Sinclair Ferguson on Grace

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson was recently interviewed by the editors at Reformation Trust on the release of his new book titled By Grace Alone. These are some excerpts from that interview…

There are many reasons, but usually they involve three things. First, we have such a low sense of the holiness of God and we are insensitive to the sheer intensity of it. To whatever extent our sense of God’s holiness is diminished, to that extent our sense of amazement at God’s grace will be diminished. Second, we adopt superficial views of our sinfulness and too often guard against the ministry of the Word and Spirit exposing it. Jesus said that it is those who are much forgiven who love much. The reason is that those who are most conscious of their sin become most conscious of their need of grace, and therefore most aware of the wonders of grace. Third, we think too little of the costliness of grace. It comes freely to us because it was so expensive to Christ to satisfy the justice of God on our behalf. Sadly, in our contemporary “Christianesque” subculture, we are weak in reflection and meditation on Christ and the meaning of the cross.

—Sinclair Ferguson

Only sinners need grace. If I do not see myself as a sinner then I will (however foolishly) expect “fairness” from God. If I believe I have behaved “decently” toward Him (after all, I never did Him any harm!), I will expect Him to behave “decently” toward me. That is probably the world’s most popular creed. But it is not the Christian’s creed, nor is it the gospel. Only when I see my sin do I seek grace from God. That is true at the beginning of the Christian life. It remains true right to the end.

—Sinclair Ferguson

It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misusing this language) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as John Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself. Grasping that thought can make a significant difference to a Christian’s life. So while some people might think this is just splitting hairs about different ways of saying the same thing, it can make a vital difference. It is not a thing that was crucified to give us a thing called grace. It was the person of the Lord Jesus that was crucified in order that He might give Himself to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

—Sinclair Ferguson

Via: Ligonier Ministries Blog

C.S. Lewis on Reading Old Books

Dr. Ligon Duncan read this extended quote from C.S. Lewis during his presentation on the Church Fathers this past week at Together for the Gospel.

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul – or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why-the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed “at” some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook-even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united-united with each other and against earlier and later ages-by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century-the blindness about which posterity will ask, ” But how could they have thought that?”-lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

—C.S. Lewis
Introduction to The Incarnation of The Word of God by Athanasius

Read old books and keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through your mind.

Speaking of Justification and Imputation…

I discovered the following quote by John Owen while spending some time tonight reading about justification and imputation. Dr. Owen made the following statement regarding the doctrine of justification in a chapter titled “Imputation, and the Nature of It.”

yet is it so fallen out in our days that nothing in religion is more maligned, more reproached, more despised, than the imputation of righteousness unto us, or an imputed righteousness.

—John Owen
The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated

While that quote is very applicable to the times in which we live, it is actually from a book published in 1677. Here is a photo of that text from the Google Books edition of Volume 5 from the Complete Works of John Owen.

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith - John Owen

The notion that there is enough inherent goodness and righteousness in man to please God sounds very appealing to a pragmatic culture like ours – but it is not biblical. When people try to take credit, even partial credit, for the grounds of their salvation, they rob Christ of His glory and diminish His perfectly obedient life and atoning sacrificial death.

These were the closing remarks from John Piper’s presentation at T4G 2010 and they merit repeating:

Give Christ all his glory in the work of salvation, not just half of it. Half is the work of pardoning sin by becoming our wrath-absorbing punishment. But the other half is the work of providing our perfection by fulfilling everything that God required of us, and then imputing it to us.

Don’t rob the Lord of half his glory in bringing you to God. Christ is our pardon. Christ is our perfection. Therefore, knowing that Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel, let’s join Paul from the heart in saying:

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

—Philippians 3:8-9

We can sing with the great hymn write Edward Mote, who in 1834 wrote the following words:

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Amen. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

What is the Gospel?

I really enjoyed the Together for the Gospel conference this week and was greatly encouraged by all the speakers. Today I’ve been thinking about my role and purpose in Christ’s kingdom and how to take what I learned at this conference and put it into action. The theme of this year’s conference was “The (Unadjusted) Gospel” and while reflecting on the messages it occured to me that there is so much manipulation and distortion of the true Gospel message that perhaps a clear biblical explanation of “the Gospel” is in order.

This three minute audio clip from Dr. R.C. Sproul contains one of the best explanations of the Gospel that I have found.

Here is a transcript of that recording:

There is no greater message to be heard than that which we call the Gospel. But as important as that is, it is often given to massive distortions or over simplifications. People think they’re preaching the Gospel to you when they tell you, “you can have a purpose to your life”, or that “you can have meaning to your life”, or that “you can have a personal relationship with Jesus”. All of those things are true, and they’re all important, but they don’t get to the heart of the Gospel.

The Gospel is called the “good news” because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness – or lack of it – or the righteousness of another. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.

The great misconception in our day is this: that God isn’t concerned to protect His own integrity. He’s a kind of wishy-washy deity, who just waves a wand of forgiveness over everybody. No. For God to forgive you is a very costly matter. It cost the sacrifice of His own Son. So valuable was that sacrifice that God pronounced it valuable by raising Him from the dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification. So the Gospel is something objective. It is the message of who Jesus is and what He did. And it also has a subjective dimension. How are the benefits of Jesus subjectively appropriated to us? How do I get it? The Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith – and by faith alone. The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him – and in Him alone. You do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.

