Expressing Love

It took eight years for me to hear her.  From the very first Valentine’s Day after we met, every year I would buy my wife a white teddy bear.  The final teddy bear I bought her was about 40 inches tall.  She was gracious and appreciated the thought and the attempt at being romantic.  But when she came home from work stressed out and tired of sitting behind a desk, the affection that meant the most to her was a back and foot massage.  It took me eight years to hear her saying to me, “I love you means rubbing my sore feet and aching back.”

We often think that our expressions of love to God are sufficient and satisfying to God. Now, it is true that God does consider the intent of the heart.  However, God also tells us clearly how we are to express our love to him.  The expression of love toward God can be summarized under three headings.  1)  If you love God, you will love His Word.  2) If you love God, you will love who God loves.  3) If you love God, you will obey God.

Loving God’s Word

Fundamental to loving God is loving how God has revealed Himself and His will.  Apart from God’s revelation of Himself, we cannot know God.  (See Romans chapter 1 for the reason.)  I can only imagine what it was like during WW2 for the soldiers as they were fighting and thinking about home.  How precious were the letters from home, especially the letters from their wives, fiancés and girlfriends!  Those letters were the connection between them until they could be in each other’s physical presence.  In the longest chapter in the Bible, David wrote about God’s Word.  Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Then in Psalm 139:17 David reflected upon God’s thoughts again.  “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”

Loving God’s People

If I were to ignore and disregard the things in my wife’s life that were important to her, what conclusion would she draw?  That I didn’t care about her!  But, precisely because I love her, I will treat with respect and reverence those things she holds to be important.  To an infinitely greater degree, this is true of God as well.  Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  If we don’t honor and respect and prayer for and love the gathered body of believers –whom Jesus died for! — how much do we really love Jesus?

Loving God’s Commands

Throughout scripture there is a theme that connects love and obedience.  Love for those in authority over you necessarily requires obedience, especially God (Deut 11:1, 13; Josh 22:5; Psa 119:47-48; John 14:15; 1John 5:2-3; 2John 1:6.) Jesus even directly stated in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”  1 John 5:3 says “1Jn 5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

As a dog lover, I was reminded of how a dog loves its master.  Even though it so desperately wants the biscuit sitting on his nose, because his master’s pleasure is more important than its own, it will wait until the master gives the command.

 

So here is how you can evaluate how much you love God.  1) How much do you love His word?  Do you read it daily, not out of mere obligation but out of a desire to be with God? 2) How much do you love what God loves?  Do you enjoy being in worship services, and fellowshipping with God’s people?  Is Sabbath keeping a high priority?  3) How much do you strive to please God in faith and obedience?  Is holiness on your radar?  Does sin against God sadden your soul?

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; Psalm 63:1 KJV

 

When we study God’s Word it is often beneficial to compare different translations.  The differences will frequently indicate that there are some interpretive issues lying under the surface of the translation.  Psalm 63:1 reveals just such a difference.  In the KJV we read, “Early will I seek thee.”  but in the ESV we read, “earnestly I seek you.”  There is a substantial difference between seeking God early and seeking God earnestly.

Seeking God earnestly reflects upon our desire to pursue God with sincerity.  If we stop and examine our walk with Jesus, we might very well be convicted of our lack of sincerity.  But seeking God early changes the way we read this verse and how it applies to us.  The primitive Hebrew word means, “dawn, or to be up early at any task.”  Instead of sincerity being the issue, priority becomes the issue.

David is reflecting upon his priority to seek God.  Before anything else takes place, “early will I seek thee.”  Is this the way we approach God?  Just as finding water is the highest necessity for surviving in a dry and weary land, seeking God first, must be the highest priority in our spiritual well-being.

When our dog gets sick, do we seek God first or the vet?  When our boss tells us we’ve been let go, do we run to God first, or the employee agency?  When our child comes home from school with the proverbial note from the principle, do we run to God first or to the school office?

This is the shape that true devotion to God assumes.  The more devoted to God you are, the higher your priority to run to Him.  So how do we increase our devotion to God?  How do we learn to run to Him first?

Aside from regular corporate worship, the next greatest benefit in our devotion to God comes from our daily devotionals.  Daily time with Jesus Christ is a necessity for increasing the affections of our heart towards Him.  But, a warning needs to be made here.  It is possible to have daily quiet times (ritual times) without growing in your devotion.  However, it is not possible to grow in your devotion to Jesus without a daily devotional life.

If you love someone, you desire to spend time with them, and you make the most of your time with them.  If you love Christ, you will look forward to spending time with Him.  Young fathers can sometimes be an excellent illustration of this truth.  A father that is forced to work late and is unable to spend much time with his children, will have an increasing desire to be with them if he loves them – even to the point of taking vacation days.

When it comes to our time with Christ, does our desire for “Bible time” increase when we are providentially hindered?  Or are we just content to start up again later?  David’s soul thirsted for God.  His devotion to God was not merely formal or ritualistic, but it was intrinsic to his regenerated soul.  He couldn’t imagine not seeking God first or early in every situation.

Daily devotions aren’t just a good idea.  For the heart thirsty for God, they are the refreshing waters drawn from the fountain of life. If it is our regular choice to sleep in rather than wake 30 minutes earlier, which do we love more, our bed or our Beloved?

Quiet times water our souls in three ways:  1) They increase our love for Jesus.  2) They increase our knowledge and understanding of our Beloved, thus enabling us to love Him more.  3) They increase our rate of change (sanctification) in the affections of our heart.

There is no shortcut because the goal is Christ!  It really is this simple.  If my heart longs to be with Jesus, I will spend time in His word.

