John Newton, Forty-One Letters on Religious Subjects, Letter VII, “On the Propriety of a Ministerial Address to the Unconverted.”

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We should undoubtedly endeavour to maintain a consistency in our preaching; but unless we keep the plan and manner of the Scripture constantly in view, and attend to every part of it, a design of consistency may fetter our sentiments, and greatly preclude our usefulness. We need not wish to be more consistent than the inspired writers, nor be afraid of speaking as they have spoken before us.

Aquinas on Angels

December 27th, 2006

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Treatise on the Angels, Question 63 ‘The Malice of the Angels with Regard to Sin”

An angel or any other rational creature considered in his own nature, can sin; and to whatever creature it belongs not to sin, such creature has it as a gift of grace, and not from the condition of nature. The reason of this is, because sinning is nothing else than a deviation from that rectitude which an act ought to have; whether we speak of sin in nature, art, or morals. That act alone, the rule of which is the very virtue of the agent, can never fall short of rectitude. Were the craftsman’s hand the rule itself engraving, he could not engrave the wood otherwise than rightly; but if the rightness of engraving be judged by another rule, then the engraving may be right or faulty. Now the Divine will is the sole rule of God’s act, because it is not referred to any higher end. But every created will has rectitude of act so far only as it is regulated according to the Divine will, to which the last end is to be referred: as every desire of a subordinate ought to be regulated by the will of his superior; for instance, the soldier’s will, according to the will of his commanding officer. Thus only in the Divine will can there be no sin; whereas there can be sin in the will of every creature; considering the condition of its nature. (…)

Sin can exist in a subject in two ways: first of all by actual guilt, and secondly by affection. As to guilt, all sins are in the demons; since by leading men to sin they incur the guilt of all sins. But as to affection only those sins can be in the demons which can belong to a spiritual nature. Now a spiritual nature cannot be affected by such pleasures as appertain to bodies, but only by such as are in keeping with spiritual things; because nothing is affected except with regard to something which is in some way suited to its nature. But there can be no sin when anyone is incited to good of the spiritual order; unless in such affection the rule of the superior be not kept. Such is precisely the sin of pride — not to be subject to a superior when subjection is due. Consequently the first sin of the angel can be none other than pride.

Yet, as a consequence, it was possible for envy also to be in them, since for the appetite to tend to the desire of something involves on its part resistance to anything contrary. Now the envious man repines over the good possessed by another, inasmuch as he deems his neighbor’s good to be a hindrance to his own. But another’s good could not be deemed a hindrance to the good coveted by the wicked angel, except inasmuch as he coveted a singular excellence, which would cease to be singular because of the excellence of some other. So, after the sin of pride, there followed the evil of envy in the sinning angel, whereby he grieved over man’s good, and also over the Divine excellence, according as against the devil’s will God makes use of man for the Divine glory.

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The Value of Justification

December 24th, 2006

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.16.4

Our doctrine is, that justification is a thing of such value, that it cannot be put into the balance with any good quality of ours; and, therefore, could never be obtained unless it were gratuitous: moreover, that it is gratuitous to us, but not also to Christ, who paid so dearly for it; namely his own most sacred blood, out of which there was no price of sufficient value to pay what was due to the justice of God. When men are thus taught they are reminded that it is owing to no merit of theirs that the shedding of that most sacred blood is not repeated every time they sin. Moreover, we say that our pollution is so great, that it can never be washed away save in the fountain of his pure blood. Must not those who are thus addressed conceive a greater horror of sin than if it were said to be wiped off by a sprinkling of good works? If they have any reverence for God, how can they, after being once purified, avoid shuddering at the thought of again wallowing in the mire, and as much as in them lies troubling and polluting the purity of this fountain? “I have washed my feet,” (says the believing soul in the Song of Solomon, 5:3,) “how shall I defile them?” It is now plain which of the two makes the forgiveness of sins of less value, and derogates from the dignity of justification. They pretend that God is appeased by their frivolous satisfactions; in other words, by mere dross. We maintain that the guilt of sin is too heinous to be so frivolously expiated; that the offense is too grave to be forgiven to such valueless satisfactions; and, therefore, that forgiveness is the prerogative of Christ’s blood alone. They say that righteousness, wherever it is defective, is renewed and repaired by works of satisfaction. We think it too precious to be balanced by any compensation of works, and, therefore, in order to restore it, recourse must be had solely to the mercy of God.

