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Message # 4 | November 27, 2016 | Pastor Sturgill

There is a legend of Martin Luther, that, during a serious illness, the Evil One entered his sickroom and, looking at him with a triumphant smile, unrolled a big scroll which he carried in his arms. As the beast threw one end of it on the floor, it unwound by itself. Luther’s eyes read the long, fearful record of his own sins, one by one. That courageous heart quaked before the frightening roll. Suddenly it flashed into Luther’s mind that there was one thing not written there. He cried aloud: “One thing you have forgotten. The rest is all true, but one thing you have forgotten: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleansed us from all sin.’ ” And as he said this, the Accuser of the Brethren and his heavy roll disappeared.[1]

Legend or not, this would have been the attitude of the great reformer. All the Reformers, would have verbalized in some fashion that salvation was in no other than in Jesus Christ. Solus Christus!

Brief Review

We have been studying through the Five Solas of the Reformation. We began with sola scriptura. Scripture alone is our sufficient and sole source for faith and practice. It is within these scriptures that we learn that our salvation is due solely to God’s grace. It was His grace that regenerated our broken and dead souls. It was His grace that offered salvation in Jesus Christ. We have offered nothing to our salvation. This salvation was received by faith alone. We have come to acknowledge that even this faith is a gift from God, not something we conjured up in our own free will. Our faith is simply “the empty hand that grasps the saving Christ.” The grounds for our salvation is only through and in Jesus Christ. “A Christian’s faith in Christ does not save him or her. Christ’s shed blood saves him or her. . . . That faith may be weak or strong. It may be relatively genuine or non-genuine. But it is not faith’s strength or weakness or its anything else that saves.[2] Which then points us once again to the 4th sola – Solus Christus.

Historical Introduction

As we consider the 4th Sola this morning, it is important that we understand the point of disagreement for the Reformers. The doctrine is equally important to us today, but it has different points of disagreement in our times than it did for the Reformers. The Reformers primarily were contending with Catholic doctrine, but their disagreement was not on the doctrine concerning the person of Christ. The Catholic Church and the Reformers both used the same Councils and creeds when explaining, teaching, and referencing the Trinity and Christology. The problem was not in the person of Jesus Christ, but instead the work of Christ. The question was not about who the person of Jesus was but instead on what Jesus accomplished.

The debate centered on the sacramental system Rome had constructed, a system in which the grace of Christ was mediated to the people through an elaborate system of priests and sacramental works. Through this sacramental system, the Roman church effectively controlled the Christian’s life from birth (baptism) to death (extreme unction) and even beyond (masses for the dead).[3]

Zwingli’s 67 Theses. The Reformers understood and taught the biblical truth that Christ, not the church, is our only Mediator. In large part, it is this truth that was the center of Zwingli’s 67 thesis. In 1519, Ulrich Zwingli came to Zurich. Instead of preaching through the lessons that the church had assigned he preached through the Gospel of Matthew. This was well received by the people and leadership of the city, but obviously not by the church hierarchy. The pope demanded that Zurich expel Zwingli. Instead, Zwingli was able to convince the city to allow him to hold a public debate in which he presented his 67 thesis. On January 27, 1523, he stood before the council of Zurich and 600 other participants and presented and defended these theses. These theses were accepted by the council and as a result the Reformation came to Zurich and other cities in Switzerland. At the heart of these 67 theses was Zwingli’s view of the accomplished work of Christ.

ZWINGLI. The sum and substance of the gospel is that our Lord Christ Jesus, the true son of God, has made known to us the will of his heavenly Father, and has with his sinlessness released us from death and reconciled us to God. (LIV)[4]

Christ is the only mediator between God and us. (XIX)

Westminster Catechism. These truths were as well summarized in the Westminster Catechism (1646) which would follow Zwingli about 120 years.

WESTMINSTER CATECHISM.[5] we can have no access into his presence without a mediator; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone, we are to pray in no other name but his only. (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 181)[6]

The Reformers realized that their salvation was “in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The centrality of Christ in our salvation is as well revealed in the centrality of Christ throughout all of Scripture and as a result throughout the Reformers confessions, teachings, music, and prayers.

There are a number of aspects in which we could look to fill out the idea of Christ’s exclusivity, but we are going to only look at three this morning. The first two are the battlefields in which the Reformers primarily taught, those being that Christ is the only Mediator and Christ is the only Atonement. The third is a battlefield especially relevant for us today, that being, Christ is the only Way.

