Category Archives: Reformation

The Greatest Good in Married Life: Raising Kids to Know & Serve God

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Therefore God has also most richly blessed this estate above all others, and, in addition has bestowed on it andwrapped up in it everything in the world, to the end that this estate might be well and richly provided for. Married life is therefore no jest or presumption; but it is an excellent thing and a matter of divine seriousness. For it is of the highest importance to Him that persons be raised who may serve the world and promote the knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, to fight against wickedness and the devil.

Martin Luther (1483-1546), The Large Catechism

But the greatest good in married life, that which makes all suffering and labour worth while, is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, because to God there can be nothing dearer than the salvation of souls. Now since we are all duty bound to suffer death, if need be, that we might bring a single soul to God, you can see how rich the estate of marriage is in good works. God has entrusted to its bosom souls begotten of its own body, on whom it can lavish all manner of Christian works. Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel. In short, there is no greater or nobler authority on earth than that of parents over their children, for this authority is both spiritual and temporal. whoever teaches the gospel to another is truly his apostle and bishop. Mitre and staff and great estates indeed produce idols, but teaching the gospel produces apostles and bishops. See therefore how good and great is God’s work and ordinance!

Luther, Sermon on Married Life

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The Wild Boar Who Turned the World Upside Down

Nearly five hundred years ago Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, calling for a single monk to recant of his writings or face excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, which was essentially a threat of eternal condemnation.  The opening words of this bulla entitled Exsurge Domine read, “Arise, O Lord, and judge Your cause.  A wild boar has invaded Your vineyard.”  Upon its arrival in Wittenburg, Germany, this same monk announced that he would publicly burn the pope’s bull. Following through on December 10, 1520 before a crowd of his students and citizens of the city, he ignited a fire of reform that set the whole empire ablaze.

The monk was Martin Luther and this was not his first encounter with controversy nor would it be his last.  With the nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, as was customary of those seeking debate, Luther sparked what is now called the Protestant Reformation.  Initially desiring only to debate the validity of indulgences (a certificate of pardon issued by the papacy, transferring the merits of saints to sinners in Purgatory, releasing them from temporal penalties and hastening their souls to heaven), not to separate from the Roman Catholic Church, the German monk had no idea what he would soon be involved in or the lasting influence and effects that his actions would have on us today.  Much could be and has been written concerning the historical events that surround this wild boar and the birth of the Reformation but our focus will be upon the fruit, which sprang up with Luther and came to maturity with the formation of Protestant theology.  In other words, what did Luther, as well as others before and after him, recover that is the bedrock of our faith today?

The Primacy of Scripture 

For over a thousand years before Luther, the Roman Catholic Church was considered the final authority on all things concerning life and godliness, including the interpretation of Scripture.  Only the Catholic Church could say what the Word of God said and how it was to be understood and applied.  Popes, councils, theological tradition, and the history of the Church as recorded by its officials were seen and upheld as infallible, authoritative, and untouchable.  Further control by the Church was made possible as the only official copies of the Scriptures were in Latin, as well as in Greek and Hebrew, leaving the vast majority of people without the ability to even read the Word of God for themselves.

Martin Luther, following in the footsteps of others before him (John Wycliffe and John Hus), sought to recover the primacy of Scripture.  This emphasis can be seen in several events of Luther’s life.  Under God’s providential hand he became professor of Biblical Studies at Wittenburg (1512), which forced him into the Word, lecturing on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians and Hebrews for the next several years.  Not only was he a professor but he became the pastor of the Castle Church (1514), preaching several times a week, furthering his exposure to the Scriptures.  The more he studied and meditated upon the Word the more his soul was vexed.  In 1517 he posted two sets of theses on the door of the Castle Church.  The first, the 97 Theses against Scholastic Theology, received little attention.  Then, in response to the selling and abuses of indulgences, Martin Luther posted the well-known 95 Theses on the church door on October 31, 1517.  The basis of his theses was the Word of God.  A few are as follows:

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

27. There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.

35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.