About a week ago, I was reminded of the importance of beginning our gospel presentation with the truth of God’s word, specifically in relation to the total depravity of man.  If we start from a faulty premise, then the solution to the problem of sin will be faulty as well.

I listened to a children’s message where the speaker was explaining Romans 6:23.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”  To illustrate this, the speaker began with a cup of clear water, and told the children that when we sin, our lives become corrupted by sin.  Then the speaker took an eye dropper and added what appeared to be a black ink.  The clear cup of water then became black.  The speaker said this is what happens when we sin.

Next, the speaker held up a white cross and explained that it is the cross of Christ that deals with the sin.  Some substance was then released from within the cross that changed the black water into white water.

I know what the speaker’s intentions were.  But the problem with this illustration wasn’t that the cross deals effectively with sin, but how the cross effectively deals with sin.  In this picture, the speaker presented Christ as something that is added to our lives to make everything better.  But this isn’t the full Biblical picture of Christ’s atonement.  Christ is indeed “added” to a person, but the guilt of sin is taken away also!

2Corinthians 5:17 & 21 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. . . .For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

There is a dual transaction that takes place at conversion.  Not only is Christ’s righteousness credited to the believer, but the believer’s guilt is credited to Christ who paid for it by his sacrifice upon the cross. 

This is what happened to the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6.  He entered into the heavenly temple and instantly became aware of his great sinfulness.  In order to deal with Isaiah’s sin, Christ’s righteousness wasn’t simply added to what was there.  The angel took a coal from the altar and touched his lips (which symbolized the application of the atoning sacrifice) and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

There is a cost in converting to Christ and it is no less than dying to self.  Paul’s language stresses this.  We don’t simply add something to what exists, but the old is removed and the new is born.  The language of Scripture backs this up.

“You must be born again.” John 3:7

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.” Ezekiel 11:19

“And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” 1 Cor 5:7

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2Cor 5:17

“For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”  Gal 6:15

“Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:24

“Seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Col 3:10

“To the one who conquers . . . I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone.” Rev 2:17

Not only does Scripture teach the creating of something new, but Christ expressly denies that the new is added to what already exists.

Matthew 9:17 says, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

So as I considered again the speaker’s illustration, it became clear to me that the reason the explanation was faulty was because the basic premise was faulty.  We do not enter into this world with a clean slate.  We are not pure water.  Because of Adam’s sin we are born sinners, and then we sin because that is our nature. (Ephesians 2:3)

If we simply view sin as a contaminate that is added to our lives, then all that needs to happen is to remove the contaminate.  But if we view sin as the corruption and distortion of everything that we are, then we need to be remade.  We need to become a new creature.

This is how the cross deals with our sin.  Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Our justification (which is different from our sanctification though in some respect the processes are very similar) is accomplished by the death of the sinful nature and the regeneration of a new nature. 

So for the illustration to have been biblically accurate, the speaker should have begun with a cup of black water and vacuumed out the black water into the cross and simultaneously poured clean water back into the cup.

Now that would be an illustration worth showing our children!

The common struggle of the Christian life is the pursuit of holiness.  How does a person who professes faith in Jesus Christ grow in that faith and become more like Jesus Christ?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism #35 asks the question, “What is Sanctification?”  The given answer is “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

 The process of being renewed has been a topic of much debate.  Even now, it is becoming a growing controversy in PCA circles because a few well-known preachers are straying from the Westminster definition.  The crux of this debate is a person’s behavior.  Some have argued that sanctification just happens to those who have been justified.  Others have argued that sanctification happens because of our justification.  Still others have said that there is no difference between our justification and our sanctification.  Marshall has navigated these turbulent waters, not just theoretically, but experientially.   

 Walter Marshall was born in 1628.  At age 11 he went to study at Winchester College.  He entered Oxford College in 1648 and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1652.  Four years later he was appointed to the pastorate of a nearby town.  In 1662 he was faced with a dilemma.  The Act of Uniformity was passed and ministers of the Church of England were asked to give proof of Episcopal ordination and their conformity to the Book of Common Prayer.  Like many other Puritan pastors (perhaps as many as 2000), Marshall decided not to compromise his faith and conform to the requirements.  Thus, he had to leave his pastorate, his income, and his home.

 Sometime later a friend directed him to an independent church in another nearby town.  He served there faithfully for eighteen years until he died in 1680.  Like many pastors, Marshall wrestled with depression.  Though for Marshall, his depression was not over the unrepentant people he ministered to, but the sin that remained in his own heart.

 Marshall tried many of the remedies commonly taught in his own day (which also, unsurprisingly, appears to be the same thing taught today.)  He read books from the renown preach Richard Baxter.  He even went and met with Richard Baxter in order to get help for dealing with his own sense of sin.  The answer from Baxter was unhelpful because he told Walter he was being too legalistic!

 Finally, Marshall went and met with Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the Westminster Divines.  Marshall gave him “an account of the state of his soul, and particularizing his sins, which lay heavy upon his conscience.”   Dr. Goodwin replied by telling him that he had forgot to mention the greatest sin of all, the sin of unbelief, in not believing on the Lord Jesus for the remission of his sins and sanctifying his nature.

 It finally sunk in.  Marshall understood that it was “the evil heart of unbelief that lay at the root of all his fears, and all of his want of success in his striving after holiness.”  So Marshall began studying and preaching Christ like he had never done before. 

 In 1680, as he was lying on his death bed, Walter Marshall said to those nearby, “I die in the full persuasion of the truth, and in the comfort of that doctrine I have preached to you.”  Then, with much emotion he quoted Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  He closed his eyes, breathed his last, and died at the age of 52.

