Book Briefs: The Doctrine of Justification by James Buchanan

buchanan_justification_front-650x1024-203x320By Evan Knies

James Buchanan was born in Paisley in the west of Scotland, and later studied at the University of Glasgow. In 1840 he was appointed to be minister of the High Church (St. Giles) in Edinburgh, where he became colleague to Dr. Robert Gordon, another evangelical preacher. After Thomas Chalmers’ death in 1847, Buchanan took up the Chair of Systematic Theology, which he held until 1868. In 1866, Buchanan was invited to deliver the Cunningham Lectures, and it was these addresses that became, in printed form, The Doctrine of Justification. 

In this classic work, Buchanan addresses a variety of different issues under the umbrella of the important Doctrine of Justification. In the introductory essay, JI Packer uses an analogy of Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders and compares this to the Doctrine of Justification. The Doctrine of Justification is vital for the Christian faith. Packer also writes about authority/submission to the Bible, understanding of God’s wrath against sin, and the substitutionary satisfaction of Christ. img_2244

In the Introduction, Buchanan addresses the basic overviews of Justification and lays out what will come up in the rest of the work. In Chapters 1-5, they discuss the history of justification in the Old Testament, in the Apostolic Age, during the Early Church Fathers, during the Era of the Reformation, and in the Romish Church after the Reformation.

In Chapters 6-7, Buchanan discusses the History of Doctrine as a Subject of Controversy Among Protestants and Doctrine in the Church of England. In these chapters, Buchanan reflects upon the different views of Justification among protestants, they implications in their day, but the reader can also learn how they are still impacting views in the current day. In Chapters 8-15, Buchanan simply breaks down the doctrine of Justification, meaning in scripture, nature of blessing, relation to the Law and Justice of God, relation to the Work of Christ as Mediator, Imputed Righteousness of Christ, relation to Grace and Works, relation with Faith, and the relation to the work of the Holy Spirit.

img_2242The Doctrine of Justification like many other Banner books is beneficial for the Christian to own, read, and read again. This work helps readers understand a primary doctrine of the Christian faith, has a rich scriptural foundation, and shows how Justification provides assurance for the Christian. Those who believe in Christ, are assured in Christ, and are able to rest in Christ. The Doctrine of Justification is not only a dense theological work for a professor or pastor, it is available for the church member who struggles in his faith week to week.

 

You can purchase The Doctrine of Justification here

Check out their website at banneroftruth.org.

 

 

 

A House Divided: Protestants and The Lord’s Supper

By Obbie Todd

Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists. –John Calvin (Institutes, IV.1.9)

I’m a Baptist. But the first church I ever pastored wasn’t a Baptist church. It was a ‘Restorationist’ church. You’ll understand the irony in a moment. The ‘Restoration Movement’ was born from the mind of Alexander Campbell, a former Baptist who reacted against organized denominations following the Second Great Awakening. (Restorationist Christianity had its roots even further back in the small Glasite/Sandemanian movement of 18th century Scotland.) After the American Revolution, Restorationists believed in returning the church back to the people, to a simpler religion free of creeds and academics. And that included returning the Lord’s Supper to the center of the church service. This Sunday if you walk into a Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, or Church of Christ congregation, you’ll be offered the Lord’s Supper. It’s a weekly practice that Restorationists support with texts like Acts 2:42, 46 and 20:7, 11. It represents a renewed desire among modern churches to return to the early church. The primitive church. The ‘true’ church. And for many that includes more bread and more juice.

After a year it was clear that a Baptist didn’t belong in a Restorationist church. However, I’m thankful for the time I spent with the good people of Chaplin Christian. And during my time there I was posed an important question, one I believe every church should consider: how often should we partake of the Lord’s Supper? And more importantly, why? For many Protestant churches, the primacy of the pulpit coupled with a strong anti-Catholic spirit begins to dissolve the significance of the bread and the juice. And it can appear in our infrequent observance of the Lord’s Supper. Christ calls us to declare His Gospel with our mouths: both with our voices and our taste buds. And any attempt to separate the two can prove spiritually deadly, especially when we neglect an institution that Christ delivered personally to His church. So, for just a moment, let’s examine how the Lord’s Supper defines what it means to be Protestant.

