Category Archives: Assurance

“Assurance produces true humility” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Assurance produces true humility. Christian assurance is not self-assurance and self-confidence.

It is the reverse: confidence in our Father, trust in Christ as our Savior, and joy in the Spirit as the Spirit of sonship, seal of grace, and earnest of our inheritance as sons and daughters of God.

When these are the hallmarks of our lives, then the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has come home to us in full measure.

And that, surely, is one of the great needs of our times.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 226.

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“What are the implications of union with Christ?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“What are the implications of union with Christ? In essence this:

Through our union with Him in His death we are set free from the penalty of our guilt, which He has paid for us;

In union with Him in His resurrection a complete, final, and irreversible righteousness is ours;

In union with Him in His death and resurrection we have been set free from the reign of sin.

Yet we remain sinners in ourselves. Sin continues to indwell us;

Only when our regeneration comes to further flowering beyond this life will we be free from sin’s presence.

These distinctions are vital. While guilt is gone and the reign of sin has ended, sin continues to indwell us and to beset us.

It still has the potential to deceive us and to allure us. Once we understand this, we will not confuse the ongoing presence of sin with the absence of new life in us.

Without that stability in our understanding, our assurance will be liable to ebb and flow.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 218–219.

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“It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from His gracious person.

It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him. Nor is it for us.

In some ways the Marrow Controversy resolved itself into a theological version of the parable of the waiting father and his two sons. (Luke 15:11-32)

The antinomian prodigal when awakened was tempted to legalism: ‘I will go and be a slave in my father’s house and thus perhaps gain grace in his eyes.’

But he was bathed in his father’s grace and set free to live as an obedient son.

The legalistic older brother never tasted his father’s grace. Because of his legalism he had never been able to enjoy the privileges of the father’s house.

Between them stood the father offering free grace to both, without prior qualifications in either.

Had the older brother embraced his father, he would have found grace that would make every duty a delight and dissolve the hardness of his servile heart.

Had that been the case, his once antinomian brother would surely have felt free to come out to him as his father had done, and say:

‘Isn’t the grace we have been shown and given simply amazing? Let us forevermore live in obedience to every wish of our gracious father!’

And arm in arm they could have gone in to dance at the party, sons and brothers together, a glorious testimony to the father’s love.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 173-174.

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“Our safety lieth in God’s immutability” by Thomas Manton

“The Lord is unchangeable in holiness and glory. He is a sun that shineth always with a like brightness.

God, and all that is in God, is unchangeable; for this is an attribute that, like a silken string through a chain of pearl, runneth through all the rest:

His mercy is unchangeable, ‘His mercy endureth forever,’ (Ps. 100:5).

So His strength, and therefore He is called ‘The Rock of ages,’ (Isa. 36:4).

So His counsel, Mutat sententiam, sed non decretum (as Bradwardine); He may change His sentence, the outward threatening or promise, but not His inward decree; He may will a change, but not change His will.

So His love is immutable; His heart is the same to us in the diversity of outward conditions: we are changed in estate and opinion, but God, He is not changed.

Well, then,—

1. The more mutable you are, the less you are like God. Oh! how should you loathe yourselves when you are so fickle in your purposes, so changeable in your resolutions!

God is immutably holy, but you have a heart that loveth to wander. He is always the same, but you are soon removed, (Gal. 1:6); ‘soon shaken in mind,’(2 Thess. 2:2); whirried with every blast, (Eph. 4:14), borne down with every new emergency and temptation.

The more you do ‘continue in the good that you have learned and been assured of,’ (2 Tim. 3:14), the more do you resemble the divine perfection.

2. Go to Him to establish and settle your spirits. God, that is unchangeable in Himself, can bring you into an immutable estate of grace, against which all the gates of hell cannot prevail; therefore be not quiet, till you have gotten such gifts from him as are without repentance, the fruits of eternal grace, and the pledges of eternal glory.

3. Carry yourselves to Him as unto an immutable good; in the greatest change of things see Him always the same: when there is little in the creature, there is as much in God as ever: (Ps. 102:26-27), ‘They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; they shall all wax old as a garment: Thou art the same for ever, and Thy years have no end.’

All creatures vanish, not only like a piece of cloth, but like a garment. Cloth would rot of itself, or be eaten out by moths; but a garment is worn and wasted every day.

But God doth not change; there is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity; the arm of mercy is not dried up, nor do His bowels of love waste and spend themselves.

