RFPA Update newsletter - Winter 2019


  • Reaching the broadest possible audience
  • Theological Book Network
  • "A teaching aid on the Canons"
  • Gold star membership
  • RFPA classics reprinted
  • God's Everlasting Covenant of Grace published in Spanish
  • Coming Soon! Jehovah's Mighty Acts
  • Coming Soon! Letters from Katie Luther: A Novel
  • Seeking donors
  • His Mercy Endureth Forever reviews
  • RAM conference
  • Iron Sharpens Iron pastors' luncheon


Book Review: Walking in the Way of Love, volume 2

Walking in the Way of Love: A Practical Commentary on 1 Corinthians for the Believer, volume 2, by Nathan J. Langerak. Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2019. 544 pages, hardcover. [Reviewed by Rev. Clayton Spronk]

Rare are the biblical commentaries that provide sound theological instruction. Rarer still are the commentaries that provide sound theological instruction and helpful application to the faith and life of the church today. Even a little of both of these oft-missing ingredients would be enough to recommend a commentary to serious students of scripture. That this volume offers a feast of accurate explanations of the truth of scripture and appropriate applications means that I must highly recommend it to the reader.


Book Review: Grace and Assurance

Grace and Assurance: The Message of the Canons of Dordt, by Martyn McGeown. Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2018. Hardcover. 384 pages. [Reviewed by Derrick Span, a member of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church]

Rev. Martyn McGeown's book, entitled Grace and Assurance: The Message of the Canons of Dordt, emphasizes the necessity, as Reformed Christians, to thoroughly understand our creeds and confessions. These creeds and confessions exhibit what heresies our fathers fought against and what they clung to with ardent zeal. We might ask what value there is in reading a book about the Canons, or we might object that the Canons, Belgic Confession, and Heidelberg Catechism are only creeds. Should we be spending our time studying these old creeds and confessions when we have big enough problems understanding our Bible? Are we not supposed to hold to sola scriptura? While these areas of concern are essential, they express a misunderstanding that we cannot learn from those who came before us. We must be careful in speaking in that way. Instead, we ought to read and listen to those who fought for the truth, seeking the truth from them. By hearing them, we will be better equipped to read God’s word through an informed outlook. So I encourage the use of this book not just for informing us of what our fathers taught, but as a means to examine what we hold to and whether we maintain the understanding of God’s word. To encourage this mindset, a brief explanation of the book is necessary.

The author’s explanation of the Canons begins with the intent, namely to expose Arminianism as erroneous from the ground up. To accomplish this purpose, our fathers had to explain many different doctrines as clearly as possible to leave no room for Arminianism to stand. Where would they begin? Would they start with the main point that Arminian fought against, i.e., reprobation? As a reading of the Canons would illustrate, they did not begin with reprobation; in fact, they did not for some time. The Canons began with who God is and who man is in relation to God. McGeown and our forefathers teach us a crucial bit of wisdom by starting with God in their explanation.

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RFPA Update newsletter - Spring 2018

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The articles in this issue are:
  • "Richly blessed by those books"
  • Keeping RFPA titles in print: Amazing Cross, Behold, He Cometh, Portraits of Faithful Saints
  • Two special Reformation Issues of the Standard Bearer
  • New Releases: Walking in the Way of Love, T is for Tree, Studies in Hebrews
  • Children's books division news
  • What are the next books being printed?: Here We Stand: Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, The Belgic Confession commentary (volume 1), Grace and Assurance: The Message of the Canons of Dordt
  • Blog news
  • Radio Interviews
  • Test your foreign language skills!
  • Book Review: Knowing God in the Last Days: Commentary on 2 Peter
  • Reader feedback


The Charge of Antinomianism (9): Dismissing it

The charge of antinomianism coming from the quarters of the federal vision and its supporters must be rejected and dismissed, but also countered.

It should hearten the Reformed church and believer that they have even drawn the charge. If men like Mark Jones, Richard Gaffin, and the rest of the federal vision men charge the truth with antinomianism and try to dismiss the truth with a name, they do to us Reformed believers nothing more than what the opponents of Christ did to him when they called him a Nazarene, a glutton, a winebibber, and a blasphemer. Such a charge from such men is a glorious mark of distinction.

Reformed preachers, consistories, and congregations must not be afraid of the charge from these quarters. They must not play into the hand of these opponents of the truth by supposing that in the preaching of the truth of the unconditional covenant, justification by faith alone, and the rest of the doctrines of grace there lurks antinomianism, so that when this truth is preached the congregation and people of God will conclude that they now can live as they please. This is to be ashamed of the gospel, to distrust the work of the Spirit with that gospel, to doubt the power of God to make his people holy as the fruit and effect of his work to justify them, and to question the promise that those whom he justifies he also glorifies.