Oddly enough, the origin of the Protestant church began with a strong view on the Lord’s Supper, also known as the Eucharist. (ευχαριστω – ‘to give thanks’) In the sixteenth century, the most significant doctrine in the eyes of the laity was that of the Eucharist. More was written about the Eucharist at that time than the doctrine of justification! All of the 1st-generation Reformers (‘Magisterial Reformers’) soundly rejected the Catholic Eucharistic method of ex opere operato. This is the practice still held by Roman Catholics today – that grace is conferred to the sinner merely by the taking of the sacrament, faith or not. This was of course repulsive to Protestants who championed the sola fide principle in all facets of the church. Equally disturbing was the Catholic sense of Eucharistic sacrifice, offered to God each time the bread and wine were taken. To Protestants this violated Christ’s objective, once-for-all work on the cross accomplished for sinners, not by them. (Heb. 10:10) Most of all, Protestants rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, a Thomistic doctrine established at the 4th Lateran Council in 1215. This is the Roman Catholic belief that, upon the words of institution (hoc est corpus meum, ‘this is my body’) the bread and wine undergo a metamorphosis into the material, tangible body and blood of Jesus. While Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin wholly rejected this ‘hocus pocus’, it’s precisely here that they also differed. In fact, it could be said that the Eucharistic controversy is what birthed the Protestant Reformation…and what fractured it.

Today, when Protestant churches disagree over the Lord’s Supper, they’re merely perpetuating a seminal conflict that began with the Reformation itself. Speaking of the famous debate between Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli regarding the Lord’s Supper, Carl Trueman observes, “The breach at Marburg was the point at which Protestantism divided into Lutheran and Reformed, a breach that continues to this day.” The disagreement between Luther and Zwingli was so strong that Luther himself believed that Zwingli wasn’t even saved! Convinced the Zurich Reformer was “of a different spirit,” the former Wittenberg monk believed that Zwingli’s memorialism effectively removed Christ from the Eucharist. Thus when Zwingli evacuated Christ from the Lord’s Supper, he removed the Gospel and hence his own salvation! (Admittedly, it’s often hard to reconcile Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist with his doctrine of justification) While Luther rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, his belief in the omnipresence/ubiquity of God demanded that he see the Lord’s Supper as a real divine presence. (this doctrine has been called consubstantiation, although this term is an invention of the Lutheran Church, not Luther himself) For Luther, the Eucharist was a gift, the conclusion of God’s promises to the church. The Supper is not our work. It’s God’s work for us in Christ. For Luther, it also delivered an overwhelming sense of assurance to the Christian who doubted in his fight against sin, something Luther knew well. And while we as Protestants may not agree with Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist, we can certainly benefit from Luther’s view of faith. This assurance is a benefit of the Lord’s Supper many churches remove from their liturgy when they fail to explain the meaning of the Supper or even deliver the Gospel while doing it! The sermon and the bread are two expressions of the same Gospel and should never be divorced. For Luther, solus christus meant the Word eaten and the Word spoken, received in sola fide. Thus the Gospel must be delivered with the bread and juice or else we’ve emptied it of its spiritual blessing.

Still, to Zwingli, Luther’s doctrine sounded like mysticism. How could the Eucharist be Christ’s real body when Christ had ascended to the right hand of the father? The Council of Chalcedon had affirmed that Christ would remain there forever. Zwingli mocked Luther, asking him if Christ was hiding underneath the bread! For the Swiss Reformer, the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines smelled of idolatry. The Lord’s Supper wasn’t an object to be worshipped. It was a memorial, a re-commitment to Christ. The words of institution, contrary to Luther, weren’t to be taken literally but figuratively. Therefore the Supper was more of a symbolic, public profession than an actual feast. And it’s precisely this view that serves as the foundation for the ‘Zwinglian shift’ we are currently witnessing in American Protestant churches: an emphasis upon the symbol of the Supper rather than the sign. (the marker distinguishing the baptized from the unbelieving) For this reason, in many churches today, the Lord’s Supper has become an act of remembrance devoid of any ecclesiological significance. For this same reason Carl Trueman postulates, “Luther, the great Protestant hero, would probably not recognize most Protestants today as Christian.”

