Reformed Worship: From Babbling to Sweet Harmony

By / Nov 19

The Lord’s Day Evening
November 19, 2006

Colossians 2:16-23
“Reformed Worship: From Babbling to Sweet Harmony”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Please be seated. Now, if you arrived a little late for this evening’s service and you’ve been wondering how come I’m not preaching so early, that’s because we’re doing a Reformation Day service reflecting the liturgy of John Calvin in the 1540’s in Geneva. If you have your bulletin, keep that open. I’m going to be referring to parts of the logic of that liturgy that Calvin introduced, first of all in Strasbourg, when he was there from 1538 until the beginning of 1542, and then thereafter in Geneva.

Now before we read the Scripture together (and the Scripture is taken from Colossians 2 and a section dealing with the issue of worship…), before we have a prayer of illumination, let me interject at this point that I’m going to be reading not from the version that Calvin would have read in the pulpit. Calvin would have read a French translation, of course, in the congregation in Geneva. But one of the most influential translations of that period in 1540’s and ‘50’s and ‘60’s was of course the Geneva Bible.

Following the death of Queen Mary in England and the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I…and at Queen Mary’s reign, many of the English Reformers left the country for fear of their lives, and among them were some of the great scholars of the time, including Miles Coverdale, who produced an English translation of the Bible himself; and John Knox, and Thomas Sampson, and William Whittingham. The Geneva Bible was translated in Geneva by some of these exiles. Whittingham, especially, was instrumental in the production of the Geneva Bible. It was a Bible in the English language; it was far more popular in the 1640’s, a century later during the time of the Westminster Assembly; it was far more popular in English homes than the King James Bible, which of course had been printed in 1611. There was a great deal of suspicion about the King James Bible by some of the Puritans, as you might expect–although these days it’s almost the opposite. The King James Bible is regarded by some as the most conservative of Bibles, but in the 1640’s that was not so, and it was the Geneva Bible because of the beauty of its translation that became the most favored translation in English homes. And I’m going to read in a few minutes, after a prayer of illumination, from Colossians 2:16-23 from the Geneva Bible. Before we do that, let’s pray together.

Our Father in heaven, we call upon You. We call especially upon You, Holy Spirit, to come down and enlighten our minds and hearts. We cannot understand the Scriptures unless you come and give us understanding. And we thank You especially for the gift of the Bible, and we bless you that an ordinary Christian without any particular scholarship can read the Bible and understand for himself and herself the truths of the gospel and be saved. We bless You, Holy Spirit, for superintending the entire process from beginning to end: that holy men of God wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. So come, and help us to read, and mark, and learn, and inwardly digest, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Hear now the word of God:

“Let no man therefore condemn you in meat and drink and in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon or of the Sabbath days, which are but a shadow of things to come. But the body is in Christ. Let no man at his pleasure bear rule over you by humbleness of mind and worshiping of angels, advancing himself in those things which he never saw, rashly put up with his fleshly mind and holdeth not the Head, whereof all the body furnished and knit together by joints and bands increaseth with the increasing of God. Wherefore if he be dead with Christ from the ordinances of the world, why, as though ye lived in the world, are ye burdened with traditions as “touch not, taste not, handle not” (which all perish with the using) and are after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have, indeed, a show of wisdom in voluntary religion and humbleness of mind, and in not sparing the body, which are things of no value, since they pertain to the filling of flesh.”

Amen. And may God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

In 1543, John Calvin was asked by some of his friends and colleagues, particularly Martin Bucer, to write a treatise justifying to the king of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, explaining why the Reformation was necessary. He had written on several occasions responses to other treatises, but this was the first time that he would, as it were, remove from discourse with someone else, sit down and write why the Reformation was necessary. It is one of Calvin’s greatest accomplishments, and it may surprise you the true reasons that Calvin gives for the necessity of the Reformation.

The first wouldn’t surprise you at all. In fact, I would be terribly disappointed if I were to do a straw poll (I won’t do it! I don’t want to be disappointed!), but I would be disappointed if you didn’t tell me that one of the reasons that the Reformation was necessary was because of the doctrine of salvation, or perhaps more particularly the doctrine of justification. And Calvin spends about half of the treatment dealing with the issue of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Part of the whole problem of the medieval church was the introduction of a works righteousness: that men and women were being taught by the priests that in order to inherit salvation, in order to get to heaven, they had to undergo this treadmill of sacramental religion that began in infancy and ended with extreme unction at death. And so that was one thing–the doctrine of justification. On that point Calvin stood on the very same ground as Martin Luther, whose hymn we’ve just sung–A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, a bulwark never failing–it’s probably the most well-known hymn in the PCA just now, I think. We could probably all sing most of it from memory, if not all of it from memory.

But that wasn’t the first reason that Calvin gave. That was actually the second reason. The first reason that Calvin gave for the necessity of the Reformation was worship: that the mode by which God is to be duly worshiped had been corrupted

Now, coming out of the Reformation are three principle tracks. One is of course the Roman Catholic track–that worship is to be governed by the church; that worship is to be governed by tradition; that worship is to be governed by the dictates of priests and bishops, and eventually of course the Pope in the See of Rome. That was one tract.

Luther, and with him the Anglican church — the Episcopal church, both in Europe and in England — took another point of view. Their branch, as it were, of the Reformation, in reacting against the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church…the Lutherans and the Anglicans worshipped God according to a principle that so long as they did not violate what God had forbidden, then it was acceptable in worship. So long as God hadn’t specifically forbidden it in Scripture, then it was allowable. And of course that gave rise to a certain amount of innovation in worship — innovation which Calvin, especially, and the Puritans after him in Europe and in Holland and in England, and in New England eventually, would see differently.

And so, a third track. It would be the track that the Presbyterian church would follow, the track of The Westminster Confession and the 1689 Baptist Confession (and the Savoie Declaration of the Congregational Union would follow), and that is that the worship of God, the public worship of God, the worship of God on the Lord’s Day, the worship of the gathered people of God must be governed by the specific warrants of Scripture; that it wasn’t enough simply to say that so long as God hasn’t specifically forbidden it…God must specifically request it. And that is the line of Reformed worship that Calvin in Geneva adopted. When John Knox went to Geneva (he was there for a number of years in exile, of course, from Scotland), John Knox said of the worship that he saw and heard — (the singing of that tune that we did a fairly good job of, I thought…we were just getting the hang of it, I think, towards the end — and those Genevan tunes are fairly lively tunes) — and John Knox describes in detail…and the gusto with which they sang these Genevan tunes to the Psalms…and he said of the worship in Geneva that it was “the most perfect school of Christ under heaven.” It was the next best thing to heaven that he had ever witnessed.

Well, Paul is addressing worship here in Colossians 2. He’s addressing a number of problems. He’s addressing areas of sanctification, but he’s also addressing areas of worship, and there are four principle issues that emerge in this section of Scripture that we’ve just read together.

There is something in verse 20 called the elementary principles, or the elemental spirits of the world: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world….” It’s capable of more than one possible understanding, but I think that what Paul is referring to here are the ABC’s of worship. It’s under the Old Testament, especially. God dealt with the people of God as you deal with children. They were like children in kindergarten, and God gave them lots of rules and regulations — ABC’s — that now, as we have come into the new covenant and grown up, as it were [we’ve matured, we’ve left home, we’ve graduated from college] — we’re no longer under those strict rules that you find under the Old Testament. That’s one of the issues that’s befuddling worship in the church at Colossae.

Then in verse 22 (and he’s already referred to it back in verse 8) something called human precepts…human precepts in teachings, or human tradition. The Colossians were being confused not by teachings of the apostle, and not teachings that come from Scripture, but human traditions with human authority — very similar things to what Calvin is largely addressing in the middle of the sixteenth century.

And then in verse 16, passing judgment about food and drink and with regard to festivals and new moons, and Sabbaths — not so much the Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, I think, but all the other Sabbath paraphernalia of the Old Testament. So, a mistaken appeal to the Old Testament.

And then in verse 16 he refers to the worship of angels. Calvin thought that what Paul was referring to was that the Colossians were actually worshiping angels. I don’t think that that’s right, but that’s what Calvin thought. Rather, I think what Paul is addressing is not that they were worshiping angels — that would be very wrong; it’s the fact that they were claiming to have been taught by angels how to worship — that they were claiming, as it were, supernatural authority for the way in which they were worshiping. Well, we needn’t go in now to all of the in’s and out’s of that…just enough for us to see that Paul is certainly addressing confusion in the church here about worship, about the mode of worship.

And he reaches a conclusion in verse 23: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Now a couple of things about that verse.

One is that Paul is drawing a very direct line from worship to sanctification; that when you get your worship wrong, your holiness will go wrong with it. In other words, if I can turn that around, Paul is saying that one of the distinguishing features of holiness and godliness and Christ-likeness is our attitude to worship: our attitude to corporate worship; our attitude to what we do when we gather together for the worship of God.

And not only that, you see that word there: self-made religion. The vain traditions of men, and self-made religion and asceticism. It’s a very technical Greek word. It’s one of those words that Calvin loves to quote in Greek, and he’ll refer to it very often. It’s a word that conjures up for Calvin what was wrong with the worship in Colossae that Paul is addressing, but also what was wrong with medieval worship, in that it was worship governed by the decisions and traditions and dictates of men rather than God.

I. Public worship is to be governed by what God has revealed.
Now let me elaborate along three or four lines of thought. For Calvin, the form of public worship is to be governed by what God has revealed.
It’s what Paul is saying here, that they were not to be brought — their conscience was not to be brought — under the dictates of men, but our conscience can only be subject to that which God has revealed. God is the ultimate authority, and our worship must conform to what God has revealed. God has shown us in the Bible how we must worship Him. It would be unthinkable to think that God calls a people out of darkness in order that they might worship Him. That’s why we’re here; that’s why we’re Christians. That’s why there’s a covenant of grace. That’s why Moses brings the people out of Egypt and into the promised land: “…in order that they might worship Me on this mountain.” Why, it’s inconceivable that God would do that without telling us how we are to worship Him when we gather together on the Lord’s Day. And for Calvin this self-made religion…will-worship the King James renders it — will-worship…it’s not worship according to the divine will, it’s worship according to human will, and it brings the conscience into subjection in a wrong way.

