilt of any sins that can arise'.5

Do you grasp what Goodwin is saying? Our sins rise to condemn us. Our sins are many and not few. Our sins are wicked and deserving of God's just condemnation. What good can be gained by looking in to ourselves? What do you see when you look into yourself? Paul told us what he saw, 'O wretched man that I am' (Rom.7:24). There is no comfort to be found looking in; we must learn to look out to Christ. The sin-bearing, sin-atoning death of Christ satisfied God. He accepted the Saviour's sacrifice in our place, as our covenant Head. He was satisfied with his sacrifice. Now, Goodwin is saying to us, if God is satisfied, should we not also be satisfied? If all our sins were laid on God's own Son and were forever put behind God's back, buried in the deepest sea and remembered no more (Mic.7:19; Isa.43:25), should that not be our assurance?

The Christian's God-planted graces may, through the lens of Christ (never apart from him), bring him a measure of comfort. But our graces ebb and flow, they rise and fall, they are here today and all but gone tomorrow. But Jesus Christ is 'the same yesterday and today and forever'. He is at God's right hand. He is our justification and our eternal acceptance with God (Rom.8:34).

Listen again to Goodwin: 'Were any of your duties crucified for you?'6 Goodwin's question is plain but profound, don't look in, look out to your crucified Saviour who alone is your righteousness (1Cor.1:30). 'Therefore', says Goodwin, 'get your hearts and consciences distinctly and particularly satisfied in the all-sufficiency of worth and merit which is in the satisfaction that Christ hath made'.7 For Goodwin, the Christian's great need is to grasp what he calls 'the transcendent all-sufficiency of (Christ's) death'.8

This is no abstract doctrinal concern. Goodwin looks ahead to the day of Christ: 'Now you will all be thus called one day to dispute for your souls, sooner or later; and therefore such skill you should endeavour to get in Christ's righteousness, how in its fullness and perfection it answereth to all your sinfulness'.9

The Church of Rome wants to leave the believer tentative and uncertain. It wants to leave the child of God fearful and doubting, looking not to Christ and his finished work, but to the church and its priestly mediation. The Bible teaches us otherwise. In Christ we have a 'living hope' (1Pt.1:3), a 'sure and certain hope' (Heb.6:20). No Christian need languish in doubts and fears as to the assurance of the heavenly Father's love. Trust the good heart of your Father, a heart that desires all his children know that they are his children. Trust the finished, atoning work of your Saviour, a work that has been accepted by the Father. Trust the indwelling Holy Spirit who has come to unite you to Christ, seal to you his salvation and give you the boldness to cry, 'Abba, Father' (Rom.8:15-16).


1. Quoted in J.C.Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth Trust ed., Edinburgh, 2014), 139 

2. Thomas Goodwin, Christ Set Forth (Banner of Truth ed. Edinburgh, 2015. First published 1642) 

3. Christ Set Forth, Introduction XV. 

4. Works of Thomas Goodwin, (Edinburgh, James Nichol, 1861), Vol. 2, lxviii 

5. Christ Set Forth, p. 43. 

6. Christ Set Forth, p. 43

7. Christ Set Forth, p. 50.

8. Christ Set Forth, p. 50 

9. Christ Set Forth, p. 51

The Three Greatest Reasons Christ Loves You

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If a preacher had one sermon to preach to unbelievers he would likely preach something that follows the Apostolic pattern in the book of Acts. But what about when faced with the chance to give just one message to those who are Christians? Here there is, naturally, a lot more liberty. 

Usually, when I'm faced with a situation where I may never see the Christians I'm speaking to again this side of eternity, I speak to them about truths that are of special significance to Christians, such as the love Christ has for his bride (Eph. 3:19).

The Puritans sometimes get a bad rap for their theology, especially in the area of assurance of salvation. Yet, I gained full assurance of salvation from reading a Puritan, Thomas Goodwin. No Continental writer has quite given me a sense of Christ's love for me in the way that Goodwin did when I first read him on the heart of Christ in heaven towards sinners on earth. 

So, if you ask me what topic would I speak to Christians about if I had only one study/sermon, it would probably focus on the love of Christ for the church. Indeed, I recently had the privilege of speaking on the love of Christ for his bride in Brazil when I was asked to give an impromptu bible study one evening. 

How do you (a Christian) know that Christ loves you? How can you be assured of his love for you? Here below are what I believe are the three greatest reasons that Christ loves you.

