The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

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The marrow of true justification

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What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners effectually called to Jesus Christ, wherein He pardons all their sins, and accepts them as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

So says the Shorter Catechism. Believing that to be an accurate summary of Scripture truth, in our men’s meetings at the church I serve we have just finished working through The Marrow of True Justification by one of the early Particular Baptists, Benjamin Keach (recently republished by SGCB, and also available as an audio recording beginning here). Keach was one of the men who made it his business to stand against false teaching on this matter at the end of the seventeenth century, in company with such men as John Owen and Robert Traill, to mention only two. Keach’s work demonstrates again, if nothing else, that there really is nothing new under the sun. If you follow anything of the debates about the nature of justification and all that flows from it, Keach’s ‘Dedicatory Epistle’ will show you that the issues today, though sometimes clothed in new language and updated phrases, are really just what they always were:

Brethren,

As I was put upon preaching on this great Subject; so I am satisfied it was at a very seasonable Hour, that Doctrine being greatly struck at by too many Persons, though of different Sentiment: in many Points of Religion. And as it was well accepted by you, who heard these Sermons (and the other: that followed) when preached; and having been prevailed with to publish these in the World, so I hope some may receive Advantage hereby: Though for the meanness of the Author, and weakness of the Work, they may not meet with that Entertainment from some as the Subject deserves; yet for your sakes whose Souls are committed to my Charge, and for whom I must give Account to the great Shepherd of the Sheep at the last Day, I readily consented to this Publication; as also that all may see that we are in this, and in all other great Fundamentals of Religion, established in the same Faith with our Brethren, and all Sound and Orthodox Christians in the World: And cannot but look upon our selves greatly concerned, to see how Men by Craft and Subtilty endeavour, through Satan’s Temptations (though I hope some do it not wittingly) strive to subvert the Gospel of Christ, and corrupt the Minds of weak Christians. An Error in a Fundamental Point, is dangerous and destructive; but should we mistake some Men we have do with, we should be glad: The Lord help you to stand fast in the Truth, as it is in Jesus (in which through Grace you are well established:) Our Days are perilous; Satan seems to be let loose upon us, and is in great Rage, but Time being but short. Brethren, ’tis a hard Case that any of those who maintain the Old Doctrine of Justification, should be branded with the black Name of Antinomians. As for my part, if Dr. Crisp be not misrepresented by this Opposers, I am not of the Opinion in several respects; but I had rather err on their side, who strive to exalt wholly the Free Grace of God, than on theirs, who seek to darken it and magnify the Power of the Creature, though we fear the Design is to wound the Truth and us, through that good Man’s sides, who, I doubt not is come to heaven: O when shall we see that Truth, Peace, and Union longed for?

My Brethren, the Doctrine we preach does not open a Door to the least Licentiousness: (as ’tis unjustly said to do by some, who are either willfully or ignorantly blind.) No, God forbid. Nothing can promote Holiness, and Gospel-Sanctification like unto it, only it teaches us to act from high, sublime, and right Evangelical Principles: It shows the only way to attain to Gospel-Purity, flows from our Union with Christ, and that no Man can arrive to any degree of true Holiness, or expect to meet with any Success therein, without a Principle of Spiritual Life, or saving Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Nature of Men must first be changed, and that Enmity that is in their Hearts against God, be removed, before they can be holy: The Tree must first be made good, or the Fruits will be evil. The Image of God must be formed in our Souls, which puts the Creature into an actual bent and propensity of his Heart to the Practice of Holiness. If a Man hates not Sin, be not out of Love with Sin, How should he be in love with God and Holiness? Now because we say Sanctification is not necessary, as antecedent to Justification, but is the Fruit or Product of Union with Christ; though we deny not but the Habits (of Holiness) are infused at that same Instant that Faith is wrought in the Soul, Must we be looked upon as Promoters of a Licentious Doctrine? Must we make our own Performances, or Observance a Condition of Justification, or be laid under infamy and Reproach? ‘Tis by Faith only, that we come to have actual Enjoyment and Possession of Christ himself, and of Remission of Sin; and not only so, but of eternal Life; and so of Holiness also, and no other ways. The good Lord help you to a right Understanding of these things, and make you all a holy People, to the Praise of his Glory, and Honour of your Sacred Profession.

