Finding Answers for the Crookedness of Life

Excerpt taken from “The Crook in the Lot”
Written by Thomas Boston
Adapted and modernized for the young reader
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“Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight which He has made crooked?” —Ecclesiastes 7:13.
 

A just view of our afflictions is altogether necessary for proper Christian deportment under them…

…and this view can only be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for it is the “Light of the World” alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God, and consequently, crooked designs becoming the Divine perfections. When they are perceived by the eye of faith, and duly considered, we have a just view of our afflictions, fitted to quell the turbulent motions of corrupt affections under dismal outward appearances.
 

It is under this view that Solomon, in the preceding part of Ecclesiastes 7, advances several paradoxes, which are surprising determinations in favor of certain things, that, to the eye of sense, looking gloomy and hideous, are therefore generally reputed out of order, and shocking. For he pronounces the day of one’s death to be better than the day of his birth; namely, the day of the death of one, who, having become the friend of God through faith, has led a life to the honor of God, and service of his generation, and in this way raised to himself the good and savvy name better than precious ointment.

 

In like manner, he pronounces the house of mourning to be preferable to the house of feasting, sorrow to laughter, and a wise man’s rebuke to a fool’s song. As for that, even though the latter is indeed the more pleasant, yet the former is the more profitable. And observing with concern, how men are in danger, not only from the world’s frowns and ill-usage, for oppression can make a wise man mad, but also from its smiles and caresses, which is a gift destroying the heart. Therefore, since whatever way it goes there is danger, he pronounces the end of every worldly thing better than the beginning of it. And from the whole he justly infers, that it is better to be humble and patient, than proud and impatient under afflicting dispensation; since, in the former case, we wisely submit to what is really best; in the latter, we fight against it. And he dissuades from being angry with our lot, because of the adversity found in it. He cautions against making odious comparisons of former and present times, by which point he is insinuating against undue reflections on the providence of God: and, against that querulous and fretful disposition. Here he first prescribes a general remedy, namely, holy wisdom, as that which enables us to make the best of everything, and even gives life in the most killing of circumstances; and then he offers a particular remedy, consisting in a due application of that wisdom, towards taking a just view of the case: “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight which He has made crooked?”
 
In which words are proposed,
 
1. The remedy itself;
2. The suitableness of it.
 
1. The remedy itself, is a wise eyeing of the hand of God on all we find hard to bear on us: “Consider the work of God,” namely, His providence in the crooked, rough, and disagreeable parts of your afflictions, the crosses you find in it. For you see very well the cross itself. Yes, you turn it over and over in your mind and leisurely view it on all sides. You look to the primary cause of it, and also to the other secondary cause of it, and so you find yourself in a fret. But, would that you would be quieted and satisfied in the matter, lifting up your eyes towards heaven, seeing the doing of God in it, the operation of His hand. Look at that, and consider it well; eye the first look at the crookedness in your lot; but behold, how it is the work of God, how is it His doing?
 
2. Such a view of the crookedness of our afflictions is very suitable to still improper risings of heart, and quiet us under them: “For who can make that straight which God has made crooked?” As to the crookedness in your life, God has made it; and he will continue while He will have it so. Should you ply your utmost force to even things out, or make it straight, your attempt will be vain: for it will not change no matter what you do. Only He who made it can mend it, or make it straight. This consideration, this view of the matter, is the proper means at once to silence and to satisfy man, and so to bring him to a dutiful submission to his Maker and Governor, no matter the crookedness and afflictions in his life.
 

Five Directions How to Get our Hearts Free from Earthly-Mindedness

Taken and adapted from chapter 8 of, “A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness”
Written by, Jeremiah Burroughs

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The First Direction

First, to that end, be watchful over your thoughts. Do not take liberty to let your hearts run too far in the things of the earth. What time you have for meditation, let it be as much as can be reserved for spiritual things. Most men and women think they may take liberty in their thoughts. Why, the thing in itself is not unlawful! Aye, but your thoughts will steal upon you and affect your heart very much; therefore, watch narrowly over your thoughts, keep them within Scripture bounds.

The Second Direction

Be humbled much for sin, for that will take off the heart from earthly-mindedness. Earthly-minded men, who have earthly and drossy hearts, have not known what the weight and burden of sin means. Just let God lay the weight and burden of sin upon the soul, for that will take off the soul from earthly things quickly! Oh, those men that have gone on in the world in a secure condition, and never knew what trouble of conscience meant for sin, have grown seared in those earthly contentment’s. But those men that have had the weight of sin lie upon them know what it is to have to deal with an infinite God. In bearing the burden of the wrath of an incensed Deity, such men know that they have other things to look after than the things of the earth. If God would just humble your hearts, the humiliation of your spirits would quicken you, take off the dullness and deadness of your spirits, and stir you up to look after things other than the things of this life.

The Third Direction

Further, set the example of the saints before you who have been the most precious servants of God in former times. Note how they counted themselves as pilgrims and strangers here on the earth. At your leisure, read Hebrews 11:13, These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Mark, therefore, how it follows in the 37th verse, “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.” Who were these people? They were those of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth, and yet were such precious saints of God that the world was not worthy of them. Now when we set before us how joyfully these servants of the Most High went through all their wilderness condition, this should make us ashamed of our earthly-mindedness, and would be a mighty help to us.

The Fourth Direction

Then, if we consider the great account that we are to give for all earthly things, you will note that you only look upon the comfort of them. But consider the account you must give for them. This would be a means to take off the heart from earthly-mindedness. And consider, what if you were now to die and go the way of all flesh. What good would it be to me to remember what contentments and pleasures I had in the earth?

The Fifth Direction

But above all, set Jesus Christ before you and be meditating on the death of Jesus Christ. That’s the great thing that will take the heart from the things of the earth. Be looking upon Christ crucified, how He who was the Lord of heaven and earth put Himself into such a low condition merely to redeem us!