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The Sovereignty of Mercy

December 22nd, 2006

C.H. Dodd, The Epistle to the Romans, Comments on Romans 9:6-16

The position which is being attacked in the first part of the sermon is that God was bound, by His promise to Abraham, to save Israel as a corporate whole, whatever the attitude and behaviour of individual Israelites might be. As we have seen (notes on ii.), this position was actually held, and in fact appears to have been orthodox doctrine, though it was not unquestioned. Paul replies by insisting that full weight must be given to the doctrine of divine sovereignty which he shared with his Pharisaic opponents. On the ground of this doctrine, it must be admitted that no no one has any claim upon God as of right. His mercy is a free self-determination of His sovereign will. His promise to bless ‘Israel,’ His chosen people, certainly holds good; but it is for Him to decide with absolute freedom who shall constitute that chosen people. If He chooses to reject the Jews and to elect Gentiles, then the true ‘Israel’ is composed of those whom He elects. That such might indeed be His plan was actually declared by the prophets. Therefore, even if the entire Israelite nation is rejected, the promise has not been broken. It has been fulfilled by God in His own way; and the rightness of tha way is something which no man dare challenge. The argument starts from the assumption that the Jewish nation, representing historic Israel, has forfeited its ‘inheritance’ of the blessings promised to Abraham. The Jewish objector argues that this is as much as to say that God’s word had failed, which, he implies, is absurd; therefore the premiss from which it is deduced is false; quod erat demonstrandum. Paul denies the inference. The term ‘Israel,’ as used in the terms of covenant, does not mean everyone who belongs to the historic nation of Israel; and the term ‘children of Abraham’ does not mean all who are physically descended from Abraham (see iv.11-17). Every Jew admitted this: Ishmael was a child of Abraham, but no Jew believed that the Arabs, his descendants, were within the covenant. The Scripture said, It is through Isaac that your offspring shall be reckoned. And why? Because, says Paul, the birth of Isaac was not a matter of ordinary physical generation: it was supernatural, the result of a promise of God, accepted by the faith of Abraham (see iv.18-22). Very well then, from the beginning there were ‘children of Abraham’ who were outside the promise, yet that does not mean that God’s word had failed. The present situation is only the same thing on a larger scale. ‘But,’ the Jew will argue, ‘this is beside the point. The choice of Isaac was involved in the original promise; any further selection, such as you postulate at the present time, is not on the same footing. Moreover, we are descendants of Isaac, not of Ishmael, and therefore we are children of the promise.’ Paul rejoins: ‘So are the hated Edomites, of the descendants of Esau. Esau and Jacob were both sons of Isaac. They were actually twins, born under exactly the same conditions. Yet the one was rejected, the other chosen; and this choice took place before their birth, to confirm the divine purpose in election, which depends on the call of God, not on anything a man does.’ (This contrast between the divine call and human action is really necessary to the argment; but Paul cannot get away from his favourite antithesis of faith and works; his point is simply that the divine freedom of choice is limited by nothing in the world or out of it.) Thus, if descent from Abraham gives a title to the ‘inheritance,’ Jew and Edomite are on the same footing. No Jew could admit this. It follows that the status of the Jew rests upon nothing but a free determination of the divine will, and he cannot complain if, by a similar determination, God rejects the descendants of Jacob as He rejected the descendants of Esau. In neither case has God’s word failed. The first objection, therefore, is disposed of. Paul’s position does not imply that the divine purpose has failed. But now a further difficulty arises. If this is how the divine purpose works, must we not say that it was unjust, either in itself or in its method? The question was raised in iii.5. The only answer there given was that the Judge of all the earth must do right, which is logically no answer at all. Not is there a direct answer here. In effect Paul says: ‘It is not a question of justice, for justice would imply an inherent right of the creature over against his Creator. It is a question of the mercy of God upon those who in justice have merited, and can merit nothing at all. The mercy of God, as Scripture declares, is determined by nothing beyond itself; I will have mercy on whom I choose to have mercy.’ This is, indeed, the quality of mercy. If it counts desert, it is not mercy. But there can, in the nature of things, be no desert on man’s part before God. The ‘prevenient grace’ of God is a necessary condition of any salutary activity of man. The mercy of God is an original act of His creative will.