The Holy Apostle having asserted Justification by the Righteousness of God, which is by Faith in Jesus Christ, desired to know him and the Power of his Resurrection, etc. which he did not to be justified thereby, but as a Fruit flowing therefrom, or as a further Evidence thereof. The first he had attained; but there was a higher degree of Sanctification in his Eye, which he pressed after, as then not having attained: Whose Example let us follow.

I shall say no more: You own a Rule of Gospel-Holiness; Let me exhort you to labour after sincere Obedience: And pray forget me not in your Prayers, that God would graciously help me through all my Troubles and Temptations, and preserve me and you to his Heavenly Kingdom; who am your Servant for Jesus’ sake, and so shall abide till Death.

Benjamin Keach

Keach introduces his topic, and then gets down to business:

And thus I come to my Text, Romans 4:5. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that jusfifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for Righteousness.

To him that worketh not; That is, worketh not, thinking thereby to be justified and saved. Though he may work, i.e. lead a holy and righteous Life; yet he doth it not to merit thereby; nay, though he be wicked, and an ungodly person, and so worketh not, or hath no Moral Righteousness at all; yet if he believeth on him that justfieth the ungodly, his faith is counted or imputed for righteousness; Not as a simple Act, or as it is a quality or habit, or in us, as the Papists teach; ipsa fides, saith Bellarmine, censetur esse Justitia, Faith itself is counted to be a justice, and itself is imputed unto Righteousness; No, nor in respect of the effects or fruits of it; for so it is part of our Sanctification.

In this first sermon, Keach identifies two doctrines from the text: (1) That all works done by the creature are entirely excluded in the matter of the justification of a sinner in the sight of God, and (2) that justification is wholly of the free grace of God, through the imputation [putting to our account] of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith.

He proceeds to expose some of the mistaken notions about justification that were current in his day and, sadly, have not withered away with the passing of time. In the second sermon, he returns to his key text – “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom 4.5) – and his aim is to show the Scriptural evidence and arguments for the first point of doctrine above viz., that all works done by the creature are entirely excluded in the matter of the justification of a sinner in the sight of God.

Because Keach’s language is sometimes antiquated, and his use of punctuation quite fascinating and occasionally misleading, we produced an outline of his twelve arguments, with a summary (Keach’s kernel) and précis (our own attempt to reword the basic point) of each as appropriate. In the hope that they might be helpful, here they are:

First argument: “Taken from the very letter and express testimony of the Holy Scripture” (54). “That doctrine that gives the Holy Scripture the lie, is false and to be rejected. But the doctrine that mixes any works of righteousness done by the creature with faith or the free grace of God, in point of justification, gives the Scripture the lie; therefore that doctrine is false, and to be rejected” (58).

Précis: The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly state that no works (however considered) of a sinner have any place in his justification by God (Rom 4.2; Gal 2.16; Eph 2.8-9; Phil 3.8-9).

Second argument: “That all works done by the creature, are utterly excluded in point of justification appears from the different nature of works, and grace; ’tis positively said, we are justified by grace” (58).

Summary: “That which is of the free grace of God, is not by any works done by the creature.  But justification is of the free grace of God; therefore not by any works done by the creature. That being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life, Tit. 3.5” (59).

Précis: The principles of grace and works are utterly opposed to each other, and cannot be mixed. Justification is either by works (law, merit, debt) or by grace (free, gift). If works is involved then grace is no longer grace, but the Bible says we are justified graciously (therefore works cannot be involved).

Third argument: “Faith is the way prescribed in the gospel in order to justification” as opposed to any and all works (29).

Summary: “That doctrine which confoundeth the terms of the law and gospel together in point of justification, is a false and corrupt doctrine. But the doctrine that mixeth sincere obedience, or works of any kind done by us, with faith in point of justification, confound the terms of the law and gospel together in point of justification; therefore that doctrine is false and a corrupt doctrine” (60).

Précis: Only faith takes the sinner from himself to Christ, the only Saviour. Works says, “Do this and live.” Faith says, “Believe and be saved.” These two principles are entirely opposed and cannot be mixed.

Fourth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of a sinner in the sight of God, because we are justified by a perfect righteousness: if no man is in himself perfectly righteous, then no man can be justified by any works done by him” (63).

