The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘righteousness

Sentiment and principle

leave a comment »

There has been an outpouring of grief and shame following the horrific pictures of a Syrian child lying drowned on the shore of the Mediterranean. If you think those photographs are painful, read the account of the father who tried to fight his way through the surf to the beach, losing his wife and then his two sons to the waves, one by one. It is truly agonising. Many have agonised.

It has prompted a spurt of sympathy for the flood of refugees pressing into Europe from various points east. News footage pummels us with insights into the horrific sufferings of their previous lives and their often-incredible journeys. We are stirred by video of them arriving in ‘free Europe’ to the acclaim of cheering crowds who pour out their affection verbally and practically. Nations are – to use the dry rhetoric of government – increasing their refugee quota, spurred on by the feeling of the populace and their knee-jerk reaction to what they have seen.

This is not a comment on the appropriateness, or otherwise, of offering refuge to some or all of these men, women and children. It is not a question about whether or not the flood of refugees contains a trickle of terrorists. It is not in any way an attempt to dismiss the gut-wrenching misery suffered by people made in the image of God, or the gut-wrenching grief we feel as those made in the image of God when we see that suffering before us. It is not a comment on compassion fatigue or our almost voyeuristic fascination with suffering.

But I wonder how long such a response will last, and what kind of investment it will sustain? It won’t be long before those refugees, if they are permitted to stay, are no longer wrapped in the warm embrace of liberal sentiment, but facing the cold reality of life in foreign countries which will not prove to be the Promised Land. They will quite likely be living in enclaves where either they are banding together for security, or among – even surrounded by – others who quite possibly resent them and will manifest their resentment. Even many of those moved to tears by their sorrows and sufferings will find those tears drying up as the realities of life bite and time passes. The tears will be stimulated again by fresh atrocities but the old ones will quickly drift away. Many will feel much and do nothing.

I wonder if the same thing has happened or is happening with the Planned Parenthood videos. Remember those? Yes, just a few weeks ago many were up in arms because of the footage of those who work for Planned Parenthood negotiating the transfer for gain of the body parts of murdered children. Even many of those for whom abortion per se is no issue were stirred by the graphic nature of some of the pictures and the callous nature of the conversations. But again, the consequence has not been the sustained mobilisation of a great mass of committed humanity against the murder of the unborn. Rather, we are troubled by the gross appearance of the thing. Doubtless, if it can be tidied up and carried out in a ‘humane’ way – because there’s nothing like a properly humane murder to assuage the conscience – then we shall go on quite content with the fact of abortion. Sentiment will be assuaged, and life can go on as normal.

I wonder if we could go back even to the slave trade. There is, it seems, little doubt that the primary opponents of the slave trade used powerfully emotive arguments to raise the profile of their cause and enforce their principles. The appalling testimonies of ex-slaves, the diagrams of human beings packed like sardines into the squalid interiors of slaving vessels, the protestations of ex-slavers, some of them converted – all of these served to further the cause. But the cause itself did not advance because of this, nor was it eventually won because of this. It was advanced and won, under God, by men and women who were moved by more than sentiment. It was carried forward by those who were governed by principle.

Reasonable sentiment need not in itself be sinful, but it is not always substantial. Sentiment can be swayed, one way or the other. Sentiment in one direction can be turned back by an opposing sentiment that seems equally reasonably. Sentiment tends to be reactive; it is rarely proactive. It bubbles up in a moment and melts away just as quickly. The sentiment that wishes to find a home for poor refugees might be overcome by a different sentiment when they move in next door. Principle – especially Christian principle – should be grounded in enduring truth. It is anchored in such a way that tides of sentiment or waves of feeling (whether that be weariness in pursuing principle or opposition to the principled) will not carry it away. Principle stands against pressure. Principle identifies and reacts to the fundamental issue, not the peripheral and perhaps unpleasant phenomena surrounding the issue. Righteous principle takes full account of misery, but it is moved by a regard for fundamental reality – matters of truth, mercy, justice, peace, righteousness. Righteous principle acts proactively out of allegiance to God in Christ. Christians need to be a people of principle.

Mere sentiment can be dangerous. In the unprincipled – and, once we have abandoned any notion of enduring, fixed, eternal truth, truth grounded outside of our experience and feelings, we have no real basis for true principle – sentiment can move individuals and groups far and fast. It can even leave them horrified by what they accomplished under the influence of sentiment and in the absence of principle. Principle can also be dangerous if it is the wild-eyed conviction about things that are foul and vile. Then unrighteous zeal can drive a person or group to truly terrifying extremes. But principle grounded in divine truth, with appropriate sentiment yoked behind, can and should accomplish much.

So, we will, in this fallen world, hear or see many things that horrify us. Many of them should horrify us. But they do not properly and persistently move us because principle is lacking. Perhaps we also hear and see things that ought to horrify us and move us, but do not because principle is lacking. How many vile things do we see – perhaps even enjoy – without a proper feeling reaction? Principle is not unfeeling; it actuates and directs feeling in proper channels. When faced with a moral challenge, we would do well to ask not only, “What do I feel?” but “What should I feel and what should I then do?” We must dig down to and stir up righteous principle. Reasonable sentiment might galvanise and stir us, but only righteous principle will guide and sustain us.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 9 September 2015 at 13:11

Walking with God

leave a comment »

A nugget from Robert Bolton’s Some General Directions for a Comfortable Walking with God (London, 1626):

By walking with God, I mean, a sincere endeavour, punctually and precisely to manage, conduct, and to dispose all our affairs, thoughts, words and deeds; all our behaviours, courses, carriage, and whole conversation, in reverence and fear, with humility and singleness of heart, as in the sight of an invisible God, under the perpetual presence of his all-seeing, glorious, pure eye; and by a comfortable consequent, to enjoy by the assistance and exercise of faith, an unutterable sweet communion, and humble familiarity with his holy majesty: in a word, to live in heaven upon earth.

