On Justification

The Heart of the Christian Faith (some notes)

(Romans 4.22-26)

First, we have the same promise revealed to us as to Abraham – not for his sake only was it written, but for our sakes, also (verses 23-24).  God had an eye on the whole church, the family of God, of Jews and Gentiles, from the very beginning, when Abraham was called and his faith and life were placed before us.

Second, we have the same justification by righteousness credited, by faith, as our father, Abraham, enjoyed (verse 24, but for our sakes, also, to whom it will be credited).  This has been the burden of the whole chapter – that this righteousness apart from the law, but by faith, has always been the way of salvation.

Third, we are united to Him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead (verse 24b).  Like Abraham, our faith is in this gracious God who so loved the whole world that He gave us His Son – like Abraham earlier, willing and ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, so God the Father gave His best in the Son of God to become man, made of a woman, made under the law, to bear the curse.

Fourth, God the Father and Jesus are one in this crucial feat of the cross and conquering death (verse 25).  Jesus willingly laid down His life for our sins and arose as a public representative for us.  But it is the Father who gave Him and the Father who raised Him.

Fifth, the work of the cross and the resurrection morning are inseparable (verse 26).  Even though the full payment of sin was made on the cross, to which nothing can be added, that payment guarantees the lives of all whose sins have been paid by Jesus, and Jesus Himself must rise.  If Christ did not rise, we are yet in our sins.

Sixth, likewise, all the transgressions condemned and justification from all sin are united – the just for the unjust, that the unjust would be pronounced just, the ungodly justly justified.

Seventh, every believer is one with Christ in His death for our sins and in His resurrection for our justification. – B. J. Gorrell (born in 1961)

Keeping God’s Love Before Our Eyes

Your lovingkindness is before my eyes (Psalm 26.2)

Keeping God’s love before our eyes is, besides an intellectual matter, a great encouragement to us, for how often shall we need this!  We shall feel our lack of it under a sense of our guilt, unworthiness, and continued imperfections.  Nothing short of the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us by Jesus Christ will be able to relieve us – and this will relieve us, and effectually, too!  It will give us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, and boldness and access, with confidence, by the faith of Him.  And it will do all this without reconciling us to our sins or even our infirmities – yes, it will make us lament our deficiencies the more, grieving that we serve Him so little who loves us so much.  We shall need this encouragement in our afflictions.  And who can hope to escape these in a vale of tears?  Now, nothing is so desirable in our sufferings as to see not only the hand but the kindness of God in them.  For often, they look like the effects of His wrath and we tremble under them and cry, “Do not condemn me.  I could bear these trials if I thought they were only the strokes of a father’s rod, sent in love.”  And, they are sent in love.  They are only the strokes of a Father’s rod, laid hold of with reluctance and laid aside with pleasure. – William Jay (1769-1853)

On Fervent Prayer

In all your private duties, God looks first and most to your hearts: “My son, give me your heart” (Proverbs 23.26).  It is not a piece of your heart, it is not a corner of the heart, that will satisfy the Maker of the heart.  The heart is a treasure, a bed of spices, a royal throne wherein He delights.  God looks not at the elegance of your prayers, to see how neat they are, nor yet at the geometry of your prayers, to see how long they are, nor yet at the arithmetic of your prayers, to see how many they are, nor yet at the music of your prayers, nor yet at the sweetness of your voice, nor yet at the logic of your prayers – but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are.  There is no prayer acknowledged, approved, accepted, recorded, or rewarded by God but that wherein the heart is, sincerely and wholly.  The true mother would not have the child divided.  God loves a broken and a contrite heart, so He loathes a divided heart (Psalm 51.17; James 1.8).  God neither loves halting nor halving – He will be served truly and totally.  The royal law is: “You shall love and serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  Among the heathen, when the beasts were cut up for sacrifice, the first thing the priest looked upon was the heart and, if the heart was naught, the sacrifice was rejected.  Truly, God rejects all those sacrifices wherein the heart is not.  Prayer without the heart is but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.  Prayer is only lovely and weighty as the heart is in it, and not otherwise.  It is not the lifting up of the voice nor the wringing of the hands nor the beating of the breasts nor an affected tone nor studied motions nor seraphic expressions, but the stirring of the heart that God looks at in prayer.  God hears no more than the heart speaks.  If the heart be dumb, God will certainly be deaf.  No prayer takes with God but that which is the travail of the heart. – Thomas Brooks (1608-1680), commenting on Psalm 119.145.

