By: Deji Yesufu.
Text of message delivered at the 2nd Annual “1:21 CONFERENCE” by CROWN REFORMED ASSEMBLY, OGBA, LAGOS on Saturday, 8th June, 2019
Gratitude: I want to thank the leadership of Crown Reformed Assembly for this privilege to deliver this message to you…
To a Youthful audience: Thank you for being here. The future of religion in our nation is in your hands. It is people like you that God would use to revitalize religion in our nation in the years to come…
Introduction: I request that we open to Acts 28 and look at an instructive text there. It is not the central text of our message but something I wish to open the message with. Let us open to Acts 28:23-27 –
Here we see a statement of reprobation: God sends a message of salvation to a people and at the same time tells them that they do not have the capacity to believe this message. Note however that within this mass of people a number also believe. My point in drawing our attention to this passage, however, is introducing the subject of how God saves sinners to you. I wish to argue in this message that salvation is by the grace of God alone. And that it is only in the context of grace, alone, that God receives glory. If human effort can help achieve salvation, then God would not get the glory due to his name.
For boasting and a tendency to glory in works, see: Romans 3:26-28; 11:5-6.
The supreme question of theology has remained “How is a man saved?” Your answer to that question would determine whether or not your theology would preserve the glory of God or it would not. And Jesus said that when the Son of Man is raised up, he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32). That theology that glorifies God the most is the one that has the greater potency to save sinners.
The underlying question of the 16th Reformation was how can a man be saved?
Roman Catholic theology stated that a man was saved by faith and by his religious observance. Protestants, everywhere at that time, said that a man was saved by faith alone. Salvation by faith alone is the first of the five “solas”. The debate over the word “alone” has raged on for centuries. While translating the Greek New Testament to German, Martin Luther added “alone” the verse Romans 1:17: “…For in (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith (alone)’” when Luther was criticized for adding to the Bible, he replied that the German language needed that emphasis.
Martin Luther was the leading figure of the 16th century Reformation and there is actually no time in a lecture like this to talk about him. Suffice to say that Luther came to his conviction on salvation by faith (alone) in the most difficult circumstances. Luther had a very active conscience and historians have said that he never lost that sensitivity in his conscience, even up till the day of his death. He was supposed to pursue a degree in law when one day “in 1505 he was caught in a thunderstorm while walking towards the village of Stotternheim. A bolt of lightning knocked him to the ground, and Luther, terrified, called out to Catholicism’s patroness of miners, ‘St. Anne, save me! And I would become a monk.’ To the dismay of his parent, two weeks later, Luther joined the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. He proved to be a good monk, learning the ways of piety quickly but he was never pacified of his raging conscience and his clear sinfulness. Luther sought peace with God through sheer effort. He wrote “I kept the rule so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his sheer monkery, it was I. if I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading and other work.”
Fortunately for Luther, the monastery where he lived was also a citadel of learning. Luther devoted himself to reading and then his superiors, realizing his gifts, assigned him the task of teaching the scriptures. It was while studying the Bible to deliver a lecture that light shone on him. Bruce Shelley, the Church Historian, writes:
“A new and revolutionary picture of God began to develop in Luther’s restless soul. Finally in 1515 while pondering on St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Luther came upon the words, “for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the Just shall live by faith (1:17, KJV)…” Luther would later write “Night and day I pondered… until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith’. Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through the open doors into paradise.”
Luther had come to the place of receiving salvation by faith alone – sola fide.
These events happened in 1515. In 1517, a representative of Pope was sent from Rome to Germany to raise funds for the building of the St. Peter basilica. He sold indulgence to the people and said that people could buy reprieve for their love ones who were in purgatory. He used to say “As soon as the coin in the coffers rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Luther felt this was bad theology and promptly drew up the 95 propositions (or theses) calling for a theological debate. Luther was arguing in essence that salvation was free; it could not be bought. This led eventually to the Protestant position that salvation was by the free grace of God alone – sola gratia; it was never by human effort (Romans 11:6).
