Results tagged “grace” from Reformation21 Blog

Leaving the Faith: Reflections of a Prodigal


By now the firestorm of commentary around Josh Harris' public announcement--that he has not only divorced, but departed from the Christian faith--has died down. People have moved on, but not before delivering a slew of analysis, indictments, pleas, condemnation, and speculation.  

When the news hit and I observed all the commentary, I too wanted to offer my two cents. However, I found myself struggling to say anything publicly. While I do think there might be some merit to the contributing factors cited, namely that he was never a true believer to begin with, I know there is more to the story than simple pat answers can provide. Now with the news that Marty Sampson of Hillsong fame has announced his departure from the faith, I am compelled to speak.

You see, I was a prodigal. I came to Christ in my first year in college in 1982. Though I grew up  in a missionary Baptist church, if the gospel was preached I guess I didn't have ears to hear it. By my junior year in high school, I came to the conclusion that church just wasn't for me, and I resisted attendance any further.  

That all changed when I got to college and met a couple of Christians. They didn't talk to me about church; they told me about Jesus. To this day I can't remember everything they said to me, except for this one line: "You're looking for something and you won't find it until you find Jesus." After a couple of visits to the Thursday night worship/bible study, the reality that I needed Jesus as my Savior stirred by soul with such a convicting force that I found myself on my knees in the quietness of my dorm room, telling Jesus I was a sinner and that I needed him. That's all I knew at the time.

Over the next few years, I would be ingrained in the life of the church, including the college group and whatever fellowship opportunities that arose. To be clear, my participation was a direct reflection of what I believed to be true about the faith that I now embraced: That Jesus died for my sins, and receiving him as Savior meant that I was to live for him. For the most part, I tried. I was diligent with Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and the like.

Unfortunately, the deceitfulness of sin began to erode my walk. This is why James issues a stern warning about our own lusts that can lead us down a dangerous path, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15). It didn't help that I sat under some unfaithful and distorted teaching that really didn't deal honestly with the sin nature that still tries the soul.

After a few years from my "conversion," I walked away from the faith in 1986. While I never denounced Christianity or indicated I was no longer a Christian, my line of thinking definitely echoed what I hear Harris and Sampson utter--there was a deconstruction, if you will. But really, it was flat out rebellion. I could not live within a Christian construct any longer, foolishly believing that it was freedom. I lived as one who did not believe, doing what was right in my own eyes, and making many foolish decisions along the way.

That all changed towards the end of 1998. By then I was in my second marriage to a nonbeliever, living under very unpleasant circumstances, and about to experience preliminary stages of a life altering illness. The Lord used the examples of his family members, very committed Christians, to bring about conviction to my heart that eventually led to repentance at the beginning of 1999. Shortly after my husband collapsed from what we would later learn was complete renal failure (which led to his death in 2004), the Lord had fully gripped my heart and wooed me back. His kindness truly does lead to repentance. 

Like so many speculating about Harris, I can give you the precise theological language about my soteriological position from a Reformed perspective. But honestly, I can't tell you whether I was a Christian, so seeped in rebellion that it took 13 years to come to my senses, or if I was never truly a Christian to begin with. All I know is that I was lost and now I'm found. The Lord has so graciously dealt with me, drawing me to himself. He lifted this prodigal out of the depths of sinful mire and gave me eyes to see his grace, beauty and forgiveness.

I've had some trying times since that miraculous day in 1999. I've been confronted with doubts and disappointments, trials that sent my mind into a tailspin, times of feelings of abandonment, hard and slow areas of sanctification, and bouts of numbness. The words of Peter in response to Jesus in John 6:68-69 permeate my heart, just as it did that day I read it 20 years ago. When those following Jesus began to depart in droves because they couldn't get with what Jesus was saying about himself, Jesus turned to Peter and asked, "Do you want to go away as well?" Peter's response pierces my soul to this very day: 

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

This has anchored me in those times of apparent contradiction. It has propelled me to keep clinging to Christ and trust in his all sufficient work when my mind and my circumstances tempted me not to. But I also know that it is only because of Christ's love for me and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that has sustained me. And where else could I go, but in the firm grip of the loving Father? Unfortunately, it took me wandering away to really learn there was no place else.  

So while everyone has moved on from Harris, I consider my story and still wonder about him. Perhaps this is not the end. Whether he was ever in the Father's hand or not, I wonder if there still might be hope for him to find himself there. I know what it's like to "feel" like you're free from the shackles of what your rebellion deems a restrictive religious paradigm. But I also know that apart from Christ, there truly is no freedom at all.  

Lisa Robinson holds a ThM degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (2014). She is newly married and recently moved from Dallas, TX to Roanoke, VA where she resides with her husband Evan and attends Christ the King Presbyterian Church. She blogs at

A Mantle of Love for the Weak

On the night I proposed to Anna 15 years ago, she gave me a gift--an antiquarian edition of Thomas Brooks The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It is a work to which I returned many times over the past 15 years. The section on the riches and excellencies of Christ, by itself, makes this work a must read. The opening section on humility and gifts is one of the most soul strengthening and edifying chapters of any Puritan work I've read. But, Brooks' section on "the duties of strong saints to the weak" is something every believer should commit to reading, digesting and seeking to put into practice in all of our regular interactions with other believers. When he came to the ninth duty that God requires of spiritually strong believers in relation to spiritually weak believers, Brooks wrote, 

"The ninth duty that lies upon strong saints is tcast mantle over the infirmities of the weak.

Now there is a three-fold mantle that should be cast over the infirmities of the weak. There is a mantle of wisdom, a mantle of faithfulness, and a mantle of compassion, which is to be cast over all the infirmities of weak saints.

First, Strong saints are to cast a mantle of wisdom over the infirmities of weak saints. They are not to present their sins in that ugliness, and with such aggravations, as may terrify, as may sink, as may make a weak saint to despair, or may drive him from the mercy-seat, or as may keep him and Christ asunder, or as may unfit him for the discharge of religious duties. It is more a weakness than a virtue in strong Christians, when a weak saint is fallen, to aggravate his fall to the uttermost, and to present his sins in such a dreadful dress, as shall amaze him. It often proves very prejudicial and dangerous to weak saints, when their infirmities are aggravated beyond Scripture grounds, and beyond what they are able to bear. He that shall lay the same strength to the rubbing of an earthen dish, as he does to the rubbing of a pewter platter, instead of clearing it, shall surely break it all to pieces. The application is easy.

Secondly, There is a mantle of faithfulness that is to be cast over the infirmities of weak saints. A man should never discover the infirmities of a weak saint, especially to such that have neither skill nor will to heal and bury them. The world will but blaspheme and blaze them abroad, to the dishonor of God, to the reproach of religion, and to the grief and scandal of the weak. They will with Ham rather call upon others to scoff at them, than bring a mantle to cover them. Ham was cursed for that he did discover his father's nakedness to his brethren, when it was in his power to have covered it. He saw it, and might have drawn a curtain over it, but would not; and for this, by a spirit of prophecy, he was cursed by his father, Gen. ix. 22. This age is full of such monsters, that rejoice to blaze abroad the infirmities of the saints, and these certainly justice hath or will curse.

Thirdly, There is a mantle of compassion that must be cast over the weaknesses and infirmities of weak saints. When a weak man comes to see his sin, and the Lord gives him to lie down in the dust, and to take shame and confusion to himself, that he has dishonored God, and caused Christ to bleed afresh, and grieved the Spirit; oh now you must draw a covering, and cast a mantle of love and compassion over his soul, that he may not be swallowed up with sorrow. Now you must confirm your love to him, and carry it with as great tenderness and sweetness after his fall, as if he had never fallen. This the apostle presses, 2 Cor. 2:7, 'Love,' says the wise man, 'covers all sin.' Love's mantle is very large. Love claps a plaster upon every sore; love has two hands, and makes use of both, to hide the scars of weak saints. Christ, O strong saints, casts the mantle of his righteousness over your weaknesses, and will not you cast the mantle of love over your brother's infirmities."1

Thomas Brooks The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks vol. 3 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866) p. 101

Identical Equity?


The battle cry of "equity" serves as a summons to action, or at least outrage, wherever a person feels an injustice, or a passing over. The trouble for Christians is, in a field of politically charged verbage, words like "equity" or "individualism" tend to get obscured by the broader political tapestries these terms are woven into. Thus the politically conservative Christian will hear and react against a demand for equity without necessarily having a clear reason why, or knowing what they are reacting against.

God declares that He rules with infallible equity, and that His kingdom is one of perfect justice, righteousness and equity (Ps 67:4; 75:2; 98:9) The great promise of Christ is that He will not judge by appearances, but rather make his evaluations of all people, including the poor and meek, with righteousness and equity. (Is 11:4). Equity, or fairness, is deeply rooted in God's character, and one of the central pillars of His kingdom which Jesus establishes, and which Christians are called to testify to and display in our lives.

But what do we mean by equity? Is equity an echo of God's declaration that what matters is the heart-- the reason why He passed over Saul and chose David? Is it the desire to set up a fair competition where David the underdog can still triumph over Goliath? Is it taking up Jesus' imperative to the Pharisees: to stop judging by appearances, but to judge rightly? These are goals which Christians should cherish.

If, on the other hand, equity means identical existence and reality, God is the most inequitable being we could imagine. Taken in that sense, He is not equitable in whom He sets His love on: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom 9:13). He is not equitable in whom He gives power to. He raises up kings and puts them down. (Daniel 2:21). He is not equitable in assigning race, or gender, or athletic prowess, or intelligence. Nor is this the sort of equity we would want.   

Surely no one imagines that equity is some sort of nightmarish carbon copied cul-de-sac, where everyone lives in the same type of house, wears the same clothes, drives the same car, and goes to the same schools? We recognize that a proper celebration of diversity celebrates the expansiveness of who God is, and what only He can hold together perfectly through His Spirit. No sane person would argue that establishing equity means to jettison, rather than accept and celebrate differences.

What most often lies at the heart of debates around equity are views on socio-economic differences. As the world's riches increase, so does the wealth gap, studies say.[1] It's questionable that a medieval serf working the land for his feudal lord would have agreed with this comparative historical assessment, but the question remains what are we to make of the issue of wealth inequity? This is where everyone has room to get a little uncomfortable.

God warns those who are rich in this present world not to set their heart on riches, but rather to be rich in good deeds, generous, and ready to share. (1 Tim 6:17) Followers of Christ cannot shelter behind hard work and a free market as grounds to do what they wish financially. Rather, wealthy Christians have an obligation to share and help those who cannot help themselves. We also must guard our attitudes toward rich and poor. James makes it clear that when we see a rich, well dressed person, and treat him better than a poor, homely person, that we are making distinctions which God does not. (Js 2:1-7)  

On the other hand, having wealth, even massive amounts of wealth, is not evil. Privilege is not something to be scorned and rejected, but rather stewarded. "Happy are you O land, when your king is the son of the nobility." (Ecc 10:17) Daniel rose to power in Babylon because he was born into Israelite royalty. Moses received the best upbringing and education in the world. Jesus submits to and does the will of God the Father.

We recognize the necessity, even goodness of inequity every day. A manager at McDonald's gets paid more than a front of house cashier, though within a given hour or day, the cashier may have the much harder work. But if we insisted on paying them the same amount, the restaurant would soon go bankrupt and no one would have anything.  

Christians should fight the hardest for equity of opportunity; Jesus did precisely that when he died on the cross to offer salvation free of cost or condition. The real danger comes when we view money or prestige as the indicators of our worth, and therefore become either arrogant or envious. Equity among humanity comes from our created endowment, bearing God's image. Yet differences of rank have always existed, and will always exist. Jesus says many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mt 19:30) Our goal should be to use our gifts to serve each other, each according to the measure which God has assigned (Rom 12:3), and, whether poor or rich, to boast in the equity we have as sinners in need of God's grace.


Justin Poythress (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the assistant pastor of student ministry at Christ Community Church in Carmel, Indiana.

Don't Waste Your Privileges


The 2020 Presidential race is underway. Americans everywhere are now sitting back and bracing themselves for tedious recitals of attacks and scandals. The first attack has come in response to Beto O'rouke's statement about sometimes helping his wife raise their three children. Numerous political analysts have insisted that Beto is a prime example of white privilege. Instead of standing by a statement in which he was honoring his wife for her diligent labors as the mother of their children, Beto apologized, saying,

"I'll be more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage, and also the way in which I acknowledge the truth of the criticism that I have enjoyed white privilege."

Without in anyway whatsoever wishing to fixate on presidential candidates, racial theories or the virulent rhetoric of our secular society, I do want to turn our attention to what the Scriptures teach us about the nature of privilege and what ought to be a proper response to privilege.

In Luke 12:48, Jesus said, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." There is such a thing as privilege and we are responsible for how we use the privileges we have been given. God has not given every believer the same gifts or the same measure of faith (Rom. 12:3).We are called to be diligent and faithful with what the Lord gives us for the building up of believers in the church. It is altogether possible for someone to squander the gifts of God by a self-interest, self-indulgence or selfish complacency.

The Apostle Paul explained how we are to respond to the truth about differing measures of gifts and privileges when he wrote to the Corinthians, "Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" The Corinthians were boasting about the gifts and teachers they enjoyed. Instead of exhibiting humility and gratitude to God, they boasted about their privileges. The Apostle repeatedly highlighted the fact that God alone is worthy of glory and boasting. All things come from Him and, therefore, no flesh should boast before Him.