Conversing much with the death of Jesus Christ deadens the heart much to the world. In Philippians 3 we have a notable text for that, in the example of Paul. He counted all things as dung and dross for Jesus Christ. In the 8th verse, I account all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but DUNG that I may win Christ. Then, in the 10th verse, That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death.

Paul desired to be so conformable to the very death of Christ, that he counted all things in the world but as dung and dross in comparison of that. Paul had the death of Christ before his eyes, and meditated much on the death of Christ, and that meditation had a great impression upon his spirit. That made him count all these things as dross, as dog’s meat by comparison, that he might have fellowship with the death of Christ.

Perhaps some of you think of the glory of Christ in heaven, and that may, for the present, make you less worldly. But let me entreat you to meditate on the death of Christ, and know that there is an excellency in conformity even to the death of Christ, such an excellency that may take your hearts from the things of the world. It’s said of the King of France that he, asking once about an eclipse, said, “I have so much business in the earth that I take little notice of the things of heaven.”

O my brethren! To close all this, I beseech you, let not this be said concerning any of you, that you have such and such worldly enjoyments that you cannot inquire about Jesus Christ. Do not plead that you have such great business, that you had so much to do in this earth, that you take little notice of the things of heaven. Surely, the saints of God have their business in heaven as we shall, God willing, see hereafter. Their city business, their trading, their aims, their bent is higher than the things of this earth.

There are things that a man may let out his thoughts and affections to as much as he wants. This shows the vanity of the things of this world, that a man needs to be very wary how much he minds them. He cannot enjoy the comforts of this earth without some fear. But now, when he comes to converse with heaven, there he may let out himself to the uttermost. That shows the excellency of these things. You that are poor and lowly in the things of this earth, do not be discomforted because there is a charge from God that men should not mind these things. Surely there is no great matter in them since God charges that we should not mind them.

O the excellency lies in things above which are heavenly and spiritual, where the saints have their conversation!

Samuel Rutherford’s Word of Comfort for the Grief of a Child

Letter 310, to Lady Kenmure, on the occasion of the death of her infant daughter.
Written by, Samuel Rutherford

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MADAM,

Saluting your Ladyship with grace and mercy from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. I was sorry, at my departure, leaving your Ladyship in grief, and would be still grieved at it if I were not assured that ye have one with you in the furnace whose visage is like unto the Son of God.

I am glad that ye have been acquainted from your youth with the wrestlings of God, knowing that if ye were not dear to God, and if your health did not require so much of Him, He would not spend so much physic upon you. All the brethren and sisters of Christ must be conform to His image and copy in suffering (Rom. 8.29). And some do more vividly resemble the copy than others. Think, Madam, that it is a part of your glory to be enrolled among those whom one of the elders pointed out to John, ‘These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven. Build your nest upon no tree here; for ye see God hath sold the forest to death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end we may fly and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the holes of the Rock.

What ye love besides Jesus, your husband, is an adulterous lover. Now it is God’s special blessing to Judah, that He will not let her find her paths in following her strange lovers. ‘Therefore, behold I will hedge up thy way with thorns and make a wall that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them’ (Hos. 2.6-7). O thrice happy Judas, when God buildeth a double stone wall betwixt her and the fire of hell! The world, and the things of the world, Madam, is the lover ye naturally affect beside your own husband Christ. The hedge of thorns and the wall which God buildeth in your way, to hinder you from this lover, is the thorny hedge of daily grief, loss of children, weakness of body, iniquity of the time, uncertainty of estate, lack of worldly comfort, fear of God’s anger for old unrepented-of sins. What lose ye, if God twist and plait the hedge daily thicker? God be blessed, the Lord will not let you find your paths.

Return to your first husband. Do not weary, neither think that death walketh towards you with a slow pace. Ye must be riper ere ye be shaken. Your days are no longer than Job’s, that were ’swifter than a post, and passed away as the ships of desire, and as the eagle that hasteth for the prey’ (Job 9. 25, 26, margin). There is less sand in your glass now than there was yesternight. This span-length of ever-posting time will soon be ended. But the greater is the mercy of God, the more years ye get to advise, upon what terms, and upon what conditions, ye cast your soul in the huge gulf of never-ending eternity.

The Lord hath told you what ye should be doing till He come; ‘wait and hasten (saith Peter,) for the coming of the Lord’; all is night that is here, in respect of ignorance and daily ensuing troubles, one always making way to another, as the ninth wave of the sea to the tenth; therefore sigh and long for the dawning of that morning, and the breaking of that day of the coming of the Son of man, when the shadows shall flee away.

Persuade yourself the King is coming; read His letter sent before Him, ‘Behold, I come quickly.’ Wait with the wearied night-watch for the breaking of the eastern sky, and think that you have not a morrow. I am loath to weary you; show yourself a Christian, by suffering without murmuring; — in patience possess your soul: they lose nothing who gain Christ. I commend you to the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus.

ANWOTH, Jan, 15, 1629

The Several Thrones of God, with Particular Attention Paid to the Throne of Grace, which is the Mercy-Seat in the Old Testament.

Excerpts and passages adapted, modernized, and condensed from, “The Works of the Late Reverend Robert Traill Minister of the Gospel in London”
Written by Robert Traill, March 25, 1696.

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The most sacred of all the objects in the Jewish Old Testament worship, was called the Mercy-Seat…

…the same of which the apostle Paul calls the “Throne of Grace”; from which he teaches us, that whatever of divine grace was revealed and tendered to, perceived, and received by the faith by the Old Testament believers, and was employed in the right use of this sacred old institution of God to his church, –the same, with greater advantages, the New Testament believers enjoy under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ; who is the body, antitype, and substance of all of them.

But we find three most solemn things in the Old Testament, which the Mercy-Seat (the type of the Throne of Grace in the New Testament) was applied to.

