Martin Luther: Good works flow from love and joy

18 03 2013

For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and doe good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ver once thinks of law.  He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.2 76





Horatius Bonar: The beautiful paradox of the Christian

20 12 2011
Bonar here beautifully expresses that wonderful paradox of the Christian, sometimes described as Simul iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and a sinner).  Bonar wisely encourages us to drink deeply from this truth or not at all.  Those who do are the happiest and most holy.
 “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). He who knows this, knows what fully satisfies and cheers. He who knows this best has the deepest and truest peace: for he has learned the secret of being always a sinner, yet always righteous; always incomplete, yet always complete; always empty, and yet always full; always poor, and yet always rich. We would not say of that fullness, “Drink deep or taste not,” for even to taste is to be blest. But we say, Drink deep; for he who drinks deepest is the happiest as well as the holiest man.”

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Rigtheousness ch. 6





My philsophy of ministry (that I stole from Horatius Bonar)

20 12 2011

When I first started preaching regularly, one of the things I heard from time to time was “why do you preach the Gospel every Sunday? When are we going to move beyond that and get to discipleship?”  I tried from time to time to provide a satisfactory answer and I have long desired to write a small outline about the Gospel and how it fits into our understanding of not only how we become Christians, but how we grow spiritually.  Thankfully, I ran across ch. 10 of Horatius Bonar’s The Everlasting Righteousness, which spells out more clearly than I ever could the philosophy of ministry that we seek to embody.  Take the time to read the excerpt below.  I’ve linked to the whole book as well as to this crucial chapter below. 

We are justified that we may be holy. The possession of this legal righteousness is the beginning of a holy life. We do not live a holy life in order to be justified; but we are justified that we may live a holy life. That which man calls holiness may be found in almost any circumstances,–of dread, or darkness, or bondage, or self-righteous toil and suffering; but that which God calls holiness can only be developed under conditions of liberty and light, and pardon and peace with God. Forgiveness is the mainspring of holiness. Love, as a motive, is far stronger than law; far more influential than fear of wrath or peril of hell. Terror may make a man crouch like a slave and obey a hard master, lest a worse thing come upon him; but only a sense of forgiving love can bring either heart or conscience into that state in which obedience is either pleasant to the soul or acceptable to God.
False ideas of holiness are common, not only among those who profess false religions, but among those who profess the true. For holiness is a thing of which man by nature has no more idea than a blind man has of the beauty of a flower or the light of the sun. All false religions have had their “holy men,” whose holiness often consisted merely in the amount of pain they could inflict upon their bodies, or of food which they could abstain from, or of hard labor which they could undergo. But with God, a saint or holy man is a very different being. It is in filial, full-hearted love to God that much of true holiness consists. And this cannot even begin to be until the sinner has found forgiveness and tasted liberty, and has confidence towards God. The spirit of holiness is incompatible with the spirit of bondage. There must be the spirit of liberty, the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. When the fountain of holiness begins to well up in the human heart, and to fill the whole being with its transforming, purifying power, “We have known and believed the love that God has to us” (1 John 4:16) is the first note of the holy song, which, commenced on earth, is to be perpetuated through eternity.
We are bought with a price, that we may be new creatures in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven, that we may be like Him who forgives us. We are set at liberty and brought out of prison, that we may be holy. The free, boundless love of God, pouring itself into us, expands and elevates our whole being; and we serve Him, not in order to win His favour, but because we have already won it in simply believing His record concerning His Son. If the root is holy, so are the branches. We have become connected with the holy root, and by the necessity of this connection are made holy too.
Forgiveness relaxes no law, nor interferes with the highest justice. Human pardons may often do so: God’s pardons never.
Forgiveness doubles all our bonds to a holy life; only they are no longer bonds of iron, but of gold. It takes off the heavy yoke, in order to give us the light and easy.
The love of God to us, and our love to God, work together for producing holiness in us. Terror accomplishes no real obedience. Suspense brings forth no fruit unto holiness. Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this. It is this certainty that melts the heart, dissolves our chains, disburdens our shoulders, so that we stand erect, and makes us to run in the way of the divine commandments.
Condemnation is that which binds sin and us together. Forgiveness looses this fearful tie, and separates us from sin. The power of condemnation which the law possesses is that which makes it so strong and terrible. Cancel this power, and the liberated spirit rises into the region of love, and in that region finds both will and strength for the keeping of the law,–a law which is at once old and new: old as to substance (“Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart”); new as to mode and motive. “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus bath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2); that is, The law of the life-giving spirit which we have in Christ Jesus has severed the condemning connection of that law which leads only to sin and death. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh (i.e. unable to carry out its commandments in our old nature), God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit” (Rom 8:3,4).
The removal of condemnation is the dissolution of legal bondage, and of that awful pressure upon the conscience which at once enslaved and irritated; disenabling as well as disinclining us from all obedience; making holiness both distasteful and dreadful, to be submitted to only through fear of future woe.
Sin, when unforgiven, oppresses the conscience and tyrannizes over the sinner. Sin forgiven in an unrighteous way, would be but a slight and uncertain as well as imperfect relief. Sin righteously and judicially forgiven, loses its dominion. The conscience rises up from its long oppression, and expands into joyous liberty. Our whole being becomes bright and buoyant under the benign influence of this forgiving love of God. “The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come” (Song 2:11,12).
Condemnation is the dark cloud that obscures our heavens. Forgiveness is the sunshine dissolving the cloud, and by its brilliance making all good things to grow and ripen in us.
Condemnation makes sin strike its roots deeper and deeper. No amount of terror can extirpate evil. No fear of wrath can make us holy. No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favour can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will. But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches. The “no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” is the only effectual remedy for the deadly disease of an alienated heart and stubborn will.
The want of forgiveness, or uncertainty as to it, are barriers in the way of the removal of the heart’s deep enmity to a righteous God. For enmity will only give way to love; and no suspense, however terrible, will overcome the stout-hearted rebelliousness of man. Threats do not conquer hearts; nor does austerity win either confidence or affection. They who would trust to law to awaken trust, know nothing either of law or love; nor do they understand how the suspicions of the human heart are to be removed, and its confidence won. The knowledge of God simply as Judge or Lawgiver will be of no power to attract, of no avail to remove distrust and dread.
But the message, “God is love,” is like the sun bursting through the clouds of a long tempest. The good news, “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins,” is like the opening of the prisoner’s dungeon-gate. Bondage departs, and liberty comes. Suspicion is gone, and the heart is won. “Perfect love has cast out fear.” We hasten to the embrace of Him who loved us; we hate that which has estranged us; we put away all that caused the distance between us and Him; we long to be like one so perfect, and to partake of His holiness. To be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), once so distasteful, is henceforth most grateful and pleasant; and nothing seems now so desirable as to escape the corruptions that are in the world through lust.