One of the marked features of Israel--the Old Covenant church--throughout redemptive-history is the fact that God's people loved to flaunt their privileges (Matt. 3:9; John 8:39), trust in their privileges (Jer. 7:4) and abuse their privileges (Deut. 8:11-20). God had called a people to Himself merely by grace. When he reminded Israel of their calling, Moses told them, "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery" (Deut. 7:7-8). Israel had done nothing to receive the privileges of God's grace and calling. They didn't deserve them. However they took those privileges and adulterated themselves. After reminding Israel of the way in which God brought them to Himself from a state of death and abandonment and cleansed her for Himself, He brought an indictment against Israel when he said through Ezekiel, "you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his" (Ezekiel 16:15). Israel trusted in the privileges that they had received and lived wickedly on account of those privileges.

All of us have been given differing privileges in this life. Some believers have had the privilege of grown up in loving and doctrinally strong Christian homes. Some have been given more gifts of spiritual knowledge, discernment, faith, etc. Some have been privileged with a greater intellectual capacity. Others have become the objects of the privilege of being given financial resources, craftsmanship and musical ability, etc. No matter what gifts and talents God has privileged you with, you are to take those gifts and use them diligently for the glory of God and the building up of others within the body. On the one hand, we are never to trust in or flaunt our privileges. We are to "count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord" (Phil. 3:8). On the other hand, we are never to neglect or ignore these privileges. We are to acknowledge that "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain;" and, we are, therefore to "work harder than any," by "the grace of God" (1 Cor. 15:10).

Instead of allowing others to put undue guilt and condemnation on your conscience for the privileges God has given you, learn to view them in light of the God who has freely given them according to His own will and for His own glory (Heb. 2:4). Instead of using the gifts and privileges God has given you for personal interest and gain, utilize them for the well being of others. Don't waste your privileges. God has given them to you for your to use them for His glory, the building up of His people and to bless those around you.

The Rhythms of Grace


God has placed us in a world that's got a rhythm to it. Each day has a sunrise and sunset. Each week has six days of work and a day of rest. Even the four seasons rise and fall with a predictable pattern.

This same rhythmic quality comes into play at the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another. The end of a year provides a natural opportunity to look back and remember the ups and downs of the year and all the grace received. The beginning of another provides us the opportunity to look forward to what God will do in you and through you for His glory.

To look back and remember requires faith. It requires believing that God sovereignly determined everything you experienced this year. Such exercise of faith is easier to say than to do.

In fact, knowing that God was behind everything that happened this last year is the kind of answer that raises other questions. For we don't just want to know that God was behind it all; we want to know the purpose behind what He did. We want to know the reasons for the tragedies and heartaches. We want to know the meaning underneath the joys and triumphs. In other words, we want to know the why behind the what.

Though we know something of the reasons behind what happens in our lives, we will never have the full picture in this life. John Piper was right when he said, "God is always doing 10,000 things in our life, and you may be aware of three of them." In saying that, Piper is acknowledging that God is infinite and we are finite; that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are past finding out (Psalm 145:3; Isaiah 55:8-9). Because God is God and we are not, the happenings of our life will always at some level remain mysterious.

That is not to say, however, that we can't know anything. As Piper noted, we can truly know the two or three or four things that God is doing in our life at any given point. We can know these things because God has given us His Word.

For instance, we can know that those tragedies and heartaches from this last year are to produce character and hope, for Paul tells us that, "...suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character; and character hope" (Romans 5:3-4). We know that the joys and triumphs are intended to produce thankfulness and worship to God. Paul writes, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus," (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and Moses writes, "You shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God is given you" (Deut. 26:11).

When our life experiences are brought into relationship with the truth of Scripture, the light of God's purposes begin to shine.

But what are we to make of the mysteries of life? How do we process the things we can't seem to understand? The Scripture helps us here, too. For even though we don't know the "why" for everything that happens, we know the Who behind it all. And this is the greatest assurance of all.

We know, for instance, that God is always merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love toward his people (Psalm 103:8). He will be for us a stronghold in the day of trouble and will provide a refuge for us (Nahum 1:7). Ultimately, we know this is true because He's given us an eternal refuge in His son (John 3:16), when He offered him up on the cross for our sins while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Therefore, we can rest assured that he will give us all good things (Romans 8:32) according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

As you look back over the past year and find yourself puzzling over why God did what He did, turn from what happened to the Who behind all that happened. This will strengthen you as you press into the new year before you. And when you hit confusing trials in the year ahead, and begin to doubt the goodness of God, pause and remember all you know about Him, for He is infinitely worthy of your trust.

Legalism, Lawlessness and Pastoral Ministry

In recent years, many have enthusiastically welcomed the resurgence of interest in the Marrow Controversy for the simple reason that there is no greater need that any of us have at any given time in our Christian lives than the need to learn to navigate the treacherous waters of legalism and lawlessness. The Gospel keeps us on the straight and narrow path of grace unto holiness in Christ alone. We are not received by God on the basis of anything that we do; neither are we left in a state of sin and rebellion once we have been made the recipients of God's grace in Christ crucified and risen. This is not something that we learn once in our Christian life; rather, it is something that we are always needing to be reminded of as we make our pilgrimage to glory. 

Yesterday, I took time to read through the pastoral epistles. As I made my way from 1 and 2 Timothy into Titus, I noticed something that I don't think that I've ever noticed before in these portions of God's word. In giving his final words of instruction to Timothy and Titus--for the strengthening of the hands of these young ministers and for the equipping of future generations of pastors--the Apostle everywhere presses the need that the pastor has to guard against both legalism and lawlessness in doctrine and life. 

The pastoral epistles open somewhat abruptly, with Paul charging Timothy to understand that everything he is writing is meant to encourage "love that issues in a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." He then warned his young protégé about those who have "swerved from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions." The rejection of teachers of the law then resurfaces throughout Paul's first and second letters to Timothy, shedding light on some of the features of this particular brand of legalism. 

In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul exposed legalism for what it is in fact--nothing less than the "teachings of demons" (1 Tim. 4:2). He then explained that those teaching it were "forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." Paul reminds Timothy at this junction--as he does elsewhere in the pastorals--that "everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4:4-5). So serious was Paul about the evils of legalism that while warning against the rich trusting in their wealth (a warning against the lawless love of money), the Apostle shifted gears to ensure that no one would then fall into the opposite ditch of legalistic aestheticism. He wrote: "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (1 Tim. 6:17). 

Of course, the foundation of our freedom from legalism is the saving work of our mediator and Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul constantly returns to this throughout these letters. Paul never took one step forward in Christian and pastoral imperatives without ensuring that we are clear about the nature of God's unmerited grace in Christ. In the introductory section of 1 Timothy, he laid the groundwork for understanding the importance of the free grace of God in Christ when he gave that biographical summary of his own conversion and calling into ministry:

"Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life" (1 Tim. 1:13-16).

Then, at the outset of 2 Timothy, Paul wrote:

"Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:8-10). 

Finally, in Titus, we get that great statement about salvation by grace alone in Christ alone, when the Apostle captured it in the following way:

"When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7). 

An atomistic consideration of those three passages, could lead us to the faulty conclusion that because our salvation is entirely by grace alone in Christ alone, it doesn't matter how we live or what we do. However, a contextual consideration of them leads us to a very different conclusion. 

In all three pastoral letters, Paul impresses the need ministers have to pursue personal godliness and to call the people of God to pursue true, Gospel-motivated holiness and good works. Pastoral ministry demands that the minister "take heed to himself and to his teaching" (1 Tim. 4:16). Sound living and sound doctrine are mutual prerequisites for a faithful and fruitful pastoral ministry. In fact, Paul insisted that the example that the minister sets is one that will necessarily be watched and emulated by the people of God under his charge. While some despised Timothy for his youthfulness, Paul charged him with the following admonition: "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12). Additionally, Paul told Titus, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us" (Titus 2:7-8). 

When he came to explain the error of apostate ministers who had made shipwreck of their faith, Paul not only highlighted their doctrine, he put a sobering spotlight on the lawlessness of their lives:

"Those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear...Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure...The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden" (1 Tim. 5:20-25). 

Four times in 1 Timothy (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:10; 5:10; 5:25: 6:18) and five times in Titus (e.g. Titus 1:16; 2:7; 2:14; 3:8; 3:14), Paul explained the important place that "good works" should have in the lives of those who have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. While good works are not the basis of our salvation, the are the unmistakeable characteristics of those who have been redeemed freely by the grace of God in Christ. 

The Apostle gives very specific applications about how a minister is to conduct himself in the house of God, the pillar and ground of truth, and about how the members of God's house should conduct themselves within that house. Whether it is in instructions about sound doctrine, prayer, modesty, self-control, mercy ministry, work, leadership qualifications, gender roles, single-mindedness or zeal for good works, the pastoral epistles place a strong emphasis on the call to personal and pastoral godliness. 

Just as the grace of God in the Gospel safeguards against legalism and lawlessness, so God has appointed ministers to wield the Gospel of God's grace in Christ, in their lives and doctrine, in such a way as to help the people of God avoid these two perilous ditches. We must, at all costs, be vigilant to avoid embracing legalism in a cloak of godliness (2 Tim. 3:5) and lawlessness in the cloak of grace (Titus 2:11-14). God has given us the Gospel and ministers of the Gospel to help keep us on the straight and narrow. 

Starting with a crazy question, Danielle Spencer taught her children about God's sovereign provision. Here is a brief part of their discussion: 

"Do you know what would happen if the world suddenly stopped spinning?" I asked my kids during our morning Bible time. My 12-year-old consulted one of her favorite books What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.1 If the earth and all terrestrial objects stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity, almost everyone would die immediately. If you weren't swept away by the thousand-mile-per-hour winds, you'd certainly be pulverized by the thousand-mile-per-hour impact of all the debris flying about. You would be safe for a time if you were deep underground or in a polar research station (since the strongest winds would be nearest the equator), but not for long. The wind would eventually stop by way of friction with the earth's surface, but that would heat the air and atomize the surface of the ocean, resulting, among many other phenomena, in massive global thunderstorms. After that, for 6 months one side of the earth would bake in the heat of the sun and the other would freeze since the sun would no longer rise and set once per day, but only once a year. Eventually, the moon would get us spinning again, but "us" would be long gone.

Now that I had their attention, we read Psalm 104--in which we have 35 verses praising the Lord for his power, control, and care over his creation...

Read more over at The Christward Collective

Nothing Like It in All the World

Recently, in my Bible reading, I came to the book of Jonah (I've been working through the Minor Prophets). It struck me how remarkable this message is compared to everything else in the ancient world. Homer was a contemporary of Jonah (mid 8th century b.c.), and his epic books of the early Grecian world fascinate readers today with themes of war and peace, honor and disgrace, love and hatred. A few decades later, Hesiod would put down the definitive version of Greek mythology, starting with the god Chaos and ending up with the petty, self-absorbed deities of the pantheon. In such radical contrast, Jonah tells of the prophet's frustration with God amidst the terrors of the Assyrian threat to Israel. What is Jonah's complaint? That God has grace for the wicked. The Lord sends his prophet to preach judgment to the capital of the enemy nation. But Jonah knows the Lord intends mercy through repentance and faith. The final chapter of Jonah explores the pathos of a holy man who struggles to embrace the surpassing grace of a God who forgives the ungodly out of his own wellspring of love. As literature, where will you find something to rival this message, which is also the sacred revelation of the true and living God?

I wonder as we read our Bibles, returning to long-familiar books like Jonah, if we realize that we are encountering a message that is like nothing else in all the world. Where else will you discover that your own sin is the great problem of your life - not the sins of others and the petty squabbles about which you obsess - and that a God of love is working in you to surrender to his grace. Where else in all the world will you discover a message that tells you to rest in the mercy of God and spread his gospel of hope to all the world? The answer is that there is nothing like the Word of God in all the world. As Micah marveled right around the time that Hesiod was conjuring up tales of Zeus and his cronies: "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing mercy" (Mic. 7:18). There is no God like our God. There is nothing in all the world so marvelous and true as his gospel of grace.

More Mercy in Christ than Sin in Us

In his book The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes famously wrote, "We have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us." Here is one of those oft repeated statements of Gospel assurance with which believers love to comfort one another. The context, however, is one that has been almost entirely overlooked. Sibbes actually wrote, "If we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing." In context, Sibbes was seeking to encourage believers to make a concerted effort to mortification of sin (i.e. thorough dealing). He wrote,  "A set measure of bruising [i.e. spiritual humiliation] of ourselves cannot be prescribed, but it must be so far as (1) that we may prize Christ above all, and see that a Savour must be had; and (2) that we reform that which is amiss, though it be to the cutting off of our right hand, or pulling out of our right eye." 

Many believers struggle with the assurance of salvation on account of their sin. The Westminster Confession of Faith, in the final paragraph of the chapter on "Assurance of Grace and Salvation"" (Ch. 18), states this so well:

"True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair."

John Owen, in his magnificent work on Psalm 130, set King David forth as the example of one who understood this soul-wrestling with God over his sin and longing for the assurance of God's love and favor. David understood, better than any, the multifaceted way in which God's grace worked in his life with regard to his ongoing battle with sin and his experience of a guilt-laden conscience. Owen wrote:

"Under the Old Testament none loved God more than he; none was loved of God more than he. The paths of faith and love wherein he walked are unto the most of us like the way of an eagle in the air,--too high and hard for us. Yet to this very day do the cries of this man after God's own heart sound in our ears. Sometimes he complains of broken bones, sometimes of drowning depths, sometimes of waves and water spouts, sometimes of wounds and diseases, sometimes of wrath and the sorrows of hell; everywhere of his sins, the burden and trouble of them. Some of the occasions of his depths, darkness, entanglements, and distresses, we all know. As no man had more grace than he, so none is a greater instance of the power of sin, and the effects of its guilt upon the conscience, than he."

