John 3:16 and Man’s Ability to Choose God

It is ironic that in the same chapter, indeed in the same context, in which our Lord teaches the utter necessity of rebirth to even see the kingdom, let alone choose it, non-Reformed views find one of their main proof texts to argue that fallen man retains a small island of ability to choose Christ. It is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Contuine Reading

Robert Murray M’Cheyne

A Young Boy Anxious about his soul

MY DEAR BOY,-I was very glad to receive your kind note, and am glad to send you a short line in return, although my time is much taken up. You are very dear to me, because your soul is precious; and if you are ever brought to Jesus, washed and justified, you will praise Him more sweetly than an angel of light. I was riding among the snow to-day, where no foot had trodden, and it was pure, pure white; and I thought again and again of that verse: “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” That is a sweet prayer,-make it your own. Often go alone and look up to Jesus, who died to wash us from our sins, and say, “Wash me.” Amelia Gweddie was one day dressed in a new white frock, with red ribbons in her bonnet, and some one said to her, “No doubt you will think yourself very trim and clean?” “Ah, no! she said; “I will never think that until I have the fine white robe of my Redeemer’s righteousness put upon me.” I am glad my dear boy, you think that God is afflicting you to bring you to Himself. It is really for this that He smites you. His heart, His hand, His rod, are all inscribed with love. But then, see that He does bring you to Himself. Do not delay. The lake of fire and brimstone stretches beneath every soul that lives in sin. “There is no peace, saith my God to the wicked.” If the Lord Jesus would but draw the curtain and let you see His own fair face, and His wounded side, and how there is room for the guiltiest sinner in Him, you would be drawn to Jesus with cords of love. I was preaching in Perth last Sabbath. When I came out, a little girl came up to me, I think about three or four year old. She wanted to hear of the way to be saved. Her mother said she had been crying the whole night before about her soul, and would take no comfort till she should find Jesus. Oh, pray that the same spirit may waken you! Remember, Johnnie, you once wept for your soul too, and prayed and sought Jesus. Have you found Him? or have you looked back, like Lot’s wife, and become a hard, cold pillar of salt? Awake again, and call upon the name of the Lord. Your time may be short, God only knows. The longest lifetime is short enough. It is all that is given you to be converted in. They are the happiest who are brought soonest to the bosom of Jesus. Write me again. At present I must draw to a close. Give my kindest remembrances to your mamma, and to A. when you write. Tell him to write to me. May you al meet at the table of Jesus above; and may I be there too, a sinner saved by grace. Ever yours, etc. To J.T.

Contniue Reading

Robert Hawker (1753-1827) Thirty-One Meditations on Christ

“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart;
for God now acepteth thy works.” Ecclesiastes 9:7

My soul, here is a sweet subject for your hourly thoughts. Are you “accepted” in the Beloved? Have you accepted Jesus, and God accepted you in Jesus?

Well may you then eat of the bread of common providences,70 and drink of the sweet of all sanctified mercies, for everything is blessed in Jesus, and Jesus is blessing you in everything. Surely, an accepted soul is a blessed soul, for he is blessed in his basket71 and in his store;72 blessed in his laying down and blessed in his rising up; blessed in his going out and blessed in his coming home; yea, blessed in time and blessed to all eternity. Yes, blessed source of all my blessedness, precious Jesus, I will go my way, for You are my way (Joh. 14:6). I will eat my bread with joy, for You are my bread of life (Joh 6:35). I will drink the wine which You have mingled73 for me, for Your love is better than wine (Song. 1:2).

And as God my Father accepts me in You, this forms an everlasting cause of everlasting joy: joy in what I have; joy in what I expect; joy in even what I want,74 for those very wants will lead me the closer and the nearer to You. Joy in what I fear, for my fear will keep me depending upon You; joy in what I suffer, for my sufferings are sweetly blessed when they afford a renewed occasion for my Jesus to sooth me under them and, in His time, to deliver me out of them. And joy in all I lose, for lose what I may, I cannot lose You-I cannot lose God’s Christ; I cannot lose His love, His favour, His grace, His Spirit, the efficacy of His blood, and the merits of His righteousness. Oh precious security, precious salvation in the Lord our Righteousness (Jer. 33:16)! Shall I not live up to this heritage, and live under its influence, in the thankful, joyful use of it from day to day? God your way, my souls, go in Jesus as your Way. Every day, and all the day, eat your bread with joy. Eye Jesus as your spiritual food and always present at your table. Drink hourly of His cup of salvation with a cheerful heart, for you are accepted in the Beloved.

