Bonar: Living Upon the Son of God

tsslogo.jpgLiving Upon the Son of God
by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

[As a compliment to Sinclair Ferguson’s quotation from earlier in the day, this is an excellent example from one of my favorite authors of how the imperatives of Scripture should be wrapped in the indicatives of the Gospel. Notice by the end we have been called to endure hardships and pursue holiness. -Tony]

“I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20)

Through the law we die; through the cross we live. The law kills; it kills even to itself: ‘We, through the law, are dead to the law.’ But this legal death produces or issues in a divine life; we die to the law, that we may live to God; we are crucified with Christ; yet we live; this crucifixion (or death) produces life; and yet this new life is not our own, — it is that of Christ; who dwelleth in us, and liveth in us, so that the life which we live in the flesh, we live by faith on the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. This is the love that passeth knowledge; this is the gift that transcends all gifts.

Thus Christ is our life; its spring or fountain; its root; its storehouse or treasury. We live not upon ourselves, but on another; all that we have, and are, and hope for, is derived from that other.

1. We live upon His person. His person, like His name, is wonderful. It is both divine and human. It contains all that is excellent in the creature, along with all that is excellent in the Creator. His person is the great vessel of fullness, in which is contained all that is needed by the neediest of souls. It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell. In Him is the perfection of all perfection, the glory of all glory. On this glorious person we live. We draw our spiritual life out of Him. We live by faith upon Him. In receiving the Father’s testimony to His person, we draw in the life which is in Him for us. We use Him. We partake of His fullness. The virtue that is in Him flows out to us. Out of His fullness we receive, and grace for grace, — like wave upon wave.

2. We live upon his work. The great feature in that work is substitution, atonement, propitiation. It contains many things; but this especially: ‘Christ died for our sins.’ He ‘gave Himself for us.’ He was ‘made sin for us.’ It is this aspect of His work that so specially suits us; for what we require is one to stand in our stead, to represent our persons, to bear our sins, to furnish us with a righteousness. His work upon the cross presents us with all these, — — His finished work, His accepted sacrifice, His precious blood, His completed expiation on ‘the accursed tree.’ On this work we live daily. It is a quickening work; a work the knowledge of which is life to the dead soul. To disbelieve that work, or to lose sight of it, is death; to believe it, and to keep our eye upon it, is life and healing. The sight of it, or the thinking about it (call it by what name we please), draws in life; we live in and by looking. This work contains the divine fullness provided for the sinner.

3. We live upon His love. It is love such as men saw on earth when He went about speaking the words and doing the works of grace. It is love (or grace) which comes out so specially from the person and the work; the love of Christ; love without measure; love that passeth knowledge. It is love, infinite, free, suitable, unchanging. The knowledge of this great love is life and peace. Jesus loves! ‘As the Father bath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love.’ How quickening and comforting is love like this!

We have thus spoken generally of what we get out of Christ’s living fullness. But let us now ask what this living upon Christ does for us. What do we specially get?

A. We get strength. In looking, we are strengthened with might in the inner man. Out of the depth of weakness we look, and are made strong. Connection with the person, the work, the love of Christ, communicates the divine strength. We lean upon His arm.

B. We get peace. The sight of Him whose name is the Peacemaker pours in peace. It is a peace-giving sight. We get peace by the blood of His cross; for He is our peace. Each fresh look communicates fresh peace, — the peace which passeth all understanding.

C. We get sympathy and consolation. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. In all our affliction He is afflicted. He sympathizes with us; He goes down to the lowest depths of our sorrow; He comforts us in all our tribulation.

D. We get health. The sight of Him is healing. As we remember Him or think of Him, health flows into us. The fragrance of His name is medicine. To think of Him, is to inhale the health. Thus our cure proceeds; thus our diseases are banished.