  1. The most solemn approach was made unto God, which was effectuated when the high priest going in once a-year to the holiest of all, where the Mercy-Seat was located, made atonement for the people. This approach was made, not by the common people in their own persons; nor by any ordinary Levite, who were even privileged with a greater nearness to God than the people –Numbers 16:9, nor by any of the inferior priests of the house of Aaron, to which family the office of priesthood was by divine appointment confined; nor by the high priest himself, except only once a-year, and that at a specific, determinate time, and carried out with many appointed ceremonies of preparation and performance. Some accounts tell us of a custom in their Worship, that music, performed by singing and instruments, were used by the people, to express their joy and praise, when the high priest returned safely out from that sacred and awful place, the holy of holies.
  2. The most solemn atonement for the sins of Israel was made at the Mercy-Seat. This was done in that yearly entrance of the high priest into the holiest of all, Leviticus 16:12-14, especially verse 14. – “And he (Aaron, the first of that order of priests) shall take of the blood of the bullock, and shall sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy-seat eastward: and before the mercy-seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. Verse 30. On that day, shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be cleansed from all your sins before the Lord.
  3. The most solemn answers were given by God to the high priest, Exodus 25:17-22, where we have the institution of the Mercy-Seat, and/or the form of it: And there ( says the Lord) I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee”; and again, ” Exodus 30:6. What the Old Testament Urim and Thummim was, and what their Shechinah was, neither Jew now nor Christian know, –though they guess; only that these were some special manifestations of the grace, and favor, and mind of God, which expired with some of them it is thought, before the end of that ministration. But all these three glories, and dignities, and advantages of their mercy-seat, are all to be found in Christ Jesus. For it is Jesus who represents his people before God, and presents them to the Father; since he has made the perfect atonement for all his Israel, and declares to his church all the saving will of God, which he heard and received of his Father.

The apostle here in this epistle, and in this text, would have all believers in Christ to know, that the New Testament Throne of Grace is the same in substance with, and above the Old Testament Mercy-Seat. –See Hebrews 10:4. [See also, Hebrews 9:12, “He did not enter by the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.”]

  1. The truth I would speak to is this: That the God in the gospel, sits on a Throne of Grace, and from it calls and invites sinners to come to him. “Let us come to the Throne of Grace”, certainly means, “Let us now come to God sitting on the throne of grace”; let us take both the direction and encouragement to come to God, because he is on a throne of grace.

    We find a throne of glory much spoke of, for it is a throne of the essential, incomprehensible glory of God.

    This no man can approach. Of this the apostle spoke of in, 1 Tim. 6:16. He dwells in light that no man can approach to, whom no man hath seen, nor can see. Marvelous is this light. We find the more light there be in or about a person or thing, the more easily and clearly it is perceived as the sun is such a glorious body, that though it be at a vast distance from the earth we dwell on, we yet can see it with our eyes immediately. As soon as it shines, we can see it, because of its light. It is its own light, and nothing else, that exists is like it. If the sun did withdraw its own light, all the eyes of men, and all the artificial fire and light men can make, would ever help us to replace or match it. But such is the majesty of God, that he is clothed with it, Psalm 93.Men are dazzled and confounded by a little ray of his glory; but with God is terrible majesty, Job 37:22.  This is not the throne we are called to come unto. And they are but dabblers in religion, that know not in their experience how overwhelming the views and thoughts of God’s majesty and glory are, when he is not seen as on a Throne of Grace. ‘I remembered God, and was troubled, says one saint, Psalm 77:3. I am troubled at his presence when I consider, I am afraid of him, said another, Job 23:15. No wonder Manoah said unto his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.”  Judges 13:22. when a view of the heavenly glory of Jesus Christ makes John, who was often to lean on his bosom in his humbled state, to fall down at his feet as dead, Revelation 1:17.

  2. There is a throne of God’s Government of the World often spoke about, Psalms 9:4, 7. On this throne God sits, and rules all things at his pleasure, and infinite wisdom. This throne is to be believingly regarded by us; but it is nor the throne of grace that sinners are called to come unto for grace and mercy.
  3. There is a throne of God’s justice spoken of. This is that throne David deprecates his being brought before, Psalms 143:2. Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified. If a man be wronged and oppressed by men stronger than he, he may appeal to this throne of justice, and expect redress. BUT if a man’s business be with God, he should be afraid of this throne of justice. Men are often proud and vain in their thoughts, and before others: but if the Lord call them before this high court of justice, they will surely be cast Job 9:2, 3. How should a man be just with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one in a thousand. When God sits on a throne of justice, to judge men according to his law and their works, nothing but condemnation can justly be pronounced on sinners. Whoever he be of sinful Adam’s seed that expects the saving favor from God’s throne of justice, will find himself woefully deceived.
  4. We find the throne of the last judgment. Before this all must appear, 2 Cor. 5: 10. Rev. 20:12. This is not the throne of grace in the text. No grace nor mercy is shown to any from this throne, especially to them that have despised and spit at the throne of grace before. And when our Lord comes, and sits on the throne of his glory, Matthew 25:31; no sinner that hath despised his grace now, will find any quarter then, Luke 19:27.

What then is this throne of grace? It is God in Christ dealing with men according to the grace of the gospel.

It is God in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not importing to them their trespasses 2 Cor. 5:19.  It is Christ set forth by God to be a propitiation, Romans 3:25. This is the true mercy-seat, or throne of grace, or propitiation, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10. This is the new court or throne erected by God, and declared in the gospel, to which sinful man is invited to come.

Why the “Throne of Grace” called a throne, and why specifically is it called a “Throne of Grace?”