70. Providence-works of God in preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.
71. basket-contents of a basket, as in harvesting-as much as it can hold.
72. Store-storehouse, as of harvested food.
73. Mingled-mixed (possibly with water, as a common practice).
74. Want-lack.

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The word of the cross is the power of God

THE WORD OF THE CROSS

Death’s Tyrant Destroyed

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. Hebrews 2:14, 15.     

O DEATH, where is thy sting?

O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:55-57). 

For He, the Lord from heaven, died, and went through death; and by the act of passing through death, He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered us from the bondage of the fear of death that pursued us in all our living. ….

Is there then any way out?

There is not as far as man is concerned. On this side, the situation is quite impossible.

But what is impossible with man is possible with God. His mighty arm wrought deliverance out of the fortress of death, for the children He had ordained unto glory.

And this great deliverance was accomplished through death, the death of His Son.

That is the power of the cross.

For the text tells us that He, the Son of God, deliberately entered the fortress of death, destroyed the devil in his power, and delivered them who throughout all their life were in bondage through the fear of death.

Let me, to clarify the meaning of those words, be permitted to present the whole matter in the form of a figure, an extended metaphor.

When man sinned, God shut him up in the fortress of death, of darkness and corruption, as his just punishment. The key He gave to the devil, that is, not the power to open and shut the prison-doors, but the power to rule within the sphere of death, and to lord is over all within its walls. He is the prince of darkness.

Now, into that prison Christ entered. For the text tells us that He also partook of the flesh and blood of the children. By doing so, He came under the law, and in the midst of death. But He is the Son of God. He was not born by the will of the flesh. He came from above. Voluntarily, He descended into the darkness of death’s fortress. He assumed the flesh and blood of the children by an act of His own, through the Spirit, from the virgin Mary. He was, therefore, personally, not under the sentence of death, neither unto the dominion of the devil. He was free, even in that prison, to do the will of the Father. Without sin He was, neither was ever guile found in His mouth. But He came as the captain of the salvation of the children the Father had given Him, to represent them in death, to break the power of the devil over His brethren, and to deliver them from the fear of death. For that purpose, that He might take their sins upon His mighty shoulders, remove their guilt, and thus break the power of the devil, He partook of the flesh and blood of the children. ….

And this Christ did.

He destroyed the devil, who had the power of death. The meaning is not that He annihilated him, but that He put him utterly to nought as the tyrant of death. He took the power of death, the right to lord it over the children He must lead to glory, and to hold them under his dominion, away ffrom the prince of darkness.

And this He did through death.

His death is the right to liberty for all His brethren. By His death, He obtained the authority and power to deliver them from the prison of sin, and from the fortress of the fear of death; the right, too, to bestow upon them an eternal righteousness, and to lead them into the glory of everlasting life. For He tasted death for every one of them. He tasted all the horrors there is in death. Fully He recognized, in death, the heavy hand of God’s wrath against sin. There is no agony, no horror, no pain, no sorrow and grief, no amazement and abandonment, no astonishment and desolation, in death which He did not taste. And freely, voluntarily, in the love of God, as the Servant of Jehovah, that was come to do the will of the Father in and unto death. He descended into its dark depth, bore it all, and passed through it into life. For of death He made an act of obedience. Dying, He sprinkled His lifeblood upon the alter of God’s justice in the death of hell!

O, it is true, to eye of the natural man, the cross of Jesus of Nazareth on Calvary, appears only as man’s cross. It is foolishness to him. And true it is, that man played his part to erect that cross. When the Servant of Jehovah had made it quite plain that, even in the fortress of death, He had come to do the will of the Father, that He steadfastly refused to submit Himself to him that had the power of death, that is the devil, all hell broke loose, all the forces of darkness set themselves against Him, and released against Him all their satanic fury. They took Him, bound Him, condemned Him, spit upon Him, scourged Him, made Him a spectacle to all the world, and nailed Him to the accursed tree. Yet they but opened the way for Him, that He might voluntarily descend into the gloomy depth of death and hell. Every drop of blood they pressed from His hands and feet He filled with the love of God, and willingly shed upon the altar of obedience to the Father. Thus His death was a sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice of atonement for sin. And thus the right to deliver His brethren from the fortress of death, and to lead them into the everlasting glory of God’s tabernacle with men.

