Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough

Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough

Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
2 Nov, 2017

It was not so much the 95 theses as Luther’s later study of Scripture that fully crystallised his understanding of the gospel of grace. He came to the book of Romans but was stopped in his tracks by the word “righteousness” in chapter one. For Luther this meant God’s justice and judgment. “I meditated night and day on those words” he says, until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context (i.e. verse 17). He seized upon the words: “The just person lives by faith”. I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. As he meditated further, the whole gospel of grace was opened to him and the truth that we are justified by faith alone. Let’s take a closer look at the verse that became Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough.

Luther says. “I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.”

All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light.

“I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g.,the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God”.

I exalted this sweetest word of mine, “the justice of God,” with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise.

Luther had long struggled in vain to keep God’s law perfectly in order to be righteous before God. The idea of God’s perfect righteousness as a standard of justice terrified him. He says it “struck my conscience like lightning,” and “was like a thunderbolt in my heart”. But he came to see that the righteousness of God is also spoken of as a gift revealed in the gospel.

This discovery is often called Luther’s “Tower Experience,” because in one of his “table talks” he mentions that he was studying Romans 1:17 in the heated room (his study) of the tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg when the light broke upon him. The truth of justification by faith alone was a cornerstone of the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel of grace. 

Despite its significance we do not have much that Luther wrote about this verse. This verse is, however, helpfully expounded by John Brown of Wamphray in his comments on the book of Romans. It is not enough that Luther could see the truth of justification by faith alone in this verse, we need to see it for ourselves too. Brown’s comments help to draw out the truth carefully.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe. This is because in that gospel the righteousness by which we must stand before God’s judgment seat is declared and revealed to believers. This is the righteousness that God reveals, no matter whether their faith is strong or weak; it is “from faith to faith”. The righteousness by which we must be justified is applied by sincere faith which is growing from one degree to another.

We are justified (declared righteous before God) by faith and not by works. Scripture affirms that we are just by faith and that we live by faith, therefore we are justified by faith. Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 “The just shall live by faith” or “The just by faith shall live” (it can be read both ways).

 

1. There is No Salvation Without Righteousness

The Lord has made such a connection between righteousness (as the way) and life salvation (as the end) that no one can expect righteousness without salvation. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). The “unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Revelation 21:27).

 

2. Saving Righteousness is Only Revealed in the Gospel

The only righteousness by which we attain to salvation cannot be learned by natural knowledge. However sharp-sighted in other things men may be by nature they cannot reach this. It is a matter that must be revealed in the gospel. It cannot be known except through the gospel because in it “is the righteousness of God revealed”.

 

3. We Cannot Earn this Righteousness

By nature we are inclined to obtain happiness through our own works. But the righteousness by which we must stand before God’s judgment seat (revealed and made known in the gospel) is not a righteousness we can purchase, merit or devise. It is a righteousness provided by the infinitely wise God and a righteousness of one who is God. It is therefore called “the righteousness of God” (Philippians 3:9) and the “righteousness which is of God by faith” (Romans 3:21 and 10:3).

 

4. This Righteousness is Received by Faith Alone

This righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is made ours by faith. It is applied by faith laying hold on Jesus and His righteousness. It is revealed “from faith” or by faith.

 

5. The Weakest Faith Receives this Righteousness

The least degree of faith (as long as it is true and sincere) receives this righteousness of God revealed to us in the gospel. It is “from faith to faith”; that is from the smallest degree and measure of faith to the greatest.

 

6. True Faith Continues to Grow

Although Satan uses many means to make true faith fail and die, it continues to grow from one degree and measure to another.

 

7. Justification by Faith is Essential

It is essential that justification by faith is properly understood. This is a truth opposed and obscured by Satan and those whom he uses. We must all understand it clearly and have it confirmed from the Lord’s Word. This is why Paul adds “it is written”.