In no time, Luther found himself in the middle of debates and having to defend his position against Roman Catholic theologians and councils. The chief position of these men were usually traditions of the church and the writings of some old theologians or the pronouncements of the Popes throughout the centuries. Luther eventually found that his strongest position was neither of all these but simply what the holy writ taught. Therefore the Protestant position would soon find its authority on scriptures alone – sola scriptura. This led ultimately to the three fundamental “solas” of the Reformation:
Sola fide (only Faith)
Sola Gratia (only Grace)
Sola Scriptura (only Scriptures)
Martin Luther would later come under the hammer of Emperor Charles and would remain an outlaw all of his life. The princes of Germany teamed up together to offer him asylum but it meant that he could never leave the city of Wittenberg, where he lived.
Another rising voice of the 16th Reformation was Ulrich Zwingli, a Roman Catholic Priest from the city of Zurich, Switzerland. Zwingli it was who formulated the term “Reformed Theology”. He had learnt Protestant doctrines all by himself and with time would discover most of his teaching were in agreement with Martin Luther. Zwingli would however perish at battle in 1531.
In 1536, a 27 year old man called John Calvin published a series of letter he had written to the King of France in a book called “The Institute of the Christian Religion”. “Institute” could also mean “Principles”. Calvin taught essentially the same thing that Luther taught except that he was more in agreement with the Reformed Theology of Zwingli – especially on the Lord’s Supper. Bruce Shelley writes on Calvin:
“God had a game. Calvin was convinced of it. He called it God’s sovereign will. Just as Luther’s central doctrine was justification by faith, so Calvin’s was the sovereignty of God. Both Reformers had an overwhelming sense of the majesty of God, but Luther’s served to point up the miracle of forgiveness, while Calvin’s gave the assurance of the impregnability of God’s purpose.”
John Calvin boldly went a little further than Luther to emphasize the fact that salvation was indeed by grace. If it is by grace then the salvation of men was left to the initiative of God alone. While Luther used Romans 1, 3, 4 and 5 to teach the doctrine of salvation by faith alone through the grace of God alone, Calvin resorted to Romans 9 to teach that salvation was by God’s sovereign will alone. It meant that the same God who chose some to salvation via grace alone, left others to damnation.
The story of salvation is therefore premised on faith alone, grace alone and taught by scriptures alone. We however cannot even talk about these elements without realizing that there would be no salvation except it be by Christ alone: for Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is in teaching the essential truths about how men are saved that God draws people to sincere faith in Christ. And these doctrines alone, the process of God saving dead and sinful men in Christ, is what brings forth the glory of God. This is why after such an exhilarating display of how God saves sinners, Paul ended his argument with the following statement in Romans 11:33-36:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
A heart that has bowed to these truths of scripture realize that salvation is by Christ alone – solo Christo or solus Christus. And all of these happen to the glory of God alone – Sola Deo Gloria.
Please appreciate how the themes of true gospel preaching follow themselves. There is an emphasis on genuine faith as a means to salvation. There is an emphasis on the fact that salvation is free: by grace. There is an emphasis on the teaching of scripture, as a means to receiving salvation – by scriptures alone. There is a Christo-centric gospel – by Christ alone. And only then is God genuinely worshiped – Sola Deo Gloria.
The greatest need of evangelical preaching in all time is the restoration of the doctrine of grace to the churches. The Christian churches should be reminded that the single most important message that we have is the message of salvation to sinful humanity. This message must be taught in all its ramifications. We must never desist from showing humanity that salvation is by faith alone. This would naturally necessitate our showing them the grace of God that made salvation possible. Our doctrines cannot be taken from the tradition of men or experience; we must premise our doctrine and arguments solely on scriptures alone. As we do this, our message must be borne on the wings of the one who made it all possible: we are saved by Christ alone (alone). It is only a message like this that brings the forth the glory of God.
Is it a coincidence that when God would be speaking about evangelizing the nations in Isaiah 6, he stated clearly the doctrine of reprobation? Do we find it incidental that all of these was going on as Isaiah was beholding the glory of God and his own sinfulness? The main reason why people would not teach a doctrine of God’s sovereignty is simply this: they are trying to protect God; they are trying to save his face. They say a doctrine of Predestination would make God the author of sin. But God never called human being to protect him. He simply called us to proclaim his word and we are to leave the outcome to him. As we preach, God would save sinners and God would harden sinners. This is all done within the context of the glory of God.