Through death, He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.

And through death, He obtained the authority and power to deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

And deliver them He does!

Our Redeemer is also Deliverer!

Through death, He passed into the glory of His resurrection, and of His exaltation at the right hand of the God, and is clothed with all power in heaven and on earth. He holds the keys of death and hell. This mighty Lord, through His Spirit, now stretches His strong arm of salvation into our prison of sin and death, to lead us out into liberty. He opens wide the door, breaks the shackles of sin that hold us in bondage to the will of the devil, gives us a new heart, a new life, new love, new light, new knowledge, and wisdom. He gives us the saving faith, the power whereby we may appropriate Him, and all His blessings of salvation. He calls us through the word of the cross, the word of reconciliation, of liberty, of deliverance from the slavery of sin. And we hear the voice of Jesus, the captain of our salvation, calling: “Come unto me, and rest.”

And we do come, and find rest; we repent and are forgiven; we believe and are delivered.

No longer do we accomplish the will of the devil, but have a new delight in the law of the God of our salvation.

And no longer does the fear of death hold us in bondage, for in His cross and resurrection we behold the way out, into the final glory of the tabernacle of God with us.

O, amazing power of the cross!   

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John Calvin’s prayers as he went through the book of Zephaniah

Verses. 1-4

The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD. I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so prone to corruptions, and so easily turn from the right course after having commenced it, and so easily degenerate from the truth once known,-O Grant that, being strengthened by thy Spirit, we may persevere to the end in the right way which thou showest to us in thy word, and that we may also labour to restore the many who abandon themselves to various errors,; and though we may effect nothing, let us not yet be led away after them, but remain firm in the obedience of faith, until having at length finished all these contests, we shall be gathered into that blessed rest which is prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Verses 5-9

And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear by the LORD, and that swear by Malcham; And them that are turned back from the LORD; and those that have not sought the LORD, nor enquired for him. Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests. And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel. In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that as we continue in so many ways to provoke against us thy wrath, we may patiently bear the punishment, by which thou wouldest correct our faults, and also anticipate thy judgment: and since thou art pleased to recall us in due time to thyself, let us not turn deaf ears to thy counsels, but so obey and submit ourselves to thee, that we may become partakers of that mercy, which thou offerest to us, provided we seek to be reconciled to thee, and so proceed in thy service, that under the government of Christ thy Son, whom thou hast appointed to be our supreme and only king, we may so strive to be wholly devoted to thee that thou mayest be glorified through our whole life, until we become at length partakers of that celestial glory, which has been procured for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen.

Verses 10-12
 
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, and a great crashing from the hills. Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off. And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that as almost the whole world breaks out into such excesses, that there is no moderation, no reason,-O grant, that we may learn not only to confine ourselves with in those limits which thou dost approve and command, but also to delight and glory in the smallness of our portion, inasmuch as the wealth, and honours, and pleasures of the world so fascinate the hearts and minds of all, that they elevate themselves into heaven, and carry on war, as it were, avowedly with thee. Grant also to us, that in our limited portion we may be in such a way humbled under thy powerful hand, as never to doubt but that thou wilt be our deliverer even in our greatest miseries; and that ascribing to thee the power over life and death, may feel fully assured, that whatever afflictions happen to us, proceed from thy judgment, so that we may be led to repentance, and daily exercise ourselves in it, until we shall at length come to that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.   

Verses 13-Ch.2:2
 
Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof. The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land. Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD’S anger come upon you. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that we continue in various ways to provoke thy wrath, we may at length be awakened by the blasting of that trumpet which sounds in our ears, when thou proclaimest that thou wilt be the judge of the world, and testifies also the same so plainly in the gospel, so that we may, with our minds raised up to thee, learn to renounce all the depraved lusts of the world, and that having shaken off our torpidity, we may so hasten to repent, that we may anticipate thy judgment, and so find that we are reconciled to thee, as ever to retain the taste of it, in order that we may be enabled to renounce all the allurements and pleasures of this world, until we shall at length come to that blessed rest, where we shall be filled with that unspeakable joy, thou hast promised to us, and which we hope for in Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Chapter 2:3:8


Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger. For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up. Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites! the word of the LORD is against you; O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant. And the sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks. And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening: for the LORD their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity. I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified themselves against their border. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast been pleased to consecrate us as peculiar people to thyself, we may be mindful of such an invaluable favour, and devote ourselves wholly to thee, and so labour to cultivate true sincerity as to bear the marks of thy people and of thy holy Church: and as we are so polluted by so many of the defilements of our own flesh and of this world, grant that thy Holy Spirit may cleanse us more and more every day, until thou bringest us at length to that perfection to which thou invitest us by the voice of thy gospel, that we may also enjoy that blessed glory which has been provided for us by the blood of thy only begotten son. Amen.