Well, you’re about to give Thanksgiving for being released from the tyranny of British rule and a mad king, and much of it was to do with conscience, of course. The entire establishment of this country has to do with the issue of conscience and freedom of conscience, and the right to live and work and worship according to the dictates of our conscience, and it was of hugely significant importance for the Reformers and for the Puritans that followed. And for Calvin this is what the issue of worship is about: that no man, and no priest, and no presbytery, and no bishop (and certainly no pope) has the right to dictate to our conscience how we may worship God. God alone can do that.

In our own Westminster Confession of Faith there’s that marvelous chapter — it’s an extraordinary chapter of immense significance: “God alone is lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men….” and it goes on to refer to how our consciences are made free in worship; not free to do as we please, but free to obey God as He has laid down in His word how we may worship Him. So along with Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Bucer, Calvin on that score dropped images and candles and priestly robes, as well as those aspects, of course, of the Latin mass for which there was no scriptural support.

There were aspects of the Latin mass, we’ve said a couple of them here tonight in terms of The Apostles’ Creed, for example; and we’ll be saying The Lord’s Prayer at the end of the service tonight, these were parts of the liturgy of the Latin mass, and they were kept. There were other parts of the liturgy that were kept in Calvin’s liturgy in Strasbourg, and again in Geneva. But he sought, Calvin went all the way back to the early church fathers as close as he could get to the New Testament, to model and pattern the worship in Geneva after the pattern of the early church fathers.

And for Calvin, Acts 2:42 was particularly important, when Luke describes the early church as “…continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and of prayers.” The apostles’ teaching…so there must be preaching; and the fellowship, which for Calvin part of that meant giving of alms and taking care of one another (and although that didn’t become part of the liturgy, the giving of alms was indeed an act of worship); and the breaking of bread, in terms of the Lord’s Supper; and prayers. And so for Calvin, then, the form of public worship is to be governed by what God has revealed.

II. The content of public worship was dominated by Scripture.
The second thing, the content of public worship was dominated by Scripture.
I suppose that’s the greatest thing about the Reformation, the way in which the Scriptures come to the surface…the printing press, the translation of Scripture into German by Luther, into French by Calvin’s friends, and so on; and then Miles Coverdale and others, and Hugh Latimer and others in England producing English Bibles, and I’ve just told you about the Geneva Bible…how all of a sudden the Bible, the Scriptures, the word of God which had been a closed book for a thousand years…for Calvin that meant the dominance of preaching and teaching.

There were about 15,000 souls in Geneva. It grew and expanded immensely in the 1550’s as French refugees came in tens of thousands from France into Geneva. But in a course of two weeks or so you could hear at least fifteen sermons. Two, of course, every Lord’s Day, but then during the week at lunchtime there was an hour-long service where apparently the cathedrals — some here in Geneva — would be filled with men and women who had come together from work, and they’d come from their homes to hear sermons. There was a zeal, a thirst for the Scriptures. Gone now was the treadmill of sacramental religion with the seven sacraments of baptism and penance and confirmation and communion, and ordination, and marriage, and extreme unction. They were gone.

The Latin mass was an aesthetic experience. If you’d gone to your average Latin mass in Geneva, say, in 1510, ten years before the Reformation began in Germany, you would go into the Cathedral of St. Pierre, the walls would be highly decorated with Byzantine art, pictures and paintings and ornate colors everywhere. (They’re still there, but Calvin plastered them over!) You’d have gone in, and there might be several masses taking place in different parts of the building. And the priest would have his back turned to you. You couldn’t hear what he was saying; and even if you could hear what he was saying, sometimes the priest was behind the partition…and even if you could hear what he was saying, it was in Latin, and very few people understood more than a few phrases in Latin. Some would know the Ave Maria, and some would know the Pater Nostreprone during the Latin mass, but medieval priests couldn’t preach their way out of a paper bag, and so the prone just became an occasion when they would give announcements, and maybe a little moral exhortation, and that was about it. But it wasn’t preaching as you and I know it.

And Calvin transforms all of that. He introduces consecutive expository preaching, as had been the case in the early church with the likes of John Chrysostom and others: beginning in the first verse of the Book of Genesis and working his way through to the final verse of chapter 50; going through book after book after book, because he saw the Scriptures as a book that has one meaning, given by one Lord, and we’re meant to understand it and use our rational faculties in understanding it and studying it. And so when Calvin walked into the pulpit, he read from his Greek New Testament or his Hebrew Old Testament and translated there in the pulpit.

There’s this wonderful story…when Calvin was kicked out of Geneva in 1538…he’d only been there barely two years, and the civil authorities for reasons we needn’t go into now threw him out of Geneva, he went to Strasbourg. Calvin was delighted; he didn’t want to go to Geneva in the first place — and went to French exiles in Strasbourg. When he went back to Geneva, when the city fathers realized the error of their ways and came hat in hand to ask him to come back to Geneva three and a half years later, on that first Sunday morning in the Cathedral of St. Pierre in Geneva, he began to preach at the very place where he had left off three and a half years before, and began according, at least to Bucer, with the words, “As I was saying….”

So the Genevan church was an entirely different experience for these people. Gone now were the tabernacles (you know, where you kept the consecrated host); gone was the ornate statues and paintings and stained glass windows, and even the organ. It was locked up. And a pulpit was installed. You know, if you’d have gone to Geneva in the 1550’s, you’d have heard people every now and then mumbling during the preaching. It was a constant problem in Geneva.

You see, if you had grown up in medieval Catholicism, what are you supposed to do when the priest is going through the ritual of the mass, which would last for about an hour? You didn’t understand any of it, so what do you do? You took your rosary beads and you went through the Pater Nostre, and you’d start mumbling and muttering to yourself the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed. And very often in Calvin’s Geneva, recent converts from Catholicism would be in the service, and in the middle of the sermon they would start mumbling. They would be brought before the elders. They were treated very gently at first, and then a little more harshly, and eventually even more harshly, and eventually they’d be fined for doing it. But that’s the context in which Calvin is ministering.

Prayer was so important for Calvin, and particularly the way prayer is a call to God for help. Calvin always began with that ascent Psalm of Psalm 124:8 — “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth.” It’s a calling upon God, the Creator of the world, to come to our aid and to come to our help. It’s why before the reading of Scripture he introduced a prayer of illumination. It was an acknowledgement that we need the Holy Spirit to come down and help us.

The service began with this Confession of Sin, not standing as we did, but actually kneeling. And the great prayer, the pastoral prayer, came after the sermon, not before the sermon, because the great prayer, the great pastoral prayer, was to be based on the contents of Scripture and the things that we’ve just learned from the Scriptures, and they must be now turned into prayer, so that before we leave the building [this was Calvin’s logic] we call upon God to bring those truths now to bear upon our hearts and upon our minds.

And for Calvin music and singing was fundamentally important. For Calvin, singing was praying. It was calling upon God with musical notes. Calvin was well aware of how powerful music is, and that’s why he asked some important composers of the time, especially…we’ve just sung tonight The Old Hundredth, written by Louis Bourgeois, and The Ten Commandments tune that we’ve just sung, by Claude Goudimel, were two of the composers that Calvin asked specifically to write Genevan tunes for the Psalms. And the Psalms, as well as other portions of Scripture — not exclusively the Psalms, there were other portions of Scripture — the Ten Commandments were sung, and so on.

And it was fundamentally important that the peoplesang, because in the medieval mass they never sang. It was only a choir that sang, and then only in the large cathedrals. In the smaller cathedrals it would just be the priest that would perhaps chant something, but not the congregation. And so there’s this thrill that emerges in Geneva about singing the praises of God, and that’s why I think John Knox, when he heard them singing these Genevan tunes with such enthusiasm and such gusto, that he said what he said about it being the most perfect school under heaven.

III. The order of worship reveals gospel logic.
Well, the third thing, and briefly, let me say two quick things as I bring this to a close.
The rhythm of public worship reveals a gospel logic for Calvin. Look at the bulletin again. It begins with The Confession of Sin, and then an absolution. It’s not the priest’s absolution, it’s not the minister giving absolution; it’s God’s word that gives absolution.

Now, the Genevans were a little antsy about the absolution. The folk in Strasbourg loved it, but the folk in Geneva were a little antsy about a minister pronouncing a word of absolution, and I think in the PCA we’re probably equally divided on what function an absolution actually has, and it’s a word of Scripture: I John 2:1.

“If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Now notice what comes next. The ten commandments. Now, if this was Luther’s liturgy, the Ten Commandments would function in an entirely different way than they function here in this liturgy. The Ten Commandments are not here to convict us of sin and drive us to Jesus Christ, which is what Luther would use the Ten Commandments for. Now, the Ten Commandments certainly do that, but that’s not its role and function here in the liturgy. We’ve already confessed our sin. We’ve already received God’s assurance of pardon in Jesus Christ. Now the Law is recited not as a means to bring us to Christ; it’s not the Law as regards justification. It’s the law as regards sanctification, how we are to live our lives as Christians, and for Calvin, we live our lives according to the standards and dictates of God’s Law. This is the so-called “third use of the Law” that is so familiar to those who read Calvin’s Institutes. The Law functions as a pattern, as a guide, as a template to tell us how we are to live our lives.

IV. Worship was essentially simple.
And the fourth thing…I need to say a couple of sentences. For Calvin, worship was essentially simple.
The singing of the Psalms, the reading of God’s word, the preaching of His word, the prayers in a language that people understood. Calvin’s language was a relatively simple language. He was a pastor at heart, and just as Paul here in Colossians is dealing with the issue of worship in the Colossian church, and saying fundamentally what Paul is saying to the Colossians is that you must not allow your conscience to be dictated to by anyone other than God. God alone is Lord of the conscience. And for the Reformation, that, too, was part of the reason why this Reformation of worship takes place: because only as we are servants to God’s Law are we truly free. Only as we do what we were intended to be, can we find true liberty. And that’s why when we worship according to the pattern that we worship here on a regular basis from week to week, therein is perfect freedom.

Let us come before God in prayer. Let’s bow our hearts.

