The Value of the Reformed Confessions on Justification by Faith Alone

In his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes appeal at the outset to the distinctive Reformed confessions on the doctrine of justification – and with good reason, as he himself explains in chapter five.

In defense of the historic biblical doctrine over against the heresies of Rome, Arminianism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, the Reformed creeds have great value. Here is one reason, as the author explains:

One reason is that for some two thousand years the Spirit of truth has guided the Christian church into a clear understanding of most of the cardinal doctrines of scripture. The ecumenical and Reformation confessions are the outstanding products of that divine guidance. The Reformed confessions, which address the truth of justification specifically and at length, have been a blessing on Reformed churches and Christians for nearly half a millennium. Especially in circumstances of controversy over justification, the Reformed churches must avail themselves of the Spirit’s work in the churches in the past [p.66].

And there is more. Engelsma gives another reason why he begins with the confessions:

Yet another reason for beginning an examination of the doctrine of justification with a study of the Reformed confessions, especially in controversy, is that the confessions enable the members of the congregations to judge the teachings of their officebearers. Every false teacher claims, loudly, even indignantly, to be teaching the truth. Invariably, he couches his false doctrine in careful, clever, deceptive, and biblical language. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden, he is subtle. As the Dutch proverb puts it, in the heretic Satan does not come noisily in wooden shoes, but stealthily in slippers. As scripture puts it, Satan’s ministers transform themselves as ‘ministers of righteousness,’ just as ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor.11:14-15). Usually, the heretic manifests himself as a jovial, friendly, loving, sweet Christian besides.

Without the confessions, the members of the Reformed churches are virtually at the mercy of the false teachers and their spiritual master. With the confessions, the Reformed laity are able to discern and withstand heretical teachings [p.71].

To this the author adds yet one more reason for the value of creeds in this battle for the gospel truth of justification:

There is still another reason that a defense of justification by faith alone against its contemporary assailants within the Reformed churches does well to begin with a consideration of the Reformed confessions. This reason concerns a benefit of the confessions that is often overlooked. The confessions contain succinct but thorough and penetrating analysis of many of the false doctrines that trouble the Reformed church throughout the ages. As the fruit of the profound study of specially gifted and godly Reformed theologians, in the case of the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster standards the fruit of the deliberations of large bodies of extraordinary servants of Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the special guidance of the church by the Spirit of Christ, the confessions lay bare the essential errors of perennial heresies.

This exposure of false doctrines is of great help to Reformed churches and Christians. Heretics are always deceptive, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:11….

The confessions cut through all the deception, ambiguity, and verbiage of the heresies, as well as through the heretics’ claims of fidelity and piety, to the fundamental errors. The confessions make the errors plain not only to learned theologians, but also to every member of the church – man, woman, and child [pp74-75].

Here, then, are further reasons for us to know and study our Reformed creedal heritage. Do you know what the Reformed confessions say on justification, the heart of the gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ?

Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future

This month (May 2017) Tabletalk magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary with a special issue. With the theme “Why We Are Reformed,” the magazine highlights some of its history and some of the core doctrines of the Reformed faith it seeks to broadcast.

Featured articles are on God’s sovereignty (Derek Thomas), biblical authority (Stephen Nichols), justification by faith alone (Robert Godfrey), salvation by grace alone (Steven Lawson), God’s covenant people (Sinclair Ferguson), and a closing one on the courage to be Reformed (Burk Parsons).

In his editorial, Parson writes about the nature of the magazine as Reformed:

Tabletalk is Reformed, and we mean it. We are not ashamed of being distinctively Reformed in all that we do. We are Reformed because we believe that to be Reformed is to be biblical. To be Reformed is not only to stand firmly on the same doctrine as our Reformation forefathers, it is to stand firmly on the Word of God. To be Reformed is not only to believe that God is sovereign over salvation, but to believe that He is sovereign over everything. To be Reformed isn’t simply to accept the doctrines of grace, but to take great comfort in them, to teach them graciously, and to defend them courageously. To be Reformed is to believe that God has one glorious covenantal plan of redemption, and that He is carrying out that plan. To be Reformed is not to give mere lip service to the historic Reformed confessional standards, but to affirm them heartily and study them diligently. To be Reformed means not only that we are professing members of a local Reformed church but that we are regular, active worshipers and participants in the life, community, and mission of our local churches as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth. To be Reformed is not to be a complacent, smug, arrogant, or apathetic people, but to be a gracious, dependent, humble, prayerful, evangelistic, joyful, loving people who believe that God not only ordains the end of all things but that He ordains the means of all ends in us and through us by the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit for His glory alone.