Unlike the Glas/Sandemanian/Campbell movements, the expectation in both Reformation Europe and post-Reformation England was that each believer would participate in the Lord’s Supper between four and twelve times per year. (e.g. John Knox and the Genevan service book) In his Dissertation on Frequent Communicating, Scottish Presbyterian John Erskine (1721-1803) investigates why the frequency of the Lord’s Supper as seen in the patristic church had disappeared. And his conclusion has as much to do with persecution as it does with church policy:

The most probable cause I can assign for this, is, that till then the religion of Christ being persecuted, few professed it who had not felt the power of it on their hearts. But soon after, Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, a greater number of hypocrites, from views of worldly interest, intermingled themselves with the true disciples of Christ. And in a century or two more, this little leaven leavened the whole lump…Such nominal Christians could have no just sense of the use and benefits of the Lord’s Supper and the obligation to frequent it…Their example would soon be followed by lukewarm Christians who had fallen from their first love. (267)

In summary, when the purity of the church suffers, so does the Lord’s Supper. As persecution decreased, so did the need for assurance in Christ. When unbelievers partake of an institution that has no personal meaning, it deteriorates the corporate meaning for the entire church. It was actually Erskine’s estimation that Calvin had personally preferred the early church practice of weekly communion but had settled for a monthly administration along with the pastor of the English congregation at Geneva, John Knox. (Calvin’s theology of the Eucharist sits somewhere between Zwingli and Luther, although his exact position between them is debatable) In Scotland, Erskine located the origin of the quarterly Supper in the First Book of Discipline. (1560) In his research, Erskine presents an important truth to modern Protestants today. While the Scottish theologian fought for weekly observance of the Eucharist, he was also a Presbyterian – so his ecclesiological commitments prevented him from supporting the sheer memorialism of Huldrych Zwingli. And it’s important to remember why.

To exclusively ‘memorialize’ the Lord’s Supper in a ‘Zwinglian’ commemoration gradually diminishes the meaning of the event because it ignores the inseparable bond between theology and ecclesiology. Even Baptists like John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon who practiced ‘open communion’ still upheld ecclesial purity by reserving the Supper for believers only. Their belief was that the bread and the juice should be rightly reserved for those who not only understand its meaning, but treasure the assurance of the eternal meal in which we set our hope. This is the true church. It’s the reason men like Jonathan Edwards fought so hard for a credible profession of faith. (And lost his pastorate at Northampton fighting for it!) The Lord’s Supper should be protected so that its blessings can be unadulterated and meaningful for those who desperately need it as the promise it should be. When church membership becomes so porous that baptized unbelievers partake of the same Supper intended only for those who can appreciate its promises, then the ordinance is drained of its value. This is why baptism and the Lord’s Supper are so inextricably connected. As baptism loses its integrity, so does the Lord’s Supper. And that appears to be the case in many of our churches today.

As John Erskine warned, when the baptized church becomes a large conglomerate of believers and unbelievers, church purity is extinguished and a cheapened Lord’s Supper loses its nature as a valuable gift. The Lord’s Supper is not only a symbol of the flesh and blood of Christ given for our eternal life; it’s also a sign to distinguish those who believe in what it represents. It’s both theological and ecclesiological. When unbelievers are baptized en masse, then the sign becomes diluted and ambiguous. And when the sign loses its meaning, so does the significance of the symbol. Over time, baptism can become a V.I.P. card to live like the world instead of a declaration that the old man has died and the new man walks in newness of life. The Lord’s Supper signifies a life sustained by the flesh and blood of Christ, and unregenerate sinners have no basis to understand such a thing. Thus pastors have an obligation to protect it for believers and unbelievers alike, keeping in mind that the individual value of the Lord’s Table is inextricable from its corporate value. For many churches today, the Lord’s Supper is a quarterly or monthly event precisely because they wish to uphold its value in the church. For others, the mandate for weekly observance is clear and Scriptural. However, whether celebrated weekly or quarterly, the Lord’s Supper is to be treasured as a gift to the church. An honor. A privilege. Not just another thing we do at church. And that begins with the way we protect it as a genuine marker for sincere believers. The saving Word that we hear proclaimed each Sunday should never be severed from the bread and juice that symbolizes that same salvation. One Gospel. One mouth. Two ways to express the same glorious hope in the heavenly banquet to come.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. –Matthew 26:26-29

