Luther on Assurance Through Justification

LutherWoodcut

“I am saying this in order to refute the dangerous doctrine of the sophists and the monks, who taught and believed that no one can know for certain whether he is in a state of grace, even if he does good works according to his ability and lives a blameless life. This statement, widely accepted and believed, was a principle and practically an article of faith throughout the papacy. With this wicked idea of theirs they utterly ruined the doctrine of faith, overthrew faith, disturbed consciences, abolished Christ from the church . . . If everything else were sound there [in the papacy] still this monster of uncertainty is worse than all the other monsters (Luther’s Works, 26:377,386).

Let us thank God, therefore, that we have been delivered from this monster of uncertainty . . . And this is our foundation: The Gospel commands us to look, not at our good deeds or perfection but at God Himself as He promises, and at Christ Himself, the Mediator . . . And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works, but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive (LW 26:387).

Let everyone accustom himself, therefore, to believe for a certainty that he is in a state of grace and that his person with its works is pleasing to God. For if he senses that he is in doubt, let him exercise his faith, struggle against the doubt , and strive for certainty, so that he can say: “I know that I have been accepted and that I have the Holy Spirit, not on account of my worthiness or virtue but on account of Christ, who subjected Himself to the Law on our account and took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). In Him I believe. If I am a sinner, and if I err, He is righteous and cannot err (LW 26:379).

The Blessed Dead: An Outline of A Recent Funeral Sermon of a Dear Friend and Believer

The Blessed Dead

And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. Rev 14:13

Introduction

Originally, these words were meant to encourage those facing the daunting prospect of martyrdom, but they contain the important truth that upon death God’s people instantly enter into a state of blessedness. They are blessed henceforth.

But the the truth here is not the opinion of man, not even an apostle; rather, they are the words from heaven itself. For this reason, they should demand our attention, seeing that we all shall come to death. Let us consider,

What is it to die in the Lord?

We must say that does refer to all the dead; for God never pronounces the condition of the wicked who die, blessed or happy. There are two ways to die: in sin or in Christ! The phrase “to die in the Lord” implies the following things:

First, we may say that this implies that they who thus die are the friends of the Lord Jesus. The language “to be in the Lord” is often used to denote true attachment to him, or close union with him. And this attachment or union is by faith in His sacrifice for sin; it is an attachment to Him as He is revealed in the Scripture –as Lord and Savior.

Second, we may also state that one has said that it “implies a previous living with Him.” Living with Him involves the exercise of certain elements. These are found in Rev. 14:12.

There is Faith: “The faith of Jesus.” No man can live with or die in the Lord without faith in Him. With it he can live and die triumphantly. There is also Obedience: “They that keep the commandments of God.” Living with God is obeying God. The obedience of faith—the obedience that is vitally connected with faith—enters into the preparation for a happy death, or death in the Lord. Though certainly no perfect, it must be there; it evidences that the person has true faith.

Why are those who die in the Lord blessed or happy?

There are several reasons why those who die in the Lord are blessed. First, they experience immediately the happiness of release from toil, sorrow, pain. Rest—“That they may rest from their labours.” Christians are not free from trials; it is not according to the Divine plan that they should be. But those trials cannot pass beyond the gate of death; and when the Christian passes into the beyond he leaves his trials.

Second, they experience immediately the happiness of release from sin. While we live in the flesh, we sin. Even when we are God’s friends, we still sin. The Apostle Paul felt this, and He longed to be set free from it: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). At death, the Christian is set delivered from the very presence of sin. Heaven is made of just men made perfect.

Third, they experience immediately the happiness of being with Christ after death. The psalmist said, “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Again, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” Paul said, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” Great joy here, but fulness of joy with Christ.

Conclusion

First, let us apply this dear brother who has gone to be with the Lord He is now free to enjoy the wonders of Christ and heaven forever. [Expanded on this on personal level.]

Second, we may also apply this to those of us who are living. Our one goal is to be found in Christ. Paul said: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:8-9). [Was enabled to plead with tears for all present to receive Christ].

Closing prayer:

O MERCIFUL God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life; in whom whosoever believeth shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in him, shall not die eternally. We meekly beseech thee, O Father, to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness; that, when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, and that, at the general Resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight, and receive that blessing, which thy well-beloved Son shall then pronounce to all that love and fear thee, saying, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world: Grant this, we beseech thee, O merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.