Matthew Henry (15)

It is not properly to be called a prayer, for there is not a word of petition in it.  But, if we give prayer its full latitude, it is the offering up of pious and devout affections to God – and very devout, very pious are the affections which Ezra here expresses.  His address is a penitent confession of sin – not his own (from a conscience burdened with its own guilt and apprehensive of its own danger) – but the sin of his people, from a gracious concern for the honor of God and the welfare of Israel.  Here is a lively picture of ingenuous repentance. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Ezra 9.5-15.

On Being Realistic About Death

Of all places, the church should, surely, be the most realistic.  The church knows how far humanity has fallen [and] understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer.  In the psalms of lament, the church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but in the next.  In the great liturgies of the church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow.  Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.

It is, therefore, an irony of the most perverse kind that churches have become places where Pascalian distraction and a notion of entertainment that eschews the tragic seem to dominate just as comprehensively as they do in the wider world.  I am sure that the separation of church buildings from graveyards was not the intentional start of this process, but it certainly helped to lessen the presence of death.  The present generation does not have the inconvenience of passing the graves of loved ones as it gathers for worship.  Nowadays, death has all but vanished from the inside of churches, as well.

From: “Tragic Worship” by Carl R. Trueman; published in First Things (June, 2013); accessed online.

Death Has Been Edited Out of Modern Funerals

Even funerals, the one religious context where one might have assumed the reality of death would be unavoidable, have become the context for that most ghastly and incoherent of acts: the celebration of a life now ended.  The Twenty-Third Psalm and “Abide with Me” were funeral staples for many years, but not so much today.  References to the “valley of the shadow of death” and the “ebbing out of life’s little day,” reminders both of our mortality and of God’s faithfulness even in the darkest of times, have been replaced as funeral favorites by “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “My Way.”  The trickle down economics of worship-as-entertainment has reached even the last rites for the departed.

From: “Tragic Worship” by Carl R. Trueman; published in First Things (June, 2013).  Accessed online.

A Good Description of Legalism

Experience shows that pitfalls surround those who make moral struggle central in their thinking about the Holy Spirit.  Their tendency is to grow legalistic, making tight rules for themselves and others about abstaining from things indifferent, imposing rigid and restrictive behavior patterns as bulwarks against worldliness and attaching great importance to observing these man-made taboos.  They become pharisaic, more concerned to avoid what defiles and adhere to principle without compromise than to practice the love of Christ.  They become scrupulous, unreasonably fearful of pollution where none threatens and obstinately unwilling to be reassured.  They become joyless, being so preoccupied with thoughts of how grim and unrelenting the battle is.  They become morbid, always introspective and dwelling on the rottenness of their hearts in a way that breeds only gloom and apathy.  They become pessimistic about the possibility of moral progress, both for themselves and for others.  They settle for low expectations of deliverance from sin, as if the best they can hope for is to be kept from getting worse.

Such attitudes are, however, spiritual neuroses, distorting, disfiguring, diminishing and so, in reality, dishonoring the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit in our lives.

Granted, these states of mind are, usually, products of more than one factor.  Accidents of temperament and early training, meticulous mental habits turned inward by shyness or insecurity, a low self-image and, perhaps, actual self-hatred often go toward the making of them.  So do certain in-turned types of ecclesiastical culture and community.  But, inadequate views of the Spirit always prove to underlie them, too. . .These folk. . .need a different focus for their thinking about the Spirit, to move them on from the somber spiritual egoism that I have just described.

From: Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God by J. I. Packer; 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), pp. 34-35.  First edition published in 1984.  Italics are in the original.  Bold type is supplied by me.

Keeping the Love of God Before Our Eyes

Your lovingkindness is before my eyes (Psalm 26.2)

Keeping the love of God before our eyes, as David did, begins with thoughtful meditation.  The mind will be active, and it is our wisdom to regulate and sanctify our thoughts.  Isaac went out into the field at evening to meditate, and we may infer the nature of his reflections from his character.  David said, My meditation of Him shall be sweet.  How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  People complain of the difficulty they feel in fixing their minds, but the duty would become easier by use – and surely they can never be at a loss for a theme.  Let them take His lovingkindness and set it before their eyes.  Let them observe it as it appears in the promises of His Word, in the history of His church, [and] in their own experience.  And let them pass from the instances of His love to the qualities of it, to dwell upon its earliness, fullness, extensiveness, reasonableness, and constancy.  Whoever is wise will observe these things and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord (Psalm 107.43). – William Jay (1769-1853)