The 16th Century reformation met with a counter reformation via the ministry of a man called Ignatius Loyola. Followers of Ignatius Loyola populated the council of Trent, which came forth with a series of resolutions in 1563 that form the doctrines of modern Roman Catholicism. The Counter Reformation succeeded in restoring Roman Catholicism back to many countries and cities in Europe that were hitherto Protestant. They did this through the infamous inquisition and through subtle approaching to Protestants who were unhappy with the state of the Protestant Churches.
For me, the greatest Counter Reformation was not the one launched by Ignatius Loyola. Rather it was the one that came from within the Protestant fold and which has remained with us till this day. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you Arminianism.
In 1560 a man called Jacobus Arminius was born in the Netherlands. He was only four years old when John Calvin died. Arminius would later in life move to the city of Geneva, the strong hold of John Calvin, where Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, was teaching. Arminius proved to be a brilliant student and at his graduation he received very high commendations from Beza to the Dutch churches, where a strong Reformed tradition existed. It is not clear when Arminius began to have misgivings with the central doctrines of John Calvin because even by the time he was ordained into ministry, around 1680-1682, he still espoused all the tenets of Reformed Theology as the Hilderberg Cathercism and the Belgic confessions, which the Dutch churches espoused.
In his teachings, Arminius made remarks like these: he said his congregations would have done well to remain in the Roman Catholic Church because Catholics were more apt to do good works than Protestants, since Catholics had a greater tendency to fear the loss of their salvation than the false security of grace that Protestants tended to have. He stressed the place of will in salvation; unlike Luther who taught that the will of man was in bondage to God, Arminius taught that the will of man was free: free will. In other words, each sinners had the choice to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation. Arminius knew that his teachings were unorthodox or that they were not compatible with the confessions, so he was known to teach his students in secret and to tell them not to tell the authorities what he taught them. With time, his unorthodox positions were known to the churches but by this time it was already too late. He students began to push his teachings everywhere. Arminius himself would, following an illness, die in 1609 but his teaching lived on after him. The followers of Arminus would later be called the Remonstrants. In 1610, the followers of Jacobus Arminius published the five articles of the Remonstrants.
In response to the controversy that Arminius doctrines brought forth, the Dutch churches promulgated the Synod of Dort that day in the city of Dortrecht in the Netherlands from 1618-1619. It was a gathering of Protestant theologians from all over Europe who were committed to defending the Reformed tradition. After close discussions with the Remonstrants, the synod came to the conclusion that they were wrong and Remonstrant pastors were banished from Dutch churches. Then the synod sat down and came out with a series resolution. These resolutions are what we have come to know today as the five points of Calvinism. In other words, John Calvin himself was never part of the enumeration of those five points even though he taught essentially those points. The five points of Calvinism today have been termed:
T: Total Depravity or Total Inconditional
U: Unconditional Elections
L: Limited Atonement
I: Irresistible Grace
P: Preservation of the Saints
I understand that a lot of people have reservation for the word “Calvinism”. Some would say that they would rather be called Christians than Calvinist. Which is fine and pious; but in a world where even Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons would readily call themselves Christians, we may need stricter terms to refer to ourselves.
In his book “Plan of Salvation”, B. B. Warfield wrote:
“The deepest cleft which separates men calling themselves Christians in their conceptions of the plan of salvation, is that which divides what we may call the Naturalist and the Supernaturalistic views. The line of division is whether, in the matter of the salvation of man, God has planned simply to leave men… to save themselves, or whether he has planned himself to intervene to save them. The issue between the naturalistic and the supernaturalist is thus… does man save himself or does God save him? The consistent naturalist view is known in the history of doctrine as Pelagianism.”
Pelagius, the founder of this doctrine in the 5th century, taught that there was nothing like original sin, that man could keep God’s laws perfectly and that man could attain sinless perfection. Augustine however refuted this position, stating that any intrinsic good in man was by the grace of God. Pelagius was declared a heretic by the Council of Orange in 529. Pelagianism was a purely naturalistic way to attain salvation – it was salvation by human works. On the other hand, Calvinism is a purely supernatural way of attaining salvation: salvation was by the grace of God alone. Therefore all Christian position today on God’s way of saving man is either Pelagian or Calvinist. We hold that Calvinism predates Calvin himself by the teachings of Augustine and Luther. It also outlived Calvin by the positions of the Canon of Dort.