Having drawn the charge, the Reformed church, preacher, and believer must also dismiss it. The charge is nothing else but gross slander. The doctrine of the unconditional covenant and all the other doctrines of grace are no profane doctrines. They are not responsible for any worldliness, ungodliness of life, or wickedness in the church. When they are preached, preached emphatically, and often, there is not an incipient antinomianism that lurks beneath them, as though the believer when he hears these things preached says in his soul, “Thank God, now I can live however I please.” This is simply not the reaction of the believer and church of God to these doctrines. They induce thankfulness of life, holiness, and good works in believers. These doctrines do not make men careless and profane, even if careless and profane men may abuse them as excuses for their wickedness. I will grant that the believer’s careless and profane old man will take the doctrines and use them as excuses to sin. But that is not the fault of the doctrines, but of the old man. That is not the reaction of the believer, but of sin in him in the form of the old man of sin, and he must be crucified daily.

These doctrines are not the cause of ungodliness, and neither is antinomianism lurking within them. On the contrary, these doctrines are according to godliness, so that where they are taught and believed, holiness of life is the inevitable fruit. The faith that justifies without its works is the faith whereby the believer is implanted into Christ. It is impossible that this faith be unfruitful any more than Christ, the root, can be unfruitful. It is really a charge against Christ, the root of faith, that if he justifies the believer without works, he is so impotent that he is unable so to move the believer to good works and that he is only half a Christ. This the Heidelberg Catechism denies in its teaching about the necessity of good works in the life of the believer. The necessity is not that good works are the way to salvation, that the believer must labor for his salvation, or that he must be scared for his hide. The necessity is Christ and the renewing work of the Spirit. The one he justifies and saves wholly without his works, he also makes a new creature. He is not a careless and profane Christ, so that those who are implanted into him by faith are no careless and profane Christians. He uses all kinds of means for this, including the preaching of this reality and the real and right preaching of the law of God.

Rather, it is the doctrine of the conditional covenant—and general grace—that not only is wicked because it makes salvation dependent on a sinner’s works, but also leads to wickedness. The doctrine of the conditional covenant, especially in the form taught by the federal vision, is a wicked doctrine. It is the wickedness of works’ righteousness about which the apostle proclaims that its teachers are anathema and fallen from Christ.

The doctrine of a conditional covenant also leads to wickedness. It is no surprise that the Pharisees, who were scrupulous about how many steps one took on the Sabbath, whether someone ate corn out of a field, or hypocritically were incensed when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, while they would pull their ox out of ditch, were also overrun with divorce and remarriage, so that Jesus repeatedly taught about this matter and accused them of covetousness. It is not surprising that Rome, who was loud in its charge of antinomianism against the reformers, was an Augean stable of every sort of vice and wickedness.

The reality is that a sinner cannot be saved by his works—or any condition—and there is no assurance of salvation in that way. One who attempts to be righteous by works cannot escape the condemning word of God, “Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the law to do them.” God will see to it that those who despise the righteousness of Christ as the only ground of salvation and eternal life and who despise faith, faith alone in Jesus Christ, as the only way to salvation and fellowship with the Father have no peace. Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and introduction into his grace wherein we stand. Apart from this justifying faith there is no peace or salvation. The only way to escape that cursing word of God is by faith in Jesus Christ and shelter in him who was cursed for us. Either Christ was cursed for us, or a man must bear that curse himself. The end result of this condemning word of God is that man tries to escape the law by illegitimate means. All who try must deny the law. They must teach that the law is in fact doable by a man through the Spirit and for salvation. In order to teach that, one of two things must be done: either the law must be made a mere outward code that man is capable of doing while his heart remains wicked, or they must teach that the law is not to be performed perfectly but only requires that a man do what is in him, which God will graciously accept. Legalism destroys the law and the doctrines of grace. As Paul repeatedly pointed out about the doctrine of grace, “We establish the law.”

Either that or the teaching of works leads to despair of salvation. A man cannot be righteous before God by his works. In his great parable on righteousness, Jesus sent the Pharisee home unjustified, and so are all those who trust in their works, no matter how little. They are unjustified. They are unjustified because God will only justify the ungodly, that is, the man who by faith confesses that he is utterly without righteousness, indeed incapable of righteousness, and that he has no works on which he will rely. That man alone is justified. The man who trusts in his works is unjustified. That must lead to despair. As scripture teaches, despair is the great motive of wickedness: let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

In the face of the federal vision’s gross denial of justification by faith alone, its slander of the unconditional covenant, and its attempts to make works the ground of the believer’s salvation, the Reformed minister, believer, and church must all be willing to draw the charge of antinomianism and be able to point out how it is false and evil. The law and the works of the law, including the works of faith, have absolutely no place as either a part or as the whole of the believer’s righteousness before God, as the ground of his communion with God, or as the way to his salvation, life, or the covenant. Works are not the way to life, salvation, communion, or fellowship with God. The believer has communion with God by faith only because by that faith and without any works, and indeed as an ungodly man, God justifies him for Christ’s sake, forgives his sins, imputes Christ’s righteousness to him, declares him worthy of eternal life, and on that basis actually takes that man into his fellowship. God also sanctifies that man, separating him from the world and consecrating him to God in all good works as the way of life in his fellowship.