Chapter 2:9:15


Therefore as I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them. This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the LORD of hosts. The LORD will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen. Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword. And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness. And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work. This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou triest us in the warfare of the cross, and arouses most powerful enemies, whose barbarity might justly terrify and dishearten us, were we not depending on thine aid,-O grant, that we may call to mind how wonderfully thou didst in former times deliver thy chosen people, and how seasonably thou didst bring them help, when they were oppressed and entirely overwhelmed, so that we may learn at this day to flee to thy protection, and not doubt, but that when thou becomes propitious to us, there is in thee sufficient power to preserve us, and o lay prostrate our enemies, how much soever they may exult and think to triumph above the heavens, so that they may at length know by experience that they are earthly and frail creatures, whose life and condition is like the mist which soon vanishes: and may we learn to aspire after that blessed eternity, which is laid up for us in heaven by Christ our Lord. Amen.

Chapter 3:1-5


 Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God. Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as thou hast deigned to favour us with an honour so invaluable, as to adopt us for a holy people to thee, and to separate us from the world,-O grant, that we may not close our eyes against the light of thy truth, by which thou showest to us the way of salvation; but may we with true docility follow where thou callest us, and never cast away the fear of thy majesty, nor mock thee with frivolous ceremonies, but strive sincerely to devote ourselves wholly to thee, and to cleanse ourselves from all defilements, not only of the flesh, but also of the spirit, that by thus seeking true holiness, we may aspire after and diligently labour for that heavenly perfection, from which we are yet far distant; and may we in the meantime, relying on the favour of thy only-begotten Son, lean on thy mercy; and while depending on it, may we ever grow up more and more into that true and perfect union, reserved for us in heaven, when we shall be made partakers of thy glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Chapter 3:6-9


I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings. Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent. KJV

PRAYER

Grant Almighty God, that since it is the principal part of our happiness, that in our pilgrimage through this world there is open to us a familiar access to thee by faith,-O grant, that we may be able to come with a pure heart to thy presence: and when our lips are polluted, O purify us by thy Spirit, so that we may not only pray to thee with the mouth, but also prove that we do this sincerely, without any dissimulation, and that we earnestly seek to spend our whole life in glorifying thy name, until being at length gathered into thy celestial kingdom, we may be truly and really united to thee, and be made partakers of that glory, which has been procured for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen. 

Chapter 3:10-13

From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering. In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that since the depravity of our nature is so great, that we cannot bear prosperity without some wantonness of the flesh immediately raging in us, and without becoming even arrogant against thee,-O grant, that we may profit under the trials of the cross; and when thou have blest us, may we with lowly hearts, renouncing our perverseness, submit ourselves to thee, and not only bear thy yoke submissively, but proceed in this obedience all our life, and so contend against all temptations as never to glory in ourselves, and feel also convinced, that all true and real glory is laid up for us in thee, until we shall enjoy it in thy  celestial kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Chapter 3:14-20


Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden. Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD. KJV

PRAYER

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day so scattered on account of our sins, and even they who seem to be collected in thy name and under thy authority, are yet so turn by mutual discords, that the safety of thy Church hangs as it were on a thread, while in the meantime thine enemies seek with savage cruelty to destroy all those who are thine, and to obliterate thy gospel,-O grant that we may live in quietness and resignation, hoping in thy promises, so that we may not doubt, but that thou in due time wilt become our deliverer: and may w so patiently bear to be afflicted and cast down by thee, that we may ever raise up our groans to heaven so as to be heard through the name of thy Son, until being at length freed from every contest, we shall enjoy  that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven, and which thine only-begotten Son has promised for us. Amen.   