In other words, there are essentially two types of Christianity in this world: the Christianity which God authors or the Christianity which man helps God with. In recent times, this has come to be known as “Monergism” and “Synergism”. Monergism connotes a Christianity that God is the author of. God takes the initiative in saving sinners. God plants saving faith in the hearts of men and draws them irresistibly to his grace through his Son Jesus Christ. It is this kind of Christianity that give God all the glory. Why? Because man does not help God in it. Man cannot boast of it. However, Synergism teaches that God and man work hand in hand to realize God’s purposes. A theology like this gradually gives place to the reign of man and the diminishing of God. A religion where man can boast.
Arminianism was banished from the Dutch churches and was increasingly on the decline until the 18th century when it enjoyed a resurgence with the ministry of John Wesley. Based on his contribution to the progress of religion in the Western world, some of us do not have “mouth” to criticize John Wesley but sufficient historic evidences point to his Methodism as the full restoration of Arminianism to the churches. It was from the old Methodism that the holiness movement of the 19th century came out from. It was a religion that tended to emphasize human effort and the valuing of religious experiences. Wesley himself had taught a doctrine of “sinless perfection” and a second blessing of salvation or sanctification. A movement however would arise in the late 19th century that taught a third blessing of salvation. They regarded this as the baptism of the Holy Ghost with evidence of speaking in tongues. A sect of this holiness movement, led by Charles Parham, in 1900, at the very turn of the century, would eventually claim to have had these experiences. Thus begun the Pentecostal movement and its latter variant: the Charismatic movement. Please carefully note how an emphasis on how men cooperate with God in salvation led ultimately to Pentecostalism and its variant Charismatism.
We must not however lose sight of our main theme: which is that a genuine emphasis on the true doctrines of salvation led ultimately to a movement that glorified God. On the other hand, in the process of trying to preserve the glory of God, and not emphasize key doctrines of the Bible that taught on how God saves men, we would detract from the glory of God, we would arrogate effort and glory to men, and we would remove from the power of the gospel that saves sinners. What we would be left with shall be a Christian religion where man is central, where God is used a means, and where people would only mouth religion and not be genuinely saved.
The greatest need of the churches are born again Christians. The Christian churches are what they are because people are not saved. And people would not be saved or drawn to Christ, if God is not genuinely exalted through the preached word. An emphasis on the doctrine of salvation that brings God glory would necessitate answers to questions on God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. It would make the churches beware of negative extremes that even the Reformed Churches can reach: for example the problem of hyper-Calvinism. It would call ministers to be wholly dependent on God to save sinners and it would outlaw the unhealthy means that people manufacture to help God. Rather our only means, besides preaching, would be prayer.
The history of the churches has been the history of preserving of doctrines of salvation. These doctrine properly taught are doctrines that glorify God. And God is glorified when God works alone. When we see God work alone, we worship.
When a man comes to saving faith in Christ, it is only then he is in a position to know what God has called him to do in this life. The Westminster shorter catechism puts it so succinctly:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Please note that the Westminster Cathecism (1646) is a mimicking of the earlier Helderberg Cathecism that many Dutch Reformed churches were using. The second London Baptist Confessions (1689), which many Reformed Baptists adhere to today, are also a modification of Westminster Confessions. I hope we can see how closely related we all are in the Reformed traditions.
Two things I would like to leave with you as parting shots:
• The number one need of the Christian Churches today is converted persons. These are the ones that can truly glorify God in the world now and in the world to come.
• The means with which God converts men is the preached word. If this word does not convert, it hardens. Thus the opening message of Acts 28:. In all of it, God’s glory is shown forth.
Our opening text, Acts 28:23-27, spoke of not having eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understand despite the gospel preached to them. But consider Acts 16:14-15. For Lydia to believe, God must of a necessity open her heart. Salvation is by God’s grace alone and it is only in this context that God can receive all the glory due to his name.