Continuing on from what is said by the apostle’s alluding to the mercy-seat in the tabernacle and temple of old. It is called a throne, because of the glory and majesty of God is manifested there. God’s condescending to display and to dispense his grace and mercy to sinners. This dispensing of Grace is not debasing to God, but is an advancement of his glory. When he gives grace, he acts royally, and as a King, with majesty. Araunah’s offering to David, is said to be like a king, 2 Sam. 24:23. But Araunah was no king, he was only a subject; however, he had a free, and noble heart.

The Lord on his throne of grace, dispenses all acts of grace with great majesty, and as a King; and not as a King, Judge, and Ruler, but as a King, Benefactor, and Giver. This royalty of grace shines, in the greatness of his gifts, especially in the greatness of his gifts of grace and mercy. These gifts are vastly above all that creation can give. And in its manner of giving; it is free, sovereignly free. Grace and mercy is God’s own and he does with them as he will.

When Moses prays, Exodus 33:18. I beseech thee, shew me thy glory, we cannot conceive what was in his holy, and heavenly heart. He was now just come down from the mount for the first time; he is going up again to spend another forty days there, in such communion with God as never mere man enjoyed before or since out of heaven; he has prevailed with God for Israel, and has received a most gracious answer, ver. 17. And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that you have spoken; for you have found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. What means Moses then by his prayer ver. 18. Whatever he meant, the Lord’s answer is much to be observed, ver. 19. And he said, I will make all my goodness (or beauty) pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the before thee.  (What is in this name that hath so much of glory and goodness in it, as should satisfy such a mighty hungerer for more of God, as Moses was. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. God’s glory shines highly, in his being the sovereign disposer of his own grace and mercy, and happy is the believer that adores this glorious sovereignty. Paul in Romans 10:15, makes a deep improvement of it.

Jeremiah 17: 12 A glorious high throne from the beginning, is the place of our high sanctuary. See then that you, in all your pleadings for grace and mercy, remember that you are before a high stately throne. Approaches to God on the throne of grace, should be managed with the deepest reverence and humility. So did the publican, when he came to it, Luke 18:13. God be merciful (propitious) to me a sinner, (or me the sinner, the great singular sinner. So the Greek runs, as Luke: 7:37, 39. The deepest, profoundest adoration of the glorious majesty of God, is performed by a self-condemned sinner, pleading at this throne for the obtaining of the sovereign free grace of God.

Lastly; It is called a throne, because grace reigns and is enthroned there: Romans 5:21. Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessed reign! And blessed are all that are under the reign and dominion of the grace of God. Sin reigns through the unrighteousness of the first Adam unto eternal death, if men be left alone, and if grace do not break this reign of sin. And grace reigns through the righteousness of the second Adam unto eternal life. And nothing can dethrone grace; it will prevail, and reach its end, eternal life, in all it falls upon. ‘0 that captives to Satan, and slaves to sin and to the law, would long to be under the reign of this stately power, –the grace of God! And that believers themselves would give a more free and large subjection to it!

 

Confusing your Cause with God’s Cause

Taken and adapted from, “Faith and Life” Section titled, “The Cause of God”
From the “Faith and Life  Conferences’  held in the Oratory of Princeton Seminary
Written by B.B. Warfield, Published 1916

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1 Kings 19:9: “What doest thou here, Elijah?”

The history of Elijah supplies us with one of the most striking, and, we may add, one of the most instructive, sections of the Old Testament. With him begins the wonderful history of Prophetism. Through him we obtain a glimpse which we would not willingly lose of God’s dealings with His people: His faithfulness to them when they were unfaithful to Him; His unremitting efforts to withdraw them from sin and keep them in that intimate and obedient relation to Him in which alone was safety to be found.

At first sight the narrative may appear objective to a fault. We are told nothing of who Elijah was, how he had been trained, whence he came as he passes across the page of history. In the midst of Ahab’s wicked rule suddenly he stands before the idolatrous King and pronounces the curse of God, which for his sake should fall on the land which he had polluted with his apostasy. And as suddenly as he appears, so suddenly he withdraws again. Hidden at Cherith or at Zarephath for a period measured by years, he appears on the scene of public history once again as unexpectedly and as much a messenger from on high as at first. Everywhere he goes the powers of heaven accompany him, and his appearances and disappearances are almost as sudden as the bolts of heaven themselves.

But, however rapid the action, and however much, at first view, the narrative may seem to wear the appearance of objectivity; however much it may seem to be concerned only with the history of Israel and God’s endeavour through the words and works of His prophet to awaken His people to righteousness and rescue them from the slough of their idolatry; the story of Elijah yet manages to be primarily and above all else the story of Elijah. Somehow, as in music sometimes a secondary strain is carried on, shot through the dominant theme of the composition, in harmony with it and yet separable from it, and needing but a little emphasizing to make it the chief burden of the whole; so within the bosom of this narrative of how God sent His prophet to Israel with His thunder-message calling it back to the service of Him, of how He dealt thus faithfully with His people and sought to save them from themselves and for Him, there lies, not hidden, but embraced and preserved for us, the touching account of how God dealt with and trained the prophet himself. As Jesus, when He sat in the judgment hall of Annas offering Himself a victim for the saving of the world, yet had time to turn a significant glance upon Peter as he stood denying Him before the courtyard fire, and thus saved His poor repentant follower in the saving of the world; so God in His use of Elijah for the teaching of Israel also found time to train the heart of the prophet himself.

These chapters are crowded with teaching for us. We must select, from the wealth they bring to us, some one thing on which our minds may especially dwell to-day. Let it be this instructive element in them: God’s way of training His prophet. Let us observe in the case of Elijah how God dealt with him in His grace so as to bring him to a better knowledge of himself, of God and of the nature of the work to which he was called. When once we approach the narrative with this purpose in view, it becomes difficult to see anything else in it. We forget Israel in Elijah. Israel seems only the instrument upon which and by means of which Elijah’s heart and soul were taught. We have in a word emphasized the subordinate strain until it becomes dominant; and the very possibility of this is a clear proof that the subordinate strain was planted in the music by the Great Composer, and that it was meant that our ears should hear it.

