Luther’s Doctrine of Justification (4) – R. Hanko

MLutherThe Wedding Ring of Faith: Passive Justification

The exchange of our sins for Christ’s perfect righteousness, according to Luther, takes place through faith:

By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride’s. As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than the death, his salvation more invincible than hell. Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride, “without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” cf. Eph. 5:26-27

of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation. In this way he marries her in faith, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2:19-20 says.6

According to Luther, that faith by which we are justified is entirely a work of God, and in no sense a work of man. By way of emphasizing this he often described justifying faith as passive:

For between these two kinds of righteousness, the active righteousness of the law and the passive righteousness of Christ, there is no middle ground. Therefore he who has strayed away from this Christian righteousness will necessarily relapse into the active righteousness, that is, when he has lost Christ, he must fall into a trust in his own works.7

By the use of the word “passive,” however, Luther did not mean that justifying faith is without any activity at all. He did not deny that faith is believing and trusting, resting and relying upon Christ. Nevertheless, he believed that faith was first and foremost union with Christ, the marriage of Christ and the believer by which they become one flesh, the union through which the sins of the believer are actually transferred to Christ and the righteousness of Christ given to the believer.8

His emphasis continues to serve as a necessary antidote to the current teaching that makes faith another work. He was much nearer the truth than those who deny gracious justification by speaking of faith as a decision of man’s own will or by suggesting that faith is man’s response to a well-meant “offer” of salvation in the gospel. Of this Luther would have nothing:

For faith is a divine work which God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself must implant it in us, for we cannot believe by ourselves.9

6. Luther’s Works, vol. 31, pp. 351, 352, “The Freedom of a Christian.”

7. Luther’s Works, vol. 26, p. 9, “The Argument of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.”

8. By the use of the word “passive” Luther also meant that the faith which unites us to Christ unites us to His suffering (the words “passive” and “passion” are related). Thus, too, justifying faith is far from inactive in that it shares, through union with Christ, in Christ’s suffering. That suffering, according to Luther, included not only sharing in Christ’s reproach and persecution, but in the agony of dying to sin and being killed by the law.

9. Luther’s Works, vol. 23, p. 23, “Sermon on John 6:28, 29.”

The fourth section of an article by Rev. Ronald Hanko found in the October 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer (cf. link below), a special Reformation issue focusing on the life and teachings of the great Reformer, Martin Luther. We are quoting from this article leading up to Reformation Day 2018 (Oct.31).

Source: Luther’s Doctrine of Justification (1) | Standard Bearer

Luther’s Doctrine of Justification (3) – R. Hanko

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The Sweet Exchange: Luther’s Understanding of Justification

At the heart of Luther’s understanding of justification lies the “sweet exchange.” He explains it thus:

Therefore … learn Christ and Him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not, and have given to me what I was not.”4

That exchange of our sins for Christ’s righteousness, Luther understood to be by imputation. Our sins are charged to Christ and His righteousness charged to our account. Thus He was made sin for us and we were made righteousness in Him (I Cor. 5:21), the blessed result being that Christ is treated as Sinner in our place, and we treated as Righteous for His sake. Luther rejected the Romish teaching that righteousness is infused or planted in us and that on account of the resultant change of life we are justified. That, of course, is just another kind of work righteousness.

According to Luther, righteousness is given as gift, then to those who are in fact still sinners, and the one who receives that gift of righteousness is not yet cured of his sin. He is, when justified, at the same time both sinner and righteous (simul iustus et peccator):

We are in truth and totally sinners, with regard to ourselves and our first birth. Contrariwise, in so far as Christ has been given for us, we are holy and just totally. Hence from different aspects we are said to be just and sinners at one and the same time.5

Luther, therefore, often referred to this righteousness by which we are justified as an “alien” righteousness, a righteousness which comes from beyond this world, and which is unattainable by any human effort or merit. It is not only the righteousness of Christ, but of God in Christ. God gives us His own righteousness and Christ is the bringer of it, exchanging it for our sins, a sweet exchange indeed.

The third section of an article by Rev. Ronald Hanko in the October 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer (cf. link below), a special Reformation issue focusing on the life and teachings of the great Reformer, Martin Luther. We are quoting from this article leading up to Reformation Day 2018 (Oct.31).