Owen went on to set out seven soul-experiences from David's prayers in the Psalms. These serve as typical experiences of one who is already the object of the love and grace of God and yet who feels himself or herself "in the depths." 

1. The loss of the wanted sense of the love of God, which the soul did formerly enjoy. Owen explained: "A sense of God's presence in love is sufficient to rebuke all anxiety and fears in the worst and most dreadful condition; and not only so, but to give in the midst of them solid consolation and joy...This is that sense of love which the choicest believers may lose on the account of sin. This is one step into their depths. They shall not retain any such gospel apprehension of it as that it should give them rest, peace, or consolation."

2.  Perplexed thoughtfulness about their great and wretched unkindness towards God is another part of the depths of sin-entangled souls. "So David complains: Ps. 77:3, "I remembered God," saith he, "and was troubled." 

3. A revived sense of justly deserved wrath belongs also to these depths. "This is as the opening of old wounds. When men have passed through a sense of wrath, and have obtained deliverance and rest through the blood of Christ, to come to their old thoughts again, to be trading afresh with hell, curse, law, and wrath, it is a depth indeed. And this often befalls gracious souls on the account of sin: Ps. 88:7, 'Your wrath lies hard upon me.'"

4. Oppressing apprehensions of temporal judgments concur herein also; for God will judge his people. And judgment often begins at the house of God. 'Though God,' says such a one, 'should not cast me off for ever,--though He should pardon my iniquities; yet He may so take vengeance of my inventions as to make me feed on gall and wormwood all my days.' Ps. 119:120, says David, 'My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments.' He knows not what the great God may bring upon him; and being full of a sense of the guilt of sin, which is the bottom of this whole condition, every judgment of God is full of terror unto him."

5. Prevailing fears for a season of being utterly rejected by God, of being found a reprobate at the last day. "Jonah seems to conclude so, chap. 2:4, 'Then I said, I am cast out of Your sight;'--'I am lost for ever, God will own me no more'...This may befall a gracious soul on the account of sin. But yet because this fights directly against the life of faith, God doth not, unless it be in extraordinary cases, suffer any of his to lie long in this horrible pit, where there is no water, no refreshment."

6. God secretly sends His arrows into the soul, that wound and gall it, adding pain, trouble, and disquietness to its disconsolation: "Ps, 138:2, 'Your arrows stick fast in me, and Your hand presses me sore.' Ever and anon in his walking, God shot a sharp piercing arrow, fixing it on his soul, that galled, wounded, and perplexed him, filling him with pain and grievous vexation. These arrows are God's rebukes: Ps. 139:11, 'When You, with rebukes, do correct man for iniquity.'"

7. Unspiritedness and disability unto duty, in doing or suffering, attend such a condition : "Ps. 40:12, 'My iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up.' His spiritual strength was worn away by sin, so, that he was not able to address himself unto any communion with God. The soul now cannot pray with life and power, cannot hear with joy and profit, cannot do good and communicate with cheerfulness and freedom, cannot meditate with delight and heavenly-mindedness, cannot act for God with zeal and liberty, cannot think of suffering with boldness and resolution; but is sick, weak, feeble, and bowed down.

Owen concluded the section on the soul-experience of believers in the depths of sin with this summary:

"Now, I say, a gracious soul, after much communion with God, may, on the account of sin, by a sense of the guilt of it, be brought into a state and condition wherein some, more, or all of these, with other the like perplexities, may be its portion ; and these make up the depths whereof the psalmist here complains."

While these are "the depths" that believers often find themselves in on account of their sin, they turn to the One to whom David said, "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared." Concerning this appeal to God's mercy and forgiveness, Owen explained that believers must keep these things in view:

"1. The gracious, tender, merciful heart and will of God, who is the God of pardons and forgivenesses; or ready to forgive, to give out mercy, to add to pardon. 

2. A respect unto Jesus Christ, the only ἱλασμός, or propitiation for sin, as he is expressly called, Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2. And this is that which interposes between the gracious heart of God and the actual pardon of sinners. All forgiveness is founded on propitiation.

3. Actual forgiveness itself, as we are made partakers of it; comprising it both actively, as it is an act of grace in God, and passively, as terminated in our souls, with the deliverance that attends it. In this sense, as it looks downwards and in its effects respects us, it is of mere grace; as it looks upwards to its causes and respects the Lord Christ, it is from propitiation or atonement. And this is that pardon which is administered in the covenant of grace."

Believers, as we struggle in our souls for nearness to God, a restored sense of His favor and delight and new manifestations of His presence and power, we must learn to cry out to God from the depths--acknowledging God's holiness, our sin and rebellion, what our iniquities deserve and the great mercy of God in Christ that he continually shows us as we turn back to him from the depths. It is, in this way, that we will repeatedly experience in our souls the truth that there is "more mercy in Christ than sin in us"--as the Apostle boldly declared when he said, "Where sin abounded, grace did abound much more" (Rom. 5:20). 

Any theological system worth its salt affirms that faith is a gift from God rather than the exercise of some innate power of the human soul. But that affirmation can be misleading, particularly so if one's notion of "gift" is determined by the culture of gift-giving and gift-receiving we currently inhabit. In our day, we tend to think of gifts as something we may or may not want, and may or may not actually keep. The assumption that gifts can be refused is so engrained in our modern way of life that we include "gift receipts" with gifts given in order, rather bizarrely, to facilitate their rejection on the part of those to whom we give them. The danger, then, is that in speaking of faith as a divine gift, we think of it as something analogous to those argyle socks that Aunt Gertrude sends us every Christmas. Argyle socks may be appeal to some (personally I'm a fan), but many are likely to return the socks in favor of a DVD or some fancy accessory for their smart phones.

Faith isn't that kind of a gift. Faith is the kind of gift that transforms its recipient into one who deeply values it (because he supremely values its object) and henceforth longs for more of it. Genuine, saving faith is not given or received with a "gift receipt." There are absolutely no returns on the faith that God gifts to those upon whom he has set his saving affection before the foundation of the world. Faith, in other words, is entirely unique in the genus of gifts. If anyone else has discovered another gift that by its very nature renders its recipient desirous of it, please, please, let me know -- I'd like to order whatever it is for my wife well in advance of Christmas. Because faith is unique compared to presents we might give or receive, we must define our terms very carefully when speaking of it as "gift." Fortunately, our Christian tradition is rather rich in resources for doing just that.

Three individuals/resources stand out to me for how they properly clarify faith's character as gift: Augustine, the Canons of Dort, and Francis.

Augustine on Faith as Gift

The late fourth/early fifth century Church Father Augustine unambiguously names faith as a divine gift in his work On the Predestination of the Saints: "Faith, then, as well in its beginning as in its completion, is God's gift; and let no one have any doubt whatever, unless he desires to resist the plainest sacred writings, that this gift is given to some, while to some it is not given." Augustine describes the transformative nature of this gift in numerous writings. So for instance he notes in The Gift of Perseverance that "[God] himself ... gives to ... unbelievers the gift of faith, and makes willing men out of those that were unwilling." And again in On the Predestination of the Saints he writes concerning faith: "This grace, therefore, which is hiddenly bestowed in human hearts by the Divine gift, is rejected by no hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart."

The Canons of Dort on Faith as Gift

The Canons of Dort similarly identify faith as a divine and transformative gift: "Faith in Jesus Christ ... and salvation through him is a free gift of God. [...] The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decree. [...] In accordance with this decree God graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of the elect and inclines them to believe, but by a just judgment God leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen." The transformative nature of God's gift-giving to his people is re-emphasized further on in the Canons: "When God ... works true conversion [in his elect], God not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds."

Francis on Faith as Gift

With all due deference to Augustine and Dort, no individual has influenced or informed my understanding of faith's nature as gift more than Francis. Not Francis of Assissi. Not Rome's current pope. Mike Francis, senior pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA) in DeLand, Florida. Mike has influenced and informed my understanding of faith's nature as gift less by his teaching (though also certainly by that) than by the events of his own life.

My wife and I moved from Scotland to Central Florida in the summer of 2013. We began attending Immanuel Presbyterian Church the week we arrived, and were blessed to sit under Mike Francis's teaching for nearly two years. Mike is hands down the best preacher I've ever heard. He's also the most faithful shepherd of a congregation's souls that I've ever met. Until the day I die, Mike will stand out in my mind as the model of what a Christian pastor should be.

In May of 2015 Mike suffered a heart attack while cycling several miles from his house in Deland. His heart stopped beating. He was subsequently revived. Fourteen minutes elapsed between the point at which he climbed or fell off his bicycle at the side of the road and the point at which the paramedics revived him. Mike suffered an anoxic brain injury as a result of his heart attack. When he awoke from a coma and eventually spoke in the weeks after his injury, it became evident that Mike had lost much of his short-term and long-term memory. Close friends and members of his congregation -- individuals Mike had prayed for, preached to, wept and rejoiced with -- were strangers to him. When Mike first returned to the corporate worship of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, he would approach individuals after the service and introduce himself with these words: "I'm Mike. Have I already spoken to you today?" Ten seconds after the conclusion of such a conversation, Mike would have no memory of it. There was every possibility he would return to you in minutes, saying "I'm Mike. Have I already spoken to you today?"

It's a terrible thing to witness an individual's loss of memory. One realizes in such situations just how substantially memory is constitutive of friendships and identity. In a very real sense, Mike was stripped of both by his accident. He was surrounded by persons who loved (and still love) him, but the fundamental bond of human friendship -- shared (and remembered) experiences -- was broken. He knew his name, but the narrative that was his life -- the narrative that defined him to himself and others -- was lost to him.

But Mike retained one thing fully intact despite the loss of so much that defined him: his faith that Jesus Christ has lived and died for him, and so secured his inheritance of eternal life with God and with God's people. Several weeks after his accident, Mike awoke from his coma a confused man but a strong believer in Jesus Christ. I visited Mike in the hospital when he was in a semi-comatose state, and I wondered whether Mike would ever fully awake. I visited Mike in the hospital after he awoke, and I wondered if he would ever speak. Six months after his accident Mike stood up at a congregational gathering of our church and admitted to his congregation that his entire life had changed as a result of his accident. He then added, with more than a spark of the enthusiasm and passion that characterized his preaching for so many years, that one thing had not changed: His relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, a relationship founded on the saving work of God the Son incarnate for him.

Faith is a gift, and truly "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11.29). That reality became increasingly clear to me as I witnessed Mike's life and conversation following his accident. Stripped of nearly everything that defined him, Mike still had faith. Mike still had faith because his faith was never a product of his own intellect or volition. It was God's gift to him. The reality that faith is God's gift became, in fact, one of the most powerful lessons Mike ever taught his congregation. He taught that lesson unwittingly, and with a childlike simplicity and beauty that words cannot obtain. Indeed, he's still teaching that lesson to the members of Immanuel Presbyterian Church. And I suspect that God has many more lessons yet to teach his people in Deland and beyond through Mike Francis.

Please beseech God for further healing and peace for Rev. Mike Francis, comfort and endurance for Mike's immediate family members, and wisdom for the session of Immanuel Presbyterian Church as they chart a forward course for Mike and the congregation.

The Savior at the Well

"I am the woman at the well, 
I am the harlot 
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path 
I am the son that ran away 
And I am the bitter son that stayed

My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me 
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King? 
My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me? 
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song that I sing." (Caedmon's Call)

As a young believer--having been redeemed by God out of a prodigal lifestyle--I wept nearly every time that I listened to Caedmon's Call song, "Mystery of Mercy." Having been redeemed by God out of a prodigal lifestyle, I found myself in solidarity with the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the prodigal son, Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross. I came to see, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that I was no better than any of them. In fact, I saw that I was worse than they were. I came to realize that convicting His people of their sin and making them aware of the judgment they deserve because of it it is one of the greatest gifts of God's grace.

I also quickly came to realize that many Christian authors used aspects of biblical passages about Jesus' mercy to the undeserving in order to promote an antinomian understanding of the Gospel. For instance, Brennan Manning emphatically stated--with regard to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)--that Jesus "didn't demand a firm purpose of amendment" and "didn't seem too concerned that she might dash back into the arms of her lover" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 167). Manning also suggested the following: 

"I don't think that anyone reading this would have approved of throwing rocks at the poor woman in adultery, but we would have made darn sure she presented a detailed act of contrition and was firm in her purpose of amendment. Because if we let her off without saying she was sorry, wouldn't she be back in adultery before sunset?" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 173).

At the outset, I want to be clear that I stand firmly against those who teach that legal repentance and reformation is necessary in order for someone to come to Jesus--as if one needed to clean himself or herself up to make oneself acceptable to Christ. However, what Manning taught (from a disputed passage of Scripture, I would add) is not in keeping with the details of the text or the general manner of Christ's saving work in the lives of sinners. After telling the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you," Jesus says to her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). Having forgiven this woman of disrepute, Jesus called her to live out a godly life in keeping with the redemption that she had experienced by His grace. 

Of a somewhat different nature than Manning's misrepresentation of the woman caught in adultery is Sammy Rhodes' recent apology to members of the LGBTQ movement--in which he references Jesus' dealing with the woman at the well (John 4:1-30). While presumably seeking to draw attention to what a loving posture should be towards those who are engaged in sexual sin, Rhodes goes so far as to insist that Jesus "cared far more about sharing a drink with her than he did about her sexual choices." In doing so, Rhodes presents an inadequate picture of the Savior at the well. Additionally, by saying "We're all the woman at the well," Rhodes--perhaps inadvertently--leads us to believe that we are acting self-righteously, rather than in love, if we speak out against sexually sinful lifestyles. 