Previous posts in this series:


This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


The Charge of Antinomianism (8): Assurance by Works

The book by Mark Jones, purporting to be a tool to discover antinomianism in the preaching and teaching of ministers and in the faith of believers, turns out to be a full-blown attack on the doctrines of grace. This attack continues with his assault on the precious Reformed doctrine of assurance.

Because the Reformed faith teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and not by works, it gives assurance and comfort to the child of God. Such is the close and necessary connection between the truth and assurance, that the Heidelberg Catechism treats all of Reformed doctrine from the viewpoint of the subjective, experiential comfort the believer has in that doctrine. Belonging to that comfort is the truth that while he is renewed by the Spirit of Christ and lives unto God in all good works, those works are not the ground of his salvation. They are the fruits of faith. So essential is assurance to the child of God that without it there is no Christian life. The very concern that Mark Jones purportedly has with his book is holiness. But true holiness is the fruit of assurance. The Canons of Dordt say in 5.12, “This certainty of perseverance…is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of a solid rejoicing in God.”

The faith that produces fruits from the living root, Jesus Christ, is assurance. Assurance is of the essence of faith. That assurance belongs to the essence of faith is a fact that is so clear in the Reformed creeds that a man who contradicts it cannot be taken seriously as a student and adherent to the Reformed creeds. The Heidelberg Catechism says, “True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed in his Word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart” (A 21). Twice the creed says faith is assurance. It is assured knowledge, and it is assured confidence. A man who denies that assurance is of the essence of faith is left with no faith. The Canons say nothing different in head 5. Assurance is obtained “according to the measure of their [true believers] faith.” It “springs from faith in God’s promises.” The Canons call it “the full assurance of faith” (9–11), which does not mean that faith sometimes has less and sometimes more assurance, or the obnoxious notion that believers must go on a quest for the full assurance of faith, but it means that faith itself, according to its very nature, is fully assured and has no doubt.

That the creeds also connect works with faith is unsurprising, because the man who believes also performs good works. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, good works are the fruits of faith that a man observes in himself (A 86) and that proceed from a “serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works” (Canons 5.10). What is that but faith in a man and what else in a man except faith can even perceive these things? The creeds do not lodge assurance in works or make assurance dependent on those works, but faith is assurance worked in believers by the Holy Ghost, and the creeds make that assurance the essence of faith to which works are a kind of assistant.

This clear fact Mark Jones is bold to deny. He favorably quotes Joel Beeke’s view of assurance, which is based on his study of the Puritan theology of doubt: “Scholars who assert that assurance is essential to faith in Christ and that sanctification cannot forward assurance in any way are guilty…of separating Christ and his benefits.”[1] This statement is not altogether straightforward. It is not a matter of asserting that assurance is essential to faith AND saying that sanctification cannot forward assurance. Rather, one who denies that assurance is of the essence of faith must necessarily find assurance elsewhere. If assurance is not in faith, the issue is not whether sanctification can forward assurance; but since assurance is not in faith, must it necessarily be found in works? Jones says therefore that “faith and the full assurance of faith are not strictly synonymous.”

He tries to find support for this fiction, too, in the creeds. He says, “The Westminster divines, by noting that infallible assurance does not belong to the essence of faith (18.3), affirm the distinction between adherence and assurance.” This distinction between adherence and assurance is an invention by the theologians of doubt. By means of it these theologians “differentiate between the faith of adherence to Christ and the faith of assurance (evidence) in Christ, whereby the believer knows that Christ has died specifically for him.”

The distinction is a bald contradiction of the description of faith in the Heidelberg Catechism as “assured confidence….that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits” (A 21). This is not one aspect of faith that one might arrive at after years of doubt, but it is faith, the faith that a small child has and that every believer has.

The distinction between adherence and assurance and the blatant denial that assurance does not belong to the essence of faith also do not find any support in the Westminster Confession of Faith 18.3, which Mark Jones cites to prop up this distinction. That part of the creed reads: “This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be a partaker thereof.” Contra Mark Jones the article does not flatly say that infallible assurance does not belong to the essence of faith. Rather, the article affirms that infallible assurance belongs to the essence of faith. It says that infallible assurance, however, does not “so belong” to the essence of faith, thereby noting an exception that “may” be the case, such as when the miserable preacher of the poor believer constantly tells him that it is pious to doubt, that “mere faith” is not enough, that he could not possibly be assured yet, and that to suppose so is spiritual pride. The exception noted is nothing different from what the Canons affirm in 5.11: “the scripture moreover testifies that believers in this life have to struggle with various carnal doubts, and that under grievous temptation they are not always sensible of this full assurance of faith.” The problem is not faith or the fact that faith is not “full assurance.” That problem is the believer and his carnal doubts. The Reformed creeds testify that faith is assurance. They do that in harmony with scripture: what else could the scriptures mean when they say in Romans 5:1, “being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”? Assurance is by faith, specifically being justified by faith, that gives peace—real, total, subjective peace—with the living God in the conscience of the believer.