Read the whole thing here

Read the book here





Thomas Watson: Christ “Fastened to the heart”

20 12 2011

Who can tread upon these hot coals, and his heart not burn?  Who can cry out, with Ignatius, ‘Christ my love is crucified!’?  If a friend should die for us, would not our hearts be much affected by his kindness?  That the God of heaven should die for us, how should this stupendous mercy have a melting influence upon us!

The body of Christ is broken, is enough to break the most flinty heart.  At our saviour’s passion, the very stones did cleave asunder: ‘The rocks rent’ (Matt 27.51).  He that is not affected with this has a heart harder than stones.  If Saul was so affected with David’s mercy in sparing his life (1 Sam 24.16), how may we be affected with Christ’s kindness, who to spare our life, lost his own!  Let us pray, that as Christ was cruci-fixus’, so he may be ‘cordi-fixus’- as he was fastened to the cross, so may he be fastened to our hearts.

Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper (Banner of Truth Trust) pg 30-31





William Tyndale: The Gospel = “That which maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy”

20 12 2011

Sometime in the 1520′s, William Tyndale published his “Pathway into the Holy Scripture,” which was a brief introduction to how to read the Bible.  Tyndale had to write this because he had of course translated the Bible into English and people were beginning to read it.  As a Pastor, I found this little tract (approx 36 pages) introducing people to the Bible to be immensely valuable.  What I was most taken by however, was Tyndale’s description of the Gospel.  It had me dancing in my chair, which I think is what Mr. Tyndale intended.  I thought about updating the language but I have left it as is.  Enjoy! 

Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy:  as when David had killed Goliath the giant, came glad tidings unto the Jews, that their fearful and cruel enemy was slain, and they delivered out of all danger:  for gladness whereof, they sung, danced and were joyful.  In like manner is the Evangelion of God (which we call gospel, and the New Testament) joyful tidings; and as some say, a good hearing published by the apostles throughout all the world, of Christ the right David; how that he hath fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and overcome them: whereby all men that were in bondage to sin, wounded with death, overcome of the devil, are, without their own merits or deservings, loosed, justified, restored to life and saved, brought to liberty and reconciled unto the favour of God, and set at one with him again: which tidings as many as believe laud, praise and thank God; are glad, sing and dance for joy.