 

8. Truth May be Established Indirectly

The law and the testimony of Scripture is the means to distinguish light from darkness. This is so full that we may confirm a truth from a verse where that truth is not directly addressed and is not necessarily the main purpose of the verse. The apostle makes use of a verse from Habakkuk here where the prophet is not primarily speaking about how or in what way people are justified before God. Rather, he is speaking about how the godly are supported and have life from faith even in days of trouble. The inference is justified, however. If the righteous have comfort through waiting on God by faith in a time of trouble it must be by faith that they are brought into life and justified.

If it is read alternatively, “The just by faith shall live”, it shows clearly that it is by faith (i.e. laying hold on Christ’s righteousness and blood) that they are just or justified. Great wrong is done to Scripture if we invalidate such inferences clearly deduced from it.

 

9. Justification is an Old Testament Truth

Although justification by faith is not outlined so fully and clearly in the Old as in the New Testament, it is still an Old Testament truth.  The apostle confirms this doctrine from a verse in the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4).

 

10. Justification is by Faith Alone

Faith is the only way by which sinners are brought from death to life and justification. Faith heartily embraces Jesus Christ for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. We are just and justified by our leaning on Him; for it is by faith that we are just.

 

11. Justification and Eternal Life Cannot be Separated

There is an inseparable connection between justification and eternal life. Thus, all those that are justified by faith in the blood of Christ, have fled to the city of refuge and sheltered themselves under the wings of Christ may be assured. Just as they are now spiritually alive so they will be carried through all difficulties and trials and at last inherit eternal life: for the just by faith shall live.

 

12. Justifying Faith is Living

Faith not only lays hold on Christ’s righteousness to be justified, it also draws strength from Christ as a root to live the life of grace and holiness. The same faith views God as reconciled in Christ, faithful in all His promises and mindful of the good of their souls in all sad circumstances. They have a life of comfort under the saddest circumstances that can befall them (Galatians 3:11; 2:20; Hebrews 10:38): the just shall live by faith.

 

13. Assurance is by Faith

Faith as God’s appointed means for accepting and embracing Christ and His righteousness justifies. By the same faith (not works), they get new confirmations of pardon; for the just (or he that is already justified) lives (in that justified condition) by faith.

FURTHER READING

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Did Luther Reject the Ten Commandments?

Did Luther Reject the Ten Commandments?

Did Luther Reject the Ten Commandments?
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
23 Oct, 2017

It is not uncommon to encounter the idea that Luther discarded the Ten Commandments. The idea is that he emphasised grace so much against works and gospel so much against law that he downplayed the believer’s use of the Ten Commandments. Alternatively it is suggested that he was worried people would return to works righteousness if they were taught the obligation of holy living by the Ten Commandments.

It is a strange idea because the Ten Commandments were a constant feature of Luther’s experience and preaching. He said that “every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc”. He preached on them from 1516 onwards and published A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments in 1518. In the midst of the conflicts raging at this time he says: “each evening I expound to children and ordinary folk the Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer”. He felt that it was necessary to keep these together in order to have a right perspective on the Commandments.

No man can progress so far in sanctification as to keep even one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but that the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our assistance, as we shall hear, through which we must continually seek, pray for, and obtain the power and strength to keep the Commandments

Luther had a high esteem for the Ten Commandments. “They are the true fountain from which all good works must flow”. “Only those things are good works which God has commanded, just as only that is a sin which God has forbidden. Therefore, he who wants to know and do good works need only know God’s Commandments… These Commandments of God must teach us how to distinguish among good works”.

Luther also expounded the Ten Commandments in his Large and Small Catechisms as well as composing a song by which they could be learned. Saving faith must evidence its real character in a changed life. “We must prove ourselves before the world. How? By keeping the other commandments as well: ‘You shall honor your father and mother’ “

The idea that Luther rejected the Ten Commandments is in fact such an old notion that in 1648, Samuel Rutherford went to the extent of translating Luther’s treatise Against the Antinomians from the original German. The following is an updated extract from that book.

