dinsdag 5 mei 2015

A Christian More than a Conqueror and Yet in This Life Still a Beggar 2

The remaining consolation of justification
Calvin said that a Christian is not in a different way right with God on his deathbed after a life in the service of God, than the hour he first believed. In the writings of Calvin you do not find that smell of activism and triumphalism we see in the writings of some of his followers. 
Although stressing that the Word of God has significance for all the domains of our life, Calvin emphasised that the Christian is in the first place a pilgrim and that his most important duty is to meditate on the life to come. Meditating on the life to come also means for Calvin meditating on the work of Christ as the only ground of our justification. 
In this context I call also your attention to what the Heidelberg Cate-chism teaches with regard to justification. Question 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism is stated in the following way: ‘How are you righteous before God?’ the important thing is the present tense.
The question is not: ‘How did you become righteous before God?’ No, for sake of clarity we could add: ‘How are you now righteous before God?’ Then the most exercised and sanctified Christian must give the same answer as a weak, beginning believer. There is not any difference. 
That answer is: ‘Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ: so that though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, even so, as if I had never committed any sins, yea as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.’ Again, note that in both the question and answer the present tense is used. 
Until the end of his life the Christian, however much he may be assured of his interest in Christ, still remains a beggar. How deeply Luther realised this. His last written words - written four days before his death – were: ‘We are nothing but beggars. That is true’ (Wir sind nur Betler. Hoc est verum). 
The original title of the most famous hymn of August Montague Toplady (1740-1778) Rock of Ages was: ‘A Living and Dying Prayer of the Holiest Believer in the World’. And what is his prayer? Well let us hear:                                                    
Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