We are told, we say, nothing of the early life, the early training, or directly, of the character of Elijah. He appears suddenly before us as the messenger of God’s wrath. Like his great antitype—who was greater, our Lord being witness, than even he—he is a voice from the wilderness crying the one word, Repent! He is the human embodiment of the wrath of God. Wherever he goes destruction accompanies him. Drought, fire from heaven, floods of rain, death for the enemies of God, follow hard on his footsteps. He is embodied law. And as such he is a swift witness against his people. Obedience, repentance, strict account, these form the essence of his message.

God chooses appropriate instruments for His work. And we have reason to believe that the sternness of Elijah’s mission was matched by the sternness of his aspect and the sternness of his character. We are therefore justified in having said that he was, not merely the messenger of God’s law and wrath, but their embodiment. He was by natural disposition, as framed under providential circumstances, and by virtue of the side of God which he had as yet apprehended, nothing loath but rather naturally inclined to act as the witness of God against his people, well-fitted to call down the vengeance of God upon them and to delight in the overthrow of His enemies. He was in danger of thinking of God only as a lawgiver and the just avenger of His wounded honour. Hence arose the necessity of the training of the prophet. Every incident of his career, as it is recorded for us, entered into this training.

As we cast our eye over it, we observe that what Elijah needed to be taught was:

(1) dependence on God;
(2) fellowship with man in his sufferings;
(3) confidence in God’s plans; and
(4) a sense of their essential and broad mercifulness.

These lessons are brought home to him by means of two stupendous miracles over nature, wrought for the purpose of teaching the people that Jehovah and He alone is God,—so closely intertwined were the two lines of Divine work, the training of the people and the training of Elijah. No sooner had the prophet declared to the apostate King the word of God sent to him, “As the Lord, the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word,” than a special personal message came from the Lord to him saying, “Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.” Thus it was brought about that both Israel and Elijah were simultaneously learning the lesson of the littleness of man before God. But diversely. Israel was learning that it could not with impunity break God’s law; Elijah that even God’s servants depend on Him for their every want. The self-willed nation was learning to submit to its Lord; the perhaps too self-confident prophet was learning the weakness of flesh and man’s utter dependence on his Maker.

In the silence of the wilderness, hidden in one of those torrent-clefts which fall into the Jordan valley, Elijah was dependent on God’s hand for his daily food; on the water which flowed at first in quantities full enough for his needs over the rocks of the brook’s bed, but gradually grew less and less until it trickled in drops scarcely numerous enough to moisten his parched lips; on food brought to him by the unclean ravens. Thus gradually he learned to sympathize with his suffering fellows and to rest on God. It was meet that he who seemed to have the dominion of the heavens in his hands, who prayed that it should not rain and it rained not, should share in the want which resulted; and should learn to sympathize with poor suffering, even if sinful, humanity, like that greater one who was yet to come and learn also how to sympathize with us through His participation in our griefs. How fully he learned his lesson the subsequent narrative tells us in the beautiful story of his dealings with the widow of Zarephath with her cruse and barrel, and her sick and dying child—one of the most Christlike narratives among all the Old Testament miracles. Thus then as Israel was prepared for repentance, the prophet was prepared inwardly to be a fit messenger to his suffering brethren, bringing them relief from their sore affliction. We repeat . it, God sends His messages by fit instruments.

And so, in due time, Elijah comes to bring the famished land relief. We all remember the story of the tremendous scene wherein Elijah—the “prodigious” Tishbite, as an old author calls him—challenges the prophets of Baal to meet him in a contest of worship on Carmel, and defeats them by simply calling on his God; and then draws down rain on the parched ground by the almighty virtue of his prayer. No scene of higher dramatic power is to be found in all the world’s literature. As we read, we see the prophet ruling on the mount; we see him bent in prayer on the deserted summit; we see him when, the hand of God upon him, he girded up his victorious loins and ran before the chariot of Ahab, the sixteen miles through the driving storm, from Carmel to Jezreel. No scene we may say could have been more nicely fitted to his mind or to his nature. Here the king of men was king indeed and his victory seemed complete. But God’s children must suffer for their triumphs. Were there no thorns in the flesh, messengers of Satan, sent of God to buffet them, there would be no one of men who could serve the Lord in the scenes of His triumph without grave danger to his own soul. And Elijah needed to learn other lessons yet. He needed to learn that God’s victories are not of the external sort and are not to be won by the weapons of men.

How quickly after the triumph comes the moment of dismay. “And Ahab told Jezebel,” says the simple narrative, “all that Elijah had done, and withal, how he had slain the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time.’ And when he saw that, he arose and went for his life and came to Beersheba.” Thus, Elijah has his lesson to learn again after his miracle. We need not wonder at his sudden flight. It is the price that strong, fervent spirits pay for their very strength, that they suffer a correspondingly strong reaction. So it was with the prophet’s antitype, John the Baptist, when in the prison he lost his faith and sent to ask Him whom God had Himself pointed out to him on the banks of Jordan, whether, indeed, He was the Coming One. So it was with Peter also, who could venture on the waves, but only to cry, “Lord save me, I perish”; who could draw his sword and smite the High Priest’s servant, but only at once to deny his Lord at the challenge of a servant maid. So now it was with Elijah. God’s hand had been outstretched at his call. He had shut up the heavens at his bidding and had nourished him at Cherith and given him miraculous sustenance at Zarephath, and the widow’s son back from the grave. • He had sent down His fire from heaven and delivered the priests of Baal into his hand and opened the heavens at his prayer. But Elijah could not trust God, now, to deliver him from a woman’s hate; and that, although her very message bore in it the betrayal of her weakness.

Was there not a deeper spring for this distrust still?