 This work The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification was the fruit of his life’s pursuit of holiness.  Contrary to popular preachers, sanctification does not arise out of our justification or out of our obedience to the law, or out of thin air.  The heart of sanctification is our union with Christ and is therefore developed and grown by the right exercise of faith.

 Marshall states that this chapter, chapter 12, is the principle direction “to which all the foregoing and following principles are subservient.”

 Make diligent use of your most holy faith for the immediate performance of the duties of the law, by walking no longer according to your old natural state, or any principles or means of practice that belong unto it; but only according to that new state which you receive by faith, and the principles and means of practice that properly belong thereunto; and strive to continue and increase in such manner of practice. This is the only way to attain to an acceptable performance of those holy and righteous duties, as far as it is possible in this present life.

 This is what it all boils down to.  Our faith in Jesus Christ is to be the primary instrument for receiving guidance, instruction, and teaching, and for evaluating and motivating us to the obedience of God’s law for God’s glory alone.  Since it is by faith that we are united to Christ, it must be by faith that we enjoy Him, that we love Him, that we obey Him, and that we find the strength to do these things.  We must believe that God will give us the heart to enjoy, love and obey Christ.

 He writes:  “Would you be strengthened to submit to the hand of God with a cheerful patience in bearing any affliction, and death itself? The way to fortify yourselves is to believe assuredly that your ‘afflictions, which are but for a moment, do work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’; that Christ is your gain in death and life; that His grace is sufficient for you, and His strength made perfect in your weakness; and that He will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able: and will, at last make you more than conquerors over all evil. Until you attain to such persuasions as these, you will be prone to fret and murmur under the burden of affliction and to use indirect means to deliver yourselves, notwithstanding the clearest convictions to the contrary.”

 This leads us one of the most common questions regarding our growth in grace and faith.  Why doesn’t God sanctify us wholly and perfectly this side of eternity?  Marshall answered, “They are in a new state, free from the guilt pollution, and punishment of sin, and so from the wrath of God, all miseries, and death itself, while they are in this world; yea, all the guilt, pollution, and punishments of sin, and all evils whatever, which they are subject to according to their natural state, do them no harm according to this new state, but work for their good:  and are no evils, but rather advantages to them, tending to the destruction only of the flesh, and to the perfection of the new man in Christ.

 By allowing us to struggle against the old nature, God drives us to Christ for our daily and moment by moment sustenance.    “We must know that our old state, with its evil principles, continues still in a measure, or else we shall not be fit for the great duties:  1) of confessing our sins, 2) of loathing ourselves for them, 3) of praying earnestly for the pardon of them, a just sorrowing for them with a godly sorrow, 4) of accepting the punishment of our sins and giving God the glory of His justice, and of offering to Him the sacrifice of a glory and contrite spirit, 5) of being poor in spirit, and 6) of working out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

 “Therefore, your way to a holy practice is first to conquer and expel such unbelieving thoughts by trusting confidently on Christ, and persuading yourselves by faith that His righteousness, Spirit, glory and all His spiritual benefits are yours, and that He dwells in you, and you in Him. In the might of this confidence, you shall go forth to the performance of the law; and you will be strong against sin and Satan, and able to do all things through Christ that strengthens you. This confident persuasion is of great necessity to the right framing and disposing our hearts to walk according to our new state in Christ. The life of faith principally consists in it. And herein it eminently appears that faith is a hand, not only to receive Christ, but also to work by Him, and that it cannot be effectual for our sanctification except it contains in it some assurance of our interest in Christ.”

 “Such persuasions as these, when they are deeply rooted, and constantly maintained in our hearts, do strongly arm and encourage us to practice universal obedience, in opposition to every sinful lust; because we look on it, not only as our duty, but our great privilege, to do all things through Christ strengthening us.”

I am sitting at my oldest son’s swim lessons and contemplating the Christian life.  There is much in common between the two.  In order to survive in the sea a person must be able to swim.  In order to learn how to swim, a person must practice and train.  In order to practice and train, a person must be instructed.  Before a person can be rightly instructed, he must be convinced of his need to learn. 

 So too it is in the Christian life.  In order to survive the chaotic mess of life and enjoy and glorify God, a person must have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ.  In order to develop and strengthen that faith and thereby ensure that such faith is genuine, we must train in godliness.  In order to train in godliness, we must be instructed in right doctrine, since it is right doctrine that governs our faith.  But, simply having right doctrine is not enough.  There must be with it a heart that desires to enjoy and glorify Jesus Christ.

 This is where the rubber meets the road as they say.  We must have 1) a heart that is endowed with love for Jesus, 2) a persuasion of our reconciliation with God, 3) a persuasion of our everlasting enjoyment of God, and 4) a persuasion of a God-given strength and will to exercise that faith.  This 4-fold endowment was the topic of chapter 2.  Chapter 3 directed us to the truth that these 4 endowments belong to the believer by virtue of their union with Christ by faith.

 Now in Chapter 11 Marshall directs us to the very topic of exercising our faith in Christ.

 He writes, Believe on Christ in a right manner without delay, and then continue and increase in faith; that so enjoyment of Christ, and union and fellowship with Him, may be begun, continued and increased.

 Chapters 4-10 were instructional chapters.  Now Marshall begins to explain how those instructions work themselves out in our lives.  He says, “Having already discovered to you, the powerful and effectual means of a holy practice, my remaining work is, to lead you to the actual exercise and improvement of them, for the immediate attainment of the end.”

 James Hervey re-writes this directive like this.  It is therefore belonging to the practical part of the Christian life, to maintain the same immediate trust and confidence, in dependence on the divine faithfulness, not to suffer us to be confounded, that so our enjoyment of Christ, union and fellowship with Him, may be continued and increased in us.

