saved by his life

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John Murray on Romans: worth getting to grips with

There’s an interesting verse in Romans 5, where Paul argues that if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

If God treats us so favourably when we were enemies, we can take it that he will be inexpressibly more generous once we are actually reconciled.

But for a long time I’ve wondered what the contrasts mean, exactly. The impression you get is that ‘being saved’ is something even bigger and better than ‘being reconciled,’ and also, that Christ’s life means something even more than his death.

Christ’s life, presumably, means his life after his death. (That’s not to belittle the significance of his life here on earth, when he perfectly fulfilled and magnified the law as a baby, a child, a youth, and an adult, bearing the sins of his people, and going about doing good.) But after his successful death, he rose again and ascended to heaven.

His life now is one of glory, including his own satisfaction with the work he finished on earth, enjoyment of his Father’s delight and approval, and an atmosphere of adoring worship from the angels and spirits of the just made perfect. He finished his labours and that’s the kind of rest he entered into.

But his life now is also one of constant activity. He is continually making intercession for his people, continually sympathising with them, continually revealing to them the will of God for their salvation, continually caring for them and ruling them and defending them from his and their enemies.

And where he lives now, he is preparing a place for them. His life now includes him unfolding the rest of history for them and for their good, and treasuring up for them a weight of glory that will correspond to but hugely over-compensate for whatever light affliction they have experienced here.

This weight of glory which Christ’s people can look forward to in heaven must, I take it, be included in the ‘being saved.’

Over and above ‘being reconciled,’ being saved includes being renewed. Imputed righteousness is always accompanied by infused righteousness, as sinners are brought from spiritual death to spiritual new life. Because of the various mediatorial activities Christ does in the life he now lives, his people live also – they are currently sustained in their new life of living to God, and in fact they are enabled to live more and more to righteousness and die more and more to sin.

But whatever fullness and richness of life the Lord’s people enjoy here due to Christ’s life above, ‘being saved’ must include being finally gathered into the completeness of salvation in heaven at the end of time. The goal of salvation for this life is a quickened, renewed, holy people – but that’s only an interim goal, until they can be made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity. Christ’s glorified life guarantees the glorification of his people.

This is something I’ve been mulling over for ages now, but it was only coming across John Murray’s commentary on Romans very recently that clarified and crystallised what this verse must mean. He says:

“The life of Christ referred to here is not what we often speak of as the life of Christ, his sojourn in this world in the days of his flesh. It is the resurrection life of Christ. There lies back of the expression an implied contrast between the death of Christ and his resurrection (cf 4:25). It is not simply the resurrection as an event that is in view, however. Paul does not say, we shall be saved by his resurrection, but ‘by his life,’ and therefore it is the exalted life of the Redeemer that is intended. The resurrection is in the background as conditioning the exaltation life. Since the clause in question is parallel to that in verse 9 – ‘we shall be saved through him from the wrath’ – and since the latter has eschatological significance, it is likely that the salvation here envisaged is also eschatological. On that assumption the guarantee of the final and consummated salvation is the exaltation life of Christ. This is a more embracive way of expressing the truth that the guarantee of the believer’s resurrection is the resurrection of Christ (cf 1 Cor 15:20-24).

The a fortiori argument of the apostle is thus apparent. It is to the effect that if, when we were in a state of alienation from God, God showed his love to such an extent that he reconciled us to himself and instated us in his favour through the death of his own Son, how much more, when this alienation is removed and we are instated in his favour, shall the exaltation life of Christ insure our being saved to the uttermost. It would be a violation of the wisdom, goodness, and faithfulness of God to suppose that he would have done the greater and failed in the lesser. This argument also shows the indissoluble connection that there is between the death and resurrection of Christ and that since these may never be dissociated so the benefits accruing from the one may never be severed from those accruing from the other. It is a frequent emphasis of Paul (cf 6:3-5, 2 Cor 5:14-15, Eph 2:4-7, Col 3:3-4). Hence those who are beneficiaries of Jesus’ death must also be the beneficiaries of all that is entailed in his resurrection life. …”

the midweek meeting

In the very latest spat between Mark Jones and DG Hart (at time of writing), the dispute centres on the status of midweek prayer meetings. Whereas Jones regrets that more people don’t value midweek meetings more highly, Hart is concerned that people shouldn’t be pressurised into attending meetings which aren’t after all mandatory. (Jones, Hart.)

