Indulgences Again! A Sure Way to Hopelessness by Timothy A. Williams

Timothy A. Williams:

As we consider the Protestant Reformation, the historical impetus still divides Protestants and Papists.

Originally posted on The Protestant Pulpit:

Benedict XVI and Francis both have spoken on indulgences.  For the modern Protestant or Evangelical, this is something of an ancient fight, but it is not. It is real, and it is modern. See Edward Peters, A Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering This Often Misinterpreted Teaching. See also it in practice on the following URLs:


As the last URL underscores, they can be as detailed as Tetzel’s indulgences of the Reformation period. 

” May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon thee, and absolve thee by the merits of his most holy passion! And I, by his authority, that of his blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and of the most Holy Pope, granted and committed unto me in these parts, do absolve thee, first from all ecclesiastical censures, in whatever manner they have been incurred— Then from all thy sins, transgressions an d excesses, how enormous soever…

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Trusting God in Crises

In the light of the current Canadian crisis and what seems to be the inevitable aftermath of panic and political planning, the following statement by Alexander Carson is very fitting:

“As God can protect His people under the greatest despotism, so the utmost civil liberty is no safety to them without the immediate protection of His Almighty arm. I fear that Christians in this country have too great a confidence in political institutions…[rather] than of the government of God” (Confidence in God in Times of Danger, p. 41).

The Surprising Reward for Giving: A Correcting of the Prosperity Gospellers


God demonstrates His love for cheerful givers by rewarding them. That word “reward” is not to be taken in any way to suggest merit. Rather, as father might reward his child for doing something imperfectly and with the resources that came from the father, so God does the same for us. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks about the Lord’s rewarding those who give to others. What does He give? Norman Vincent Peale states, “Put God to work for you and maximize your potential in your divinely ordained capitalist system.” Is this Paul’s meaning? Let us see what Paul states about God’s reward.

First, God gives us contentment. We read, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).  The word “grace” may be taken in a broad way, in a narrow theological sense, or in both. Paul seems to connect the two. God is able to make us abound in His bounty so that we have  a sufficiency. While that word “sufficiency” was a favorite word of the Greek and Roman moralists of Paul’s day, it only occurs here and in 1 Tim. 6:6 (“godliness with contentment”). The idea in the mind of the moralists is that when a person is independent and self-sufficient, he may be be content. But Paul says that we may be content only being dependent upon God who alone is able to make us abound and give us this contentment.  It is the product of His giving us an abounding grace or bounty.

Second, God gives us more so that we can give more. This is the idea of His making grace abound to us. It is so that we may abound in every good work. ‘The sense is, “If you give liberally you are to expect that God will furnish you with the means, so that you will be able to abound more and more in it.” You are to expect that he will abundantly qualify you for doing good in every way, and that he will furnish you with all that is needful for this’ (Barnes).

Paul illustrates this in 2 Corinthians 9:10: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” What God promised is seed for sowing, the opportunities and resources to make further investments of good works. He did not promise wealth for our own consumption. Notice this in 2 Co 9:11: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” However Paul was comparing what God does on the physical plane with what He does spiritually. The farmer who plants a crop gets back more seed than he sowed. Similarly, Paul argued, those who sow spiritually by giving sacrificially to others will receive more spiritual seed, namely, divine enablement to help more people (2Cor. 9:8-9). Moreover God will not just supply more spiritual seed, but He will multiply it. Generally what we give away is what we get back. That is the principle in view.

Now, such a thought is vitally important in our day.  This is important, seeing that we have a gross perversion of this passage by those who adhere to a “prosperity theology.”  Preachers of “prosperity theology” have used these verses to support their contention that God will inevitably give you more material goods if you give what you presently have to Him. They often urge their hearers to give to God through their ministries. However, this statement by Paul is not a promise that we will inevitably get more wealth if we give away our wealth. In fact, if we do get back something monetarily, it is for the purpose of giving.

Third, God gives righteousness to do more righteous acts.  In 2 Corinthians 9, the words that Paul uses include “grace,” “every good work,” righteousness,” and “the fruits of your righteousness.” From this, it is clear that Paul is placing his focus upon the spiritual quality of the giver and the gift. This is also vital to underscore. In Gal. 6, Paul stresses that we reap in kind what we sow (cf. Gal. 6:8). He did not say that we will get back more of whatever we sow. In other words, as Constable notes, “the context is primarily dealing with righteousness that comes back to the person who sows righteous acts, not Rolls Royces and Rolex watches.” He then goes to quote Barnett who rightly states, “There is no hint here of a ‘prosperity theology.’ Enrichment, like ‘overflowing’ (2Cor. 9:8), is metaphorical, and is not at all motivated by self-interest.” David Brown notes, “Righteousness shall be itself the reward, even as it is the thing rewarded.”