Summary: “If we are justified by a complete and perfect righteousness; then an imperfect though a sincere righteousness, doth not justify us, but we are justified by a complete and perfect righteousness” (67-68).  “We can only be justified . . . by that righteousness which is universal and complete. . . . Our obedience, though sincere, is not universal nor complete; therefore our sincere obedience or righteousness justifies us not in God’s sight” (68).

Précis: For a man to be justified requires a perfect righteousness: that is the demand of God’s holy law, which does not change. In order to be justified, we must either provide that perfect righteousness ourselves, or receive it from another. But no sinner is capable of producing or providing perfect righteousness for himself, and therefore it is not possible that we can ever be justified by any works of ours, and so we must find that perfect righteousness outside of ourselves.

Fifth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of the sinner before God, appears because justification is a great mystery” (68).

Précis: A ‘mystery’ here is truth that we could not have known unless God had revealed it. The idea that we can be justified by sincere obedience suits the wisdom and nature of fallen men: humans readily conclude that the way to obtain God’s favour is to do good and so earn his smile. The doctrine of justification by faith is not unreasonable, but it is above natural (i.e. fallen) reason. It is the wisdom of God revealed from heaven.

Sixth argument: “If when we have done all we can do, [we are] are unprofitable servants; then by our best works of obedience and services under the gospel, we cannot be justified” (71).

Précis: If your works justify you, then you are not an unprofitable servant and have done all that God requires of you, and your sins are not sins, but only minor imperfections. But Jesus shows that by all our efforts – however sincere – we cannot come to deserve the blessings of salvation, which comes only by grace.

Seventh argument: “Because we are said to be justified by the righteousness of God: hence it follows that all our works of obedience are excluded, Rom 3.21, 22. ’Tis called the righteousness of God in opposition to the righteousness of the creature” (72).

“If that righteous which is the righteousness of God, which is by faith, in opposition to the righteousness of the creature doth justify us; then all works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification in God’s sight: but the former is true; ergo [therefore], all works done by the creature are excluded, etc.” (76).

“If Paul, nor no other child of God durst, or dare to be found in any righteousness of their own at death or judgment; then works done by us, or sincere obedience justify us not; but the former is true; therefore no works of ours, nor sincere obedience doth justify us in God’s sight” (77).

“That doctrine that holds a Christian down under slavish fear, by grounding his justification on his own works of holiness and sincere obedience, is not of God; but the doctrine of justification by our own work of holiness or sincere obedience, holds a Christian down under slavish fear, by grounding his justification on his works of holiness and sincere obedience; therefore that doctrine is not of God” (77).

Précis: God in his infinite wisdom has provided his perfect righteousness in Christ as the means of forgiving and justifying guilty and condemned sinners like us. This was Paul’s refuge and must be ours (Phil 3.8-10): Paul excludes all his past and present efforts, however sincere, from his standing with God and relies on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone for his hope.

Eighth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of a sinner in the sight of God, because we are justified by that righteousness by which the justice of God is satisfied, and his wrath appeased” (77).

Summary: “If by that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the justice of God is fully satisfied, we are justified; then all works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our justification before God: but by that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the justice of God is satisfied; therefore all works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our justification before God” (80).

Précis: The only righteousness that delivers us from condemnation and the curse of the law is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us [put to our account]. We need no other righteousness to accomplish this, and there is no space for any other righteousness in the matter of justification. Our works of righteousness as believers do not justify us, although they are necessary in us, being fruits of our saving union with Jesus Christ. Our personal righteousness apart from Christ gives us nothing in which to boast, either with regard to justification or sanctification.

Ninth argument: “All works done by the creature, are excluded, etc. because ’tis by the obedience of one man that many are made righteous, that is Jesus Christ, he is made of God unto us righteousness, etc. Rom. 5.18,19. 1 Cor. 1.30. But our own inherent righteousness is of many; i.e. every man’s own sincere obedience that obtains it” (81).

Précis: If our justifying righteousness comes by the obedience of one man, then there is no room in justification for the obedience of a second man (ourselves) or any number of other men.

Tenth argument: “All works done by the creature, are excluded in point of justification, I prove thus; if any one man was justified without works or sincere obedience, or through faith only, then all works of obedience, etc., are excluded” (81).

Précis: The thief on the cross, and saved infants dying in infancy, are saved without works of obedience, and yet still justified. This is because the remedy is always the same for every person for the disease of sin: Christ’s atoning death and imputed righteousness. Like our spiritual father, Abraham, as well as other heroes of faith, it is the righteousness that comes by faith (not by works) that justifies.