In the final article of this issue various editors answer questions about the magazine. The opening one gives a bit of the history:

TT: How did Tabletalk begin? How has the magazine changed over the years?

TT: To answer that question, we have to go back to Martin Luther. Luther was a great teacher. He taught from the pulpit, in the classroom, and by writing books. But, like any good teacher, he taught in the ordinary moments of his life. He taught when fellowshipping with believers. These teachings, gathered by his students over a lifetime of ministry, became the first Table Talk. Table Talk was a book, a collection of sayings. These sayings came from conversations that were often had while talking over a table—that is, while sharing a meal with Martin Luther.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is also a great teacher. Every moment with him is an opportunity for learning. Casting a backward glance at Luther’s Table Talk, Dr. Sproul began Tabletalk in 1977, after the Ligonier Valley Study Center had been in existence for several years. It began as a newsletter with Dr. Sproul’s column, Right Now Counts Forever, and an assortment of other content. It was black and white, and it came in a large newsletter format. Then, in 1989, Tabletalk became a daily Bible study magazine and changed to a digest format. Now, forty years from its start, Tabletalk continues. Today, the magazine enjoys a circulation of more than one hundred thousand and a readership of more than 250,000 people, and it still serves as a tool for teaching the Bible to people around the world.

For more on this issue and its special articles, visit the link below or this one.

Source: Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future by The Editors of Tabletalk

A Very Special Reformation 500th Book: Gospel Truth of Justification

The Reformed Free Publishing Association has just released its latest publication – a title timed for this year’s 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century – and a very special title it is.

gospel-truth-justification-DJE-2017Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed by David J. Engelsma brings to the foreground the central truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the core doctrine rediscovered by the Protestant Reformers beginning with Martin Luther – justification by faith alone in Christ alone, wholly apart from the works of the sinner or the merits of any saint.

The publisher has this description on its website of the new title:

AD 2017 marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ. In 1517 the Reformer Martin Luther affixed the ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the act by which Jesus Christ began his reformation of his church. Essential to this Reformation was the gospel-truth of justification by faith alone. This book on justification is intended by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and the author to celebrate that glorious work of Christ.

But the purpose is more than a celebration of the beginning of the Reformation. It is to maintain, defend, and promote the Reformation in the perilous times for the church at present. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is so fundamental to the gospel of grace that an exposition and defense of this truth are in order always. The true church of Christ in the world simply cannot keep silent about this doctrine. To keep silent about justification by faith alone would be to silence the gospel.

In a recent email announcing the book, the publisher included these pertinent words, part of the author’s “Preface”:

Many churches today proclaim the false gospel, that is no gospel, of righteousness and salvation by the works and will of the sinner (Rom. 9:16). Today the churches with the most exalted reputation for Reformation orthodoxy are helpless, apparently, before the onslaught of the federal vision.

At such a time as this, a work that echoes Luther’s “here I stand” with specific regard to the fundamental doctrine of the Reformation is not only appropriate, but necessary. Clearly, unequivocally, creedally, biblically, the gospel truth of justification by faith alone, without works—any works, all works! Only the alien, perfect work of the Son of God in our flesh, Jesus the justifying Christ of God! Received by faith alone!

Protestantism, Protestantism in North America, Protestantism worldwide, especially Reformed and Presbyterian Protestantism, again hear this gospel, believe it, confess it, and defend it!

We will be referencing this work again this year, but we make this initial notice of it for your benefit.

Add it to your “must read” Reformation books this year. Be prepared to dig deep into the heart of the gospel, the need for which now more than ever the church and true Protestants need to proclaim, defend, and develop. Here is a great place to begin.