 Contrary to some new teaching that sanctification happens by means of our justification, Marshall lays out for us that sanctification results from rightly exercise of faith.   This is why he writes that we must endeavor diligently to perform the great work of believing on Christ.

 The only way we can live a life that is pleasing to God is if we live by faith.  Romans 14:3 says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

 Marshall also quotes Jesus in John 6:29 “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  This verse explains john’s statement in 3:17 that those who don’t believe are already condemned. 

 Life is an either/or.  It is black and white; live by faith, or live by works.  This then raises the question of what is faith?  A common acrostic for faith is “Forsaking All, I trust Him.”  Faith is considering the things and events in life and trusting that God is true to his Word and that all of the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Christ.

 Take romans 8:29 for example.  That verse says, “All things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to His purposes.”

 That verse says all things.  Do You believe that?  When you get hit by a falling tree branch, or when your pastor gets hit.  Do you believe that God works out all things? 

 When your two year dies, like what happened recently to a young couple I know, after a day or two in a coma after the car accident.  Do you believe that God works out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes?

 This is the context in which Paul says, whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.  How often do we consider the events of life apart from the context of Romans 8:29?  So Marshall directs us, if we are to grow in our sanctification, if we are to become more like Christ, we must endeavor to perform the great work of believing on Christ, right here, right now, and in all circumstances, whether good or bad.

 Consider Job’s words after he had lost all of his children and his wealth, after his health had failed, and after his bitter wife told him to curse God and die.  “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  (Job 2:10)

 So how can we live by faith?

 Marshall gives us 7 statements by which we can evaluate our faith in order to assure us that our faith is a faith securely grounded in the truth of the gospel and upon Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the gospel.

 1)  You must believe with a full persuasion that you are a child of wrath by nature, as well as others; fallen from God by the sin of the first Adam; dead in trespasses and sins; subject to the curse of the law of God, and to the power of Satan, and to insupportable misery to all eternity; and that you cannot possibly procure your reconciliation with God, or any spiritual life and strength to do any good work, by endeavoring to get salvation according to the terms of the legal covenant; and that you cannot find any way of escape out of this sinful and miserable condition, by your own reason and understanding, without supernatural revelation, nor be freed from it, except by that infinite power that raises the dead.

 2) You are to believe assuredly, that there is no way to be saved, without receiving all the saving benefits of Christ; His Spirit as well as His merits, sanctification as well as remission of sins, by faith.

 3) You are to be fully persuaded of the all-sufficiency of Christ for the salvation of yourself, and of all that believe on Him; that His blood cleanses from all sin (1John 1:7).

 4) You are to be fully persuaded of the truth of the general free promise, in your own particular case, that if you believe on Christ sincerely, you shall have everlasting life, as well as any other person in the world, without performing any condition of works to procure an interest in Christ; for the promise is universal, Whoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed (Romans 9:33), without exception.  And if God exclude you not, you must not exclude yourselves; but rather conclude peremptorily, that, how vile, wicked and unworthy soever you be, yet, if you come, you shall be accepted as well as any other person in the world.

 5) You are to believe assuredly, that it is the will of God you should believe in Christ, and have eternal life by Him, as well as any other person; and that your believing is a duty very acceptable to God; and that He will help you, as well as any other person, in this work, because He calls and commands you, by the gospel, to the believe in Christ.

 6) Add to all these, a full persuasion of the incomparable, glorious excellency of Christ, and of the way of salvation by Him.  You are to esteem the enjoyment of Christ as the only salvation and true happiness, and such a happiness has in it unsearchable riches of glory, and will make our cup to run over with exceeding abundance of peace, and joy, and glory, to all eternity.

 7) Lastly, you must endeavor to draw near with full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22) trusting on Christ confidently for your own particular salvation, upon the account of that general promise, that whosever believes on Christ shall not be ashamed.  You must check yourselves for all doubtings, fear, staggerings, concerning your own salvation by Christ, saying with the Psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

 Thus we conclude from Marshall that the core of our sanctification is faith in Christ alone.  There is nothing else capable of keeping us united and bound to Christ in the sea of turmoil than believing and trusting in Christ to save us and perfect us.

Doubt is one of the greatest enemies that the Christian must face. Doubt cannot be ignored for long. It cannot be talked down. It cannot be willed away. Doubt is strong. Its grasp is nearly unbreakable.

In the story of Pilgrim’s Progress, doubt is a castle with a large and terrible dungeon. It is ruled over by the giant Despair. Giant Despair had offered them the means of putting themselves out of misery, even while he promised to make life more and more miserable. The weight of doubting castle and the viciousness of the giant brought the pilgrims Christian and Hopeful to the end of themselves. Though they held on as long as they could, they both came to the conclusion that they would die in their prison. The briefest glimpses of sunlight strengthened them slightly, but, being without bread and water, they were failing.

Those who have read Pilgrim’s Progress know that it is an analogy of what Christians face in this life. This book is filled with wisdom and truth to guide us to our savior Jesus Christ. And so it is in the story that the two Pilgrims who were imprisoned in doubt and suffering at the hands of despair found their only way of escape lay in the key called Promise.

This chapter in the Gospel Mystery of Sanctification has a particularly encouraging application for those striving for the Celestial City. Walter Marshall writes in his tenth direction for believers:

That we may be prepared by the comforts of the gospel to perform sincerely the duties of the law, we must get some assurance of our salvation in that very faith by which Christ Himself is received into our hearts. Therefore, we must endeavor to believe on Christ confidently, persuading and assuring ourselves, in the act of believing, that God freely gives to us an interest in Christ and His salvation, according to His gracious promise.