Luther’s Use of the Ten Commandments

And truly, I wonder exceedingly how it came to be imputed to me that I should reject the law or Ten Commandments. There are available so many of my own expositions (and those of several sorts) on the Commandments. They are also daily expounded and used in our churches – to say nothing of the Confession and Apology and other books of ours. Add to this the custom we have to sing the Commandments in two different tunes; and also children painting, printing, carving, and rehearsing them both morning, noon, and evening. I know no other way than what we have done except that we do not (alas!) as we ought, really express and delineate them in our lives and conversations. I myself (as old as I am) have it for my custom to recite them daily, as a child, word for word.

If any should have been mistaken about what I had written, he might (seeing how vehemently I urge these catechetical exercises) in reason have been persuaded to call on me and demand these or similar questions. What? Good Doctor Luther, do you press so eagerly the Ten Commandments and yet also  teach that they must be rejected? They ought to have dealt thus with me and not secretly undermine me behind my back, and then wait for my death so they might afterwards make of me what they pleased. Well I forgive them, if they leave these courses.

 

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Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

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Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

How Does Faith Justify?

How Does Faith Justify?

How Does Faith Justify?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
20 Oct, 2017

The Scriptural truth of justification by faith alone is the teaching most closely associated with Martin Luther. It was a radical change from the idea that justification would only take place in the future on the day of judgement. Even more radical was the truth that it was by faith alone and not faith formed by acts of charity that would merit eternal life. Luther saw that Scripture teaches that we are not justified by any work that we do but solely on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ (Romans 3:21; 4:4-5). No wonder he wrote: “One cannot go soft or give way on this article, for then heaven and earth would fall”.

He also wrote that justification is “the most delightful” doctrine. But he added, that there were “few…who have thought it through well and who teach it aright”. About 150 years later it still needed correct teaching and thinking. John Brown of Wamphray wrote The Life of Justification Opened in order to clarify the doctrine against those who were introducing error. This problem remains today. One of the areas that Brown discusses is how faith justifies:

Faith is looking to Christ, as the stung Israelite in the wilderness looked to the brazen serpent (John 3:14,-15). Faith is saying ‘In the Lord have I righteousness’ (Isaiah 45:24). It is the believer putting on the Lord Jesus, that he may be found in Him and clothed with His righteousness (Philippians 3:9). It is receiving Christ (John 1:12) and receiving the atonement in Him and through Him (Romans 5:11) together with abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17). It is therefore called ‘believing on His name’ (John 1:12; 6:29; 7:35; 17:20; Acts 16:31; 19:25). Because faith has laid hold on this righteousness of Christ, this righteousness is called the ‘righteousness of faith’ (Romans 4:11) and the ‘righteousness which is of faith’ (Romans 9:30). It is that, ‘which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith’ (Philippians 3:9). Justifying faith is receiving Christ and His righteousness. It takes the man out of himself so that he may find and partake of that all-sufficient righteousness of Christ. Thus he may stand before God with confidence and expect pardon and acceptance. To say that faith is itself the gospel-righteousness on which they may lean and expect justification would be to destroy the essential work of justifying faith.

Brown emphasises that believers are not justified on account of their faith, as if that constituted their “gospel-righteousness”. Rather they are only justified on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them through faith as a mere instrument or means of receiving it. He continues:

Faith, in this matter, is as the eye of the soul, that does not look to itself but looks out to another. All who would live the life of justification must take themselves to Jesus Christ, lean on Him and His righteousness. They must be clothed with the robe of His righteousness alone and found in Christ alone. This is the only basis on which they must think of standing before God, having on Christ’s righteousness which God imputes to believers, and which they receive by faith, in order that they may have justification.

 

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from John Brown of Wamphray

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

What Do Reformers Look Like?

What Do Reformers Look Like?