Damage of Counterfeit Currency

“Plausible are the ways in which men are seeking to justify this circulation of counterfeit currency in the spiritual sphere; it is perfectly right, we are told, so long as it is not found out.  That principle has even been ingeniously applied to the ordinary currency of the realm; if a counterfeit note were absolutely perfect, it has been said, so that by no possibility could it ever be detected, what harm should we be doing to a man if we passed it out to him with his change?  Probably it will not be necessary to point out—at least to the readers of the present book—the fallacy in this moral tour de force; and that fallacy would really apply to the spiritual currency as well as to five-dollar notes.  By circulating bad money we should be diminishing the value of good money, and so should be robbing the generality of our fellow-men.  But after all, that question is purely academic: as a matter of fact counterfeit notes are never sure not to be found out.  And neither is bad currency in the spiritual sphere.  It is a dangerous thing to encourage faith in what is not true, for the sake of the immediate benefits which such faith brings: because the greater be the building that is erected on such a foundation, the greater will be the inevitable crash when the crash finally comes.”

J. Greshem Machen, What is Faith?  page 179.

The above paragraph by Machen can be explained by looking at the function of money in an economy.  Every good and every service that might be purchased with currency has its value based on the currency.  One could add up into a sum the price of every good and every service in that economy.  Then he could figure out the total amount of money available for the purchase of all these goods and services.  There is a resulting relationship between the two.  That relationship works in both directions.  A price is given to the various good and services available.  In the other direction, the money that a man possesses has its power because it can be used to purchase those goods and services available.  He knows he can get so much for the money he has.  When a man gets his paycheck, he knows that he can buy the food he needs to feed his family.

Suppose that a counterfeiter has produced and passed into this economy exactly the same amount of the money already existing in an economy.  At first, prices remain the same, and the individuals who at first successfully pass off this counterfeit currency as genuine obtain the goods and services they produce for free.  But as this counterfeit currency works its way into the whole economy, all currency loses half its value.  Consequently, goods and services will double their cost.

Even more, suppose the counterfeit currency is discovered.  The economy is further damaged because people will no longer trust their currency.  They will not trust it when they receive it in the form of a paycheck, nor in business transactions.

What is the currency whose value is damaged by its counterfeit in our spiritual economy of salvation and assurance of salvation?

The believer’s assurance is grounded upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, which righteousness is received through faith alone.

The teaching of assurance by good works diminishes the value of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  It also diminishes the importance of faith alone by which that righteousness is received.  Assurance is by faith and good works.  Assurance is by the righteousness of Christ and good works.

Christ loses His value when good works are placed next to Him.  Faith loses its value when good works are placed next to faith.  Gratitude for salvation freely received into the heart and mind as the wondrously powerful motivation for all good works suffers.  Why do good works?  No longer because the believer has received, but because the believer must obtain.  What one thought he possessed fully by grace alone through faith alone is cast into doubt.  He must now get busy and perform necessary good works to get what he thought he already had.

“The doctrinal error . . . then compromises the gospel of Jesus Christ, for when our good works are given a place and function they do not have, the perfect work of Christ is displaced.”  (Acts of Synod 2018, Article 62, page 70)

We must also look at the very heart of the error.  “Our good works,” when they displace “the perfect work of Christ,” have two damaging effects on the work of Christ.  First, the work of Christ is no longer sufficient.  The believer’s good works must be brought in in to complete the ground for assurance.  Second, the believer’s good works are imperfect.  They do not match the perfection of God’s perfect law.  They are defiled with sin.  When those good works are brought next to the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, and both together made the cause or reason for assurance, the results are damaging.  Damage is done to perfection of the law, of Christ’s righteousness, and the believer’s assurance.  Not only does perfect assurance become impossible, as the believer attempts to gain better assurance by doing more good works.  His assurance must become weaker and weaker as he tries to pursue more and more imperfect good works.

This counterfeit currency also does damage to the doctrine that is precious to the church of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of salvation and assurance of salvation by grace alone, from Christ alone, by faith alone.  The addition of good works to this doctrine throws the word “alone” into doubt.  When the currency of “faith and good works” is passed along as genuine, and believers are told that their assurance depends on their faith and their good works, the doctrine that they have been taught before becomes questionable.  They may not trust what they have been taught, and what they had held as dear.  Questions arise in their minds about the old currency.  They can only doubt that their assurance, formerly based on Christ alone, was solid and true.  Now they must obtain an assurance that is true by good works that they must now perform in order to obtain this assurance.

Damage of Counterfeit Currency (2)

Damage of Counterfeit Currency

Properly to understand the damage of the teaching of doing good works in order to obtain assurance, the relationship between faith and good works must be clear.