E. We get holiness. Contact with Jesus is sanctifying. It is faith which brings us into contact with Him, and it is by faith that we are purified. We live by faith on the Son of God, and are by Him made holy. Thus it is that we are taught to hate sin, and thus we learn to seek holiness, and to delight in all progress therein. Christ says to us, Be holy; His cross says to us, Be holy; His love says to us, Be holy.

F. We get eternal glory. If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. ‘Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood,’ sing the saints in heaven, ‘and hast made us kings and priests unto God: and we shall reign on the earth.’ Oneness with Him in humiliation leads to oneness with Him in glory; the glory to be revealed when He comes again.

– Horatius Bonar
, Light and Truth in The Life and Works of Horatius Bonar on CD-Rom (LUX publications: 2004), pp. 744-745.

Ferguson: Supporting the imperatives to holiness

Ferguson: Supporting the imperatives to holiness

At the 2007 Banner of Truth conference this Spring, Sinclair Ferguson made the following note after reading Titus 2:11-13 (“For the grace of God has appeared … training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”). He says,

“The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. … Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry.”

Sinclair Ferguson, message from the 2007 Banner of Truth Conference, Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase.

Along with Titus 2:11-13, Ferguson cited 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 8:28-29 and 15:16. Ferguson preached from John 15:9 the next day where Jesus’ call for fruitful disciples is wrapped in His call for them to “Abide in my love.” Ferguson challenges preachers to root the commands to be holy in the grace of our electing Father, the work of His Son on the Cross and the ongoing work of the indwelling and filling Spirit towards our holiness. The challenge is not to avoid the commands, but make certain our indicatives are strong enough to support them. Preaching from the indicatives assumes the preacher is first living daily in the indicatives of God in his private study.

Understanding Legalism

Understanding Legalism

How do we define legalism? Because the term legalism is a very serious one (and because my heart is especially susceptible to it) I frequently think about how the roots of legalism sprout in our lives. So today I want to work towards a definition.

Three events from last year (that all took place back in Omaha in the same week) reveal why clarification on the dangers of legalism are necessary. First was a conversation with a woman who had decided it was okay that her daughter skip church for soccer games. “I don’t want to be legalistic about church,” she said. Another encounter was with a man who defined legalism as “living by lots of rules.” And the third encounter was over an issue concerning alcohol and how those who say Christians should not drink are legalists.

I’m not saying these people are right or wrong in their convictions. What I am saying is that each statement sadly reveals a misunderstanding about legalism. What we commonly forget is that legalism is dangerous whether your biblical convictions are right or wrong. Holding biblically accurate convictions does not automatically protect from legalism.

Rules are not the problem

The danger of legalism does not seem to be found primarily by living with rules or not living by rules — whether you attend church every week or not, whether you drink wine or not.

Jesus says, ‘take every precaution you need to prevent your heart from sinning.’ “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29).

If you apply the entire bible to the Christian life, you can end up with a long list of helpful rules and reminders (like the “one anothers”). Count how many times the phrase “do not” occurs in the Proverbs. It’s no wonder that Jonathan Edwards came up with his long list of resolutions.

Rules are not the central problem in legalism.

A false gospel

Legalism is (most dangerously) a soteriological problem. That is, legalism is a false gospel. Legalism is the damning lie that says God’s pleasure and joy in me is dependent upon my obedience.

It is legalism that causes the Pharisee to look proudly into the sky in the presence of a tax collector. It is legalism that causes a missionary in Africa to think God is more pleased with him than the Christian businessman in America. And it is legalism that causes the preacher behind the pulpit to think God is more pleased with him than the tatooed Christian teenager sitting in the back row.

The common salvation (Jude 3)

Legalism is the lie that God will find more pleasure in me because my obedience is greater than others or that God looks at me with disgust because I am not growing in grace as quickly as my friends. It is the failure to remember that God’s pleasure in us comes outside of us (in Christ). Legalism causes the heart to forget that God sings over us because of the work He has done, not because of what we have done (Zeph. 3:15-17).