P.S. And yes, the PRC Seminary library does have it – two copies, in fact.

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Grace

In Roman Catholicism grace was seen as a ‘thing,’ a force or fuel like Red Bull. Catholics would pray, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace,’ as if Mary were wired with spiritual caffeine.

…That is nothing how Luther and his fellow Reformers saw grace. For them, grace was not a ‘thing’ at all; it is the personal kindness of God by which he does not merely enable us but actually rescues and… freely gives us himself. Or, to be more precise: there is no such ‘thing’ as grace; there is only Christ, who is the blessing of God freely given to us. That being the case, Luther tended not to talk much about grace in the abstract, preferring to speak of Christ. For example:

  • Therefore faith justifies because it takes hold of and possesses this treasure, the present Christ… the Christ who is grasped by faith and who lives in the heart is the true Christian righteousness, on account of which God counts us righteous and grants us eternal life.

In other words, the grace and righteousness we receive in the gospel are not something other than Christ himself: ‘Christ… is the divine Power, Righteousness, Blessing, Grace, and Life.’

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), Chapter 4, “Grace”, pp.88-89.

Spiritual Warfare – The Breastplate of Righteousness

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we once again enjoyed and benefited from our Sunday night discussion groups. We are continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

We are currently up to the chapters treating the armor of God as laid out in Eph.6:13-17:

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Tonight we looked at the second part of the armor – the breastplate of righteousness (v.14b). In the book this is explained in chapter 6 – “The Breastplate of Righteousness.” The authors take the position that this piece of armor refers both to righteousness in the objective sense (the imputed righteousness of our justification) and in the subjective sense (the imparted or infused righteousness of our sanctification).

Here is a profitable quote from the section explaining how the righteousness of our justification in Christ is a solid protector for our heart and soul against the attacks of Satan:

…No matter how hot the battle, our imputed righteousness – because it is Christ’s – cannot be, in any way, diminished or jeopardized. Our standing before God is completely secure once for all through Christ’s covering, and no attack of Satan can change this. Our hearts, then, are thoroughly protected from Satan’s accusations and lies, that we might withstand them.

And what does this mean specifically and concretely? Listen:

This first interpretation of righteousness call us continually to remember the flawless righteousness of our Lord when the devil brings a railing accusation against us. Our adversary accuses us saying, ‘What? You sinned again? That is because you are no good. Look how often you sin! You are nothing but a hypocrite! God wants nothing to do with hypocrites.’ The devil rubs our faces in our failures. He seeks to paralyze us and rob us of our joy and delight in the Lord. What are we to do in response to this?

That is indeed a critical question. Here’s how the authors tell us how to respond, negatively and positively:

Certainly we cannot proclaim our own righteousness to him since it is nothing more than filthy rags (Isa.64:6). Rather, we should promptly confess our sins to God.We must assure ourselves that although we are full of remaining sin, nonetheless, according to Romans 8:1, ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.’ When the devil points his accusing finger at us, we should say with the apostle Paul, ‘Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us’ (Rom.8:33-34).

What great confidence, then, the objective righteousness of Christ gives to the true believer! It is the anchor of the soul when the devil comes against us. Our identity is in Christ, and Christ’s righteousness has been legally credited to our account in the courtroom of heaven (Kindle version).

Reformation Day 2016: Luther’s Conversion and “Ein Feste Burg”

MLutherThe following is a reblog from my Oct.27, 2010 post on Martin Luther’s conversion, in his own words and in connection with his personal study of Romans 1:17. To that post I have added a video of some good Reformation music. Soli De Gloria!

From the website “Reformation Theology” comes this quote (also found in Roland Bainton’s classic biography of M.Luther, Here I Stand) in which Luther himself describes how he came to see the true gospel of sovereign grace, particularly the truth of justification by faith alone. As we reflect on the wonder of salvation that God works by His grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone, may we glory in the God who showed this truth to this humble servant and who restored it to the church in the 16th century. CJT

 

In the last 1,000 years, what came to be known as “the Tower Experience” of Martin Luther might well be the most significant event in the western world for all the ramifications which ensued. Here are Luther’s own words as he describes what happened as he was studying Romans 1:17 (and reading the insights of Augustine on this verse from a fairly obscure article he had written centuries before)- “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Rom 1:17

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression “the righteousness of God,” because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust.