Great and Almighty God, since You have not only created us out of nothing, but have deigned to create us again in Your only begotten Son, and You have taken us from the lowest depths and raised us up in Christ to sit with Him in heavenly places, grant, we pray, that we might find our greatest joy and our greatest delight in serving You and in walking in Your ways, and in hiding Your word within our hearts, that we might not sin against You.

Grant, O Lord, since You have deigned to enter into a perpetual and inviolable covenant with us, an everlasting covenant that is ordered in all things and sure, that we might tonight take refuge beneath the everlasting arms; that we might take sweet comfort from the knowledge that having begun a good work You will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.

We thank You this evening for the Reformation. We thank You for the principles that came to the surface as a result of reading the Scriptures. We thank You, O Lord, for those guiding lights that influence us even to this very evening. We pray, Lord, that our worship might be in spirit and in truth. Pour out Your Spirit upon us; give us joy in our worship. May our hearts catch fire, and be aflame. May we see, O Lord, as we worship, the angels and archangels, the cherubim and seraphim, the mighty hosts of God, and the church triumphant. May we see them and hear them, and realize that we mingle our voices with theirs as we worship You on the Lord’s Day. We thank You that the Lord’s Day is a little foretaste, a little glimpse of heaven…that there yet remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

We ask, O Lord, that You would come now and quieten our hearts from the ills and trials that so often mar the peace that we long to know. We pray for the work of the Spirit that might fill us tonight; fill us with the fullness of God as we contemplate the sweetness of what it is to be in union with Jesus Christ. So hear us, O Lord, and teach us. Teach us to pray as our Lord taught His disciples to pray, saying:

‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’

Now let’s sing together in closing the hymn 168. It’s a hymn that’s always thought to have been written by Calvin, I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art.

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Reformed Worship: From Babbling to Sweet Harmony

By / Nov 19

The Lord’s Day Evening
November 19, 2006

Colossians 2:16-23
“Reformed Worship: From Babbling to Sweet Harmony”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Please be seated. Now, if you arrived a little late for this evening’s service and you’ve been wondering how come I’m not preaching so early, that’s because we’re doing a Reformation Day service reflecting the liturgy of John Calvin in the 1540’s in Geneva. If you have your bulletin, keep that open. I’m going to be referring to parts of the logic of that liturgy that Calvin introduced, first of all in Strasbourg, when he was there from 1538 until the beginning of 1542, and then thereafter in Geneva.

Now before we read the Scripture together (and the Scripture is taken from Colossians 2 and a section dealing with the issue of worship…), before we have a prayer of illumination, let me interject at this point that I’m going to be reading not from the version that Calvin would have read in the pulpit. Calvin would have read a French translation, of course, in the congregation in Geneva. But one of the most influential translations of that period in 1540’s and ‘50’s and ‘60’s was of course the Geneva Bible.

Following the death of Queen Mary in England and the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I…and at Queen Mary’s reign, many of the English Reformers left the country for fear of their lives, and among them were some of the great scholars of the time, including Miles Coverdale, who produced an English translation of the Bible himself; and John Knox, and Thomas Sampson, and William Whittingham. The Geneva Bible was translated in Geneva by some of these exiles. Whittingham, especially, was instrumental in the production of the Geneva Bible. It was a Bible in the English language; it was far more popular in the 1640’s, a century later during the time of the Westminster Assembly; it was far more popular in English homes than the King James Bible, which of course had been printed in 1611. There was a great deal of suspicion about the King James Bible by some of the Puritans, as you might expect–although these days it’s almost the opposite. The King James Bible is regarded by some as the most conservative of Bibles, but in the 1640’s that was not so, and it was the Geneva Bible because of the beauty of its translation that became the most favored translation in English homes. And I’m going to read in a few minutes, after a prayer of illumination, from Colossians 2:16-23 from the Geneva Bible. Before we do that, let’s pray together.

Our Father in heaven, we call upon You. We call especially upon You, Holy Spirit, to come down and enlighten our minds and hearts. We cannot understand the Scriptures unless you come and give us understanding. And we thank You especially for the gift of the Bible, and we bless you that an ordinary Christian without any particular scholarship can read the Bible and understand for himself and herself the truths of the gospel and be saved. We bless You, Holy Spirit, for superintending the entire process from beginning to end: that holy men of God wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. So come, and help us to read, and mark, and learn, and inwardly digest, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Hear now the word of God:

“Let no man therefore condemn you in meat and drink and in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon or of the Sabbath days, which are but a shadow of things to come. But the body is in Christ. Let no man at his pleasure bear rule over you by humbleness of mind and worshiping of angels, advancing himself in those things which he never saw, rashly put up with his fleshly mind and holdeth not the Head, whereof all the body furnished and knit together by joints and bands increaseth with the increasing of God. Wherefore if he be dead with Christ from the ordinances of the world, why, as though ye lived in the world, are ye burdened with traditions as “touch not, taste not, handle not” (which all perish with the using) and are after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have, indeed, a show of wisdom in voluntary religion and humbleness of mind, and in not sparing the body, which are things of no value, since they pertain to the filling of flesh.”

Amen. And may God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

In 1543, John Calvin was asked by some of his friends and colleagues, particularly Martin Bucer, to write a treatise justifying to the king of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, explaining why the Reformation was necessary. He had written on several occasions responses to other treatises, but this was the first time that he would, as it were, remove from discourse with someone else, sit down and write why the Reformation was necessary. It is one of Calvin’s greatest accomplishments, and it may surprise you the true reasons that Calvin gives for the necessity of the Reformation.

The first wouldn’t surprise you at all. In fact, I would be terribly disappointed if I were to do a straw poll (I won’t do it! I don’t want to be disappointed!), but I would be disappointed if you didn’t tell me that one of the reasons that the Reformation was necessary was because of the doctrine of salvation, or perhaps more particularly the doctrine of justification. And Calvin spends about half of the treatment dealing with the issue of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Part of the whole problem of the medieval church was the introduction of a works righteousness: that men and women were being taught by the priests that in order to inherit salvation, in order to get to heaven, they had to undergo this treadmill of sacramental religion that began in infancy and ended with extreme unction at death. And so that was one thing–the doctrine of justification. On that point Calvin stood on the very same ground as Martin Luther, whose hymn we’ve just sung–A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, a bulwark never failing–it’s probably the most well-known hymn in the PCA just now, I think. We could probably all sing most of it from memory, if not all of it from memory.

But that wasn’t the first reason that Calvin gave. That was actually the second reason. The first reason that Calvin gave for the necessity of the Reformation was worship: that the mode by which God is to be duly worshiped had been corrupted

Now, coming out of the Reformation are three principle tracks. One is of course the Roman Catholic track–that worship is to be governed by the church; that worship is to be governed by tradition; that worship is to be governed by the dictates of priests and bishops, and eventually of course the Pope in the See of Rome. That was one tract.

Luther, and with him the Anglican church — the Episcopal church, both in Europe and in England — took another point of view. Their branch, as it were, of the Reformation, in reacting against the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church…the Lutherans and the Anglicans worshipped God according to a principle that so long as they did not violate what God had forbidden, then it was acceptable in worship. So long as God hadn’t specifically forbidden it in Scripture, then it was allowable. And of course that gave rise to a certain amount of innovation in worship — innovation which Calvin, especially, and the Puritans after him in Europe and in Holland and in England, and in New England eventually, would see differently.

And so, a third track. It would be the track that the Presbyterian church would follow, the track of The Westminster Confession and the 1689 Baptist Confession (and the Savoie Declaration of the Congregational Union would follow), and that is that the worship of God, the public worship of God, the worship of God on the Lord’s Day, the worship of the gathered people of God must be governed by the specific warrants of Scripture; that it wasn’t enough simply to say that so long as God hasn’t specifically forbidden it…God must specifically request it. And that is the line of Reformed worship that Calvin in Geneva adopted. When John Knox went to Geneva (he was there for a number of years in exile, of course, from Scotland), John Knox said of the worship that he saw and heard — (the singing of that tune that we did a fairly good job of, I thought…we were just getting the hang of it, I think, towards the end — and those Genevan tunes are fairly lively tunes) — and John Knox describes in detail…and the gusto with which they sang these Genevan tunes to the Psalms…and he said of the worship in Geneva that it was “the most perfect school of Christ under heaven.” It was the next best thing to heaven that he had ever witnessed.

Well, Paul is addressing worship here in Colossians 2. He’s addressing a number of problems. He’s addressing areas of sanctification, but he’s also addressing areas of worship, and there are four principle issues that emerge in this section of Scripture that we’ve just read together.

There is something in verse 20 called the elementary principles, or the elemental spirits of the world: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world….” It’s capable of more than one possible understanding, but I think that what Paul is referring to here are the ABC’s of worship. It’s under the Old Testament, especially. God dealt with the people of God as you deal with children. They were like children in kindergarten, and God gave them lots of rules and regulations — ABC’s — that now, as we have come into the new covenant and grown up, as it were [we’ve matured, we’ve left home, we’ve graduated from college] — we’re no longer under those strict rules that you find under the Old Testament. That’s one of the issues that’s befuddling worship in the church at Colossae.

Then in verse 22 (and he’s already referred to it back in verse 8) something called human precepts…human precepts in teachings, or human tradition. The Colossians were being confused not by teachings of the apostle, and not teachings that come from Scripture, but human traditions with human authority — very similar things to what Calvin is largely addressing in the middle of the sixteenth century.

And then in verse 16, passing judgment about food and drink and with regard to festivals and new moons, and Sabbaths — not so much the Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, I think, but all the other Sabbath paraphernalia of the Old Testament. So, a mistaken appeal to the Old Testament.

And then in verse 16 he refers to the worship of angels. Calvin thought that what Paul was referring to was that the Colossians were actually worshiping angels. I don’t think that that’s right, but that’s what Calvin thought. Rather, I think what Paul is addressing is not that they were worshiping angels — that would be very wrong; it’s the fact that they were claiming to have been taught by angels how to worship — that they were claiming, as it were, supernatural authority for the way in which they were worshiping. Well, we needn’t go in now to all of the in’s and out’s of that…just enough for us to see that Paul is certainly addressing confusion in the church here about worship, about the mode of worship.

And he reaches a conclusion in verse 23: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Now a couple of things about that verse.