— Dr. R.C. Sproul
Ligonier Ministries

I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with the closing line from Dr. Sproul’s message at T4G 2008: “If you believe that, you will stop adding to the Gospel and start preaching it with clarity and boldness, because, dear friends, it is the only hope we have, and it is hope enough.”

Audio: R.C. Sproul at T4G 2010

As far as I know the audio version of Dr. Sproul’s presentation at Together for the Gospel 2010 is not yet available for download. However, I took a few moments this morning to extract the audio layer from the video presentation and want to make it available.

The title of the message is “The Defense and Confirmation of the Gospel — What I Have Learned in 50 years.” It’s about an hour long but is definitely worth the investment of time.

Risen Indeed

I love the internet. After bouncing from site to site following a series of hyperlinks I stumbled upon this beautiful Easter hymn written and performed by Andrew Peterson, one of my favorite artists. If you have a few minutes to spare do yourself a favor and listen to this recording of Andrew performing this song live.

As with most songs written by Andrew Peterson, the beautiful melody and lyrics combine to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is indeed a “feast for the soul” and poetic expression of praise at its finest.

And so the winter dies with a blast of icy wind
Like a mournful cry—it’s giving up the ghost again
Another sheet of snow melts away to gold and green
Just look at Peter go, he’s racing to the tomb to see

Where has my Jesus gone?
He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed

And now the flowers bloom like a song of freedom
Behold the earth is new, if only for the season
And so the seed that died for you becomes a seedling
Just put your hand into the wound that bought your healing

And let your heart believe
He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed

And the rain will fall on the furrow
It immerses the earth in sorrow
Mary, the sun will rise again
Mary, the sun will rise again
Daughter, listen, listen
Daughter, listen
He speaks your name

Father Abraham could not have dreamed of this
Could never understand the end of all those promises
How all the pieces fit, every star and grain of sand
Is safely hid in Jesus’ hand

Let every tongue confess
He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed

Mary, the sun will rise again
Daughter, listen, listen
Daughter, listen, he speaks your name.

—Andrew Peterson
Risen Indeed

Let every tongue confess “He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed!”

Via: The Rabbit Room

A Habitual Sight of Christ

While doing some research on Thomas Goodwin this morning I ran across this wonderful quote on Tony Reinke’s website and wanted to present it here.

The Indwelling of Christ by faith…is to have Jesus Christ continually in one’s eye, a habitual sight of Him. I call it so because a man actually does not always think of Christ; but as a man does not look up to the sun continually, yet he sees the light of it…. So you should carry along and bear along in your eye the sight and knowledge of Christ, so that at least a presence of Him accompanies you, which faith makes.

—Thomas Goodwin
The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Volume 2

Tony has also posted a thorough review of the twelve volume Complete Works of Thomas Goodwin along with a nice introduction to this gifted puritan theologian.

Via: Tony Reinke

How May I Know That I Am Elect

How may I know I’m elect? First, by the Word of God having come in divine power to the soul so that my self-complacency is shattered and my self-righteousness is renounced. Second, by the Holy Spirit convicting me of my woeful, guilty, and lost condition. Third, by having had revealed to me the suitability and sufficiency of Christ to meet my desperate case and by a divinely given faith causing me to lay hold of and rest upon Him as my only hope. Fourth, by the marks of the new nature within me – a love for God; an appetite for spiritual things; a longing for holiness; a seeking after conformity to Christ. Fifth, by the resistance which the new nature makes to the old, causing me to hate sin and loathe myself for it. Sixth, by avoiding everything which is condemned by God’s Word and by sincerely repenting of and humbly confessing every transgression. Failure at this point will surely bring a dark cloud over our assurance causing the Spirit to withhold His witness. Seventh, by giving all diligence to cultivate the Christian graces and using all diligence to this end. Thus the knowledge of election is cumulative.

—A.W. Pink
The Doctrines of Election and Justification

This is a theologically rich statement that bears closer examination – there is much to be gained that could be lost by just a cursory reading of the text. How may I know that I am elect?

  1. By the Word of God having come in divine power to the soul so that my self-complacency is shattered and my self-righteousness is renounced.
  2. By the Holy Spirit convicting me of my woeful, guilty, and lost condition.
  3. By having had revealed to me the suitability and sufficiency of Christ to meet my desperate case and by a divinely given faith causing me to lay hold of and rest upon Him as my only hope.
  4. By the marks of the new nature within me – a love for God; an appetite for spiritual things; a longing for holiness; a seeking after conformity to Christ.
  5. By the resistance which the new nature makes to the old, causing me to hate sin and loathe myself for it.
  6. By avoiding everything which is condemned by God’s Word and by sincerely repenting of and humbly confessing every transgression. Failure at this point will surely bring a dark cloud over our assurance causing the Spirit to withhold His witness.
  7. By giving all diligence to cultivate the Christian graces and using all diligence to this end.

In closing, it is helpful to remember the last statement in the quote: “Thus the knowledge of election is cumulative.” There is no one step program or method. We should ponder these words and give thanks that our election and salvation are a gracious gift, and that our final assurance of salvation rests not in our own weak power, but in the power of the triune God.

Via: Reformation Theology

The Risen Lamb

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

—Charitie Lees Smith
Before the Throne of God Above