My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Therefore I did not love a just angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven…” – Martin Luther

Our second Luther element today is a version of his classic “A Mighty Fortress”, sometimes also called “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” This arrangement is sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Justification

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016A week or so ago we pointed to some new Reformation books that have been published, one of them being Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016; 219 pp.).

The first chapter gets at one of the key doctrines restored during the great Reformation of the church – justification, or as the book has it in the subtitle, “How Can We Be Saved?” After giving an account of how Luther was led by the Lord to rediscover this truth of salvation, the authors summarize “Luther’s theology of justification” this way:

  1. Justification is a forensic act by which a believer is declared righteous. Justification is not a process by which a person is made righteous. ‘Forensic’ means legal – it invokes the image of a law court. It involves a change of status – not a change of nature.
  2. The cause of justification is the alien righteousness of Christ. It is not inherent within a person or in any sense said to belong to us. It is ‘imputed’ or reckoned to us. It is not ‘imparted’ or poured into us.
  3. Justification is by faith alone. We contribute nothing. Christ has achieved everything for us already.
  4. Because justification is an act of God and because it is based on the finished work of Christ, we can have assurance (p.32).

A few paragraphs later the authors raise the question,

So, does justification still matter? The answer must be a resounding yes. Nothing maters more than justification by Christ alone through faith alone. If justification by faith seems obvious to you, then it is because of Luther. But we must not presume on his legacy.

Many attempts have been made to move the center ground of Christianity elsewhere. But the fact remains that the biggest problem facing humanity is God’s justice. God is committed to judging sin. And that means he is committed to judging my sin. This is our biggest problem because that means an eternity excluded from the glory of God (p.34).

To which they add,

This is why Luther described justification as ‘the summary of Christian doctrine’ and ‘the article by which the church stands or falls.’

But it is not just at a doctrinal or ecclesial level that it matters. It is a deeply personal doctrine. Every time I sin, I create a reason to doubt my acceptance by God, and I question my future with God. But day after day the doctrine of justification speaks peace to my soul (p.35).

Good things to think about as we remember the Reformation and give thanks for the gospel of grace restored to the church in the sixteenth century.

Save

“Let us consider well this price.” M. Luther

Luther&LearningWherefore Paul saith here that Christ first began and not we. ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ As if he said, although He found in me no good will, or right understanding, this good Lord had mercy on me. He saw me to be nothing else but wicked, going astray, contemning God, and flying from Him more and more, carried away and led captive of the devil. Thus of His mere mercy… He loved me, and so loved me that He gave Himself for me, to the end that I might be freed from the law, sin, the devil and death.

Again, these words, ‘the Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me,’ are mighty thunderings and lightnings from heaven against the righteousness of the law and all the works thereof. So great and horrible wickedness, error, darkness was in my will and understanding, that it was impossible for me to be ransomed by any other means than by such an inestimable price.

Let us consider well this price, and let us behold… the Son of God, …and we shall see Him, without all comparison, to exceed and excel for creatures.

…If thou couldst rightly consider this incomparable price, thou shouldst hold as accursed all other ceremonies, vows, works, and merits before grace and after, and throw them all down to hell. For it is a horrible blasphemy to imagine that there is any work whereby thou shouldst presume to pacify God, since thou seest that there is nothing which is able to pacify Him but this inestimable price, even the death and the blood of the Son of God, one drop whereof is more precious than the whole world.

Martin Luther on Galatians 2:20 in Commentary on Galatians (Kregel, 1979), 94-95.

Legalism and the Grace of God in Christ – Nicholas Batzig

TT-June-2016This month’s Tabletalk addresses a serious error into which the church of Christ and Christians can easily fall – that of legalism.  Legalism goes hand in hand with other sins as well – pride, self-righteousness, Phariseeism, and judgmentalism to name but a few.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this subject in his editorial “Legalism vs. Gospel Religion.” The first main featured article, “Legalism Defined: Taken Captive by Empty Deceit,” is by Rev. Nick Batzig, and it is from this one that we quote today.