The Savior at the Well

In the first place, it should be noted that Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink of water in order to teach her about her own spiritual thirst and His ability to quench that thirst by means of His redemption. Jesus didn't simply care about "sharing a drink with her." He wasn't on a night out on the town. In the second place--and vastly more significant--is the fact that Jesus cared deeply about speaking to the woman about her "sexual choices." This is clear from the fact that he told her to call her husband, told her that He knew that she had previously been married five times and that He knew that she was currently committing adultery with the man with whom she was now living (John 4:16-18). Uncovering the sinful hearts of men and women is one of the chief ways in which the Savior works in the lives of those He is redeeming in order to draw them to Himself. To downplay Jesus' use of the Law with the woman at the well is to dimmish the way in which the Gospel works in the lives of believers; it is to present a Jesus who is less than determined to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). Jesus loved the woman at the well enough to tell her about her sexual sin so that she might see her need for Him. The most loving thing that we can do for others is to tell them about the Savior and about the sin from which they need to be redeemed by the Him. 

We see the importance of Jesus convicting the woman at the well of her sexual sin by the fact that John tells us: "the woman then left her waterpot" (a symbol of her empty life) and went her way into the city, and said to the men, 'Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" This woman had spent the better part of her life seeking to satisfy herself with men--the very thing that Jesus revealed to her. However, having finally found eternal life and satisfaction in Christ, she went and told the men of the city, "Come see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" She didn't go into the city and say, "I just met a really great guy who had a drink with me and didn't condemn anything about my sinful lifestyle." She told them that Jesus knew all about her sinful lifestyle. She said, "Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did." It was necessary for Christ to convict this woman of her sinful lifestyle and to show her the futility of it in order to help her see her need for Him and the redemption that can only be found in Him. 

Speaking Out in Love

It has become commonplace in our day to hear Christians say things like, "We can't lead with condemnation if we are ever to reach our LGBTQ neighbors." Sadly, I have, on numerous occasions, heard those same words propagated within the ecclesiastical circles in which I minister. Contrary to this mantra, The Apostle Paul marched into the epicenter of idolatry and sexual immorality with a condemnation of sin in order to lovingly help men and women see the greatness of the grace of God in Christ (see Romans 1:18-3:26). In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul took his readers from plight to solution in order to convince them of just how unrighteous all men are by nature. The Apostle was not self-righteously condemning others; rather, he was showing them more fully the need that they have for Christ. In fact, the Apostle went so far as to single out homosexual sin as the highest form of idolatry in a world full of people who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." After all, "Androgyny," as Jungian psychologist June Singer has noted in her book Androgyny: Toward a New Theory of Sexuality, "is the sacrament of monism." 

While the Apostolic writings on this point are clear (e.g. Romans 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11), it has become increasingly common to hear professing believers suggest that Jesus never condemned homosexuality. Anyone who reads the Scriptures honestly will find it a futile exercise to attempt to pit the ethics of Jesus against that of the Apostles. The Savior was crucified by the hands of men, in large part, because He exposed the sin that fallen man so desperately loves. Jesus said, "The world...hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (John 7:7). In the days of His flesh, Jesus preached against all sexual sin under the general category of "sexual immorality" (e.g. see Matt. 5:32 and 19:9). We dishonor the holiness and majesty of God by refusing to mention God's condemnation of particular sin when seeking to speak to our culture. 

In addition to dishonoring God and His holiness, we do our fellow image bearers a great disservice if we present a Gospel void of the accompanying conviction of God's Law. No one will ever see their need for Christ until they come to terms with the fact that they are sinners deserving of judgment. In the church membership vows of the PCA, we ask those coming for membership, the following question: "Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?" Acknowledging that we are deserving of judgment for our sin is an indispensable part of being a Christian. The Holy Spirit works through the Law of God to convince us of the fact that we are "sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure." 

We have unique cultural challenges in our day--challenges that tempt us to be silent on the difficult truths of Scripture, challenges to fear man rather than God and challenges to allow sin to go unchecked. We all feel the temptation to want to make Christianity more palatable for the masses by taking away from our presentation of it whatever our culture deems offensive. There is something right about our need to be cautious about our own offensiveness. We should never want to be offensive by means of our personal tone or motives in presenting the Gospel to men and women; however, we must always recognize that the Gospel is necessarily offensive in that it--working together with the Law of God--exposes our sin and shows us that our only hope is in the message of the crucified and risen Christ. While we acknowledge that we are exactly like the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, the prodigal son, Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross, we need not turn from telling others about the nature of sin and of the eternal danger that they continue to face in if they will not turn from it to the Savior who stands ready to forgive and cleanse His people by His grace. It is the most loving thing that we can do for our neighbors and fellow image bearers.  

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2.11-14)

According to Titus 2.11-14, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ fulfills a threefold office. 

In its first office, grace is a redeemer. Call it "saving grace." Saving grace comes to us, not as a result of our righteousness and good works, but as a result of God's own mercy (Titus 3.5) and through Christ's self-giving act of redemption. By virtue of Christ's saving grace, the redeemed are set free "from all lawlessness . . . for himself." Christ purchases us. And we become his treasured possession, his chosen people. 

In its second office, grace is a teacher. Call it "training grace." Because of Christ's training grace, the church becomes a school of virtue. The vices of ungodliness and worldly passion are renounced. The virtues of prudence, justice, and godliness are pursued with zeal, in faith, love, and steadfastness (Titus 2.2).

In its third office, grace awakens within our hearts hope for a vision of beauty and happiness. Call it "hope-inspiring grace." Jesus Christ, our Great God and Savior, is glorious. He is the radiance of divine and supernatural light, which transcends the visible forms of all created lights, which no man has seen or can see (1 Tim 6.16). And he is the radiance of our glorified human nature, the Last Adam and Life-Giving Spirit (1 Cor 15.45). Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious vision of Jesus Christ is guaranteed to us. And this guarantee births happiness and hope. We were redeemed for this happy sight. We train in virtue in preparation for this happy sight (Heb 12.14). It is our "blessed hope" that we will one day see his face. 

Grace comes to us in many forms and in many colors. Grace saves sinners. Graces trains saints. Grace satisfies our deepest longings with the beautiful and happy vision of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
When storms come (and they will), where are you anchored? Do you toss to and fro by the waves, or does your anchor hold? 
Salvation is anchored in grace, rooted in God's favor toward us in his Son, the Lord Christ. reformation21 contributor Jeremy Walker's new book, Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith, is a celebration of these exceeding riches of God's grace toward sinners in Christ Jesus.

These are realities with which Christians need to be thoroughly acquainted. They are paths to walk so that we do not miss our way to heaven, nor fail to honor the Lord God along the way. They are central truths, humbling truths, saving truths, and comforting truths. Not least, they are God-glorifying truths, for the great end of our salvation is the praise of the glory of God's grace. When God saves sinners, it reveals His wisdom and power, His love and compassion, His justice and truth, as nothing else. In Christ crucified, we are given insights into the gracious heart of God Almighty that can be found nowhere else. There His majesty, might, and mercy are on display, and there we find life everlasting.

When our faith is anchored in this grace, holiness and happiness take root in our hearts. Here sinners are liberated from condemnation, dread, and wrath. Here Christians are relieved of fear, confusion, and pride. Here we may find peace, certainty, purpose, joy, and hope.

Anchored in Grace provides a brief survey of the grace of God in Christ revealed in the Scriptures, tracing the arc of his saving dealings with lost men and women. It is by no means exhaustive, but rather sets out some of the fixed points in which humble faith can rest so as to exalt and enjoy God in all his saving kindnesses in his Son.
"A sure-footed journey through the doctrines of grace - foundational truths for godliness and discipleship - by a trusted guide. Reading this book will both thrill and convict, challenge and confirm. Essential reading for discipleship groups, Adult Sunday School classes, and individuals determined to grow in grace. Warmly recommended."
--Derek W. H. Thomas; Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia SC; The Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta
The drawing for Anchored in Grace is now closed, thank you for your participation!

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If grace is preached in our biblically-sound churches, then why does it seem like such a hard concept to grasp? Why do we feel like we still need to work towards God's favor? Why do we sometimes feel like He is disappointed in us? 

If Grace Is So Amazing, Then Why Do We Struggle With It?

James Rich talks about the centrality of grace in the Christian life. He points out that it seems Christians struggle somewhat to understand exactly what it is and how it operates. To demonstrate this misunderstanding, he offers a quick quiz: "True or false; we are saved by faith." Sounds insultingly easy, doesn't it? But if you answered... Continue reading

This Month on Theology on the Go:
On Theology on the Go, Dr. Jonathan Master is joined by Dr. Jonathan Gibson, co-editor of a recent scholarly work on definite atonement, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Listen in as they discuss the important topic of definite atonement on Theology on the Go podcast.

More at Place for Truth:
Grace that Instructs
Contributor, Jeffrey Stivason, remembers a  a well-known figure of the Counter-Reformation. He was Pope Clement VIII's personal theologian and in 1930 he was canonized and consequently named a Doctor of the Church. Protestants often reflect on the Reformation as the time in which the doctrine of justification was once again restored to a Biblical foundation. However, according to Bellarmine, the greatest error of Protestantism was not its doctrine of justification...Continue reading

The Heartbeat of Reformed Christianity
What does it mean to be 'Reformed'? Different things for different people, to be sure! For Arminian Dispensationalists it is an anathema. For some secular observers, it is the religious equivalent of being to the right of Genghis Khan. But even for those who call themselves 'Reformed' there is quite a spectrum of views. Contributor, Mark Johnston, looks at what Calvin has to say about what it means to be Reformed... Continue reading

Vos 121
Contributor David Garner,, talks about an exclusive group of writings that rises to the level of "must read once a year" for him. One of them is Geerhardus Vos' inaugural lecture to his new post as Professor of biblical Theology at Princeton on May 8, 1894. Today's 121st anniversary of that lecture warrants remembering some of Vos' fruitful insights..." Continue reading

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I've enjoyed the recent interaction between Mark Jones and Rick Phillips on the question of whether divine grace informed the covenant of works. I've also appreciated the generally cordial spirit of their interaction.

As both Mark and Rick know (and have reminded us), confessional theological traditions, by their very nature, permit a significant degree of difference on relatively important (or at least intriguing) issues. Confessional traditions, for those unfamiliar with such terminology, are those which look to one or several historic confessions of faith (the Westminster Confession, the Gallic Confession, the Augsburg Confession, etc.) to establish boundaries for appropriate theological expression. The original authors of such confessions -- for example, the Westminster Divines -- disagreed among themselves about quite a few things (See Haykin and Jones's Drawn into Controversie). Thus they purposefully produced statements of faith which were simultaneously inclusive of their divergent views and exclusive of views which, to their thinking, were sinister enough to require a severing of Christian fellowship. Present-day disagreement which occurs within the boundaries created by some common, historic Confession of Faith (such as the WCF) is, then, intramural (intra = within; muri = walls) and fraternal (fratres= brothers) by definition. That realization can and should inform the tone of such disagreement.

With that in view, I'd like raise a question or two in response to Mark and Rick's respective posts. I hope my questions will reflect the fraternal tone I've just advocated. I hope, more importantly, that they might serve to clarify where the boundaries actually lay -- for those who subscribe to the WCF -- for what's permissible and appropriate to say about divine grace and human merit vis-à-vis the covenant of works.

On Grace in the Covenant of Works

Regarding, first, the issue of grace in the covenant of works: I wonder if Mark hasn't overstated his case to some degree? Mark's done a masterful job of demonstrating that numerous seventeenth-century Reformed divines recognized the covenant of works as an essentially gracious arrangement, and/or acknowledged Adam's obedience, as long as such lasted in the Garden, as a product, ultimately, of divine grace. It would, I think, be irresponsible, in light of Marks' argument, to read the WCF as if it denied any present-day Reformed believer the freedom to refer to the covenant of works as a gracious relationship in which Adam's "perfect and perpetual obedience" might have secured (eternal) "life" for "Adam and... his posterity."

At times, however, Mark almost seems to suggest that recognition of grace in the covenant of works was unanimous among early modern Reformed thinkers, and -- consequently -- that the WCF's reference to every divine covenant per se being an instance of "voluntary condescension on God's part" was tantamount to naming the covenant of works as gracious in kind. So, for example, Mark advises those who "wish to maintain general agreement with the Reformed orthodox of the seventeenth century" to "be comfortable with (and perhaps insist upon) pre-Fall grace."

I'd like to point out, on this score, that there were early modern Reformed thinkers who very explicitly denied divine grace a presence or role in the pre-Fall covenant of works. Robert Rollock, the first principle of Edinburgh University and a pivotal figure in the history of Reformed covenant thought, comes to mind. In Rollock's 1596 catechism on the divine covenants he firmly insisted that those "works" which God required from Adam in the pre-Fall covenant were products of Adam's holy and upright nature, and so of his innate powers, not "works proceeding from grace." This, I take it, would distinguish Rollock from Ames. In his Treatise of Effectual Calling a year later, Rollock denied that divine grace served as the fundamentum -- the foundation or basis -- of the covenant of works, and named Adam's holy and upright nature and friendship with God as the proper foundation of said covenant. This, I take it, would distinguish Rollock from the multitude of writers Mark quotes who insisted on recognizing every covenant between God and man as an instance of divine grace per se. Rollock's analysis of the covenant of works is consistent with his own definition of "divine covenants" per se, a definition which omits any mention of grace.