Believers equally bring pleasure to God because the pleasure He receives in us is the purchased pleasure of the substitution of Jesus Christ. Any imagined superiority to other Christians (not rules or a lack of rules) is the sure sign of the legalist.

The irony of legalism

The great irony (and danger) of legalism is this … If you think God is more pleased with you because you take your child to a soccer game instead of church, if you think God is more pleased with you because you do not live by rules, and if you think God is more pleased with you because you do drink alcohol – you are just as legalistic as the man who thinks that perfect church attendance, lists of rules and abstaining from alcohol makes him more pleasing to God.

Whether our convictions are biblical or unbiblical is another issue altogether. Legalism is not so much objective (are my convictions biblical or not?) but subjective (what do my convictions get me?). So legalism is just as dangerous whether your convictions are biblically accurate or not. From what I hear, this is not the common definition floating around the broad Evangelical landscape.

Sadly, churches that do not train their sheep to boast only in the righteousness of the Cross of Christ, but are frequently carried into other controversies and debates, or pride themselves in a lack of rules and regulations, can equally create a breeding ground for self-righteous legalism. And this is true even if the church is biblically correct every time on every debate.

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Related: Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney

“Like pangs of death”: Letting go of legalism

“Like pangs of death”: Letting go of legalism
by Tony Reinke

What is “legalism?” Legalism is an attempt to please God through self-righteous obedience, a counterfeit replacement to the merits and works of the perfect Son. You can be legalistic by not drinking alcohol and thinking God is more pleased with you and you can become legalistic by drinking alcohol and thinking God is more pleased with you. Legalism is not merely defined by specific rules or strictness. Legalism is all about seeking to please God with self efforts and we do that in our ‘looseness’ just as easily as our strictness. That’s the gist of a short post I wrote (“Understanding Legalism”) last September.

This past winter I heard two separate public statements to the effect that if you read a lot of Puritan literature you will grow legalistic. Certainly there is a danger in all Christian literature to do what I did before I was a Christian — highlight all the passages of books and Scripture that give a command, seek to obey and appease God in the end. That’s legalism and it doesn’t matter what you read, our hearts fall into this legalism naturally.

The criticism of the Puritans however is overall unfounded simply on the basis of the Cross-centered focus of the Puritans. You cannot exalt in the sufficient work of the Son without striking legalism at the root.

But this criticism is also unfounded because the Puritans attacked legalism directly.

This weekend I was reading through an excellent systematic theology written by John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787). On the covenant of works, Brown launched into a lengthy paragraph on the nature of legalism and why all unregenerate sinners – and even converted Christians – are lured by legalism. Listen carefully to his arguments.

“All men by nature, and even believers, in so far as they are unrenewed, desire to be under the covenant of works, and to obtain happiness by their own righteousness, or the condition of it. 1. It is natural to men, and hence men of every form or religion, station, office, education, or manner of life, agree in it (Romans 9:31,32; 10:3; Jonah 1:16; Matthew 19:16; John 6:28; Acts 2:37; Luke 15:19). 2. Our own working or suffering, in order to obtain happiness from God, is exceedingly suited to the pride of our corrupt nature, and makes us to look on God as our debtor (Romans 10:3; 7:9,13; John 5:45; Isaiah 58:3). It is like pangs of death to quit our hold of the law (Romans 7:4,9; Galatians 2:19). 3. Men’s ignorance of the extensive and high demands of the broken law, and of their own utter inability to keep it, — or their care to abridge their apprehensions of them, and to enlarge their conceit of their own ability, mightily promote their desire to be under it (Romans 7:9-13; 10:3; Galatians 4:21). 4. Men have naturally a peculiar enmity against God and his gracious method of redemption, — against Jesus Christ and his whole mediation, particularly his sacrificing work; and hence love to oppose the honor of it be cleaving to legal methods of obtaining happiness (Romans 8:7; John 15:24; Romans 10:3; 9:32; 5:21; Galatians 2:21; 5:2,4).”

The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington [Reformation Heritage Books: 2002] p. 212 (updated spellings and formatting).