Denying that assurance is of the essence of faith, it is disingenuous of Jones to defend his doctrine by saying that “a focus on good works as a ground for assurance of faith does not necessarily turn the believer away from Christ” or that “that God is gracious and has given his people many means by which they may have this infallible assurance of salvation.”[2] He makes it seem as though he is only presenting works as one of the grounds of assurance. Along with all the theologians of doubt, though, he denies the essential thing, that faith is assurance. Faith as to its very nature is full assurance. Because he denies this, he and the rest of the theologians of doubt have to concoct a whole other ground of assurance. If faith is not assurance—faith as such, faith as to its nature—assurance must come from works. Indeed, faith itself becomes a work upon which assurance is based. He sees both faith and works as conditions, or acts of man, upon which man’s salvation depends, so that even when he says “faith,” he makes it a work. Faith as a work is the means of assurance, not faith as such is assurance.

To deny that assurance is of the essence of faith also removes from assurance its essential and first part, namely, that the believer’s sins are forgiven by faith only. Without the truth of justification by faith alone the assurance of salvation is impossible, because being justified by faith alone the believer has peace with God. That assured peace with God by faith alone includes the knowledge that Christ died for me to forgive my sins, that all my sins are forgiven for his sake, that God loves me, and that he loved me from all eternity. Only on this basis can the believer even consider his works, which are also polluted and defiled by sin. If assurance is not of the essence of faith, one must necessarily be assured of his forgiveness by his works too. It is necessary in order to speak of works in connection with assurance that the first part, assurance as belonging to the essence of faith, be established.

This theology of doubt and assurance by works, then, are one with the rest of Jones’ theology. One who espouses justification by works, or is friendly with those who do, of necessity must deny that assurance is of the essence of faith in order to lodge assurance in works. But assurance by works is no assurance at all.

Such a teacher of works, and foe of grace, has no business telling Reformed believers who the antinomians are. His charge of antinomianism is false and can safely be dismissed.

To that I will turn next time.


[1] Jones, Antinomianism, 99.

[2] Ibid., 108.


Previous posts in this series:


This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Next article in series: The Charge of Antinomianism (9): Dismissing it


Gospel Truth of Justification (6): Polemical and Necessary

Ending last time with the fact that the author of Gospel Truth of Justification both necessarily and properly engages in polemics, we now briefly consider the heresies refuted and contradicted.

God used the sixteenth-century Reformation to deliver his church from the deadly heresy of justification partly by faith in Christ and partly by the good works of the sinner. This heresy Rome vigorously maintains to this day. Not many years after the Reformation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone again came under attack by James Arminius and his followers. Originating within the Reformed churches and more subtle than the Romish corruption of justification, the Arminian position is “justification by work. The work is faith” (p. 10). Even worse,

“works of obedience to the law are not excluded from the Arminian doctrine of justification. As the Canons remark, the Arminian doctrine of justification is that God “regards faith itself and the obedience of faith” as the sinner’s righteousness. The “obedience of faith” is the good works that faith performs.

Therefore, justification for Arminianism is by works, with a vengeance. Arminianism’s doctrine is worse than Rome’s (p. 10).

The current threat to the doctrine of justification by faith alone in “conservative” Reformed churches is the federal vision, which bears the marks of both the Romish and Arminian subversion of justification. Federal vision theologians profess a “concern” for holiness. Their fear is antinomianism. Engelsma explains leading federal vision proponent Norman Shepherd’s solution:

Already in the preface of his book [The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism], Shepherd is wondering “where and how,” in light of the Reformed faith’s confession of salvation by grace, “does human responsibility enter in?” “Human responsibility” for Shepherd is conditions that humans must perform and upon which the covenant of God and its promises of salvation depend: “conditions were, indeed, attached to the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham.” Only a conditional covenant with a conditional salvation can ward off the threatening evil of antinomianism. Only the preaching of a conditional covenant enables the Reformed preacher to “preach grace without being antinomian” (p. 431).

A conditional covenant means conditional justification. Writes Shepherd, “Faith, repentance, obedience, and perseverance are indispensable to the enjoyment of these blessings [of the new covenant]. They are conditions” (The Call of Grace, p. 50). Explaining Shepherd’s position, Engelsma writes,

Faith and its works are the condition fulfilled by the sinner in order to receive and retain his justification, because faith and its good works are the “condition to be met for the fulfillment of [the] promise [of the covenant]" (p. 277).

Engelsma views the federal vision as “the most serious assault on the gospel of justification probably since the time of the Reformation.” Adding to the seriousness of this threat is the fact that “the enemy is within. It appears, launches its attack, and is protected and defended within the Reformed and Presbyterian churches that have a reputation for orthodoxy, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America among others” (p. xiv). Elsewhere in the book, Engelsma identifies the United Reformed Churches who “have had advocates of the federal vision arise in their bosom without disciplining the heretics, indeed in at least one instance exonerating the federal visionist” (pp. 480, 481).

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The Charge of Antinomianism (7): A Dangerous Distinction

Distinctions must sometimes be made in theology. They are good and useful to understand and explain theological terms. For instance, the distinction between the will of God’s decree and the will of his command explains how God summons all men everywhere to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and promises to all who do that they will be saved, and at the same time God wills eternally the damnation of the reprobate who hear that preaching of Christ. The distinction explains the Reformed faith’s rejection of the well-meant gospel offer, which teaches that God offers salvation to all who hear the gospel and sincerely intends and desires the salvation of all who hear. The Reformed faith charges that this teaches two entirely contradictory wills in God.