Fourth, God gives men the opportunity to bring praise to God.  Corinthians’ charity would  result in the Jerusalem saints giving thanks to God for the gift given to them by the churches. This underscores the fact that God is the source of the gifts. Though men may, the ultimate source is God. Albert Barnes makes comment here that highlights an important principle: “Property should always be so employed as to produce thanksgiving. If it is made to contribute to our own support and the support of our families, it should excite thanksgiving. If it is given to others, it should be so given, if it is possible, that the recipient should be more grateful to God than to us; should feel that though we may be the honored instrument in distributing it, yet the true benefactor is God.” To have the privilege of causing others to praise God is a truly a reward indeed!


So how does God reward our giving? F. W. Robertson well summarizes Paul: “What Paul promised these Corinthians was: 1, the love of God (2 Cor. 9:7); 2, a spirit abounding in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8); thanksgiving on their behalf (vv.11–13). A noble harvest! but all spiritual.”  However, we always need to remember that God is the One from whom everything we have comes. Notice the “able” in this verse. This should not lead to the conclusion that God can, but He may not (cf. 2Cor. 12:9). God might or might not give of His infinite sufficiency and ability (2 Cor. 9:8). If He does, we should live as He would wish for us to live, and if He does, we should do the same. Not all rewards are given in this life.

Now, we must face an implicit thread that undergirds all that Paul is saying. God will enable us to be a blessing to others, This is something that demands a death to self. It is not my welfare that I interested in, but in the welfare of others. The prosperity gospel appeals to us who have grown up in a capitalistic society, even as Norman Vincent Peale’s statement suggests. As Michael Horton rightly observed in his book The Agony of Deceit,

It is appropriate that a prosperity gospel be born in the hedonistic, self-centered, get-rich-quick milieu of modern American society. We are, by nature, pagan. Either our religion will transform us or we will transform our religion to suit our sympathies.

The desire to be rich is the root of all kinds of evil.  And one of the real evils that comes about this is true giving. As Henry Ward Beecher said, “Watch lest prosperity destroy generosity.”  And this was the case in Corinth, and it can easily be detected in the American churches. And this is based upon a false spirituality. Alistair Begg is right, “we are bombarded by suggestions that the “successful” Christian living takes place in the realm of constant victory, health, wholeness, and financial prosperity.” We must resist the ideas of spirituality that underlie this. William Law’s comments should reflect every Christian’s attitude:

For if [a Christian] cannot thank and praise God as well in calamities and sufferings as in prosperity and happiness, he is as far from the piety of a Christian as he that only loves them that love him is from the charity of a Christian. For to thank God only for such things as you like is no more a proper act of piety than to believe only what you see is an act of faith. Resignation and thanksgiving to God are only acts of piety when they are acts of faith, trust and confidence in the divine goodness.

Luther on “Spirituality” Apart from the Word


In these matters, which concern the spoken, external Word, it must be firmly maintained that God gives no one his Spirit or grace apart from the external Word which goes before. We say this to protect ourselves from the enthusiasts, that is, the “spirits,” who boast that they have the Spirit apart from and before contact with the Word. … [T]here are still many doing this today, who set themselves up as shrewd judges between the spirit and the letter without knowing what they say or teach. The papacy is also purely religious raving in that the pope boasts that “all laws are in the shrine of his heart” and that what he decides and commands in his churches is supposed to be Spirit and law—even when it is above or contrary to the Scriptures or the spoken Word. This is the old devil and old snake, who also turned Adam and Eve into enthusiasts and led them from the Word of God to “spirituality” and their own presumption— although he even accomplished this by means of other, external words. In the same way, our enthusiasts also condemn the external Word, and yet they themselves do not keep silent. … In short: enthusiasm clings to Adam and his children from the beginning to the end of the world—fed and spread among them as poison by the old dragon.

Smalcald Articles, III.8.3-9, translated by William Russell, in BC 2000: 322-23.

Does the Homosexual Have Gifts and Qualities to Offer the Church?