This Evangelion or gospel (that is to say, such joyful things) is called the New Testament; because that as a man, when he shall die, appointeth his goods to be dealt and distributed after his death among them which he nameth to his heirs; even so Christ before his death commanded and appointed that such Evangelion, gospel or tidings should be declared throughout all the world, and therewith to give unto all that (repent, and ) believe, all his goods:  that is to say, his life wherewith he swallowed and devoured up death; his righteousness, wherewith he banished sin; his salvation, wherewith he overcame eternal damnation.  Now can the wretched man that knoweth himself to be wrapped up in sin, and in danger to death and hell hear no more joyous a thing, than such glad and comfortable tidings of Christ; so that the cannot but be glad, and laugh from the low bottom of his heart, if he believe that the tidings are true.





What does it mean to be a Reformed Christian? (Part II)

20 12 2011

A good friend in Charleston recently asked the question “What does it mean to be Reformed?” That question sparked this most recent series on AwakeningGrace which I suspect will go on for several weeks if not months.

Access Part I by clicking here

In the first post I noted that the Reformed faith is not nearly as much a way about thinking through the faith as it is a way of living life. I noted that the life of the Reformed Christian is lived out in a theocentric manner. Theocentric simply means God-centered. I noted that this is not merely an intellectual commitment, though it is certainly that. More than that however, this commitment to theocentricity is a matter of the heart, a matter of worship. In the last post I reflected on the desire of the Reformed Christian for God alone to have the glory in all things. In this post I would like to focus on what creates this desire in the first place.

We might begin this discussion using a simple metaphor. Picture a magnetic compass. If you were to shake the compass or spin it around the needles would spin as well. However, once you quit shaking the compass and the needle settled it would undoubtedly be drawn to the strong magnetic field of the North Pole. In the same way that the needle on a compass is drawn by a strong magnetic field, to be theocentric means that your heart has been drawn to God. But what draws a heart to God?

The fact that God is powerful is certainly a drawing force. Powerful people are used to others being drawn to them like moths to a flame. The wealthy, the influential, and the famous all know what its like to have groupies. Power itself and powerful people can be intoxicating. But just as power can draw, so too can power drive away. It was at the foot of Mt. Sinai, after the redemption of Israel that the people of Israel were confronted with an all powerful God. It was of course nice to know that this super powerful deity was on their side, nevertheless being in such close proximity to something so powerful was also unimaginably terrifying. We read in Exodus:

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19 ESV)

If the only thing to God was his mighty power, this would be a hard case for leading a theocentric life for a theocentric life demands that one not only love God but also draws near to God. But as the reading from Exodus illustrates, it is hard to draw near raw power. The sun is nice to look at from a distance but no one wants to travel to its surface! You would be destroyed.

So the Reformed Christian recognizes that God is powerful, but the Reformed Christians knows more of God than his power. The Reformed Christian also recognizes that God is gracious. Shortly after the raw power of God was revealed at Sinai another glimpse of God was given to Moses. Moses begged God “Show me your glory!” To which God replied “I will cause all my goodness to pass before you.” And here’s what happened next:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:5-6 ESV)

God is power. There is no denying that. But his “goodness” is not merely his power, but his mercy. Charles Spurgeon combines the two describing God as powerfully merciful, or to use Spurgeon’s own language “Sovereignly Gracious.” Rather than try and describe it myself, I’ll let Spurgeon speak with his own pen.

Put the two together, goodness and sovereignty, and you see God’s glory. If you take sovereignty alone, you will not understand God. Some people only have an idea of God’s sovereignty, and not of his goodness; such are usually gloomy, harsh, and ill-humored. You must put the two together; that God is good, and that God is a sovereign. You must speak of sovereign grace. God is not grace alone, he is sovereign grace. He is not sovereign alone, but he is graciously sovereign. That is the best idea of God. When Moses said, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory,” God made him see that he was glorious, and that his glory was his sovereign goodness.

Thus it is the sovereign goodness of God that trains the heart of the Reformed Christian to desire to live in a theocentric way.  When the Reformed Christian speaks of God’s “sovereign goodness,” or “sovereign grace” this can be a term that can be applied exhaustively. Because the Reformed Christian views all of life through the lens of the glory of God, the Reformed Christian sees God’s sovereign goodness exhibited in just about everything. For example, it is God’s sovereign grace that causes the rain to fall and water the crops for the food we eat. It is God’s sovereign grace that has equipped humans with creativity to produce art, film and theatre to delight and inspire us. It is God’s sovereign grace that granted biological organisms the ability to reproduce life, which most recently has been cause for thanksgiving in my own family. However, there is a way to speak more specifically about God’s sovereign grace if we wish and that is by speaking of the person of Jesus Christ.