A Lifetime of Thanksgiving

By David Brown

We give thanks to God Father of our Lord Jesus Christ praying for you always (Col. 1: 3)

Have you ever done something special for someone and that good work was not even acknowledged by that particular individual? What if there was not even a thank you, no pat on the back, nothing. None of us go through life looking for constant gratification by our friends and loved ones, but what if the work you had done was so monumental that not only was every human being called to recognize it, but they were encouraged to stop what they were doing each day and give a heartfelt thanks for that good work? What if that monumental work wasn’t even acknowledge by the vast majority of people?

These questions need to be considered when we study the book of Colossians because Paul repeatedly reminds us to give thanks to God.(1) Giving thanks to God calls us to remember His mighty works. So, what is the significance of this repetition and what exactly does Paul mean when he emphasized giving thanks to God? Thanksgiving is far more than just personal gratitude for receiving God’s blessings. For Paul, thanksgiving was tied to the mighty works of God as recorded in both Old and New Testaments.(2)

The premiere event in the Old Testament that reflected God’s mighty work took place through the exodus. In this glorious event God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and this event was so significant that He called Israel repeatedly to remember and celebrate this event annually through the Passover. This was a way for Israel to never forget the greatness of what God had done for them.

In the New Testament the premiere event is found in Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem and His crucifixion and so it is not a coincidence that in the Greek text Luke describes His departure on the Mount of Transfiguration as an exodus (Luke 9:31). Following in the typological pattern begun by Moses, Jesus delivers humanity (not just Israel) from an even greater bondage than Egyptian slavery. He delivers all who believe in Him from the bondage of sin. In addition, just as the Old Testament called Israel to never forget Luke reminds believers in the same way to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through the cross. In Luke 22:19 he wrote: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” One final note we should recognize is the Greek verb for “do” is a present tense verb that denotes an on-going type of action. We, like Israel, are called to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through Jesus.

A couple of years ago I accepted a call from a church in another state to become their pastor. I have been serving as a pastor for fifteen years but I have never seen a church embroiled in such strife and turmoil. After only eighteen months the deacon body demanded my resignation and so last December I resigned unceremoniously. All of my hard work had come to an abrupt end with no thank you; nobody saying we are sorry to see you go; nothing. In fact, the following weekend the church celebrated their annual Christmas banquet. Hurt does not adequately describe the immeasurable pain of how I felt. I wanted to die.

In the months that followed my wife and I repeatedly asked God two questions. First, where do we go from here? This was a plea for His direction. Second, we asked what are You trying to teach us? During this time God patiently answered our prayers in two profound ways.

First, He reminded us that He had delivered us from a truly dysfunctional church. Through this dreadful experience God showed us how dysfunctional church life can be. More importantly this type of dysfunction was not just going to be identified simply on an intellectual basis. This type of dysfunction had to be experienced first hand so that we completely understood this was NOT how a church should operate.

Second, God revealed His desire for us to plant a church. Since this time we have been doing the groundwork and our church plant has begun meeting at a weekly a Bible study. As a result, I have come to be deeply grateful to our Lord and, like Paul, I find myself repeatedly thanking Him in my daily prayers.

So what are we to make of this thanksgiving to God? In the book of Colossians thanksgiving means recalling the mighty works of God and thanking Him each day for these truly miraculous acts of deliverance that were recorded in Scripture. But as we make our own pilgrimage through life God allows us to experience some of life’s most difficult sorrows. Like my last church God allowed me to recognize and experience human dysfunction in an up close and personal way so that I might never forget the mighty acts of how He has once again delivered me.

In Him we give our all.