Some distinctions are bad and are used to undermine the truth; for instance, the distinction between the image of God in the broader and narrower sense. In the broader sense the image of God is defined as man’s rationality and will, and in the narrower sense the image is defined as knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. This distinction is bad because the theologians that use it teach that man lost the image in the narrower sense and retains the image in the broader sense. The result is that all men retain the image of God. Because the image of God is good, all men have some spark of good in them. Thus the Reformed doctrine of total depravity is denied. Because of this denial the distinction must be jettisoned.

Mark Jones introduces another such bad distinction in his book: “the distinction between God’s benevolent love and his complacent love has a rich Reformed pedigree.” “Benevolent love” refers to God’s love whereby his chose his people from eternity. “Complacent love” refers to his delight in the good in his people. The questions the distinction was supposedly intended to answer are, “Does God love us more because of our obedience or less because of our disobedience…[does]…the holiness of saints ha[ve] any influence on God’s love for them…and [is] God pleased or displeased with his saints when they obey or disobey his law?”

The problem with the distinction is that while it has a Reformed pedigree in the sense that many Reformed divines taught the distinction, it is equally true that there is almost no agreement on the actual definition, as Jones admits: “Reformed divines have not always expressed these distinctions in the same way.”[1] Besides the ones who made them were not content with only those distinctions, but distinguished and distinguished until there were so many distinctions that the love of God was sliced like a pie. Theologians have not only made many distinctions in the love of God, but also have made outright erroneous uses of these distinctions. For instance, they were used to teach a universal love of God for all men and as a ground for the universal offer of salvation: “so, too, the love of God for all humanity is seen in the death of his Son for our redemption. And finally, the general love of God for humanity is manifest in the universal calling of the gospel.”[2]

Furthermore, respected theologians have denied the distinction between God’s benevolent and complacent love, for instance John Gill. Herman Bavinck never mentioned it, and neither did Louis Berkhof. Heinrich Heppe, who gives the Reformed consensus, does not deal with it.

Among those who used the distinction, and whatever their other disagreements about it may have been, there was a universal consensus: “nonetheless, neither the distinction of categories nor the last category in itself indicates a change in God: for the amor complacentiae [love of complacence] follows creaturely actuality, not as an effect follows a cause, but as a consequence follows its antecedent—simply put, God delights in what he has made.”[3] What this means is that those who taught the distinction insisted that God does not change in his love nor do the deeds of man affect the love of God, but what is in man is the work of the love of God, and in that work God delights not as it is the work of man, but as his own work.

Although Mark Jones appeals to the distinction and insists upon its usefulness, he does with it what the Reformed theologians who taught it denied, that is, man’s works affect a change in God and in his love. Jones says, “We are surely correct also to understand that God’s complacent love for us has a direct correlation to our godliness.” And to make that emphatic he says, “In other words, God cannot help but love us more and more if we become more and more like him. Christians will receive ‘an increase of favor,’ the more we become like Christ.”[4]

To back up his doctrine with scripture, he turns John 14:21, 23 on its head and takes a word of great comfort and makes it the ground for the oppressive doctrine that man’s works are the ground of his deeper communion with God. He does that without any attempt at explaining the text, but only asserting that “Christ’s teaching in John 14:21, 23 confirms the point about varying degrees of communion,” that is, God loves and communes with some more and some less based on their works.

The text he cites as such clear proof of the distinction between the love of God’s benevolence and complacence has nothing to do with the distinction at all, and it was not in Christ’s mind when he spoke. In verse 21 Christ spoke of a mark whereby believers may be confirmed in the reality of their faith, namely, that they love Christ. Faith—that saves without love—loves Christ and out of that love keeps his word against all the wretched persecution, slander, and false doctrine of the ungodly world and apostate church to the loss of name, standing, job, friends, family, and life.

About these verses Luther said, “Therefore, says Christ, I will give you a sure sign by which the true Christians, who are in me and in whom I am, can be recognized, namely, the observance of my commandments…if you preach and profess freely and intrepidly; if you hazard property and honor, life and limb, for this; and if you love one another as heartily as I have taught and commanded you. This will be the test and proof of true faith in me.” About verse 23 Luther said, “Therefore Christ always contends against this [the devil’s tactic to have believers despair of God’s love] and arms us with the weapons of defense by assuring us that he himself vouches for the Father’s love. If we believe in him and are in his love, there is no longer any anger in heaven or on earth; there is nothing but fatherly love and all goodness.” He called this “a beautiful and charming message. It costs us no hard labor, and no one need go on distant pilgrimages in search of it or torment himself with arduous works. It costs no more than what we have already in ourselves, namely, that our hearts adhere firmly to it in faith, that our lips make public confession of it, and that we show forth and prove our faith with love toward our neighbor.”[5] That is indeed a charming message. It contrasts sharply with the oppressive doctrine of works taught by Jones, who teaches men to work for the love, favor, and approval of God.