A Romish student and the Bible

When Thomas Bilney was a Romish student in Trinity College, he carried a burdened mind in a body emaciated by penance which brought no relief. Hearing his friends one day talking about Erasmus’s Testament, he felt a strong desire to possess it; but as it was a forbidden book, he did not dare to touch it. Hoping, however, that something might be found in it to ease his troubled mind, he purchased a copy, and shut himself in his room to read it. With a trembling heart he opened it, and read with astonishment, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Then laying it down, he exclaimed, “What! Paul the chief of sinners? yet Paul sure of being saved!” He read it again and again, and broke out into an ecstasy of joy, “At last I have heard of Jesus—Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus Christ saves.” And falling down on his knees, he prayed, “O Thou who art the truth, give me strength that I may teach it, and convert the ungodly by means of one who has been himself ungodly.” Bilney being justified by faith in and through Jesus Christ, possessed peace.

Building on the Foundation of Christ: The Importance of a Biblical Philosophy of Ministry

1Co 3:12-15  Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;  (13)  Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.  (14)  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  (15)  If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Introduction

The ministry and mission of the church is from Jesus and about Jesus. Woe be unto the minister who forgets this. That is the solemn truth set forth in this passage. This is an awful passage; one whose import no man to whom has been committed the care of souls can realize without trembling. But it has a lesson for all, those in the ministry and those who receive the ministry.

Paul was much troubled by an account which had reached him of the state of things at Corinth. He had laid the foundation of a flourishing church there, and God had greatly prospered His work; but dissensions had arisen. The Apostle’s authority was decried. Rival teachers were set up; rival parties formed. Paul protests against this state of things. It is an evidence, he tells them, of their immaturity in Christ.  They thought they were spiritual, but they were acting as those who were still dominated by the fallen nature.   Charles Simeon wrote:

At Corinth it prevailed, and rose to an alarming height: and St. Paul was obliged to exert all his influence in order to counteract it. He reminded the partisans, that, as “God’s building,” they should be cemented together with brotherly love: that they should study to shew themselves worthy of the place they held in the Church, in expectation of that day when all their works should be tried by fire: and that, instead of fomenting strifes and divisions, they should unite with each other in cleaving steadfastly to the one foundation, whereon they stood.

Having given a broad view of the passage, let us consider,

The Builders

We have here, first, the builders. These are primarily teachers, preachers of the Word, ministers. Such only seem to have been before the Apostle’s mind. Each minister is seen as building up a work for Jesus Christ. This building, which we will see in a moment is the church, the temple, the holy habitation of God.

But let me say that while it is primarily Paul’s intention to speak of the minister’s work in the church, we may also say that in a secondary sense the passage has a lesson for private Christians; forasmuch as every Christian has a building to build for God in his own soul, on the foundation first laid at his conversion. It is not merely that the church is a temple, but each soul is a temple wherein the Holy Spirit dwells.  Warren Wiersbe is right when he states,

The usual explanation of this passage is that it describes the building of the Christian life. We all build on Christ, but some people use good materials while others use poor materials. The kind of material you use determines the kind of reward you will get.

While this may be a valid application of this passage, it is not the basic interpretation. Paul is discussing the building of the local church, the temple of God.

Let us next consider,

The Foundation

This foundation the Apostle describes in one phrase—Jesus Christ. On the cardinal truth of Christ’s crucifixion the hopes of the Church, the hopes of every individual Christian, rest. Let us look to ourselves that we do not lose hold of it. But let us say a few words here.

When we say the Lord Jesus Christ, we are speaking of the fact that it was already built upon Him as its historical foundation. He was the reason and account of its existence, so that if He had not lived and died, its existence, as Paul found it, would have been inexplicable. Some hold that Paul, not Christ, was the founder of Christendom–a theory he by anticipation contradicted. “Was Paul crucified for you?” No, no! While the Church is built on the labors of apostles, we must always remember that apostles themselves rested on the Chief Corner Stone.

We must also insist upon something else here. Christ Himself is the only foundation on which the soul can build. I am underscoring Him as a person. It is not mere doctrines abort Him. We are not disparaging Scripture texts, the creeds, the systematic teaching of these; we are extremely thankful for them for His sake, but we do no prize Him for theirs; and we surely do no rest upon them as distinct from Him. Someone has said that this would be like “building on a measuring rule instead of on the granite of which it has given us the dimensions.”

Moreover, we must add that it is not the mere feelings about or towards Him. These are great aids to devotion; yet nothing is more fleeting and unreliable. While they are directed to Christ, they stem from us; or as some rightly noted, “their root is in ourselves, and we cannot supply the foundation stone out of the exhausted quarries of unrenewed human nature.” That is where the doctrine comes into play; it provides a revelation of God in propositional sentences which are true about Christ.