1 In Colossians, a book of only four chapters, Paul mentions giving thanks to God in 1:3, 1:12, 2:7, 3:17, and 4:2.

2 David W. Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2002), 39-58.

Am I Saved? A Brief History of Assurance

By Obbie Todd

There’s hardly a more relevant question in the Christian life than that of assurance. Peter affirms that the telos (the end) of our faith is salvation. (1 Pet. 1:9) So the stakes are pretty high. Yet for a question of such ultimate importance, it’s hardly ever asked. In the church today, there are often more assumptions than answers. And that can be dangerous. In reality, the simple question “How do I know I’m saved?” seems to be one of the best indications that someone takes their faith, and thus their salvation, seriously. So let’s be serious for a moment. How do we know? Can we know? Let’s go back to the first Protestant. To a man plagued with the question of assurance.

It could be said that the entire Protestant Reformation was an issue over assurance. Much of the Reformers’ critique of the old church was leveled precisely against those features of the Roman Catholic system that left people doubtful and anxious about their salvation. This is why Martin Luther deemed the doctrine of justification by faith “the central article of our teaching.” It helped him to reconcile the obvious tension between God’s holiness and persistent human sinfulness. For Luther, theology wasn’t an exercise in scholasticism. It was a life-and-death matter. His extremely tender conscience couldn’t bear the weight of God’s impending judgment, nor could it find sufficient assurance in the Catholic system of penance and priestly absolution. The system of indulgences not only failed to engender the necessary repentance that came with sincere faith, it also left the sinner without any real spiritual security. Was God up there? Was he pleased? Was he angry? The troubled young Luther was plagued with such a sense of panic under God’s wrath that eventually his supervising monk, Johann von Staupitz, ordered him to stop concocting sins in his head! Luther had too many transgressions to confess! This sense of foreboding dread and despair was what Luther called Anfechtung, a sense of doom before God’s watchful eye: “I did not learn my theology all at once, but I had to search deeper for it, where my temptations (Anfechtungen) took me…Not understanding, reading, or speculation, but living, nay, rather dying and being damned make a theologian.” Here in his anxiety-ridden state, Luther found the mercy of a God who was both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26) What abbots and bishops could not furnish for Martin Luther, Christ could. Because of assurance, young Luther became disillusioned with the fabricated religion of Rome: “No man can be assured of his salvation by any episcopal function…because the Apostle (Paul) orders us to work out our salvation constantly in fear and trembling.” Luther continued, “the first and only duty of the bishops, however, is to see that people learn the gospel and the love of Christ.” Therefore to be Protestant, to some degree, is to be certain of one’s salvation. But as we’ll see, that hard-fought assurance became more difficult to define.

Luther’s discovery of assurance and subsequent break with Rome coincided with his new understanding of the ‘justice of God’ in Romans 1:17. For years, the word δικαιοσυνη had struck fear into the heart of the sinful Augustinian monk. The ‘righteousness’ of God was a divine attribute that Luther dreaded, as he knew himself to be wholly unrighteous, and worthy of a righteous punishment. Luther’s conversion, however, came with his eventual re-interpretation of Romans 1:17: the ‘righteousness of God’ was in fact an “alien righteousness” given to sinners. “For He Himself is our sole righteousness until we are conformed to His likeness.” Christ had satisfied the righteousness of God by supplying His own to sinners. Where Augustine had interpreted the verb δικαιοω as “make righteous”, the former University of Erfurt law student interpreted it as “declare righteous.” Justification was a legal action performed by Christ on behalf of the sinner, not worked from within, but declared from without. This is how sinners could remain sinful and have certainty that they were indeed saved. Christians were “simul justus et peccator”: simultaneously just and sinner. Thus the Protestant doctrine of assurance was born. To have faith in Christ is not to achieve salvation personally, but to personally accept Christ’s salvific work done on our behalf. To Luther and to all of his spiritual offspring, Christ Himself is the assurance of sinners. Unlike Roman Catholicism that teaches that grace must be conferred and infused via physical sacraments, Protestants boast in the finished work of Christ via faith. And the result isn’t infused righteousness, but imputed righteousness! We receive the credit for the perfect life of Christ. This of course is modeled for us in the ‘man of faith’ Abraham. (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:9)