53. Those are enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid the word of God to be preached at all in some churches, in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

54. The word of God suffers injury if, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is devoted to indulgences than to that word.

Especially in the debates that followed, Luther stood firm, amazing his opponents with his knowledge of and use of the Word of God.

The next event that highlighted Luther’s recovery of the primacy of the Scriptures is his summons and hearing at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  Standing before the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, several Catholic officials, princes, and fellow Germans, Martin Luther was asked to recant of his writings or face condemnation as a heretic, subsequently placing a bounty on his head.  The next day, April 18, Luther gave his response founded upon the authority of the Scriptures.  He said:

Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of Scripture or by clear reason – since I believe neither the popes nor the councils themselves, for it is clear that they have often erred and contradicted themselves – I am conquered by the holy Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not withdraw anything, since it is neither safe nor right to do anything against one’s conscience.  Here I stand. God help me. Amen.

Already excommunicated, Luther would now be condemned as a heretic before the diet and become and outlaw.

After leaving Worms, Fredrick the Wise, Luther’s prince, ushered him away to the Wartburg castle in Eisenbach for 11 months to protect him.  There he completed his German translation of the New Testament (1522) and in 1534, he would go on to finish translating the whole Bible into the language of the people, furthering the emphasis of the primacy of Scripture.  This principle of the ultimate authority of the Word alone, Sola Scriptura, became the battle cry of the Protestant Reformation and all their theological heirs.  While not ignoring the importance of doctrinal writings and biblical commentaries, the Reformation solely elevated the Word of God to the highest position, judging all other sources.  All who can open up a Bible and read the Word or hear a sermon in their language are indebted to this wild boar.

Justification by Faith Alone through Grace Alone in Christ Alone

Flowing out of Luther’s emphasis on the primacy of Scripture is the recovery of the gospel from the traditions and rites of the Catholic Church.  From the beginning of his monkery, Martin Luther was haunted by the righteousness of God.  He saw this righteousness as that active righteousness by which God brings justice and wrath upon sinners.  But through his study of the Scripture and with the help of his friend, Philip Melanchthon, he began to understand how it was that a sinful man could be made right before a holy God.  His focus was on Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  In 1519, Luther had his famous “tower experience” while studying this verse.  This is what he wrote of that experience:

I hated that word, “justice of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.

But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, “Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?” This was how I was raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know what he meant.

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.'” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.” All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

Luther rediscovered the Gospel that had been covered for so long by the commandments of men.  He saw in the Scripture that sinful man is made right (just) before God not on the basis of man’s work but only on the basis of Christ’s work in the atonement.  Our righteousness before God is an alien righteousness, being that is not our own but Christ’s, and we are partakers of His righteousness by faith alone, not by any work or merit.  All this comes to us only by the grace of God.  Hence, the other slogans of the Protestant Reformation became Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), and Sola Christus (Christ alone), summarizing the glorious gospel of God.

Theology of Vocation

In 1525 Luther abandoned his monastic life and married a former nun, Katherine Von Bora.  No longer a monk, how could Luther serve God as well as he did before?  This question arises from the common thought imbedded in the formation of the Catholic hierarchy in Rome.  The thought was that you could become holier and serve God better as a monk or Church official than you could as a husband, a wife, a miner, or anything else common to man.  The concept of vocatio (vocation), a calling from God to serve Him, was seen as exclusive to those dedicated to the work of the Church.  Luther, with his emphasis on the primacy of the Scriptures and a renewed understanding of the Gospel declared that all saints (believers) of all professions and roles have a calling. This calling was to glorify God in all that you do (1 Corinthians 10:31).  This last cry of the Protestant Reformation, seen here in Luther, is Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone).

We have much to thank Martin Luther for.  To ignore his accomplishments and the accomplishments of other Reformers like him, for whatever the reason, is not merely to refuse to recognize the work of men, but it is a refusal to acknowledge the hand of God faithfully at work, keeping, building, and strengthening His people, the church.  And while we rightly honor the men  God used to recover the Scriptures and the Gospel itself, we must not neglect honoring God for his faithfulness.  Luther sets for us an example as he seeks glory not for himself but for God and His Word, declaring, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such loses upon it.  I did nothing; the Word did everything.”