May we, by grace, pursue this more and more!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 22 December 2014 at 08:21

Comparative holiness

leave a comment »

“No one is more holy than anyone else.” That was the statement I heard in a recent sermon. At first, I thought I must have misheard it. But, I had not. The point being made to the congregation was clear: abandon your ‘self-righteousness’ and recognize that you are no holier than the person in the pew next to you.

For why this is nonsense, read the rest.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 April 2012 at 21:36

Posted in Christian living

Tagged with ,

Psalm 58: “Do you indeed speak righteousness”

leave a comment »

Prodigal  8 6. 8 6. 8 8

Psalm 58
Do you indeed speak righteousness,
You mighty ones on high?
And do you judge with uprightness,
You men who soon must die?
No: from your wicked hearts there flows
A weight of violence and woes.

They turn against the Lord from birth,
And quickly go astray;
They rage and poison in the earth,
With lies in all they say;
Like serpents deaf, they stop the ear,
The charmers’ voice they will not hear.

O Lord, break out the lions’ teeth,
Defend their helpless prey;
Sweep them aside, their weapons sheath,
Their arrows cast away;
The wicked melt and are undone
Like stillborn child who sees no sun.

Our God will swiftly still their voice,
His storm of wrath come in;
The righteous humbly will rejoice
When God avenges sin:
Surely the righteous see reward,
And he who judges is the Lord.

Advance, our conquering Prince of Peace,
Hurl down each tyrant throne;
Let every rival kingdom cease,
And reign supreme, alone:
To multitudes grant liberty
From sin and sinners’ tyranny.


See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 13 July 2010 at 08:32

Wisdom and righteousness

leave a comment »

Via Ray Ortlund, Bruce Waltke’s thought-provoking notion of the counterintuitiveness of righteousness, a readiness to disadvantage oneself for the advantage of others.  This one bears more chewing over:

‘Righteousness’ is a social term signifying that people do right by each other as defined by God’s covenants with Israel.  In a nutshell ‘righteousness’ means ‘to disadvantage oneself as necessary in order to advantage others,’ and ‘wickedness’ means ‘to disadvantage others in order to advantage oneself.’  A student who takes a reserved book out of the library to get an A, leaving the rest of the class to get a lower grade, is wicked (i.e., a fool).  By contrast a student who resists the temptation to check out a rare book from the library so that his or her classmates have the opportunity to read and write an ‘A’ paper, even if it means he gets a lower grade, is righteous (i.e., wise).  Righteousness, the disadvantaging of oneself to advantage others, is counterintuitive.  Jesus Christ is the supreme example of wisdom according to this definition.

Bruce K. Waltke, “Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs, Part 3,” Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (2008): 261-262.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 30 January 2010 at 19:23

Are you a good person?

with one comment

Most of us like to think that we are good people.  After all, there are so many other people who are much worse than us.  We think we know what is right.  We often want to do what is right, but it is hard to do the right thing.  Why do we do things that we know are wrong?  And why do we feel bad inside when we do things that we know are wrong?  How do we measure goodness?  And how good is good enough?

The Lord God, who made you and takes care of you, has told us what is right and wrong.  One day we will all have to face Him.  He will judge everything that we have done, everything that we have said, and even everything that we have thought.  Jesus said, “Be ready, for the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 44).  How can you be ready?  Will you be good enough?


Take a moment to read God’s Ten Commandments:

1.  You shall have no other gods before Me.

2.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;  you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

3.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

4.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.  In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

5.  Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

6.  You shall not murder.

7.  You shall not commit adultery.

8.  You shall not steal.

9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

10.  You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.

How do you compare to this standard?  You might think you can make fun of the standard: “I’ve never coveted anybody’s ox or donkey!”  You might think it easy to point to the things that you haven’t done: “I’ve never murdered anyone”.  But Jesus taught that the Ten Commandments go much deeper than we imagine.  They are as much about our thoughts, our hearts, our attitudes, as they are about what we physically do (if you have a Bible, you can find this in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 17-30).  Jesus said, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5.22) and “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5.28).

No wonder the Bible teaches that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (the letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 10).  We have all broken the Ten Commandments: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23).  Is any one of us good enough for God?  No!

But that is not the end of the story.  Why did God write these Ten Commandments if none of us can keep them?  The Bible answers this question.  God says that the Ten Commandments – God’s holy law – is our “tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (the letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 24).

How does Jesus Christ fit in, and what does it mean to be justified by faith?

Jesus fits in because “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians, chapter 4, verse 4).  Jesus Christ, being both God and man, obeyed the law of God perfectly.  He lived according to the law, and is the only man who never broke one of God’s Ten Commandments in his thoughts, words, or deeds.  Read the accounts of His life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and you cannot find one instance when He sinned: He was never less than perfect in all that He thought, said and did.  But what does that have to do with us?

The Bible teaches that we all have a sinful nature.  After all, nobody needs to be taught how to do wrong things – it is the way we are, and we act in accordance with it.  But the Bible promises that “through one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5.19).  That verse is talking about Jesus, and means that somehow sinners like us can benefit from the perfect and sinless life that Jesus lived.

If we are to face God in judgment and not be damned for our sins – condemned for all the things that break God’s law – then we need the holiness and perfection of Jesus.  This is what it means to be justified: for God to declare us to be right in his sight.  For that we need a perfect righteousness.  How do we get this righteousness?  Through faith in Jesus Christ, his righteousness is put to our account.  Then, “justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5.1).  Peace with God!  If your conscience tells you that you have done things wrong, and must one day face God, what would you not give to know peace with God?

Don’t try and have peace with God by trying to be better, by trying to keep God’s Ten Commandments better.  We cannot keep God’s law: “No one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3.11).  That sends us to Jesus Christ for the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  God’s answer is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”  This salvation is “by grace . . . through faith” (Ephesians 2.8).  “By grace”: it is the gift of God, and not something that we can earn or deserve.  “Through faith”: repenting of our sins, and trusting completely and only in Jesus Christ.  He lived the life that we should have lived, but could not.  He died the death that we deserved, being punished by God for the sins of His people.