1. The command of the Father on the Son. The Father gave Jesus a perpetual command to love sinners (see Jn. 6:37-40; Jn. 10:15-18; 15:10). Jesus remains in the Father's love by loving sinners. There can be no greater influence upon the Son to love us poor, miserable sinners than the command of the Father. Christ's failure to love us would actually be a failure to love his Father. 

Think of Christ's words to Peter in John 21:15-17. Christ asks Peter three times, "do you love me?" Peter will show his love for Christ by feeding Christ's sheep. Now think of the Father asking the Son, "do you love me?" Son: "Yes, Father, you know that I love you." Father: "Die for my sheep, love my sheep, nourish my sheep."

Christ shows his love for the Father by loving those whom the Father has given to him. There can be no greater pleasure for Christ than expressing his love for his Father. This has massive implications for us: it means that Christ will show his love for the Father by loving us.

2. The work of the Spirit on the Son. Christ possessed the Spirit without measure (Jn. 3:34). He is the man of the Spirit, par excellence. Upon his entrance into heaven, Christ received a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to the greatest degree possible for any human (Acts 2:33; Ps. 45). As a merciful high priest, exalted in the heavens, the Spirit produces grace and mercy in Christ in a manner than even exceeded his grace and mercy on earth. Therefore, Christ, having the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), is even more patient towards sinners in Heaven than he was on earth. This partly explains why Christ said it was better for him to go than stay (Jn. 16:7).

As Thomas Goodwin said, "your very sins move him more to pity than anger." This is what it means for Christ to be a sympathetic high priest.

Christ's resurrected body made it possible for him to receive not only a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, but his resurrected body enabled him to receive an even fuller outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, as the exalted King. Thus Christ is more patient, loving, and merciful in heaven (i.e., in glory) towards sinners on earth than when he was in his state of humiliation. 

3. The holy self-love of the Son. As Christ saves and blesses his people, he is reaping the fruit of his work for sinners. He is more concerned for our salvation than we are. As a good husband, Christ loves his bride. But, remember, in loving his bride he is loving himself: 

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:28-30).

Why would Christ deprive his own body of grace? I can be sure that he will love me because I belong to him, and he would have to hate himself before he could hate me. Whatever grace, love, blessing, etc., we have received as Christians, we can be sure that we have received these graces because Christ loves himself.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me that: 

1) Jesus must love sinners in order to express his love towards his Father.
 
2) Jesus will be patient and merciful towards me because of the effect of the Holy Spirit upon him in Heaven.
 
3) Jesus will love me because he is a good husband, so that by loving me more he is loving himself more.

If you're a Christian struggling with assurance, here, then, are three blessed reasons to be assured: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

And guess what? How many of these reasons for Christ loving us have anything to do with things we do? The greatest reasons Christ loves you are entirely dependent not upon us, but upon the triune God, which really is good news.

The odd thing about some of the theology that comes from the camp of those who claim to emphasize grace in their preaching and teaching is that they don't always do a very good job of expressing the rich theology of grace found in the Scriptures. It is one thing to use the word grace a lot, but quite another thing to express a robust, trinitarian theology of grace that highlights the person of Christ in a manner that goes beyond over-used slogans. 

Personally, I'm glad that the three greatest reasons Christ loves me are not qualifications in me, but instead dependent upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Finders and keepers

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I have just seen two profoundly moving videos at Justin Taylor's blog. The second I have seen before: the Kimyal tribe of West Papua, Indonesia, receiving New Testaments in their own language for the first time. The first, equally telling, is much briefer, showing believers in China rushing to receive Bibles in their language for the first time. They hug them, weep over them, and then the sudden hubbub subsides as they open them reverently and lovingly, and begin to drink in the truth.

I don't know how many Bibles you have in your home, or how many translations you have one tap of your finger away, or how many Bible study tools are at your disposal. I would imagine that almost none of us struggle to obtain the Word of God.

The Word of the living God.

The out-breathed truth of the Creator and Saviour of mankind.

Has familiarity bred contempt? Do we value the truth as we should? With what eagerness or languor will you go to church tomorrow to hear the Word of God read and preached? Will once be enough? How often do you turn to it during the week?