Soli Deo Gloria & Happy Reformation Day!

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Catechizing as a Means of Personal Evangelism

The work of conversion consisteth of two parts: First, the informing of the judgment in the essential principles of religion; Second, The change of the will by the efficacy of the truth. Now in [catechizing] we have the most excellent advantages for both. For the informing of their understandings, it must needs be an excellent help to have the sum of Christianity fixed in their memory. And though bare words, not understood, will make no change, yet, when the words are plain English, he that hath the words is far more likely to understand the meaning and matter than another. For what have we by which to make known things which are themselves invisible, but words or other signs? Those, therefore, who deride all catechisms as unprofitable forms, may better deride themselves for talking and using the form of their own words to make known their minds to others. Why may not written words, which are constantly before their eyes, and in their memories, instruct them, as well as the transient words of a preacher? These ‘forms of sound words’ are, therefore, so far from being unprofitable, as some persons imagine, that they are of admirable use to all. Besides, we shall have the opportunity, by personal conference, to try how far they understand the catechism, and to explain it to them as we go along; and to insist on those particulars which the persons we speak to have most need to hear. These two conjoined — a form of sound words, with a plain explication — may do more than either of them could do alone.

Moreover, we shall have the best opportunity to impress the truth upon their hearts, when we can speak to each individual’s particular necessity, and say to the sinner, ‘Thou art the man,” and plainly mention his particular case; and set home the truth with familiar importunity. If any thing in the world is likely to do them good, it is this. They will understand a familiar speech, who understand not a sermon; and they will have far greater help for the application of it to themselves. Besides, you will hear their objections, and know where it is that Satan hath most advantage of them, and so may be able to show them their errors, and confute their objections, and more effectually convince them. We can better bring them to the point, and urge them to discover their resolutions for the future, and to promise the use of means and reformation, than otherwise we could do. What more proof need we of this, than our own experience? I seldom deal with men purposely on this great business, in private, serious conference, but they go away with some seeming convictions, and promises of new obedience, if not some deeper remorse, and sense of their condition.

O brethren, what a blow may we give to the kingdom of darkness, by the faithful and skillful managing of this work! If, then, the saving of souls, of your neighbours’ souls, of many souls, from everlasting misery, be worth your labor, up and be doing! If you would be the fathers of many that are born again, and would ‘see of the travail of your souls,’ and would be able to say at last, ‘Here am I, and the children whom thou hast given me’ — up and ply this blessed work! If it would do your heart good to see your converts among the saints in glory, and praising the Lamb before the throne; if it would rejoice you to present them blameless and spotless to Christ, prosecute with diligence and ardor this singular opportunity that is offered you. If you are ministers of Christ indeed, you will long for the perfecting of his body, and the gathering in of his elect; and you will ‘travail as in birth’ till Christ be formed in the souls of your people. You will embrace such opportunities as your harvest-time affords, and as the sunshine days in a rainy harvest, in which it is unreasonable and inexcusable to be idle. If you have a spark of Christian compassion in you, it will surely seem worth your utmost labor to save so many ‘souls from death, and to cover’ so great ‘a multitude of sins.’ If, then, you are indeed fellow-workers with Christ, set to his work, and neglect not the souls for whom he died. O remember, when you are talking with the unconverted, that now you have an opportunity to save a soul, and to rejoice the angels of heaven, and to rejoice Christ himself, to cast Satan out of a sinner, and to increase the family of God! And what is your ‘hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? ’ Is it not your saved people ‘in the presence of Christ Jesus at his coming? ’ Yes, doubtless ‘they are your glory and your joy.’

Richard Baxter (1615-91), The Reformed Pastor, Chapter 3, Section 2, Article 1.