In a recent synod at the Vatican, there was a statement made that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” Behind this is the larger issue of whether the unsaved have gifts, and are these the gifts that may be offered to the church and her benefit.

While we may speak of the unsaved having gifts in some general way, the Scriptures speak of the gifts in a technical language “as distinctive aptitudes on the part of Christians” (Martin Pope; cf. Rom. 12:6. They are gifts given to Christians so that they might be the means of edifying the body. They are not for non-Christians. Two characteristics of these gifts highlight this.

First, these gifts are gifts of grace. The word charisma underscores this fact. They flow from the unmerited favor of God. This term is used with the widest reference, such as salvation itself (Rom. 6:23) or even as a miracle (Rom. 1:11). However, as Vincent notes, it is used primarily “in a special, technical sense, denoting extraordinary powers bestowed upon individuals by the Holy Spirit, such as gifts of healing, speaking with tongues, prophecy, etc.” See Rom. 12:6, 1Cor. 1:7; 7:7; 12:4, 31, 1Pet. 4:10, where ‘the grace of God’ is mentioned as the source of the several capacities designated. While the unsaved may experience common grace, they do not experience the special grace that is effectual in saving souls. This is a special grace, not a general, common grace. If it is the special grace, those who have not partook of this saving grace cannot be said to possess them.

Second, they are spiritual gifts. See Romans 1:11; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 14:1, 12. As Alford notes, by the word spiritual refers to the idea these gifts are “springing from the Spirit of God, and imparted to the spirit of man.” Charles Hodge expands upon this: “By spiritual gift is not to be understood a gift pertaining to the soul in distinction from the body, but one derived from the Spirit. The gifts of which the Holy Spirit is the author, include not only those miraculous endowments of which such frequent mention is made in the Epistle to the Corinthians, and the ordinary gifts of teaching, exhortation, and prophesying, 1 Corinthians 12, but also those graces which are the fruits of the Spirit.” The one thing that we must assert is that the unsaved person is one who does not have the Spirit (Romans 8:7). The Spirit is the gift of God. See Acts 1:4; 2:11; 33-38; Gal. 3:2, 14; 4:6, etc.  If the unsaved do not have the Spirit, who is the author of these gifts, then they do not have the gifts.

Now, someone will undoubtedly remark that this presupposes that homosexuals are not Christians. And this would a correct assumption. Those who are not repenting of this sin will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those who do not inherit the kingdom of God are not saved. See Matthew 19:16, 23, 25: eternal life = eterning the kingdom = saved. If a man is not saved, then they are not and cannot be part of the church. They neither have the gifts of the Spirit, nor are they in the church, for which the gifts are given. The gifts are given only to the church for the church!

Will True Christians Apostatize in These Dark Days? An Exposition of 1 John 2:27


There are vast numbers of people leaving the church today. Some retain their faith as they are disenchanted with the church, while others repudiate it. In fact, the vast majority of those leaving the church are rejecting the faith. See the graph above that is from the data of the Pew Research Center.

Now, we acknowledge that a Christian can do leave the church. It is neither right nor healthy for a Christian to leave the church, every and all church. But what about those who leave the faith? Were those who repudiated the faith truly Christians? This is an important question in the light of the statistics.

Some say true Christians can apostatize and be lost forever. The Free Will Baptists teach this, saying, “Since man, however, continues to have free choice, it is possible because of temptations and the weakness of human flesh for him to fall into the practice of sin and to make shipwreck of his faith and be lost.” But others say that true Christians can apostatize, though they will still be saved. This is the teaching of those who adhere to the non-Lordship salvation scheme, which is nothing short of a neo-Sandemanianism.   Dr. Constable, who is known for his expository notes on the Bible, is an example of this:

Genuine Christians can be and are being deceived by false teachers and are abandoning their faith today. This sometimes happens when young people go off to college and conclude that what they learned in church is unscientific. It also happens when Christian’s accept the teachings of cultists who come knocking on their doors.

If Dr. Constable would have said that Christians can be and are being deceived, most would agree with him. Sadly, it is true that we can and even do come under the influence of false teaching. Notable Christians have done so. But it is quite another thing to say that they may abandon their faith.  Can a true Christian abandon his faith and still be a ‘genuine’ Christian?

It is the clear teaching of Scripture that he cannot. In 1 John 2, John has to deal with those who have left the church and gone after false teaching, the teaching of antichrist (I am using a small ‘a’ here). In contrast to those who are seduced, John states, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 Jn 2:27). There are a few thing to note here.