We are familiar with Martin Luther’s image. It is striking and immediately recognisable. It is said that there was enormous demand for printed pictures of Luther in his lifetime. Lucas Cranach, in a particular portrait captured the intense eyes of the German reformer. But we do not intend to focus on the physical appearance of the reformers or even their unique personality traits. Fearlessness may not in fact be an essential requirement. It is the spiritual characteristics that matter most. What graces as well as gifts blend together in those that God uses to bring spiritual transformation?

Anthony Burgess helpfully outlines these from Scripture in a sermon preached before the House of Lords in Westminster. He shows that the work of Reformation requires the conflux of many noble and excellent graces. In particular, it helps us discern the difference between those who want to effect change in the Church of God under the influence of the ideas and tastes of mere men and those who have the sole purpose of glorifying God. We are all called to effect reformation in our own lives and families – we need to be reformers ourselves.

1. They Know God’s Will

They must have a clear understanding of God’s will out of His Word. The king was to write God’s Word, and to be acquainted and familiar with it (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). This was so that he might be better able to reform all the abuses that might creep into the worship of God. It is a great fault when men in place and power think that matters of religion do not belong to them at all. They cannot in fact discharge their duties, if they know do not from the Word what to do.

2. They have a Zeal for God

They have a zeal for God’s glory and His pure worship.  This was evident in David, Hezekiah and most remarkably in Christ Himself.  It is an excellent thing when rulers take God’s dishonour to heart more than their own. They ought to be most concerned about Christ’s laws.

3. They have Love for the Souls of Others

They have affections for people in general and love to the souls of others.  Unless a man is clothed with a public spirit he cannot labour for a reformation.  Nehemiah was in a good position personally, yet how deeply and sadly he was affected because the temple was desolate? Christ Himself at the very time when He was received with the greatest acclamations ignores this and weeps for Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39). God has dealt graciously with your hearts when neither riches, honours or any personal dignity can do you any good, until Jerusalem is established a praise in the earth. This is how it was with David.

4. They have Pure Aims

They have sincerity and pure aims.  Governors may be carried far in a reformation, yet if pure love to God and His ordinances are not the star which leads them, the outcome will be very uncomfortable. Jehu is a sad instance of this, though he did everything according to God’s heart (as Scripture says in 2 Kings 10:30-31) yet in Hosea 1:4, God threatens to be avenged on him. Take heed therefore of corrupt, political designs in promoting God’s work. This has often made God let His own ark fall into the hands of the Philistines. Not because His cause was not dear to him but because those who managed it had selfish interests.

5. They are Humble

They have humility under all the honours God that puts upon them.  This was eminent in Gideon and David. Those who are lifted up by any success that God bestows on them are like a blazing star that shine brightly at first but ultimately end in slime. John the Baptist produced a great reformation and had the eyes of the world on him. Yet he rejoiced because he must decrease and Christ must increase (John 3:29-30).

6. They are Eminently Holy

They have exemplary holiness of life.  Reformers must conform to the general rule that he who reproves others ought himself to be free from those sins.  Reformers must be an example to others; they are to others as the part-coloured sticks were to Jacob’s sheep (Genesis 30:37-43). It is very unfitting when governors make laws against impiety, profaning the Sabbath, contempt of holiness while these sins can be found in their lives or in their families?  Reformation is achieved in great measure when the lives and families of men are changed as well as when public worship and ordinances are reformed.

7. They have Believing Courage

Reformers must have fortitude and courage accompanied with faith.  Every reformation encounters great opposition and contempt.  When Hezekiah sent out messengers to call people to observe the Passover purely, they were mocked and scorned (2 Chronicles 30).  To endure all kinds of accusations and slanders and to be tried by God Himself requires humility and patience as well as faith and courage.