In an early paragraph, Batzig defines legalism this way:

Legalism is, by definition, an attempt to add anything to the finished work of Christ. It is to trust in anything other than Christ and His finished work for one’s standing before God. The New Testament refutation of legalism is primarily a response to perversions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The majority of the Savior’s opponents were those who believed that they were righteous in and of themselves, based on their zeal for and commitment to the law of God. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes exemplified, by their words and deeds, doctrinal legalism in the days of Christ and the Apostles. While they made occasional appeals to grace, they self-righteously truncated and twisted the Scriptural meaning of grace. The Apostle Paul summed up the nature of Jewish legalism when he wrote: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3–4).

But then he also shows how a proper understanding of justification by faith alone in Christ alone keeps us on the right path:

Understanding the relationship between the law and the gospel for our justification is paramount to learning how to avoid doctrinal legalism. The Scriptures teach that we are justified by the Savior’s works—not our own. The last Adam came to do all that the first Adam failed to do (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:47–49). He was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5). He came to be our representative in order to fulfill the legal demands of God’s covenant—namely, to render to God perfect, personal, and continual obedience on behalf of His people. Jesus merited perfect righteousness for all those whom the Father had given Him. We, through faith-union with Him, receive a righteous status by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In Christ, God provides what He demands. The good works for which God has redeemed believers, that we might walk in them, do not in any way whatsoever play into our justification. They are merely the necessary evidence that God has forgiven and accepted us in Christ.

Finally, after pointing out how legalism can creep into our hearts and lives in practical ways too, he ends by showing that the only cure for this error is the pure grace of God:

The grace of God in the gospel is the only cure for doctrinal and practical legalism. When we recognize doctrinal or practical legalism in our lives, we must flee to Christ crucified. As we do, we will again begin to grow in our love for the One who died to heal us of our propensity to trust in our own works or achievements. On a daily basis, we need to be reminded of the grace that has covered all of our sins, provided us with righteousness from outside of ourselves and freed us from the power of sin. Only then will we joyfully pursue holiness. Only then will we love God’s law without attempting to keep it for our justification before Him.

Source: Legalism Defined by Nicholas Batzig

Caiaphas and Christ: One for All!

Caiaphas has followed his declared policy – one for all. There is a strange irony here, for unwittingly the high priest was enunciating a principle that lay at the very heart of redemption. ‘The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.20:28). The Apostle Paul elaborates on this principle. ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom.5:19). One for all!

So another voice has spoken in Caiaphas’ court. That word was spoken in the eternal counsels of the Godhead, and Christ had accepted it on behalf of those whom the Father had given to him. One for all! Did he hear that voice again as he stood condemned by the Sanhedrin? He certainly had not forgotten it.

Ultimately two voices have spoken in that courtroom, the voice of God and the voice of Satan: both said, ‘one for all.’ But there is fundamental disagreement between them. God speaks in terms of redemptive substitution, substitutionary atonement; Caiaphas, who is Satan’s tool as much as Judas, speaks in terms of elimination. God would have his Son die for his people so that they might live; Caiaphas would have Christ die in order to be rid of him, and so he sticks by his policy that it was expedient that one man should die for the people rather than that the whole nation should perish.

Thus predestination and human responsibility meet as Christ is condemned. He was ‘delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,’ yet ‘crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men’ (Acts 2:23). God’s eternal purpose was realized in the death of his Son. The one for the many!

So the believer can say, ‘Christ embraced me with all my sin and guilt that I might embrace him in all his righteousness.’ That is what Luther had in mind when he said, ‘He died for me; he made his righteousness mine and made my sin his own; and if he made my sin his own, then I do not have it, and I am free.’

CrossHeBore-LeahyTaken from chapter 7, “Sentenced to Death” (based on Matt.26:65,66) by Frederick S. Leahy in The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Banner of Truth, 1996), pp.41-42.