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 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.

Your Sunday’s Best

By Colton Corter 

The Lord’s Day is the most important day of the week. Jesus has placed the authority of representing the Kingdom of God on earth in our gathered assemblies (Matt 18:20). So God’s glory is put on peculiar display when we meet as local congregations to worship our gracious Triune God. We meet to hear the Word of truth and so be set free (John 8:32). We come together to instruct one another by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).We gather to reaffirm our covenant with Christ and one another – based on the finished work of Christ – by taking the Lord Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). Moreover, God actually commands us to meet with one another each week (Heb 10:25).

The life of our church is found in our Sunday morning gathering (or Friday if you live in the Middle East!). We meet to see and savor the glory of Christ for the purpose of delighting in that glory together and display our satisfaction in the overflow of worship. Sunday morning is the key battle our congregations’ fight for joy in God. And that battle begins, at least, on Saturday.

What are some things that we can do to put ourselves in the best position for God, by His sovereign Spirit, to maximize our Lord’s Day?

Go to Bed

One way to fight for Sunday morning joy is to receive adequate Saturday night rest. For some with jobs that require them to work late, this may not be an option. But to the extent that you are in control over how much rest you get, it is wise to forsake a few hours of TV or hanging out to be at your best the next day.

Brothers, you will never regret being fresh for Sunday morning. I know all too well how easy it is to stay up late (even doing edifying things) when I should be sleeping. My joy in God has only increased as a result of getting some sleep the night before. The battle with myself that morning seems easier when I am more alert and clear headed. For your joy: get some rest.

Meditate Over the Sermon Text 

Scripture meditation is the key to Christian maturity. Saturating our minds in glorious gospel truth transforms our lowly hearts as we are subjected to the beauty of God. A good time to practice this spiritual discipline is the day before a particular text is preached at you church. If you can, try to get the text for the next week early so that you can spend a week or even just your Saturday preparing your heart for the preached work. Preaching is a monologue but it is nonetheless a dialogue. We are hearing from God and responding to Him with our minds and hearts.

Pastors, might you consider making your sermon schedule available ahead of time so that your people can be tilling their heart soil for the seeds you will drop? Encourage their diligently searching the Scriptures so that they might be in a frame to better understand God’s Word as you teach them.

Pray for the Preacher

Our pastors have the hardest job in the world. Especially our senior pastors who have the duty and the privilege to stand before God’s people and exult in the Scriptures together with them. To take the name of God on our lips is no light thing. Their weeks have been dominated by their pursuit of the point of the text – applying the double-edged point to their hearts and laboring to try and pierce yours too.

Take some time the night before to pray for your pastor or whoever is preaching the next day. His task is an impossible one in his own strength. His meager sermon will not sustain the godly or save the ungodly without the supernatural work of the Spirit to attend His own Word. He is a desperate man standing before desperate man. Pray for his heart, that preaching for him would be the overflow of His joy in God.

Pray for the Members 

Garrett Kell has recently written that the Christian’s membership directory is the second most important book they own. One of the things that our church promises to do for one another as members of Third Avenue of Baptist Church is to not forsake praying for ourselves and one another. Surely, we are never in more prayer than before our Sunday morning service. Their hearts, quite like your own, is often times dull. They need the work of the Spirit tomorrow morning, just as you do, so that their hearts might radiate the glories of free grace together will all the saints. Some brothers and sisters need to be comforted by the truth that their righteousness lay ever outside of them. Some people need to be warned, reminded that justification is unto life and that without the fruit of sanctification the grace of justification may be feigned.

See if your church has membership directories and if they don’t then maybe you could suggest it to your church staff. Regardless, we could start today praying for the church at large – that she would be affected by the Word of God in such a way that reflects the character of God to the watching world

Warming up the Oven 

Of course, none of this promises a perfect Sunday. Our hearts may still droop. Our minds may still wander. God and God alone gives the growth. But it is important that we position ourselves in such a way to try to maximize the means of grace that God has provided for us.

George Swinnock entreats us, saying, “If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on Saturday night, thous shouldest find it with him in the Lord’s-day morning.” For our joy, brothers, lets do what we can to do be at our best on Sunday morning.