It may be that Rollock was entirely alone in his refusal to place grace in the Garden of Eden. But I doubt it. Rollock was, by all accounts, a force to be reckoned with in the development of Reformed covenant theology, and I suspect that one finds his views on this matter reflected to some extent at least among his students and theological heirs. I suspect, moreover, that when the Westminster Divines spoke of "voluntary [divine] condescension" as the basis for each and every covenant, they were, with a view towards Rollock's opinion if not the man himself, more intentional in their avoidance of the term "grace" then Mark contends. The very carefully crafted wording of WCF 7 permits one to acknowledge grace -- not redemptive grace, but grace in some more general sense -- as foundational to the covenant of works as such. It certainly doesn't require anyone to acknowledge the covenant of works as a divinely established gracious relationship.

On Merit in the Covenant of Works

On the issue of merit in the covenant of works: I wonder if Rick hasn't misread the sources to some extent when he claims that "the [Westminster] confession restrict[s] merit to the person and work of Christ alone," and denies such (that is, merit) to anyone else, Adam included. There's no question that our Confession denies the possibility of fallen sinners meriting forgiveness and eschatological life (16.5), but, so far as I can see, the WCF never explicitly comments upon the issue of whether Adam's obedience could or would have been meritorious or not. 

Such lack of commentary on the issue of pre-Fall merit follows, I'd wager, from the diversity of opinions one actually encounters among seventeenth-century Reformed writers on this question. Rollock, whom I referenced above, specifically denied that Adam's obedience would have had the nature -- the ratio -- of merit because his work was owed to God in light of God's preceding goodness (not grace) to him. Others, however, insisted that Adam's obedience would have been meritorious, even if they labored to define "merit" in some way contrary to medieval notions of condign and congruent merit.

So, for instance, Johannes Braun wrote in his De doctrina foederum: "If Adam had remained upright and done everything which God required of him, he would indeed have merited his reward, but not condignly, as if either his own person or his works were equal in value to the reward. For no creature, no matter how perfect, can merit anything from God in that sense. [...] Rather he would have merited ex pacto, according to the stipulation of the covenant -- that is, according to God's good pleasure." One finds the same doctrine of pre-Fall merit in Francis Turretin, Benedict Pictet, and -- I presume -- in others of the period. 

I would contend, then, that diversity on the question of pre-Fall merit existed just as much as it did on the issue of pre-Fall grace. Thus, moreover, I would contend that persons affirming the meritorious nature of Adam's works in the pre-Fall covenant are no more "out of bounds" (as it were) than persons affirming/denying the presence of grace in the Garden.


I doubt that current debates over covenant theology can be effectively arbitrated by appeals to our Reformed "tradition," our historic confessions, or any singular Confession (say, Westminster). There's considerable diversity in our tradition (even with regard to something as specific as the covenant of works) and our historic confessions reflect that diversity by refusing to take sides on intramural squabbles. Contemporary debates over aspects of Reformed covenant theology are important and necessary, but they must be waged primarily on the fields of exegesis, biblical theology, and systematics. What our shared Confession of Faith can do in these debates is remind us of the unity we share despite our lack of complete uniformity in doctrine, a point which should in turn inform the tenor of our conversations.

Whatever parties exist on questions of grace and merit in the covenant of works, all who genuinely ascribe to the WCF affirm "the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ," and base their hope for eternal reward entirely upon the same. That truth bears repeating in the midst of (fraternal) discord. I'm reminded of Calvin's words to Bullinger in the 1540's regarding their differences on the Lord's Supper: "In whatever way I may hold the firm persuasion of a greater communication of Christ in the sacraments than you express in words, we shall not on that account cease to hold the same Christ and to be one in him. Some day, perhaps, it will be given us to unite in fuller harmony of doctrine."

That reminds me ...

Ah, yes - the answer! Who said this?
1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. "All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God's. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being "come short of the glory of God," the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is "grace upon grace!" If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" And thus it is herein "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died" to save us "By grace" then "are ye saved through faith." Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.
The answer is, John Wesley, expounding Ephesians 2:8, in Sermons, on Several Occasions. Interesting.
1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. "All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God's. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being "come short of the glory of God," the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is "grace upon grace!" If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" And thus it is herein "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died" to save us "By grace" then "are ye saved through faith." Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation. - See more at:
1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. "All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God's. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being "come short of the glory of God," the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is "grace upon grace!" If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" And thus it is herein "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died" to save us "By grace" then "are ye saved through faith." Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation. - See more at:
1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. "All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God's. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being "come short of the glory of God," the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is "grace upon grace!" If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" And thus it is herein "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died" to save us "By grace" then "are ye saved through faith." Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation. - See more at:
1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. "All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God's. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being "come short of the glory of God," the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is "grace upon grace!" If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" And thus it is herein "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died" to save us "By grace" then "are ye saved through faith." Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation. - See more at:

Grace and sin

A number of pastoral issues have arisen recently which have brought home to me some particular truths and some particular emphases arising from them. Many of these situations are on the fringes of church life or outside it (though I sincerely hope that some of them might, under God's gracious influences, come within it in due course). How much we need to grasp spiritual realities with scriptural definition! It is a great distress to see how often false religion dismisses the former and degrades the latter, but even more grievous is to see professing Christians mishandle matters of central importance. (Please understand that these are not veiled critiques of events in the Christian stratosphere, but observations about concrete situations in local churches, or at least those places which call themselves churches. But you are wise, and may apply it.)

One area where this has cropped up recently is in the matter of grace, what Matthew Henry somewhere describes as "the free favour of God and all the blessed fruits of it." In common Christian parlance, grace seems to have become a catch-all noun to describe a certain kind of softness and carelessness with regard to sin. When acts and patterns of sin are exposed, we are encouraged to be gracious, but that grace is often not defined or ill-defined. When criticisms are made of certain acts and their actors, the rebuke is readily offered, "That is not gracious!" Grace, apparently, can ignore the sin that calls forth the critique, but not the sin of critiquing it!

So, for example, when there is gross sin in the church, we must show grace. When someone is acting wickedly, it is gracious not to condemn it. When a lie is told, grace will ignore the matter. When leaders fudge matters of righteousness, ignore God's truth, and expose God's flock to harms because they will not deal with transgressors, they are showing grace, and we must show grace by not charging them with any failings.

But this nebulous notion of grace is very far removed from the spiritual reality with scriptural definition that we find revealed and displayed in our Bibles. Gospel grace does not excuse or ignore or neglect sin. Gospel grace is never casual or careless with regard to transgression. Gospel grace, whether patterned in God or echoed in man, never pretends sin is not sin. Gospel grace does not expose the flock to harm because it will not identify error and heresy and defend against errorists and heretics, even in the name of love. Gospel grace suffers long, but it is not a disregard for iniquity that is dishonouring to God and dangerous to men. Gospel grace does not call evil good, and good evil; it does not put darkness for light, and light for darkness, or bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Is 5.20).

Gospel grace always faces and addresses sin, though it does so in a gracious way. If you want a seasonal example, think of that just man, who did not want to make the woman he loved a public example, despite what he was legitimately persuaded was the growing evidence of heinous sin, and "was minded to put her away secretly" (Mt 1.19). Grace took no delight in parading sin, but it did not pretend that it was not (as far as could reasonably be determined) sin. When Joseph was enlightened concerning the reality of the situation, would he not have been relieved that he did not have an immediately ungracious response, and make of Mary the most public example he could? Grace prevents us making errors born of harshness, and allows for the easy correction of mistakes.

Remember that fervent love is commanded among the saints, a love which will cover a multitude of sins (1Pt 4.8 cf. Prv 10.12), but consider that such love recognises sin as sin and chooses that, for good and proper reasons, it will be discreet in dealing with it or covering it. Again, to quote Matthew Henry, this love "inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them abroad." We read that "the discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression" (Prv 19.11) - he decides, as appropriate, that this transgression is not something that needs to be dealt with immediately and publicly, though he still recognises it as transgression, and there may come a time when a pattern of transgression requires him to stop overlooking and start acting. We do not pull one another up on every slip of deed and word, but take account of our frailties and failings as sinful creatures, creatures with remaining sin even as redeemed men and women. This is the grace of God as Father, who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps 103.8-14).

Notice here the hints at the greatest expression of grace: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in coming into the world to die on the cross for his wretched and sin-wrecked people was at once the clearest recognition of sin and the highest expression of mercy. God did not pretend that there was no sin; he saw it more clearly than we ever shall, but put it away by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The cross is at once the revealing of the sinfulness of sin and the demonstration of the graciousness of grace.

Gospel grace does not revel in the public exposure of sin and aggressive shaming of sinners, like a church boasting of how many cases of corrective discipline it has handled recently. But neither does it sweep sin away as if it were of no moment. True gospel grace, patterned in a gracious God and echoed in gracious men, always faces sin head on. It is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, but it is also fiercely committed to the glory of a God who is holy and to the good of those who are called to be holy just as he is holy. It calls sin sin, and it considers the nature, occasion and consequences of any particular sin and responds appropriately.

Grace is not, then, an excuse to downplay or dismiss sin as if it were of no consequence, to go on neglecting to deal with it. Grace does not make sin of no account. Grace is the most honest in dealing with sin. Grace always takes account of sin, it looks sin in the ugly eye and - one way or another - it puts it away, sometimes at great cost to itself, dealing fairly and even tenderly with those in whom that sin is discerned, as occasion demands.

Grace, ultimately, is Godlike. It is not a commodity, a mere thing, but an expression of the heart of God in Christ Jesus his Son. If we would have a pattern for gospel grace, we must find it in Christ crucified. Bring all sin into the light of the gospel, put all sin under the shadow of the cross, and there you shall find wisdom in how to deal with it. Deal with it graciously, but deal with it you must. There is nothing gracious about pretending otherwise.
Is Jesus on every page in the Old Testament? According to the title of a recent book, he may be. Is Christ in every sentence (e.g., "tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!" Ps. 58:6b)? Should we employ the exegetical genius, or perhaps lack thereof, to find him in every definite article, specific referent, or conjunction (e.g., "But..." - Eph. 2:4)? Should we employ a certain apostolic hermeneutic that will help us develop a Christocentric lens through which to read the Old Testament?

For the last several years, I have noticed these type of questions being asked. They may take different forms; nevertheless, the substance is essentially the same. Whether one is discussing the grammatical historical hermeneutic, redemptive historical approach, a combination thereof, or the law/gospel distinction, people are desirous to know to what extent Jesus is in the Old Testament.

As I continue to read the debates on this topic, some of which have more recently been centered around a Christotelic understanding of the scriptures, I began wondering something, perhaps, more fundamental to the discussion. How are we allowing uninspired subtitles and versification to influence us?

As a budding Hebrew linguist, there are certain things I prefer when reading the Hebrew Bible. I prefer the MT arrangement of the Old Testament--not the English arrangement. I enjoy reading about redaction theory, source criticism, and looking more deeply at the textual criticism apparatus. One idea that I have always desired was to acquire and read the Hebrew scriptures without the 10th or 11th century invention of the pointing system and without the 12th and 15th centuries versification system. That is a different Old Testament than we read today in our English Bibles, particularly as it relates to arrangement and versification. 

So as we consider the nature and manner of Jesus on every page (in the Old Testament), how do we understand the ebb and flow of the narrative based on our English Bibles? As Paul preached the kingdom of God and his Christ at Rome (Acts 28), he was not contained by subtitles. When Christ confronted his hearers by claiming that the scriptures testify of him (John 5), he wasn't guided by versification exactly as we are.

It seems to me that defining how we are using the Old Testament may be a helpful idea to further narrow the conversation. I am almost certain someone has already mentioned this. Despite my lack of ability to recall other works on this specific idea, I wonder if there is any merit to this suggestion, and if so, how will this help?

Let's use one example. Many of our Old Testament books are in narrative form. Due to the current versification and subtitle listings in our English Bibles, we often follow the headings and verses that were set for us. While that may be helpful to consider and even preach from, our divisions of the narratives sometimes inhibit a holistic view of the story and potentially create an environment where exegetes feel like they are gasping for air to find Jesus. 

Of course one can take that idea too far and not divide the narrative at all on the basis of the understanding that it is one entire narrative and therefore should not be fragmented. That is not my point. There may be certain coordinating or disjunctive conjunctions that indicate a scene change. At that scene change, it may be appropriate to end that section of the narrative. Sometimes that means we must read beyond the subtitles listed in our English Bibles. It may create a longer sermon; it may mean we have to read longer sections of scripture; or it may mean we cannot highlight, to our congregation, the exegetical precision that we would normally in smaller sections of scripture, but if it presents a clearer image of the overall story and thus prepares the way for better exegesis to preach Christ, it is worth it.

Taking the narrative in larger sections may help some of the exegetical gymnastics that can occur to find Jesus under every rock. (By the way, it is acceptable to find him on the rock - Exod. 17:1-7; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). Yes, I believe Jesus is in the Old Testament (Heb. 4); yes, I believe the scriptures point to him as the pinnacle of redemptive history (Luke 24);  yes, I believe the gospel--perhaps I should define that--should be preached in every sermon; but I also believe pastors must be careful in their exegesis. We do not want to misguide our churches toward an inappropriate understanding of seeing Christ in the Old Testament.
Fides sola est quae justificat; fides quae justificat non est sola. 

Latinisms can have a wonderful way of crystallising issues in theological reflection - so with this one: 'It is faith alone that justifies; but faith that justifies is never alone!' This isn't just a statement about the alone-ness of faith as the means by which we receive God's justifying grace, but something much more far-reaching. It highlights the crucial distinction we need to grasp as we try to understand what it means to be justified. Namely, that a person who is truly justified is never merely justified!

This may sound like theological hair-splitting, but actually it is tied in with one of the most vexed issues of Christian experience that goes back to the earliest days of the New Testament church and further back still. Because that is so, we are reminded that every pastoral problem has theological dimensions and every theological problem has pastoral implications and we dare not lose sight of either. Continue on Place for Truth.