Here I have mixed feelings, because although my heart is with Jones, my head is with Hart.

When midweek prayer meetings go well, they are an extremely valuable form of fellowship and joint edification. It helps you to keep things in better perspective if your week includes an extra service half way between one Lord’s Day and the next. It’s helpful to hear fellow believers pray out loud in a public setting – all the more so, the more their prayers prioritise spiritual rather than providential blessings, and plead Christ’s merit and worthiness rather than our perceived neediness, and feature more confessions of our sinfulness than complacency over what restraining grace has kept us from. You can face the rest of the week better after being reminded of God’s grace, including the accessibility of the throne of grace, and the graces of other members of your congregation. This is what my heart says.

But as my head knows, the basic source of spiritual help from one week to the next is the Lord’s Day itself. This is the day which the Lord has singled out and set apart for people to gather together to worship him. Whereas on other days of the week we’re allowed to gather for worship, on the Lord’s Day we’re required to gather for worship. That’s required not just in the straightforward sense that it’s the fourth commandment, but also with the implication that we’re licensed to look for the Lord’s blessing in a special way when we trustingly obey what he requires. The Lord summons his people to gather for his worship in his house on his day, because that’s the way he has chosen to bring them so many of the benefits of redemption. On the Lord’s Day the Lord’s people gather in the Lord’s name to hear the Lord’s Word read and preached by the Lord’s servants, to sing the Lord’s praises, to call on the Lord’s name in prayer, to participate from time to time in the sacraments the Lord has instituted, and to receive the Lord’s benediction – these are the means of grace which the Saviour has established, and they’re all meant to be enjoyed on the Lord’s Day. The ‘assembling of ourselves together’ which we must at all costs avoid forsaking is the official, corporate, authorised, authoritative assembly of the Lord’s people in the Lord’s name on the Lord’s day. This is the day when we’re meant to worship him – the day we’re meant to praise him – the day we’re meant to pray to him – and all day long, in fact.

Meanwhile, the other six days God has allowed us ‘for our own employments’ (SC 62) or ‘for our own affairs’ (LC 120). The six days are for work and worldly things, as distinct from the one day for rest and heavenly things. And here there’s an important point about the limits of ecclesiastical authority and how seriously we take the regulative principle as a safeguard against imposing burdens on our consciences. Clearly, the church is authorised to call people together for worship on the Lord’s Day – that’s what the Lord’s Day is for – and members of a congregation can rightly expect to be challenged if they negligently fail to attend the Lord’s Day worship. But the church doesn’t have the power to make any of the other six days into holy days (or days with holy times) when people can be summoned together, even for such an apparently blameless purpose as worship. We know this from the traditional Reformed objection to Lent, Easter, Christmas – festivals like these, vulgarly known as holy days, have no warrant in the Word of God – and when the church insists that they need to be religiously observed, it’s an abuse of churchly authority and an illegitimate imposition on the consciences of the Lord’s people.

Of course, the principle of six days for worldly employments and recreations doesn’t exclude a spiritual dimension to our lives (just as the heavenliness of the Lord’s Day includes provision for works of earthly necessity and mercy). So it is that on the six days, everyone is supposed to read the Bible for themselves and in their families, pray with and for others, reflect on scripture truths they’ve read or heard, have fellowship with other believers, and so on. This is distinct from the official corporate worship of the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day, though – it’s personal, family, and/or group devotions. Even though these activities may be exceptionally edifying and highly spiritually beneficial, they have to be fitted in to worldly schedules, with time being carved out for them around our worldly commitments as best we can, instead of being the whole purpose of our time for the whole day, as is the case on the Lord’s Day. In other words, whereas worship on the Lord’s Day is churchly (mandatory and corporate), worship on the other six days is non-churchly (discretionary and personal/familial).

Midweek prayer meetings, then, fall into the category of the discretionary. Unlike the Lord’s Day worship, they are non-compulsory and non-corporate. Non-compulsory in that, completely unlike on the Lord’s Day, it’s legitimate to have worldly business on a weekday that prevents you attending the service. You’re allowed to be sensible about whether you can make it along this week and pragmatic about a cost/benefit analysis of weeknight exhaustion to likely spiritual refreshment, and the church, which has no authority to summon people for worship not on the Lord’s Day, has no power to discipline people for not attending midweek meetings. And they’re non-corporate in that they’re an expression of personal or group devotion, but not an authorised part (or authoritative act) of the worship of the church as such.