Christians all have to deal with doubt, but we must first learn how to do so. Otherwise, doubt will entrap up and hold us captive. Those in captivity to doubt will ask questions like, “Is it worth it? Is this ever going to end? Am I ever going to change? Does God really love me?”

These questions don’t just go away without answers. They may be pacified for a time, but their ugly heads will rear themselves again and again, until they either destroy faith or faith destroys them. So where do believers find the grace to strengthen their faith against doubt and despair? The ordinary means of grace, and specifically the promises of God found in those ordinary means.

Though Marshall aims to take his readers to the assurance found in the promises of God, he begins by showing the inadequacy of assurance by good works. He refers to this as reflex act of faith. By this he means that there is some comfort to be found in examining ourselves. We ought to examine our motives, our thoughts, our desires, our words, and our deeds. These things might all manifest the fruit of the Spirit being worked in us.

However, our final source of assurance is not in ourselves and it is not found in reflecting upon our own character, whether it is good or bad. Our source of assurance must be the very same faith that made us cling to Christ in the very beginning of our walk! It is the character of God that must give us assurance. God is faithful, true, compassionate, omnipotent, benevolent, and wise. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes God in chapter 2.

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his won glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

This is where we must find assurance. God is who He has revealed himself to be. This is the key that frees us from the prison of doubt and despair. For God has promised to those who trust in Christ justification, adoption, sanctification, more faith, eternal security, the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, the righteousness of Christ, access to the throne of God, an advocate for us when we sin, forgiveness of sin, cleansing from sin, and on and on this list could go.

This list of blessings belongs to the believer because God is true to his Word. Consider Paul’s words in 2Corinthians 1:20-22, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”

In conclusion, remember the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas was one of the twelve apostles. He watched Jesus raise at least 3 people from the dead. He watched Jesus perform untold healings. He watched as Jesus calmed the sea with mere words. Thomas belongs to the group of men who would change the world.

Yet, because of his doubt, because he doubted that Jesus was who He said He was, Thomas removed himself from the source of life and hope and found himself imprisoned by doubt and despair. Even when the other apostles brought him the good news of the resurrection, Thomas couldn’t embrace Christ.

Yet, Christ, being very God of very God, having promised that He would lose none of those who belong to Him, came to Thomas and met. Jesus said to Thomas in John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

Christ made good on his promises to Thomas and Thomas believed Jesus and answered him, “My Lord and my God.”

Christ came to Thomas in his doubt and said, “Touch me.” In the same way Jesus promises that if we will come to him with our doubts and find our assurances in His promises, then we will find the comforts of the gospel, and thereby pursue the works that God has called us to.

Psa 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

What a beautiful thing is the renovation of God upon a sinful heart!

A few weeks ago, our church hired a contractor to do some minor renovations to our sanctuary.  After agreeing upon the price, the church also agreed to pay him about 50% up front so that he would be able to purchase the materials he would need to complete the job.  After the job was done, the church paid him the remainder of the balance owed.

While this is not a perfect illustration of the believer’s relationship to God, it does help us to understand the place of grace in relation to the law.  This is what Marshall’s ninth direction points out.

We must first receive the comforts of the gospel, that we may be able to sincerely perform the duties of the law.

God grants his people some of the comforts of the gospel even before they have begun to sincerely obey His law.  Back in chapter 2, Marshall listed 4 endowments necessary for sanctification.  These endowments belong to a believer the moment they are united to Christ in the gospel and by faith.  They are:

1) An inclination and propensity of the heart to love God.

2) A persuasion of our reconciliation with God.

3) A persuasion of our enjoyment of everlasting happiness.

4) A persuasion of sufficient strength both to will and perform duties acceptably.

Now, since these 4 endowments belong by faith to the believer at the moment of their union with Christ, it necessarily follows that they would be spurred on to sincere and loving obedience because of them. 

Marshall writes, “Can we be persuaded of the love of God, of our everlasting happiness and our strength to serve God, and yet be without any comforts? Can the glad tidings of the gospel of peace be believed, and Christ and His Spirit actually received into the heart, without any relief to the soul from oppressing fear, grief, despair? Can the salvation of Christ be comfortless, or the bread and water of life without any sweet relish to those that feed on Him with hungering and thirsting appetites?”

These 4 endowments are effectively the down payment by which the believer is enabled to begin construction of a holy life.  This construction begins with the pursuit of peace, joy, and hope.  Marshall writes,

“Peace, joy, hope are recommended to us in Scripture as the spring of other holy duties; and fear and oppressing grief forbidden as hindrances to true religion: ‘The peace of God keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:7). ‘Do not be sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Neh. 8:10). ‘Every man that has this hope in him, purifies himself, even as He is pure’ (1John3:3).  ‘Fear has torment: he that fears is not made perfect in love’ (1John 4:18). This is the reason why the apostle doubles the exhortation, to rejoice in the Lord always, as a duty of exceeding weight and necessity (Phil. 4:4). What are such duties, but comfort itself?”