Examine your life, examine your heart.  Consider the standard of God’s Ten Commandments, and compare yourself to it.  Listen to your conscience.  Then repent of your sin, and ask God to save you through Jesus Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 5 November 2009 at 11:37

“Offer now your gift of praise”

leave a comment »

Ephraim 7 7. 7 7

Offer now your gift of praise
On this glorious day of days,
Thank God for his boundless love:
Raise your voice to heaven above.

To your Lord a tribute bring:
Praise his Name, give thanks and sing.
On his blessings ever dwell –
Know that Jesus loves you well.

Bow before his throne of grace;
Gaze in wonder on his face;
Let his love your song inspire:
Praise Christ with the heavenly choir.

Shelter now beneath his wing;
Joyful hallelujahs sing.
Having died to bring you peace
Will not Christ your joys increase?

Thank him for his Word of peace.
Glorify his righteousness.
All your vows of love renew,
Knowing that he first loved you.


shining sun

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 October 2009 at 09:42

A life of righteousness

with 13 comments

Charles Haddon Spurgeon 2I have seen a few bits and pieces around in the last few weeks about the “two kingdoms” and a Christian’s responsibility as citizens in one and participants in the other.  I have also been asked to preach early next year on a topic which bears some relation to this.  I was therefore struck by a couple of paragraphs in Charles Spurgeon’s excellent book A Good Start: A Book for Young Men and Women (from the chapter ‘The Business Man’s Good Service’, pp. 287-289 of my edition) which gives a little insight into that good man’s perspective on the Christian’s earthly responsibilities.  This, remember, is the man whose secretary estimated him to be at the head of some sixty-six separate institutions, many of them charitable endeavours.  Spurgeon’s heart and money and hand were where his mouth was, and here he urges Christians to pursue righteousness in all their dealings.  Spurgeon never lost sight of the centrality of gospel teaching, but neither did he limit the extent of gospel reaching, and its impact on a man’s life and priorities.

By the phrase “His righteousness” [in Matthew 6.33], I understand that power in the world which is always working, in some form or other, for that which is good, and true, and pure.  Everything in this world which is holy, and honest, and of good repute, may count upon the Christian as its friend, for it is a part of God’s righteousness.  Does drunkenness eat out the very life of our nation?  Do you want men of temperance to battle this evil?  The Christian cries, “Write down my name.”  When the slave has to be freed, the subjects of God’s kingdom were to the front in that deed of righteousness; and to-day, if oppression is to be put down, we dare not refuse our aid.  If the people are to be educated, and better housed, we hail the proposal with delight.  If the horrible sin of the period is to be denounced and punished, we may not shrink from the loathsome conflict.  Let each man in his own position labour after purity; and, as God shall help us, we may yet sweep the streets of their infamies, and deliver our youth from pollution.  Every Christian man should say of every struggle for better things, “I am in it, cost what it may.”  Hosts of your professors of religion forget to seek God’s righteousness, and seem to suppose that their principal business is to save their own souls – poor little souls that they are!  Their religion is barely sufficient to fill up the vacuum within their own ribs, where their hearts should be.  This selfishness is not the religion of Jesus.  The religion of Jesus is unselfish: it enlists a man as a crusader against everything that is unrighteous.  We are knights of the red cross, and our bloodless battles are against all things that degrade our fellow-men, whether they be causes social, political, or religious.  We fight for everything that is good, true, and just.

True religion is diffusive and extensive in its operations.  I see people drawing lines continually, and saying, “So far is religious, and so far is secular.”  What do you mean?  The notion is one which suits with the exploded notions of sacred places, priests, shrines, and relics.  I do not believe in it.  Everything is holy to a holy man.  To the pure all things are pure.  To a man who seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, his house is a temple, his meals are sacraments, his garments are vestments, every day is a holy day, and he himself is a priest and a king unto God.  The sphere of Christianity is co-extensive with daily life.  I am not to say, “I serve God when I stand in the pulpit”; for that might imply that I wished to serve the devil when the sermon was over.  We are not only to be devout at church, and pious at prayer-meetings; but to be devout and godly everywhere.  Religion must not be like a fine piece of mediaeval armour, to be hung upon the wall, or only worn on state occasions.  No; it is a garment for the house, the shop, the bank.  Your ledgers and iron safes are to be made by grace “holiness unto the Lord.”  Godliness is for the parlour and the drawing-room, the counting-house and the exchange.  It can neither be put off nor on.  It is of the man and in the man if it be real.  Righteousness is a quality of the heart, and abides in the nature of the saved man as a component part of his new self.  He is not righteous who is not always righteous.

(If you would like to dig deeper into this rich little book, you can read the first chapter in six instalments: 123456)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 31 August 2009 at 16:34

“A sensible reformation of attitudes”

leave a comment »

That is what Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Minister and now roaming head and chief cheerleader of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is calling for with regard to homosexuality in a Times article today.  The piece reports on Mr Blair’s interview with Johann Hari of the gay magazine, Attitude, in which

the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.

Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”

Later on in the piece, we are offered the following profound insight:

He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”

Worryingly, Mr Blair also has confidence that things are ‘improving’ elsewhere:

He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay – the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of – at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”

So, Mr Blair’s alleged Christianity is based entirely on temporally shifting metaphor, rather than eternally solid truth.  This allows him to interpret Jesus – “or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad,” because we great religious thinkers are capable of seeing, apparently, that their diametrically opposed notions are perfectly reconcilable – as merely a rebel and progressive, concerned only to change the way people think traditionally.  In keeping with his pointless and nebulous view of faith, the architect of faith, Jesus, is simply trying to keep us on the move, bring us change, which is good for its own sake, being merely whatever is not traditional.  “Yes, we can.”