Source: Luther’s Doctrine of Justification (1) | Standard Bearer

Luther’s Doctrine of Justification (2) – R. Hanko

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Not Fishing in Front of the Net: The Importance of Luther’s Doctrine

As a result of his own experience Luther believed that the doctrine of justification was fundamental. It was for him “the sum of all Christian doctrine,” the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. He considered the teaching of this doctrine of far greater importance than reform of practice and ritual in the church, and insisted that the reform in other areas would follow if the doctrine were brought home to the hearts of God’s people:

We … beg and exhort you most earnestly not to deal first with changes in ritual, which are dangerous, but to deal with them later. You should deal first with the center of our teaching and fix in the people’s minds what they must know about our justification; that it is an extrinsic (external) righteousness—indeed it is Christ’s—given to us through faith which comes by grace to those who are first terrified by the law and who, struck by the consciousness of their sins, ardently seek for redemption…. Adequate reform of ungodly rites will come of itself, however, as soon as the fundamentals of our teaching, having been successfully communicated, have taken root in devout hearts. These devout people will at once recognize what a great abomination and blasphemy that papistic idol is, namely, the mass and other abuses of the sacrament, so that it will not be necessary to fish in front of the net, that is, first to tear down the ritual before the righteousness of faith is understood.2

Reformation often fails because those who seek it do not remember that reformation of doctrine is first and fundamental, especially of such doctrines as these. They cry against abuses but show little or no interest in the doctrines of the church, and are even willing to see those doctrines compromised and cast aside, as the doctrine of justification has been by many evan-gelicals.3 Luther was right. Reformation of doctrine will bring reformation of life, but attacking various abuses will not bring reformation at all, but will be as vain as the kind of fishing Luther describes.

The second section of an article by Rev. Ronald Hanko in the October 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer (cf. link below), a special Reformation issue focusing on the life and teachings of the magisterial Reformer, Martin Luther. We plan to quote from this article leading up to Reformation Day 2018 (Oct.31).

Source: Luther’s Doctrine of Justification (1) | Standard Bearer

Luther’s Doctrine of Justification | Standard Bearer

Entering Paradise: The Origin of Luther’s Doctrine

It is impossible to talk about Luther’s doctrine of justification without also talking about Luther’s experience of justification. It is never the doctrine which comes first but the experience and enjoyment of the blessings of God. This was especially and remarkably true in the case of Luther. His doctrine of justification was the fruit of his coming by grace and by faith to know his own justification before God.

He tells the story of his own spiritual pilgrimage:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.'” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through its gates.1

This means, too, that the Reformation did not really begin with the posting of his 95 Theses, but with the reformation of Luther’s own life; with a great and gracious work of God in Luther’s own soul. It did not begin with a protest against abuses in the church, but with a God-given and biblical answer to Luther’s own desperate question, “What must I do to be saved?” So it is always.

1. Helmut Lehmann, ed., Luther’s Works (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House: 1959-1967), vol. 34, pp. 336, 337, “Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings.” Many of the quotations from Luther’s works were gleaned from Robin A. Leaver, Luther on Justification (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House: 1975).

The opening paragraphs of an article by Rev. Ronald Hanko in the October 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer (cf. link below), a special Reformation issue focusing on the life and teachings of the magisterial Reformer, Martin Luther. We plan to quote from this article leading up to Reformation Day 2018 (Oct.31).

Source: Luther’s Doctrine of Justification (1) | Standard Bearer

Praying with the Psalms as Guilty Sinners and Innocent Saints – D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn connection with his treatment of the “penitential Psalms” (That is, prayers for repentance), D. Bonhoeffer writes:

The Christian will find scarcely any difficulties in the praying of these Psalms. However, the question could arise as to how one is to think about the fact that Christ also prays these Psalms with us. How can the sinless one ask for forgiveness? In no way other than he can, as the sinless one, bear the sins of the world and be made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Not for the sake of his sins, but for the sake of our sins, which he has taken upon himself and for which he suffers, does Jesus pray for the forgiveness of sins. He positions himself entirely for us. He wants to be a man before God as we are. So he prays also the most human of all prayers with us and thereby demonstrates precisely that he is the true Son of God.

And then, in connection with the prayers of the saints in which they declare their innocence, he writes:

But the question is not which possible motives may stand behind the prayer, but whether the content of the prayer itself is appropriate or inappropriate. And here it is clear that the believing Christian certainly has to say not only something about his guilt but also something equally important about his innocence and his justification. It is characteristic of the faith of the Christian that through God’s grace and the merit of Jesus Christ he has become entirely justified and guiltless in God’s eyes, so that ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). And it is characteristic of the prayer of the Christian to hold fast to this innocence and justification which has come to him, appealing to God’s word and thanking for it.

So not only are we permitted, but directly obligated – provided we take God’s action to us at all seriously – to pray in all humiliation and certainty: ‘I was blameless before him and I kept myself from guilt’ (Psalm 18:23)…. With such a prayer we stand in the center of the New Testament, in the community of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Quoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the twelfth section, “Guilt” (pp.50-55), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Justifying Faith: “We bank our present and our eternity on Jesus Christ alone, with no backup plan, no “Plan B.” He is it.”