I forgive you, but please don't call it 'giving grace'

What should I do when my husband forgets to buy milk on the way home from work? When my kids leave their new bikes out in the rain? When fellow church members are curt or critical on Sunday mornings? 

Increasingly, I hear the godly action in these scenarios described as "giving grace." And, while I wholeheartedly applaud heart-motivations of love, and God-glorifying acts of mercy, words still matter. When I hear Reformed people urging me to give "grace" to others, I question whether this is the right use of that precious word.

Ultimately, I'm afraid that by using the wrong biblical word for the right biblical response we may be misunderstanding both.

So, when people talk about "giving grace"--to husbands and children and the person next door--what, exactly, does that mean?

There are several biblical uses of the word "grace." Among other things, it can mean favor (Luke 2:52). It sometimes refers to the gifts given by Christ (Eph. 4:7). It can also mean God's working in the lives of elect and non-elect persons--restraining sin, promoting right action and attitudes, and giving temporal blessing (Matt. 5:45).

Primarily grace is, as Louis Berkhof writes, "God's free, sovereign, undeserved favor or love to man, in his state of sin and guilt, which manifests itself in the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from its penalty." 

I think it is a human version of this which most people have in mind when they encourage moms to give grace to their kids, wives to give grace to their husbands, and church members to give grace to one another.  Giving grace, one person to another, is commonly understood as forgiveness or patient forbearance when confronted with someone's sin. This is a biblical and right action, and I give thanks to God for those who encourage parents and spouses to do more of it. Our families and communities need the self-denying kindness which Christ's followers lavish on others.

But I hesitate to call those actions grace. 

For one thing, the Bible doesn't use that word. In the Scripture passages where grace is described as given or received, God himself is always the giver. (The single exception to this is Eph. 4:29 where wholesome speech is said to "give grace to those who hear." But even this verse does not make humans the originators of grace, nor is it referring to grace in the sense of forgiveness.)

Scripture does give us words for what we can do with husbands who forget to buy milk and the children who spill it. We can forgive.  Ephesians 4:32 reads, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you." The Bible also uses the language of covering sin as in I Peter 4:8, "love covers a multitude of sins." And I Corinthians 13 commands a love which "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." 

The Christian ought to be characterized by kindness, forgiveness, patience, and a disposition to assume the best of others.  But the Bible does not refer to these actions, done by humans, as grace. 

Second, as Berkhof's definition highlights, grace is necessarily an act of sovereignty.  John Murray explains it this way: "The sovereignty of grace is implicit in its nature. If grace excludes the constraint of human merit, if its whole constraint and explanation reside in God, it must be of his free good pleasure.  . . To dissociate grace in its source, progress, or fruition from pure sovereignty of will is to annul not only its character but also that by which its exercise is conditioned." Sovereignty is intrinsic to grace. Grace is always from Him and through Him and to Him--and only according to his holy will.

Human forgiveness and patience, on the other hand, are not sovereign acts at all. In my attitude toward my tantrum-throwing children and my (very occasionally) thoughtless husband, I do not freely choose mercy as an ultimate authority. Nor is my mercy effective to bring about my desired results in the lives of my family.

But God has mercy upon whom he will have mercy. He has loved Jacob and hated Esau. And his grace accomplishes what he intends.

Further, we have to consider the fact that we are people under obligation to our gracious God. In spite of the controversy surrounding his application of how grace works, I still think Tullian Tchividjian's definition of what grace is can be helpful here: "Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver." But some would use that word--grace--and apply it to a human response. And we humans are never unobligated givers. In fact, we are obligated again and again by God in His word to do precisely the forgiving that so many would like to call "grace." When my brother sins against me, I am obligated to forgive him. And I am obligated to forgive him not once but seventy-times-seven. I am obligated to love my enemies because Jesus commands it. Jesus is never obligated to love his. 

Like the unmerciful servant, my own debt to God obligates me to mercy toward fellow-debtors. But God has no such debt, nor any such requirement. His grace is given from a position of unequaled authority--the judge of all the earth condescending to lowly rebels--while our human forgiveness is given from a position of mutual humility.

Finally, God's acts of grace always flow from an unchangingly gracious character.
In The Christian Faith, Michael Horton writes, "God remains gracious and merciful in his essence, even though the exercise and objects of his mercy are determined in absolute freedom. In other words, God is not free to decide whether he will be merciful and gracious, but he is free to decide whether he will have mercy on some rather than others . . . God is patient, but he is free to show his patience to whomever he chooses." Whether God bestows grace or withholds it, he is still and always the merciful and gracious one.

In my human, sin-plagued heart, no such essential graciousness flourishes. Instead, I am at war against the deeds of the flesh. And in the absence of forgiveness, bitterness takes root. In the absence of patience, impatience. In the absence of mercy, pride and anger. 
I am compelled to kindness toward sinners, for in those acts I overcome evil with good.
Ultimately, my own actions are merely a response to God's gracious actions toward me. And I don't call my human forgiveness "grace" because I want my children and husband to remember that grace is something distinct, something which they desperately need, but something which can only come from God himself.

In the end, it is the freeness of God's grace which most amazes. God had a choice about whose sins to cover, and he chose mine. Not because I was deserving or because he was obligated, not because he owes a debt, and certainly not because he would otherwise fail to be holy, but simply out of his good pleasure. Thanks be to God.

So, yes, let's forgive each other. Let's be patient and kind and cover with love a multitude of wrongs. Let's do those things as humble debtors, constrained by God's mercy and seeking after holiness. But, please, let's not call it "giving grace."

Megan Hill is a member of Pinehaven Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Clinton, Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Her.meneutics and to The Gospel Coalition. You can read her blog about ministry life at

Celebrity and credibility

In exposing and critiquing the shallow culture of Western celebrity that too easily infiltrates the church of Jesus Christ, we must be careful not to allow that to become an equally crass dismissiveness of legitimately-earned reputation. Empty pomposity and unfounded adulation deserves to be lampooned. However, that can too easily become a pyrrhically satirical spirit in which almost any kind of authority, however legitimate, is mocked and decried. This necessary distinction has been brought home in recent days of travel. (And, it should be pointed out, before the recent resurgence of concern over Mark Driscoll, which seems nevertheless to prove an illustrative case. This post was sketched out several weeks ago.) The context was a conference at which the organisers were, it seemed to me, slightly disappointed with the turnout by way of comparison with past years. There were, they suggested, a number of reasons as to occasion and circumstance why that might have been. They graciously refrained from making what I thought was the obvious connection with the relatively low numbers, which was that they had invited me to preach. A little prompting brought the allowance that this was a possibility, but there was still a little disappointment that people who were willing to make significant investments to attend in previous years had not shown the same level of commitment in this year. My response was that, while recognising the hope that, under normal circumstances, a faithful church member will show commitment to his or her faithful church and its faithful pastor, regardless of who else turns up in town, a conference is a different environment. In such an environment, it is reasonable that men of worth, gift and character proven over time may and even should prove a more significant and legitimate draw than a relative unknown. This need not be a matter of celebrity drawing a crowd but of credibility providing a platform.

There are shooting stars in the professing church, men who erupt on to the scene, and streak across the sky in a blaze of glory. But their brightness is passing and their trajectory uncertain. For a while they are lauded, but there is no necessary track record of a valid life and productive labour. The man is measured often in terms of mere numbers, with people, sermons and books being counted rather than weighed. The assessment is largely quantitative rather than qualitative. As the lights begin to flash and the entourage begins to grow, others jump on the bandwagon, and before long Me Ministries Intergalactic has taken off, and those enamoured with and even seemingly hypnotised by an extravagant personality or a crafted reputation afford the big cheese whatever he demands, even if there is no real foundation for it. The result is a pyramid balanced on its point rather than its base, a great top-heavy structure teetering precariously on a man who, despite what may be an array of impressive reports (often generated by himself), is essentially unproven. There is celebrity but no credibility.

By contrast, one of the delightful things I sometimes see is churches of varying sizes, but often smaller rather than larger, where the elders of the church clearly have, in great measure, the hearts of the people, usually because the people clearly have the hearts of their pastors. Here is credibility at its most fundamental level, the proven character of the man of God validating his call and his ministry, winning the affections and the ears of the people he serves and the people that he is trying to reach. That credibility is obtained first of all, of course, in the domestic sphere, as the man demonstrates his fitness to shepherd the flock of Christ by his capacity to shepherd his wife and any children granted to his care.

Then there is the development of that credibility as the man, by dint of gifts granted and opportunities improved, obtains a measure of wider credibility in the local sphere. There he begins to be recognised as a man with a measure of wisdom, both given and cultivated, a believer with a growing experience of life as a man of God in a fallen world. Perhaps others start to look to him for counsel and leadership in a particular arena, geographically or ministerially. He is not a man who always has to have the last word but others start to look to him to give it. He chooses and weighs his words, and speaks, and others find them to be choice and to carry weight. He works faithfully, intensively and inventively, and his capacity for leadership becomes more apparent. There is a measure of giftedness in or fruit from his labours that again commends him in the eyes of those around him. His development of Christian character keeps pace with these opportunities, and he brings a savour of Christ with him as he goes, bringing credit to his Master wherever he is.

Perhaps further opportunities are provided. There may be chances to invest on a slightly larger scale. Other churches may seek his input. If they are available, he may be given scope to preach at fraternals and conferences at a relatively low level. If he writes, his articles and reviews or posts may provoke invitations to develop some theme into book form. Perhaps his intellectual gifts open doors to teach. Again, that may develop further until he is given a sphere for service not afforded to other men starting out or showing different or less God-given capacity.

A few short-term, sudden or stunning achievements, reported or even real, are no substitute for long-term labours of proven worth. Few men of lasting substance have been mere flashes. Someone like Spurgeon is sometimes held up as a man who erupts on to the scene and creates a monumental stir, a model for the progress of celebrity. But Spurgeon earned his spurs as a Sunday School teacher, as a travelling preacher sent out under a measure of authority, as the hardworking pastor of a small village church, and - many forget - as the man who not only took but held his station, risking his own life repeatedly, when a cholera epidemic swept through London during the early years of his ministry there. To be sure, he was unusually gifted, and his curve of prominence unusually steep (and the two may be connected), but he was also a proven commodity, with credibility earned over time and in the furnace of pastoral labour.

Or - more scripturally - think of Timothy, and consider his track record. Here is a man who manifested a genuine faith which dwelt first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and competent judges were persuaded was in him also (2Tim 1:5). From childhood he had known the Scriptures which were able to make him wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ, the same Bible which was and for a long time had been thoroughly equipping him for every good work (2Tim 3:14-17). That is not to say that a godly upbringing guarantees or is necessary for such maturity, but it can offer something of a head start. That this was true in Timothy's case is suggested by the fact that when Paul found him at Derbe or Lystra, he finds a disciple "well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium" (Acts 16:2). Timothy subsequently receives instructions that when he helps churches to identify and appoint elders, he is to focus on the credibility gained from a man's good character, gifts taking a quite significant back seat in the saints' estimation and assessment of the man who would serve in their midst:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Tim 3:1-7)
Toward the end we have the insistence of some kind of proven track record of this godliness of life, that the man be no novice, and - in addition - have a good testimony among the unbelievers. Timothy is no celebrity, but he enjoys a credibility grounded in his home church environment, developed and demonstrated in often thankless service, and obtained from good association with and definite commendation from other credible men.

Similar principles are at work in other portions of God's word. Apollos, already an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, shows himself humble and teachable in submitting to the private instruction of Aquila and Priscilla. Then, "when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him" (Acts 18:27). Here again is a man whose gifts and graces, both on appropriate display, wins a commendation from a church of Christ, and its weight is felt by other wise believers. Or think again of Paul's readiness to commit responsibility to "whomever you approve by your letters," that he might "bear your gift to Jerusalem" (1Cor 16:3), possibly the same fellow as the unnamed "brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches," "who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift" (2Cor 8:18-19). Even in the matter of financial responsibility, a man of proven worth and character among the saints, a credible man, is sought. Similarly, Paul's faux-boasting is the boasting of worth tried and proven in the furnace of affliction and not the parading of prominent public giftedness without any spiritual substance. When he deals with the Thessalonians he emphasises that these men and women knew "what kind of men we were among you for your sake" (1Thes 1:5), going on to describe in detail the kind of character that had been credibly demonstrated among them, the firm ground upon which he stood to plead with and instruct the church (1Thes 2:1-12).

Those of us who set out to root out from the church the weeds of celebrity should be careful lest we also pull up the plant of credibility. Indeed, the very platform from which we set out to speak to the issue is - or should be - the platform of credibility. Destroy that, and we destroy something good and necessary in the church, something appointed and designed by God to obtain and maintain a hearing for the gospel. When we roam the interweb, for example, it ought not to be the self-appointed airbags that we heed, but the men and women whose praise is in one, some or all of the true churches of Jesus Christ, earned over time by the steady accumulation of genuine credit and spiritual authority in some particular and well-established sphere of labour (and not simply a chain of mutual celebrity endorsements).