The deviation of the “Victorious living” teachings
I now come to victorious living as a serious devia-tion of the biblical and reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. Victorious living also known as Keswick teaching (after the village Keswick in the Lake district in England where since the second half of the nineteenth century conferences of victorious living or higher life were organised) is a form of perfectionism; a form of teaching that states that it is possible to become so completely perfect in this life that there is no place left for the complaint about your imper-fections. The South African, Andrew Murray, is one of its most famous representatives. 
According the victorious living teaching true believers must be divided into two classes: the believers who are still beggar and the believers who are conquerors. To reach the last stage it is necessary to live a live of complete surrender. This life is seen as a fruit as the baptism of the holy Spirit. A baptism that is seen as a second blessing that chronologically separated from regenerating. 
In regeneration according to this view we come a believer, but only after being baptised with the Holy Spirit we became a victorious believer. It is not difficult to notice that the holiness movement or movement of victorious living was one of the roots of Pente-costalism and other types of charismatic teaching.
Victorious living differs from Wesleyan perfectionism. Wesleyan perfectionism states that you can completely eradicate your sinful nature in this life. Victorious living states that this is not possible. Although it is not possible to completely eradicate your sinful nature, adherents of victorious living teach that when you live a life of complete surrender, your sinful self is no longer active. It cannot develop itself. I must agree there is a measure of truth in this statement. 
When a Christian lives a life in close fellowship with God, the Lord will preserve you in this way from sinful deeds, words and thoughts. But even then we cannot say that we are completely perfect in sanctification and do not have reasons to complain. Even when our sinful nature is totally inactive – although I think that this is never the case- we still possess a sinful nature and in the light of our being originally created perfect in the image of God, we ought not to have even one sin. 
So just the fact that you have a sinful nature is a reason to complain and confess with the psalmist: ‘If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?’ (Psalm 130:2-3). That is also the glory in God’s way of salvation: But there is forgive-ness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." (Psalm 130:4) 
We have a sinful nature, and when can we say that it is not active? 
Well say the adherents of victorious living: ‘When sinful thoughts arise in us against our will and we immediately resist them.’ That view is shared by the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic believes that original sin is completely washed away in baptism and that what remains is only the remnants of sin. 
The Church of the Reformation denies that original sin is completely taken away in baptism, meaning baptism received by a living faith. Even thoughts that arise in us against our own will are sin. The view that we can be perfect in sanctification is always connected with a superficial view of sin. Sin is then restricted to sinful acts or only to sinful thoughts we do not resist, but every act, word or thought not according to God’s will is sin. 
The highest phase we can arrive at in the life of sanctification is the deepest awareness of our remaining sinfulness. For the most important thing in sanctification is to be humble, and in this connection even knowing that you are humble is dangerous. For the moment you think that you are humble, my friend, you are in fact becoming proud. 
Adherents of victorious living say that the Refor-mers and the Puritans concentrated too much on justification and did not appreciate what can be realised by the help of God in the life of sanctification. They make a distinction between two types of true believers. The believer that leads the life of a beggar and the believer, that has by an act of faith, completely surrendered himself to Christ and now lives from moment to moment in depen-dence on Christ and for that reason no longer needs to complain about his sinful nature. 
The adherents of “Victorious living” argue that incipient anti-nomianism is inherent to the reformed message of justification; an accusation also made by the Roman Catholic Church. We reply that it is an unjust accusation. Complaint about one’s sinful self accompanied with a continual struggle against sin belongs to a healthy spiritual life. I now wish to highlight the second part of answer 114 of the Heidelberg Catechism ‘yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.’
The Anglican bishop Ryle wrote his classic book called Holiness as an answer and refutation of the Keswick teaching. A believer has a deep desire to be holy and still feels himself a sinner and that is the reason he remains a beggar. He feels that even his most holy acts are stained with sin. That is the reason that Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13: ‘Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehen-ded: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.’ 
What Paul did not want to forget was that he was once an enemy of Christ and persecutor of the saints. But in approaching God he did want to forget all that he did and had done in the service of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul knew that he laboured more abundantly than the other apostles (2 Corinthians 11:23). He had received marvellous revelations.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.’ (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
These were the things that Paul wanted to forget. He did not glory in what he did for Christ and had received from Christ but only in the cross of Christ. See Gal. 6:14: ‘But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’ The Lord had said to Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). 
Accusing Reformers and Puritans of incipient anti-nomianism the adherent of victorious living think that teaching the possibility of life of known victory over all known sins is the real antidote for that. But in fact this teaching is in a certain sense antinomian. It does not take really serious the spiritual nature and spiritual all compassing claims of God’s law. Even unknown sins and our sinful nature also when it is not active is sin. 
The most holy saint still stands in himself as a condemned ungodly before a righteous God. The adherent of victorious living teaching do not only restrict the spiritual significance of justification to the beginning or to what they call the first stage of the Christian living they also have their misgivings about some element the Reformed doctrine of justification as such.
Against the Church of Rome that confuses justification and sanc-tification and states that justification means that we are actually made just by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us in the sacraments, the Reformers taught that we are only just on account of the perfect righteousness and holiness of Christ that is imputed to us. What Christ did once and for all is imputed to us. 
In answer 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism the believer confesses that the Father ‘grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me.’ 
Classical Reformed theology in this connection the distinction was made between the passive and active obedience of Christ. The passive obedience of Christ means that he paid for the guilt of all his own by suffering an dying for them. So he paid their debts.
The active obedience of Christ means that Christ being on earth fulfilled the law for all his people. By becoming man and dying at the cross he fulfilled for them to claims of God’s holy law from the beginnings of their existence in the womb to their last breath. 
The adherents of victorious living explicitly reject this last element of the imputation of the righteous-ness of Christ. For in their view a believer really filled with the Holy Spirit, does completely obey the law and does not need until the end of his life the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. But the righteousness of him that is justified by faith is never even not in the smallest part an inherent but always an imputed righteousness. Otherwise we could never meet the Lord. Because of it rich content I quote in full a hymn written by E. Mote (1797-1874):
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
In every rough and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, his covenant, and his blood,
Support me in the whelming flood,
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

I trust his righteous character,
His counsel, promise, and his power.
His honour and his name’s at stake,
To save me from the burning lake.

When I shall launch in worlds unseen,
O may I then be found in him,
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.