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?

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.

The Presbyterian Philosopher, Gordon H. Clark – An Introduction

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today I want to return to the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

You may recall that a few weeks ago when I received notice of the release of this book from the author, I did a brief blog post highlighting it. I have now received my review copy and the extra copies I ordered for the Seminary bookstore (available for purchase). I have started to delve into the book and am pleased with what I read so far.

I knew a little about Clark, especially, as I pointed out before, because of his connection to Herman Hoeksema and the PRCA. But I am intrigued by his philosophy and theology and interested in learning more about him as a Presbyterian churchman and as a person as well.

For today, I pull a few quotes from the introduction, where Douma gives his reason for writing about this man and his importance in his day and for our time. Here is one question and his answer:

What, then, did Clark believe? Why should Christians, particularly Christian theologians, wrestle with his philosophy and apply his insights? Clark provides perhaps the best philosophical understanding of Protestant Christianity. For its breadth and depth, his work can be difficult at times. He challenges us to question basic assumptions of the world, and of our faith, and he forces us to think in a rigorous, logical fashion (p.xx).

After laying out the broad “contours of Clark’s philosophy,” Douma points to the heart of Clark’s philosophical theology. His view of knowledge and the understanding of the world about him was not based on empiricism (observation and analysis), nor on rationalism (pure logic and reason), but on God’s revelation in Scripture. Concerning this the author writes,

The philosophy of Gordon Clark has been called Scripturalism because of his reliance on the truth of Scripture as his fundamental axiom or presupposition. Stated simply, his axiom is ‘The Bible is the Word of God.” Scripturalism teaches that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, whom Himself determines truth and is the source of all truth. In this theory, the propositions of Scripture are true because they are given by inspiration of God, who cannot lie. For Clark, the Bible, the sixty-six books accepted by most Protestant churches, is a set of true propositions. All knowledge currently available to man are these propositions along with any additional propositions that can be logically deduced from them (xxi).

In addition to this fundamental axiom, Clark was also a dedicated Presbyterian confessionalist, subscribing to and promoting the historic creed of Presbyterians. About this says Douma,

As much as the story of Gordon Clark connects with American Presbyterian history, the philosophy of Gordon Clark engages the most important Presbyterian confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith. Time and again in Clark’s life and works, his commitment to the system of belief described in this historic document is revealed. …The Confession set the boundaries for Clark’s philosophy beyond which he would not strive to venture (xxiii).

And though these commitments to Scripture and the Confession brought him into inevitable controversy wherever he went and taught, “Clark remained convinced of the truth of the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, a truth centered in biblical revelation alone” (xxiii).

And so Douma points us to the significance of Clark for our own time:

Clark’s true import, however, is that, in an age of increasing secularization and rising atheism, he put up an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. This faith, he believed, was a system. All its parts linked together, a luxury of no other philosophy. The Scriptures exhort us to ‘be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have ‘(1 Peter 3:15). This requires that we love God fully with our minds and study His Word. Only from God’s revelation can we be assured of the truth of our reasons (xxiv).

That’s sufficient introduction to Clark for this post. I trust you see from this introduction that Clark has much to say to our age and generation. Until next time, perhaps it is time for you to be exposed to Clark’s Scripturalism.

Introducing “The Presbyterian Philosopher” – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark

the-presbyterian-philosopher-douma-2017Late last week I received notice from our friend, fellow WordPress blogger, and author Douglas Douma,  that his latest title is ready to be released. It is a significant work on the Presbyterian/Calvinist philosopher-theologian Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985).

This is the announcement as it appeared on Douglas’ blog:

I’m glad to announce that my book The Presbyterian Philosopher – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark is now available for purchase!

After four years of effort researching and writing this book, I’m thrilled to see it come to publication. This book incorporates Dr. Clark’s personal letter collection, information from unpublished papers and sermons, letters from a half dozen archives, and interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues to detail the history of his life and give context for understanding his philosophy and the controversies in which he was involved.