So, there will be men who attract a larger crowd. Put their picture on the website and their name on the flyers and people will come to hear them. The questions should be, "Why and on what basis?" Is it for reasons of quantity alone, or of quality also and even primarily? It is appropriate, even right, that men who have earned a good reputation by serving the Lord consistently and faithfully over years in some particular place should be more readily and eagerly heard than the latest tyro on the scene, even giving legitimate weight to distinctive and potentially unusual measures of gift and ability and the appearance of blessing upon a man's labours. Is a man to be heard on account of the temporary glamour of the celebrity spotlight and a platform built on the crumbling sand of shallow human adulation without any good reason? Or should it be the lasting glow of credibility of character and proven godliness that wins the ear, the platform established on the solid ground of faithful service, identified and owned by recognised and recognisable judges with demonstrable credibility and spiritual authority of their own? The former comes quickly but collapses rapidly. The latter will almost by definition not be pursued, may take years to build, if it comes at all, but will more likely ensure that the platform will not be swallowed up by scandal or error, potentially causing collateral damage on a grand scale. Let celebrity wither and die, by all means, but let credibility have its proper and God-given place.

Holding the centre

Having been away on holiday for a week (yes, delightful, thank you for asking), I return to find that things continue much as they were, except that Mark Jones has joined Team Reformation21, and Paul has allowed him to write a long post using long words and referring to past centuries without hammering him for it but rather wittering on about lunchtime lectures. I smell a Presbyterian stitch-up.

However, I am glad to see that Rick Phillips has drawn attention to the work being done by the Gospel Reformation Network, whose affirmations and denials I read with genuine interest. As Rick has highlighted and explained some of those statements, Mark has chipped back in with explanations and clarifications of his own language at certain points. Scriptures are being expounded and applied, history is being ransacked, and language is being sharpened to hone concepts that need sharply defined edges.

But why does such to-ing and fro-ing give joy? Because whenever debates like the one about the relationship between justification and sanctification, law and grace, and other related matters, have come up in the past, there is a fearful tendency that rapidly becomes apparent. Contention risks pushing men to extremes detached from the anchor of revelation: actions provoke reactions and counteractions that can all end up drifting and departing from the truth. It is quite clearly happening today. To be fair, in some instances it has been imputed, but in others it is stated fairly baldly. I remember my wry smile on reading in the introduction to one fairly well-known little book a statement by the authors that amounted to this, in almost as many words: "We used to be legalists, but we got better." In this instance, while acknowledging that they might have had some issues before, I would query the definition of legalism, and would certainly question whether the stance in which they ended up was any better, being simply different and equally dangerous. This is because, as I hope we would all affirm, the antidote to legalism is never a few drops of antinomianism, and the response to antinomianism is never a decent dose of legalism.

Our definitions and explanations, our actions, reactions, and counteractions, must not be forced upon us by circumstance or other external pressures, but forged of scriptural metal in the white heat of humble prayer, hammered fine by the tools of righteous exchange and measured against the standards of the history of orthodox Christianity. Any other substance or process will not serve us as we need.

We must hold the centre. We must not depart from the Word of God. We must allow the Scriptures to say all that they say, in the way that they say it, drawing out the truths that the Bible contains, and ensuring that each and all are maintained and declared in their proper place and proportion. So, for example, we must maintain the righteousness of Christ alone as the grounds of our justification, and faith as the God-imparted instrument by which that righteousness of Christ is obtained. We must maintain also that there is a real personal holiness which is to be ardently cultivated by us, the fruit of our union with Christ: "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). I tried to do some of this in a simple way in a recent book called Life in Christ (RHB/, for those who might want a plain and pastoral introduction to what it means obediently to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

We must understand this not as a matter of mere semantics or theoretical theology (no real theology is simply a theory). If you are a pastor, salvation and the assurance of it hang upon these things. The men and women to whom we preach need to know the right answers to the questions of how we can stand before the Lord of heaven and earth considered not just as blameless but as positively righteous, what will be our confidence in the day of judgement, what are the present evidences of our interest in Christ Jesus, and how we may live so as to enjoy the smile of our heavenly Father. We must be ready, like Robert Traill in his Justification Vindicated, to counsel those who ask, "What must I do to be saved?"
Why should not the right answer be given, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved'? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God's gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God's express commandment (1Jn 3:23) to believe on Christ's name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ's ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving. (27-28)
But we must also answer the question, "What does it look like to be saved?" And there we must answer, "gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1Pt 1:13-16).

We must pore again over those works like The Marrow of Modern Divinity or Andrew Fuller's Antinomianism Contrasted with the Religion Taught and Exemplified in the Holy Scriptures to sharpen our spiritual senses and stock our souls with truth to be proclaimed and defended, always with that Berean spirit which heeds the words of proven men highly esteemed and stills searches the Scriptures to see whether these things are so. We must let all our thinking and feeling be governed by the whole counsel of God, illuminated by the Spirit of Christ, and tested against the understanding of those men who have gone before us in the right way.

It is horrible, and will be again, to see men driven away from the truth by their professed zeal for the same. I am far from suggesting that this is true of Rick or Mark. Rather, their determination to phrase the truth accurately and carefully, accounting for all the bold emphases and subtle nuances of revelation is just what is needed. We must hold the centre, for the sake of our own souls and the souls of others.

Let me leave you with one of Ralph Erskine's Gospel Sonnets, which I read just the other day and which seemed to me to express something of the sweetness of a right understanding of some of these things:

When by the Law to grace I'm schooled,
Grace by the Law will have me ruled;
Hence, if I don't the Law obey,
I cannot keep the Gospel way.

When I the Gospel news believe,
Obedience to the Law I give;
And that both in its fed'ral dress,
And as a rule of holiness.

The Law is holy, just, and good,
All this the Gospel seals with Blood;
And clears the Royal Law's just dues
With dearly purchased revenues.

Here join the Law and Gospel hands,
What this me teaches, that commands;
What virtuous forms the Gospel please,
The same the Law doth authorize.

A rigid master was the Law,
Demanding bricks, denying straw;
But when the Gospel-tongue it sings,
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.

The rebel and the king

(I first posted this about two years ago, but it seems germane, so I am going over the ground again.)

Consider the man born into a family of terrorists. The man's father had rebelled against the King of the kingdom in which he lived, and - having so rebelled - all his posterity were brought up to hate and fight the King who ruled in this kingdom. It is to this family that the man belongs. Having been falsely taught all his life that the sovereign is cruel, vindictive, proud and unjust, and hating him as a tyrant accordingly, he has racked up a long list of foul crimes and misdemeanours against the King, all of which bring him under sentence of death. This life of rebellion takes its toll on the terrorist, cut off as he is from all that makes life worth living in the kingdom. His misery and wretchedness increase day by day as he slowly loses his foolish fight. Finally, he receives an overture of peace from the King. The King knows of the rebel's appalling condition, and has had compassion on the man. Together with his son, the Prince, and his Lord Chancellor, the King has devised a way by means of which, without any detriment to the King's justice and glory, the rebel might be entirely forgiven, and - even more - brought into the King's royal family. He publishes this offer by means of his ambassadors. At first, the terrorist cannot believe that such an offer can be true. After all has heard and believed of this king and his character, after all he has done to merit death, can the alleged tyrant really be ready to forgive all his sins and actually adopt him as his own?  Then the Lord Chancellor himself comes to press upon him the reality of the king's free and gracious offer: the Prince himself will take the entire punishment that the law demands and which the rebel deserves. The rebel, finally persuaded, gratefully accepts his merciful terms and embraces all that is bound up in leaving his life of crime. The Lord Chancellor conducts him back to the King's palace, where he is inducted into the life of a true son of the King, dearly beloved of the sovereign, and heir to all that the Prince himself is entitled to receive. Overwhelmed, scarcely believing his mercies, he yet knows that to him now belongs all the freedom of the kingdom. However, it is worth noting that while his relationship to the King has altered radically in some respects, there are some underpinning realities which have not altered. The King has become his father, with all the blessings involved in his adoption. The weight of the law as an instrument of condemnation has ceased to hang over him. But has the father now ceased to be a King? By no means! And is the ex-rebel any less obliged to obedience to the law of the kingdom because he has been delivered from its condemnation? By no means! His obligations to obedience have been by no means reduced, but only heightened. He is all the more obliged - love and gratitude and position all oblige him - to embrace and obey the law of his King and his father. He has all the obligations that belong to him as one under the royal authority, as well as all the obligations that belong to him as an adopted son, overwhelmed by gratitude for the undeserved privileges bestowed upon him. It is the same law that was in place while he was a terrorist, the very same law as condemned him to death for treason. The law has not changed, and he now cheerfully obeys that law both as a subject under its royal authority and as a son in his father's household. The royal law is still in effect, is as potent and extensive as it ever was, except that now it is profoundly, readily, willingly embraced by one who has come to have that law truly impressed upon him as the continuing standard of life in the kingdom of his father, which his father the King, his natural son, the Prince, and the Lord Chancellor have all seen fit to honour in bringing him from the condemnation of death to life and to liberty.

I am that rebel. I have been condemned by God's law. And yet, by grace, I have been redeemed from my sins through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, atoning for my ungodliness, being called by the Father and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. God having justified me through faith, I have been set apart to him, called to a life of holiness, and adopted into his family. I am no longer condemned by the law, but the law still exposes sin in me. I am no longer condemned by the law, but the law still expresses my Father's will for what is right and holy and just. I am no longer condemned by the law, but that law no longer presses upon me from without, rather springs up from within, having been written on my heart. I am no longer condemned by the law, but have come to recognise it as good and just, and embrace it with a willingness and readiness to obey it in all its parts. It is that law that is now written not on tablets of stone, but on the fleshy tablet of my heart. It is as a son, as a redeemed man, that the law becomes my delight as well as my duty.
Theology regularly gets a bad rap. "Don't give me doctrine. I want something practical." "I like sermons that touch my heart, not those that fill my head." Or, "Come on. I'm not interested in all this theology. I just want to love Jesus."

Stated or assumed, such ideas have stormed the Church like ants at a picnic. But they also devastate the Church like the ants' destructive cousins. Theology bashers are termites, who eat away at the Church's very pillars­­--the apostles' teaching. And theological antipathy has no fans in heaven. Scripture rebukes those who have little time for theological substance: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."  (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Continue reading at Place for Truth

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Riding shotgun

I could not help sadly oscillating the Walker bean when I read Carl's offer to ride shotgun to Mark Jones on the proposed debate between Jones and Tchividjian on the matter of the law and grace, and - specifically - the contributions of Luther on the topic, with regard to which Carl was rather angling for the position of an expert witness.

Really? Is Trueman the fellow you want in your corner when it comes to Luther? Would you not rather have a man who has fully imbibed Luther's spirit, who has embraced his way more entirely, who has more than metaphorically shrugged into his habit and worn his mantle? If you ask me, Dr Jones should look no further than the inestimable Brother Levy. Having seen the way many quail when Levy enters a debate, I think the way forward is actually quite clear.

photo (225x300).jpgOn a more serious note, Kevin DeYoung has begun plotting out some probable areas of agreement and disagreement.

(In)dependence and Prayer

My wife will tell you that I am a fairly independent guy. If I am assigned a task, I normally attempt to accomplish it without requesting help. Of course there are times when I know I need assistance, but if I can do it on my own I will. In the eyes of some, this is a great quality to maintain; however, such independence has caused me to struggle in certain areas (e.g., prayer). (In)dependence and prayer do not go hand-in-hand. 

I know what I need to remedy the situation. It is the gospel. That is a given not to be taken for granted. I must not assume it. I need to hear it. However, I am also required to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ. In other words, there is an indicative and an imperative. In my case, the imperative is to remove the "in" in (in)dependence. Put differently, the old man of self-reliance must go. By the grace of God, I must put on the new man, one who is dependent upon for the Lord for all things, one who expresses that dependence by praying.  

I know I will continue to fail in this area. Perhaps you do, too, but there is hope. Hope has a name. His name is Christ. 

These are just a few jumbled thoughts; maybe it is a confession. Whatever the case I know one thing - I need the Lord.

Listen Up White America

TMZ online (I did not post the link because some images may be inappropriate) recently published an article titled, "Chuck D: Listen Up White America...We Ain't Ni**as.'" Chuck D, if you are unfamiliar, is a rap artist who had his heyday in the 1980's. He was a part of a group called, Public Enemy. For some time, his music was extremely popular in certain communities. Now, however, depending on which online websites you visit, you hear his name every so often.

In TMZ's article, Chuck D was responding to Suge Knight's recent claims that we should banish the phrase, "African-American." Knight, a record label CEO (also once popularized for working with Tupac Shakur), believes that the term "African-American" is inaccurate. "I'm not from Africa," Knight expressed. While Chuck D agrees that the phrase "African-American" is not an ideal term, "ni**a" surely is not a good replacement, whether the word ends with "er" or "a."

As Christians, these types of conversations may appear foolish, but for many of us this type of dialogue is a reality. What should we call ourselves? Many employment applications call us "African-American." When you scroll down the list of choices, not many other ethnic groups are identified by a hyphen. 

As if that were not enough, some of us wonder what you call us? Let's not fool ourselves. The "you" in the aforementioned sentence is "whites." Although I have not conducted any statistical analysis, I do not believe it is a leap of faith to suggest that the majority of persons frequenting this blog are white. I do not mention that to be offensive but to state a potential reality.

I have been called a "ni**er." The unfortunate reality is that it was not by a man holding on to his confederate roots in Virginia but by a (white) peer who attends a reformed church. You might wonder if he was joking when he used the term. My response: does it matter? You can read more about what has been said to me and how I have been treated here.

This is not a guilt trip but an introduction to a 6-part series that I hope to write beginning in either January 2014 or February 2014. If the Lord tarries and grants me life, I want to open a conversation--one-way initially--that highlights some of the difficulties that I, as in Presbyterian and Reformed circles. I am not alone regarding my concerns. I have had numerous conversations with "black" Presbyterian pastors about the current state (or lack thereof) of ethnic and cultural diversity in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. These conversations normally expand to a host of other issues.