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Faith is… (Repost)

Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow – although they can hear and say much about faith – they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is due to the fact that when they hear the Gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, “I believe”; they take this then to be a true faith. But it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us, which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, (John 1:12-13; 3). It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith! It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everyone, out of love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace. Thus it is as impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that He may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.

Martin Luther (1483-1546), “Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans,” in Faith and Freedom: An Invitation to the Writings of Martin Luther, 94-95.

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How to Mortify Sin (Repost)

Determine that you will, everyday and in every duty abolish and destroy this ruling principle of sin.  it will not die unless it is gradually and constantly weakened.  Spare it, and it heals its wounds and recovers its strength.  Negligence allows sin to regain such power that we may never recover our former state as long as we live.

We are continually to watch out for the rising up of this ruling principle of sin and immediately subdue it.  This is to be done in all that we are and do.  We are to be watchful in our behaviour to others, watchful when we are alone, watchful when in trouble or joy.  We are to be particularly watchful in the use of our pleasure times and in temptations.

Determine that you will no longer serve sin  (Rom. 6:6).  See it as the worst service of which a rational creature is capable.  If you serve sin it will bring you to a dreadful end.  Determine that though sin remains in you, yet you will not serve it.  Remember, if the ‘old ma’ is not crucified with Christ, you are still a servant of sin, whatever you might think of yourself.

Realise that it is no easy task to mortify sin.  Sin is a powerful and dreadful enemy.  There is no living thing that will not do everything in its power to save its life.  So sin also will fight to save its life.  If sin is not diligently hunted down and dealt with by holy violence, it will escape all our attempts at killing it.  It is a great mistake to think that we can at any time rest from this duty.  The ruling principle of sin to be slain is in us, and so has hold of all our faculties.  Sin cannot be killed without a sense of pain and trouble.  So Christ compared it to ‘cutting of the right hand’ and ‘plucking out the right eye’.  The battle is not against any particular lust but against all sinful lusts which war against the soul.

Mortification arising from convictions of the law leads only to dealing with particular sins, and always proves fruitless.  True mortifying of sin deals with the entire body of sin.  It goes tot the heart of the matter and lays the axe to the root of the tree.  This is the mortification which the Holy Spirit drives the believer to do.

Mortification of particular sins arises from a guilty conscience.  But mortification arising from gospel principles deals with the whole body of sin in its opposition to the renewing of the image of God in us.

John Owen (1616-83), The Holy Spirit, 167-69.

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The Love of Ignorance is the Path to Destruction

As Satan has his device to destroy gracious souls, so he has his devices to destroy poor ignorant souls, and that sometimes, By drawing them to esteem ignorance, and to neglect, slight, and despise the means of knowledge. Ignorance is the mother of mistake, the cause of trouble, error, and of terror; it is the highway to hell, and it makes a man both a prisoner and a slave to the devil at once. Ignorance unmans a man; it makes a man a beast, yes, makes him more miserable than the beast which perishes. (Ignorant ones have this advantage—they have a cooler hell.) There are none so easily nor so frequently captured in Satan’s snares—as ignorant souls. They are easily drawn to dance with the devil all day, and to dream of supping with Christ at night. ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.’ Hosea 4:6. ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.’ Matthew 22:29.

Remedy (1). The first remedy against this device of Satan is, seriously to consider, That an ignorant heart is an evil heart. ‘Without knowledge the mind is not good’ (Prov. 19:2). As an ignorant heart is a naughty heart, it is a heart in the dark; and no good can come into a dark heart—but it must pass through the understanding: ‘And if the eye be dark, all the body is dark’ (Matt. 6:22). A leprous head and a leprous heart are inseparable companions. Ignorant hearts are so evil that they let fly on all hands, and spare not to spit their venom in the very face of God, as Pharaoh did when thick darkness was upon him.