Not only were the Puritans aware of the dangers of legalism, they understood legalism to be a false understanding of the appeasement of God. That is, they rightly understood legalism to be a false gospel. And what’s more, the Puritans were fully aware of the battle waging in the soul of the Christian that “it is like pangs of death to quit our hold of the law.” We must die to the Law, not because the Law is bad, but because all sinners are naturally inclined to think appeasing God is possible through Legal obedience. We think that we will find life in obedience to the Law when in fact the Law is really only eternally useful after it kills us in our self-righteousness. “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me” (Romans 7:10).

The Puritans were fully aware of the heart’s addiction to self-righteousness and they responded by attacking legalism directly and indirectly (by rejoicing in the perfect work of Jesus Christ). To conclude that Puritan literature births legalism is very clearly a broad statement without foundation.

Understanding Legalism

tsslogo.jpgI am growing increasingly alarmed by the ways I hear the term ‘legalism’ defined. And since the term ‘legalism’ is a very serious one, I want to take time to look at this growing and serious concern.

The term ‘legalism’ is on my mind because of several recent events. The first was conversation with a woman who had decided it was okay that her daughter skip church for soccer games. “I don’t want to be legalistic about church,” she said. Another encounter was with a man who defined legalism as “living by lots of rules.” And the third encounter was over an issue concerning alcohol and how those who say Christians should not drink are legalists.

I’m not saying these people are right or wrong in their convictions. What I am saying is that each statement sadly reveals a misunderstanding about legalism. Legalism is a danger whether you are biblically right or wrong.

Rules are not the problem

Legalism is not concerned primarily with living by rules or not living by rules — whether you attend church every week or not, whether you drink wine or not.

Jesus says, ‘take every precaution you need to prevent your heart from sinning.’ “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29).

If you apply the entire bible to the Christian life you can end up with a long list of helpful rules and reminders (like the “one anothers”). Count how many times the phrase “do not” occurs in the Proverbs. It’s no wonder that Jonathan Edwards came up with his long list of resolutions.

Rules are not the problem.

A false gospel

Legalism is a soteriological problem (that is, a false gospel). Legalism is the damning lie that says God’s pleasure in me is dependent upon my obedience.

It is legalism that causes the Pharisee to look proudly into the sky in the presence of a tax collector. It is legalism that causes a missionary in Africa to think God is more pleased with him than the Christian businessman in America. And it is legalism that causes the preacher behind the pulpit to think God is more pleased with him than the tatooed Christian teenager sitting in the back row.

The common salvation (Jude 3)

Legalism is the lie that God will find more pleasure in me because my obedience is greater than others. It is the failure to remember that God’s pleasure in us comes outside of us (in Christ). Legalism causes the heart to forget that God sings over us because of the work He has done, not what we have done (Zeph. 3:15-17).

Believers are all pleasing to God because the righteousness of Christ covers us equally in the sight of God. Any imagined superiority to other Christians (not rules) is the sure sign of the legalist.

The irony of legalism

The great irony (and danger) of legalism is this … If you think God is more pleased with you because you take your child to a soccer game instead of church, if you think God is more pleased with you because you do not live by rules, and if you think God is more pleased with you because you do drink alcohol – you are just as legalistic as the man who thinks that perfect church attendance, lists of rules and abstaining from alcohol makes him more pleasing to God.

Whether our convictions are biblical or unbiblical is another issue altogether. Legalism is not so much objective (are my convictions biblical or not?) but subjective (what do my convictions get me?). So legalism is just as dangerous whether your convictions are biblically accurate or not.

Sadly, churches that do not train their sheep to boast only in the righteousness of the Cross of Christ, but are frequently carried into other controversies and debates, create a breeding ground for self-righteous legalists. And this is true even if the church is right every time on every debate.