One is that Paul is drawing a very direct line from worship to sanctification; that when you get your worship wrong, your holiness will go wrong with it. In other words, if I can turn that around, Paul is saying that one of the distinguishing features of holiness and godliness and Christ-likeness is our attitude to worship: our attitude to corporate worship; our attitude to what we do when we gather together for the worship of God.

And not only that, you see that word there: self-made religion. The vain traditions of men, and self-made religion and asceticism. It’s a very technical Greek word. It’s one of those words that Calvin loves to quote in Greek, and he’ll refer to it very often. It’s a word that conjures up for Calvin what was wrong with the worship in Colossae that Paul is addressing, but also what was wrong with medieval worship, in that it was worship governed by the decisions and traditions and dictates of men rather than God.

I. Public worship is to be governed by what God has revealed.
Now let me elaborate along three or four lines of thought. For Calvin, the form of public worship is to be governed by what God has revealed.
It’s what Paul is saying here, that they were not to be brought — their conscience was not to be brought — under the dictates of men, but our conscience can only be subject to that which God has revealed. God is the ultimate authority, and our worship must conform to what God has revealed. God has shown us in the Bible how we must worship Him. It would be unthinkable to think that God calls a people out of darkness in order that they might worship Him. That’s why we’re here; that’s why we’re Christians. That’s why there’s a covenant of grace. That’s why Moses brings the people out of Egypt and into the promised land: “…in order that they might worship Me on this mountain.” Why, it’s inconceivable that God would do that without telling us how we are to worship Him when we gather together on the Lord’s Day. And for Calvin this self-made religion…will-worship the King James renders it — will-worship…it’s not worship according to the divine will, it’s worship according to human will, and it brings the conscience into subjection in a wrong way.

Well, you’re about to give Thanksgiving for being released from the tyranny of British rule and a mad king, and much of it was to do with conscience, of course. The entire establishment of this country has to do with the issue of conscience and freedom of conscience, and the right to live and work and worship according to the dictates of our conscience, and it was of hugely significant importance for the Reformers and for the Puritans that followed. And for Calvin this is what the issue of worship is about: that no man, and no priest, and no presbytery, and no bishop (and certainly no pope) has the right to dictate to our conscience how we may worship God. God alone can do that.

In our own Westminster Confession of Faith there’s that marvelous chapter — it’s an extraordinary chapter of immense significance: “God alone is lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men….” and it goes on to refer to how our consciences are made free in worship; not free to do as we please, but free to obey God as He has laid down in His word how we may worship Him. So along with Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Bucer, Calvin on that score dropped images and candles and priestly robes, as well as those aspects, of course, of the Latin mass for which there was no scriptural support.

There were aspects of the Latin mass, we’ve said a couple of them here tonight in terms of The Apostles’ Creed, for example; and we’ll be saying The Lord’s Prayer at the end of the service tonight, these were parts of the liturgy of the Latin mass, and they were kept. There were other parts of the liturgy that were kept in Calvin’s liturgy in Strasbourg, and again in Geneva. But he sought, Calvin went all the way back to the early church fathers as close as he could get to the New Testament, to model and pattern the worship in Geneva after the pattern of the early church fathers.

And for Calvin, Acts 2:42 was particularly important, when Luke describes the early church as “…continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and of prayers.” The apostles’ teaching…so there must be preaching; and the fellowship, which for Calvin part of that meant giving of alms and taking care of one another (and although that didn’t become part of the liturgy, the giving of alms was indeed an act of worship); and the breaking of bread, in terms of the Lord’s Supper; and prayers. And so for Calvin, then, the form of public worship is to be governed by what God has revealed.

II. The content of public worship was dominated by Scripture.
The second thing, the content of public worship was dominated by Scripture.
I suppose that’s the greatest thing about the Reformation, the way in which the Scriptures come to the surface…the printing press, the translation of Scripture into German by Luther, into French by Calvin’s friends, and so on; and then Miles Coverdale and others, and Hugh Latimer and others in England producing English Bibles, and I’ve just told you about the Geneva Bible…how all of a sudden the Bible, the Scriptures, the word of God which had been a closed book for a thousand years…for Calvin that meant the dominance of preaching and teaching.

There were about 15,000 souls in Geneva. It grew and expanded immensely in the 1550’s as French refugees came in tens of thousands from France into Geneva. But in a course of two weeks or so you could hear at least fifteen sermons. Two, of course, every Lord’s Day, but then during the week at lunchtime there was an hour-long service where apparently the cathedrals — some here in Geneva — would be filled with men and women who had come together from work, and they’d come from their homes to hear sermons. There was a zeal, a thirst for the Scriptures. Gone now was the treadmill of sacramental religion with the seven sacraments of baptism and penance and confirmation and communion, and ordination, and marriage, and extreme unction. They were gone.

The Latin mass was an aesthetic experience. If you’d gone to your average Latin mass in Geneva, say, in 1510, ten years before the Reformation began in Germany, you would go into the Cathedral of St. Pierre, the walls would be highly decorated with Byzantine art, pictures and paintings and ornate colors everywhere. (They’re still there, but Calvin plastered them over!) You’d have gone in, and there might be several masses taking place in different parts of the building. And the priest would have his back turned to you. You couldn’t hear what he was saying; and even if you could hear what he was saying, sometimes the priest was behind the partition…and even if you could hear what he was saying, it was in Latin, and very few people understood more than a few phrases in Latin. Some would know the Ave Maria, and some would know the Pater Nostreprone during the Latin mass, but medieval priests couldn’t preach their way out of a paper bag, and so the prone just became an occasion when they would give announcements, and maybe a little moral exhortation, and that was about it. But it wasn’t preaching as you and I know it.

And Calvin transforms all of that. He introduces consecutive expository preaching, as had been the case in the early church with the likes of John Chrysostom and others: beginning in the first verse of the Book of Genesis and working his way through to the final verse of chapter 50; going through book after book after book, because he saw the Scriptures as a book that has one meaning, given by one Lord, and we’re meant to understand it and use our rational faculties in understanding it and studying it. And so when Calvin walked into the pulpit, he read from his Greek New Testament or his Hebrew Old Testament and translated there in the pulpit.

There’s this wonderful story…when Calvin was kicked out of Geneva in 1538…he’d only been there barely two years, and the civil authorities for reasons we needn’t go into now threw him out of Geneva, he went to Strasbourg. Calvin was delighted; he didn’t want to go to Geneva in the first place — and went to French exiles in Strasbourg. When he went back to Geneva, when the city fathers realized the error of their ways and came hat in hand to ask him to come back to Geneva three and a half years later, on that first Sunday morning in the Cathedral of St. Pierre in Geneva, he began to preach at the very place where he had left off three and a half years before, and began according, at least to Bucer, with the words, “As I was saying….”

So the Genevan church was an entirely different experience for these people. Gone now were the tabernacles (you know, where you kept the consecrated host); gone was the ornate statues and paintings and stained glass windows, and even the organ. It was locked up. And a pulpit was installed. You know, if you’d have gone to Geneva in the 1550’s, you’d have heard people every now and then mumbling during the preaching. It was a constant problem in Geneva.

You see, if you had grown up in medieval Catholicism, what are you supposed to do when the priest is going through the ritual of the mass, which would last for about an hour? You didn’t understand any of it, so what do you do? You took your rosary beads and you went through the Pater Nostre, and you’d start mumbling and muttering to yourself the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed. And very often in Calvin’s Geneva, recent converts from Catholicism would be in the service, and in the middle of the sermon they would start mumbling. They would be brought before the elders. They were treated very gently at first, and then a little more harshly, and eventually even more harshly, and eventually they’d be fined for doing it. But that’s the context in which Calvin is ministering.

Prayer was so important for Calvin, and particularly the way prayer is a call to God for help. Calvin always began with that ascent Psalm of Psalm 124:8 — “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth.” It’s a calling upon God, the Creator of the world, to come to our aid and to come to our help. It’s why before the reading of Scripture he introduced a prayer of illumination. It was an acknowledgement that we need the Holy Spirit to come down and help us.

The service began with this Confession of Sin, not standing as we did, but actually kneeling. And the great prayer, the pastoral prayer, came after the sermon, not before the sermon, because the great prayer, the great pastoral prayer, was to be based on the contents of Scripture and the things that we’ve just learned from the Scriptures, and they must be now turned into prayer, so that before we leave the building [this was Calvin’s logic] we call upon God to bring those truths now to bear upon our hearts and upon our minds.

And for Calvin music and singing was fundamentally important. For Calvin, singing was praying. It was calling upon God with musical notes. Calvin was well aware of how powerful music is, and that’s why he asked some important composers of the time, especially…we’ve just sung tonight The Old Hundredth, written by Louis Bourgeois, and The Ten Commandments tune that we’ve just sung, by Claude Goudimel, were two of the composers that Calvin asked specifically to write Genevan tunes for the Psalms. And the Psalms, as well as other portions of Scripture — not exclusively the Psalms, there were other portions of Scripture — the Ten Commandments were sung, and so on.

And it was fundamentally important that the peoplesang, because in the medieval mass they never sang. It was only a choir that sang, and then only in the large cathedrals. In the smaller cathedrals it would just be the priest that would perhaps chant something, but not the congregation. And so there’s this thrill that emerges in Geneva about singing the praises of God, and that’s why I think John Knox, when he heard them singing these Genevan tunes with such enthusiasm and such gusto, that he said what he said about it being the most perfect school under heaven.

III. The order of worship reveals gospel logic.
Well, the third thing, and briefly, let me say two quick things as I bring this to a close.
The rhythm of public worship reveals a gospel logic for Calvin. Look at the bulletin again. It begins with The Confession of Sin, and then an absolution. It’s not the priest’s absolution, it’s not the minister giving absolution; it’s God’s word that gives absolution.

Now, the Genevans were a little antsy about the absolution. The folk in Strasbourg loved it, but the folk in Geneva were a little antsy about a minister pronouncing a word of absolution, and I think in the PCA we’re probably equally divided on what function an absolution actually has, and it’s a word of Scripture: I John 2:1.

“If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Now notice what comes next. The ten commandments. Now, if this was Luther’s liturgy, the Ten Commandments would function in an entirely different way than they function here in this liturgy. The Ten Commandments are not here to convict us of sin and drive us to Jesus Christ, which is what Luther would use the Ten Commandments for. Now, the Ten Commandments certainly do that, but that’s not its role and function here in the liturgy. We’ve already confessed our sin. We’ve already received God’s assurance of pardon in Jesus Christ. Now the Law is recited not as a means to bring us to Christ; it’s not the Law as regards justification. It’s the law as regards sanctification, how we are to live our lives as Christians, and for Calvin, we live our lives according to the standards and dictates of God’s Law. This is the so-called “third use of the Law” that is so familiar to those who read Calvin’s Institutes. The Law functions as a pattern, as a guide, as a template to tell us how we are to live our lives.

IV. Worship was essentially simple.
And the fourth thing…I need to say a couple of sentences. For Calvin, worship was essentially simple.
The singing of the Psalms, the reading of God’s word, the preaching of His word, the prayers in a language that people understood. Calvin’s language was a relatively simple language. He was a pastor at heart, and just as Paul here in Colossians is dealing with the issue of worship in the Colossian church, and saying fundamentally what Paul is saying to the Colossians is that you must not allow your conscience to be dictated to by anyone other than God. God alone is Lord of the conscience. And for the Reformation, that, too, was part of the reason why this Reformation of worship takes place: because only as we are servants to God’s Law are we truly free. Only as we do what we were intended to be, can we find true liberty. And that’s why when we worship according to the pattern that we worship here on a regular basis from week to week, therein is perfect freedom.

Let us come before God in prayer. Let’s bow our hearts.

Great and Almighty God, since You have not only created us out of nothing, but have deigned to create us again in Your only begotten Son, and You have taken us from the lowest depths and raised us up in Christ to sit with Him in heavenly places, grant, we pray, that we might find our greatest joy and our greatest delight in serving You and in walking in Your ways, and in hiding Your word within our hearts, that we might not sin against You.

Grant, O Lord, since You have deigned to enter into a perpetual and inviolable covenant with us, an everlasting covenant that is ordered in all things and sure, that we might tonight take refuge beneath the everlasting arms; that we might take sweet comfort from the knowledge that having begun a good work You will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.

We thank You this evening for the Reformation. We thank You for the principles that came to the surface as a result of reading the Scriptures. We thank You, O Lord, for those guiding lights that influence us even to this very evening. We pray, Lord, that our worship might be in spirit and in truth. Pour out Your Spirit upon us; give us joy in our worship. May our hearts catch fire, and be aflame. May we see, O Lord, as we worship, the angels and archangels, the cherubim and seraphim, the mighty hosts of God, and the church triumphant. May we see them and hear them, and realize that we mingle our voices with theirs as we worship You on the Lord’s Day. We thank You that the Lord’s Day is a little foretaste, a little glimpse of heaven…that there yet remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

We ask, O Lord, that You would come now and quieten our hearts from the ills and trials that so often mar the peace that we long to know. We pray for the work of the Spirit that might fill us tonight; fill us with the fullness of God as we contemplate the sweetness of what it is to be in union with Jesus Christ. So hear us, O Lord, and teach us. Teach us to pray as our Lord taught His disciples to pray, saying:

‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’

Now let’s sing together in closing the hymn 168. It’s a hymn that’s always thought to have been written by Calvin, I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art.

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Soli Deo Glorio: The Heartbeat of the Reformation

By / Oct 31

The Lord’s Day Evening

October 31, 2004

Romans 11:33-36

Soli Deo Gloria: The Heartbeat of the
Reformation”

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas

Turn with me now, if you would, to the Epistle of Paul to
the Romans, and to the eleventh chapter, and we’re going to read together from
verse thirty-three to the end of the chapter. Romans, chapter eleven, beginning
at verse thirty-three. Before we read this passage together, let’s come before
God once again in prayer.

O Lord, our God, we bow in Your presence. We are
unworthy of the least of Your mercies. We are poor and wretched and miserable;
blind and naked before You, and we are in need of Your sovereign word of
revelation to instruct us, to empower us, to equip us, to motivate us, to
challenge us. Holy Spirit of God, come, we pray, and shine Your illuminating
light upon this Your word, and grant that we, Your redeemed creatures, might be
fitted and equipped to better life and glorify You. Hear us, Lord, for Jesus’
sake we ask it. Amen.

This is God’s holy and inerrant word.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How
unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the
mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him
that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to
Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

May God add His blessing to the
reading of His holy word.

In Geneva, of all places,
in 1815, it was the beginning of the year. Several young men gathered together
at first in a public park in Geneva, and then in someone’s home, and for a
period of two weeks set about examining a portion of Scripture. Among them were
Robert Haldane, Merle D’ Aubigne, Fredric Monod, and Caesar Malan–words that
may not be household names to you, perhaps, but they are all of them in their
own way giants in the Reformed faith in Europe and France, and in Scotland. God,
in this two-week period, converted these young men through a study of a portion
of Scripture, and that portion of Scripture is the one that I just read to you
this evening. It’s a huge text. It’s one of the great texts of Scripture, and
in some ways summarizes the Reformation, what the Reformation was about. It
summarizes the contribution of Martin Luther, and Ulrich Zwingli, and John
Calvin, and Theodore Beza and others.

I think this evening of
B. B. Warfield’s summarization of the Reformation and its theology: “an
apprehension of God in majesty.” That’s what the Reformation essentially was.
It was a rediscovery of the greatness and glory and magnitude and the majesty of
God, in a world and in a church that had become thoroughly man-centered in its
approach to worship. The Reformation called a halt to all of that which drew
attention to man, and instead said “God is great. God is to be glorified. God,
the sovereign God of the Scriptures, the God who made the heavens and the earth,
He is to be exalted in all of His majesty.

In many ways, I suppose
that would define what’s wrong with the church today, that in many respects the
church has lost sight of the majesty, the greatness, of God. And I want us this
evening, as we are thinking together about the contribution of God in His
providence of the Reformation, and in particular this evening the contribution
of John Calvin, and the church and other reformers in Geneva and in Switzerland,
to the cause and spread of the Reformation to Scotland. And you know, in some
ways–as I was contemplating last evening – I was thinking, you know, there would
not be a First Presbyterian Church had there not been a Reformation. There would
not have been the pilgrim fathers had there not been a Reformation. Had the
likes of John Knox and Cranmer and others not been influenced by what went on in
Geneva, there would not be a United States in the form and shape that you and I
recognize it to be this evening.

And with that in mind, I
want us to go to this particular passage, and I want us to see three principle
things, and they are, in the first place, a vision of an incomprehensible God;
in the second place, a vision of a sovereign God; and in the third place, a
vision of a glorious God.

I. A
Vision of an incomprehensible God.

You notice how the
Apostle Paul begins this section that we’re looking at this evening: “Oh, the
depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” His ways are past finding
out. This is the Apostle Paul who is saying this. “Oh, the depths of Almighty
God!” And he’s saying this, you understand, in some respects as a conclusion to
the Epistle to the Romans, the greatest epistle that he ever wrote, the most
majestic of the epistles that he ever wrote; the most intensely theological
epistle that he ever wrote, and he’s saying by way of conclusion, there are
depths here; there are immensities here; there are infinities here. Paul had a
remarkable mind. He had a remarkable education under the tutelage of Gamaliel.
You remember the Apostle Peter says of some of the things that Paul writes, that
“some of them are hard to be understood”; that some of the things that Peter may
well have been thinking about when he said that was possibly some of the very
things that he has written in this epistle, and perhaps in the chapters
immediately preceding this section–chapters nine, ten, and eleven.

And the Apostle Paul is
saying there are depths here. He’s been expounding theology. He’s been
expounding the revelation of God in the gospel. He has been pontificating on the
immensities and the infinities of the faith. He had plumbed the depths! He had,
as it were, gone into the deepest recesses of the mind and will and purposes of
God, but like Augustine commenting on the doctrine of the Trinity, it is as
though the Apostle Paul is saying here, ‘I see the depths, but I cannot see the
bottom. I see the depths,’ as though he were looking out of a boat and into the
depths of the waters below, and he could see it going down and down and down and
down, but he couldn’t see the bottom. We need to remember that, you and I. We
need to remember that one of the things that God intends by revealing Himself
and disclosing Himself, and by giving to us the Scriptures, is that the
arrogance and the native Adamic pride which is part of our fallen natures should
be addressed, and we ought to remember that even the great Apostle Paul
exclaims, “Oh, the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

I remember someone
remarking to me after I had done a dissertation on John Calvin, and he said to
me, “You’re an expert on John Calvin now.” But I knew in the very way that he
had said it, and in the tone in which it was said, that there was not a little
irony in what he was saying; because he realized, as I realized, that the more
you study anything the more ignorant you realize yourself to be. And the apostle
is saying here, I have seen immensities, and I have seen infinities, but there
are depths here that my mind cannot fathom or comprehend.

And you notice that the Apostle Paul is actually
citing here in verse 34 from the prophet Isaiah, and from the fortieth chapter:
“’To whom then shall you liken Me, or shall I be equal?’ says the Holy One.”
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? And the
apostle is saying, as he perhaps had been reflecting on the fortieth chapter of
Isaiah, that there are issues and aspects and realities in the mind and being of
God that you and I as creatures can never understand, and can never fathom. And
though we give thanks to God for that which He has revealed, for that which He
has disclosed in the Scriptures, and even some of those things are hard to be
understood, yet you and I should realize only too well this evening that there
is more to God and more to the being of God, and more to the attributes of God
and the character of God, and the ways of God than you and I can ever
understand. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things
which are revealed belong unto us and to our children,” Moses said.

In 1554, beginning in February and through until the
following year, 1555, into mid-April or so, about fourteen months, John Calvin
embarked on an exposition of the Book of Job. Calvin, I think, was at his prime
intellectually, and he preached 159 sermons expounding the Book of Job,
beginning in the first verse right through to the end of the book. And one of
the things that John Calvin said in the very opening sermon, as though he was
giving to us a key by which to understand the Book of Job, he said, “It is a
good thing, a great thing, a wonderful thing to be subject to the majesty of
God.” And in a sense, that’s what the Book of Job essentially is about: learning
in the midst of trials and difficulties to be subject, to be subject to the
majesty of God, to the immensity of God.

Now notice that the apostle here seems to
ponder the incomprehensibility of God along four lines of thought. He speaks
first of all of God’s knowledge: “Oh, the depths of the riches of the…
knowledge of God.” God knows everything. God knows everything. He knows
Himself. He knows the intricacies of His own being. There are no secret
recesses or corners of His own being that are unknown to God. He knows Himself
fully. He has a perfect integrated knowledge of Himself, and He knows all that
is outside of Himself. He knows the entirety of creation. He knows the answer
to every question. There are no imponderables. There are no secrets. There is
no fact, no detail that is unknown to God. He knows the future. He knows those
things that as yet have not come into being. The future will not catch God by
surprise, because of the infinite-ness of His knowledge. He knows everything.
“Oh, the depths of the …knowledge of God!”

And not only the knowledge of God, but the wisdom of
God: “Oh, the depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Or, as
some of your translations might have it, “riches”…but “wisdom” is a better
translation, I think. And you understand the difference between wisdom and
knowledge: it’s one thing to know something, but to be wise you need to know how
to use that knowledge, how to achieve that good end. And God has perfect
wisdom

And not only His wisdom, but His judgments. God’s
decrees, what God has determined, what Paul is talking about when he says in his
Epistle to the Ephesians that his intent was that now “through the church the
manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the
heavenly place, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ
Jesus our Lord.” The eternal purpose of Almighty God, God’s plan–God’s plan to
bring about the salvation of His people…there are depths to that plan.
There are depths to God’s knowledge, there are depths to God’s wisdom, there are
depths to God’s judgment, and there are depths to God’s ways.

God’s ways are not our ways. God’s providence, the
unfolding of God’s will in the details and intricacies of our individual
lives…how this plan of God impinges upon us…there are depths to it! Depths
which cause some of us to cry out to Him from time to time for an explanation of
what it is that He’s doing. Intricacies so beyond our understanding that
sometimes we doubt. Isn’t that so? Sometimes we doubt whether He knows what
He’s doing. And Paul is saying, “Oh, the depths….!”

Do you understand, my friend, little wonder that we
don’t understand the ways of God in our lives, because there are depths to the
ways of God? There are intricacies to the ways of God. There and immensities to
the ways of God, so that the apostle is saying here, as he has scanned the
purpose of God as it unfolds in the revelation of the gospel, God is beyond our
understanding. That there is a sense in which God is incomprehensible to us.

II. A vision of a sovereign God.

But in the second place, not only a vision of the
incomprehensible God, but a vision of a sovereign God. A vision of a sovereign
God. Do you notice now in verse 35 he quotes (it’s actually a quotation from
the Book of Job, and it comes from the end of the Book of Job, from Job 41:11),
“Who has given a gift to Him, that he might be repaid?” “Who has given a gift
to Him that he might be repaid?”

Do you understand what it is that the apostle is
doing in citing this verse? This verse in the Book of Job is the conclusion to
the Book of Job, and Job, you remember, has been asking for an explanation of
what it is that has been happening in his life. And God has been silent. And
God has said nothing. And Job has come before God and demanded that God give him
an explanation, as though God owes us an explanation! And one of the things that
Job learns at the end of that trial is that in actual fact, God owes us nothing
at all. He owes us nothing at all.

As we were hearing in fact this morning, our
salvation is by grace through faith, and that not of our works, lest any man
should boast; and that the gospel is a gospel that reveals the grace of God. It
follows in some ways as Paul cites this verse from the latter chapters of the
Book of Job, emphasizing as the verse does the sovereignty of God. It is perhaps
all the more pertinent that this verse should be cited here, especially after
what the Apostle Paul has written in the preceding chapters, in chapters nine,
ten, and eleven: chapters that have expounded the intricacies of the doctrine of
election and predestination, and found its climactic statement in chapter nine
and verse thirteen: “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” And the stark
reality of that proclamation of Almighty God emphasizing, as perhaps few other
verses in the Bible emphasize, the sheer sovereignty of God in the
administration of His grace. “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.”

And it may be that you and I might have said, “I can
understand if it had been the other way around, because in many ways Esau was a
more likable person than the wily, conniving Jacob.” And yet, in the
sovereignty of God, He reveals His purpose and says that there is a purpose of
God according to the election of grace, and that there is a purpose of God which
leads to reprobation;
and we might be tempted, you and I, to say, “But that
isn’t fair! That isn’t fair!”

And you see now why the Apostle Paul is citing this
verse from the Book of Job, because fairness has nothing to do with it!
Because there is none righteous, no not one; for all have sinned and come short
of the glory of God, and not one of us has given to God that He might repay us
.
Emphasizing, do you see, the sheer sovereignty of God in the administration
of grace
.

But it may not be the doctrines of election or
reprobation that cause us in fact to question the sovereignty of God. It may be
what God is doing in providence. It may be what God is doing in our lives. I
was thinking again this afternoon of the life of Elizabeth Elliot, missionary as
she was to the Quichua Indians in the jungles of Ecuador, and working with two
other women to reduce that language so as to produce a readable, practical
knowledge of the Scriptures; and God providing in answer to her prayer, Macario,
who was promptly murdered; and then, shortly after that, all of the manuscripts
being stolen and never recovered; and then, marrying, as you recall, Jim Elliot,
who within months of marriage, barely twenty-seven months of marriage, was
murdered; and then, marrying yet again, the President of Pittsburgh Theological
Seminary, who, within a few months of marriage contracted cancer and died; and
the question coming into her mind, as it may well come into your mind in
relation to events in your life, what is God doing? What is God doing in my
life? And seeing once again that the way of pilgrimage and the way of
servanthood is the way of acknowledging the sovereignty of God in all of our
affairs, that

“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.

He plants His footsteps in the
sea, and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of
never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright
designs and works His sovereign will.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain.

God is His own interpreter, and
He will make it plain.”

And so, what we see in this passage is a vision of
the incomprehensibility of God. There are depths to the knowledge and wisdom of
God. And we see in this passage a vision of the sovereignty of God.

III. A vision of a glorious God.

And we see, in the third place, a vision of a
glorious God. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him
be glory forever,” Paul says. And one of the five sola’s, one of the
five only’s of the Reformation is, as you well recall, the one that Ligon
alluded to this morning on the front cover of your bulletin: “To the glory of
God alone.” To the glory of God alone. And what is it that the apostle has been
drawn to, as he has pulled together the threads of all that God has been
revealing in creation and providence in the unfolding of the revelation of the
gospel of Jesus Christ? What is it that the Apostle Paul has been drawn to but
simply this: that all things–that all things–must tend to the glory of God. To
the glory of God, because from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

From Him are all things. He created all that
is. Everything that has being, everything that has existence comes because God
has brought it into being. He spoke the word, ex nihilo, out of nothing
it came by the creative fiat of Almighty God. From Him are all things.

And through Him are all things. The God, the
God of Scripture is not the God of the deist, who having made creation then goes
off to snooze; but He’s intimately involved in every facet of creation and
providence. All things are sustained by Him.

Did you see it? Did you go out–was it Tuesday
evening?–that lunar eclipse, in all of its brilliance and all of its
magnificence? As you stood there looking up, perhaps with a pair of binoculars,
looking once again at the wonder of creation, being reminded surely that these
great planetary events are brought about through the intervention and the
sustaining power of Almighty God, because “of Him are all things, and through
Him are all things, and unto Him are all things.” Because at the end of the
day, and it’s what the Reformation signaled most clearly, the great end and
purpose of God in creation and redemption in saving us and rescuing us and
bringing us into union with Christ is to say to us, you and me, ‘Your chief end
is to glorify Me and to enjoy Me forever.’

It’s not insignificant, I think, that John Calvin’s
personal motto was “I offer my heart, promptly and sincerely.” I offer my
heart, promptly and sincerely. That’s the goal of everything that God is doing
in our lives, and I wonder this evening, my friend, have you been so humbled as
the Apostle Paul was so humbled to be brought to that point of bowing the knee
and acknowledging “to God be the glory, great things He hath done. So loved He
the world that He gave us His Son…” That’s the heart of the Reformation, it’s
the heart of the Scriptures, and it’s the very heart of the gospel, and it’s the
very heart of God Himself.

Let’s come now to God in prayer, and with some of
those thoughts echoing in our minds and hearts, let’s bow in His presence and
bring before Him our worship and our praise, our adoration and confession, and
supplication and thanksgiving. Let’s pray.

O Lord God, You have made everything that is: the
heavens and the earth, and the sea and all it contains. The whole of creation is
the work of Your hands. You rule among the armies of heaven and among the
inhabitants of the earth, and do what pleases Yourself. You’ve shown a glimpse
of Your goodness and Your grace to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our
hearts are overwhelmed as we consider what it is that You have disclosed to us:
that we poor, wretched, miserable, unworthy sinners as we are by nature–the
fallen sons of Adam–have been brought by sovereign redeeming grace through the
energy of the Holy Spirit into union and communion with Your dear Son, our
Savior Jesus Christ. We thank You that now are we the sons of God, and it doth
not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall
be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is.

We come, O Lord, as those who are a needy
people. We come with large petitions upon our hearts and upon our lips:
petitions with regards to ourselves, that we might find that peace that passes
all understanding, that guards and garrisons our hearts in the knowledge of
Jesus Christ as we are tossed to and fro; as we find ourselves buffeted by the
winds and the waves; as we feel our feet sink into those waters and we cry,
“Lord, help us and rescue us.” So come, O Lord, and wrap Your loving arms around
us and draw us to Yourself, and reassure us once again of the promises of the
gospel that are yea and amen in Jesus Christ.

Our God and our Father, we pray for one another.
We pray for our brothers and sisters. We thank you for them. We thank You for
the communion of saints. We bless You this evening for this wonderful gift of
the Sabbath Day, the Lord’s Day, one day in seven set apart, different from all
of the rest, that we might gather together with the Lord’s people and sing Your
praises and read Your word, and come before You as penitents to receive Your
assurance of absolution through faith in Jesus Christ.

Our Father, we pray for the state in which we
live in Your providence; for the election on Tuesday; for Your good hand to be
upon us as a nation, to give to us not what we deserve, but that in wrath You
would remember to have mercy. Grant to us, O Lord, a prayerful stance as we
anticipate these mighty events in the work of our land and nation, remembering
that there is One who sits upon a throne and all the nation of the world are as
but a drop in a bucket.

Our God and our Father, we come before You. We
pray for the backslider whose heart is cold and whose spirit is listless; for
those who have ceased attending regularly and whose lives have become worldly;
for those who are succumbing to sin and temptation, whose resolve in
mortification has abated; for those who know with pain the fellowship of
Christ’s sufferings, that they may especially know the power of the
resurrection.

And teach us, O Lord, to pray as You taught Your
disciples to pray, saying

Our Father, who art in
heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be
done on earth,

As it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily
bread,

And forgive us our debts as
we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil;

For Thine is the kingdom and
the power and the glory forever.

Amen.

This
transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the web page. No
attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery
style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript
conforming to an established style template. Should there be questions
regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any error to
be with the transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker.



Grace Alone

By / Oct 31

The Lord’s Day Morning

October 31, 2004

Ephesians 2:8-10

“Saved By Grace”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
the Book of Ephesians, chapter two. The Augustinian monk and professor of New
Testament at the University of Wittenberg, who wrote that paraphrase of Psalm 46
on October 31, 1517, went to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, and
nailed ninety-five points of debate which he invited the leading pastors and
theologians of his area to publicly discuss with him.

This great event, through the spreading of the news
by an enterprising printer, has been indicated as the spark that led to the
great Protestant Reformation of the church in the sixteenth century. There were
several key emphases in all the reforming leaders in the church of the sixteenth
century which are repeated over and over in their writings. The doctrine of the
final authority of Scripture, Sola Scriptura, was one of the emphases
that you find over and over in their writings. They wanted to make it clear
that Scripture, not the church; Scripture, not the Pope; Scripture, not the
councils of the church, was the final rule of faith and practice in the
Christian life, and the church councils and all the pastors of the churches had
to submit themselves to the final authority of Scripture. And so this great
emphasis was heralded throughout the land during the Protestant Reformation.

Living life solely to the glory of God alone,
Soli Deo Gloria
, was another great emphasis of the Reformation. You’ll hear
about that emphasis, by the way, tonight during Derek Thomas’ message as he
takes us to that glorious doxology of Paul’s in Romans 11:30-33, and talks about
living life for God’s glory alone.

Two other emphases that were experienced and
heralded in the time of the Reformation were the doctrines of salvation by grace
alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And in the last two years we have
looked at those latter two doctrinal emphases; we’ve looked at justification by
faith alone, and we’ve looked at what it means to be saved by Christ alone.

Today I want us to look from this wonderful text
in Ephesians 2 at the truth of salvation by grace alone
: that we are saved
by God’s grace alone. We do not contribute to our salvation through our own
worthiness or works, but our whole hope is upon the Lord.

Now, this is an important thing to do. We’ve talked
before here about how Vince Lombardi used to gather those professional football
players at Green Bay, some of the finest players to ever play the game, and in
their first practice of the spring, he would start by saying, “This is a
football.” And then he would begin to describe to them the basic objectives of
the game of football.

Now, why did Vince Lombardi do this with perfectly
intelligent, very talented players who knew what a football was and what it
looked like, and understood the objectives of the game? Because all of us need
to ask ourselves from time to time the basic questions: Who are we? What are we
here for? How are we supposed to do it? And it’s important for us to remember
the fundamentals, the essentials, the basics; and that’s what we have an
opportunity to do as we look at this passage today.

Just after the service this morning, one of our
long-time members came to me and said it was fifteen years ago today, on a
Reformation Sunday, after the choir had sung A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,
that Dr. Jim Baird preached a sermon. It was actually a stewardship sermon, but
the gospel was so clearly presented that this man came to saving faith in Jesus
Christ fifteen years ago to this day. And he said it was wonderful to hear
again of the basics of salvation. And that’s what we want to do as we go to
this passage together today. Before we read God’s word and hear it proclaimed,
let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

Lord God, we thank You for Your word. It is a
lamp to our feet and a light to our way. We pray that You would reveal Yourself
to us as the God of grace; that You would reveal the way of salvation, which is
the way of grace; that You would enable us to trust in the One who is the only
hope of salvation, that is, Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; and that in all
these things You would be glorified. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it
is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we
are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
inerrant and authoritative word. May He write its eternal truth upon our
hearts.

Tom and Ben had known one another for many, many
years. In fact, they had been friends since childhood. Ben was a nominal
member of a local church. It was a gospel-preaching, Bible-believing church,
but to be honest he had been only very occasional in his attendance for many,
many years–really, since he graduated from college.

Tom was a very committed member, and a committed
Christian, and Ben had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a virulent cancer,
and the doctors had very frankly spoken with Ben and his family and said, “It
won’t be many months.” Tom, though he had been friends for many years with Ben,
had never really talked about the things of the Lord with him, and he wanted to
talk about the gospel. He wanted to share the gospel, and he wanted to see his
friend truly embrace Jesus Christ for salvation. And so Tom purposed to visit
Ben and have that discussion.

They began to have that discussion. It was the
first time they had talked about spiritual things, and when Tom asked Ben what
he was trusting for his salvation, Ben said something like this: You know, Tom,
when I stand before the Lord, I just hope that I’ve been good enough for Him to
accept me.

Now, my guess is you’ve had conversations something
like that with some friend or some relative, because it is inherent in human
nature when we are asking ultimate questions, questions of ultimate eternal
significance, to suggest that the way that we are accepted by God, the way that
we stand right before God is by being a good person, or by doing more good
things than we do bad things; or by our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds; or
by doing more important good things than we do important bad things. Whatever
way we formulate it, it is all about us. It is very typical to hear people
express their hope, their assurance of salvation, in terms of hoping that they
measure up in some particular way. And that’s what Ben had done. Very frankly,
Ben wasn’t terribly concerned about sin. He wasn’t trembling before the
prospect of divine judgment. He pretty much just wanted to brush Tom off. He
didn’t want the conversation to go on. It wasn’t that he had been burdened by
this particular struggle, at least in any outward way that Tom would have known
it, but my guess is you have been in conversations like that before.

Now, there are a variety of reasons why people think
that way. One is that people don’t take sin very seriously in our culture. You
know, if you took sin seriously and you recognized that you are a sinner, then
you wouldn’t be inclined to point to yourself and your deeds and your worthiness
and your deserving as the way in which you were going to experience eternal
communion and salvation with the living God. And we live in a day and age that
has downplayed sin.

We also live in a day and age that downplays
judgment. A lot of people don’t believe that there is a judgment to come. Have
you ever asked the question to a person, “What would you say if you were to
stand before God and He were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My
heaven?’” Have you ever heard this answer, as I have? I’ve had people say,
“Well, God won’t ask that question.” We live in a day and age where a lot of
people don’t believe in judgment. But I want to make it very clear to you that
the teaching of the Bible about salvation, the teaching of Paul on salvation, is
very antithetical to all those thoughts that float around there in the world
today.

And there are three things in particular in this
passage that I’d like to draw your attention to. And the first is simply this:
What is salvation and why do we need it? You’ll see that emphasized in
verse eight, and also in verse nine.

The second is Why do we need to be saved by grace?
Again, you’ll see that especially in verses eight and nine.

And then, thirdly, Where do works fit in? Where
does godliness fit in? Where does obedience to God’s word and love to God fit
into the Christian life? Paul answers all three of those clusters of questions
in this glorious passage.

I. Why do we need to be saved,
and, from whom?

Let’s look at it together, first asking the
question “What is salvation, and why do we need to be saved anyway?” Paul
begins this passage by saying, “For by grace you have been saved through
faith…..” Now we use the word saved all the time, but let me ask you a
question: “What does it mean, when you say you’ve been saved, what do you
mean?” What does the Bible mean when it talks about the need to be saved,
or people who have been saved?

Well, when Christians say that we are saved,
we mean that we have been spared, rescued, reclaimed and re-enfolded into the
family of God.
When we say that we have been saved, we mean first
of all that we’ve been spared the penalty of sin
. We believe that sin, all
sin, deserves its wages, and Paul says in Romans 6 that the wages of sin is
death. And so when a Christian speaks of someone being saved, we mean in the
first place that that person has been spared the due penalty for their sin.
They have been spared the judgment, the just judgment, of God against ourselves
and against our sins.

Secondly, we mean that we have been
rescued from the power and consequences of sin.
Sin inherently wants to
have dominion over us. We are, before we trust in Jesus Christ, enslaved to
sin. And one of the things that Jesus does when He saves us is, in the words of
the hymn, “He breaks the power of reigning sin.” Jesus causes no longer sin to
be master over us, but He becomes our Master as well as Savior.

Thirdly, we are reclaimed in
salvation
. When we speak of someone being saved we mean that they
are reclaimed, that we are redeemed. Literally, the language of redemption in
the Bible is “being bought back.” That God purchases us at a price, reclaiming
us for Himself. He created us in the first place, but “all we like sheep have
gone astray, everyone to his own way.” And because the Lord laid the iniquity
of us all on Him, because the Lord Jesus Christ paid the price, He redeemed us
back.

And to experience salvation means as well to be
re-enfolded into the family of God. Salvation is something that God does one
heart by one heart, one home by one home. But it is also something that brings
us into a family. It’s a work that God must do in the individual’s heart, but
when God saves us, He redeems us into a family, and so there is a corporate
dimension to our experience of salvation.

Now if this is salvation, if these are some of
the aspects of salvation, how does the New Testament talk about this salvation?
Well, the New Testament talks about various aspects of what is entailed in
being saved. For instance, the New Testament talks about our being
justified
. That’s one thing that is entailed in being saved. Being
justified means being declared right with God even though we are sinners.
Martin Luther, who wrote A Mighty Fortress Is Our God based on Psalm 46,
reveled in the truth that though we are sinners, yet we have been declared right
with God. That is a glorious truth, and it’s one of the things that we mean
when we speak of salvation. If God has saved you, then one of the things that
God has done for you is He’s justified you. He’s declared you to be right with
Him, not because of anything in you, but because of what Jesus Christ has done.

Another way the New Testament talks about one aspect
of salvation is regeneration, or new life, or new birth. The New
Testament indicates that when you are saved God gives you a new heart, a new
spirit, new desires, new priorities in life. He renews you from the inside
out. John talks about this in John, chapter three. You remember when Jesus is
meeting with Nicodemus, and Jesus says to this man who is one of the greatest
teachers in Israel, ‘You must be born again. And if you’re not born again, you
cannot see the kingdom of God.’ He’s talking about an interior renovation of
our hearts and lives that has to be done by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul talks about something very similar in Romans,
chapter six. And so, justification and regeneration are two aspects of what God
does in salvation.

The New Testament also talks about
adoption.
One of the most blessed privileges of those who are saved
is that they are welcomed into the family of God. Though we were once enemies
in rebellion against God’s rule, in salvation we are welcomed into His family as
children. We are made part of God’s family, and that is one of the great
blessings of salvation.

You remember just a couple of weeks ago at communion
we quoted one of the wonderful, final stanzas of Isaac Watts’ rendition of the
Twenty-third Psalm, where he expressed those final words of the Twenty-third
Psalm “that surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He renders them this way:

“There would I
find a settled rest, while others go and come;

Not as a stranger
nor a guest, but like a child at home.”

And that is the beauty of the doctrine of adoption. We are
welcomed into God’s family as a child who has come home.

And so, salvation in the New Testament entails
being justified by grace through faith in Christ alone. It entails being
regenerated, being given a new heart and a new spirit; being adopted into the
family of God.

But it also entails our being
sanctified
.
Do you remember how Paul speaks to the Christians in both
Corinth and in Ephesus, that they have been washed and sanctified? That once
they were sinners, but now they have been cleansed. They are being cleansed,
they are growing in grace. Sanctification means being made like Jesus Christ,
being reformed in His image, morally speaking.

And of course, salvation also entails
communion
, being brought into fellowship and friendship with God
. How
do we respond to and receive this gift of salvation? Well, the New Testament
makes it clear: through faith in Christ, through trusting in Jesus Christ for
salvation. Through faith alone in Christ alone, that’s how we receive this
gracious salvation.

Well, all this talk of salvation needs to raise a
question in your mind. Why do we need to be saved in the first place?
Why
do Christians talk about the relationship of a redeemed sinner to God in terms
of salvation?

Well, if you’ll allow your eyes to look back to
Ephesians 2:1-3, you’ll see Paul’s immediate answer in this context. He tells
you three things about yourself apart from Christ. He tells you three things
about himself apart from Christ. He says that you’re dead in sins;
that you’re in slavery to sin; and that you are under the wrath of God by your
very nature
. Look at what he says in verses 1,2,3:

“You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked
according to the course of this world, according to the price of the power of
the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among
them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires
of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the
rest.”

You see what Paul says there? Here’s the situation of a
person apart from Jesus Christ: Dead in sins. Here’s the situation of a
person apart from Jesus Christ: Enslaved to sin; walking in the way of the
world and of the flesh, and of the prince of the power of the air (of Satan);
and under the just wrath and condemnation of God. That’s why we need to be
saved!
You know, if you reject Christian teaching at that point, if you
say, ‘You know, you Christians have gone just a little too far on this sin
thing,” then you know, it’s really no sense in us going further in the
conversation because you won’t appreciate the good news until you appreciate the
bad news first. If you don’t understand the problem, the solution will be lost
on you. And so if you’re sticking at that point, please talk to a Christian that
you know understands the Bible’s answer to that question. Talk to a Christian
about that until you understand that, because all the good news preached from
all the faithful pulpits in the land won’t make sense to you until you know that
you need to be saved in the first place, and from what.

And of course–ah! that leads us to the other part of
that question about what do we mean by salvation: what are we saved from in
salvation
? Let me put this a little provocatively. We are saved from God,
by God, for God.

We are saved from God in this sense: God’s
just judgment ought to rest upon us. When Israel was condemned for her sins in
the Old Testament, who was it that Israel really needed to worry about? The
Edomites? The Egyptians? The Amalakites? The Syrians? The Assyrians? The
Babylonians? The Medes? The Persians? No! God is who Israel really need to
worry about, because those nations what hated Israel were simply His instruments
to bring His judgment against Israel. Israel’s fundamental issue was with God.
In salvation, we’re saved from God. God ought justly to judge us for that sin,
but the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is that this God who has every
right to judge us, from whom we need to be saved, is the God who saves us
Himself.

We are not only saved from God, we are saved by
God
. He is the one who saves us. And we’re saved for God. We’re saved for
His glory and for eternal fellowship with Him.

So when we look at the question of salvation in the
New Testament, we see all those entailments, and we see the answers to the
question, Why do we need to be saved? Because of sin. From whom do we need to
be saved? From God and His just judgment.

II. Saved by grace — God’s divine
favor.

Now that leads us to the second point–and
that’s Paul’s emphasis here in Ephesians 2:8,9–and that is, this
salvation is by grace, and it is by grace alone, it is not by God’s grace plus
something that we do
. It is not by God’s grace as long as we do some
sort of prior work in order to receive it, or to be worthy of it. It is not
grace plus works, or works plus grace. It’s God’s grace alone. We are saved by
grace, Paul says. We are saved by God’s divine favor.

And he emphasizes this in at least two ways in
verses eight and nine. Look at this passage again: “For by grace you have been
saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a
result of works, so that no one can boast.” Notice what he says? How do you
see that this is all of God’s grace?

Well, first of all, this salvation is not of
yourselves
. Not a bit of it comes from something that you have
contributed. It’s not about your worthiness; it’s not about your character;
it’s not about your integrity; it’s not about your lack of sin; it’s not about
the ample good works that you do. It is not of yourselves. It is a gift. It’s
a gift of God.

And, it is not a result of works! Paul goes
on, just in case you missed him the first time, to say it’s not a result of
works so that no one could boast. If you and I were contributing something to
our salvation, we would have some reason to say, “Lord, I have done something
that has caused myself to be saved, and that person has not. Therefore, I have a
reason to boast.” And we’d end up being just like the Pharisee who went into the
temple to pray, along with the tax collector, and prayed “O Lord, I thank you
that I am not like other people.” But Paul says salvation is of grace, and so
we have no room for boasting, because it’s all of God.

Why is that so important? Well, we go back
to the first point again. We’re dead in sin. What can we contribute to our
salvation? If our salvation depends upon us and we’re enslaved to sin and
dead in sin and under God’s just judgment, what can we do to save ourselves?

The answer is: Nothing! And so salvation is wholly of God’s
grace. And those who confuse this by saying that we must cooperate with God’s
grace in order to be saved are qualifying something that Paul says is absolute
here. We are saved by grace, by God’s grace. We don’t contribute to a gift.

Have you heard the story of James Herriott? I know
some of you have read his wonderful series as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales,
All Creatures Great and Small
, or All Things Bright and Beautiful.
There are a whole series of those stories. But he tells the story of wanting to
take his wife out to a birthday dinner, and he gets to the restaurant and he
realizes in the middle of the meal that he does not have his wallet. And he’s
horrified. He wanted to splurge on his wife and take her to this wonderful
meal. And the waiter pulls him aside and says, “Someone else has paid for your
meal.” His partner had wanted, as a show of love for him, to provide that meal
for him and for his wife, and so he had paid for the meal. You can imagine the
relief which spread across this man, as he had no means to pay for what he had
just partaken! It had been provided for him by someone else.

Well, that’s salvation. We have no means whereby to
pay for this blessing! We don’t have it in ourselves; we can’t be deserving
enough. We can’t do enough to earn this: it must be a gift of God, by His
grace. And that’s what Paul is emphasizing here. You have been saved by
grace
.

III. Works.

Where, then, does obedience come in? Where does
works come in
? Wouldn’t this lead us to live a life of sin? If
we’re saved by grace, wouldn’t we say with the heretical Russian monk that we
ought to sin all the more, that grace might abound? No. Why? Because of what
Paul says in verse ten: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for
good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them.”

You see where Paul puts works in the
equation? Works don’t factor in as a means or a cause of our salvation.
They are the goal and the result of God’s saving work to us
. We do
not work to be saved, but God saves us so that we would be like His Son. Do you
remember how Paul puts it in Romans 8:29? It’s right after that favorite verse
of so many of us, that God causes all things to work together for our good. And
he goes on to say that “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to…” —what?
“…to be conformed to the image of His Son.”

Now, what does it mean to be conformed to
the image of Christ?
It means to become morally like Him. We
love the things that He loves; we have the things He hates. We live the way
that He lived. And what does Jesus say the essence of living life with God is?
He says, “It is my food to do the will of Him who sent Me.” So Jesus’ disciples
are going to feel the same way. We’re going to want to do the will of Him who
sent me. We were created for God’s glory, and we glorify God by doing His will.

Children, in the Children’s Catechism when it
asks the question “Why did God create you and everything else?” what’s the
answer? “For His own glory.”

Now what does the Children’s Catechism tell
you the answer is to the question, “How do you glorify God?” “By loving Him and
doing what He commands.” And that’s exactly what Paul is saying here. We’re
saved by God, by His grace, for His glory; and the way that we glorify Him is
through our good works, through obedience, through love to God, love to one
another. But those good works do not contribute to our being saved.

May God help us to understand that simple but vital
truth. If you are here today and you haven’t understood that grace, that
salvation is a gift if God’s grace, make it a point to do business with God
until you understand the freeness and the entirety of salvation by grace. Let’s
pray.

Our Lord and our God, it is not what our hands
have done that can cleanse our guilty souls. It is only the sacrifice of the
Lord Jesus Christ, the provision of Your grace. This is such a simple message,
but it is so hard for us to believe. We always want to interject our own works,
to make our own contribution into our acceptance by You. But we pray, O God,
that we would listen to Paul and heed him and recognize that our hope is only in
the Lord and in His grace. And so, when we sing “Marvelous Grace of Our Loving
Lord,” we would sing it understanding it and believing it. This we ask in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father, and
our Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Amen.

This
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