And truly this is the church’s comfort in the saddest condition, that however the face of the creatures be changed to them, God will be still the same. It is said somewhere, that ‘the name of God is as an ointment poured out.’ (Song of Solomon 1:3)

Certainly this name of God’s immutability is as an ointment poured out, the best cordial to refresh a fainting soul. When the Israelites were in distress, all the letters of credence that God would give Moses were those, (Exod. 3:14), ‘I AM that I AM hath sent me unto you.’

That was comfort enough to the Israelites, that their God remained in the same tenor and glory of the divine essence; He could still say I AM. With God is no change, no past or present; He remaineth in the same indivisible point of eternity; and therefore saith, I AM.

So the prophet (Malachi 3:6), ἔγω κύριος, οὐκ ἠλλοίωμαι, ‘I am the Lord, that change not’ (or am not changed); ‘therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’

Our safety lieth in God’s immutability; we cannot perish utterly, because He cannot change.”

–Thomas Manton, “Commentary on the Epistle of James,” The Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 4 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1871/2020), 4: 113-114. Manton is commenting on James 1:17.

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“In Adam by nature, in Christ by grace” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Union with Christ in His death and resurrection is the element of union which Paul most extensively expounds. But the principle of Romans 6 is a wider one: if we are united to Christ, then we are united to Him at all points of His activity on our behalf.

We share in His death (we were baptized into His death), in His burial (we were buried with Him by baptism), in His resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ), in His ascension (we have been raised with Him), in His heavenly session (we sit with Him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God) and we will share in His promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-4).

This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology. It is rooted, not in our humanity and our achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with Him.

Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.

This general approach is well illustrated by Paul’s key statements: ‘We know that our old self [anthropos, man] was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin’ (Rom. 6:6).’

What is here said to be accomplished already is the central element in sanctification (we are no longer slaves to sin, we are servants of God). It is accomplished by doing away with ‘the body of sin’– an expression which may refer in the context of Romans 6 to the physical body, or more generally, to bodily existence as the sphere in which sin’s dominion is expressed.

In Christ, sin’s status is changed from that of citizen with full rights to that of an illegal alien (with no rights– but for all that, not easily deported!). The foundation of this is what Paul describes as the co-crucifixion of the old man with Christ.

The ‘old man’ (ho palaios anthropos) has often been taken to refer to what I was before I became a Christian (‘my former self’). That is undoubtedly implied in the expression.

But Paul has larger canvas in mind here. He has been expounding the fact that men and women are ‘in Adam’ or ‘in Christ’. To be ‘in Adam’ is to belong to the world of the ‘old man’, to be ‘in the flesh”, a slave to sin and liable to death and judgment.

From this perspective, Paul sees Jesus Christ as the second man, the last Adam, the new man. He is the first of a new race of humans who share in His righteousness and holiness. He is the first of the new age, the head of the new humanity, through His resurrection (compare 1 Cor. 15:45-49). By grace and faith we belong to Him.

We too share in the new humanity. If we are in Christ, we share in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), we are no longer ‘in the flesh’, but ‘in the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:9). The life and power of the resurrection age have already begun to make their presence felt in our life.

What is so significant here is the transformation this brings to the Christian’s self-understanding. We do not see ourselves merely within the limited vision of our own biographies: volume one, the life of slavery in sin; volume two, the life of freedom from sin.

We see ourselves set in a cosmic context: in Adam by nature, in Christ by grace; in the old humanity by sin, in the new humanity by regeneration. Once we lived under sin’s reign; now we have died to its rule and are living to God.

Our regeneration is an event of this magnitude! Paul searches for a parallel to such an exercise of divine power and finds it in two places: the creation of the world (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17) and the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Eph. 1:19-20).

Against this background Paul urges radical consecration and sanctification (Rom. 6:11-14). In essence his position is that the magnitude of what God has accomplished is itself an adequate foundation and motivation for the radical holiness which should characterize our lives.

In actual practice, it is the dawning of this perspective which is the groundwork for all practical sanctification.

Hence Paul’s emphasis on “knowing’ that this is the case (Rom. 6:3, 6, 9), and his summons to believers to ‘consider’ themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).

‘Consider’ (‘reckon’, KJV) does not mean to bring this situation into being by special act of faith. It means to recognize that such a situation exists and to act accordingly.

Sanctification is therefore the consistent practical outworking of what it means to belong to the new creation in Christ. That is why so much of the New Testament’s response to pastoral and personal problems in the early church was: ‘Do you not know what is true of you in Christ?‘ (Rom. 6:3, 16; 7:1; 1 Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 19; 9:13, 24).

Live by the Spirit’s power in a manner that is consistent with that! If you have died with Christ to sin and been raised into new life, quit sinning and live in a new way.