Such questions put me in mind of the story of John "Roaring" Rogers, preacher at Dedham in Essex at the beginning of the seventeenth century, where he had a reputation as "one of the most awakening preachers of the age." His gift lay in his distinctive delivery of the sound and careful sermons which he prepared, and so well-known did Rogers and his preaching become that godly people used to say to one another, "Let us go to Dedham to fetch fire."

Several well-known anecdotes capture something of the fervency and intensity of Rogers the preacher and his self-forgetful earnestness in the pulpit. Thomas Goodwin, himself to become a renowned preacher and scholar, tells of how he went to hear Rogers preach before he was converted, not imagining that anyone would be able to touch his conscience. Goodwin reported his experience to John Howe, who recorded it in this way:
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.
Neglect of the Bible. Careless disregard for the Word of the Most High and Most Holy. You are not entitled to it, and God is not obliged to provide it. Does your neglect and the prospect of God's response bother you? What if the Lord is saying, even now, "I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it."

Count your copies. Peruse your programmes. Appraise your apps. Do not imagine that he cannot yet take it away.

"More light, Lord!"

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Light is one of those commodities, like oxygen, much underestimated until one finds oneself in need of it. I am particularly conscious of this because my desk light - a quite splendid piece of kit - decided to pack up rather suddenly a few days ago. Being a sentimental type, I sent it off to the manufacturer in the hope of its being restored, but - having gone under the knife in some electronic operating theatre somewhere in England - it was recently declared most definitely deceased.

But it means I have been without light. To be sure, even in the UK in October, there's a smidgen of daylight that filters through the window from time to time. And yes, the general illumination provided by the main light in the room, and even some assistance from the angled reading light in the corner, alleviate the gloom somewhat. But there is nothing - I repeat, nothing - to compare with the vibrant beams of pure brilliance that not so long ago washed out of my much-missed and too-much-presumed-upon and sincerely-mourned desk light.

But good news! Today brought a matutinal delivery of light - not the watery gleam of a British sunrise, but a replacement desk light - and now I sit here in a pool of white brilliance, bathed once more in happy illumination, and actually able to work without straining the wearied eyes beyond the point of no return.

"So what?" I hear you cry. "What hath Walker's desk lighting to do with us?"

Well, nothing, at first glance, but remember, if you will, the record of that wonderful preacher, John 'Roaring' Rogers of Dedham, of whose preaching people exhorted one another, "Let us go to Dedham to fetch fire."

Several well-known anecdotes capture something of the fervency of Rogers the preacher, his self-forgetful earnestness in the pulpit. In one of them, Thomas Goodwin, himself to become a renowned preacher and scholar, went to hear Rogers preach before he was converted, not imagining that anyone would be able to touch his conscience. Goodwin reported his experience to John Howe, who recorded it in this way:
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.
Underestimated light. Nothing compares to the Word of God for true illumination. The faint gleams of natural revelation and human reason are light, to be sure, but they are distant candles to the present white light of God's holy Word. And yet how ready we are to wander around in the gloom, imagining that we see well and sufficiently while we are for the most part blind.

Would it bother you to be without your Bible? Could you preach without it? Live without it? Worship without it? Perhaps we have learned a casual neglect of that which is more precious than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Ps 119.72)?

How little we value it, but what if it were taken away? What if the Lord deprived us of what is a gracious gift, not a natural right? How quickly would we learn the limitations of natural revelation and human wisdom, how soon would we cry out to God to restore to us again the pure brightness of his revelation, rising to its heights in the dawning of the Sun of Righteousness, that we might once more have a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119.105).

The story is told of a debate in the seventeenth century, I think it may have been among the Westminster divines. One man stood and was making a powerful address concerning some particular point. His opponent in the matter was observed to be writing fairly constantly on his paper. When his turn came, this opponent rose to his feet and delivered a magnificent oration, well-ordered and insightful, Scriptural and compelling, profound and persuasive.

When this tour de force was completed, a man nearby glanced at the notes that had prompted this outpouring of genuine and gracious eloquence, and found a single phrase repeated over and over across the page: "More light, Lord!"

May God grant that we should value in some appropriate measure the fact that he has spoken to us in these last days in his Son, and that his Spirit has moved men to record these saving and sanctifying truths in the Word written, and that "the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness . . . has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Cor 4.6). How shall we see, how shall we walk, if the Lord does not give us his light? Let us not underestimate the illumination we have been given. Let us not neglect our Bibles. Let it be our constant and humble prayer, "More light, Lord!"