Obviously, this isn’t to say that prayer meetings are pointless or that everyone should stop attending them. The only thing it means is that we need to keep clearly in mind what we’re doing when we gather for midweek meetings, and value them in the right way. For groups of believers to agree to meet for the purpose of praying together at a convenient time in the middle of the week is perfectly legitimate. It will usually be edifying and an encouragement to persevere in personal and family prayer and in growth in grace generally. (You could of course make the same argument about reading devotional books or admiring some aspect of creation so as to reflect on divine power or researching some aspect of history so as to reflect on divine providence or having friends round for food and fellowship or keeping spiritual diaries and prayer journals, or any number of everyday activities that can be done in a way that allows Christian graces to be manifested and developed.) But it would be a mistake to look to things like these, which are ultimately only optional expressions of personal or group piety, for the kind of blessing and strengthening which God has ordained to be sought and received in the actual means of grace in the courts of his actual house on the day he has actually set apart for himself and his worship.

People can’t, therefore, measure their own holiness or the holiness of others by their attendance on midweek meetings. So it can’t be fair to say that it’s laziness that drives non-attendance, or lack of acquaintance with the power of prayer. It could be diligence in your lawful calling (job, family/friend relationships, caring responsibilities) that prevents you getting to the service. Or, if most of the prayers are going to be lugubrious updates on people’s latest hospital appointments and routine moralising about the predictable latest instances of societal breakdown, perhaps it’s a sense of the real power of prayer that makes it more attractive to stay at home and go on your knees in your own closet. Obviously, though, this line of reasoning is inadmissible if we’re talking about the services of the Lord’s Day.

Midweek meetings are valuable and can play an important part in the life and growth of a believer and a congregation. But only up to a point – they’re not the Lord’s Day worship that the Lord requires. If we had a higher view of the Lord’s Day and the mandatory services of the Lord’s house, and greater confidence and firmer expectations about their effectiveness as his own designated means of grace, we would perhaps be less distracted by the optional extras that grow up around them in different communities of believers, and less inclined to invest them with meaning and powers and holiness which they only have derivatively (drawing on the graces which are really nurtured in the ordained means of grace) not in and of themselves.

With an Everlasting Love

HMCartwrightA collection of sermons by Rev Hugh M Cartwright has recently been published, titled With an Everlasting Love.

Mr Cartwright’s preaching never dipped below a baseline of ‘very good’ and often hit ‘excellent.’ The sermons in this volume are a small sample of this, reflecting how accurately he opened up Scripture, how deftly he applied it to his hearers, and how heartily he glorified Christ as the Saviour of sinners.

You can get it from Amazon (paperback, kindle) (with hardback on the way), if you’re not in striking distance of the FP Bookroom or the Stornoway Religious Bookshop.

I, yet not I

Salvation is strangely both ‘all about me’ and at the same time ‘not about me at all.’

In some aspects, it is or has to become intensely personal.

In order to be saved, things have to get personal. God, who is real, needs to become real to me. I need to understand that I have sinned and I need to embrace Christ as my Saviour from sin.

Then, in order to get the comfort of salvation, things have to be personal. If Christ is my Saviour then I am forgiven and accepted and loved and cared for and will be brought safely through to the end – all the blessings of redemption belong to me for my benefit and encouragement.

But in other ways, this “I” is the least important of all.

Election – In a past eternity, God elected some and not others to eternal life. He did this out of his mere good pleasure. Although it’s important to know that each one of them is precious and loved individually, yet none of them had any say in their own election and they weren’t elected on the basis of any characteristics of their own. Neither their good qualities nor their pitiableness nor their desperate need played any part in the Father’s choice – his reasons were all in himself, not in them.

Regeneration – At some point in time, God acts on the soul to bring that person from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is as impossible for someone to regenerate themselves as it is for someone to give birth to themselves. The initiative is his, not theirs.