​In our case, what justifying faith specifically means is that we abandon hope of finding meaning or purpose or God apart from Jesus as our Lord. We get out of our boat, whatever it is. We bail out on any fantasies that we are good enough, deserving enough, worthy enough. We stretch police tape across any notion of being self-sufficient, or of finding hope and life and a relationship with God anywhere but through Jesus Christ the crucified and risen master. We cling to Jesus alone, on the strength of His word alone, for hope of eternal life.

So we must know truths about Jesus’ person and work, and recognize them for what they are. We must also know that the truths are true that we know about Him, realizing that they correspond to reality, and that this has a potential impact on us. But beyond that, we must abandon ourselves to Him, we must lean on and trust in Him alone for all that He claims to offer [do not stumble over this word here; in the context he simply means “present, show forth, or hold forth]: the way, the truth, the life, forgiveness, and God. We must rest all our hopes on Jesus.

We bank our present and our eternity on Jesus Christ alone, with no backup plan, no “Plan B.” He is it.

We must not look to ourselves. We must look away to Christ, to the One who bore our sins and crimes and rebellion, on whom the holy God poured out His wrath. We look to Christ and see the perfect justice of God. We also look to Christ and see our own righteousness, the seamless and flawless purity that God demands. It is that vast, immeasurable, flawless righteousness that clothes us before God.

That’s living faith, repentant faith, which God enables in us by grace alone, and through which alone He pronounces us 100 percent righteous because of the infinite righteous perfections of Jesus Christ alone.

Though it has been some time since I posted on this book, one of the Kindle books I continue to make my way through is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011). I had again put it aside for a few months to read some other things, but returned to it today to read a couple more chapters from Section 3 on God’s way of salvation.

Phillips has back-to-back chapters on justification and regeneration as the ways in which God deals with our sin problem – the guilt of it and the corruption of it, respectively. Both are good chapters, laying out the Scripture’s teaching on these two aspects of God’s saving work. I posted earlier on regeneration, so tonight I focus on his thoughts on God’s work of justification (pp.168-69). In this section Phillips is using the example of Peter walking on the water as an illustration of true, saving faith. In that light some of the language here makes more sense.

Next time we will start to look at his section on sanctification and growth in Christ – also a profitable section!

“Open Book” – Hear R.C. Sproul Talk about His Books and Their Impact

How about sitting in on a “chat” with the late R.C. Sproul and listening to him talk about significant books from his personal library that have impacted him and his work?

A dream? No, a dream come true! Thanks to Ligonier Ministries and Steven Nichols, you can now hear such “library chats” through a new weekly podcast called “Open Book.” What a fabulous idea!

The first one was introduced yesterday (Of course, I listened right away – and the first featured book will surprise you!), and it is a eight-and-a-half minute treasure.

Below you will find the link to the podcast. Here is how it is introduced in the email I received:

Which books influenced R.C. Sproul’s life and ministry? Open Book is a new weekly podcast about the power of books and the people they’ve shaped. In season one, host Stephen Nichols shares never-before-heard moments with R.C. Sproul in his home library. Episode one is now available.

We hope you’ll join us each Thursday as we hear amazing stories and insights that R.C. Sproul gleaned from the books on his shelf. Listen on iTunes, Google Play, RefNet, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher, RSS, or by visiting OpenBookPodcast.com.

Source: Open Book with Stephen Nichols

PRC Seminary Reformation 500 Conference This Weekend! Come and Join Us! *(Updated!)

ref-500-1The PRC Seminary, with help from Faith PRC’s Evangelism Committee, is holding a special two-day 500th anniversary Reformation conference for this weekend, October 27-28 at Faith PRC in Jenison, MI.

The details of the event may be found on the poster below. A special website has also been created for the conference, which you may find at www.500thReformation.com .

Here’s the latest bulletin announcement that was sent out:

HERE WE STAND, the seminary sponsored weekend conference celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is now at hand. The first speech is at 4:00 on Friday, October 27 with additional speeches at 7:00 and 8:15. The conference will continue on Saturday morning. The speeches will be delivered by our three professors [Profs. R. Cammenga, R. Dykstra, and B. Gritters] and Rev. M. McGeown [missionary-pastor of Limerick Reformed Fellowship, Ireland], Rev. David Torlach [pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Australia], and Rev. S. Key [PRC pastor in Loveland, CO].

Talk to your neighbors and friends and join us at Faith PRC for this important event. The conference will be live-streamed on the Internet for those who are not able to attend in person.

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At the conference there will also be books for sale by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and Gary Vander Schaaf (lots of great deals on books!) and special displays of Seminary library books – new and rare – on the Reformation (There may also be a special PRC archive item on display!). In addition, the Reformed Witness Hour will have a special table featuring its ministry.

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We hope you make plans to attend this significant event! Set aside time this weekend to join us as we celebrate God’s great work in the sixteenth century of reforming His church according to His Word.