After the formative years of the Reformation, the pastoral application of the doctrine of assurance became a growing issue. How did classroom teaching translate into pulpit preaching? How exactly did sola fide fit inside of a church? How could Christians balance the assurance of their salvation with Gospel perseverance? Luther had placed Law and Gospel in distant theological corners. But not everyone saw it that way. To answer these questions, many post-Reformation Protestants engineered a system of Christian practice known as covenant theology (traditionally attributed to Heinrich Bullinger, successor to Huldrych Zwingi). After the rise of Protestant thought, the threat of Antinomianism became an ever-increasing reality in Reformed communities. Antinomianism teaches that the believer is completely free from all obligation to the law, and that any concession to legal duty was an infringement upon free grace. In short, once the Reformation principle of sola fide took shape, Protestant churches faced the new temptation to dispense with all works whatsoever and indulge in licentious, worldly behavior. As a result, pastors were forced to balance the comfort of assurance with the divine mandate to finish the spiritual race set before the church. Endemic to covenant Puritan orthopraxy is what many scholars have called the “third use of the Law.” The first use of the law was civil, guiding magistrates and leaders in rewarding good and punishing evil. (Rom. 13:3-4, 1 Tim. 2:1-2) According to Luther, “The first understanding and use of the Law is to restrain the wicked…This civil restraint is extremely necessary and was instituted by God.” The second use is evangelical, driving sinners away from their own righteousness to trust in Christ alone. (Gal. 3:10, 24) John Calvin wrote, “The law is like a mirror. In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both – just as the mirrors shows us the spots on our face.” Finally, Puritans exercised a third use of the law: directive or normative. In this light, Christians looked to the Law as a “rule of life” to guide them in ways pleasing to God. While Luther never explicitly developed such a use, Calvin did reference the Law as a “rule of life”, though not with the same drawn-out, conditional requirements of Puritan covenant theology. (Calvin, for example, was not a strict Sabbatarian)

From Geneva, John Calvin aided the Elizabethan Puritan movement by serving as a refuge for Protestant exiles during the reign of ‘bloody Mary.’ He also wrote important letters to critical leaders during the incipient years of Puritanism. However, Calvin differed from traditional Puritanism in one significant way: assurance. While Calvin defined assurance into the essence of faith, many Puritans (including the Westminster Assembly) did not necessarily equate the two. For this reason, many scholars through the years have posited that Puritans fundamentally departed from classical Reformed theology, compromising the sola fide principle that Protestantism was built upon. (R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649) Christopher Hill even suggested that English covenant theology was a means of “smuggling works into Calvinism,” due to its seeming conditions upon God’s grace. (Hill, Puritanism and Revolution)

Such false assertions reflect the tension that exists in biblical soteriology. One way or another, all theology must be wrapped in ecclesiology. Pastors are called to balance the beautiful assurance that believers possess in Christ with the call to persevere to the end of the Christian life with holiness and love. The Holy Spirit that comforts the church with the words “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” also exhorts that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Rom. 8:1, Matt. 24:13) Christians carry promise and perseverance hand-in-hand. The spiritual imbalance of these two crucial principles has become the avenue for some of the church’s most dangerous heresies. Antinomianism itself is the certainty of God’s promises without the observance of His commands. This is in essence the sin of Hyper-Calvinism. Antinomians will correctly affirm Romans 8:16 as cause for godly assurance: “The Spirit Himself bears witness without our spirit that we are children of God.” However, without a proper Christian ethic, it’s not difficult to see how Antinomian assurance easily translates into direct divine revelation, the likes of which America witnessed in its first major heretic: Anne Hutchinson. Sydney Ahlstrom has called the Antinomian Controversy “the opening chapter in American intellectual history.” Today we see the spiritual offspring of such extra-biblical revelationists in the Pentecostal movement. On the other hand, to carry perseverance without God’s sovereign promise is the foundation for legalism, the sin of Arminianism. Arminians correctly affirm John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” However, without a correct understanding of God’s sovereign grace, Christianity tends toward moralism, the likes of which America witnessed in Deism and Unitarian virtue. Puritans, in their obsessive quest for conversion, cultivated a means to confirm salvation called “practical syllogism,” a mode of observing one’s holiness as practiced in everyday life. However, without a proper sense of the Spirit’s witness and the inherent human temptation for self-trust, this ‘syllogism’ could often lead to legalism masked as Reformed covenant theology. (Theodore D. Bozeman explores the connection between Puritan covenant theology and the Antinomian controversy in his The Precisianist Strain)