With all his training, Elijah did not as yet know his God. His life had fallen on evil days, times of violence that demanded violent remedies for their diseases. And he could not believe in the efficacy of any but violent remedies. Fresh from Carmel and the slaughter of the priests he was impatient of the continuance of evil, and expected the miracles of Carmel to be but the harbinger of the greater miracle of the conversion of the people to God in a day. When Elijah awoke on the morrow and found Israel altogether as it had been yesterday, he was dismayed. Had then the triumph of yesterday been as nothing? Was Jezebel still to lord it over God’s heritage? What then availed it that the fire had fallen from heaven? That the false priests’ blood had flowed like water? That the rain had come at his bidding? Was the hand of God outstretched only to be withdrawn again? Elijah loses heart because God’s ways were not as his ways. He cannot understand God’s secular modes of working; and, conceiving of His ways as sudden and miraculous only, he feels that the Most High has deserted His cause and His servants. He almost feels bitter towards the Lord who had let him begin a work which He leaves him without power to complete. Hence Elijah must go to the wilderness to learn somewhat of the God he serves. After his first miracle of closing the heavens, he learned what man was in his sufferings and in his needs. Now he has opened the heavens and is to learn what God is and what are the modes of His working and the nature of His plans.

There is no mistaking the purpose of God in leading the prophet into the wilderness; nor the import of the teaching He gives him there. The disheartened prophet, despairing of the cause of God because all things had not turned out as he had anticipated, throws himself on the desert sands to die. But there God visits him; and leads him on to Horeb, where the Law had been given, where it had been granted to Moses to see God’s glory, the glory of the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy and truth. Reaching the Mount the stricken prophet seeks a cave and lodges in it. And then the word of the Lord came to him with the searching question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” We do not need to doubt that there was reproof in the question; but surely it is not reproof but searching inquiry that forms its main contents. The Lord had Himself led Elijah here, for his lesson. And now the Lord probes him with the deepest of questions.

After all, why was Elijah there? The question calls for reflection; and reflection which will bring light with self-condemnation; and with the self-condemnation, also self-instruction. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” The honest soul of the prophet gives back the transparent truth: “I have been very jealous” . . . and so on. Here we see distrust in God and despair of His cause; almost complaint of God, for not guarding His cause better; nay, more, almost complaint of God that He had left His servant in the lurch. The Lord deals very graciously with His servant. There is no need now of reproof; only the simple command to go forth and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And then the Lord passed by; first a great, strong wind rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but it was not in the wind that the Lord was. And after the wind, an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a sound of gentle stillness. Elijah does not now need to be told where the Lord is. The terror of the storm, of the earthquake, and of the flame, is as nothing to the awesomeness of the gentle stillness. “And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entering in of the cave.” Did he already begin to suspect that he had mistaken the storm that goes before Jehovah for Jehovah’s self? The terror of the law for the very hand of Him whose essence is love? The terrible preparation for the Gospel for the Gospel itself? But there is still no word of direct instruction. Only the old question still sounds in his ears. “And behold there came a voice to him and said ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?'” To it he returns the same answer as before; but surely in deep humility of spirit. Be that as it may, however, the Lord proceeds to tell him that He has yet work for him to do and sends him back with instructions which imply that there is a long future for the fruition of His plans. And whether at once or more slowly we cannot doubt that the lesson had its effect and Elijah learned not to lose hope in God’s cause because God’s ways in accomplishing it are not our ways.

How full all this is of lessons to us!

Let us at least not fail to learn from it:

(1) That the cause of God does not depend on our single arm to save it. “I, I only, am left,” said Elijah, as if on him alone could God depend to secure His ends. We depend on God, not God on us.
(2) That the cause of God is not dependent for its success on our chosen methods. Elijah could not understand that the ends of God could be gained unless they were gained in the path of miracles of manifest judgment. External methods are not God’s methods.
(3) That the cause of God cannot fail. Elijah feared that God’s hand was not outstretched to save and fancied that he knew the dangers and needs better than God did. God never deserts His cause.
(4) That it is not the Law but the Gospel, not the revelation of wrath but that of love, which saves the world. Wrath may prepare for love; but wrath never did and never will save a soul.

We close then, with a word of warning and one of encouragement.

The word of warning:

We must not identify our cause with God’s cause; our methods with God’s methods; or our hopes with God’s purposes.

The word of encouragement:

God’s cause is never in danger; what He has begun in the soul or in the world, He will complete unto the end.

The Searing of the Christian Conscience

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Most people think of hardened criminals and the most duplicitous of men when speaking of someone with a seared conscience. Yet, I believe many in the Church today are also in very real danger of this spiritual phenomenon.

The apostle Paul had a clear understanding of the damaging effects of sin on the human heart. He spoke insightfully of those who were “seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (2 Timothy 4:2), and those who “because of the hardness of their heart (have) become callous.” (Ephesians 4:18-19) Both metaphors—the seared conscience and the hardened, calloused heart—describe the same condition.

The Need for the Conscience

What is the human conscience? According to Vine’s Dictionary, the Greek word for conscience (suneidesis) literally means to possess “co-knowledge” of something resulting in one’s “sense of guiltiness before God.”  Thus, we were created with a unique and intrinsic faculty that gives us a kind of third-person perspective on the rightness and wrongness of our actions.

According to A.W. Tozer, the foundation of the human conscience is “the secret presence of Christ in the world.” To support his conclusions, he points to John 1:9, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” This inward moral awareness is simply the “secret inner voice” of the Lord “accusing or else excusing him.”(1) Tozer very well may be right.

“We were created with a unique and intrinsic faculty that gives us a kind of third-person perspective on the rightness and wrongness of our actions.”

In the physical realm, the conscience is comparable to the human nervous system. When a person is wounded, he feels pain—the body’s inherent means of alerting him that something is wrong. Likewise, when a person sins, the human soul has a warning system that sounds an alarm because the person’s actions have wounded him spiritually. This soul-alarm trumpets, “Mayday! Mayday! Something is wrong!” He senses that his actions are not only wrong but will also result in destructive consequences.