We also see the all-too-familiar vacuous idea of an ‘evangelical’ trotted out, probably more to do with a style of worship, dress and hair than anything substantial (for example, rooted in the gospel).  Here is a generational shift: old people will still give you those old chestnuts, “parts of the Bible quoted, and so on.”  But the young people, the radicals, the emergents, they are being nicely liberalised, and there is hope for them.  They do not want to be defined by their stance on homosexuality, as if any genuine Christian defines himself or herself by such a stance.

The Bible is not “anti-gay” in the sense that it tells us to hate homosexuals.  It is “anti-gay” in the sense that it is anti-sin, exposing homosexuality – along with a multitude of other sins – as what it really is: an offence against the God that made us.  Sexual sins, including homosexuality, get unusually short shrift because they are a high-handed demonstration of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1.25).  The idea that true religion is defined simply by its stance on homosexuality is utterly vacuous.  Christians have always accepted “gay people as equals”:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”  “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3.9-20)

See: absolute equality.  Oops, there’s me, only in my thirties, and quoting parts of the Bible, and so on . . .

But the point is that the Bible levels every man before God: we are all, by nature and deed, guilty.  And it is to guilty sinners that God makes known his righteousness in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Son:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26)

True religion is men and women saved from their sins by the overwhelming and glorious grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the good news, preached to sinners of all kinds, outwardly virtuous or evidently vicious, religious or irreligious or pagan, and each with a rotten heart.  It is the declaration of salvation, of a true and lasting change of heart, accomplished by the power of God in the hearts of men and women whose ingrained pattern of life was once to think and speak and act contrary to the Lord God of heaven.  The apostle Paul describes such sinners:

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Romans 1.26-32).

Yes, homosexuality is in there (note, Mr Blair, in the New Testament, and not just in those tricky Levitical bits that you are so quick to dismiss).  In fairness, though, it is a fairly comprehensive catalogue, and not one that leaves any of us with a leg to stand on.

To such men and women the Scriptures of God offer an uncompromising warning and a glorious hope:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

That is how true Christians define themselves: as new creatures washed in the blood of Jesus, set apart to serve God in the pursuit of holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of God and so continuing to pursue likeness to Jesus Christ.

Quite apart from these flaws in his thinking, the principle on which Mr Blair builds his argument is also inherently unstable.  What happens if accepting and promoting homosexuality becomes the norm?  Would Tony Blair have us then overthrow the new tradition?  If Tony Blair and those who think like him establish the agenda for the world, is that the time for everyone to rise up and change the way things are for something new?  This would be a recipe for chaos, a rolling maul of pointless, directionless change.

Given such thinking, would it not be about time we rethought slavery?  Being against slavery has become quite a traditional idea in the West.  Is it time to ring the changes once again?  It seems that the right to choose to end the life of a child in the womb is substantially accepted by the majority of people today.  Is that traditional enough for Mr Blair to call for a change?

Of course, the very premise on which he is arguing is patently a nonsense, and it is actually not what Mr Blair wants at all.  He wants to fix a tradition, to establish a norm, in his own image, and in the image of those who think like him.  Like every sinful man, in his heart he wants to dethrone God and be God himself.

What a heap of confusion!  We end up with a faith which has no foundation, a Jesus who is no God, and a gospel defined only by what it is not.  What a miserable and empty vision for religion.  What on earth – seriously, what on earth – does such a perspective have to offer?

How much more credible, coherent, consistent, hopeful, real and glorious, is the gospel of the true and living God, eternal and unchangeable:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 09:21

Remembering and rejoicing

with 6 comments

Just before Christmas last year my dear wife miscarried.  I can still remember sitting in the room for the scan with a big foolish grin on my face (my wife was ahead of me, and knew better what to look for, and had already reached her own conclusion) as the nurse looked at me and said, “I am afraid I have got some bad news for you.”

mystery-of-providence-flavelNo amount of professional poise or genuine sympathy from the hospital staff makes that news easy to bear.  I went home, and pulled down John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence.  I don’t think I actually finished re-reading it, but I needed time to be reminded of those basic truths of God’s good and gracious government of all things, and to have them pressed upon my soul.

I know that Christians of different stripes take their comfort differently under these circumstances.  I found mine primarily in the character of my God, in his righteousness and in his mercy:

Far be it from you to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?  (Gen 18.25)

But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not laboured, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?”  (Jon 4:10-11)

Last night, God was pleased to bring into this world William Latimer Walker, also preserving his mother through labour and delivery.  We were always conscious of the frailty of life.  I am more conscious of how grateful I must be for the health of my wife and myself, and for the continuing health and preservation of William’s “big bwuvver,” Caleb.  I am much more conscious of how thankful to God we must be that this baby has survived and seems so healthy.

I am also conscious that William is the son that would never have been born had God not been pleased to take the second child from us.  We do not know from what God spared that baby, or us, by taking him or her when he did.  But William is, in a distinctive way, the child the Lord intended for us.  We shall look forward with excitement and a little trepidation to learning what that might mean.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 7 November 2008 at 13:36

Counting up

leave a comment »

David Dickson lay dying on his bed, persecuted by the government of the day and under sentence of banishment.  A friend came to see him, who had known him for about fifty years.  As he sought to comfort the dying man, the friend asked how things were with his soul.  David Dickson replied: “I have taken all my good deeds and all my bad deeds, and thrown them together in a heap before the Lord, and fled from both, and laid hold of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in him I have sweet peace.”

David Dickson was a true Christian, and he knew how to count up.  How would you answer under the same circumstances?

Most of us like to think of ourselves as good people, especially when someone suggests that we are bad.  We are very quick to defend ourselves if someone exposes a flaw in our work or our character.  There is almost always a “Yes, but . . .” in which we pile up our good deeds against whatever counts against us.  We play this counting game in our families, at school, at work, and with friends.  We do it all the time.  We do it with God.