There are two places in the Heidelberg Catechism that declare this relationship.  The first is Lord’s Day 32, Q&A. 86, which addresses the necessity of good works.  According to the answer Christ “also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image . . . that everyone may be assured of his faith by the fruits thereof.”  The other is Lord’s Day 33 which gives a definition of good works.  It is that first element of this definition that stands on the foreground: “only those which proceed out of a true faith.”

From these places the truth about good works is clearly established: good works proceed out of faith.

This simple and glorious truth about good works has several implications that are important to observe and keep in mind.  One implication is that faith is always prior to good works.  Another implication is that the sole source of good works is faith in the heart, and that faith as producing the good works.  Yet one more is that faith possesses Christ as the complete Savior before producing any good works.  In other words, faith resting in Christ alone produces good works because of Christ alone in that believer through faith.  He is the vine.  We are the branches.

Faith must be first, and faith alone must be first, before all the good works the believer does.

This truth is brought out in Reformed doctrine in two distinct ways.  First, the Reformed order of salvation is that of faith, justification, and sanctification.  This order means that justification and sanctification are by faith alone.  Second, good works proceed from the heart of the believer as the believer places his trust in Christ for all his salvation, justification, and sanctification, and glorification.  Another way to put the same thing is that the believer proceeds to his life of good works out of gratitude.  He has received by faith all the blessings of salvation that are in Christ Jesus his Lord.  Out of gratitude for what he has consciously received by faith alone, he lives a life of gratitude filled with good works to the glory of his Redeemer.

Thus, faith and the assurance of faith the believer possesses and enjoys prior to all the good works that he does.

The question becomes obvious: how can the believer work for that which he already possesses?  How can he possibly work to obtain that which he already has and enjoys by faith alone in Christ alone, without his works?

Turning now to the error that assurance is to be obtained by good works, the damage becomes evident.  The error makes good works occupy the same territory that faith alone is meant to.  As faith is simply trust and rest in the complete work of Christ as the only and the complete Savior, good works done by the believer are put into the same realm where the fullness of Christ alone is supposed to be.  This was the understanding of Synod 2018 when it decided this error displaced the perfect work of Christ.

First, damage is done to faith itself, and the nature of faith as rest and trust in Jesus Christ.

Good works become the standard for faith.  Faith is seen as another good work, alongside the good works of the law.  The command to believe the gospel stands alongside the other commandments of the law of God.  Faith then becomes obedience to that commandment to believe.  The deed of believing obtains the gifts of forgiveness of sin and eternal life, just as good works themselves are said to obtain assurance of salvation.

The damage is that faith as resting in the work of Christ as finished and complete fades into the background, along with the finished and complete work of Christ.  The damage is that faith as the spiritual bond that joins the believer to Jesus Christ ceases to have a place in the heart and mind of the believer.  The damage is that faith can no longer be seen as the distinct and glorious work of the Holy Spirit.  Faith becomes only a choice, a decision, a mere act of the will.

Second, damage is done to the spiritual character of good works.

Because faith and good works exist side by side in the believer’s life, good works will tend more and more to have the supremacy.  The believer can see his diligent efforts having their payoff in his good works.  They are more readily apparent to him as he does them.  Keeping the commandments outwardly he can note real progress in his life.  He finds the approval of men and is encouraged by it to continue in his pursuit of good works.  He is able to argue from his life of good works his claim to more assurance of faith.  What he sees comes to have more and more priority over what he believes, the visible over the invisible.

Focus moves to the external character of good works.  The law is seen more and more as a code of outward conduct, merely ruling over and regulating visible behavior.  The law speaks less and less of what the believer cannot do, and more and more of what he can do.  The law less and less points to the sins and depravity of the believer, to lead him to his need of Christ and His perfect righteousness and fulfillment of all the law of God.

Third, damage is done to the understanding of the church of Jesus Christ.  The church is moved from being the gathering of believers and their spiritual seed, to being the gathering of doers.  The gospel of salvation from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ loses its central place as satisfying the deepest need of God’s people and the wellspring of their life.  Taking over that central place is exhortation and motivation to live according to God’s law.  Practice becomes the theme instead of belief of the truth.

Similarly it becomes inevitable that certain good works become lauded and praised rather than others.  The second table of the law receives priority over the first.  Donations of large sums are praised and extolled over the widow’s mite.  Service trips and special projects receive much attention.  On the other hand, godly sorrow over sin, true conversion, and simply carrying on in one’s tasks in school, work, home and family to the glory of God is downplayed and can even be despised. Such is the damage of the counterfeit currency of the doctrine of assurance by good works.  Understanding this damage must make us so grateful for the decisions of our Synod that identified and rejected this doctrine. But it must also make us vigilant to ensure that this counterfeit currency never has any place among us.