8. They are Prudent

Prudence and extraordinary wisdom are required in reformation.  Some think it was weakness for Gideon to go out with a few men at night but it showed his great prudence.  Anyone who has read Church History can see that imprudence has greatly hindered propagation of the truth. We must of course be careful that prudence does not degenerate into carnal and mere political wisdom. God ultimately makes this kind of wisdom to be seen as great folly, especially when it is accompanied with corruption of His worship.

Conclusion

Reformation depends on individuals and families living out the Word of God in all areas of practice as well as faith. It is about closer obedience to God’s revealed will. We may never be used to bring about wide scale change but this does not mean we cannot be reformers. These qualities are needed in our lives as we strive to submit to Scripture in everything. We must advance in reformation and encourage others in the work of reformation as far as possible.

These days we have few true reformers in the Church. We have enough transformers – those who have their own vision of change. Sometimes this is change for the sake of change because culture has changed. Reformation is God’s work as opposed to transformation through our own innovation and ideas. Reforming is a spiritual work that requires spiritual men using spiritual means for the spiritual good of Christ’s Church. We are all too aware of various trends in modern Christianity that mushroom and then evaporate. They promise much but are just reinventing aspects of faith and practice. We don’t need this. Instead, we can be solidly grounded through reformation according to God’s revealed will. We need those who will have the courage and wisdom to submit to the Word of God in everything.

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Oct, 2017

It is possible to take such a long look back at the Reformation that we then forget to look forward. In other words, we may be inclined to think of Reformation as an event in the past rather than a present imperative. This milestone is a point to reflect on where we are in relation to Reformation and what still remains to be achieved as individuals, Churches and communities. How do our lives, families and congregations match up to God’s requirements in His Word? Reformation is a difficult and unsettling activity. It challenges our complacency and expectations. Would we have the appetite for it we think we would?

The Word of God is the only rule for reformation. Yet what do we mean by that? Anthony Burgess (1600-1663) explains how the Word of God has a supreme role in the work of reformation. Burgess lived during a time of reformation and was a member of the Westminster Assembly. He ministered in Sutton Coldfield and wrote many valuable books. Sadly, these have been comparatively neglected. The following is an updated extract from one of his sermons preached before Parliament. He shows that reformation is difficult perhaps even discouraging work but it is also an absolute priority that God blesses.

 

1. The Standard of Reformation

(a) Reformation in Doctrine

A sound faith is the soul of religion; it’s like the sun in the sky or like the eye in the body. Wrong believing and wrong living go together. Hymenaeus and Philetus made shipwreck of both their faith and of a good conscience (1 Timothy 2:17). We cannot build any confession of faith without quarrying the materials from this mountain. Error and heresy have no enemy like Scripture. We may be as orthodox as possible in our doctrine but if we do not believe these things because of Scripture, it’s a merely man made faith. A merely human faith is based on education and human tradition and comes far short of divine faith.

(b) Reformation in Worship and Church Discipline

An orthodox Church without good discipline and pure worship is like a field of corn without hedges. What a beautiful Church we would have, if the commands of Scripture were respected. Everything done in worship without God’s Word is doing we “know not what” (John 4:22). The basis on which we allow one aspect of worship which is merely from our own will will be the same grounds for more. In Church discipline and order, a profane man should be as rare in the Church as a blazing star (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:11).

(c) Reformation in Christian Living

We are warned by the Scriptures as to our outward life (Psalm 19:11). The Scriptures are the antidote against sin. A young man may cleanse his ways by them (Psalm 1119:9). Many do not consider this use of Scripture, they dare not have any other doctrine than Scripture teaches, yet they dare to live another life. In the same way that you believe as it is written you must live, fear and joy as it is written.

(d) Reformation in our Heart and Conscience

Scripture differs from all other rules and laws. They only bind us outwardly but the Scriptures reach to the heart and conscience; “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). The law can even doth convict even a self-admiring Pharisee. When this sunlight shines, it uncovers all the hidden thoughts of the heart all those motes, that otherwise would not be seen.