God’s law reveals our pride, unbelief and sin.  Do you use God’s name to curse?  Then you have broken God’s law.  Do you use the Lord’s day to worship God?  If not, you have broken God’s law.  God’s law exposes disobedience and dishonour to parents, anger, hatred, murder, lust, adultery, greed, envy, theft, lies, gossip, slander, and covetousness.  It points out sins in our hearts and in our lives.  And what do we do?

“Yes, but . . .”  We begin to pile up all the things that we think count in our favour.  We’re trying to tell God that he’s got nothing on us, that we’re actually good enough to please him.

How wrong we are!  God’s standard is pure and perfect.  He requires, with perfect fairness and justice, absolute righteousness from us.  Trying to make up for our sin with so-called good deeds is like trying to polish a dirty car with an oily rag: you can redistribute the mess, but nothing gets any cleaner.  In fact, God’s Word tells us that all our efforts at righteousness – the best we have to offer – are like filthy rags that cannot cover our sin.

Our good deeds simply are not good enough.  They may soothe the conscience somewhat, but they cannot satisfy a holy God.  However, God – in his great mercy – has himself provided a perfect righteousness in Christ Jesus.  He is willing to forgive both our sins and our poor attempts to cover them, and to put to our account the perfection of his Son, Jesus Christ, who came to this world to save sinners by dying in their place, suffering the punishment that we deserve, that we might obtain his righteousness.

This is the good news: that God has provided for sinners – through Christ Jesus – a perfect righteousness, offered to all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ for salvation.

David Dickson knew how to count up.  He took all the deeds he knew were bad, and all the deeds he thought were good, and he threw them all aside, and turned to Christ.  He died with peace and joy, trusting in Jesus Christ and his righteousness.  What about you?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 17 October 2008 at 10:49

Christ our righteousness #5 A real reliance essential

leave a comment »

(Part 5 of 5. See parts 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.)

Finally, we must ask the question: How does a sinner obtain such incalculable blessings? “In him.” The blessings are obtained by being united to Christ. God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3.26) and in so doing his justice and holiness are by no means compromised but rather exalted. Faith is the instrument of union with the Lord Jesus: real, lively, engaged faith, as opposed to something static or inactive. Faith is not a child stillborn: it cries! It is a gift of God by which the regenerate man reaches out with an empty hand to latch hold of Christ. Christ saves, and the instrument by which he saves is faith. Do we describe faith as active or as passive? Faith acts, but it acts by receiving. It is not mindless, it does not bypass man and his faculties, but is the engagement of the whole man with the whole Christ, by means of which union the God-righteousness of Christ is made man’s. Robert Traill speaks of justifying faith thus:

They all, both Christ’s enemies and his disciples, knew that faith in him was a believing that the man Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, so as to receive, and look for salvation in his name (Acts 4.12) . . . . That faith in Jesus Christ justifies (although, by the way, it is to be noted that it is never written in the Word that faith justifies actively,[1] but it is always expressed passively: that a man is justified by faith, and that God justifies men by and through faith; yet admitting the phrase) only as a mere instrument, receiving that imputed righteousness of Christ, for which we are justified. And this faith, in the office of justification, is neither condition, nor qualification, nor our gospel-righteousness, but is in its very act a renouncing of all such pretences.[2]

These blessings belong to a man in union with Christ, and nowhere else; that union is effected by saving faith, and nothing else. We shall be judged in accordance with our relationship with Jesus Christ the Righteous, and faith alone brings us into a saving connection with him.

In closing, I want to address each of you with two questions.

Firstly, what is your relationship with Jesus Christ and his righteousness?

Are you in Christ? Have you ever reckoned with the fact that God will reckon your sins to your own account if they are not reckoned to Christ? Have you realised that if your sins are put to your own account then you are under the just condemnation of a holy God, and exposed to the damnation and abandonment that your sins deserve? Will you not turn from your sins to Christ, in order that you might be saved? Or perhaps you are in agony of conscience, and have been for days, or weeks, or months, or even years, and you feel yourself to be on the outside, longing to be reconciled to God and to have peace with him? As an ambassador for Christ, I implore you: “Be reconciled to God!” Believe and be saved! Trust in Christ for your reconciliation with God! Come to this glorious Redeemer, receive this real righteousness, rest upon the promises of the merciful Almighty. How poorly we have painted his glory, but how glorious is his sufficiency for guilty sinners! Trust in Jesus Christ the righteous and these blessings are yours. The most perverse and filthy sinner who trusts in Jesus Christ receives in that moment pardon for his sins, and is accounted in the eyes of God as actually possessing the flawless righteousness of the perfect God-man, in whom he is well pleased. This is what it means to be “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1.6): this is God’s grace in Christ.

But are you indeed in Christ by faith? Then you, as John Owen says, have obtained acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance. What joys and blessings are unshakeably and unmistakeably yours! You are loved like Christ (Jn 17.23) on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to you, received by faith. You are a justified man: having been justified, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also you have access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but you also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom 5.1-5). How many sweet hours we might spend considering what we have in Christ: privileges and blessings unshakeably, securely, and eternally ours! These joys and blessings do not rest upon your works, or lack of them. They can never be taken from you. No flaw shall ever be found in the righteousness which God considers as yours, and so there will never be any falling short to be made up in your relationship with God through Christ. He is yours, and you are his, and in him you stand eternally secure.

Secondly, what is your report of Jesus Christ and his righteousness?

What is your report to heretics and opposers? What do you have to say to those who set themselves against these truths? Christian, if you die, this will be your hope – shall you therefore be ashamed of it while you live? We live in an age when once more the very heart of the gospel is at stake, and we must take pains to identify and defend truth, and identify and contend with error. This is a time when there is a great necessity of standing for the truths upon which the destiny of your immortal soul is hanging. Can we not afford to suffer a little now for the sake of the Christ who suffered to obtain these blessings for us, especially when we recall that those sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom 8.18)? Martin Luther put it this way:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.[3]

This is no “little point”: this is the centre of things. As we have already seen from Mr Traill, all the great fundamentals of Christian truth centre in this of justification. The Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; the incarnation of the only Begotten of the Father; the satisfaction paid to the law and justice of God for the sins of the world by his obedience and sacrifice of himself in that flesh he assumed; and the divine authority of the Scriptures which reveal this: these are all straight lines of truth that centre in this doctrine of justification of a sinner by the imputation and application of that satisfaction.