Now, let us remember the focus of Paul. He is speaking of the ministry.  Each ministry must build upon the person of Christ. There can be no other ground of confidence for the justification, sanctification and salvation of men than the person of Jesus Christ. God has made Christ to be wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. All of this is found in Christ, and in Him alone. The Apostles through their preaching of Christ laid this foundation for the church, and Christ is the foundation for every true Christian.

Let us also consider,

The Building

The superstructure which Paul supposes to be built on this foundation is the result of the ministry. And it is manifested in the lives of the converts whom he has won, or of the people who have been committed to his charge. The Apostle sets before us two distinct superstructures, the foundation being the same in both. On this, J. J. Lias correctly commented:

It must be remembered that it is not the conduct of Christians, however applicable the principles here enunciated may be to it, but the doctrine of teachers which is spoken of here. The materials mentioned are of two classes, those that will endure fire, and those that will not. We may dismiss from our consideration such preaching as is dictated by vain-glory or self-interest, for the simple reason that it is not building upon Christ at all. The two kinds of preaching thus become, on the one hand that which leads to permanent results, the glory of God and the real well-being of man; and on the other, that which, though the offspring of a genuine zeal, is not according to knowledge.

Some builders he represents as raising a solid and substantial fabric, gold, silver, costly stones. Their doctrine and the result of it were in keeping with the great truth which himself had laid as the foundation; the doctrine uncorrupt—the result, holiness of life and conversation on the part of those who received it, and what he may be thought to have had specifically in view—a spirit of charity and brotherly love. Speaking of Paul’s overall meaning,

The six materials in 1Cor. 3:12 are arranged to denote a descending scale by moving from a unit of three good qualities to a unit of three bad ones. The verse uses pictures to represent what Paul calls ‘work’ in 1 Cor. 3:13-14. Paul’s main point is to encourage building with quality materials that will meet with God’s approval and receive eternal reward. Interpreters sometimes restrict the meaning of the symbols either to doctrine, to people, to activity, or to character. The [proper] conclusion is that Paul in the symbols combines several things that lead to Christ’s good pleasure and a believer’s reward. These are sound doctrine, activity, motives and character in Christian service.” [James E. Rosscup, “A New Look at 1 Corinthians 3:12-‘Gold, Silver, Precious Stones,'” Master’s Seminary Journal 1:1 (Spring 1990):33.]

But there were others who building upon the foundation with doctrine that was not consistent with the foundation. It did correspond to the person of Jesus Christ. Or, they were acting in principles that were no congruent with Christ and Him crucified.  Consequently, it promoted the spirit of contention and division, which was so prevalent at Corinth. Such is nothing more than “wood, hay, stubble.” David Brown comments that this ‘wood, hay, and stubble’ is “not positive heresy, for that would destroy the foundation, but teaching mixed up with human philosophy and Judaism, curious rather than useful.”  For this reason, Calvin stated,

As there is an agreement thus far as to Paul’s meaning, without any controversy, it follows on the other hand, that by wood, stubble and hay, is meant doctrine not answering to the foundation, such as is forged in men’s brain, and is thrust in upon us as though it were the oracles of God. For God will have his Church trained up by the pure preaching of his own word, not by the contrivances of men, of which sort also is that which has no tendency to edification, as for example curious questions, (Titus 1:4,) which commonly contribute more to ostentation, or some foolish appetite, than to the salvation of men.

I say, then, that both doctrinal and practical are this inferior and inappropriate building material; it is incongruous with the original foundation. Such is still going on in our day.  Largely, we can see this in the philosophy of Willow Creek and the seeker-sensitive church movement. Though these movements have somewhat fizzled out, their impact has left scares on the face of American Christianity and ruts in the ecclesiastical landscape. One man’s critique shows the wrong motives of the ministry of such:

The size of the crowd rather than the depth of the heart determined success. If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting “felt needs” and sermons consistent with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn’t matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn’t “cutting edge” and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity. (Bob Burney Live, ‘A Shocking “Confession” from Willow Creek Community Church’).

This is one example, and there are myriads of others wrong ways in which the ministries of Evangelicalism can build with wood, hay, and stubble. Now, this has immediate results as well as future implications, to which we shall now turn, as we note in,

The Appraisal

The Apostle speak of the day which will declare, will make manifest, before men and angels, the character of each man’s work. In many cases, no doubt, that character is only too apparent now. The unsoundness and worthlessness of the building are open beforehand, going before to judgment.  But in others they follow. After a hollow show, conformity with the popular taste and the like gain them a wide acceptance, while true and honest work is depreciated and condemned. The day in which the Lord will come will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.