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Unfortunately, Dodd cannot maintain this level of clarity and shortly after these comments says some insane things. Yet this section is truly excellent: and indeed, we must all learn that It is not a question of justice, for justice would imply an inherent right of the creature over against his Creator. Even under the terms of the Covenant of Works, it is quite true to say that the Covenant framework was only established through God’s voluntary condescension

Sanctification Is Also By Grace

December 18th, 2006

Walter Marshall The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Direction IX, Subpoint 3

The usual method of gospel doctrine, as it is delivered to us in the Holy Scriptures, is first, to comfort our hearts, and in this way to establish us in every good word and work (2 Thess. 2:17). And it appears how clearly this method is adjusted in several Epistles written by the apostles, in which they first acquaint the churches with the rich grace of God towards them in Christ, and the spiritual blessings which they are made partakers of for their strong consolation, and they exhort them to a holy conversation, answerable to such privileges. And it is not only the method of whole Epistles, but of many particular exhortations to duty, in which the comfortable benefits of the grace of God in Christ are made use of as arguments and motives to stir up the saints to a holy practice; which comfortable benefits must first be believed, and the comfort of them applied to our own souls, or else they will not be forcible to engage us to the practice for which they are intended.

To give you a few instances, out of a multitude that might be alleged, we are exhorted to practice holy duties because we are dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:11); and because sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14); because we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and God will quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit dwelling in us (Rom. 8:9, 11); because our bodies are the members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 6:15, 19); because God has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21); and has promised that He will dwell in us, and walk in us, and be to us a Father, and we shall be to Him sons and daughters (2 Cor. 6:18; 7:1); because God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake, and accounts us His dear children; and Christ has loved us, and given Himself for us; and we, that were sometimes darkness, are now light in the Lord (Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 2, 8 ); because we are risen with Christ and, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1, 4); because God has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5); because of the many promises made to us (2 Cor. 7:1). Search the Scriptures, and you may with delight see that this is the vein that runs through gospel exhortations, and you may find the like vein of comfort running through the prophetical exhortations in the Old Testament.

Some may object that the apostles used this method, in their writings to saints, who had practiced holiness already, that so they might continue and increase therein. But to that I may easily reply, ‘If it be a method needful for grown saints, much more for beginners, that find the work of obedience most difficult and have most need of strong consolation.’ And I hope to show how we may be able to lay hold of these consolations by faith, in the very first beginning of a holy life. Besides, the gospel proposes peace and comfort freely to those that are not yet brought to holiness that, if they have hearts to receive it, they may be converted from sin to righteousness. When the apostles entered into a house they were first to say, ‘Peace be to this house’ (Luke 10:5). At their very first preaching to sinners, they acquainted them with the glad tidings of salvation by Christ, for everyone that would receive it as a free gift by faith (Acts 3:26; 13:26, 32, 38; 16:30, 31). They assured them, if they would but trust heartily on Christ for all His salvation, they should have it, although they were at present the chief of sinners – which was comfort sufficient for all that duly esteem spiritual comfort, hungering and thirsting after it. And this is a method agreeable to the design of the gospel, which is, to advance the riches of the grace of God in all our spiritual enjoyments. God will give us His consolations before our good works, as well as after them, that we may know that He gives us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, and not through the procurement of our works (2 Thess. 2:16).

This excellent book

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A Moravian View of Justification

December 14th, 2006

This is a bit of a sermon by Peter Bohler, that John Wesley quotes in his journal: I believe it’s volume 1.

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The word of reconciliation which the Apostles preached, as the foundation of all they taught, was, that we are reconciled to God, not by our own works, nor by our own righteousness, but wholly and solely by the blood of Christ.

But you will say, ‘Must I not grieve and mourn for my sins? Must I not humble myself before God? Is not this just and right? And must I not first do this, before I can expect God to be reconciled to me?’ I answer, It is just and right. You must be humbled before God. You must have a broken and contrite heart. But then observe, this is not your own work. Do you grieve that you are a sinner? This is the work of the Holy Ghost. Are you contrite? Are you humbled before God? Do you indeed mourn, and is your heart broken within you? All this worketh the self-same Spirit.