If, when Christ appears, you will appear with Him and be like Him, then live now in a manner that conforms to your final destiny!”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “Christian Spirituality: The Reformed View of Sanctification,” in Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 534-536.

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“What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“A misshapen understanding of the gospel impacts the spirit of a minister and affects the style and atmosphere of his preaching and of all his pastoral ministry. What the Marrow Controversy actually unveiled was the possibility of acknowledging the truth of each discrete chapter of the Confession of Faith without those truths being animated by a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel.

The metallic spirit this inevitably produced would then in turn run through one’s preaching and pastoral ministry. There is a kind of orthodoxy in which the several loci of systematic theology, or stages of redemptive history, are all in place, but that lacks the life of the whole, just as arms, legs, torso, head, feet, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth may all be present—while the body as a whole lacks energy and perhaps life itself. The form of godliness is not the same as its power.

Confessional orthodoxy coupled with a view of a heavenly Father whose love is conditioned on his Son’s suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel.

Why? Because it leads to a restriction in the heart of the preacher that matches the restriction he sees in the heart of God! Such a heart may have undergone the process that Alexander Whyte described as “sanctification by vinegar.” If so, it tends to be unyielding and sharp edged. A ministry rooted in conditional grace has that effect; it produces orthodoxy without love for sinners and a conditional and conditioned love for the righteous.

In the nature of the case there is a kind of psychological tendency for Christians to associate the character of God with the character of the preaching they hear—not only the substance and content of it but the spirit and atmosphere it conveys. After all, preaching is the way in which they publicly and frequently “hear the Word of God.”

But what if there is a distortion in the understanding and heart of the preacher that subtly distorts his exposition of God’s character? What if his narrow heart pollutes the atmosphere in which he explains the heart of the Father?

When people are broken by sin, full of shame, feeling weak, conscious of failure, ashamed of themselves, and in need of counsel, they do not want to listen to preaching that expounds the truth of the discrete doctrines of their church’s confession of faith but fails to connect them with the marrow of gospel grace and the Father of infinite love for sinners. It is a gracious and loving Father they need to know.

Such, alas, were precisely the kind of pastors who gathered round poor Job and assaulted him with their doctrine that God was against him. From their mouths issue some of the most sublime discrete theological statements anywhere to be found in the pages of the Bible.

But they had disconnected them from the life-giving love of God for his needy and broken child Job. And so they too “exchanged the truth about God for the lie.” (Romans 1:25)

This will not do in gospel ministry. Rather, pastors need themselves to have been mastered by the unconditional grace of God. From them the vestiges of a self-defensive pharisaism and conditionalism need to be torn. Like the Savior they need to handle bruised reeds without breaking them and dimly burning wicks without quenching them.

What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace; someone who sees God bringing prodigals home and runs to embrace them, weeps for joy that they have been brought home, and kisses them—asking no questions—no qualifications or conditions required?

In these respects the Marrow Controversy has a perennial relevance to all Christians. But it has a special relevance to gospel preachers and pastors.

It raises the question: What kind of pastor am I to my people? Am I like the father?

Or am I, perhaps, like the elder brother who would not, does not, will not, and ultimately cannot join the party?

After all, how can an elder brother be comfortable at a party when he still wonders if his once-prodigal brother has been sorry enough for his sin and sufficiently ashamed of his faults?”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 71-73.

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“The matchless love the Father has for us” by Sinclair Ferguson

“When and how did God show His grace to us? Were there conditions to be met in us prior to Christ’s grace? Clearly not, since it was:

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. (Romans 5:6-10)

What conditions were met in us in order for God to send His only Son into the world to die for sinners? None. Indeed there can be none.

The Scriptures affirm that the love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ. That is the emphasis of John 3:16. God (i.e., the Father, since here “God” is the antecedent of “his … Son”) so loved the world that He gave His Son for us. The Son does not need to do anything to persuade the Father to love us; He already loves us!

The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it He may not actually love us at all.

He needs to be “paid” a ransom price in order to love us. But if it has required the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us (“Father, if I die, will you begin to love them?”), how can we ever be sure the Father Himself loves us—“deep down” with an everlasting love?

True, the Father does not love us because we are sinners; but He does love us even though we are sinners. He loved us before Christ died for us. It is because He loves us that Christ died for us!

We must not confuse the truth that our sins are forgiven only because of the death and resurrection of Christ with the very different notion that God loves us only because of the death and resurrection of Christ.

No, He loved us from the first of time and therefore sent His Son, who came willingly, to die for us. In this way a right understanding of the work of Christ leads to a true understanding of the matchless love the Father has for us.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 65–66.

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