If the heart of truth is shifted, it will bend and bias all the lines of truth which centre upon it; if the lines of truth are twisted and bent, they shall lead no one to salvation. We face a battle to defend truth, but William Gurnall reminds us that one of the qualities of truth that helps us to love it and hold to it is that it is victorious. He admits that “sometimes, I confess, the enemies to ‘truth’ get the militia of this lower world into their hands, and then truth seems to go to the ground,” but reminds us that “persecutors need not be at cost for marble to write the memorial of their victories in, dust will serve well enough, for they are not like to last so long”:

Who loves not to be on the winning side? Choose truth for thy side, and thou hast it. News may come that truth is sick, but never that it is dead. No, it is error that is short-lived. ‘A lying tongue is but for a moment;’ but truth’s age runs parallel with eternity. [4]

We might be tempted to wonder at Gurnall’s suggestion that error is short-lived, given that we are fighting old errors reborn, but when we realise that his context is eternity, then we are encouraged! Truth’s face is now covered in tears and blood, but we must stand with her and fight for her, in the sure anticipation of her eventual and eternal victory.

And what is your report to the ignorant and needy? What report do you have of Christ and his righteousness for your lost family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues? We are none of us apostles, but we all of us have some duty and warrant in this text to call to the ungodly: “Be reconciled to God!” These and these alone are the truths that can heal the broken-hearted – no-where but here is salvation to be found. Again, Traill asks of the man or woman whose conscience is awakened, who asks what must they do to be saved:

Why should not the right answer be given, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved’? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God’s gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God’s express commandment (1Jn 3.23) to believe on Christ’s name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ’s ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving.[5]

Do you do this, brethren? Are you speaking for, praying for, and looking for the glorious triumphs of the art of Christ’s saving through his finished work? Can you tell the history and mystery of the gospel plainly and clearly? Are you ready to give to wretched and needy sinners a plain downright narrative concerning Christ and him crucified, the forgiveness of sins, and a God-righteousness obtainable through faith in Jesus? Are you calling sinners to trust in this Jesus and thereby to be delivered from sin, to obtain acceptance with our holy God, and to receive a right and title to a heavenly inheritance?

On these things hang the eternal destinies of our own souls, and the souls of every man and woman, boy and girl, in this world. Let us, then, love, hold to, and proclaim the Christ of the truth, and love, hold to, and proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.

[1] Traill’s point is not that faith does not act, but rather that God does not view us as righteous because of our faith (which would make faith, in essence, a work), but because of Christ’s righteousness, which is appropriated by the God-given instrument of faith.

[2] Traill, Justification Vindicated, 29 and 46.

[3] Martin Luther, Briefwechsel [Correspondence], Works (Weimar Edition), 3:81.

[4] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964), 316.

[5] Traill, Justification Vindicated, 27-28.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 April 2008 at 10:40

Christ our righteousness #4 A real righteousness imputed

leave a comment »

(Part 4 of 5. See parts 1 and 2 and 3.)

There is a further element, a positive change for the man or woman, boy or girl, in Christ. We are not merely declared or constituted innocent – free from guilt – on account of our sins being counted to and fully punished in Christ. God does more than a human judge might do at the bar of a human court. The human judge can look at the criminal before him and – so long as the law has somehow been satisfied, perhaps through lack of evidence to convict – he can declare the guilty man’s innocence. However, he cannot declare him righteous, and put obedience to his account. The criminal might leave the courtroom declared innocent, and free from guilt in the eyes of the law, but still lacking any particular positive merit in the eyes of the law.

In God’s dealings with us in Christ, the Lord Jesus is made our sin-bearing substitute with the intention of a corresponding transfer the other way. The transfer of our sin to Christ is with a definite purpose: “in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him” – the transfer of righteousness from Christ to man. Again, the language is both profound and deliberate. It is not the language of a process that occurs over time, but the language of one mighty and decisive act of the reconciling God, without any possible or necessary contribution from man. The language is not even that of accounting, or imputation. Murray elucidates:

Just as Christ became so identified with our sins that, though knowing no sin, he was made sin, so we being in ourselves utterly ungodly and therefore knowing no righteousness are so identified with Christ’s righteousness that we are made the righteousness of God. In reality the concept is richer than that of imputation; it is not simply reckoned as ours, but it is reckoned to us and we are identified with it.[1]

This is more than appearance, than a mere gilding of righteousness: this is divinely constituted reality. I could freight a load of gold-leaf into the pulpit and cover all the wood so that it appeared to be gold to the outward observer, but it would not change the nature of the wood. However, if I possessed the enviable alchemic power actually to alter the nature of the wood so that it became, by some supernatural means, gold, then no matter how deeply you bored or drilled, it would have ceased to be constituted wood, and would have become gold. It is altogether gold, and cannot be considered otherwise. And so it is with us – and what gold! We “become the righteousness of God”! As Christ’s sin was not of him, so our righteousness is not of us – it is of God, it is divine in its quality. Adam before the fall was a man without any sin upon his record, and righteous with the righteousness of a man who had not sinned. The sinner saved by the grace of God in Christ is a man stripped of the sin that was upon his record – his trespasses are not imputed to him, because Christ has been made sin for him – and who has been constituted not humanly but divinely righteous in God’s sight. The righteousness is nothing less than “God’s own” – it is divine in quality[2] – and God’s own righteousness satisfies God’s righteous demands as completely, absolutely and eternally as could be calculated or imagined. Under the microscope of divine scrutiny, God has himself assured that the redeemed sinner lacks nothing and possesses everything that is required, and is constituted the fit object of the holy God’s delight.

[1] John Murray, ‘Justification’ in Works (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 2:214.

