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John Owen: Merit and Grace

22 Apr

1616 -1683. Preeminent English Puritan theologian, pastor, and independent.

God requireth not any thing of us whereby we should purchase or merit for ourselves life and salvation: for “by grace are we saved through faith; not of works, lest any man should boast,” Eph. 2:8, 9. God doth save us neither by nor for the “works of righteousness which we have done,” but “according to his mercy,” Tit. 3:5: so that although, on the one side, the “wages of sin is death,” there being a proportion in justice between sin and punishment, yet there is none between our obedience and our salvation; and therefore “eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Rom. 6:23. God, therefore, requires nothing at our hands under this notion or consideration, nor is it possible that in our condition any such thing should be required of us; for whatever we can do is due beforehand on other accounts, and so can have no prospect to merit what is to come. Who can merit by doing his duty? Our Saviour doth so plainly prove the contrary as none can farther doubt of it than of his truth and authority, Luke 17:10. Nor can we do any thing that is acceptable to him but what is wrought in us by his grace; and this overthrows the whole nature of merit, which requires that that be every way our own whereby we would deserve somewhat else at the hands of another, and not his more than ours.

~John Owen~

The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3: Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 379.

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Wilhelmus à Brakel – Understanding How Christ Is Our Substitute

17 Apr


In order to understand the nature of satisfaction correctly, we need to consider the nature of sin, the Judge, and the work of redemption.

(1) Sin brings upon man guilt, wrath, and punishment. If the sinner is to be delivered, he must be acquitted and be delivered from guilt. God must be appeased and the punishment must be borne.

(2) God is the Judge who appears here not so much as a creditor, nor as Lord and offended party, but as Judge. A creditor may forgive a debt if he so desires, and a lord and offended party may relinquish his rights; such freedom of action has been afforded to man by the supreme Judge. A judge, however, may neither relinquish justice nor the punishments due upon crime. However, the manner, time, place, and nature of the punishment, God has left to the discretion of the judge. Since God is the supreme Judge, His justice demands the punishment of the criminal.

(3) The work of satisfaction is contingent upon the diversity of the debt in question. In retiring monetary debts the debtor is not taken into consideration, but only the debt to be paid, which is satisfied with an amount equivalent to the debt. It is immaterial to the creditor whether this debt is paid by the principal debtor or by another who functions as surety. He will be paid with the identical sum of money, which is not a concession at all. With criminal guilt, however, the situation is different. Then the debt cannot be retired by something equivalent in value, but punishment is required for the satisfaction of justice as administered by the judge. Not only the debt or guilt is considered, but also the person who has rendered himself guilty, the criminal. If this satisfaction were to be accomplished by a surety, then, in addition to the surety making satisfaction by bearing the punishment, there must also follow the forgiveness of the criminal. Thus justice would be satisfied; the judge, however, must be willing to admit and accept the surety as well as to punish the incurred guilt in him. Viewing his rights in the absolute sense of the word, the judge would not have to do so. He must thus not impute the punishment to the criminal, but release him from guilt, wrath, and judgment, since all these have been imputed to the surety. Thus mercy and justice, satisfaction and forgiveness meet each other in the atonement, all of which is true in Christ.

~Wilhelmus à Brakel~

The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 465–466.

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John Calvin – Christ, Our Righteousness

6 Mar

It is necessary that Christ should come to our aid; who, being alone just, can render us just by transferring to us his own righteousness. You now see how the righteousness of faith is the righteousness of Christ. When therefore we are justified, the efficient cause is the mercy of God, the meritorious is Christ, the instrumental is the word in connection with faith. Hence faith is said to justify, because it is the instrument by which we receive Christ, in whom righteousness is conveyed to us. Having been made partakers of Christ, we ourselves are not only just, but our works also are counted just before God, and for this reason, because whatever imperfections there may be in them, are obliterated by the blood of Christ; the promises, which are conditional, are also by the same grace fulfilled to us; for God rewards our works as perfect, inasmuch as their defects are covered by free pardon.

~John Calvin~

Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 138–139.

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John Murray – Why Justification by faith?