This is set forth by Paul as a reminder that faithfulness is the key; it is not always how men appraise a work.  The 19th century Scottish pastor and trainer of pastors, John Brown, wrote a letter to one of his students newly ordained over a small congregation and extended this word to him:

I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.

Now, what is meant by the fire, of which it is said, “The day shall be revealed, and by which every man’s work will be proved?” Immediately, we can reject the interpretation that this speaks of purgatory. This is positively the case for a number of reasons.  David Brown outlines some of them:

The fire (probably figurative here, as the gold, hay, etc.) is not purgatory (as Rome teaches, that is, purificatory and punitive), but probatory, not restricted to those dying in “venial sin”; the supposed intermediate class between those entering heaven at once, and those dying in mortal sin who go to hell, but universal, testing the godly and ungodly alike (2 Cor. 5:10; compare Mark 9:49). This fire is not till the last day, the supposed fire of purgatory begins at death. The fire of Paul is to try the works, the fire of purgatory the persons, of men. Paul’s fire causes “loss” to the sufferers; Rome’s purgatory, great gain, namely, heaven at last to those purged by it, if only it were true. Thus this passage, quoted by Rome for, is altogether against, purgatory.

There are other interpretations. Some have understood this in reference to persecution, and no doubt persecution has many times served as a test, sifting the Church and separating the wheat from the chaff. But it is a test which has only partially been applied. Many workmen have never had their work subjected to it, and even where it has been applied, it has not always proved an infallible test; there have been confessors and martyrs to heresy as well as to the truth.

But Paul is speaking of a trial to which every man’s work shall be subjected; it is a test wherein God searchingly scrutinizes all works, and no unsoundness or dishonesty in the work will escape. The fire of which the Apostle speaks is doubtless that searching scrutiny, repeatedly referred to elsewhere in Scripture, to which at the great and dreadful day of judgment every man’s work will be subjected, when the great white throne shall be set, and the dead, small and great, shall stand before God, and the books shall be opened, and the dead shall be judged out of those things that are written in the books according to their works; and among these works, the work of each man’s ministry, in the case of God’s ministers, will hold, we may be sure, the very foremost place.

But there is something else here that we must address. The Apostle, when he speaks of the unskilful builder being saved, must of course be understood to do so on the presumption that the man himself has personally retained his hold on Christ, and that for Christ’s sake the failure of his work—whether owing to ignorance, infirmity, or any less pardonable cause—is mercifully forgiven. Such a one, the Apostle says, shall lose his reward. He will appear before the Lord empty-handed, with no offering to present of souls won from Satan’s kingdom or strengthened and confirmed in faith and holiness. He will be happy only in this, that while he takes with shame the lowest place and marvels, while he takes it, that such grace should be extended to him, that place is still within his Father’s house.

Conclusion

As we come to a conclusion, let us apply this. First, we must rest upon Christ alone as the sure foundation of our salvation. We must renounce all other foundations. They are but sand (Matt. 7:24). And we must come to Him, telling Him that you are sensible of your need of Him and that you are undone without Him.

Second, we must be those who build upon Him. After we are saved, this is the great business of the church and the Christian; we must rest in Him as our sure foundation. We must be beware what we build upon this foundation, in opinion and in practice (1 Cor. 3:12-15).  Horatius Bonar wrote:

The object of the Christian ministry is to convert sinners and to edify the body of Christ. No faithful minister can possibly rest short of this. Applause, fame, popularity, honor, wealth – all these are vain. If souls are not won, if saints are not matured, our ministry itself is vain. The question, therefore, which each of us has to answer to his own conscience is, “Has it been the end of my ministry, has it been the desire of my heart to save the lost and guide the saved? Is this my aim in every sermon I preach, in every visit I pay?”

And let us build ministries that are consistence with the Lord, as understood by His teaching and work. Let us remember that the day is coming that will sift this work. Let us realize that we must do all for Him, by Him, and according to His plan. All else will be burned up.

Last, let us not judge ministries according to numbers or even activities. We are all very prone to do this. And this places a stress upon ministries that have can have a terrible impact.  I end with these words of advice from Spurgeon that are fitting:

May I beg you carefully to judge every preacher, not by his gifts, not by his elocutionary powers, not by his status in society, not by the respectability of his congregation, not by the prettiness of his church, but by this – does he preach the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation? If he does, your sitting under his ministry may prove to you the means of begetting faith in you. But if he does not, you cannot expect God’s blessing.