A Tender Conscience

A person with a tender conscience is keenly aware of every infraction against the Lord. He recognizes sin for the ugly thing that it is. Immoral deeds, though seemingly insignificant to others, are viewed by him as monstrous crimes against a holy God. Their importance, while not exaggerated, is internally magnified so that their true, insidious nature may be clearly seen.

The person with a soft heart also remains consistently open to the Holy Spirit’s conviction. He is not looking to push the limits of sin—to see how much he can get away with—but to avoid it altogether. Sin, to him, is a poison which must be eradicated at any cost. The prayer of David expresses the unseen attitude of such a person: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:24)

Most people who have experienced a true conversion begin their new life with this kind of spiritual sensitivity. The “eyes of their hearts” have been opened to the wonders of Jesus Christ and His kingdom. Concern over the prospect of doing something against their Savior can actually drive them to run to their pastor over things that seem ridiculous to more seasoned saints.

A Wandering Conscience

Unfortunately, it is often only a matter of time before the “first love” for Jesus dwindles into religious form. As new converts begin to “learn the ropes” of Christianity, a slight hardening of the heart takes place. The deep sense of helplessness that once created such a humble dependence upon the Lord is gradually replaced with spiritual pride. Bright and innocent faith is slowly supplanted by cynicism. Eventually, the world’s attractions regain their carnal luster, old idols are re-erected within the heart, and once-forsaken sins start to resurface.

The Bible describes this process as the “wandering away from” a “good conscience,” (I Timothy 1:5-6) and the corrupting of the conscience (Titus 1:15). Both describe the same process of inner moral decay that occurs when a person allows sin to re-establish itself within their heart. If the person continues along this course, he will soon lose the sense of the evil nature of sin. A perfect illustration of this truth is the way a nonsmoker can become accustomed to the smokiest room—once he has taken up the cigarette habit himself. Clean lungs detect every whiff of pollution; dirty lungs have lost that capability.

“As his heart becomes increasingly calloused, the spiritual system God constructed within him slowly loses its ability to detect the damage being done to it.”

The person who habitually gives himself over to sin loses the ability to feel the spiritual “pain” of sin. What happens to people who lose this sense? Consider lepers who experience a similar thing physically. Having lost sensation in their extremities, they are often terribly hurt and can even die because they are unaware of a bodily injury. In the spiritual realm, this is a picture of the hardening that takes place inside a person who remains in unrepentant sin. As his heart becomes increasingly calloused, the spiritual system God constructed within him slowly loses its ability to detect the damage being done to it. It’s little wonder that Christian men in habitual sexual sin can sit in church week after week, singing songs of worship to a God they continually defy. “Hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” (Hebrews 3:13) their entire beings are riddled with a leprosy of evil which they can no longer even detect!

In such cases, as their conscience undergoes a constant searing, these men are gradually desensitized to the guilt of sin. If left unabated, this process will eventually lead to the death of conscience. As one writer stated it, “Such men must have won that most disastrous of victories — the victory over conscience.”(2)

A Seared Conscience

What does it mean to have one’s conscience seared? To answer that question, I consulted the godly writers of yesteryear. Adam Clarke described it thus: “One cauterized by repeated applications of sin, and resistings of the Holy Ghost…”(3) The Fausett Bible Dictionary explained it as, “…a hardened determination to resist every spiritual impression…”(4) The Pulpit Commentary said it is “the gradual deterioration of sensibility produced by (habitual sin).”(5) John Wesley likened it to, “drunkenness of soul, a fatal numbness of spirit…”(6)

“If a person remains in sin long enough, he can reach a point where he is no longer influenced by the Holy Spirit.”

In summation, if a person remains in sin long enough, he can reach a point where he is no longer influenced by the Holy Spirit. He has become so hardened that he will not listen—does not want to hear. I believe this phenomenon is that which the Bible terms apostasy.

How can a man know if he has gone too far? The very concern over such a possibility reveals the fact that there remains hope for him. Apostates, having lost all sense of morality, have no concern over such matters.

A Renewed Conscience

However, when a man in habitual sin repents—by acknowledging his guilt and taking steps to put it behind him—his hardened heart begins to soften, and he gradually begins to feel the conviction of sin once again. Finally, he is back in the place where God can reach him and help him overcome. As the writer of Hebrews exclaimed, “how much more will the blood of Christ… cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14)

Nobody enjoys the feeling of guilt over wrongdoing. However, the alternative is to have no feeling: no Holy Ghost conviction, no discernment of right from wrong, and no sense of shame over the evil nature of sin. The human conscience truly is a gift from God. Personally, I plan on treasuring this gift by maintaining a soft heart and a ready ear for the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit.

(1) A. W. Tozer, The Ground of Human Conscience: Christ’s Presence in the World from the book Echoes of Eden, copyright 1994.  Used by permission of Christian Publications.

(2) H. Melvill, The Biblical Illustrator, Isaiah 1, Ages Software.

(3) Adam Clarke, Hebrews 13, ibid.

(4) Fauset’s Bible Dictionary, Blasphemy, ibid.

(5) Pulpit Commentary, 2 Samuel 18, ibid.

(6) The Works of Wesley, Vol. 5, ibid.

Written by Steve Gallagher
Founder of Pure Life Ministries

Simul Justus et Peccator

[PLEASE NOTE: Much of the following material has been mined from various places including the Christian Publication Resource Foundation, without referencing the actual source. Therefore, the following excerpts are provided simply because they are helpful for understanding the related issues.]

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To one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is reckoned as righteousness. –Romans 4:5

How is the Christian to see himself in this world?

