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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The First Use of the Moral Law: The World's Ruined: Sanctimonious sanctification...

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NKJV)

Someone posted this link to Jack Miller's blog, The World's Ruined, over at the Facebook group, Anglo-Reformed.  Here's a quotable quote from that article:

One can put to memory these biblical truths.  And yet, like the man who forgets his image upon walking away from a mirror, we can too easily fall back into a false assumption that our works are somehow in the mix as necessary for a right standing before God.  Why is it that that is our bent?  Simply said, by nature we are sinners, self-justifying sinners.  We not only fall short of God's moral law, we have woven into our nature the depraved hutzpah to self-justify our sinful persons before God, others, and ourselves. It's as natural as breathing.  That is what sinners do.  Fish swim.  Dogs bark.  Sinners self-justify.  We, who are made in God's image, created to be holy, though redeemed are yet still fallen.  And in and of ourselves - holy we are not!  The tension between that which we are and what we know we should be still bewitches us.  So by nature we still tend towards minimizing our sin and working to sell ourselves as good enough.  [Click here to read the article:  The World's Ruined: Sanctimonious sanctification...
The sad truth is that many Presbyterians these days dwell so much on the law that they forget that the Westminster Standards are a complete package and a systematic whole. Anglicans are equally guilty of misreading their own Formularies.  Propositions taken out of context from the rest of the system of doctrine can lead to error. What is more to the point is that the Westminster Confession draws some of its theology from the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion including the latter part of this section:

We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit, and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment. (WCF 16.5)  [This reminds me of the Prayer of Humble Access in the 1662 BCP's service for the Lord's Supper as well].
Compare what the Westminster Confession says with Articles 11-12 of the Thirty-nine Articles:


Article XI

Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.


Article XII 

Of Good Works

Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit. 
Notice that Article 11 says that justification by faith alone "is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort."  Ironically, despite the aversion to the preaching of God's decrees to election and reprobation and the doctrine of double prestination, Article 17 upholds predestination as a doctrine that brings assurance and comfort to those who believe and dread to those who are driven to greater depths of depravity: 

As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.   Article 17
Those ministers who refuse to preach the doctrine of predestination are essentially robbing God's people of a great comfort in their salvation.  I have argued in a recent article to be published at Testamentum Imperium that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is inseparable from the doctrine of eternal perseverance and the eternal salvation and security of God's elect individuals.   Grace is not a license to sin but it must be remembered also that the doctrine of unconditional election is not an election based on foreseen good works, merits or faith.  Nor is reprobation based on foreseen evil deeds that a person will later commit (Romans 9:11-13).  

According to the infralapsarian view of the logical order of the decrees, God regarded the whole human race as fallen and so unconditional election cannot be based on foreseen good works or merits.  The supralapsarian view is perhaps more consistent with Romans 9:11-13 since reprobation is not based on foreseeing the human race as fallen either.  Election and reprobation are both sovereign decrees of God and are therefore beyond prying into the secret will and being of God (Deuteronomy 29:29).  Ironically, the infralapsarians and followers of Van Til's theology insist that God bases His unconditional election on foreseeing all men as fallen.  Paul, on the other hand, insists that the only difference between Jacob and Esau is God's sovereign choice (Cf. Romans 9:11-18).  

The great comfort of this doctrine is that believers can know that, despite their many sins prior to their regeneration and conversion, all are covered by the particular atonement of Christ for all the sins of the elect--including their sins committed after their conversion and baptism!  Those who fall temporarily into grievous sins need not fear "losing their salvation," although they may lose their assurance of salvation for a time.  Assurance ultimately comes from the vicarious substitution of Christ for the elect in both His active obedience in living a sinless life and in His passive obedience by dying on the cross to pay the eternal penalty for all the sins of His elect sheep (John 10:11, 15-16, 26-30).

It is a great mistake to emphasize personal piety above a correct understanding of biblical doctrine.  Pietism almost always degenerates into legalism, moralism, and--eventually--liberalism.  The first use of the moral law still applies after regeneration and conversion because the law continually reminds us that we deserve hell simply on the basis of original sin and all actual sins we have committed and will commit in the future (Romans 3:9, 20, 23; 6:23; 7:7).  As Jack Miller so ably points out above, focusing on sanctification without understanding its basis in justification by faith alone--and I would argue unconditional election in the ordo salutis--is to encourage self-righteousness and a Pharisaical attitude.  I am reminded of Charles Spurgeon who said, "But for the grace of God I could have been lost as well," or something to that effect.

God could justly cut off anyone in the church and we should never forget that salvation is all of grace from beginning to end.  Lordship salvation and every other form of pietism invented by the Anabaptists and other groups is therefore not biblical.  We don't need more law.  What we need is to be reminded more of grace.  Mixing law with Gospel is not the answer.  I often feel way more convicted by my personal sins when I hear a sermon that properly distinguishes the law and Gospel than I have ever felt when someone has preached a moralistic, law-focused sermon.  After all, our natural propensity is to say to ourselves, "I'm not as bad as that other guy over there."

I highly recommend that you read Jack Miller's article as well.

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NKJV)

3 comments:

Jack Miller said...

Charlie,

If you haven't read it yet, I think you would enjoy the very excellent book - The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context by Robert Letham. One of the things he demonstrates is the integral role the 39 Articles, and even more the Irish 104 Articles, played in the formulation of the WCF.

cheers...

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks, Jack. I'll check it out.

Jack Miller said...

Charlie, your observation -

The sad truth is that many Presbyterians these days dwell so much on the law that they forget that the Westminster Standards are a complete package and a systematic whole. Anglicans are equally guilty of misreading their own Formularies.

is dead on. Too many pick and choose from these documents to defend their own innovative positions.

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