The preface is written by Dr. Clark’s two daughters, Lois A. Zeller and Betsy Clark George. Endorsements for the book are from John Frame, Jay Adams, Kenneth Gary Talbot, D. Clair Davis, David J. Engelsma, William Barker, Erwin Lutzer, Frank Walker, Dominic Aquila, and Andrew Zeller.

clark-vantil-controv-hhoeksemaPRC readers and those interested in Reformed orthodoxy will be interested in this work, as Clark found a friend in the PRC and in Herman Hoeksema in particular, especially because of Clark’s sound rejection of the theology of the free offer of the gospel and his solid defense of double predestination among other things (For more on this, consult Herman Hanko’s “History of the Free Offer of the Gospel”). You will also be interested in this Trinity Foundation title, which pulls together Hoeksema’s editorials in the Standard Bearer on the Clark-VanTil Controversy.

For more on Clark, visit this special website devoted to him.

The PRC Seminary bookstore will be carrying copies of this book when it is available. Contact us to reserve your copy, or write the author at the information found at the link below.

Source: Now Available: “The Presbyterian Philosopher” – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark

The Prayers of J. Calvin (29)

JCalvin1On this third Sunday of Reformation month 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-eighth lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 7:12-19, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:15, “And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim”:

But we may hence learn this important truth, – that God had never bound Himself to any people or place, that He was not at liberty to inflict punishment on the impiety of those who had despised His favours, or profaned them by their ingratitude and their sins.

And this ought to be carefully noticed; for we see that it is an evil as it were innate in us, that we become elated and proud whenever God deals bountifully with us; for we so abuse His favours as to think that more liberty is given us, because God has bestowed on us more than on others. But there is nothing more groundless than this presumption; and yet we become thus insolent whenever God honours us with peculiar favours.

Let us therefore bear in mind what is taught here by the Prophet, – that God is ever at liberty to take vengeance on the ungodly and the ungrateful.

With that general comment, Calvin turns his attention to the Romish church:

Hence it also appears how foolish is the boasting of the Papists; for whenever they bring against us the name of the apostolic throne, they think that God’s mouth is closed; they think that all authority is to be taken away from His Word. In short, they harden themselves against God, as though they had a legitimate possession, because the gospel had been once preached at Rome, and because that place was the first seat of the Church in Italy as well as in Europe. But God never favoured Rome with such a privilege, nor has He said that His habitation was to be there.

…Now, since Shiloh and Jerusalem, and so many celebrated cities, where the gospel formerly flourished, have been taken away from us, it is not to be doubted but that a dreadful vengeance and destruction await all those who reject the doctrine of salvation and despise the treasure of the gospel.

Since then God has shewn by so many proofs and examples that He is not bound to any places, how stupid is their madness who seek, through the mere name of an apostolic seat, to subvert all truth and all fear of God, and whatever belongs to true religion (pp.382-383).

And so Calvin concludes this lecture with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are inclined not only to superstitions, but also to many vices, we may be restrained by Thy Word, and as Thou art pleased daily to remind us of Thy benefits, that Thou mayest keep us in the practice of true religion, –

O grant, that we may not be led astray by the delusions of Satan and by our own vanity, but continue firm and steady in our obedience to Thee, and constantly proceed in the course of true piety, so that we may at length partake of its fruit in Thy celestial kingdom, which has been obtained for us by the blood of Thine only-begotten Son. Amen

Justin Martyr – Apology (4)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers and church fathers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing opposition and persecution – and facing them biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In this installment we continue our posts from some sections from his first apology. For links to his writings, visit this site.

This post is taken from chapters seven and eight  of Justin’s first apology (and follow from my previous post where we quoted chapters five and six):

CHAPTER VII — EACH CHRISTIAN MUST BE TRIED BY HIS OWN LIFE.