First, the pronoun is placed in a position for emphasis. While these have been effectively seduced, YOU have not be seduced because they have received the anointing. There is a deep chasm placed between the two by the Apostle.

Second, the reason is given. One has received the ‘anointing,’ and the other has not. This took place at a definite time, if we are to retain the normal force of the verb’s tense (aorist). There are various opinions on the meaning of this anointing. This is mentioned in verse 20, being translated at the unction. Most commentators agree that this is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Holy One. Alford gives the following reason:

For “Christ received the Holy Ghost without measure (Joh_3:34): on Him the Holy Ghost abode (ib. John 1:33): God ἔχρισεν αὐτὸν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ (Acts 10:38). Christ baptizeth with the Holy Ghost (John 1:33): He sends the Holy Ghost, who takes of His and shews it to believers (John 15:26; John 16:14, Acts 2:33). And seeing that the Son hath all which the Father hath, the Father is said to send forth the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of His children (Gal_4:6; cf. Eph. 3:16, Phil. 1:19, 2 Cor. 3:17 ff.), and this, at the prayer, in the name, through the mediation, of the Son (John 14:16; John 16:7 f.): the Father anoints believers by giving them His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21 f.), as He has anointed the Son with the Holy Ghost. And hence the Spirit, which we have received, is the token that we are in the Father (ch. 1 Jn. 3:24), and in the Son (1 Jn 2:27), that we are children of God (Rom. 8:14 ff., Gal. 4:6).

The primitive church understood this as the Spirit, even though they associated it too closely to the time of baptism. For example, Cyril said about the Christian, “being made partakers of Christ, ye are properly called christs, and of you God said, Touch not My christs, or anointed. Now ye were made christs by receiving the emblem of the Holy Spirit; and all things were in a figure wrought in you, because ye are figures of Christ. He also bathed Himself in the river Jordan, and … came up from them; and the Holy Spirit in substance lighted on Him, like resting upon like. In the same manner to you also, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, was given the unction, the emblem of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Spirit”. Similarly Augustine; “In the unction we have a sacramental sign (sacramentum); the virtue itself is invisible. The invisible unction is the Holy Spirit (Hom. III. 12).

Now, the importance of this is found in the fact that the contrast between those who have apostatized and those who have retained the faith is found in the fact that one has received the Spirit and the other has not.  Paul says, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). According to Jude, one of the characteristics of those who are false professors is that they do not have the Spirit; in fact, Jude’s words are even more powerful, seeing that he describes them as “they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (verse 9).

Third, the specific result of this anointing, unction, or possession of the Spirit must be underscored: “the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie.”  John does not mean that we will have an exhaustive knowledge of everything that there is to know about every subject under the sun. Rather, this speaks of a specific area.

This knowledge has four characteristics. First, it is something that is permanent –it abides in them. The tense suggest that this is something that continues. “It is not a fitful emotion or wayward impulse, a rapture of excitement, alternating perhaps with deep depression. It partakes more of the nature of a calm, constant, settled conviction. . . . This unction then is not to be confounded with our own varying moods of mind, or the varying impressions made on us by things without. It is something far more stable. It gives a certain firm and fixed apprehension of divine things and persons, which these vicissitudes can scarcely interrupt or weaken, and cannot destroy. There may be more or less of the vivid sense of this anointing, at different seasons and in different circumstances; the signs of it may be more or less clearly discernible and the hold we have of it in our consciousness may be more or less strong. But it ‘abideth in us'; keeping God and eternity still before us as realities, in our sorest trials and darkest hours” (Candlish).

Second, it is from God and independent or transcendent of human teaching. This does not mean that human instrumentality is not involved, but it does mean that there is a witness of God’s Spirit to the veracity of the teaching of the Scripture so that the person knows with certainty. “The gospel is its own witness; it carries in itself, as apprehended by this anointing, its own credentials. Like its author, it speaks as having authority, and approves itself experimentally to all who make trial of it. All this is through the anointing Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we are moved to make trial of the gospel; it is by the Spirit that the gospel is so applied and brought home to us,—in its sovereignty, as God speaking, and in its special and pointed adaptation to our case, as God speaking to us” (Candlish).