(Rev. Martin VanderWal Posted on March 23, 2019)

The Urgent Warning

John adds a warning and an incentive. The warning is: “and the world passeth away and the lust thereof” (v. 17). The things of the world are temporary, fleeting, and have no lasting value. The world offers pleasure, power, and the fulfillment of the lusts of the flesh, but one day these things will come to an end. There will come a time when you will not be able to enjoy them. However, it is almost impossible to convince a person infatuated with the world that this is the case. A worldly person lives for the moment, especially for the weekend, and it takes a miracle of grace to wrest his heart away from the world.

But by “passeth away” John means more than to underline the world’s temporary nature. These things pass away because they will be destroyed in the judgment. The worldly person will stand before God. The music will be silent, the sensual pleasure will be over, worldly friends will be gone and he will be sober. Then he must give an account to the Almighty: “I exchanged my Creator for the fleeting pleasures of creation. I had no love for God in my heart. The world was my god.” And if the worldly person has only his love for the world he will stand naked before God, stripped of everything except his sins, and will be condemned.

The world (in the evil sense) “passeth away,” its lusts (in the evil sense) will be gone, but the world itself (as God created it and purposed it) will be redeemed. Christ is rightly called the Savior of the world. Never in the Bible is he called the Savior only of the elect. This does not mean that he is the Savior of all men, including the reprobate, but it means that he is the Savior of men from all nations, and more that he is the Savior of the universe, the creation, or the cosmos. Christ redeems God’s world—God’s cosmos—from sin, death, and the curse. The world was sold into the power of the devil because of man’s sin, and Christ purchased the world back. The world of the ungodly with their evil lusts, that world shall be destroyed.

Christ redeems us from the wicked world and for the eternal world of God’s kingdom by his death on the cross (Gal. 1:4). That was necessary because only by the death of the cross could we, his sinful people, ever be part of the new creation in which righteousness dwells. That is part of the reason why Jesus rejected the devil’s third temptation. Satan offered Jesus the world, but Jesus already possessed the promise of the world, but he would receive it the Father’s way, the way of suffering and death.

And it is by the power of the cross that the world is crucified unto us: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal 6:14).

The second incentive is: “he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (v. 17). Those who deny themselves the pleasures of the world for a season have no disadvantage. In God’s kingdom there are eternal pleasures that the world will never know. These pleasures are ours already, when we by faith taste and know them. Love not the world. Love the Father. Do his will out of thankfulness to him.

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland

Conflict and Triumph by W. H. Green

SATAN

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD. (Job 2:1 KJV)
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13 KJV)

He who has any just sense of his own weakness and frailty, and of the frightful evil of sin, must be incessant in his entreaties that he may be upheld in steadfastness by an almighty arm, and guarded from the assaults of one who succeed even in enticing angels to their fall, and prevailed over our first parents in all the vigour of their early integrity, and to whom we shall prove an easy prey, unless One stronger than the strong man armed, interferes for our rescue. A proper sense of our peril will not only tend to beget the general conviction that in God alone is our help, but will, in addition, lead us to fasten upon those particular assurances and grounds of encouragement which are afforded by him for just such a crisis as this. The knowledge of the vast power of our spiritual adversary will lead us to take refuge in the omnipotence of God, to place a new value upon this glorious attribute, to avail ourselves of it as a basis of repose and confidence, to experience in our daily consciousness what it is to have a God of such infinite resources to supply our pressing need.  

The almighty power of God is then no longer an abstraction to us-an intellectual conviction-but a present practical necessity; not a perfection which we distantly contemplate, but one by which we live and without which we perish. The dire necessity which drives us to the fount of life is, in its results, and incalculable blessing. And the temptation of Satan which terrifies the soul out of all self-dependence and creature-dependence, and compels it to find refuge in an almighty Saviour, has accomplished a gracious end.

And with this, so with other perfections of the ever-blessed God, and with the precious promises of his Word, and with merciful provisions of the covenant of grace, and with the priceless salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The tempted soul learns afresh how to prize them, and embrace them, and cling to them, and rest upon them, and live by them.  (Pp. 20, 24)