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.
Continue reading “Turretin on Reward and Merit From a Sermon on Hebrews 11:24–26”

How Do We Pursue Peace?

Peace should be a high priority for all believers. We should do all that we can to make sure that the church is a harmonious and pleasant place in which to worship. Each Christian should be peaceable. But what does it mean to be peaceable?

Wilhelmus à Brakel in his Reformed classic The Christian’s Reasonable Service gives this definition of peaceableness:

Peaceableness is a believer’s quiet and contended disposition of soul, inclining him toward, and causing him to strive for, the maintaining of a relationship with his neighbor characterized by sweet unity—doing so in the way of truth and godliness. (4:91)

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My Suggestions for Successfully Moderating a Meeting

WED_01A colleague of mine is going to moderate an upcoming presbytery meeting. He has served as a chaplain, and he wanted to discuss how he could run the meeting well. I asked him if he had run any meetings while he was in the military. “Yes,” he said, “but we didn’t get as deep into Robert’s Rules as we do at presbytery.” So, there you have it. Presbyterians are more strict on Robert’s Rules than the military.

Since my colleague wanted to discuss how to run a meeting successfully, I decided to try and express the principles that I have used to moderate session and presbytery meetings. I have also tried to provide some of the broad principles for the various motions so that you do not simply have to memorize the properties of each motion. Below you will find some of my thoughts. I would be interested in reading your ideas, if you would like to share them in the comment box. Here are a few principles that may be helpful in running a successful meeting:

  1. The key to being a moderator is preparation. You need to have a clear vision of everything that may happen at the meeting. Try to envision problems that may come up and issues that may need to be resolved. Study them beforehand, and the meeting will not get bogged down. Examine everything that will come before the body. Make sure it is in order, and, if not, try to correct it before the meeting. I cannot overstate that the key to a good meeting is careful preparation. This is true for the moderator and all the participants.
  2. Continue reading “My Suggestions for Successfully Moderating a Meeting”

Advice on Evangelism

  1. “If you are not capable of speaking to certain individuals, and about such matters, speak to others. Begin with beggars and children, by whom you are not intimidated, and discuss general and rudimentary principles.”
  2. “If you know three words, then teach others two, even if you were only to say, ‘We are going to die, which will be followed by eternity.’ This could be a means to somebody’s conversion.”
  3. “Fruit upon your words does not come forth from you. You will not be held accountable for fruitfulness, but for faithfulness. If any does not wish to hear you, you will be able to find another who will readily hear you. If anyone laughs, another will weep.”
  4. Continue reading “Advice on Evangelism”

Luther on the Great Value of Good Works

Some beautiful quotes from Martin Luther on the value of good works:

  1. Outside the article of justification we cannot sufficiently praise and magnify these works which are commanded by God. For who can sufficiently commend and set forth the profit and fruit of only one work which a Christian does through faith and in faith? Indeed, it is more precious than heaven or earth.
  2. We teach that to reconcile God, to make righteous, to blot out sin, is so high and great and glorious a work that alone Christ, the Son of God could do it and that this is indeed such a pure, special, peculiar work of the one true God and His grace that our works are nothing and can do nothing. But that good works should be nothing or be worth only a penny, who ever heard of such a thing, or who could teach such a thing except the lying mouth of the devil? I would not give up one of my sermons, not one of my lectures, not one of my treatises, not one of my Lord’s Prayers, nay, whatever small work I have ever done or am doing, for all the riches of the world (Cited in Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 3:59–60

What Is Crooked Cannot Be Made Straight

The following selection is Martin Luther’s comments on Ecclesiastes 1:15: “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered.”

Cicero writing from his own experience says, “Alas! How constantly it happens that as sure as anything has been devised, and planned for the best, and with the greatest industry, it turns out so badly and so strangely!” God however herein does well, that He blows away and brings to nothing whatever man meditates and undertakes. For as soon as any plan of us men succeeds a little, from that hour we begin to take the honor to ourselves. Forthwith ambition begins to stir within us, and we think to ourselves, this I have done, for this are my country and fellow men indebted to me; and we grasp at the honor which belongs alone and entirely to God. Wherefore, if God is to continue Lord, and to assert and maintain His first commandment, He must only suffer the lesser part of our thoughts to turn out well, and both in the courts and councils of kings and princes, and in all other affairs, so soon as, and whenever anything has been deliberated and determined, show that the words “if God wills it” still retain their full force. Continue reading “What Is Crooked Cannot Be Made Straight”

Abductive Reasoning

I have to admit that when I first heard the term “abductive reasoning,” I thought it was a joke. To use the term abduction in relation to reasoning seemed funny to me. This fall, I viewed the True U videos in which Stephen Meyer presents the case for Christian theism. He argued that the best way to answer the question of God’s existence was through the use of abductive reasoning. So, what is it?

I would recommend to you the much better explanation of this matter by Kenneth Samples who recently gave lectures on apologetics to “The Academy” at Kim Riddelbarger’s church in Southern California. I listened to these shortly after I began watching the videos, and I was somewhat surprised to find him presenting exactly the same thing.

However, I would also try to give a brief explanation myself. Abductive reasoning seeks to give an explanation as to why a past even occurred. Deductive reasoning simply draws out implications in a premise. Inductive reasoning seeks to make predictions based on laws and patterns in nature. Abductive reasoning tries to give an explanation of why a specific event that did not have to occur did in fact occur.

For example, let us take the matter of electric lights. If an electric light comes on, then we can guess based on induction that someone turned on a switch. However, if we ask, why was this particular light turned on at this particular time, then I need to use abduction. There is no law that would say that my son must be the one who turns on an electric light. However, if I see him standing near the light switch and no one else is in the building, then the best explanation for the light coming on is that my son did it.

One important tool in abductive reasoning is Occam’s razor, that is, you don’t look for a complicated explanation when a simple one will do. So, for example, in the case mentioned above, it is possible that six people turned on the light, but the simpler explanation is that one person did it. It is also possible that someone turned on the light and then ran out the door before I could see them, but it is simpler to assume that my son did it. So, we are looking for the best explanation that adequately explains the cause.

The argument that Meyer makes in the True U videos as well as in his book The Signature in the Cell is that there is information in DNA that communicates by transferring arrangements of four different combinations. Meyer argues that there is something like that. It is computer language. The simplest and most adequate explanation of this coded information is an intelligent designer.

Further, scientists recognize that this distinction is present in the scientific endeavor. At first, Meyer was in doubt about the distinction between two different types of science, one inductive and one abductive. However, he found that this distinction was actually commonplace among scientists. For example, he notes that Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent evolutionary paleontologist, made this distinction:

Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist and historian of science, insisted that the “historical sciences,” such as geology, evolutionary biology, and paleontology used different methods than did “experimental sciences” such as chemistry and physics. Interestingly, he also argued that understanding how historical sciences differed from experimental sciences helped to legitimate evolutionary theory in the face of challenges to its scientific rigor by those who questioned its testability. . . . [H]e empahsized that historical scientists test their theories by evaluating their explanatory power.

The distinction was not at all uncommon as Meyer had first supposed. He also found it in the writings of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin.

I have found this distinction to be quite helpful, and I would encourage you to listen to Kenneth Samples’ lectures for a much fuller explanation.

Where We Live

The White family lives on the northern edge of the famous Black Hills. It is a place of extraordinary beauty. The mouth of Spearfish Canyon is only a couple of miles from our church. Yesterday, some of my family and a few members of church hiked up to devil’s bathtub. I thought I would share some of the scenes with you.

Continue reading “Where We Live”