“Simul Justus et Peccator” “At the same time righteous and a sinner”. Justification is forensic. In Christ, we are declared, counted, or reckoned to be righteous when God imputes the righteousness of Christ (an “alien righteousness”) to our account. Christ’s righteousness ascribed to the redeemed individual without their personal merit. We are declared righteous in Christ, it is imputed to us — it is counted as ours … not infused in us. We are counted righteous in God’s eyes because of Christ. But this does not make us righteous in ourselves. That will only happen at our glorification when Christ transforms these bodies to be sealed in righteousness. Justifying righteousness is something which always resides in the Person of Christ alone. The imputation of this “alien” righteousness is the only means by which man can be acceptable to God. As long as the Christian lives, he is guilty in himself, but “in Christ” he is righteous and accounted precious.

The Council of Trent itself reveals that Rome considered Luther’s Simul Justus et Peccator to be a most serious threat to the traditional teaching of the Catholic church. The Roman Church contended that “justification” means making a man righteous in his own person. The Catholic reasons, “How can God pronounce a man to be righteous in His sight unless he is actually righteous?” He therefore thinks that a man must be born again and transformed before he can have right standing with God. In this system of thought, a man can have no real assurance of justification, for he can never be sure whether the Holy Spirit has made him righteous enough to be accepted of God.

Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is his. It is an alien righteousness because it came from without, and now it is in a foreign land. It does not belong here; it is an alien righteousness. In Latin, we call it Simul Justus et Peccator: simul, simultaneously; justus, just; et, and; peccator, sinful. That is me – simultaneously righteous and sinful. That is my contribution to salvation — my sin! At the same time that I am a sinner, God sees me as righteous because of the blood of Jesus Christ. That is the message of outreach — it is the message of salvation.

Righteousness comes in two ways: Coram Deo (righteousness before God) or Coram Hominibus (before man). Instead of a development in righteousness based in the person, or an infusion of merit from the saints, a person is judged righteous before God because of the works of Christ. But, absent the perspective of God and the righteousness of Christ, based on one’s own merit—a Christian still looks like a sinner. The declaration involves God imputing to the believer’s “balance sheet” or account the alien righteousness of Christ. The believer is not declared righteous by virtue of his own merit, but on the basis of the merit of Christ. When united to Him, it is justification which becomes the foundation upon which the believer can stand with confidence Coram Dei. The believer has no cause to fear in the presence of God because of His acquittal. The believer has only and always to look to the finished work of Christ on the Cross and hear God’s declaration, “You are accepted.” Because of justification the believer does not fear God’s rejection because of the sin still present in his/her life. God does not look at the sin in our life except through the work of Christ. This tension is resolved in the Incarnate Christ, crucified and now risen for the life of the world.

Eternal life is Christ dwelling in His righteousness in the soul of the justified person. So eternal life is union with Jesus Christ. And the word for that union with him is faith. The sinner comes to him, rests in him, trusts in him, is one with him, abides with him; and this is life because it never ends. The united soul abides in the Vine eternally. Weakness, sin, proneness to sin never brings separation, but only the Father’s pruning, which cements the union even and ever tighter.

The Judge of all the earth declares us “not guilty” when we believe because Christ was pronounced “guilty” for us on the cross. We are not first made righteous, then declared righteous; we are declared to be righteous by grace through faith in Christ, then made righteous! When we believe, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us ‘as if’ it was our own. However, it is HIS righteousness, that is why Paul says in Romans 1:17 that there is a righteousness that has been revealed from God, a righteousness not of our own, but a righteousness revealed from God and freely given to those who do not work, but to those who believe. In light of the goodness and graciousness of God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, we should daily repent of our own self-righteousness (our works), The words imply a declaration and pronouncement from the divine court of the believer’s right standing with God. “Justification” in itself does not mean a change in the man, but a declaration of how he appears in God’s sight.

Through faith we run to Christ and hold fast to Him, who satisfied the law on our behalf (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:10-13). In this way, we are accounted righteous in the sight of God through faith alone, without doing the works of the law. We are Simul Justus et Peccator.

Luther recognized that even in a state of regeneration the believer still lives in the world and still in fact does commit acts of sin. There is no attempt to redefine sin to make it anything less than what it is. Rather there is a stark recognition of the dialectic of the Christian’s acceptance before God and the fact that he still sins. Luther’s phrase to describe this condition was that the state of the Christian between regeneration and ultimate glorification is Simul Justus et Peccator, at once just (or justified) and sinner. This is not a condition that will ever be transcended in this life. Rather, the believer must always rely on the finished work of Christ for his/her acceptance before God.

Note the helpful definition given by the Westminster Confession

“Those whom, God effectually calls he also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God” – WCF Ch 11

Our “iniquities are forgiven,” “sins are covered,” “the Lord does not reckon sin against us.” Romans 4:5-8

We fully affirm the following with John Knox, Scots Confession 15

“We confess and acknowledge that the law of God is most just, equal, holy, and perfect, commanding those things which, when perfectly done, can give life and bring man to eternal felicity; but our nature is so corrupt, weak, and imperfect, that we are never able perfectly to fulfill the works of the law. Even after we are reborn, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth of God is not in us. It is therefore essential for us to lay hold on Christ Jesus, in his righteousness and his atonement, since he is the end and consummation of the Law and since it is by him that we are set at liberty so that the curse of God may not fall upon us, even though we do not fulfill the Law in all points. For as God the Father beholds us in the body of his Son Christ Jesus, he accepts our imperfect obedience as if it were perfect, and covers our works, which are defiled with many stains, with the righteousness of his Son. We do not mean that we are so set at liberty that we owe no obedience to the Law–for we have already acknowledged its place–but we affirm that no man on earth, with the sole exception of Christ Jesus, has given, gives, or shall give in action that obedience to the Law which the Law requires. When we have done all things, we must fall down and unfeignedly confess that we are unprofitable servants. Therefore, whoever boasts of the merits of his own works or puts his trust in works of supererogation, boasts of what does not exist, and puts his trust in damnable idolatry.”