Eleventh argument: “Is, because Christ is tendered or offered to sinners as sinners” (82).

Précis: Christ is not offered to those who are good or who are trying to be good, but to men who must come to Christ for the righteousness which justifies and for the new life of holiness which invariably follows. We have no qualifications for salvation apart from our need. It is as sinners trusting in Jesus alone that we are justified: where, then, is there room for our own works, either before or after salvation?

Twelfth argument: “It is, because if a man should so walk as to know nothing of himself, i.e. be so righteous, or so sincere in his obedience, as not to have his conscience to accuse, or reproach him; yet he cannot thereby be justified.”

Précis: The holiest men (Job, for example) utterly renounce all their own obedience and righteousness before God, abasing themselves and confessing themselves great sinners. The only plea of the godliest man before the judgment seat is Christ’s blood, death and righteousness. In the day of judgment, we will not plead our works but renounce and be ashamed of them (Mt 25.37). All our good works will be swallowed up in our admiration of God’s free and infinite grace.

Selected applications

Caution: “Do not think, O Soul, that thy own Righteousness doth justify thee, through Christ’s Merits; or that Christ’s Righteousness is thy Legal Righteousness, and not thy Evangelical. No, no, he is thy whole Saviour . . .”

Comfort & instruction: “This Doctrine will support you that are weak, and doubt for want of inherent Righteousness, take hold of it, A Robe of Righteousness, Put it on, Believe on Christ, as poor Sinners come to him . . . if thou can’st not come to God as a Saint, come as a Sinner; nay, as a Sinner thou must come, and may’st come. . . . We are for the Law as Paul was, and for Holiness and sincere Obedience, as any Men in the world; but we would have Men act from right Principles, and to a right end: We would have Men act in Holiness from a Principle of Faith, from a Principle of Spiritual Life. . . . You must first have Union with him, before you can bring forth Fruit to God; you must act from Life, and not for Life.”

Entreaty: “To you that are Believers, Oh! admire Free Grace; lift Christ up who died for you, the Just for the Unjust, who bore your Sins, who was made sin for us that knew no Sin, that we might be made the Righteousness of God in him. He gave himself for you, and has given Grace, the Fruit of his Death, and himself to you. O labour to be a holy People; live to him that died for you, and rose again. To conclude. Is there any Sinner here? Are you ungodly, and in a wretched Condition (in your own Eyes)? Are you weary and heavy laden? Come to Christ, lift up your Heads: For to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifies the Ungodly, his Faith is counted for Righteousness.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 19 March 2011 at 13:01

Mining the past

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Too often while reading contemporary authors on the law in the life of believers, I find myself asking the question, “Haven’t these guys read the great minds of the past on this issue?”

So asks Rich Barcellos, before supplying a few key statements from some of the theological giants who have wrestled with these issues before.

UPDATE: And there’s more.

UPDATE: More again.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 November 2010 at 17:48

No works in justification

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Regular readers of this blog will know that both neonomianism and antinomianism are bugbears of which we are much aware.  The quote that follows is from The Marrow of True Justification by Benjamin Keach (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007).  The first part is his eleventh argument for the exclusion of all works done by the creature, or any obedience of his, in the matter of our justification with God.  Keach explodes all attempts to make our own works any part of our standing righteous before God with regard to our justification with the true doctrine of God’s grace in Christ, while making plain that such grace has nothing to do with antinomianism.  Rich stuff!

11 Arg. Is, because Christ is tendered or offered to Sinners as Sinners; not as righteous persons, but as ungodly ones, without any previous Qualifications required of them to set themselves to receive Christ; they are all as poor, lost, undone, weary, and heavy laden Sinners required to believe in Christ, or venture their Souls upon him, though they have no Money, no Righteousness; if they have, they must cast it away, in point of Dependence, Trust, or Justification: These are they, Christ came to call; these are they he invites to come to him, these are they he came to seek and to save, who see nothing of Good in themselves; but contrariwise, are sensible of their filthy Hearts and abominable Lives: And yet though it be thus, if they come to Christ, they shall be at that very instant justified, which Faith or Divine Grace will soon make them holy and sanctify them; for holy Habits are at that very instant infused into them, though Sanctification is a gradual work: This being so, it follows all Works done by the Creature are excluded, in point of Justification of a Sinner before God.  What said Paul to the ungodly Jailor, when he cried out, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved and thy house, Acts 16.31.  The Apostle did not put him upon doing to be saved, but upon believing.  But O how contrary is this to the Doctrine some Men preach now-a-days; they tell Sinners what they must do, what good Fruits they must bring forth, and this before the Tree is good, or they have closed with Christ, or have real Union with him; nay, bid the People take heed they do not too soon believe on Christ or venture on Christ.  Sirs, you cannot too soon believe in Christ, I mean truly believe; I don’t say you should get a presumptuous Faith, but true Faith: But is it not strange a Minister should be heard lately to say, A Man must get a new heart before he can be justified.  I though a Man could not have a new Heart before he had true Faith: Is not a new Heart one of the absolute Promises of the New Covenant, Ezek. 36.26.  Can any thing, short of Almighty Power, make the Heart new, or for the Image of God in the Soul; or can a Man that hath a new Heart be under Condemnation, for are not all in that Condition who are not actually justified?  Or can a dead Man quicken himself, or dead Works please God?  Or the Fruit be good before the Tree is good?  Are not all that are new Creatures in Christ Jesus, and have union with him, 2 Cor. 5.17? (82-83)

A little later, he urges the comfort of these things for sinners before raising and answering an objection:

Here is Comfort for Sinners; but if you are self-righteous Persons, or go about like the Jews of old, to establish your own Righteousness, down to Hell you will fall, Rom. 10.2.  This Doctrine will support you that are weak, and doubt for want of inherent Righteousness, take hold of it, A Robe of Righteousness, Put it on, Believe on Christ, as poor Sinners come to him, you that have no Money, no Worth, no Merit, no Righteousness, this Wine and Milk of Justification and Pardon is for you: Cry to God to help you to believe; Christ is the Author of your Faith, ’tis the Gift of God, ’tis a grace of the Spirit; Do you see you are wounded?  Look to Christ, Believe, and thou shalt be saved, Mark 16.16.  John 3.15, 16.  If thou can’st not come to God as a Saint, come as a Sinner; nay, as a Sinner thou must come, and may’st come.

Obj. But this Doctrine is decried for Antinomianism.

Answ. They know not what Antinomianism is, that thus brand us, as here-after I shall God-assisting prove.  If this is to be an Antinomian, we must be all such, and let them mock on; the Lord open their Eyes: We are for the Law as Paul was, and for Holiness and sincere Obedience, as any Men in the world; but we would have Men act from right Principles, and to a right end: We would have Men act in Holiness, from a Principle of Faith, from a Principle of Spiritual Life, be first married to Christ that they may bring forth Fruit to God, Rom 7.4.

We preach to you, Sinners, that Jesus Christ will entertain you, if you come to him, bid you welcome, and not cast you off, because of the Greatness of your Sins, though you have no Qualifications to recommend you to him.  Would you wash your selves from your Sins, and then come to the Fountain of his Blood to be washed; we hold forth Christ to be your whole Saviour, and that he is set forth as the Propitiation through Faith in his Blood; whom if you close with, and believe in, you shall be justified.  We tell you God justifies the Ungodly, i.e. that they are so before justified.  (88-89)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 February 2010 at 09:38

The end of the law?

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This week, Affinity will be hosting a conference under the title, The End of the Law? It is a clever title – clever in its calculated ambivalence.

I had hoped to attend, but am unable to do so because of other pressing commitments.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I have profound concerns over what is called New Covenant Theology, and the antinomianism which I am persuaded is inherent in it.  I am concerned that the calculated ambivalence of the Affinity conference points to a talking shop in which various perspectives on the law of God will be propounded.  That is not to say that there is not some scope for discussion about the precise nature of the covenant of grace (for example, while it looks as if there will be a robustly Reformed Presbyterian perspective delivered, I am not sure that an equally robust Reformed Baptistic view will be presented), but the enduring validity of the moral law must not be put up for grabs.  The abiding nature of God’s law is not an in-house discussion: it is a matter of truth and error (albeit not, in every manifestation, heresy).  That said, I have a book by a ‘New Covenant’ theologian on my shelf in which his best arguments against bestiality are that you cannot have sex outside marriage, you cannot marry an unbeliever, it is almost universally illegal in the eyes of the civil magistrate to marry an animal (or vegetable), and therefore the latter two considerations make sex with an animal a breaking of God’s law (because those latter two principles of marriage to an unbeliever and obedience to the civil magistrate are mentioned in the New Testament).  However, if you and your sister are both Christians and you live in a country which permits marriage between siblings, then there is apparently nothing in the ‘new covenant’ to keep you from marrying.  I kid you not.

I am not suggesting that this is where all participants in the Affinity conference are heading, or even those who will be setting forth a less than Scriptural perspective.  However, it indicates the trend and tendency of this teaching, and where the next generations will be taking it.  We are already seeing a casual and widely assumed antinomianism characterising evangelicalism: the working assumption seems often to be that the ten commandments are passé.

Over the last few weeks, several blogs have been quoting from the great believers of the past.  Again, there is not absolute uniformity, but – despite the various currents – there is a plain river of orthodoxy which we must not pollute.

Gary Brady on Calvin and the third use of the law.

Martin Downes on Thomas Boston; Calvin on being confronted by the law; Calvin on the first use of the law; on the righteousness of the law; Bolton on law and gospel and assurance; Bolton again on the substance of the moral law.

R Scott Clark on Calvin and the law and gospel; Ursinus on the same; a pan-Protestant scan on the same; and points us to some Marrow theology.

This is a point for holding fast in our day, with a love and affection for those with whom we differ, but with a love and reverence for the heavenly Father whose character is made known in the law; for the Son who obeyed and honoured and fulfilled the law in his life and death; and for the Spirit, whose office is to write that law upon the fleshy tablets of our renewed hearts.  This is no time for ambivalence, clever or otherwise.

light-through-clouds-2

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 February 2009 at 10:55

Redeeming the time, and reminders why we should

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My aunt died last Monday.  My father’s only sibling, a few years older than him, she had a stroke at some point on Sunday.  At first, the news seemed not to be so bad.  Then by Monday morning things were going downhill, and continued so for a few hours.  She fell asleep in Jesus at about 5.30pm on Monday evening.  Although she had not been well, this was not remotely expected, and it was a severe shock for my father.

I wasn’t aware of most of this.  I had been out early to pick up Rich Barcellos.  We came back home, and I knew that my aunt was not well, but there was still no indication of this to come.  Rich and I were meeting a friend of his in London that evening, and I gave him a 30 minute sprint from Victoria via Westminster Chapel, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall with its various sights, and then Trafalgar Square.  We went from there to a restaurant, which is where my father called with the sad news about my aunt.  It felt a little odd to be sitting there engaged in sometimes deep and sometimes fun conversation, with that in the back of my mind.  Truth be told, my greatest grief is for my father and his grief.  I immediately relieved him from all regular duties other than those which he wished to maintain, as there is a vast amount of administrative and practical work for him to do.

Our Ministerium took place on Tuesday.  Rich was preaching, and several of the more senior men (like my father and Achille Blaize) were missing through other responsibilities and ill-health.  Still, we had a good turnout, with several new faces there, giving us about eighteen altogether.

Rich taught in the morning, giving us a systematic, Biblical and historical theological overview of issues relating to the law.  There were lots of careful distinctions that he made.  One had the sense that we were getting the tip of the iceberg – there was a looming mass of study lying behind the little that he was able to deliver in the hour available.  The lunch proved that many issues had been raised, and then in the afternoon he got to the meat of what I had asked him to address: the modern face of antinomianism.  Here Rich focused on New Covenant Theology, and – in a very irenic spirit – outlined some of its particular features, and identified several ‘warning lights’ of which we should be aware.  This was much more of a sermon, and God gave our brother measures both of light and heat as he pressed home precious truths on our hearts.

We had a very good discussion time, in which issues relating to the trajectory of the movement, the relationship between the character and will of God, the theological implications of antinomianism, and the like, were raised and addressed.

For those interested in the issues, Rich had been preaching over the weekend at Emmanuel Church, Salisbury.  Those four addresses are available online, and there is – at points – a good degree of overlap with regard to some of the issues to do with antinomianism.  For a more detailed record of the ministry, see Simon Musing Field for a rundown of the first session (with the second to follow in due course).

The rest of this week is ramping up.  Tomorrow morning first thing I have a meeting, then in the afternoon I am off to South Wales – Brynmawr to be precise – where I am preaching in the evening.  I return home late.  Friday I hope to be able to start preparing for the Lord’s day (now all three ministries) before having another meeting in the evening.  Saturday morning we have a special prayer meeting at church, and then again I will have opportunity to prepare for Sunday.  There is lots of other stuff on the to do list, and some books that need to be read too.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 October 2008 at 00:08

The rebel and the king

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Consider the man born into a family of terrorists.  The man’s father had rebelled against the King of the kingdom in which he lived, and – having so rebelled – all his posterity were brought up to hate and fight the King who ruled in this kingdom.  It is to this family that the man belongs.  Having been falsely taught all his life that the sovereign is cruel, vindictive, proud and unjust, and hating him as a tyrant accordingly, he has racked up a long list of foul crimes and misdemeanours against the King, all of which bring him under sentence of death.  This life of rebellion takes its toll on the terrorist, cut off as he is from all that makes life worth living in the kingdom.  His misery and wretchedness increase day by day as he slowly loses his foolish fight.  Finally, he receives an overture of peace from the King.  The King knows of the rebel’s appalling condition, and has had compassion on the man.  Together with his son, the Prince, and his Lord Chancellor, the King has devised a way by means of which, without any detriment to the King’s justice and glory, the rebel might be entirely forgiven, and – even more – brought into the King’s royal family.  He publishes this offer by means of his ambassadors.  At first, the terrorist cannot believe that such an offer can be true.  After all has heard and believed of this king and his character, after all he has done to merit death, can the alleged tyrant really be ready to forgive all his sins and actually adopt him as his own?  Then the Lord Chancellor himself comes to press upon him the reality of the king’s free and gracious offer: the Prince himself will take the entire punishment that the law demands and which the rebel deserves.  The rebel, finally persuaded, gratefully accepts his merciful terms and embraces all that is bound up in leaving his life of crime.  The Lord Chancellor conducts him back to the King’s palace, where he is inducted into the life of a true son of the King, dearly beloved of the sovereign, and heir to all that the Prince himself is entitled to receive.  Overwhelmed, scarcely believing his mercies, he yet knows that to him now belongs all the freedom of the kingdom.  However, it is worth noting that while his relationship to the King has altered radically in some respects, there are some underpinning realities which have not altered.  The King has become his father, with all the blessings involved in his adoption.  The weight of the law as an instrument of condemnation has ceased to hang over him.  But has the father now ceased to be a King?  By no means!  And is the ex-rebel any less obliged to obedience to the law of the kingdom because he has been delivered from its condemnation?  By no means!  His obligations to obedience have been by no means reduced, but only heightened.  He is all the more obliged – love and gratitude and position all oblige him – to embrace and obey the law of his King and his father.  He has all the obligations that belong to him as one under the royal authority, as well as all the obligations that belong to him as an adopted son, overwhelmed by gratitude for the undeserved privileges bestowed upon him.  It is the same law that was in place while he was a terrorist, the very same law as condemned him to death for treason.  The law has not changed, and he now cheerfully obeys that law both as a subject under its royal authority and as a son in his father’s household.  The royal law is still in effect, is as potent and extensive as it ever was, except that now it is profoundly, readily, willingly embraced by one who has come to have that law truly impressed upon him as the continuing standard of life in the kingdom of his father, which his father the King, his natural son, the Prince, and the Lord Chancellor have all seen fit to honour in bringing him from the condemnation of death to life and to liberty.

Allegories are imperfect, and this one no less than most, but I am that rebel.  I have been condemned by God’s law.  And yet, by grace, I have been redeemed from my sins through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, atoning for my ungodliness, being called by the Father and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  God having justified me through faith, I have been set apart to him, called to a life of holiness, and adopted into his family.  I am no longer condemned by the law, but the law still exposes sin in me.  I am no longer condemned by the law, but the law still expresses my Father’s will for what is right and holy and just.  I am no longer condemned by the law, but that law no longer presses upon me from without, rather springs up from within, having been written on my heart.  I am no longer condemned by the law, but have come to recognise it as good and just, and embrace it with a willingness and readiness to obey it in all its parts.  It is that law that is now written not on tablets of stone, but on the fleshy tablet of my heart.  It is as a son, as a redeemed man, that the law becomes my delight as well as my duty.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 19 August 2008 at 10:33

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