But even more sad, legalists will never experience the joy of regarding all other Christians more highly than themselves (Phil. 2:3).
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Related: The Grand Canyon of God’s Grace

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Favorite books

I am often asked to list my favorite books. So this week I’m going to give you my top 20 and reviews of my top 5. Drum roll, please. Here are my (ever changing) top 20 favorites …

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1. Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Newer translation that is excellent in many ways.

2. The Precious Things of God, by Octavius Winslow. No book more relishes in the preciousness of the eternal things. I’ll give a fuller recommendation later in the week.

3. The Everlasting Righteousness, by Horatius Bonar. Many great books have been written on justification (how sinners are made right with God). But this one, written over a century ago, is my favorite, the most passionate and the most quotable.

4. The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer. “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” Fabulous book for those who want a grand view of God. A tiny book with a heavy message.

5. The Glory of Christ (Vol. 1 of Works), by John Owen. Few things are better than to look at the depth of Christ’s beauty. Though Owen is not easy to read he is very valuable.

6. George Whitefield, 2 vols., by Arnold Dallimore. This is my favorite biography ever. Very readable. This set of books will inflame a desire to be extinguished for Christ.

7. The New Park Street Pulpit (1855-1860), 6 vols., by C.H. Spurgeon. The early sermons of the greatest preacher in church history. All of his books and sermons are recommended but these volumes are especially precious. There is a youthful zeal to the early sermons.

8. The Works of John Bunyan, 3 vols., by John Bunyan. Bunyan was an uneducated man who was imprisoned for his non-conformist preaching of the gospel. Few have plumbed the depths of the human heart deeper than him. He remains one of the greatest preachers and maybe the most famous writer (The Pilgrims Progress) in church history. These three volumes contain all of his works and require diligence and patience. To the patient these volumes contain a lifetime of treasures!

9. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, by Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford, in my opinion, is one of the most overlooked Puritan authors. He wrote so many beautiful books and preached so many Christ-exalting sermons yet few are in print. This collection of beautiful letters was written with great spiritual insight. The Banner of Truth just released an unabridged version unavailable for many years. It will be of great use for pastors wondering how to address the Cross to specific pastoral situations.

10. Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore. My favorite biographer (Dallimore) + my Christian “hero” (Spurgeon) = a classic! Spurgeon focused on preaching, caring for widows and orphans, training pastors for the future, etc. A man who extinguished himself for the gospel!

11. Communion with God (Vol. 2 of Works), by John Owen. Deep scholarship with a burning affection for Christ. How do we relate and respond to God personally? This is the question that he answers thoroughly.

12. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 vols., by Jonathan Edwards. The greatest American theologian. These two works contain many of his best sermons and books. A lifetime of eternal gems are here contained for the patient reader. Though I also recommend preachers purchase a few of the Yale edition volumes (Donald Whitney especially suggests vol. 14).

13. Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden. A fabulous biography whose author shows tremendous spiritual sensitivity while looking at the life of America’s great theologian/preacher.

14. God’s Passion for His Glory by John Piper and Jonathan Edwards. Not one of Edward’s easiest books to work through but a very powerful one. God does everything for Himself. Gets to the heart of the most important reality we can ever comprehend – that God loves nothing more than Himself. (A special thanks to my friend Rick Gamache for his editing of the book).

15. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. A classic book that allows the heaviness of God to come down upon the reader.

16. Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. A transforming book.

17. The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever. A new book of Dever’s sermon manuscripts covering a broad and sweeping overview of the Old Testament. This book has drawn the Old Testament together for me in great ways. I now see the cohesive big picture like never before!

18. The Confessions by Augustine (Maria Boulding translation). Great classic and from what I am told this is the first true autobiography in history. In this book a sinner’s soul is honestly opened for all to see.

19. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. I like Reymond, Erickson and others, but this is my favorite systematic. I also really like what Jeff Purswell did in editing it into the book Bible Doctrine.

20. Lectures to My Students by C.H. Spurgeon. No pastor should be allowed to lead a church who has not read it at least 10 times.

Now you tell me. What are your top 5 favorite books ???