But some one will say, Some have ere now been arrested and convicted as evil-doers. For you condemn many, many a time, after inquiring into the life of each of the accused severally, but not on account of those of whom we have been speaking. And this we acknowledge, that as among the Greeks those who teach such theories as please themselves are all called by the one name “Philosopher,” though their doctrines be diverse, so also among the Barbarians this name on which accusations are accumulated is the common property of those who are and those who seem wise. For all are called Christians.

Wherefore we demand that the deeds of all those who are accused to you be judged, in order that each one who is convicted may be punished as an evil-doer, and not as a Christian; and if it is clear that any one is blameless, that he may be acquitted, since by the mere fact of his being a Christian he does no wrong. For we will not require that you punish our accusers; they being sufficiently punished by their present wickedness and ignorance of what is right.

CHAPTER VIII — CHRISTIANS CONFESS THEIR FAITH IN GOD.

And reckon ye that it is for your sakes we have been saying these things; for it is in our power, when we are examined, to deny that we are Christians; but we would not live by telling a lie. For, impelled by the desire of the eternal and pure life, we seek the abode that is with God, the Father and Creator of all, and hasten to confess our faith, persuaded and convinced as we are that they who have proved to God by their works that they followed Him, and loved to abide with Him where there is no sin to cause disturbance, can obtain these things. This, then, to speak shortly, is what we expect and have learned from Christ, and teach.

And Plato, in like manner, used to say that Rhadamanthus and Minos would punish the wicked who came before them; and we say that the same thing will be done, but at the hand of Christ, and upon the wicked in the same bodies united again to their spirits which are now to undergo everlasting punishment; and not only, as Plato said, for a period of a thousand years. And if any one say that this is incredible or impossible, this error of ours is one which concerns ourselves only, and no other person, so long as you cannot convict us of doing any harm.

The Gospel Solution for Our Society – Rev.K. Koole

StandardBearerThe September 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer is now out, and in it Rev. K. Koole has an editorial addressing the need our current society has (and has always had!) for the true gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

He speaks to the bitter enmity, division, and violence that are openly on display in our land, and speaks to the root problem and the only solution: man’s enmity against God and repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is how Rev. Koole addresses the problem:

One can talk about ‘loving the neighbor’ all one wants, loving even those who seem to be your enemy and returning good for evil, but for all that, one has not proposed the Biblical solution for ungodly man.  Such is not the solution that is going to resolve the enmity that permeates our society.

Why not?

Because the root of the problem in our society so filled with violence and division and with hatred and abuse of others is not the lack of love for the neighbor; rather it is rooted in our society’s hatred for God and for God’s good commandments

And when the news media begins to ask us what we think the problem is in our society and what’s the solution, before we start talking about people learning to love their neighbors in a more Christian way, we must point the questioners and reporters to God and our society’s relationship to almighty God.

We must remind those who interview us that we are living in a society that has turned its back on God, denying any truthfulness in Him, and that in a most public and arrogant way.  There is, they say, no God to whom we must answer.  So who cares one iota about His laws?

And where that spirit rules and becomes embedded into a nation’s laws, judgments will follow matter of course.

That’s the problem, the evil let loose in our society.  And our society is reaping a harvest of thorns.  When you go to war against God (and have no humility before Him), you will, matter of course, go to war against your fellow man.

So it is today.

And this is what he has to say about the only solution:

So, what is the solution?

Our answer:  as things stand now, as our society despises Jehovah God, there isn’t any!  At least not along the lines society is looking for, namely, men learning to love their neighbors as themselves and living in unity and peace.  There is only one solution in the end, namely, repentance from the sins of despising the things of God, and turning in faith in Christ Jesus.  Otherwise, all this call for love, and learning to live in love, is doomed to failure.  It’s nice talk, but it is not Biblical Christianity.

Our answer must be along those lines.

There is plenty of other good content in this issue as well. For information on subscribing to the “SB, visit the homepage linked above.

Justin Martyr – Apology (3)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers and church fathers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing persecution – and facing it biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In this installment we continue our posts from some sections from his apologies (first and second). For links to his writings, visit this site.