Remedy (2). The second remedy against this device of Satan is, to consider, That ignorance is the deformity of the soul. As blindness is the deformity of the face, so is ignorance the deformity of the soul. As the lack of fleshly eyes spoils the beauty of the face, so the lack of spiritual eyes spoils the beauty of the soul. A man without knowledge is as a workman without his hands, as a painter without his eyes, as a traveler without his legs, or as a ship without sails, or a bird without wings, or like a body without a soul.

Remedy (3). The third remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That ignorance makes men the objects of God’s hatred and wrath. ‘It is a people who err in their hearts, and have not known my ways. Therefore I swear in my wrath, they should never enter into my rest’ (Heb. 3:10, 11). ‘My people are a people of no understanding; therefore he who made them will have no mercy on them’ (Is. 27:11). Christ has said that he will come ‘in flaming fire, to render vengeance on them that know not God’ (2 Thess. 1:8). Ignorance will end in vengeance. When you see a poor blind man here, you do not loathe him, nor hate him—but you pity him. Oh! but soul-blindness makes you abominable in the sight of God. God has sworn that ignorant people shall never come into heaven. Heaven itself would be a hell to ignorant souls. They must needs err that know not God’s ways, yet cannot they wander so wide as to miss of hell. ‘My people are destroyed for want of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you’ (Hosea 4:6). Chilo, one of the seven sages, being asked what God had done, answered, ‘He exalted humble men, and suppressed proud ignorant fools.’ The Catholic Church says that ignorance is the mother of devotion—but the Scripture says, it is the mother of destruction.

Remedy (4). The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is, to consider, That ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins. All sins are seminally in ignorance….  Sin at first was the cause of ignorance—but now ignorance is the cause of all sin. ‘Swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and whoring abound,’ says the prophet, ‘because there is no knowledge of God in the land.’ There are none so frequent, and so impudent in the ways of sin, as ignorant souls; they care not, nor mind not what they do, nor what they say against God, Christ, heaven, holiness, and their own souls. ‘Our tongues are our own, who shall control us?’ ‘They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens; and their tongue walks through the earth. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord?’ ‘Therefore, pride is their necklace, and violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge out from fatness; the imaginations of their hearts run wild. They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth. They say—’How can God know? Does the Most High know everything?’ Look at them—the wicked!’ Psalm 73:6-12

Thomas Brooks (1608—1680), Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 157-159.

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The Law Stirs Up the Dust of Sin but the Gospel Cleanses Our Heart Within

Then the Interpreter took Christian by the hand and led him into a very large parlor that was full of dust because it was never swept. After He had reviewed it a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to come and sweep. Now when he began to sweep, the dust began to fly about so much and was so thick that Christian almost choked. Then said the Interpreter to a damsel who stood nearby, “Bring water, and sprinkle the room.” When she had done as requested, it was swept and cleansed very pleasantly.

Then Christian asked, “What does this mean?”

The Interpreter answered, “This parlor is the heart of a man that has never been sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel; the dust is his original sin and inward corruptions that have defiled the whole man. The first man that began to sweep is the Law; the damsel that brought water and sprinkled it is the gospel. You saw that as soon as the first man began to sweep, the dust filled the room so thickly that it could not be cleansed, and you almost choked on it. This is to show you that the Law, instead of cleansing the heart from sin, actually revives, increases, and adds strength to it. Even though the Law uncovers and forbids sin, it is powerless to conquer or subdue it at all.”

“Then you saw the damsel sprinkle the room with water, after which it was pleasingly cleansed. This is to show you the way in which the gospel comes into the heart with its sweet and precious influences. You saw the damsel clear the dust from the room by sprinkling the floor with water. This shows how sin is vanquished and subdued and the soul made clean through faith and consequently fit for the King of glory to inhabit.”

John Bunyan (1628-88), The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come, Chapter 2 – “Pilgrim Knocks on the Sheep Gate”.

______________

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:2-4)

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

Free from the law, O happy condition,
Jesus has bled and there is remission,
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace hath redeemed us once for all. – 
Philip Bliss, “Free From the Law, O Happy Condition”

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