The question of assurance is perhaps the most necessary question in the Christian life. And in an age when many evangelicals tout “once saved, always saved” only to live a life identical to the world, a biblical view of assurance should be restored. An unbeliever who was baptized when he or she was eight years old needs a biblical model of perseverance as badly as the thief on the cross needed the sweet words of assurance. Pastors are called to balance both. And when sinners are baptized and then told that they “can’t lose their salvation,” something else is missing. By the same token, no Christian should ever walk through this life thinking they must add something to the finished work of Christ. If there is no assurance, there is no Christ. And if there is no race, there is no faith.

Reforming with Ryle

rsz_jc_ryle_2By Evan Knies

John Charles Ryle was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire (1816) and educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He entered ministry around the year 1841, and served many churches up until his retirement in 1900, when he was aged 83. He died later that year.

Ryle was a minister that wrote many popular gospel tracts in his day, but he is known for his books. His Expository Thoughts on the Gospels are very helpful for young and old ministers alike. He has also written books such as Holiness, Practical Religion, and Light from Old Times. 

Reading Ryle, I have learned two primary things this summer that I’d like to share with you:

1. Ryle pushes you to the text and draws theology from it. 

Ryle writes in a way so that the Christian reader must rest in the Scripture. His examples in Holiness are straight from biblical examples (i.e. Lots wife). Ryle was a minister who rested in the sufficiency of Scripture because he rested in a sufficient God.

2. Ryle points to the martyrs as an example for the Christian life. 

In Light from Old Times, Ryle allows the martyrs to speak for themselves. They suffered and died because of what they believed. Ryle has written this work to encourage the church on its mission in declaring the truths of the gospel of grace. Ryle has a chapter on “Why the Reformers were Burned,” the conclusion is that they were burned because of their view of the Lord’s Supper:

“The end of Rowland Taylor’s weary imprisonment came at last. On the 22nd of January 1555, he was brought before the Lord Chancellor, Bishop Gardiner, and other Commissioners, and subjected to a lengthy examination. To go into the details of all that was said on this occasion would be wearisome and unprofitable. The whole affair was conducted with the same gross unfairness and partiality which characterized all the proceedings against the English Reformers, and the result, as a matter of course, was the good man’s condemnation. To use his own words, in a letter to a friend, he was pronounced a heretic because he defended the marriage of priests, and denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. Never let it be forgotten in these days, that the denial of any corporal presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper, was the turning point which decided the fate of our martyred Reformers. If they gave way on that point they might have lived. Because they would not admit any corporal presence they died. These things are recorded for our learning.” – pg. 109-110 (Light From Old Times) 

May we learn from these martyrs the importance of doctrine, and also the sanctity of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Doctrine matters. In a day where doctrine seems to go by the wayside, we can read first and foremost our Bibles and see that martyrs died because of what they believe about Jesus (Acts 7, Hebrews 11). We also learn from Ryle that men before us, many reformers especially, died because of important doctrinal issues. This should cause us to think more deeply about what songs we sing on Sundays, what books we hand out, etc. Doctrine is not dead. Orthodoxy did not die at the cross. But the cross influences orthodoxy. Sound doctrine is tied up in Paul’s Statement, “I wish to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)”. To say you don’t desire sound doctrine, you don’t desire Christ. What you believe matters.

From the works of Ryle, we are able to see the importance of preaching, ordinances of the local church, deaths of martyrs and a clear gospel. I am thankful to God for men like Ryle who have helped the church long past their life here on earth.

Friends, you only get one life and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Christ will last!


Evan Knies (B.A., Boyce College) and his wife Lauren are originally from Louisiana. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is serving as as student pastor at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.