Observe again, this is not the foundation. It is not this by which you are justified. This is not the righteousness, this is no part of the righteousness, by which you are reconciled unto God. You grieve for your sins. You are deeply humble. Your heart is broken. Well; but all this is nothing to your justification. The remission of your sins is not owing to this cause, either in whole or in part. Your humiliation and contrition have no influence on that. Nay, observe farther, that it may hinder your justification; that is, if you build any thing upon it; if you think, ‘I must be so or so contrite. I must grieve more, before I can be justified.’ Understand this well. To think you must be more contrite, more humble, more grieved, more sensible of the weight of sin, before you can be justified, is to lay your contrition, your grief, your humiliation, for the foundation of your being justified; at least, for a part of the foundation. Therefore it hinders our justification; and a hindrance it is which must be removed before you can lay the right foundation. The right foundation is, not your contrition, (though that is not your own,) not your righteousness; nothing of your own; nothing that is wrought in you by the Holy Ghost; but it is something without you, viz., the righteousness and the blood of Christ.

For this is the word, ‘To him that believeth on God that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ See ye not, that the foundation is nothing in us? There is no connection between God and the ungodly. There is no tie to unite them. They are altogether separate from each other. They have nothing in common. There is nothing less or more in the ungodly, to join them to God. Works, righteousness, contrition? No; ungodliness only. This then do, if you will lay a right foundation. Go straight to Christ with all your ungodliness. Tell him, ‘Thou, whose eyes are as a flame of fire searching my heart, seest that I am unholy. I plead nothing else. I do not say, I am humble or contrite; but I am ungodly. Therefore bring me to Him that justifieth the ungodly. Let thy blood be the propitiation for me. For there is nothing in me but ungodliness.’

Here is a mystery. Here the wise men of the world are lost, are taken in their own craftiness. This the learned of the world cannot comprehend. It is foolishness unto them: Sin is the only thing which divides men from God. Sin (let him that heareth understand) is the only thing which unites them to God; that is, the only thing which moves the Lamb of God to have compassion upon, and, by his blood, to give them access to the Father.

This is the ‘word of reconciliation’ which we preach. This is the foundation which never can he moved. By faith we are built upon this foundation; and this faith also is the gift of God. It is his free gift, which He now and ever giveth to every one that is willing to receive it. And when they have received this gift of God, then their hearts will melt for sorrow that they have offended Him. But this gift of God lives in the heart, not in the head. The faith of the head, learned from men or books, is nothing worth. It brings neither remission of sins, nor peace with God. Labor then to believe with your whole heart. So shall you have redemption through the blood of Christ. So shall you be cleansed from all sin. So shall ye go on from strength to strength being renewed day by day in righteousness and all true holiness.”

Which is rather nice.

Give Us Repentance

December 10th, 2006

John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Amos, Prayer at the close of Lecture Fifty-Six

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Grant, Almighty God, that since by thy word thou kindly invitest us to thyself, we may not turn deaf ears to thee, but anticipate thy rod and scourges; and that when, for the stupidity and thoughtlessness by which we have become inebriated, thou addest those punishments by which thou sharply urgest us to repent, — O grant, that we may not continue wholly intractable, but at length turn our hearts to thy service and submit ourselves to the yoke of thy word, and that we may be so instructed by the punishments, which thou hast inflicted on us and still inflictest, that we may truly and from the heart turn to thee, and offer ourselves to thee as a sacrifice, that thou mayest govern us according to thy will, and so rule all our affections by thy Spirit, that we may through the whole of our life strive to glorify thy name in Christ Jesus, thy Son our Lord. Amen.

Prophecy & History

December 6th, 2006

Sir George Adam Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, v. 1, p.12

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[The prophet is] but the messenger of God at some crisis in the life or conduct of His people. His message is never out of touch with events. These form either the subject-matter or the proof or the execution of every oracle he utters. It is, therefore, God not merely as Truth, but even more as Providence, whom the prophet reveals. And although that Providence includes the full destiny of Israel and mankind, the prophet brings the news of it, for the most part, piece by piece, with reference to some present sin or duty, or some impending crisis.

B.L. Shelley, “Pelagius, Pelagianism” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology

[Pelagianism] rejects the idea that man’s will has any intrinsic bias in favor of wrongdoing as a result of the fall. Since each soul is created immediately by God, as Pelagius believed, then it cannot come into the world soiled by original sin transmitted from Adam. Before a person begins exercising his will, “there is in him only what God has created.”

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A Lot Depends On You

December 3rd, 2006

Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, Note on Amos 2:9

God’s terrors are mercies to the repentant; God’s mercies are terrors to the impenitent.

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