I hope that the coming series will be understood in the manner I think I am providing it, not one laden with guilt but one that exposes certain realities; one that will also provide some suggestions for change. I hope the response is not, "Oh, not again," but, "Yes, we need to hear about this and change things for the glory of God." 

May the Triune God receive all the glory as we delicately talk about these issues. 

"Grace abounding! Oh the sweetness"

8 7. 8 7 (Sussex)
Grace abounding! Oh the sweetness
Of those words to sinful hearts.
Trace the stream of heavenly mercy
That on darkened Calvary starts.

Kings dispensing earthly splendours
Cannot match our gracious Lord:
Grace abounding! Oh the riches
Of the bounty now outpoured.

Grace divine! How freely given!
Grace beyond the scope of thought!
Swell my heart to know the blessing
That with Jesus' blood was bought.

Christ pursues the wandering sinner;
Christ redeems the wretched soul;
Christ can meet the utmost need, and
Christ can make the sinner whole.

Deepest soundings cannot measure
All the goodness of God's grace;
How my thankful heart rejoices
At the smile upon God's face.

Jesus found me, Jesus bought me,
Jesus keeps me, holds me fast;
Christ will bring me safe to glory:
Christ will lead me home at last.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.


"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"

So asked William Cowper. And so might each child of God ask, with a thousand more questions besides.

Why was I chosen to receive life, when many die in their sins? Why did the Lord show mercy to me? Why was I not made a mere beast? Perhaps, why was I born into a Christian home? Or, why did God send a true friend to preach the good news to my needy soul? Why was I even made to feel my need? Why does the Lord bear with me so patiently? Why am I not cast off on account of my continued sins? Why is forgiveness so freely and readily extended? Why does God love me? Why did God ever love me? Why does he love me still? Why did he send his beloved Son to suffer and die in my place? Why was the Lamb of God sacrificed for me? Why is a sinful wretch like me not in hell?

Why did I end up in a church where my soul is cared for and fed, or at least good spiritual food is offered? Why, if there is no church which can care for my soul, am I sustained? Perhaps, why were Christian friends, a Christian spouse, Christian fellowship provided for me? Why am I fed and clothed? Why do I have any measure of physical and spiritual health? Why have pastors and preachers been sent to minister to my heart? Why are they faithful to me when I make it hard for them? Why was I not set in a place where I would never hear God's saving truth? Why do I have so many resources available as a means to my growth in grace? Why do I receive so many warnings about temptation and sin? Why do I receive so many counsels toward holiness? Why do I hear faithful sermons? Why do they do me good?

Why do so many seeming coincidences work out for my blessing? Why do so many seeming tragedies work a likeness to Christ in me? Why does the medicine, though often bitter, always do me good? Why am I sustained amidst persecutions? Why, though tempted, do I stand? Why, though falling, do I rise again? Why, though sinning, am I restored? Why does the ever-flowing, over-flowing fountain of Christ's blood remain open to me? Why, though despised, am I not cast down? Why do all things work together for my good?

Why are my prayers heard? Why do I receive what I need when I do not know what to pray, have no appetite to pray, or forget to pray? Why do I have opportunities to serve the God of my salvation? Why do my efforts secure any good? Why does God draw a straight line with such a crooked stick as I am? Why am I never alone? Why does he never leave me or forsake me? Why does the devil not readily devour me? Why do I advance? Why do I even stand?

Why do I not need to fear death? Why do I have comfort when other saints die? Why has the grave lost its ultimate sting? Why do I have any hope in this world or for the world to come? Why do I anticipate full and final likeness to Jesus Christ? Why do I have the promise of eternal bliss? Why shall I inherit an unshakeable kingdom? Why am I an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ? Why do I look forward to heaven?
And the answer to it all is, the grace of a loving and faithful God revealed in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - what Matthew Henry called, "God's free favour and all the blessed fruits of it."

My friend, do you ever marvel at the goodness and grace of the Lord toward you? You might, with perfect justice, have been forever cast into the depths of the pit. You might, with absolute equity, live and die without ever knowing that there is salvation for a sinner like you. You might, without any dent in or damage to the reputation of the Holy One of Israel, have been immediately and forever abandoned to your doom.

So, Christian, have you given thanks to the God of mercy this day? Have you cried out with gratitude to the Triune Jehovah for sparing you and pouring out his lovingkindnesses upon you? Will you realise afresh, and respond afresh to, the blessings which are yours in the Son of God, those unsearchable riches of Christ?

Or, if you are no child of God, will you repent of years of ingratitude and carelessness, held back from destruction while you have no thought of salvation? Will you appreciate, perhaps for the first time, what God has done in sending the Lord Christ, his only Son, to die in the place of the ungodly? Will you grasp that the offer of mercy is held out this day to you, in the face of all your sin and rebellion? Will you realise now that God is gracious, and seek his face?

Let each one who has tasted and seen that the Lord is good lift up heart and voice to the Lord: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph. 1.3).

Evidence of malevolence

If you wanted evidence of the cruel intelligence and brutal vindictiveness of the Adversary, ask a preacher about the coincidence of his preparations and temptations. You will begin to understand why it was that Luther flung an inkpot at the devil while seeking to translate the Scriptures.

Is he seeking to preach on humility? Opportunities for pride will present themselves. Is he seeking to demonstrate that the true believer's assurance lies, in part, in a development in vital piety and progress in the battle against sin? Be sure that he will be battered with temptations to sins new and old which would rob him of his own sense of peace. Self-control? He will fight with lusts within and without, with gluttony and with laziness. Family life? He will argue with his wife. Patience? Other drivers will prove particularly incompetent on the roads. A peaceable spirit? Annoying people will get involved. Love for the saints? Someone will be obnoxious. Vigour in service? He will fall sick or be tempted to fritter away his time, leading to battles against doubts and despondencies legitimate and illegitimate. Often in the very act of preaching he will be assaulted by blasphemies, lusts, distractions, the very presence of which are calculated to rob him of his assurance, his power, his concentration, his credibility - real temptations to real sins which, if even the temptations and his struggles against them could be seen for a moment, might seem entirely to disqualify him from his office. And if things seem at any point to improve, the voice of pride is quick to suggest that this is down to his plans, his labours, his gifts: "Didn't you do well?"

Alongside of this, in a more generic sense, every effort to reform his own life or to promote increased holiness or zeal in the church will be met with countless distractions and intensified opposition against him and against the church as a whole.

Every high point he seeks to conquer for the Lord Christ he finds more stoutly defended than he ever imagined, and the more intently he pursue his goal the hotter the battle becomes.

In part, this is due to a heightened awareness of sin. As he unpacks the issues, as he studies the strategy and tactics of the enemy, he becomes more conscious of the ways and means employed to contend with the saints. He finds increasing evidence of certain sins in his own life because he is increasingly aware of what to look for; he finds exposed his lack of holiness in a particular area because he is more attuned to what ought to be present. He becomes more conscious of outcrops of sin and lacunae in holiness among the congregation precisely because he is increasingly sensitive to the contours of godliness that ought to be present.

However, this is also because of heightened aggression. Whether in himself or in others, he finds that there is a real battle taking place in the life and service of the Christian, a battle in which he himself is called both to take a prominent part and to set an example. He finds in his own experience as both sheep and under-shepherd the evidence of malevolence, the marks of a cruel will opposing every effort to press on in order that he might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of him (Phil 3.12). He is left in no doubt that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6.12).

So, let us not underestimate the reality of this spiritual warfare, nor its specific and aggressive manifestations, not least in the life of the man whose particular duty it is to explain, apply and model the godliness which God requires, personally and corporately.  Do not expect the ministry to be a life of ease, but a life of perpetual and increasing striving against sin and for godliness. Pray for your pastors and teachers, that they might withstand in the evil day, and having done all, might stand (Eph 6.13), and so help you to stand also.

Amidst all this evidence of malevolence, where is the evidence of grace? It is right there, in the fact that the preacher is still wrestling, still preaching, still striving, still standing and even renewing his strength so that - contrary to all he deserves and all he might expect and despite all the opposition he faces - he mounts up with wings like eagles, he runs and is not weary, he walks and does not faint (Is 40.31).

Walter Marshall's Directions 4-9 from Gospel Mystery of Sanctification emphasize that in the pursuit of holiness the order is Gospel then godliness, not godliness then Gospel.

Direction Four

The means or instruments by which the Spirit of God accomplishes our union with Christ, and our fellowship with Him in all holiness, are the gospel, by which Christ enters into our hearts to work faith in us, and faith, by which we actually receive Christ Himself, with all His fullness, into our hearts. And this faith is a grace of the Spirit, by which we heartily believe the gospel and also believe on Christ as He is revealed and freely promised to us in this, for all His salvation.

Direction Five

We cannot attain to the practice of true holiness by any of our endeavours while we continue in our natural state and are not partakers of a new state by union and fellowship with Christ through faith.

Direction Six

Those that endeavour to perform sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ, as the condition by which they are to procure for themselves a right and title to salvation, and a good ground to trust on Him for the same, do seek their salvation by the works of the law, and not by the faith of Christ, as He is revealed in the gospel and they shall never be able to perform sincere and true holy obedience by all such endeavours.

Direction Seven

We are not to imagine that our hearts and lives must be changed from sin to holiness in any measure, before we may safely venture to trust on Christ for the sure enjoyment of Himself and His salvation.

Direction Eight

Be sure to seek for holiness of heart and life only in its due order, where God has placed it, after union with Christ, justification and the gift of the Holy Ghost and, in that order, seek it earnestly by faith as a very necessary part of your salvation

Direction Nine

We must first receive the comforts of the gospel, that we may be able to sincerely perform the duties of the law.

So far, as we have pointed to some highlights of Walter Marshall's justly lauded book, "Gospel Mystery of Sanctification," we have learned the following from him about growth in grace in the Christian life:

1. Those who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone properly and by virture of regeneration and their new nature aspire to increase in holiness, in faithfulness to Christian duty and in obedience to God's law.

(In other words, this aspiration is not a sign that the believer "doesn't understand the Gospel," "doesn't understand grace," or is a "legalist," "moralist," or "Pharisee.")

2. The first step in this lifelong process is to learn from the Scriptures what are the powerful and effective means that God has appointed and provided in order that we may grow in holiness and obedience.

(Because, though we may rightly aspire to a growth in holiness, we may also wrongly assume that this increase in holiness can be gained simply through the exertion of our own wills, by our own efforts and via our own personal resources and resolutions.)

Then Marshall explains that the believer needs three things to go forward in grace-growth: propensity, persuasion and power. To expand on this, we'll put it in the form of a third point.

3. If we are to grow in holiness, we need a Spirit-wrought, grace-enabled (1) inclination to do so; (2) a firm persuasion of our reconcilation with and acceptance by God, and of our future heavenly hope; and (3) the strength both to want to do our Christian duty, and to do it.

This brings us to Marshall's "third direction" for sanctification, which has to do with the empowering source of our motivation and ability to grow in grace: Union with Christ. He says: "The way to get holy endowments and qualifications necessary to frame and enable us for the immediate practice of the law, is to receive them out of the fullness of Christ, by fellowship with Him; and that we may have this fellowship, we must be in Christ, and have Christ Himself in us, by a mystical union with Him."

So, where do we get the inclination to grow in holiness and obedience? Where do we get a strong persuasion of God's love, acceptance, and reconciliation, and a sure and certain sense of our future hope? Where do we get the power to want to be holy? And the power to actually live in a more godly way? Marshall says: in fellowship with Christ. And that fellowship is experienced only in union with Christ. So, our union with Christ is the fountainhead of our sanctification.

In our first highlight from Walter Marshall's "Gospel Mystery" we saw no antipathy to the ideas of the believer's duty or to the believer's aspiration to holiness or to the believer's endeavor to obey the moral law. Marshall says, to repeat, in his "first direction: "That we may acceptably perform the duties of holiness and righteousness required by the law, our first work is to learn the powerful and effectual means by which we may attain to so great an end."

Marshall importantly addresses the issue of how we must pursue holiness, that is, by "what powerful and effectual means" that we are to grow in godliness. But he does so without pitting the means against the end, as one often hears today, and without labeling the aspiration to spiritual growth as legalism or moralism.

In Marshall's "second direction," he goes on to say: "Several endowments and qualifications are necessary to enable us for the immediate practice of the law. Particularly we must have an inclination and propensity of our hearts thereunto; and therefore we must be well persuaded of our reconciliation with God, and of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happenings, and of sufficient strength both to will and perform all duties acceptably, until we come to the enjoyment of that happiness."

In other words, long before Edwards, this Puritan emphasized the importance of the desires and affections in the Christian life. If we want to grow in godliness "we must have an inclination and propensity of our hearts thereunto." He also asserts the necessity of Holy Spirit-supplied power for progress in holiness (see Ephesians 3:14-19) -"sufficient strength both to will and perform all duties acceptably."

In fact, the second direction may sound a little like Jonathan Edwards "Religious Affections" and John Piper "Future Grace" all rolled upon into one.

John Murray famously commended Walter Marshall's "Gospel Mystery of Sanctification" as the best book ever written on the subject. Recently, however, some sound divines have become suspcious of the work, in part because of who is citing it and because of dubious appeals to its authority.

However, the book ought to be read and digested. If you are Reformed and want to know how to preach a robust biblical doctrine of growth in grace in the Christian life, that is Gospel-shaped, Spirit-empowered and Christ-centered and that does not denigrate the "third use of the Law," - then Marshall is your man and "Gospel Mystery" is your book.

Here is the first sentence of the book, Marshall's "first direction" - "That we may acceptably perform the duties of holiness and righteousness required by the law, our first work is to learn the powerful and effectual means by which we may attain to so great an end."