27 Feb

John Murray

The differentiating quality of faith is that the nature and function of faith is to rest completely upon another. It is this resting, confiding, entrusting quality of faith that makes it appropriate to and indeed exhibitive of the nature of justification. It is consonant with its source as the free grace of God, with its nature as a forensic act, and with its ground as the righteousness of Christ. Faith terminates upon Christ and his righteousness and it makes mention of his righteousness and of his only. This is the Savior’s specific identity in the matter of justification-he is the Lord our righteousness. And in resting upon him alone for salvation it is faith that perfectly dovetails justification in him and in his righteousness. Other graces or fruits of the Spirit have their own specific functions in the application of redemption, but only faith has as its specific quality the receiving and resting of self-abandonment and totality of self-commitment.

This is both the stumbling-block and the irresistible appeal of the gospel. It is the stumbling-block to self-righteousness and self-righteousness is the arch-demon of antithesis to grace. It is the glory of the gospel for the contrite and brokenhearted-if we put any other exercise of the human spirit in the place of faith, then we cut the throat of the only confidence a sinner conscious of his lost and helpless condition can entertain. Justification by faith is the jubilee trumpet of the gospel because it proclaims the gospel to the poor and destitute whose only door of hope is to roll themselves in total helplessness upon the grace and power and righteousness of the Redeemer of the lost. In the words of one, ‘cast out your anchor into the ocean of the Redeemer’s merits’.

~John Murray~

Collected Writings of John Murray – Volume 2: Systematic Theology (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 216-217.

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Wilhelmus à Brakel – The Justice and Grace of God

18 Jan


Beware, oh sinner, whoever you are, for God is just! Do not imagine that you will be able to satisfy God by praying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” or by doing your utmost to refrain from evil and to practice virtue. To imagine such is to be on the broad way to eternal destruction, and causes millions, who live under the ministry of the gospel, to perish. If you could be delivered from this foolish imagination, there would still be hope for you. As long as you foster such an imagination, however, you are in a hopeless condition. Please consider that there can be no hope of grace and salvation without satisfaction of the justice of God, that is, by the enduring of punishment.

You have heard that God is gracious, which is true. You are guilty, however, of distorting the essential meaning of the grace of God by interpreting it to refer to remission of sin and absolution from punishment apart from satisfaction. Such, however, is not grace. There is no contradiction in God. The justice of God, which cannot be compromised to the least degree, of necessity demands the punishment of the sinner. God cannot deny Himself, and thus grace does not negate His justice. Grace is not incompatible with justice, but confirms it. This is the grace of God so highly exalted in His Word—that God, without finding anything in man, yes, contrary to his desert, gave His Son as a Surety. He transferred the sins of the elect from their account to His and by bearing the punishment justly due upon their sin, satisfied the justice of God on their behalf. This is grace, namely, that God offers Jesus as Surety in the gospel. It is grace when God grants faith to a sinner to receive Jesus and to entrust his soul to Jesus. It is grace when God converts a sinner, granting him spiritual life. It is grace when God permits a sinner to sensibly experience His favor. It is grace when God sanctifies a sinner, leading him in the way of holiness to salvation.

Please note how much the grace of God differs from your conception of grace. Put your erroneous conception aside and cease from trying to make all things well in the way of prayer and self-reformation.

~Wilhelmus à Brakel~

The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 129-130.

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John Newton – Let Us Love And Sing And Wonder

6 Dec

Praise For Redeeming Love

Let us love, and sing, and wonder,
Let us praise the Saviour’s name!
He has hush’d the law’s loud thunder,
He has quench’d mount Sinai’s flame:
He has wash’d us with his blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.

2 Let us love the Lord who bought us,
Pity’d us when enemies,
Call’d us by his grace, and taught us,
Gave us ears, and gave us eyes:
He has wash’d us with his blood,
He presents our souls to God.

3 Let us sing, though fierce temptations
Threaten hard to bear us down!
For the Lord, our strong salvation,
Holds in view the conqu’ror’s crown:
He who wash’d us with his blood,
Soon will bring us home to God.

4 Let us wonder, grace and justice
Join, and point to mercy’s store;
When through grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles, and asks no more:
He who wash’d us with his blood,
Has secur’d our way to God.

5 Let us praise and join the chorus
Of the saints enthron’d on high;
Here they trusted him before us,
Now their praises fill the sky;
“Thou hast wash’d us with thy blood,
Thou art worthy, Lamb of God!”