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It’s been a great conference so far! Come out this Saturday morning for more edifying and inspiring messages, good books, and blessed fellowship!

First 2017 “Standard Bearer” Special Reformation Issue

The October 15, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now in print and being mailed, and it is our annual special Reformation issue, marking the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017).

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The articles in this special Reformation issue reflect “the heritage of the Reformation,” that is, the special truths of the gospel that were restored to the church of Jesus Christ through the various brave and bold Reformers God raised up in the sixteenth century.

From the front cover of the issue you can see some of the topics treated. And from the table of contents posted below, you can see the rest of the important subjects covered in this issue.

You may have noted that I wrote “first” special issue in my heading. That is because we have also planned and will publish a second special issue on the Reformation this year. The November 1, 2017 issue will be “The Heritage of the Reformation” part 2. That too will have a variety of articles on the important truths and practices restored to the church according to the Word of God. Look for that issue in a few weeks!

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For today, we take a quotation from Prof. D. Engelsma’s article on the controversy over the bondage of the will, a subject of vital concern to the Reformers. Lord willing, we hope to feature another article from this issue as well.

The truth of the bondage of the will, including its being fundamental to the gospel of grace, has its urgent application to churches and professing Christians in AD 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation of 1517. The doctrine is not a petrified mummy safely sealed up in an ancient ecclesiastical museum. It is not a truth to which hypocritical ministers and church members can pay lip service when this is convenient for them (as in the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, although even then the bondage is usually not one of the topics of their celebrations), while effectively denying it in their synodical decisions, in their preaching, in their writings, by their church membership, and by their ostracism and slander of churches and theologians whose only offence is an uncompromising confession of the bondage of the will.

First, applied to the heart of the elect believer, this truth assures him of his salvation in that his willing of God and the good by a true faith carries with itself the assurance that he is saved. His will is free, and it is free because it has been freed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he will glorify God on account of his salvation.

Second, confession of the bondage of the will is a fundamental mark of a true church. Confession of the bondage of the will is an essential element of the proclamation of the gospel of grace, and the true church proclaims, confesses, and defends the gospel of grace—the gospel of salvation by grace alone, without the will and works of the saved sinner.

Third, confession and defense of the alleged free will of the natural, unsaved, man, which purportedly cooperates with grace and upon which grace depends, are the mark of an apostate, false church. In our ecumenical age, God’s people need to know this, and to act accordingly.

Why the Reformation Still Matters

The October 2017 issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine), without surprise or embarrassment, features a tribute to the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017). And we are glad they did.

The issue is packed with informative and inspiring articles on this indispensable movement, and you are encouraged to read them for your personal benefit this month and beyond. Here is a sampling of the main articles:

  1. The Power of the Gospel – Editor Burk Parsons
  2. Luther and His Significance – Stephen J. Nichols
  3.  Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide – Guy P. Waters
  4. The Geography of the Reformation – Ryan Reeves
  5. The Women of the Reformation – Rececca VanDoodewaard
  6. Continuing the Reformation – W. Robert Godfrey
  7. The Ninety-Five Theses (the final article has all 95 as set down by Luther himself)

For today, I reference the first main article, “Why the Reformation Still Matters” by Michael Reeves. I post a few sections from the beginning and the end of his article, for these give answer to his own implied question. Find the rest at the link below, where you will also find the other articles.

Last year, on October 31, Pope Francis announced that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics now “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.

But tell that to Martin Luther, who felt such liberation and joy at his rediscovery of justification by faith alone that he wrote, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Tell that to William Tyndale, who found it such “merry, glad and joyful tidings” that it made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Tell it to Thomas Bilney, who found it gave him “a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.” Clearly, those first Reformers didn’t think they were picking a juvenile fight; as they saw it, they had discovered glad tidings of great joy.

And this is the end of Reeves’ thoughts:

Now is not a time to be shy about justification or the supreme authority of the Scriptures that proclaim it. Justification by faith alone is no relic of the history books; it remains today as the only message of ultimate liberation, the message with the deepest power to make humans unfurl and flourish. It gives assurance before our holy God and turns sinners who attempt to buy God off into saints who love and fear Him.

And oh what opportunities we have today for spreading this good news! Five hundred years ago, Gutenberg’s recent invention of the printing press meant that the light of the gospel could spread at a speed never before witnessed. Tyndale’s Bibles and Luther’s tracts could go out by the thousands. Today, digital technology has given us another Gutenberg moment, and the same message can now be spread at speeds Luther could never have imagined.

Both the needs and the opportunities are as great as they were five hundred years ago—in fact, they are greater. Let us then take courage from the faithfulness of the Reformers and hold the same wonderful gospel high, for it has lost none of its glory or its power to dispel our darkness.

Source: Why the Reformation Still Matters