The Plight and Remedy of Man: A Practical Exposition of Psalm 14

Psa 14:1-7  To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.  (2)  The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  (3)  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.  (4)  Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD.  (5)  There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.  (6)  Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the LORD is his refuge.  (7)  Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

Introduction

In this Psalm, David speaks of the ungodliness of mankind and the refuge of the godly.  At the very beginning, David traces the problem with mankind by stating, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” We may say that this the meaning of godlessness. We must realize that David is not talking about speculative, philosophical atheism. Rather, he speaking of practical atheism that denies the ‘moral government of God’ (Ellicott). Literally, the Hebrew reads, “No God.” In its essence it is folly. The word “fool” here stands for moral perversity rather than intellectual blindness. One man rightly states:

A fool (Heb. nabal) is a person who has a problem in his or her heart more than in the head. He does not take God into account as he goes about living and is therefore morally insensitive (cf. 1 Sam. 25:25; Isa. 32:4-7). He may or may not really be an atheist, and he is not necessarily ignorant, but he lives as though there is no God. This conclusion leads him to disregard the revelations God has given of Himself, attention to which are essential for wise living (cf. Prov. 1:7; Rom. 1:22).

Now, what David says there is not said of some special type of sinner. But, as he goes on to say, this is true of all mankind. When he says that the fool says, “No God, he then repeats the declaration, “They are corrupt,” and in the statement that their works are abominable. He adds to this the divine outlook on humanity. It is the same. Men do not recognize God and their doings are therefore evil. Let us unfold the thoughts of David by considering,

The Corruption of Man

First, we let us consider the fact that this corruption is universal (Psalm 14:2). God is represented as looking down from the windows of heaven upon mankind to see if there were any who sought Him. And what is the result of this search? We have it in verse three. “They are all gone aside.”

The universality of corruption is expressed in as strong terms as possible; what the Psalmist says applies primarily to Israel, his immediate neighbours, but at the same time to the heathen, as is self-evident. What is lamented is neither the pseudo-Israelitish corruption in particular, nor that of the heathen, but the universal corruption of man, which prevails not less in Israel than in the heathen world (Delitzsch).

We have one of the clearest passages on the doctrine of depravity. And that doctrine teaches that every man, woman, and child has inherited sin from Adam. And this evidenced by the universal sinfulness of man. The Psalmist pictures all men everywhere as corrupt, and thus the apostle interprets him (Rom. 3:10-12).

Total and universal corruption could not be more clearly expressed than by this accumulation of the strongest terms, in which, as Luther well observes, the Psalmist, not content with saying all, adds together, and then negatively, no not one. It is plain that he had no limitation or exception in his mind, but intended to describe the natural condition of all men, in the widest and most unrestricted sense. The whole, not merely all the individuals as such, but the entire race as a totality or ideal person (Alexander).

Second, let us also note that the Scriptures teach us that it is not merely that all men are sinners, but this corruption is thorough. Not only are all corrupt, but all are entirely so. “They are altogether filthy.” Literally, they are stinking, which speaks of our being by nature loathsome and abominable to God.

The nature is depraved. “They are corrupt” as David says in verse 1. The “heart,” the inmost personality, is corrupt; consequently all the powers and faculties of the man are defiled. “The source of all his movements, the affections and heart, are polluted; the waters are poisoned at the spring” (Rylands). The life is depraved.

Notice how this is manifested. Spurgeon rightly stated: “When men begin with renouncing the Most High God, who shall tell where they will end? Observe the state of the world before the Flood, as portrayed in Gen. 6:12, and remember that human nature is unchanged. He who would see a terrible photograph of the world without God must read that most painful of all inspired Scriptures, the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Things loathsome to God and man are sweet to some palates.”

Well, how then does manifest his depraved nature? We read that that they have done “abominable works.”  And if men have not done “abominable works,” then there is “none that doeth good.”  What is said about both the universality as well as the thoroughness of man’s depravity is clearly proved by the fact that man everywhere practices abominable works and that none do good.   The bad tree can only produce bad fruit. Speaking of this, one commentary wrote:

This corruption is profound. It is not a taint, but a deep disease. It is deeply “corrupted,” i.e., become putrid. It is a deep malignity of nature. In Psalms 8, we have the picture of the ideal man, the original man, the possible man; here, alas! we have a sorrowful picture of the actual man. The Bible recognizes our intrinsic grandeur, but it also recognizes our deep degradation.