It is a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Human eloquence does not terrify the conscience, but the Word of God does. It makes the heart cry out, “I am overcome, overcome”. It’s true that God makes use of human eloquence, but all must be subordinate to the Word. As God is the Father of spirits, so the Word is a word of spirits. Although the whole world may threaten,  the heart bears itself up if the Word comforts; if it threatens, the heart is discouraged.

(e) The Benefit of Honouring Scripture

The rule of Scripture is opposed by tradition and the reasoning and opinions of men. Most often it is opposed by appeal to majority opinion. Many never consider what the Scriptures direct but believe, worship and live as most others do. God has explicitly forbidden us to “follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).

If we honour Scripture as supreme we will be:

(a) secure and steadfast in our way; (b) holy and spiritual in our life; (c) at peace (Galatians 6:16); (d) derided as strict; (e) thought strange; and (f) hated.

In order to benefit from Scripture in this way, we need to:

(a) be in it frequently; (b) pray for spiritual understanding; (c) be humble and meek in submitting to it; (d) love God’s truth.

 

2. Things that Hinder Reformation

(a) Complacency

There is complacency in thinking that there is no need for reformation. This was the case with the Laodiceans; they thought they were full and rich (Revelation 3:18). Many Churches would have been more pure and reformed if they had not thought themselves reformed enough. It may be so with individuals as Paul says, I had not known sin, had not the Law said, Thou shalt not lust. A Church may say, I had not known this to be an abuse, this to be error, had not the Scripture manifested it.

(b)  Pragmatism

This makes men vary their views and conscience according to changing considerations. What is good theology for them today is error tomorrow; today’s reformation is to them tomorrow’s disorder.

(c) Sinful Moderation

How hard it is not to accept a lame and half Reformation? People think we must pass over many things and proceed gently. The rigour of God’s Word is an altogether different thing to this. There is a lawful moderation but this is different from sinful moderation.

(d) The Love of Earthly Things

In Haggai 1:2-10 we find that the people’s concern to build their own houses made them neglect building the temple of God. In order to satisfy their covetousness the Pharisees interpreted Scripture in a false way. If people would rather lose their God than their wealth or part with their religion than their riches; how can they promote God’s cause or make way for Christ’s coming? When men can delight more in the glory of their own houses than in the spiritual beauty of ordinances or have more joy in their hearts by increased wine and oil than in God and His ways – it is no wonder so few make way for Christ. Gregory Nazianzen thanked God he had any thing to lose for Christ’s sake.

(e) Sinful Desires

People are greatly troubled if they cannot indulge themselves so much in their lusts and their sins. But you should take comfort that Christ endured the contradiction of sinners.

(f) General Opposition

There may be only a few for reformation against many great and learned who oppose it. Luther confessed this was no small trial to him, “are you the only wise person, are all others in error?” But if this had been regarded, then the prophets, Christ, Luther, Calvin, would never have begun any reformation, because the world was against them. Reformations have always been judged impossible things. Luther was told “go and pray in your cell, you are not likely to do anything by commotion”. The people rage and take counsel together that Christ may not be exalted on His throne (Psalm 2:1). But this will not excuse us, it is better to endure the rage of people then the anger of God. Better to have the world’s frown than God’s.

(g) Apparent Novelty

Truth is before error; it is only sin that makes truth new. It shows how much we have apostatised that Christ’s ways are considered new. This is now how it was from the beginning. Novelty lies in error and superstition, Sabbath-breaking, neglecting godliness.

(h) Apparent Division

Divisions may seem to arise by it and errors multiply at such times. Many complain about various sects that have arisen but they never blamed those that caused them. This has always been the slander levelled at reformation: so many men, so many gospels. Luther was often told by opponents not to divide the seamless robe of Christ. Do not blame reformation for this (it is the only thing that can remove these things) blame those who caused the divisions.

