Criteria for Judging the True Religion

In John 7:17–18, Jesus sets forth proper criteria for judging the true religion. The first is that in order to judge properly, one must desire to do the will of God. In other words, one must be ready to follow the commands of God wherever they lead and in spite of the fact that they may conflict with our own desires. The second criterion is that the true religion gives all glory to God, “He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true . . .”

In one sense, we must examine every teaching to see if it is from God. However, there is a sort of shortcut here by seeking that religion which most glorifies God. This is what Herman Witsius said in his book The Practice of True Christianity. Here is a portion of that work which deals with this question:

10. But since the nations that bear the name of Christian are divided into so many different sects, what should someone who is concerned about his salvation do? He should not be too surprised or be shaken in his faith since he knows that the corrupted reason of man is inclined towards novelty and will worship and that the devil is always trying to forge false doctrines and introduce them among men. But it is necessary for a Christian to examine all these things and test them by the standard of Scripture. He must receive all that is in accord with Scripture and reject all that is opposed to it.

11. But that is a dizzying and hard work and which not all who seek their salvation are capable of doing. Can’t you show me some shorter and more general way to discern the true Christian religion from those that falsely bear the name? Continue reading “Criteria for Judging the True Religion”

Avoiding Legalism & Antinomianism

The Bible teaches that those who have once believed in Christ are secure forever in their salvation. This does not mean that God does not care about the remaining sin in His children. The Bible also teaches that our heavenly Father is displeased with His people’s disobedience and will chastise them for it, determined to lead them away sin. This distinction is presented beautifully in Psalm 89:30–33:

If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they break My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail.

Huguenot theologian Jean Daillé’s comment on this passage is to the point:

God here says two things: first, that he will chastise them, next, that he will not, on that account, cast them out of his covenant. O wonderful, tempering fo the kidness and severity of God! In which he finds his own glory, and believers their safety!

God will not break His covenant with His people, but He does interact with them, delighting in their obedience and chastising their disobedience.
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Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed

I would highly recommend to you Richard Sibbes’ classic The Bruised Reed based on Is. 42:3–4.

It is one of the most edifying and encouraging of the Puritan Paperbacks. I would like to provide here a brief sample of his insights.

  1. It points us to a merciful and compassionate Savior. “If Christ had stood upon his own greatness, he would have rejected him that came with his ‘if.’ But Christ answers his ‘if” with a gracious and absolute grant, ‘I will, be thou clean'” (21). He points us to the graciousness and glory of the Gospel:

    What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? (36)

  2. At the same time, he does not want us to use Christ’s graciousness as an excuse for not repenting. I find that he is particularly good at calling us to this in a challenging way consonant with the tenor of the Gospel:

    There are those who take up a hope of their own, that Christ will suffer them to walk in the ways to hell, and yet bring them to heaven; whereas all comfort should draw us nearer to Christ. Otherwise it is a lying comfort, either in itself or in our application of it. (67)

  3. Continue reading “Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed

Can You Remember the Time of Your Conversion?

But lest any poor soul should be discouraged under the display of this providence [in conversion], because he cannot remember the time, place, instruments, and manner, wherein and by which his conversion was wrought; I will therefore premise this necessary distinction, to prevent injury to some, whilst I design benefit to others.

Conversion, as to the subjects of it, may be considered two ways; either as it is more sensibly wrought in persons of riper years, who in their youthful days were more profane and vile; or in persons in their tender years, into whose hearts grace was more insensibly and indiscernibly instilled, by God’s blessing upon pious education. Continue reading “Can You Remember the Time of Your Conversion?”

Turretin on the Celebration of Days

In this section (Institutes, 11.15.13–15), Francis Turretin sets forth a balanced view of the celebration of days in the church. He urges toleration for those who celebrate them and those who do not, provided they agree in rejecting the superstitious use of them and the idolatrous rites of the Papists. On the other side, he gives cautions concerning their use and explains how they can be used in a right and wrong way. He writes:

XIII. If some Reformed churches still observe some festivals (as the conception, nativity, passion and ascension of Christ), they differ widely from the papists because they dedicate these days to God alone and not to creatures. (2) No sanctity is attached to them, nor power and efficacy believed to be in them (as if they are much more holy than the remaining days). (3) They do not bind believers to a scrupulous and too strict abstinence on them from all servile work (as if in that abstinence there was any moral good or any part of religion placed and on the other hand it would be a great offense to do any work on those days). (4) The church is not bound by any necessity to the unchangeable observance of those days, but as they were instituted by human authority, so by the same they can be abolished and changed, if utility and the necessity of the church should demand it. “For everything is dissolved by the same causes by which it was produced,” the lawyers say. In one word, they are considered as human institutions. Superstition and the idea of necessity are absent.
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Updated: Guidelines for True Christian Living

Update: You can download a PDF of the book here.

I have completed my translation of French Huguenot preacher Pierre Allix’s Guidelines for True Christian Living. You can read it by clicking on the title of the book. Here is my preface to the book:

Our catechisms cover the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. We do well to master them. However, there are few resources that set forth in a simple way how to live a Christian life. I believe that Peter Allix’s book does just that. If you take into account the 50 principles that he sets forth here, I believe you will be much better equipped to live a godly life. This book is simple enough that young children can understand it. I intend to use this book to teach my children the basics of godly living. I will be gratified if others put it to the same use.