What an awful picture we have here of man.  What hope is there for him? Let us not the prayer that David utters concerning,

The Deliverer of Mankind

In verse 7 David utters: “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.” If you have an AV Bible with marginal readings, you will see that the margin reads, “Who will give.” In this sense, the Hebrew literally is, “Who will give out of Zion salvation to Israel?” Calvin captures the idea well, when he comments:

When he asks the question, Who shall give salvation? this does not imply, that he was looking either to the right hand or to the left, or that he turned away his eyes from God in search of another deliverer; he intends only to express the ardor of his desire, as if he had said, When will the time at length come when God will display his salvation, and make it fully manifest.

The word “Israel” refers primarily to the Hebrew people, and then it is used generally to denote the people of God. And this will eventually take place in the advent of Christ (Isa. 59:20; Rom. 11:26; Jer. 14:8).  Hengstenberg, the great German conservative commentator, wrote:

The wish here expressed found its highest fulfilment in Christ; and in this case also the highest stage thereof is reserved for the future, when the triumphant Church shall take the place of the militant. Till then, we shall have occasion enough to make the wish of the pious Psalmist our own.

So, while there was immediate application of this to David, this is being fulfilled by Christ and shall ultimately be fulfilled when Christ destroys all His and our enemies. But it is the prayer of God’s people today.  And it is a prayer that God would save. That He deliver men everywhere from their corruption and that He would deliver us from the effects of the corruption of others. And there is the vitally important truth that only God is able to do it. That is the bedrock of the prayer.

This means that the world cannot be renewed by philosophy.  Nor can we have be changed in our hearts and nature by education. The fault is in the heart, not the head; it is moral, not intellectual. And it cannot take place by any institution, even the church. No change of external relations will bring true deliverance. Politics, commerce, manners, whatever springs from man, is itself imperfect and tainted; and to attempt to make a perfect man by human institutions is like a man attempting to clean his face with a dirty duster.

Yet, while we say that it is not in any many, there are still those who think that it is within them.  They just need to reach inwardly to find some innate virtue.  Goethe said: “At last man will be healed, for human nature has the power to recover from its wounds by means of a certain inward power.” This is not true: there is no such power, no restorative principle in human nature.

Where then is this hope? The hope of the world is in Christ. And this will one day come when Christ dwell in Zion, but it is now coming through the Gospel that His church preaches. Out of Zion comes the Deliverer.  And the joy that He brings to the soul that has come to know this deliverance is real. There shall joy everywhere when Christ breaks the tyranny of sin, and gives to the world the freedom and pleasures of righteousness! But that joy may be yours today.

The Seven Blessings that Flow From Justification

In Romans 5:1-11, Paul outlines the consequent blessing of being justified by faith alone. What blessings does justification bring with it? I intend to list those things which are now ours to enjoy. “In the first eleven verses we have the blessed results of justification by faith, along with the most comprehensive statement in the Bible of the pure love and grace of God, in giving Christ for us sinners” (Newell).

The first result of our having been justified is that we have peace (v. 1). This is a continual fact. While the justification took place and is complete, this peace is continuous, because the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ avails.  It must be noted that this is peace with God (i.e., reconciliation), not just a subjective feeling of tranquility that is the peace of God (Phil. 4:7). Paul had been speaking of God’s wrath being poured out on sinners (Rom. 1:18). Those who stand justified need not fear God’s wrath since Jesus Christ has made peace between them and God by His death (cf. Col. 1:20; Eph. 2:14). “Not contentment, satisfaction, quiet; but the state of reconciliation as opposed to enmity (5:10)” (Vincent).  This is with or toward God. “The whole previous argument shews that His reconciliation to us, not ours to Him, is the main point; in other words, the justice of forgiveness on God’s part, not the yielding of the will on man’s part, which latter, though an all-important thing, is not directly in view now” (Moule). This peace is through Jesus Christ. “The sacred Propitiation, provided and accepted by the loving and righteous Father” (Moule).  Moo states: It is well known that Romans lacks any extended christological discussion per se, but Paul’s repeated insistence in these chapters [5-8] that all the believer experiences of God’s blessings comes only through Christ develops a very significant christological focus in its own right. Christology, we might say, is not the topic of any part of Romans 5-8, but it is the basis for everything in these chapters.”