(i) Outward Trouble and Commotion

This often accompanies reformation. Christ foretold fire and a sword, father against son and son against father. This would happen wherever His pure and powerful preaching was established. He is not the cause of this but rather men’s stubborn and rebellious hearts. It is not the doctor or medicine that cause the pain the sick man feels, but rather the disease that has been in him for so long.

(j) Ingratitude

People often do not esteem or prize those whom God sends to deliver them. They were unthankful to Moses and Aaron. This unthankfulness is a gross sin but it ought not to be any discouragement for those who are employed for the public good. Luther tells us how great a trial this was to him. “When I see this (ingratitude) I am sometimes broken with impatience, and seriously resolve unless this doctrine had been already dispersed, I would rather have done any thing than declared it to this unthankful world; but these are the thoughts of the flesh”.

 

3. Reasons to Continue in Reformation

But there are many urgent reasons why reformers should go on.

(a) God Punishes Neglect

Because God has punished severely the neglect of any order that He has given to His Church They may have done much, yet if they have not done completely, he has been angry. This is why you read so often concerning the kings “Nevertheless the high places were not taken away”. The judgment on Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire; the breach made on Uzzah should warn reformers against indulging breaking the least of God’s commands. Do not think not that you are free to decide how much or how little is to be done for God, you are accountable to God for jots and tittles.

(b) God Hates False Worship

There is nothing more odious to Him than corruption in His Church. What detestable names Scripture gives to idols! Jesus says in John 4 that the Father seeks those that worship Him in spirit and truth. This shows how precious and delightful to God those are that worship Him in his own way. Our Saviour tells the Pharisees that that, which was highly esteemed amongst them as great piety and devotion, was an abomination before God. Let us not do any abominable things!

(c) It is the only way of blessing

It is only in doing the will of the Lord that we are sure of blessing. Blessing came when Jehoshaphat set up those that taught the good knowledge of God. It is true that we may be in the wilderness for a long time and God may permit enemies to prevail because of the sins of His own people. We are always to remember the end of the Lord, observe the ends of all reformation, and you will find them to be peace. It is not the godliness of a godly man that causes many of his sorrows but because he does not have enough godliness. It is not reformation that creates unhappiness in a Church or State, but because we are not reformed enough, we are not willing for this to happen.

God will reform His Church by other means if we do not promote it. It is the greatest honour that God ever put on you. In these matters of God do not consult with flesh and blood. Remember that He is engaged for His truth more than you; you have your lives and wealth to lose, but God has His honour and truth to lose, which is worth more than the whole world.

How will you ever answer God at the Day of Judgement if He puts an opportunity into your hands and you have not made best use of it? Take your example from David in Psalm 132 when he had vowed to bring the ark back into a suitable place. “Remember David and all his troubles” (literally “in his whole affliction” in all his trouble, fear and concern when God smote Uzzah, and so hindered him in his intended reformation). He would not sleep or eat (hyperbole for the unrelenting efforts he would take for settling the ark).

 

Conclusion

Reformation is required in our own day, it is an act not just an event. But it is by no means an easy work. There are many challenges but for the glory of God, our own good and the good of the Church we must not only want to see it happen but engage actively in it in our own day.

 

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from Westminster Assembly

REFORMING YOURSELF

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The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

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What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

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How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

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The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

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How Far Should Reformation Go?

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How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

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Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

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What’s Missing from Your Home?

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Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

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No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

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How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

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REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

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Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

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Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

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What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

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The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

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An Entire Life of Repentance

An Entire Life of Repentance

An Entire Life of Repentance
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
28 Oct, 2016

The very first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses was: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance”. They begin, continue and end their life of faith here on earth with repentance. “The just shall live by faith” and repentance is the tear in the eye of faith. Luther was emphasising Christ’s own message in preaching the gospel. Part of its purpose was to call sinners to a life of repentance.