Third, it is complete. The emphasis here is an answer to anyone who might say, “Well, you got part of the Gospel, but let me give you the rest.” John answers and says, “You did not get part of it, when the Spirit taught you. You got it all.” We may not always see the implications of it, but we will not receive new information. And this complete knowledge is not even mixed. It is not an alloy of truth and error; it is only truth. John’s intent is well summarized by Ellicott: “They needed not the pretended discoveries of false teachers; all they wanted was the unction of God to bring home what they had heard from the beginning.”

Fourth, it is inward. It is not something that we deduce, or even receive from human resources. While  they have a secondary use, this truth is something that is retained in the person. “It is not an application or appeal from without; it is a gracious influence, a gracious movement or experience, in the inner man. It is beyond the world’s cognisance; “the world cannot receive the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him;” and it is only what it sees and knows by the palpable evidence of sense that the world can take in. But the inward work and witness of the Holy Spirit is apprehended by faith as real; as being really the indwelling in us of the Spirit that dwelt in Christ” (Candlish).

Fourth, we should also observe that this anointing is the permanent position. There is debate over whether we should take the words “shall abide” as an indicative fact (you are abiding), or an imperative as in the next verse (abide in Him), or as a future, as the AV takes it.  As Expositor’s Greek NT states, “The reading μενεῖτε (“ye shall abide”) would express the Apostle’s confidence in the steadfastness of his readers, like ‘England expects every man to do his duty’). Herman Meyer is right when he notes, “It expresses the firm conviction of the apostle that they, according to the constant instruction of the ΧΡῖΣΜΑ, abide . . . in the teaching which the ΧΡῖΣΜΑ communicates to them.”

Fifth, we should also remember that this points us back to the promised NT.  These statements have direct reference to the OT promise of New Covenant, wherein everyone person in the NT will know God. In fact, they will not have to have someone teach them. “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).  As D. A. Carson notes, “In other words, for John’s readers to rely on these (false) teachers is to admit that their own knowledge of God is somehow faulty or inadequate, which is to undercut all the power and reality of the new covenant.”

But we may even go further, keeping in both the context of the prophecy of Jeremiah and the context of John. This work of the NT within the heart keeps people from going from God.  “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me” (Jer. 32:40).  Speaking on this, Calvin remarks,

Thus he again shews that perseverance, no less than the commencement of acting rightly, is the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit: and as I have already said, were God only to form our hearts once, that we might be disposed to act rightly, the devil might, at any moment, entice us, by his wiles, from the right way, or, as he employs sudden and violent attacks, he might drive us up and down as he pleases. To rule us then for one hour would avail us nothing, except God preserved us through the whole course of our life, and led us on to the end. It hence then follows, that the whole course of our life is directed by the Spirit of God, so that the end no less than the beginning of good works ought to be ascribed to his grace.

Now, the perseverance that John and Calvin envision is not a eternal security against belief, but it is a perseverance in the faith. God keeps His children through faith. And this faith is maintained through the abiding work of the Spirit.


When we see people leaving the churches and abandoning the faith, we should take heed. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19). And the reason for this is that they do not have the unction/anointing of God. The anointing of God instructs the person in such a way that they do not leave. Robert Candlish summarizes the point well:

But yesterday they were among us; one with ourselves in privilege, profession, and outward character. The keenest eye could not discriminate between us and them. True, their having gone out from us is a presumption, and indeed a proof, that they were not really of us. That very fact, however, making it plain that they who are still among us are not all of us, may not unnaturally cause uneasiness as to our own standing. But it need not. For there is a difference; “Ye have an unction from the Holy One,” which they have not,” and ye know all things.”

Justification By Faith Alone Is The Normative Reformed Doctrine

Originally posted on Christian Heritage News:

By Dr. R. Scott Clark – Posted at The Heidelblog:

Théodore_de_Bèze_1577_Genève-300x387Way back in 2009, when the Federal Vision controversy was still going the claim was made by a proponent of the Federal Vision that there is not a single, agreed doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone but rather there were a number a doctrines of justification adopted by the Reformed. I responded then as I respond now: That claim is patent nonsense. That this claim, which is so easily disproven, continues to arise (and in surprising places I might add) supports my contention that the moralists will never quit—which I wrote even before the controversy had fully ended. I say that because the historical pattern is clear. Confessional Protestants (i.e., those who actually belief, preach, and teach what the Protestant churches confessed on justification in the 16th and 17th centuries) articulate the doctrine of justification. That unequivocal…

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