This is the usual method in which scripture exhorts us to holy living, first the comfort, and then the abilities to fulfill requirements.  For example, we are exhorted to practice holy duties because:

1.  We are dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:11)

2.  Sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14)

3.  We are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and God will quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit dwelling in us (Rom. 8:9, 11)

4.  Our bodies are the members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Ghost (1Cor. 6:15, 19)

5.  God has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2Cor. 5:21)

6.  God has promised that He will dwell in us, and walk in us, and be to us a Father, and we shall be to Him sons and daughters (2Cor. 6:18; 7:1)

7.  God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake, and accounts us His dear children; and Christ has loved us, and given Himself for us; and we, that were sometimes darkness, are now light in the Lord (Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 2, 8)

8.  We are risen with Christ and, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1, 4)

9.  God has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5)

10.  God made many promises to us (2Cor. 7:1)

Take a moment and re-read through this list of 10 statements of fact about those who belong to Jesus Christ.  Every one of these statements contains a facet of how God’s grace works in the life of a sinner to transform the sinner – even before the sinner acts in obedience and love toward God.  Marshall writes:

“True it is that the law, which is the ministration of condemnation, obliges them to obedience; but our merciful god expects no sincere performance of His law from such impotent miserable wretches, in order to their salvation by Christ, till He has first delivered them, in some measure, from those discomforts, slavish fears and despondencies that hold them captive under the law of sin and death. We may require a strong healthy person first to work, and then to expect meat, drink and wages; but a fainting, famished person must first have food, or a reviving cordial, to strengthen his heart before he can work.”

This is the gospel!  The gospel is good news first, last, and in between.  How easy it is in reformed circles to get lost in the emphasis of our total depravity that we think we must convince sinners of their sin before they can trust Christ! 

This was the great error that the Scottish Presbyterians of the early 1700’s were embracing before the Marrow Men stood up and declared that there are no prerequisites in coming to Christ!  Christ is freely offered in the gospel to all who would accept Him. 

God does not require you to repent of your sins before you receive Christ.  And because of the joy, peace, and hope that the Gospel deposits into our souls when we are united to Christ, repentance becomes a time of blessed closeness to our Savior as he washes us clean.  Thus, repentance, rather than being a curse to our hearts, it is a blessing that enables us to discover the greatness of grace.

Just before Marshall concludes, he illustrates what happens to those who attempt the duties of obedience and holiness that God requires, but without the comforts of the gospel.  He writes, “Others labor a while in such a comfortless religion, with inward fretting and repining at the bondage of it, and at last grow weary, and throw off all religion, because they know none better.” 

I cannot help but think of the multitudes of people, especially in the baby boomer generation, that have tried religion and Christianity, and rather than finding peace for their souls, they found a burden to great to bear.  Whether they rejected the comforts of the gospel up front, or whether they were never taught of the gospel comforts I don’t know.  But the result is the same, people who want nothing to do with Christ.

In contrast to this, Marshal reminds us that when the angels announced the birth of Jesus they declared, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)  The announcement of the gospel was to be a great joy to those who received it.  Is the gospel a joy to you?  Is the prospect of living holy lives a delight to your soul?

Chapter 8

This is an easy chapter to read and a simple chapter to understand.  Yet, it is not readily accepted as truth.  This is because the truth Marshall presents in this chapter goes against everything our sinful nature wants us to believe.

Marshall addresses 3 different issues in his 7th direction : Be sure to seek for holiness of heart and life only in its due order, where God has placed it, after union with Christ, justification and the gift of the Holy Ghost and, in that order, seek it earnestly by faith as o very necessary part of your salvation.

The first issue is the existence of an Ordo Salutis.  Below is the traditionally accepted Reformed summary, however, since it is a summary some things have been left out; effectual call, faith, repentance. 

1)  Election—God’s choosing to save some men

2)  General Call – God’s invitation to all men to repent

3)  Regeneration – God’s creating a New Heart

4)  Conversion—God’s changing the will

5)  Justification—God’s Judicious act declaring us right

6)  Adoption—God’s receiving someone as one of His children

7)  Sanctification—God’s transformation of a sinner into a saint

8)  Glorification— God’s final transformation

Marshall’s emphasis on the order of salvation is to emphasize that it is God’s grace that enables us to obey.  He writes, “I think enough has been said already to show in what order God brings us to the practice of the moral law. He makes us first to be in Christ by faith, as branches in the vine, that we may bring forth much fruit (John 15:4, 5). He first purges our consciences from dead works by justification, that we may serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). He makes us first to live in the Spirit, and then to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). This is the order prescribed in the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation.

The second issue is that holiness is a necessary part of our salvation. Though often overlooked, sanctification is listed as part of the Ordo Salutis.  The reason for this is that salvation is often considered to be simply deliverance from hell and access into heaven.  Contrary to this is Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

That Jesus saves His people is clear.  That Jesus His people FROM THEIR SINS is neglected.

Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is sin?”  The answer is, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”  Since Jesus was born to save His people from their sin, then it necessary follows that His people would increase in the conformity of and obedience to the law of God.

Marshall writes, “It is a part of our salvation to deliver us from our sins, which is begun in this life by justification and sanctification, and perfected by glorification in the life to come. Can we rationally doubt whether it be any proper part of our salvation by Christ to be quickened, to live to God, when we were by nature dead in trespasses and sins, and to have the image of God in holiness and righteousness restored to us, which we lost by the Fall; and to be freed from a vile dishonorable slavery to Satan and our own lusts, and made the servants of God, and to be honored so highly as to walk by the Spirit, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit? And what is all this but holiness in heart and life?

The third issue is how this holiness of heart and life is to be acquired.  Holiness is not found in efforts to be good, but in living in faith.

Marshall writes, “True gospel faith makes us come to Christ with a thirsty appetite, that we may drink of living water, even of His sanctifying Spirit (John 7: 37, 38), and cry out earnestly to save us, not only from hell, but from sin, saying, ‘Teach me to do Your will; Your Spirit is good’ (Ps. 143:10), ‘Turn me, and I shall be turned’ (Jer. 31:18); ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right Spirit within me’ (Ps. 51:10). This is the way by which the doctrine of salvation by grace necessitates us to holiness of life, by constraining us to seek for it by faith in Christ as a substantial part of that salvation which is freely given us through Christ.”