The way to deal with this distinction in the love of God is to dismiss it despite whatever pedigree it might have among Reformed theologians. It is unhelpful, unneeded, unscriptural, and dangerous. God does not change but is the same from eternity to eternity in his word and in all his perfections. With this truth he comforted sinning Jacob: I change not! (Mal. 3:6). Furthermore, God is not dependent on man, but is independent. Man does not affect God, but God affects man with his love, changes him, and moves him from misery to salvation. Salvation from beginning to end is one massive triumph of the unchanging love of God. The one legitimate question that the distinction sought to solve, namely, is God pleased or displeased with our sins? is easily solved without the distinction. God is displeased with the sins of his people exactly because he loves them; and exactly because he loves them with an unmerited and wholly gracious love, he overcomes their sins and brings them to repentance. He also delights in the good that he works in them and sanctifies their works with his grace.

Because Jones makes God’s love of men, especially in their experience and conscience, dependent on man’s works, this doctrine must necessarily affect his doctrine of assurance.

To that I will turn next time.


[1] Jones, Antinomianism, 84.

[2] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 2:564.

[3] Ibid., 568

[4] Ibid., 86–87.

[5] Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of John, in Luther’s Works (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1961), 24:146, 157.


Previous posts in this series:


This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Next article in series: Assurance by Works


The Charge of Antinomianism (6): Works, the Way to Salvation

Belonging to the effort to smear the truth of grace with the charge of antinomianism is the concerted effort to redefine the place of works in salvation. This begins with criticism of the centrality of justification in the salvation of sinners, as though emphasizing the doctrine will take away from the equal importance of preaching sanctification. This is a ploy. In reality sanctification cannot be preached properly apart from the right doctrine of justification. The one who will do good works must first understand that they are of no account for his righteousness and salvation before God. The Reformed creeds make this clear: “it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that, on the contrary, without it they would never do anything out of love of God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation” (Belgic Confession, article 24). The faith that works by love is first the faith that justifies without its works. Add to this the thought that any work that is performed to merit with God, earn with God, or achieve with God is mortal sin.

In his effort to teach a federal vision understanding of works, Mark Jones goes to great lengths to show how Reformed theologians taught the necessity of good works. Over against a real antinomian this is necessary. The Heidelberg Catechism uses such language in question 86: “why must we still do good works?” The issue is not the necessity of good works. The issue is how Jones describes that necessity of good works.

In his endorsement of Richard Gaffin’s book, Jones, more clearly than the book itself, summarizes the position espoused in it: “Spirit-wrought good works are not only the way of life, but also the way to life-salvation.”[1] He also uses the same language in his book Antinomianism: “Reformed theologians during the post-Reformation era were clear that good works (i.e., evangelical obedience) were not only the way of life, but also the way to life.”[2] His doctrine is that works are necessary as the way to life-salvation. He does not seem to realize that the two terms “way of life” and “way to life” are mutually exclusive. If works are the way of life, they are not the way to life, and if they are the way to life, they are not the way of life.

Part of Jones’ doctrine of works is also his ridicule of the idea that works are evidences of faith. After a long section in which he seeks to prove that works are necessary to salvation, he says, “So much, then, for good works merely evidencing faith.” He uses the term “merely” so that he does not have to condemn the position outright. But if works are necessary to salvation, this obviates the role of works as the evidence of faith and the fruits of faith and salvation. He contrasts the idea that works are evidence of faith with the idea that they are “necessary,” so as to make them virtually mutually exclusive. He also criticizes the idea that good works are fruits of thankfulness: “To insist that believers perform good works only as their thankful response to the triune God for all that he has done for them may give the impression that they are not actually necessary for salvation.”[3]

He must be aware that he is criticizing the entire approach to good works in the Heidelberg Catechism and its first answer to the question of why believers must do good works: “so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for his blessing and that he may be praised by us” (A 86). He must be aware that James demands that the believer justify his confession to have faith by his works, which James says is to “shew thee my faith by my works,” or to evidence faith (2:18). It is exactly the point of the Catechism and scripture by teaching that works are fruits of thankfulness that they are NOT necessary for salvation in the sense that they are “the way to life-salvation.” They are part of the gift of salvation to the believer, specifically the fruit of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in him by which the Spirit renews him and makes him active.

In support of his doctrine that works are necessary as the way to salvation, Jones erroneously appeals to answer 32 of the Westminster Larger Catechism: “to work in them faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation” (the emphasis is Jones’). Ignoring that the Westminster here fully agrees with the Heidelberg Catechism that works are evidences of faith and of thankfulness, he twists the last phrase to his own purposes that works are the way to salvation.

The creed does not teach that at all, and the language does not support Jones’ conclusion. The creed says clearly that good works are evidences of faith and thankfulness. The words “to salvation” refer to God’s appointment of his elect. He appointed them to salvation, and that appointment included all their works that they perform as the way they live as saved believers. This is no different from Ephesians 2:10 that all the good works believers perform are appointed to them.