Luther’s reference to the words of Christ is interesting. It involved appealing to the original Greek as meaning repent rather than the Latin “do penance”. The Greek New Testament had been printed in 1516, the year before Luther posted the 95 theses. His explanation of the 95 theses demonstrates this.

the Greek word metanoeite itself…means ‘repent’: and could be translated more exactly by the Latin trasmentamini, which means ‘assume another mind and feeling, recover one’s senses, make transition from one state of mind to another, have a change of spirit’; so that those who hitherto have been aware of earthly matters may now know the spiritual, as the Apostle (Paul) says in Romans 12:2, ‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind’. By this recovery of one’s senses it happens that the sinner has a change of heart and hates his sin.

Luther is pointing to the inward disposition, not merely outward actions (though he did not deny the need for these).  He goes on to say in the second thesis: “This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy”. He explains his statement about an entire life of repentance in the following way:

We pray throughout our whole life and we must pray ‘forgive is our debts’ [Matthews 6:12]; therefore, we repent throughout our whole life and are displeased with ourselves, unless anyone may be so foolish as to think he must only pretend to pray for the forgiveness of debts.

David Dickson shows how Christ’s preaching in Matthew 4:17 echoes the message of John the Baptist. John was now in prison but Christ continued his message. “Christ had preached before in the time of John’s freedom, and made more disciples than he (John 3:26), but now he begins in this countryside, and shows himself more powerful than before”. He notes the following points:

  1. When Christ’s gospel is opposed and His servants persecuted, He can let forth his light and power so much the more, and can supply the lack of instruments. Therefore it is said: “From that time he began to preach”.
  2. Christ’s doctrine and the doctrine of his faithful servants is all one in substance. The sum of John Baptist’s preaching and Christ’s is all one. Both preached in substance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
  3. When the gospel comes, it finds men under the tyranny of Satan. The offer to bring them into the kingdom of God implies this.

In his comments on John the Baptist’s preaching (Matthew 3:2), Dickson further draws out the message of repentance.  The aim of John’s preaching was to move men to repent, because the kingdom of God’s grace offered in the gospel, was now ready to receive the penitent.

 

1. Repentance restores men to their right minds

The gospel finds men mad and out of their right minds in an evil way. When it is sent unto them they are men who must return to their right minds. The original meaning of the word “Repent” implies this.

 

2. Repentance is the aim of gospel preaching

The aim of the preaching of the gospel is to persuade men to repentance. “Repent” is John’s main purpose.

 

3. Repentance and the kingdom of heaven

The grace of God offered in the gospel is in effect the kingdom of heaven, for it opens the way unto it, and enters the man not only into the right, but also into the begun possession of the kingdom of heaven.

 

4. Repentance and God’s offer

There can be no greater allurement to move a man to change his evil way and turn to God than the offer made to the penitent. This is the offer of the kingdom of grace and glory through Christ and this is the motive which John uses: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

 

5. Repentance is brought about by the gospel

The ability and activity of repenting are both brought about by the preaching and power of the gospel. John is sent to preach this doctrine in order to bring these about, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”.

 

Conclusion

Luther was echoing Christ’s message and rediscovering something of the fulness of the gospel and gospel living. That message continues to be necessary. We need daily, personal, sincere repentance in the spirit of the gospel. Repentance that lays hold of the mercy of God in Christ. The kingdom of heaven is mark by repentance.

It was an appropriate message to signal the start of a Reformation. Reformation is not about merely making outward changes to the way that we do things. We need heart reformation and personal reformation in our lives. Then we also need to see families, Churches and the nation reformed according to the Bible.

Reformation and repentance both involve change. Repentance is not only about  sorrow for sin. It means turning from it and being transformed in our lives by the renewing of our minds. We need this constantly both as individuals and Churches.

Find out more about David Dickson and read other articles featuring his work.

RELATED ARTICLE

Read Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life. This shows the real nature of spiritual reformation. Outward change is not enough. There must be deep inward refining.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.