[2] Professor Murray carefully points out that this God-righteousness “is not, of course, the divine attribute of justice or righteousness, but, nevertheless, it is a righteousness with divine attributes or qualities, and therefore a righteousness which is of divine property.” Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 127.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 29 April 2008 at 09:27

Christ our righteousness #3 A real Redeemer supplied

leave a comment »

(Part 3 of 5. See parts 1 and 2.)

How can God remain holy and yet declare a sinner righteous in his sight? How can he be just and yet justify a sinner (Rom 3.26)? If God is to be just, sin must be punished – it cannot be overlooked, excused, or forgotten: it must be dealt with in righteousness. So, if God does not impute our trespasses to us (v19) then how does he deal with sins in accordance with his holiness?

The non-imputation of our sins rests upon the fact that Christ was made our substitute: he paid the price of our ransom from the guilt and power of sin, and its necessary and appropriate penalty.

He was qualified in himself for such a substitution, for he ‘knew no sin’. Of all men who ever lived, only Jesus the Christ was entirely without sin. Peter quotes Isaiah to tell us that he “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth” (1Pt 2.22), calling our attention to the fact that his blood was “precious . . . as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1Pt 1.19). The writer to the Hebrews builds his case for the absolute supremacy of Christ in part upon his sinlessness, informing us that he was “without sin” (Heb 4.15), “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb 7.26). Given the opportunity, even Christ’s enemies could bring no charge against him to convict him of sin (Jn 8.46); Pilate himself, that vacillating judge, confessed that “I find no fault in him” (Jn 19.4). The Lord Jesus recognised sin for what it was, and was grieved, appalled and angered by it, but he had no personal acquaintance with it: he was a stranger to it in his personal experience. He never indulged in sin, never committed one transgression, was guilty of no iniquity. He had no trespasses of his own to be imputed to his own account.

This one, whose sinlessness Chrysostom exposits and throws into sharp relief by speaking of him as ‘Righteousness-itself,’ was alone capable of standing for others precisely because he was under no obligations of his own. Perhaps a very prosaic illustration will help. Imagine that you have done your weekly shop, and – as tends to be the case – you have as many heavy bags as you have fingers, and you pull up outside your home and open the boot of the car to carry your bags inside. Your neighbour looks over and sees you struggling with the burden. If he had likewise just pulled up with his own shopping, and was laden down with it, he would be in no position to assist you with yours. If he was carrying any of his own, he would not be able to bear all of yours. But, fortunately, he has no burden of his own, and so is able to come and relieve you of the entirety of the weight that you would otherwise have to bear. So with Christ: having nothing of his own to bear, he is able to relieve us of the entirety of the sins that would otherwise be put to our account. He alone, being sinless, was able to bear the sin of others.

And that is precisely what he did: being qualified, he accomplished in himself this substitution. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” Peter tells us that this sinless one “himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pt 2.24). Isaiah uses similar words: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . he bore the sin of many” (Is 53.6, 12). The thought almost seems to beggar the meaning of language: he who was never personally defiled by his own sin was accounted the embodiment of sin by God, and punished accordingly. The sins not imputed to us were counted his, and he exhausted the curse those sins deserved. This very one was delivered up – in the place of others – to the damnation and abandonment which sin merits. This is substitutionary atonement, and this is not the doctrine of ‘cosmic child abuse,’ as some would have it! This is the Triune God satisfying divine justice, the Son voluntarily bearing sin in the place of his people and the Father necessarily punishing it in the person of his Son. “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8.3).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 26 April 2008 at 07:32

Christ our righteousness #2 A real reconciliation required

leave a comment »

(Part 2 of 5. Part 1 here.)

Five times in verses 18 to 21 Paul uses variations on a word having to do with the concept of ‘reconciliation.’ This has the essential meaning of the restoration of a relationship previously characterised by hostility, of ending a relationship of enmity and substituting in its place one of goodwill and peace.[1] The two parties in view are God and man, and the cause of the contention that requires resolution is clearly the transgression of man (v19). In other words, this whole discussion necessarily pre-supposes the reality of sin and its effect in making a breach between God and man. So long as he counts or imputes our trespasses against us, there can be no peace between this holy God – who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness (Hab 1.13) – and fallen man in all the God-antagonising grime of his sin. Elsewhere, from what Paul states about the relationship that a justified man sustains to God, we can imply what is lacking beforehand: there is no peace with God, but hostility and war; there is no standing in grace before him; there is no joy, because no hope of glory, but only a fear of wrath (Rom 5.1-2). This is the fearful condition of the natural man in his relationship with the Almighty God. Note, too, that while man is considered to be at enmity with God, the more fundamental issue is that God is angry with sinful man, and that man cannot in his own sinful self please God (cf. Rom 8.8-7): God is offended by our sin and he is angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7.11). Such is the obstacle to be overcome.

Furthermore, it is evident that this reconciliation must be of God: man has neither instinctive desire nor actual ability to initiate or accomplish such a restoration. This must be the work of God in sovereign love and mercy, both initiating and accomplishing this work of reconciliation, and so we find it in 2 Corinthians 5: “God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ;” “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” This reconciliation must be and is a sovereign act arising unbidden by man out of the will of the Lord of heaven and earth, in accordance with his gracious purposes.

This, then, is the context of the whole matter of justification: a holy God angry with sinful man, who – if he is to obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title to a heavenly inheritance – must be brought back by God into a right relationship with himself, but only and necessarily in such a way “that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory.”[2] The reconciliation of God to man, if it is to be accomplished, must be accomplished without in the least degree compromising the holiness of God.

What a fearful obstacle to overcome! What mere man would begin to dream of a solution to such an awesome conundrum, let alone suggest his scheme to the offended God of heaven and earth?