The common acrostic fits well here.  Faith is Forsaking All, I Trust Christ.  By faith, we forsake our sin.  We forsake our own goodness.  We forsake even the ability to change our desires.  Therefore, we trust that the God who orders our salvation, and 1) who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the World (Eph. 1:4), and 2) called us to repent and believe in Christ (Acts 2:38), and 3) who created a new spirit within us by regeneration (Titus 3:5), and 4) who changed our nature from enemy to friend (Col. 1:21), and 5) who justified us freely by grace (Romans 3:23-24), and 6) who adopted us into His family (Rom 8:12), surely this same God is worthy of trusting that He will change us from the inside out so that we can be confident that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)

Therefore, let us BY FAITH seek holiness.  Let us trust our Savior that he will change our desires so that we will grow in holiness of our heart and life.

Chapter 6

 The Prevalence of Works Righteousness – even in the church.

 This would appear to be one issue that is readily understood by people in reformed circles.  It’s not.  I was reminded of that this week.  Works righteousness is constantly pressing in upon us and often we don’t see it in ourselves.  Most of the time, it takes someone else pointing it out to us before we will see it.  But even then, our natural man – our sinfulness- will come up with any number of reasons to discount or disparage those who would point out our works-righteousness.  And for those in reformed circles, that usually means hiding our works-righteousness in a cloak of spirituality and sincere obedience.

 To this deep-seated sinfulness, Marshall provides the 6th directive.

 Those that endeavor to perform sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ, as the condition by which they are to procure for themselves a right and title to salvation, and a good ground to trust on Him for the same, do seek their salvation by the works of the law, and not by the faith of Christ, as He is revealed in the gospel and they shall never be able to perform sincere and true holy obedience by all such endeavors.

 The heart of Marshall’s explanation can be summarized in these sentences.  The result of all is, that we must still practice moral duties, as commanded by Moses: but we must not to seek to be justified by our practice.  If we use them as a rule of life, not as conditions of justification, they can be no ministration of death, or killing letter to us.  Their perfection indeed maketh them to be harder terms to procure life by, but a better rule to discover all imperfections, and to guide us to that perfection which we should aim at.

 The question presented in this chapter is where does our works fit into our lives?  Our sinful man argues that before God will look favorably upon us, we have to be sincerely pursuing holiness.  (Marshall will go into greater detail in the chapter 7.)  However, if we pursue God’s favor by our good works, or by our sincere obedience, the end result will be either self-deception, or despair. 

 Marshall gives several reasons why this there is no room for works-righteousness in the gospel.

 1) To seek salvation by sincere performance of the law means we are still responsible for our failures to the law.

 2) Second, the difference between law and gospel consists – not in the law requiring perfect obedience and the gospel requiring sincere obedience—in one requiring doing and the other in NOT-doing, but rather believing/trusting.

 3) Sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ cannot be attained except by sincere obedience to all the moral commands of Moses as well.  Thus, to obey Christ, we are then also required to obey Moses.

 4) Those that endeavor to procure Christ’s salvation by sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ, are in fact acting contrary to the way of salvation by Christ, which is by free grace and faith.

 What Marshall says regarding the grace of God in justification, relates the same way in our sanctification, because God’s grace is for specifically for the salvation of sinners, from election to glorification and everything in between.

 We do not grow in sanctification because we have faith.  Faith cannot be a work by which we improve ourselves before God.  Therefore, we must not here consider faith as a work of righteousness, as comprehending any works of righteousness performed or done, as a condition to procure a right and title to Christ, as the hand whereby we work, to earn him as our bread, as our wages: but only as the hand whereby we receive Christ as freely to us, or as the mouth whereby we eat and drink Him.

 They part of this statement is that faith does not earn us more of Christ.  Those that argue for more of Christ in them because they are exhibiting faith are living out of the sinful nature by attempting to earn God’s favor.  We can never do enough to earn God’s favor either before or after salvation!

 It is by faith.  It is as we trust in Christ, that we realize that God has been gracious to us already.   And therefore, because of God’s great love for us, to us and in us, we seek to please the one that has already looked favorably upon us.

 Marshall concludes this long chapter, We have cause to praise God for delivering His church, by the blood of Christ, from this yoke of bondage; and we have cause to abhor the device of those that would lay upon us a more grievous and terrible yoke, by turning our very new covenant into a covenant of sincere works, and leaving us no such better covenant, as the Israelites had under their yoke, to relieve us in our extremity. 

 The only counter to works righteousness is to learn more deeply of the great love of God so our hearts desire to please God as he lays out for us in His word, the rule for life.  While this is certainly true before salvation, it must not be neglected after salvation.  The law of God is indeed a mirror so that we can see the sinfulness in our hearts, and be amazed at the great grace of God to continue to save us and hold us securely in his hands.

This is the best chapter to date.  In this chapter, Marshall seeks to “deliver ignorant zealots from their tormenting labors, by bringing them to despair of the attainment of holiness in a natural state, so that they may seek it only in a new state by faith in Christ, where they may certainly find it, without such tormenting labor and anxiety of spirit.”

 Marshall’s 5th directive is this.

 We cannot attain holiness by our endeavors in a natural state, without union and fellowship with Christ.

 If our growth in holiness is accomplished by the several endowments received from our union and fellowship with Christ, then our sanctification cannot be by our own endeavors, no matter how hard we try.

 James Hervey says doesn’t really change this directive in his 5th assertion.  He writes: the practice of true holiness is not attained by any endeavors of our natural state, but is a blessing of our new state given in Christ Jesus, and partook of by union and fellowship with Christ by faith.

 This chapter begins with Marshall differentiating and defining the two states. 