On a clear day if you look up into the sky you will be overwhelmed by the light of the sun. There is a tool however that can break the light of the sun down into its particulars, or spectral colors so that it can be examined more clearly. This tool is called a prism. Light in all its glory goes into the prism and then is neatly broken down and represented in the spectral colors of the rainbow. Jesus Christ is the prism of God’s sovereign grace. All of God’s goodness passes through the prism of Jesus Christ where it is made small enough, or accommodated to our senses so that we can see God’s grace clearly, understand it well, and apply it to our lives.

For example, we know that God’s provision is part of his sovereign mercy. But when we consider the provision of God, it can be quite overwhelming? What happens when the provision of God passes through the prism of Jesus Christ? In the passage below excerpted from Mark’s Gospel we’re presented with a father whose son is demon possessed. Many have tried to cure the boy, even some of Jesus’ disciples and failed. Finally, the boy is brought to Jesus. Here’s what happened next.

And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:17-24 ESV)

Now where is God’s provision required in this story? First, both the father and the boy need a healer to come into their life to restore the health of the boy and free him from bondage. Second, the father lacks faith. “Help my unbelief!” is his cry to Jesus. The sovereignty of God in Jesus Christ is recognized. He could heal the boy, he could grant faith to the father. But, and oh what cause for great rejoicing! The grace of God in Jesus Christ is demonstrated as well! Not only can he heal the boy. Not only can he grant faith to the father. Not only can he do all these things but he wants to! Here’s how the story ends.

And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.  (Mark 9:25-27 ESV)

Thus sovereignty and grace come together in the prism of Jesus Christ, applied personally to a father and his son. Those who have had the sovereign grace of God refracted upon them through the prism of Jesus Christ are changed people. They have experienced the sovereign goodness of God. Now out of a heart irresistibly changed by this experience of sovereign grace, they will seek the glory of God first in all things, but they will seek it through the prism of Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of their experience of sovereign grace. When they need righteousness, they recognize God is sovereign and gracious. He can give them righteousness and he wants to, but he will do it through the prism of Jesus Christ. When they need mercy, they recognize God is sovereign and gracious. He can give them mercy and he wants to, but he will do it through the prism of Jesus Christ. When they need to cultivate a loving heart, they recognize God is sovereign and gracious. He can give them a loving heart and he wants to, but he will do it through the prism of Jesus Christ.

So we find that the Reformed Christian not only lives Soli Deo Gloria, that is, to the glory of God alone. But the Reformed Christian lives this way solus Christus, that is through the prism of Christ alone.

Read Part III here





Charles Spurgeon: Don’t look to self but to Christ

20 12 2011

Below is an excerpt from this sermon by Charles Spurgeon, where he gives us what I believe to be a very helpful tool for our private spritual lives as well as for our corporate lives in the family of Christ, that is the church.  First in our private lives, when we feel under attack, to whom do we turn?  If we turn immediately to discplines, resolutions, commitments etc., then the devil has successfuly turned us away from trusting in Christ.  Here we will surely fail.  Likewise, when we hear a sermon or teaching we must ask “who did the teacher/ preacher encourage me to trust in?”  If the answer is self, then the teacher/ preacher has failed.  In fact, he has assisted Satan in turning you away from Christ.  Rather, good internal counsel and good public exhortation in preaching is “LOOK TO CHRIST!!! TRUST IN HIM ALONE!!!” Don’t trust your feelings, your faith, your actions, your guilt, your innocence or your righteousness but look only to Christ.  That is the very marrow of the Gospel.

Now I will give the poor sinner a means of detecting Satan, so that he may know whether his convictions are from the Holy Spirit, or merely the bellowing of hell in his ears. In the first, place, you may be always sure that that which comes from the devil will make you look at yourselves and not at Christ. The Holy Spirit’s work is to turn our eyes from ourselves to Jesus Christ, but the enemy’s work is the very opposite. Nine out of ten of the insinuations of the devil have to do with ourselves. “You are guilty,” says the devil—that is self. “You have not faith”—that is self. “You do not repent enough”—that is self. “You have got such a wavering hold of Christ”—that is self. “You have none of the joy of the spirit, and therefore cannot be one of his”—that is self. Thus the devil begins picking holes in us; whereas the Holy Spirit takes self entirely away, and tells us that we are “nothing at all,” but that

“Jesus Christ is all in all.”

Satan brings the carcass of self and pulls it about, and because that is corrupt, tells us that most assuredly we cannot be saved. But remember, sinner, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of thy faith; and if thou dost that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down, but as long as thou lookest at thyself, the meanest of those evil spirits may tread thee beneath his feet.

Spurgeon’s Sermons, vol I book II pg 307

read the whole thing here