And yet here we have a God-appointed man, speaking as an ambassador for Christ himself, as though this holy God were himself pleading through him – fearful responsibility! – and crying out to sinners: “Be reconciled to God!” Gospel imperatives (the commands of the Word of God) are founded upon gospel indicatives (the facts recorded in God’s word) and come with divine power. Is this what we find in this instance? Is there really a solid foundation for such a bold declaration and invitation? This is precisely what we find in verse 21.

[1] See also Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Preaching the Atonement,” in The Glory of the Atonement, ed. Charles E. Hill & Frank A. James III (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 432-433.

[2] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961), 32.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 25 April 2008 at 07:49

Christ our righteousness #1 Introduction

leave a comment »

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.[1]

2 Corinthians 5.18-21

How, and on what basis, can a man be right with God? The range of ignorant or simply wrong answers being given to that question in a multitude of sermons, books, articles, churches, and seminars is horrifying. Truths that we might have fondly imagined would stand unshaken upon earth as well as in heaven are being assaulted on every side, but – despite our fond imaginations – we should not be surprised to see the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone being cheerfully undermined and attacked even by those who perceive themselves to be its foremost defenders. Twilight falls, and the darkness of superstition and guilt – of paganism and Romanism – seems to gather again. Writing at the end of the seventeenth century, the Scottish Presbyterian pastor Robert Traill wrote of this matter of justification by faith,

that as it is a point of highest concern to every man, so it is to the whole doctrine of Christianity. All the great fundamentals of Christian truth centre in this of justification. The Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; the incarnation of the only Begotten of the Father; the satisfaction paid to the law and justice of God for the sins of the world by his obedience and sacrifice of himself in that flesh he assumed; and the divine authority of the Scriptures which reveal this: these are all straight lines of truth that centre in this doctrine of justification of a sinner by the imputation and application of that satisfaction.[2]

Notice that, by implication, the re-alignment of the centre will either require or result in the bias of every line of truth that leads to the centre. Traill identified four particular areas where those who were departing from the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints differed from those who held to the Biblical norm: the imputed righteousness of Christ; the true notion and nature of justifying faith; the interest, and room, and place, that faith has in justification; and, the two Adams, especially the second, who is Christ.[3] Little has changed.

Confusion seems to reign, and old weapons are being dusted off for a fresh assault being made on key issues. But there is nothing new under the sun. In a sermon delivered on Sunday 15th April 1860, C. H. Spurgeon delivered the following broadside:

Little however, did I think I should live to see this kind of stuff taught in pulpits; I had no idea that there would come out a divinity, which would bring down God’s moral government from the solemn aspect in which Scripture reveals it, to a namby-pamby sentimentalism, which adores a Deity destitute of every masculine virtue. But we never know to-day what may occur to-morrow. We have lived to see a certain sort of men – thank God they are not Baptists – though I am sorry to say there are a great many Baptists who are beginning to follow in their trail – who seek to teach now-a-days, that God is a universal Father, and that our ideas of his dealing with the impenitent as a Judge, and not as a Father, are remnants of antiquated error. Sin, according to these men, is a disorder rather than an offence, an error rather than a crime. Love is the only attribute they can discern, and the full-orbed Deity they have not known. Some of these men push their way very far into the bogs and mire of falsehood, until they inform us that eternal punishment is ridiculed as a dream. In fact, books now appear, which teach us that there is no such thing as the Vicarious Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. They use the word Atonement it is true, but in regard to its meaning, they have removed the ancient landmark. They acknowledge that the Father has shown his great love to poor sinful man by sending his Son, but not that God was inflexibly just in the exhibition of his mercy, not that he punished Christ on the behalf of his people, nor that indeed God ever will punish anybody in his wrath, or that there is such a thing as justice apart from discipline. Even sin and hell are but old words employed henceforth in a new and altered sense. Those are old-fashioned notions, and we poor souls who go on talking about election and imputed righteousness, are behind our time. Ay, and the gentlemen who bring out books on this subject, applaud Mr. Maurice, and Professor Scott, and the like, but are too cowardly to follow them, and boldly propound these sentiments. These are the new men whom God has sent down from heaven, to tell us that the apostle Paul was all wrong, that our faith is vain, that we have been quite mistaken, that there was no need for propitiating blood to wash away our sins; that the fact was, our sins needed discipline, but penal vengeance and righteous wrath are quite out of the question.[4]

Taking into account the necessity of altering the names of one or two of the individuals Spurgeon has in mind, again we must confess that little has altered. Faced with this conflict through the ages, the church of Christ must continue to face it. Either wilfully or ignorantly, the concepts which lie at the heart of the gospel are being recast; the same words are being employed, but are being invested with different – and unscriptural – meanings. The ancient landmarks are being shifted or removed, and we must plant them firmly where they belong, and defend them there. We cannot in our limited time begin to address every aspect of the errors that are being flung against this doctrine, nor can we hope to defend every aspect of the truth. However, it is my intention to deliver something Scriptural and positive concerning what John Owen, at the very beginning of his magisterial and exhaustive treatment of the matter of justification by faith, calls “the way and means whereby [a sinner pressed and perplexed with a sense of the guilt of sin] doth obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance.”[5] Grasping something of the truth from the Word of God will help us to address error from whichever direction it attacks, in and whatever guise it appears. To attempt taking such a hold upon truth, we turn to 2 Corinthians 5.21, where “in these few direct words the Apostle sets forth the gospel of reconciliation in all its mystery and all its wonder:”[6] “for he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

In coming posts, we will examine this verse in its context, noting that there is a real reconciliation required, a real Redeemer supplied, a real righteousness imputed, and a real reliance essential.

[1] The substance of this article was first delivered as a sermon at a Sovereign Grace Union meeting at Tonbridge, Kent, on Friday 1st July 2005. It has been re-worked and edited for print.

[2] Robert Traill, Justification Vindicated (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 67.

[3] Ibid., 11-17.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ – our substitute,” in The New Park Street Pulpit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 6:190.

[5] John Owen, “The doctrine of justification by faith,” in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 5:7.

[6] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1962), 211.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 24 April 2008 at 09:28

%d bloggers like this: