What we Believe
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church is a confessional church. Presbyterianism has historically been a confessional protestant denomination. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its subordinate documents.
This issue will introduce you to the history of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is essential that the church understand what she believes, confesses, and affirms, so that she may stand against the wiles of the devil.
All confessions are subordinate to Scripture, which is “the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks." Thus, as a sum of our Christian faith, it represents the most accurate, concise, and historic statement of the protestant faith.
The Documents of Our Confession
The Westminster Assembly at various occasions was tasked to produce particular works, specifically:
The Directory of Publick Worship
The Confession of Faith
The Larger Catechism
The Shorter Catechism
The Assembly entered upon prolonged debates on the question of church government, debates that engaged so much of the time of the Assembly during the remainder of 1643 and throughout 1644. These labours on the part of the divines gave us what is known as "The Directory for the Publick Worship of God" and "The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government," both agreed upon by the Assembly. They were also approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in February 1645.
These two documents form two of the four parts of uniformity in which it was so ardently desired that the whole island should be united. In the Directory for Public Worship we have one of the finest fruits of the work of the Assembly, a document not so well known as the Confession and Catechisms yet one that lies on a plane of excellence not a whit lower than that of the Confession and Catechisms. Nothing in human literature will afford us better instruction in the dignity and decorum that ought to characterize the public worship of God.
On August 20, 1644, a committee was appointed by the Assembly to prepare matter for a Confession of Faith. The subsequent history of the preparation of the Confession is rather complicated. This history, however, witnesses to the marvelous care and patience with which the divines accomplished the task committed to them.
It was not until September 24, 1646, that the first nineteen chapters of the Confession of Faith were completed and sent to the House of Commons. On October 1st a duplicate was sent to the House of Lords. On October 9th the House of Commons ordered that five hundred copies of these nineteen chapters be printed.
It was on December 4, 1646, that the remaining fourteen chapters of the Confession were completed and it was resolved that the whole Assembly present the whole Confession to both Houses of Parliament. This was done, and on December 10th an order was brought from the House of Commons for the printing of six hundred copies of the Confession. This was the first edition of the whole Confession.
This edition, the first of the whole Confession, did not, however, contain the proof texts. It is of interest to know that the Assembly was quite reluctant to add proof texts. The reason for this was not in the least fear of being unable to support the propositions of the Confession by Scripture but rather that a complete presentation of Scripture proof would have required a volume. However, at the insistence of the House of Commons the Assembly undertook to add proof texts in the margin. Not until January 7, 1647, do we find the Assembly entering upon the debate of proof texts. For the next four months a large part of the Assembly's time was occupied with the consideration of these proof texts. On April 29th this work was completed and on that date the Confession of Faith with Scripture proofs cited on the margin was presented to both Houses of Parliament. The House of Commons instructed that six hundred copies of the Confession with proofs be printed. This was the first edition of the Confession with Scripture proofs added. The Confession of Faith was approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on August 27, 1647.
In the records of the Westminster Assembly we find a great deal of debate regarding "Catechism" prior to the date upon which the Assembly entered upon the composition of the two Catechisms with which we are familiar, namely, the Larger and Shorter. This lengthy consideration of "Catechism" fitted the Assembly in very admirable fashion for the framing of the Catechisms that were finally adopted and which we know as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly.
It was on April 15, 1647, that the Assembly entered upon the debate of the Larger Catechism. Much work had, however, been done for months prior to this by a committee that had been appointed to prepare a draft of both Catechisms. From April 15th the attention of the Assembly was largely devoted to the debate on the Larger Catechism. It is important to note that George Gillespie, one of the ablest of the Scottish Commissioners, left for Scotland on July 16th. When he left, the Assembly had advanced as far as the question that is Question 94 in the completed Catechism. On August 9th, when the Assembly was working on the third commandment in the Larger Catechism, the Assembly called for the report on the Shorter Catechism and not until October 25th do we have the first mention of debate upon it. George Gillespie had therefore taken his final departure from the Assembly before the latter entered upon the debate of the Shorter Catechism.
On October 15th the Larger Catechism was completed and it was ordered to be transcribed. On this date an interesting minute occurs in the records of the Assembly. Upon motion by Samuel Rutherford, another of the Scottish Commissioners, it was ordered to be recorded in the Scribes' books that "The Assembly hath enjoyed the assistance of the Honorable Reverend and learned Commissioners from the Church of Scotland in the work of the Assembly; during all the time of the debating and perfecting of the 4 things mentioned in the Covenant, viz. the Directory for Worship, the Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, and Catechism, some of the Reverend and learned Divines Commissioners from the Church of Scotland have been present in and assisting to this Assembly". This shows the jealousy with which the Scottish Commissioners regarded the sanctity of the Covenant and the fidelity with which they discharged their commission. Rutherford took his leave of the Assembly on November 9th.
On October 22nd the Larger Catechism was ordered to be sent to both Houses of Parliament. Not later than November 25th the Shorter Catechism was completed, for on that day it was delivered to the House of Commons. Both Catechisms were approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in July 1648.
To sum up therefore, the period over which the Westminster Assembly completed its work on the five important documents for which it is held in perpetual remembrance extended from October 12, 1643, to November 25, 1647. This is a period of more than four years. The five documents to which allusion is here made are the Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, the Shorter Catechism, the Directory for Public Worship, and the Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, and they constitute the four heads of uniformity mentioned in the Solemn League and Covenant, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms being both included under the one head of Catechism. The last of the sessions of the Assembly that is numbered is that of February 22, 1649. This is session 1163.
The Westminster Confession of Faith
Of Holy Scripture
1. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
2. Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are:
(Here they list all 66 Books of our current Bible)
All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.
3. The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.
4. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
9. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
10. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
Our Covenant Community
Welcome Back to Ajo Luncheon: November 16th at 1:00 PM
Thanksgiving Eve Service: November 27th at 6:00 PM
Christmas Candlelight Service: December 22nd at 6:00 PM
The History of Our Confession
The Westminster Confession is the product of the Reformation in England and Scotland from the 1640's.
The Reformation in England presents two distinct phases—that of a genuine work of grace, and that of a political and ecclesiastical revolution. In the former character it was introduced by the publication of the Word of God, the Greek Testament of Erasmus, published in Oxford, 1517, and the English translation of the Bible by Tyndal, which was sent over from Worms to England in 1526. By the English Bible, together with the labours of many truly pious men both among the clergy and laity, a thoroughly popular revolution was wrought in the religion of the nation, and its heart rendered permanently Protestant. The real Reformers of England, such as Cranmer, Ridley, Hooper, Latimer and Jewell, were truly evangelical and thoroughly Calvinistic, in full sympathy and constant correspondence with the great theologians and preachers of Switzerland and Germany. This is illustrated in their writings, in the Forty-two Articles of Edward VI., AD 1551, the present doctrinal Articles of the Church of England, prepared in AD 1562, and even in the Lambeth Articles, drawn up by Archbishop Whitgift as late as AD 1595. Although this work of genuine reformation was in the first instance materially aided by the politico-ecclesiastical revolution introduced by Henry VIII. and confirmed by his daughter, Queen Elizabeth, it was nevertheless greatly impeded and prematurely arrested by it. "The Act of Supremacy," which made the sovereign the earthly head of the Church, and subjected all questions of doctrine, church order and discipline to his absolute control, enabled Elizabeth to arrest the constitutional changes in the Church set up by the process of reform at that precise point which was determined by her worldly taste and her lust of power.
An aristocratic hierarchy naturally sided with the Court, and became the facile instrument of the Crown in repressing both the religious and civil liberties of the people. Gradually the struggle between the party called Puritan and the repressive Court party became more intense and more bitter during the whole period of the reigns of James I. and Charles I. A new element of conflict was introduced in the fact that the despotic Court party naturally abandoned the Calvinism of the founders of the Church, and adopted that Arminianism which has always prevailed among the parasites of arbitrary power and the votaries of a churchly and sacramental religion. The denial of all reform, and the unrelenting execution of the "Act of Uniformity," repressing all dissent while robbing the people of every trace of religious liberty, necessarily led to such an extension of the royal prerogative, and such constant resort to arbitrary measures and acts of violence, that the civil liberties of the subject were equally trampled under foot.
At last, after having for an interval of eleven years attempted to govern the nation through the Star Chamber and Court of High Commission, and having prorogued the refractory Parliament which met in the spring of that year, the king was forced to appeal again to the country, which sent up in Nov, 1640, that illustrious body subsequently known as the Long Parliament. In the May of the next year this body rendered itself practically independent of the king's caprice by passing an act, providing that it should be dissolved only at its own consent, and at the same time all the members of both houses, except two of the peers, subscribed a bond binding them to persevere in the defence of their liberties and of the Protestant religion. In the same year Parliament abolished the Court of High Commission and the Star Chamber; and in Nov, 1642, it was ordained that after Nov 5, 1643, the office of archbishop and bishop, and the whole framework of prelate government, should be abolished. In Jun 12, 1643, the Parliament passed an act entitled "An ordinance of the Lords and Commons in Parliament, for the calling of an Assembly of Divines and others, to be consulted with by the Parliament for the settling of the government and liturgy of the Church of England, and clearing of the Doctrine of said Church from false aspersions and interpretations." As the preexisting government of the Church by bishops had ceased to exist, and yet the Church of Christ in England remained, the only universally recognized authority which could convene the representatives of the Church in General Assembly was the National Legislature.
The persons who were to constitute this Assembly were named in the ordinance, and comprised the flower of the Church of that age; subsequently about twenty-one clergymen were superadded to make up for the absence of others. The original list embraced the names of ten lords and twenty commoners as lay-members, and one hundred and twenty-one divines. Men of all shades of opinion as to Church government were embraced in this illustrious company—Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Independents and Erastians. "In the original ordinance four bishops were named, one of whom actually attended on the first day, and another excused his absence on the ground of necessary duty; of the others called, five became bishops afterward, and about twenty-five declined attending, partly because it was not a regular convocation called by the king, and partly because the Solemn League and Covenant was expressly condemned by his majesty." The Scotch General Assembly also sent as delegates to Westminster the best and ablest men she had— ministers Alexander Henderson, the author of the Covenant, George Gillespie, Samuel Rutherford and Robert Baillie; and elders Lord John Maitland and Sir Archibald Johnston. Only sixty appeared the first day, and the average attendance during the protracted sittings of the Assembly ranged between sixty and eighty. Of these the vast majority were Presbyterians, after the Episcopalians had withdrawn subsequently to the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant.
The vast majority of the Puritan clergy, after the example of all the Reformed churches of the Continent, were inclined to Presbyterianism, and in many places, especially in the city of London and its neighbourhood, had erected presbyteries. There were only five prominent Independents in the Assembly, headed by Dr. Thomas Goodwin and Pastor Philip Nye. These were called, from the attitude of opposition to the majority which they occupied, "The Five Dissenting Brethren." In spite of the smallness of their number, they possessed considerable influence in hindering, and finally preventing, the Assembly in its work of national ecclesiastical construction, and their influence was due to the support they received from politicians without the Assembly, in the Long Parliament, in the army, and, above all, from the great Cromwell himself. The Erastians, who held that Christian pastors are simply teachers and not rulers in the Church, and that all ecclesiastical as well as all civil power rests exclusively with the civil magistrate, were represented in the Assembly by only two ministers—Thomas Coleman and John Lightfoot, assisted actively by the learned layman, John Selden. Their influence was due to the fact that the Parliament sympathized with them, and as a matter of course all worldly politicians. The prolocutor, or moderator, appointed by the Parliament, was Dr. Twisse, and after his death he was succeeded by Mr. Herle.
On Jul 1, 1643, the Assembly, after hearing a sermon from the prolocutor in the Abbey Church, Westminster, was organized in Henry the VII.'s Chapel. After the weather grew cold they met in the Jerusalem Chamber, "a fair room in the Abbey of Westminster." When the whole Assembly had been divided for despatch of business into three equal committees, they took up the work which was first assigned to them by Parliament—namely, the revision of the "'Thirty-nine Articles," the already existing Creed of the English Church. But on Oct 12, 1643 shortly after subscribing the Solemn League and Covenant, Parliament directed the Assembly "to consider among themselves of such a discipline and government as may be most agreeable to God's holy word." They consequently entered immediately upon the work of preparing a Directory of Government, Worship and Discipline. Being delayed by constant controversies with the Independent and Erastian factions, they did not complete this department of their work until near the close of 1644. Then they began to prepare for the composition of a Confession of Faith, and a committee was appointed to prepare and arrange the main propositions to be embraced in it.
This committee consisted of Pastor Drs. Gouge, Temple and Hoyle; Messrs. Gataker, Arrowsmith, Burroughs, Burgess, Vines and Goodwin, with the Scotch Commissioners. The committee at first wrought at the work of preparing the Confession and Catechisms simultaneously. "After some progress had been made with both, the Assembly resolved to finish the Confession first, and then to construct the Catechism on its model." They presented in a body the finished Confession to Parliament, Dec 3, 1646, when it was recommitted, that the "Assembly should attach their marginal notes, to prove every part of it by Scripture." They finally reported it as finished, with full Scripture proofs of each separate proposition attached, Apr 29, 1647. The Shorter Catechism was finished and reported to Parliament Nov 5, 1647, and the Larger Catechism Apr 14, 1648. On Mar 22, 1648, a conference was held between the two Houses, to compare their opinions respecting the Confession of Faith, the result of which is thus stated by Rushworth: "The Commons this day (Mar 22, 1648), at a conference, presented the Lords with a Confession of Faith passed by them, with some alterations (especially concerning questions of discipline), viz.: That they do agree with their Lordships, and so with the Assembly, in the doctrinal part, and desire the same may be made public, that this kingdom, and all the Reformed churches of Christendom, may see the Parliament of England differ not in doctrine."
 The Confession of Faith, Directory of Public Worship and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms were all ratified by the Scotch General Assembly as soon as the several parts of the work were concluded at Westminster. On Oct 13, 1647, the Long Parliament established the Presbyterian Church in England experimentally, "until the end of the next session of Parliament, which was to be a year after that date." But before that date the Parliament had become subservient to the power of the army under Cromwell. Presbyteries and synods were soon superseded by his Committee of Triers, while the Presbyterian ministers were ejected in mass by Charles II. in 1662. After the completion of the Catechisms, many of the members quietly dispersed and returned to their homes. "Those that remained in London were chiefly engaged in the examination of such ministers as presented themselves for ordination or induction into vacant charges.
They continued to maintain their formal existence until Feb 22, 1649, about three weeks after the king's decapitation, having sat five years, six months and twenty-two days, in which time they had held one thousand one hundred and sixty-three sessions. They were then changed into a committee for conducting the trial and examination of ministers, and continued to hold meetings for this purpose, every Thursday morning, until Mar 25, 1652, when, Oliver Cromwell having forcibly dissolved the Long Parliament by whose authority the Assembly had been at first called together, that committee also broke up, and separated without any formal dissolution, and as a matter of necessity."
Loci Communes by Pastor Hartley
Romans 3: 24 - 25
Epistle to the Reader
In the fall of 1515, Dr. Martin Luther, professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Wittenberg, Saxony, began to expound to his students the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (Mueller). This was two years before he posted his ninety-five theses, October 31, 1517. As Luther painstakingly prepared his lectures, he gradually came to a clear knowledge of the central teaching of Scripture, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone in Christ apart from works. These are immortalized by the Latin phrases we Protestants have made our battle cry; Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria, and Sola Fide. Later, Luther’s student, Melanchthon, took over lecturing on Romans and from his lectures came the first Lutheran manual of Christian doctrine called Loci Communes, the "Common Topics" of the Christian faith. This day in Augsburg, a gathering of Lutheran and Catholic theologians are preparing to sign an historic agreement asserting that the principles that once separated the church in the great schism of the Reformation have found unifying correspondence between both faiths. Yet, one will find that these particular Lutherans have adultered their faith and are set by their pens to blot out Luther’s thesis, to call common what is not common, and to cross the road of modern trends of unity at the sake of truth. It was only a few years ago at the anniversary of the council of Trent that Pope John Paul reasserted the enduring validity of the findings of the Council of Trent that declares that anyone professing the doctrine of justification by faith alone is anathema. Brethren, upon this 482nd anniversary of that day, when Luther arose and posted his disputation, known as the 95 Thesis, we recall the words of that immortal script that once called all to heed,
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. Romans 3: 24, 25
The Text Explained
It shall be our task today to discuss Loci Communes, the Common Things of Christianity, from the book of Romans. You shall surely say to yourself, ‘common, yea surely this droll message shall lull me to a quick slumber.’ Yes, these are common things and this text is a common theme. But shall we call the divine mystery common? What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common (Acts 10: 15). Spurgeon upon preaching this text one morning from his pulpit said, this morning we come again to the same noble theme. Christ Jesus is to-day to be set forth. You will not charge me as repeating myself, — you will not look up to the pulpit and say, "Pulpits are places of tautology;" you will not reply that you have heard this story so often that you have grown weary with it, for well I know that with you the person, the character, and the work of Christ are always fresh themes for wonder. Let us delight ourselves afresh in our Loci Communes.
The text before us presents the common things of our Christianity. In our verse we hear the resounded Reformation echo of the Solas, the summary of our common things. The text is set forth, dependent upon the previous words, progressive in the apostle’s argument regarding that divine judicial act of justifying the ungodly; it is forensic, as indicated by the summarizing declarative statement, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. The first phrase God hath set forth is the principle subject of our verse, to which four further subordination clauses add clarity. God and his eternal will, found in the phrase God hath set forth, is the efficient cause of our text. Christ Jesus with his blood is the meritorious cause, as indicated by the singular word whom. Propitiation is his intended goal. Faith in the word is that formal or instrumental cause of justification. A declaration of his righteousness is the indirect result of his action, or to be termed the final cause or that glory of the divine justice and goodness.
Doctrine. This text lends forth the proposition of loci communes, the common things, they are of God alone. We in the reformed tradition represent this proposition by the Latin word sola. The principle intention in the choice of this word is to set God forth as the sole cause of our salvation and to exclude any effort or willfulness of man as a cause for his own salvation. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1: 17 – 18). From beginning to end salvation is that singular work of God. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1: 8). The efforts of men are to be wholly excluded as a cause of our salvation. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2: 8). God alone is to be glorified in the work of salvation. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen (Romans 11: 36). That we might further illustrate our proposition and illuminate the common things of our salvation that are attributable to God alone, we shall put forth the principles of Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria from our text.
- Salvation is by grace alone because its singular source and first cause is the will of God. It is singular in that God is set forth in our text, as the one principally willing our salvation. The very action of God expresses his will, as God has never acted but in accordance with his will. So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55: 11). It is preeminent in that God’s will precedes and predetermines all things. He did set forth declares Paul. These are words that speak of the predestinating purpose of God manifest in the means herewith spoken. God willed salvation and then set forth in action to accomplish the intent of his will. Here he is the first cause or effectual cause of our salvation and his will is the cause behind his determined work of predestination. The can be no constraint upon the will of God because his will and its effects are free, as Nebuchadnezzar said, all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, "What are you doing?" God’s will is apart from council, as he so stated to Job with the rhetorical words, where wast thou? When we declare that God is sovereign, what we are declaring is that he is capable and willing to do as he chooses. When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate sat in the seat of authority. It was his own investiture by the sovereign power of Rome to exercise himself in the case of government. He had given to him the authority of a ruler and judge and such authority was free in regard to the exercise of Roman law. God sets himself forth in the scriptures as a sovereign and regal authority, righteous in himself, of pure will and intention, who has no cause nor obligation to consult another.
- We shall also say that salvation is by grace alone because it is an eternal work. The timeliness of sovereign determination precludes any intrusion of human merit or will into the eternal act of salvation. God is eternal and we must not doubt that his will, purposes, and intentions are anything less than eternally determined and perfect in their determination. Since God wills salvation, and He alone is eternal, we must then conclude that God has eternally willed our salvation. Equally, since man is not eternal it is foolish to say that he can have a part in an eternal work. Again Paul’s words hath set forth betray the will, purpose, and efficient cause of God, in that our salvation is predestined. Calvin said it is no small commendation of God’s grace that he, of his own good will, sought out a way by which he might remove our curse. Mankind cannot have a part in any activity that precedes his existence. Thus Paul speaking of Jacob and Esau said; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger (Romans 9: 11 – 12). Action does not precede existence.
- We next declare that salvation is by grace alone because only God is willing to save a sinner. It is confounding to consider the words of our text that God set forth his own holy Son to be a propitiation for sin. Noting that sin defines and demarks all mankind, as Paul just asserted in saying that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, how can anyone explain the will of God? O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out (Romans 11: 33)! Even the apostle with words of utter disbelief marvels at the exercise of God’s will, saying, for when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Often when we consider the doctrine of election, we often encase our thoughts in the text of Romans 9: 11 – 12, viewing ourselves in the same light as Jacob and Esau, as though God chose to save us in our innocence. But such a contextualization does a disservice to the doctrine of election. Not that God chose us because we were sinners, but that in his eternal and sovereign choice he did elect us to salvation fully knowing what would be our foul nature and worthlessness, and what an enormous act it would take to satisfy his own wrath. Justice would demand Jesus for the lost sinner. Thus when we read that God set forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation, and we understand that the Greek word set forth means to predestine the Son of God to be the satisfaction for divine wrath, we must marvel. For it is but an indelible mark of the sovereign and mysterious will and we cannot understand such a will that purposes to save sinners. Thus we have no other conclusion but to declare that since God saves sinners it must be of grace, for no other creature can understand or purpose such an action.
- Further, we shall declare that salvation is by grace alone because only God is able to save sinners. Of the means by which men are saved, mentioned in our text, which of these are owned of men? Faith is clearly taught to be of divine origin. Jesus said in response to Peter’s faithful assertion of his person, blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16: 17). Paul says for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2: 8). We know the source of faith, as Paul writes in Romans, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10: 17). And we even have the expressed and undeniable statement of the divine origin of faith in Philippians 1: 29, to you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ…to believe on him. We know that Christ Jesus came not of our will, but of the will of the Father, the Father hath sent me (John 6: 36). We know that no man did provide the blood of his salvation, for Jesus said, no one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father (John 10: 18). God alone possessed the means to justify sinners. He alone could send the Son and provide the blood for our propitiation and we are told that this Jesus, he was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13: 8). Salvation is a divine work alone, because only God possesses the means and the will to justify lost sinners. Therefore it is said of him that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3: 26). The common things of our salvation are God’s gifts.
- Having established Sola Gratia (that salvation is by grace alone) from our text and various proofs, declaring God’s will and determined acts of election and predestination to be the efficient means of our salvation, we now turn our attention to the meritorious cause of our justification, Solus Christus. Redemption is said to be in Christ Jesus. The divine name Christ Jesus is put forth declaring the eternal purpose of God to redeem a people in this one. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God, the only one in whom God’s favor to save sinners rests. Redemption is said to be in him both at the exclusion of all other sources and at the inclusion of all nations. First at the exclusion of all other sources as Paul has denied any meritorious cause of the law in our justification and at the inclusion of all nations as he is set forth in the gospel to all men of divine selection. Calvin said that God, without having regard to Christ, is always angry with us. Christ is our peace, he is our redemption, he is our advocate, he is our propitiation, he is our sacrificial lamb, he is the door of our entrance into fellowship with the Father. He is our substitute, our vicar, our brother, our Lord. He is the Captain of our salvation, the Mediator of our covenant. He is the Prince of life, Savior, Servant, and King. He is our High Priest, our prophet, our man, and the first fruits from the dead. He is wisdom, truth, and righteousness. If he is this unto us, what then are we unto ourselves?
- Paul’s phrase sums up the doctrine of Solus Christus, in Christ alone, whom God set forth as a propitiation by faith in his blood, and in him lost sinners are reconciled to God. Unto what man has it ever been said, He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied (Isaiah 53: 11)? Peter declared neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4: 12). Our text teaches Solus Christus, that Christ Jesus alone is the meritorious cause of our justification. Works are excluded, our birth is excluded, and our wills are excluded. This is what John declared saying, but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1: 12 – 13). I once made a multiple-choice question, where I duplicated this verse verbatim and left the options of blood, of the will of the flesh, of the will of man, of God. A student refused to answer saying that it was an opinion question. But how much clearer could the word of God be? Our wills are not the meritorious cause of our salvation. We have our wills bound by the chains of sin and of death. Christ frees us from bondage that we might be made willing. As we have seen the only will free to save is God’s and the only means capable of emancipating our wills is the exercise of divine grace in sending Christ Jesus our Savior. When John wrote
- If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3: 14 - 17
- I ask, has there ever been a clearer statement of these common things of which I speak? For John begins by stressing the unknowableness of sovereign grace. He stresses next the divine prerogative and initiative to save lost sinners of all peoples, Jew and gentile alike. He stresses the doctrine of Solus Christus, in that Christ was crucified to the law for lost and perishing sinners that without the divine provision and initiative would have died. And then he asserts the primacy of faith. To summarize this remarkable teaching of our Lord to Nichodemus in the night, He declares, for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But where is anything but free and sovereign grace in this verse? The champions of human merit have robbed God’s children of such a sweet verse of divine sovereign grace. For here God’s will is declared to be that of love unto peoples chosen of all nations (the efficacious cause). Christ Jesus is said to be the propitiation provided of the Father for the redemption of lost sinners (the meritorious cause). And faith in the hearing of God’s word, has herewith in this chapter been described as a work of the Holy Spirit in listing forth in regeneration (the instrumental cause). For who can know these things unless they are born again? John 3: 16 has nothing to do with the freedom of men to choose God. Instead this verse has everything to do with the freedom of God to choose and save sinners, by providing our reconciliation in Christ alone apart from any merit of our own, and through the gift of faith. Thus Calvin says of our text, the passage fully harmonizes with that in John III. 16, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son."
- No other doctrine has undergone such repeated assault as this doctrine of faith alone. Said to be a common thing of our salvation, it is remarkable to note how uncommon it has been and continues to be by the visible church. It is uncommon for men to hear that salvation is solely attained by faith alone, apart from any other instrumental cause. Yet, we find in our text that no other cause is put forth as the vehicle of our justification. Two things are herewith taught by our text regarding the principle of Sola Fide; the first is by silence and the second by explicit reference. We conclude from both the silence of our text and its explicit statement that faith alone justifies and that all other means are excluded as an instrumental cause of our justification. If any further cause were necessary to this end the text would surely have included it. When the woman had pried her way through the crowd that thronged Jesus, simply to grab hold of the garment of Jesus, she illustrated for us the teaching of this text. She did not need money for the physician and she did not need pleasant dress to appease the Savior’s eyes. She had no need to spend her day cleansing and washing of her issue of blood, or to place herself in seclusion for seven days before coming to the priest. She was able to come to Jesus defiled, bleeding, helpless, penniless, vile, and unclean, and be made whole in an instant. She was not given a list of deeds or a law that she must needs follow all the days of her life, lest her vile issue of blood return. She was not sent away to be kept two weeks for further review. She came a bloody woman and left pure. She came a wicked sinner in need of a Savior and bartered with the only thing she possessed; faith.
- If we examine the actions of the woman, we could come to understand the doctrine of Sola Fide much easier and with greater clarity. Judas kissed Jesus and was not a bit purer for his touch. Yet this foul woman could simply touch his garment and be made whole. Evidently just touching Jesus is not enough to be justified. For if this were the case then Judas would have found repentance unto salvation. Time with Jesus also was no determinant cause for healing. We note that Judas was with Jesus 3 and ½ years but not the one bit better for it. He saw miracles; he sat at Jesus’ feet and learned. He served Jesus and even went forth in the name of Jesus. I imagine that Judas was a religious man. Yet, all of Judas’ actions were ineffectual unto his salvation. For Judas lacked the one thing necessary for the saving of his soul; faith and faith alone. For we see in the woman she has nothing of what Judas had; time with Jesus, religion, confidence in her own worth, or instruction. She came with just this; she believed that Jesus had the power to stop her issue of blood and she believed that if she simply could grasp the hem of her garment she might be made whole. She did not stop to consider herself too vile or impure to touch the holy Lord, nor to consider her helpless condition incurable. She came and Jesus was willing to make her whole.
- It is interesting to note the differences in the gospel accounts of this story. In Luke, a gospel that sets forth Christ in his humanity and service to heal, we find Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me. But in Matthew, in the identical story, the view of Jesus is much different. There the details of the unfolding of the event are obscured. We read, and, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour (Matthew 9: 19 – 22). Here Jesus is shown as omniscient, willing, and the dispenser of grace. Faith is subordinated to the divine will. What do we learn in this illustration, in comparing Judas and the woman? We learn that faith alone is justifying of the ungodly. That faith has its origin in the divine will. That nothing else but faith is necessary for our justification. We learn the principle of Sola Fide, as Paul writes that we are justified through faith as the instrumental cause of our salvation.
- We shall but touch on this principle, as it is but implicitly referenced within our text. We have seen the proof that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. We note then that the progression of the divine will finally manifests itself in the most plain and prosaic form in the written word. Scripture is significant in the light of that to which it witnesses, namely Christ, and because by the power of the Spirit, Scripture becomes the agent through which faith is born and nourished. It is the seedbed of the heavenly kernel. Thus we read in Acts that the word of God grew and multiplied (Acts 12: 24). Also we read and the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith (Acts 6: 7). When Paul and Barnabas were found preaching in Antioch we read as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region (Acts 13: 48). Again the principles of the divine will, the divine instrument of faith, even to gentiles, bound up in the preaching of the word of God. Sola Scriptura is our Loci Communes, in that is declared to be the formal principle of the Reformation. Scripture is fundamentally necessary as demonstrated by man’s sinfulness and need for God’s sovereign grace. Scripture is authoritative over reason, tradition, and even the church itself. Scripture is sufficient and no sacrament or further revelation is necessary. As plainly as the woman needed nothing but faith, so plainly does the church need nothing but God’s word alone as its rule of faith.
Soli Deo Gloria
It is only logical to conclude that if God alone has saved his people, then to God alone is due all glory. In other words, if the four previous solas are true, than this one is proven without question. I wonder; is anything more repulsive upon the face of this earth than pride? Pride, in every manifestation, is a wicked thing. It was the case God built in Romans against all mankind, saying, because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. And with what vileness did men labor? Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1: 19 – 20). It was the crime of our first father Adam, for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world (I John 2: 16). The common things of our salvation restore and properly return the glory to God. That which is not of faith is of pride. The greatest leaven of our Loci Communes is pride itself.
We read in Chronicles that Uzziah, king of Judah, when he was strong, his heart was lifted up, so that he did corruptly, and he trespassed against Jehovah his God; for he went into the temple of Jehovah to burn incense upon the altar of incense (II Chron 26: 16). When a man is built up and thinks himself sufficient, when he is devoid of humility and dependence, his heart is lifted up and he does sin against God. What is remarkable about the case of Uzziah is what we read of his humble beginnings, taking the throne at the age of 16, he did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. And he set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the vision of God: and as long as he sought Jehovah, God made him to prosper (II Chron 26: 4 – 5). He began well, he reigned for 52 years, and he fought and prevailed against the Philistines and many other armies. He built towers in the wilderness, and hewed out many cisterns, for he had much cattle; in the lowland also, and in the plain: and he had husbandmen and vinedressers in the mountains and in the fruitful fields; for he loved husbandry (II Chron 26: 10).
But as we read, there in his later days pride filled his heart, he forgot the Lord his God, and he went forth to impugn upon the divine will. He sought to worship God as he saw fit. Thus he entered into the holiest and as we read, and Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out quickly from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because Jehovah had smitten him. And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a separate house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of Jehovah (II Chron 26: 20 – 21). Remarkably, this story has played itself out in the ages of the church since its inception. Whenever the gospel becomes anything more or less than what is contained within our text today, the principle of Soli Deo Gloria is obscured. With the erosion of the principles of the common things of our salvation, men have given themselves to grievous things, they have frolicked in the fields of will worship, and have been stricken with horrid leprosy. The common things of our salvation purify the soul of the leprosy of pride. From this principle we turn now to a dual use of this text for today.
Luther is gone. Calvin is no more. Zwingli has deceased. The days of the Puritans have past. The heydays of Scottish Presbyterianism have ebbed. Edwards lies in the grave, remarkable awakenings have vanished from our landscape. What have we today to show for all that our predecessors fought for with all their might? We have their legacy, but even more, we have the truth they championed. Like the days of Josiah, king of Judah, the book remains in our land buried but in obscurity. But it is not obscure in the manner in which it was obscure in Luther’s day. For in that day it was veiled in the dead language of Latin. Only the corrupt priests of the day accessed the golden words. In that day the very labor of biblical translation proved instrumental in turning the world upside down. But what shall we say of our day? We have the word in greater abundance than any generation prior to our day. We have greater tools, helps, and aids to its understanding and clarity. We have teachers in vast abundance, even many that are in accordance with the common things of which we have spoken. So how is it that we are not more informed? I pray that the first use of this text today will reassert the principle of Sola Scriptura in our lives. It is the lowest rail of the rung of reformation. Reformation begins with the words that Augustine heard; take up and read. The word of God is a tool of reformation.
Oh that God would lay upon our hearts today such a love for this book, such confidence in this book. That we would shout from the pews, ‘preach the book!’ That we would shout from our hearts, ‘feed me from the book!’ I return to where I began. If you think the preaching of these things, these common things, tautological, redundant, how shall reformation ever come? For consider how here, even here at this small church, just how far God’s grace has taken us. We have seen his mercy grant unto us a fellowship established upon the principles of these common things and upon these we stand. So Christian shout the words of that old man Luther with one again today, afresh today! Since then your serene Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the Pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience…May God help me. Amen.
We are to use this text to the end of reformation. It is with admonition that I now lay this warning before each of you today. Time and again we have witnessed in Christianity the resurgence of these truths in Christendom only to watch them become an old trophy upon the mantle in a generation. In the days of the Great Awakening and the years preceding it, time and again countless accounts of remarkable movements of the Spirit of God were recorded by men like Stoddard, Mather, and Edwards. And yet, these days were often short lived and far and few. Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather, saw six such seasons in his lengthy pastorate in North Hampton. Yet, often they were as many as 20 years apart. Their duration was never more than six years. I cannot point to an incidence in history where the prosperous end of reformation has not given way to great decline. Brethren, we must pray fervently in every season for God’s mercy. I believe that in the short life of this church we have seen remarkable seasons where God has awakened our hearts to joy and sobriety, where he has suddenly and remarkably added to this fold. There have been days of great joy, fellowship, and delight together. We have fought for these truths, endured trials and maligning, enduring through the trial of great difficulty.
Yet, we are in a day now were we must increasingly guard against that great enemy Mr. Sloth and that giant Indifference. Methinks amongst our little congregation we are at this time at a trying day. This world is impugning our joy, our own hearts are being drawn away from the selflessness of the gospel, and our love may be growing cold. It manifests itself in our joylessness, in our drone manners, in our lack of fervent prayer and desire to hear the word of God. It is seen in our feigning love for our families, for God’s word, and in holiness and a hatred for sin. Pray with me today Christians. Set your hands to the plow once again. Let us spend our waking hours pleading with God that he will increase the flame of this little candlestick. Ask for mercy and abundant gifts from above. Plead for a greater love, plead for God’s mercy unto one another, and give yourselves to those habits that are necessary in days such as ours. Tell this world you are through loving it, tell your troubles you are finished bemoaning their worries, and tell your heart you no longer will settle for any counterfeit love that would take the place of your Christ. O Christian, let us not see this day pass without our utmost care. What a precious gift we have been given and share together. We share in these Loci Communes, these common things. O pray, pray fervently to God that our eyes be taken not from them. Pray for a visit from heaven, of an awakening today. And let us be found faithful in a day of languishing zeal. May God have mercy upon us this day, and not only us, but unto his church everywhere, given to battling this same plight.
Pray that times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you (Acts 3: 19 – 20). Even so come quickly Lord Jesus, Amen.
Copyright 1999 Dr. Kevin Hartley