And here are a few highlights from the book:

  1. To fail to reflect upon our conduct is to live without reason. But to not consider the state of our heart each day is to live without piety and godliness. We must see what good acts we have omitted and what sins we have committed. (9)
  2. We may think we are innocent because we do not commit any great crimes. But let’s be honest. Most of the things we do are far removed from the real purpose of our lives. Oftentimes, we just waste time doing nothing. This negligence is not innocent, even though it may not be the most criminal. (11)
  3. Let us be ashamed at such an imperfect Christianity. Let us be ashamed to do less by the fear of Jesus Christ, by this Jesus whom we ought to love, than by the fear of men who are not worthy of either our love or fear.
  4. Continue reading “Updated: Guidelines for True Christian Living”

Huguenot Theologian Peter Allix (1641–1717)

Louis XIV Revoking the Edict of Nantes
I am working on a translation of Peter Allix’s Maxims of the True Christian. I hope to publish it in a series of posts for my “Sabbath Meditations.” Here is an introduction to his life adapted from the Dictionary of National Biograph:

Peter Allix (1641–1717), preacher and theologian, son of Pierre Allix, pastor of the Reformed Church of France at Alençon, was born at Alençon, Normandy in 1641. His father directed his early studies; afterwards, he attended the protestant universities of Saumur and Sedan. He was especially distinguished in the study of Hebrew and Syriac, and worked at a new translation of the Bible, in conjunction with the well-known Jean Claude (1619–1687). His first charge as a pastor was at St. Agobille in Champagne. In 1670, owing to his distinguished abilities, he was translated to Charenton, Paris, the principal reformed church of city, attended by most of the distinguished families of the reformed faith. Here he acquired great fame and power as a preacher, so much so, that in Bayle’s Dictionary a high compliment is paid to his learning and abilities. In 1683, he was chosen moderator of the last provincial synod, held at Lisy, in the diocese of Meaux. The synod numbered fifty-four ministers and sat for three weeks.
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The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone

In the 19th century, some historians tried to analyze the various streams of Protestantism in terms of a central dogma. Alexander Schweizer thought that it was predestination. He said that the central dogma of the Lutherans was justification. From what I can tell from the secondary literature, he also believed that this was sort of a basic principle from which all other dogmas were deduced. This sort of methodology has been rejected by most modern historians.

However, as I have read classic Reformed theology, I have found that they generally did believe in a central dogma. They believed that it was justification by faith alone. This did not mean that it was a theological axiom from which all other theology was deduced. Rather, it meant:

  1. That the purity of this doctrine was basic to purity in all other doctrines.
  2. That any error in this doctrine was extremely dangerous.
  3. That this doctrine, above all, was to be defended, explained, and meditated upon.
  4. That this doctrine was the foundation of all true religion and holiness.
  5. That the true Church could not be maintained without this doctrine.

In this post, I would like to demonstrate this from the writings of several different theologians from several different regions and eras.

Herman Witsius (1636–1708, Holland), The Economy of the Covenants, 2.8.1: “The pious Picardians, as they were called in Bohemia and Moravia [i.e., the churches of which John Huss was the most prominent example], valued this article at its true price when in their confession of faith, Art. vi. speaking of justification, they thus write: ‘this sixth article is accounted with us the most principal of all, as being the sum of all Christianity and piety. Wherefore our divines teach and handle it with all diligence and application, and endeavor to instill it into all.’” Continue reading “The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone”

On Christian Civility

“Pursue peace with all men. . .” — Heb. 12:14a

Recently, Google has begun to put Benedict Pictet’s work, Morale Chretienne, on their collection. It looks like it will be a very valuable and helpful work. The one volume that is already available discusses various issues of the 2nd table of the law. I have put together a translation of his discussion of Christian civility. I believe that there are many valuable points in this short discussion that are both thought-provoking and convicting.

“On Christian Civility” by Benedict Pictet from his book on Christian ethics.

Since God has ordained men to live in society and since He Himself assembles them in that society, He wants them also to respect the bond that unites them according to His order. Conversely, He also wants them to avoid with extreme care every occasion that tends to break that bond and so commands that they conserve the peace amongst themselves and prefer one another in honor. Thus, God has bound us to be honest and civil towards one another.

Civility is this virtue that teaches everyone to do nothing and to say nothing that would offend the well-being of society; to give way to others as much as the order of the world can allow it; to prefer others over oneself; to greet them; to visit them; and to give them all the signs of esteem and honor that one can legitimately give to them.

The rules of civility are:

  1. To exactly observe all that custom has established as civil or as uncivil and to practice the former with care, avoid the latter, and to follow the example of those who are wisest [in these matters].
  2. To accommodate oneself to the places and the nations in which one lives and to the persons to whom one speaks.
  3. Continue reading “On Christian Civility”

Turretin on Reward and Merit From a Sermon on Hebrews 11:24–26

You can find the original sermon here, printed in 1686. He is responding to the objection that the term “reward” in Heb. 11:26 implies merit.

* * * * *

On this point, before we finish, we must answer two scruples that can come from these words. The first is whether it is permitted to do good works looking for a reward. The second is whether we can gather as a consequence merit from reward so as to conclude that since our good works have a reward they must be meritorious as [110] the false Church alleges. But neither the first nor the second have much difficulty in them.
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