The second blessing that flows from justification is access (v. 2).  “This peace carries with it free access to God; the former rebels are not merely forgiven in the sense that their due punishment has been remitted, but they are brought into a place of high favor with God-‘this grace wherein we stand’” (F.F. Bruce). The meaning of the word “access” carries with it the idea of introduction. Christ gives us an entrance to the Father. As before, this is through Christ. From this we can say that a “Christ-less” religion is a vain religion.  We continue to stand in this position of sphere of favor, possessing a continual relationship to God through Christ’s saving work.

The third blessing that we possess from justification is that we may rejoice in the hope of glory (v. 2). In the NT, this word used elsewhere for “boasting.” “The Christian has his boasting, but it is not based upon his own merits. It is a joyful and triumphant confidence in the future, not only felt, but expressed” (Ellicott). Godet defines this as “the blessed conviction and energetic (but humble, 1Cor. 1:31) profession of assurance in God.” This hope is not a wish, but as Barclay notes, “The Christian hope is not simply a trembling, hesitant hope that perhaps the promises of God may be true.  It is the confident expectation that they cannot be anything else than true.” And this confident expectation is the glory of God, or the glory that we will experience when we stand in the Lord’s presence. Barnes rightly states, “The word ‘glory’ usually means splendor, magnificence, honor; and the apostle here refers to that honor and dignity which will be conferred on the redeemed when they are raised up to the full honors of redemption; when they shall triumph in the completion of the work: and be freed from sin, and pain, and tears, and permitted to participate in the full splendors that shall encompass the throne of God in the heavens.”

The fourth blessing that flows from our justification is joy in sufferings (v. 3). Robertson observes: “it is one thing to submit to or endure tribulations without complaint, but it is another to find ground of glorying in the midst of them.”  What ground can we have as Christians. The Christian can rejoice in such trials because the Christian is assured that such troubles endured with the proper attitude always work for one’s best interest.  We know that they are not sent by our heavenly Father to punish us judicially, but He permits them to make us more like His Son. Wiersbe comments on the word ‘tribulation’:  “Our English word ‘tribulation’ comes from a Latin word tribulum. In Paul’s day, a tribulum was a heavy piece of timber with spikes in it, used for threshing the grain. The tribulum was drawn over the grain and it separated the wheat from the chaff.” We can rejoice in the midst of these sifting times because we know that God will use them for our good (Romans 8:28), specifically “He uses them to produce steadfast endurance and proven character in those who relate to their sufferings properly (cf. Job 23:10; James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12)” (Constable). Verses 4-8 give further reasons for our ability to rejoice in suffering as justified sinners; and Paul will return to this same theme in chapter 8.

The fifth blessing that flows from our justification is that we receive the Holy Spirit (v. 5). The witness of the Spirit to God’s love toward us in Christ gives us a confidence that our hope is not a figment of our imagination. “The confidence we have for the day of judgment is not based only on our intellectual recognition of the fact of God’s love, or even only on the demonstration of God’s love on the cross (although that is important; cf. Rom. 5:6-8), but also on the inner, subjective certainty that God does love us” (Moo).  Chalmers has rightly observed: “The hope of the fourth verse [and fifth] is distinct from and posterior to the hope of the second; and it also appears to be derived from another source. The first hope is hope in believing, a hope which hangs direct on the testimony of God. . . . The second hope is grounded on distinct considerations — not upon what the believer sees to be in the testimony of God, but upon what he finds to be in himself. — It is the fruit not of faith, but of experience; and is gathered not from the word that is without, but from the feeling of what passes within.”

This is due to the Spirit of God shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts. Phillipi makes this wonderful and accurate statement: “The love of God does not descend upon us as dew in drops, but as a stream which spreads itself abroad through the whole soul, filling it with the consciousness of his presence and favor. And this inward persuasion that we are the objects of the love of God, is not the mere result of the examination of evidence, nor is it a vain delusion, but it is produced by the Holy Ghost.”

The sixth blessing that flows from justification is salvation from wrath (vv. 9, 10). What Paul next described is a benefit that justified sinners will experience in the future, namely, deliverance from the outpouring of God’s wrath on the unrighteous (cf. Rom. 1:18), which is the main theme of Paul’s epistle.