This is taken from chapters five and six of Justin’s first apology (and follow from my previous post where we quoted chapter four):

CHAPTER V — CHRISTIANS CHARGED WITH ATHEISM.

Why, then, should this be? In our case, who pledge ourselves to do no wickedness, nor to hold these atheistic opinions, you do not examine the charges made against us; but, yielding to unreasoning passion, and to the instigation of evil demons, you punish us without consideration or judgment. For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself. And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.

CHAPTER VI — CHARGE OF ATHEISM REFUTED.

Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.

Justin Martyr – Apology (1)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing persecution – and facing it biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In the weeks and months ahead we plan to post some sections from his apologies (first and second). For links to his writings, visit this site.

This is taken from chapter three of Justin’s first apology:

CHAPTER III — CLAIM OF JUDICIAL INVESTIGATION.

But lest any one think that this is an unreasonable and reckless utterance, we demand that the charges against the Christians be investigated, and that, if these be substantiated, they be punished as they deserve; [or rather, indeed, we ourselves will punish them.] But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgment, but by passion. And every sober-minded person will declare this to be the only fair and equitable adjustment, namely, that the subjects render an unexceptional account of their own life and doctrine; and that, on the other hand, the rulers should give their decision in obedience, not to violence and tyranny, but to piety and philosophy. For thus would both rulers and ruled reap benefit. For even one of the ancients somewhere said, “Unless both rulers and ruled philosophize, it is impossible to make states blessed.” It is our task, therefore, to afford to all an opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest, on account of those who are accustomed to be ignorant of our affairs, we should incur the penalty due to them for mental blindness; and it is your business, when you hear us, to be found, as reason demands, good judges. For if, when ye have learned the truth, you do not what is just, you will be before God without excuse.

The Sin of Certainty – creation.com

the-sin-of-certainty-pennsThis review of Peter Enns’ (former professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia) new book by Calvin Smith at Creation.com is worth noting here (posted June 14, 2016).

Enns has been and continues to be influential as a professing Christian scholar who uses a higher critical view of Scripture to promote popular teachings in Christian circles today, including such subjects as biblical authority, evolution, and now the nature of faith itself (not as certainty but as doubt, as the title to his book indicates).

I give you the introduction to Smith’s review and then a section from it on Enns’ evolutionary views, encouraging you to read the full review at the link below.

Peter Enns’ latest book reads like the average village atheist attempting to discredit the Bible, all the while assuring you that he’s a Christian trying to illuminate you on how to build your faith. It’s basically a re-hash of similar concepts we’ve seen before in his previous writings and reiterates that while the Bible doesn’t contain the truth, you can still believe and trust in God (whoever that might be).

And here is the section on Enns’ evolutionary perspective:

Creation

In his chapter on evolution Enns admits what Genesis plainly says.

“The problem for biblically centered Christians is that the Bible, right in the very beginning, tells us clearly that God created all life forms with a simple “Let there be … ” No common descent, natural selection, or billions of years required. So if Darwin was right, the Bible was wrong.”2

Now Enns is a committed theistic evolutionist and hence this isn’t a ‘problem’ for him. Which reveals he isn’t a ‘biblically centered Christian’. And he believes Darwin was right, which means he believes the Bible is wrong!

This would mean that God knowingly put contradictions in His word (or else the Bible isn’t actually inspired although Enns doesn’t comment on this directly). But proclaiming known contradictions amounts to lying (which is likely why Enns has a chapter blasphemously titled ‘God is a liar’9).

Perhaps Enns forgot Numbers 23:19 where Scripture makes something clear- “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind.”

(But of course that could just be one of those parts of the Bible you don’t have to take as plainly written in Enns’ way of thinking.)

For Enns the truth of the Bible isn’t what’s important, it’s ‘trust’ in God. Of course the word ‘trust’ is defined as; ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something’. So Enns shoots himself in the foot in his basic premise. How are Christians supposed to trust in God if His revelation to His people is un-trustworthy?

Source: The Sin of Certainty – creation.com