6 Hark! the name of Jesus sounded
Loud from golden harps above!
Lord, we blush, and are confounded,
Faint our praises, cold our love!
Wash our souls and songs with blood,
For by thee we come to God.

~John Newton~

The Works Of John Newton, Vol. III – LXXXII: Praise For Redeeming Love (Edinburgh, Scotland; The Banner of Truth Trust; 1985) p. 653.

Modern Versions of the Hymn:

Daniel Renstrom from the Adore and Tremble album:

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Indelible Grace from the For All The Saints album:

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Martin Luther – The Very Heel Of The Serpent-Opposing Seed

18 Nov

But the gift of God that I particularly love and revere in you above all the rest is that you emphasize the righteousness of faith so faithfully and purely in all your writings. For this article is the head and cornerstone that alone begets, nurtures, builds, preserves, and defends the Church of God. Without it, the Church cannot remain standing for a single hour, as you know and perceive. That is why you insist upon it as you do. For no one can teach correctly in the church or resist any adversary successfully, unless he has grasped this article or, as Paul calls it, “the sound doctrine” [Titus 2:1], one who, as the same Paul says, “holds fast to the doctrine” [cf. Titus 1:9 Vg]…

We see how those who do not do this are carried about by so many winds of uncertain doctrine [Eph. 4:14], driven up and down by opinions that are endlessly multiplied, always learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth [2 Tim. 3:7]. And we not only see this but have also experienced it ourselves, when we were being spun about in the same whirlwinds of doctrines until the grace of God brought us to port and built us upon this solid rock [Matt. 7:24], so that we are certain of what we teach, learn, and hold, and we no longer vacillate as we did. Therefore, I beg you, most excellent Brenz, continue vigorously to press this article concerning righteousness by all means, wherever you are able, even until they are sick of it, just as you are doing. For otherwise the whole world is full enough of writers, shouters, and printers who very boldly neglect this article. Then, too, there are many who persecute it; most (since they are unable to do any other harm) obscure and corrupt it. But I am not surprised, for this article is the very heel of the Seed who opposes the ancient serpent, the heel that crushes its head. Therefore, Satan on his part can do nothing but lie in wait for it. But whatever harm he may do with his endless and tenacious snares, nevertheless he cannot conquer and crush it. As it is written: “He will crush your head.”

~Martin Luther~

Luther’s Works – Vol. 59 (St. Louis, MI; Concordia Publishing House, 2012) p. 288-289. Preface to Johann Brenz, Exposition of the Prophet Amos.

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Charles Spurgeon – Salvation is of the Lord Alone

14 Sep


Some persons on earth do not know where to put the crown; but those in heaven do. They place the diadem on the right head; and they ever sing “And he hath made us what we are.”

Well, then, beloved, would not this note well become us here? For “what have we that we have not received?” Who hath made us to differ? I know, this morning, that I am a justified man; I have the full assurance that

“The terrors of law and of God,
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.”

There is not a sin against me in God’s book they have all been for ever obliterated by the blood of Christ. and cancelled by his own right hand. I have nothing to fear; I cannot be condemned. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Not God, for he hath justified; not Christ. for he hath died. But if I am justified, who made me so? I say–“And hath made me what I am.” Justification from first to last. is of God. Salvation is of the Lord alone.

~Charles Spurgeon~

Spurgeon’s Sermons (Spokane, Washington; Olive Tree Bible Software; 2010) eBook. Vol. 1, Sermon No. 10; Titled: The Kingly Priesthood of the Saints; Delivered on Sabbath Morning, January 28, 1855.

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John Calvin – The Two-fold Benefit of Faith in Christ

21 Jun

Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father; and, secondly, being sanctified by his Spirit, we aspire to integrity and purity of life.

~John Calvin~

The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville, Kentucky; Westminster John Knox Press; 1974) Book 3. Chapter 11. Section 1.

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Augustine – What is Grace?

19 Jun

What is grace? That which is freely given. What is “freely given”? Given, not paid. If it was due, wages would be given, but grace would not be bestowed. But if it was really due, then you were good. But if, as is true, you were evil but believed on him who justifies the ungodly (What is, “who justifies the ungodly”? the ungodly is made righteous), consider what by right hung over you by the law and you have obtained by grace. But having obtained that grace by faith, you will be just by faith—”for the just lives by faith.”


Historical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan; 2011) Chapter 23: Justification

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