Justification – Justification is an act of God which completely bypasses our involvement. Goodwin says you’re more capable of ordering a conjunction of the planets than of arranging your own justification. The counter-imputations of sin and righteousness happen in a realm utterly beyond our ability to influence – the sentence of God the Father on the basis of the merits of the Son in human nature.

Sanctification – Faith and repentance, the twin first acts of the newly regenerated soul, are my acts but his gift. Dying more and more to sin and living more and more to righteousness do of course involve my faculties and my effort, but the motivation, the empowerment, and the model are outside of myself. And growth in grace in general is much less about what we do and achieve, and more about what we suffer or (for a less emotionally loaded term) what we are given to experience and undergo. We are shaped, we are changed, we are developed and taught, much more by what happens to us than by what we achieve. And it’s an infallible principle that the bigger self is, the less holy we are. Those of the Lord’s people who are the most sanctified are the ones whose own will is less wilful, who are the most ready to accept and learn from God’s Word and providence instead of resisting and wanting things their own way, who are increasingly dependent on and decreasingly independent of their Saviour. We would be more holy if we were more absorbed with the greatness and goodness of God, than of ourselves: it’s not about us.

The salvation of millions of individual people, each one loved and redeemed individually, is essentially of the Lord. Each individual saved sinner can say, I get the benefit – but each one confesses, it’s not on my initiative, I don’t contribute anything, and I don’t get the glory.

four months

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Well, the sproglet is now almost 4 months old. But I don’t have anything new or interesting to say about babies (being pregnant was exasperating from beginning to end, giving birth wasn’t much fun, and looking after a baby is all-consuming) (- just to prove the point).

So on here it will just be the same old same old.

Like – the first thing I read once the baby arrived, other than, of course, facebook, was Thomas Goodwin on saving faith.

This was really just revisiting familiar territory, in a concession to the mush that my head had/has become. The page I opened at said this:

“… though promises are the means by which we believe, yet it is the promiser that is the basis or the foundation on whom our hearts ultimately and quietly rest for the performance [of what is promised].”

And this was helpful. The scriptures are full of great and precious promises. Sometimes they seem almost too good to be true and too much to hope for, although obviously their credibility comes from God’s faithfulness, not from our optimism, our grasp of them, or the circumstances looking likely.

But more to the point, even when we do believe them, there is a problem if we end up fixating on the things promised at the expense of the one who does the promising. We’ll take his stuff, we’re not so concerned about him. We like the spiritual comfort and we like our providences running smoothly, but with the promise known to be guaranteed we then disloyally relax leaving the Lord in the background of just a corner of our lives. If only we would believe the promises by quietly resting our hearts more and more on the covenant keeping God.

(Ps – no more gratuitous baby photos, I promise!)

hello world

DSC_0020_3A fortnight ago our baby boy made his appearance. He came four weeks early, taking us all by surprise – I hadn’t even started my maternity leave, far less packed a hospital bag. Apart from being pretty small, he’s healthy and contented, and so are we. Photos and vital statistics are on facebook for anyone interested.

justification is not a moral change

Apparently, the new Reformation Heritage Study Bible includes the comment, ‘Justification is the change of man’s moral nature; every justified man is a changed man.’

Not being madly keen on study bibles in general, I haven’t seen the Reformation Heritage one to find out for myself whether it does indeed say this. I sincerely hope it doesn’t, because however true the second half of the sentence is in the right context (and incidentally it’s also true for women, and children), the first half is simply false.

It would in fact be an egregious blunder for anyone claiming to be reformed to say that justification is the change of our moral nature. Justification has nothing to do with our moral nature, or anything in us at all – it is entirely to do with our legal status, an act passed on us.

If you want to talk about changing our moral nature, that shifts the discussion into the realm of sanctification. Sanctification is something internal, whereas justification is purely external – sanctification changes our heart inside us (from sinful to holy) while justification changes our legal relation to God outside of us (from condemned and alienated to pardoned and accepted).

Although it is true and important that those who are justified are from that point onwards being sanctified, it is essential to be clear that (and how) justification and sanctification are distinct. Larger Catechism 77 should help anyone in the Reformed world who might be in danger of getting confused (or the whole section from 69 to 78). Meanwhile teaching which blurs the distinction in such unequivocally wrong terms as the actual statement that justification is the change of man’s moral nature is not reformed – is compatible neither with Scripture in the first instance nor the standards – but is instead seriously erroneous.