This is on the basis of Jesus’ blood. As Beza states, “This name of blood, calleth us back to the figure of the old sacrifices; the truth and substance of which sacrifice is in Christ.” John Murray expands on this: “In connection with redemption from the guilt of sin the blood of Christ as substitutionary ransom and as the ransom price of our release is brought distinctly into view. The ransom utterances of our Lord (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45) show beyond question that he interpreted the purpose of his coming into the world in terms of substitutionary ransom and that this ransom was nothing less than the giving of his life. And, in the usage of the New Testament, the giving of his life is the same as the shedding of his blood. Redemption, therefore, in our Lord’s view consisted in substitutionary blood-shedding or blood-shedding in the room and stead of many with the end in view of thereby purchasing to himself the many on whose behalf he gave his life a ransom. It is this same notion that is reproduced in the apostolic teaching. Although the terminology is not precisely that of redemption, we cannot mistake the redemptive import of Paul’s statement in his charge to the elders of Ephesus when he refers ‘to the church of God, which he hath purchased through his own blood’ (Acts 20:28).”

In other words, we may say that Jesus Christ’s blood is the symbol of His death and the literal expression of His life poured out as a vicarious sacrifice to appease God’s wrath and thus redeem us (cf. Rom. 3:25). Hodge comments: “He will not leave his work unfinished; whom he justifies, them he also glorifies. The word wrath, of course, means the effects of wrath or punishment, those sufferings with which the divine displeasure visits sin; Matt. 3:7; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rom. 1:18. Not only is our justification to be ascribed to Christ, but our salvation is through him. Salvation, in a general sense, includes justification; but when distinguished from it, as in this case, it means the consummation of that work of which justification is the commencement. It is a preservation from all the causes of destruction; a deliverance from the evils which surround us here, or threaten us hereafter; and an introduction into the blessedness of heaven. Christ thus saves us by his providence and Spirit, and by his constant intercession.”

The seventh and last blessing of justification, at least that Paul addresses here, is the present state of reconciliation with God; we joy in God (v. 11). It is not merely that we are reconciled to God, but we are presently rejoicing with a confidence that God loves us and that His favor is upon us in Christ. Burkitt’s comments here are appropriate and deserve our meditation: “That our rejoicing, as to reconciliation with God, depends upon our believing; it is none, if our faith be none; little, if our faith be little; great, if our faith be great. No man can rejoice in an unknown good; let us therefore give all diligence to clear up to ourselves our interest in this atonement: Christ thought it worth his blood to purchase it; surely then it is worth our pains to clear it, in order to our rejoicing in it. He that seeks not reconciliation with God, is an enemy to his soul; and he that rejoices not in that reconciliation, is an enemy to his own comfort.”

Conclusion: In this section Paul identified the following benefits of justification by faith. We may summarize them: 1. Past justification (5:1); 2.    Peace with God (5:1); 3. Access into God’s grace (having been under God’s wrath, 5:2); 4. Joy in tribulation (5:3-5 a); 5. The indwelling Holy Spirit (5:5 b); 6. Deliverance from future condemnation (5:9-10); and 7. Present reconciliation with God (5:11). This section of the argument of the book should help any reader realize that justification by faith is a blessed method. It is the doorway to manifold blessings that obedience to the Law could never guarantee. “Totally apart from Law, and purely by grace, we have a salvation that takes care of the past, the present, and the future. Christ died for us; Christ lives for us; Christ is coming for us! Hallelujah, what a Savior!” (Wiersbe).

The practical implication of this is that we may believe God in all circumstances, hope in God in all circumstances, and rejoice in the love of  God in all circumstances. When the Christian loses sight of the free justification that he or she has received by faith alone, these things wane. Continual gazing upon Christ will keep these three things operating on the soul! So, let us ever be looking to Him.

John Owen on the Significance of Christ’s Blood

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First, It is not only that material blood which he shed, absolutely considered, that is here and elsewhere called “the blood of Christ,” when the work of our redemption is ascribed unto it, that is intended; but there is a double consideration of it, with respect unto its efficacy unto this end:

1. That it was the pledge and the sign of ail the internal obedience and sufferings of the soul of Christ, of his person. “He became obedient unto death, the death of the cross,” whereon his blood was shed. This was the great instance of his obedience and of his sufferings, whereby he made reconciliation and atonement for sin. Hence the effects of all his sufferings, and of all obedience in his sufferings, are ascribed unto his blood.

2. Respect is had unto the sacrifice and offering of blood under the law. The reason why God gave the people the blood to make atonement on the altar, was because “the life of the flesh was in it,” Lev.xvii. 11,14. So was the life of Christ in his blood, by the shedding thereof he laid it down. And by his death it is, as he was the Son of God, that we are redeemed. Herein he made his soul an offering for sin, Isa. liii. 10.

Wherefore this expression, “the blood of Christ,” in order unto our redemption, or the expiation of sin, is comprehensive of all that he did and suffered for those ends, inasmuch as the shedding of it was the way and means whereby he offered it, or himself (in and by it), unto God.