 The Natural State speaks of those “that are not in Christ, by faith.  They cannot be in a better state than that which they received together with their nature from the first Adam.  This state and nature they received from Him by being born and created in him.  Neither can they attain to a better state by the power of that nature, even if God should offer them some sort of strength and resolve to improve their state. 

 Marshall calls this the natural state because “it consists in such things as we have either received by natural generation or can attain to by natural power through divine assistance.”  In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul call this state that natural man.

 Contrary to the natural state is the New State.  The spiritual state speaks to those “that have the happiness of a new birth and creation in Christ by faith.”  They are thereby placed in a very excellent state which consists of the enjoyment of the righteousness of Christ for their justification, and the enjoyment of the Holy Spirit which enables us to live by and in holiness here on earth, and in glory ever after.  This New state is entered into by our new birth in Christ and is a spiritual state because it is received from Christ.

 These two states are opposed to one another as 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 says.  “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.   The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.”

 Marshall then wonderfully, and clearly explains what is prevalent in American churches today . . . people who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. (2Tim 3:5)  They live in the natural state, yet deceiving themselves, they think they are spiritual people.

 Some are so near the kingdom of God, while they continue in a natural state, that they are convinced of the spirituality of the law, that it binds us principally to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to perform universal obedience to God, in all our inward thoughts and affections, as well as in all our outward actions, and to do all the duties that we owe to our neighbor, out of this hearty love (Mark 12:33, 34). And they struggle and labor with great earnestness to subdue their inward thoughts and affections to the law of God, and to abstain, not only from some sins, but from all known sins, and to perform every known duty of the law with their whole heart and soul, as they think; and are active and intent in their devout practice, that they overwork their natural strength, and so fervent is their zeal, that they are ready even to kill their bodies with fastings and other macerations, that they may kill their sinful lusts. They are strongly convinced that holiness is absolutely necessary to salvation, and are deeply affected with the terrors of damnation; and yet they were never so much enlightened in the mystery of the gospel as to know that a new state in Christ is necessary to a new life; therefore they labor in vain to reform their natural state, instead of getting above it in Christ. And some of these, when they have misspent many years in striving against the stream of their lusts, without any success, do at last fall miserably into despair of ever attaining to holiness, and turn to wallowing in the mire of their lusts, or are fearfully swallowed up with horror of conscience.

 It is this terrible predicament of self-deception that Marshall seeks to free people from in this directive.  And to do so, all self-reliance must be stripped away.  It is only when we despair of ourselves that we grasp ahold of Christ.   To produce this despair of the natural man, Marshall makes 9 points.

 1)  All endowments necessary to enable us for a holy life can ONLY be had in a state of union and fellowship with Christ by faith alone.  And not by the natural power of free-will, but ONLY by the power of Christ coming into the soul by the Holy Spirit to unite us to Him.

 2) We cannot practice true holiness unless we are born of both the water and the Spirit.  We cannot be born again of our own free will, but only by the will of God.   John 1:13 says, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

 3) Those in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8, “Rom 8:8  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”)  This is the state of all who are not ‘In Christ.’  ‘In the Flesh’ is equivalent to the natural state.

 4) The ‘putting of the old man’ is not simply turning over a new leaf in order to start a new life, but is equivalent to being born again.  This old man not only contains sin, but also all other things that dispose us and incline us to sin.  Therefore, until Christ puts to death the old man, we will always choose sin.

 5) The natural state possesses several qualities that disable us from holiness and enslave us to sin.  The natural state possesses:  A) the guilt of sin, i.e. original guilt, B) an evil conscience, which causes us to resent God and His holiness, C) an evil inclination, which is the desire to be free from the forces that restrain our sin, and D)a subjection to the power of the devil because Satan has blinded the minds of all that do not believe Christ (2Cor. 4:4).

 6)  In the natural state we have no good ground or reason to trust Christ to help us to will or to do that which is acceptable to Him.  Christ aimed at a higher end in his incarnation, death and resurrection than to restore the decay and ruins of our natural state.  His aim was a new creation, and a new state.  This tells us that our natural state is irrecoverable because Christ our Savior did not aim at the recovery of it.

 7) There is no escape from the fact that God has commanded and designed all people to live holy lives.  Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, “This alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”  Our impotency to live holy lives does not merely consist in our lack of executive power, but in our lack of a willing mind and heart to live holy lives.

 8) The purpose of the preaching of the gospel is not to enable the natural man to holy living.  The Holy Spirit works powerfully through the preached gospel  to bring to live those who are dead.  The gospel only comes to the elect not only in both Word and power.  Therefore, it cannot depend upon the power of our free-will.

 9) There is no reason why anyone, whether a pagan, a non-believers, or anyone else by their outward profession, having lived without Christ, should move us and encourage us to holiness before God.

 Men in a natural state may have strong conviction of the infinite power, wisdom, justice and goodness of God, and of the judgment to come, and the everlasting happiness of the godly and torments of the wicked. These convictions may stir them up, not only to make a high profession, and to utter rare sayings concerning God and godliness, but also to labor with great earnestness to avoid all known sin, to subdue their lusts, to perform universal obedience to God in all known duties, and to serve Him with their lives and estates to the utmost, and to extort out of their hearts some kind of love to God and godliness, that, if possible, they may escape the terrible torments of hell and procure everlasting happiness by their endeavors. Yet all their love to God is but forced and feigned; they have no hearty liking to God or His service; they account Him a hard Master, and His commandments grievous, and they repine and fret inwardly at the burden of them, and, were it not for fear of everlasting fire, they would little regard the enjoyment of God in heaven, and they would be glad if they might have the liberty to enjoy their lust without danger of damnation.

 Summary:All this can be summarized by saying that there is absolutely no hope apart from union and fellowship with Christ.  This is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:12.  “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”