The Canons of Dordt also use this language in 1.8: “according to which he hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we should walk therein.” The creeds teach that works are the way of salvation, to which God appointed his elect people. Those works were appointed to them by God, purchased for them by the cross of Christ, and worked in them by the Spirit of grace. The gift of salvation includes the very works in which the saved believer walks. They are fruits and effects of salvation given.

The justified believer possesses salvation, which means the covenant and fellowship with the living God. The life of the covenant and of fellowship with the living God is constituted in a life of holiness and good works. The justified believer possesses that life, covenant, and fellowship with the living God by faith only, because by faith all his sins are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him. On that ground alone and by faith alone, the justified believer is at peace with God, as Romans 5:1 says. Through Christ, on the basis of his perfect righteousness alone, the justified believer is introduced into the favor of God, life, and fellowship with the living God, consciously and in his own experience, as Romans 5:2 says.

As Jesus made clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no man comes unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6). The way to come to the Father, to be received into his fellowship and friendship, is by faith only without any works. To come to the Father and to be received by the Father in favor and grace is impossible by works, any works, because all the works the believer performs are polluted with sin. Once I am received into God’s fellowship by faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, the life that the Father requires of me, and also actually works in me, is a life of obedience. In that sense, works are the way of salvation because they are the way of life that is required of the saved believer. However, at no point and in no sense are those works ever the ground of that fellowship or the way to that fellowship, for the ground is Christ’s righteousness, and the way to that fellowship is faith alone.

Furthermore, works are the fruits and effects of God’s sanctification of the believer. He does good works because of the saving benefit of sanctification. He is not sanctified by his works, but he does works because he is sanctified. Here also works are fruits of his salvation.

Indeed, since I pollute and defile even the best of my works, they must be justified by faith only on the ground of the perfect righteousness of Christ. This is the testimony of the Reformed creeds about the good works—genuinely, Spirit-wrought good works—of the believer. Article 24 of the Belgic Confession says, “Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable.” The Heidelberg Catechism says the same thing: “our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin” (A 62).

The idea that Spirit-wrought works are defiled by the believer Mark Jones criticizes and rejects: “it is actually an affront to God to suggest that Spirit-wrought works in believers are ‘filthy rags,’ for these are works that God has prepared in advance for us to do in order to magnify his grace and glorify the name of Christ.” He continues, “It is a vain imagination to suppose that we exalt the grace of God by suggesting that the only righteousness pleasing to God is Christ’s righteousness.” Here he shows what he is after. The Spirit-wrought works constitute not the believers thankfulness to God, but his righteousness before God.

Adding folly to his wicked doctrine he goes on to assert, “To be clear, God does not need our good works, but Christ does, and so he not only requires them, but also desires them.”[4] This is complete theological nonsense that turns the Reformed doctrine of works on its head. Christ does not need our works anymore than God does. This is like saying the fountain of water needs the river that flows out of it. The fountain produces the river. It is not in need of the river. So Christ as the inexhaustible fountain of grace produces great rivers of water out of us that flow to the neighbor and redound to the praise of his wonderful grace.

Then, Jones adds to his false doctrine and folly a crass mercantilism: “To put it rather bluntly, there are some Christians who are godlier than others…For this reason, those who do more good works than others will receive greater rewards in heaven.”[5] What about the thief on the cross whose only work was to confess Christ, but who did so when the whole world, including Christ’s own apostles, was denying him? Does the thief sit lowest in the kingdom because he had but one good work? What about the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, some of whom endured the heat of the day and some of whom wrought but one hour, and who all received a penny, which action the lord of the vineyard defended on the ground that it was lawful for him to do what he willed with his own. Christ, the lord of the vineyard, also accuses Mark Jones’ crass mercantilism in salvation as coming from “an evil eye,” that objects to his “goodness” (Matt. 20:1–15). There are rewards in salvation, but those rewards are gracious and as such are not distributed like hourly wages to laborers, but sovereignly by God according to his good pleasure. Who knows whether the thief on the cross with his one work will not sit at the right hand of Jesus Christ?

It is heretical to teach that works are necessary as the way to salvation. Scripture and the creeds do not speak this language. The difference between truth and lie is a single word. The truth is that works are the way of life. Mark Jones turns this on its head and insists that good works are the way to life and implies that without them there will not be life, but damnation. That works are the way of salvation maintains the doctrines of grace. That works are the way to salvation overthrows salvation by grace, denies Christ as the only way of salvation, and makes salvation and communion with God now and in eternity dependent on the believer’s works as the way to life. The fact that Jones is a fan of the federal vision only makes clearer what he is after when he insists that works are the way to salvation: justification by faith and works.

The proper way to explain the necessity of works is done by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 32. They are not necessary as the ground of salvation or as the way to salvation, life, or fellowship with God, which is rank Roman works’ righteousness. It teaches that the necessity is the work of Christ in us, whom he has saved without our works. The Catechism says that Christ saved us without our works. To say that works are necessary to salvation denies that. Rather, works are necessary because the one who saves us without our works, also works in us by his Spirit. This Spirit-wrought obedience is not and never becomes the ground of salvation. It is the fruit and effect of salvation. The one who is not converted simply gives evidence that he does not have the Spirit because he does not have Christ.

In his pursuit of antinomians—falsely so-called—and to impress the necessity of works for the experience of fellowship with God, Mark Jones also brings up a distinction in the love of God.

To that I will turn next time.


[1] Jones, in Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight, xi.

[2] Jones, Antinomianism, 67.

[3] Ibid., 64.

[4] Ibid., 78.

[5] Ibid., 76.


This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


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Gospel Truth of Justification (5): Polemical

The apostle Paul, after addressing the churches of Galatia in verses 1-5, immediately administers a rebuke to them with the expression, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6, 7).

John Calvin, commenting on verse six of this opening chapter of Galatians, observes that the apostle Paul’s “greatest severity of language is directed...against the false apostles.”[1] Writes Calvin,

He [Paul] charges them [false apostles] with the additional crime of doing an injury to Christ, by endeavoring to subvert his gospel. Subversion is an enormous crime. It is worse than corruption. And with good reason does he fasten on them this charge. When the glory of justification is ascribed to another, and a snare is laid for the consciences of men, the Saviour no longer occupies his place, and the doctrine of the gospel is utterly ruined (emphasis mine, AJC).[2]

In defense of the truth of justification by faith alone, the apostle Paul used polemics. In Galatians 1:8, the inspired apostle Paul pronounces a curse upon them which “preach any other gospel unto you than that which we preached unto you.” He states again emphatically in the next verse, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

Polemics is the activity of identifying, opposing, fighting against, and destroying false teachings, either in doctrine or walk. It is spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The word itself comes from the Greek word polemos, meaning “war.” That the true church militant carries on war against false teachers and their teachings should not surprise or offend members of the church. God declared this war. In the garden of Eden God declared, “I will put enmity between thee [Satan] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This war has been ongoing since the beginning of time. In the New Testament, Satan continues his attack upon the church, so that Peter warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He attacks the church, as Paul warned the elders of Ephesus upon his departure (Acts 20:28-30), by sending “grievous wolves...in among you, not sparing the flock.” Jude exhorts the beloved to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). Why? “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 4). The apostle Peter warns the saints that as “there were false prophets also among the people....there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Knowing the truth and defending it is of utmost importance to Reformed believers, especially officebearers, for as Calvin observes, “To know what are the leading points of the gospel, is a matter of unceasing importance,” for “when these are attacked, the gospel is destroyed.”[3]

(Protestant) Reformed officebearers, upon signing the Formula of Subscription, vow that they “heartily believe” the doctrines contained in the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and Canons of Dordt to be in full agreement with the Word of God.” Further, they “promise...diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine.” Moreover, they “declare”....that they will “not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine”—particularly those doctrines condemned at the Synod of Dordt—but that they are “disposed to refute and contradict these, and...exert [them]selves in keeping the church free from such errors” (emphasis added).[4]

Equally clear is the section of the Church Order, a minor confession, dealing with the responsibilities of the officebearers of the church. Article 18 states, “The office of the professors of theology is to expound the holy scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors” (emphasis added).[5] Article 55 of the Church Order, following upon Articles 53 and 54, which require of professors, ministers, elders, and deacons that they subscribe to the Reformed confessions, reads, “To ward off false doctrine and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings, the ministers and elders shall use the means of teaching, of refutation or warning, and of admonition, as well in the ministry of the Word as in Christian teaching and family-visiting.”[6]

The author, in penning the contents of Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, is necessarily polemical. The author, holding the office of professor emeritus of theology in the Protestant Reformed Churches, is bound by the Reformed confessions and the Church Order. To avoid polemics in writing on the truth of justification by faith alone would be a shameful dereliction of duty.

The author is also properly polemical. First, in the book he addresses particular errors which are a genuine threat to God’s people. Second, Engelsma addresses serious, confessional, and fatal errors. None of the errors are imagined or invented. Third, the author in his polemics is fair, allowing the advocates and defenders of false doctrine to speak for themselves. He does not “put words in their mouths,” nor does he take their words out of context. Their positions are given ample space and accurately cited. Finally, in refuting heresies, the author is motivated by love for God and the glory of his name. He writes,

Nothing, not even impenitent idolatry or sodomy, would so defile the heavenly choir as th[e] attribution of the glory of salvation to the saved sinner. To the redeemed in heaven forever, as to the saints now on earth, comes the effectual call, “Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him” (Rev. 19:5). From the great multitude in heaven, as from the true church in the world today, comes back the response, “Let us...give honour to him” (v. 7) (p. 331).

Next time, a brief summary of the heresies and errors refuted and why this defense of justification by faith alone is necessary.


[1] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998) 1:29.

[2] Calvin, 1: 31.

[3] Calvin, 1:31.

[4] Formula of Subscription, in Confessions and Church Order, 326.

[5] Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, in Confessions and Church Order, 386.

[6] Church Order, in ibid., 397.


This article was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (1): Timely

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (2): Comforting

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (3): Comforting and Confessional

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (4): Instructive


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