Christ, the Only Mediator

There is one mediator. The divide between God and man is much too large to be spanned by the very ones who caused the division in the first place. Mary, along with all the saints, could in no way span the gap – they are equal and fellow participants in the blame. We need someone who is willing and able, possessing no guilt, to mediate our cause to God. Christ is that one mediator.

1 Timothy 2:5–6 (ESV) 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

He pleads our case before God, acknowledging the ransom that he alone, sufficiently and effectively paid.

There was (and continues to be) a twofold attack on this particular battlefield. The first area of conflict deals with the Catholic view of Mary and the saints being mediators. The second area of conflict confronts the Catholic view that the church is the dispenser and administrator of grace.

Mediator. “The function of a mediator is to intervene between two parties in order to promote relations between them which the parties themselves are not able to effect. The situation requiring the offices of a mediator is often one of estrangement and alienation, and the mediator effects reconciliation.”[7]

Mary and the Saints are not our mediators.

As soon as this discussion comes up, especially in light of 1 Timothy 2:5, any Catholic or former Catholic will likely caution us to understand the church’s teaching in this area. The formal position of the Catholic church is not that we are to pray to the saints, but that we are to ask the saints to pray for us. In the same way we ask other people to pray for our needs, they ask the saints to pray for theirs. They acknowledge that this ability and power is through Christ, but they desire to have the saints pray for them. So they ask.

CATHOLIC IN DEFENSE. Clearly, we see that praying for others on their behalf is good and pleasing to God. It does not take away his role as the one mediator in any way. If one is going to say that Christ is the only mediator and we should “pray only to Jesus”, then one should also not ask others to pray for them. . . lest they be contradicting themselves. . . . Of course, we should also pray to Jesus but even Jesus himself encouraged us to pray for others (Matt. 5:44).[8]

There are a number of issues that play a part in this discussion. One of them being that there is a difference between praying to and praying for. As well we might discuss the ability of saints to hear our prayers. But, I would like to focus primarily on the Catholic church’s view of Mary as mediator. The following opinions concerning Mary far exceed asking Mary to pray for someone.

SAINT ALPHONSUS. Can she be otherwise than full of grace, who has been made the ladder of paradise, the gate of heaven, the most true mediatrix between God and man?[9] . . . no creature has received any grace from God except by the intervention and hand of Mary.[10] . . . shall we hesitate to ask her to save us, when . . . to no one is the door of salvation open except through her? . . . No one can be saved except through thee.[11] . . .  through Mary all graces are dispensed to those who are still on the road to heaven . . . Extol the finder of grace, the mediatrix of salvation, the restorer of ages.[12]

CATHOLIC ANSWERS. Eve made the Fall possible, but Adam effected it; Mary made our Redemption possible (by consenting to bring the Savior into the world), but Jesus effected it. God permitted the Redemption of mankind to depend on the free-will decision of a human being. Whether or not we would have a mediator was dependent on Mary’s “yes.” Had there been no “yes” from Mary, there would have been no mediator.[13]

CATHOLIC CATECHISM. This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.… Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.[14]

This view of Mary violates the truth found in 1 Timothy 2:5. Mary is not our mediator. She was a wonderful women, but she was a sinner who needed Jesus Christ to pay for her sins. She acknowledges this fact in Luke 1:46-47, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She personally and appropriately acknowledged her need for a savior.

The Church does not dispense and administrate grace.

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at Sola Fide. In it, we determined that faith alone was the necessary means by which we received Christ’s salvation. This was in contrast to the Catholic view of salvation. They believe that while my past sins were forgiven by the death of Christ, I still needed to perform acts or righteousness meriting me heaven. Since I would struggle gaining enough righteousness in my own strength and deeds, I could access the surplus merit produced by the saints. The important question for this current discussion is who mediates that grace? Does the Catholic church mediate the grace through the surplus merit of former saints? Do they have the right to distribute grace through indulgences and other righteous acts?  OR, does Christ alone have the power and ability to dispense grace due to his own personal righteousness and sacrificial death?  The Reformers, and evangelicals today would all agree with Zwingli’s second thesis, “Christ has borne all our pains and labor. Therefore whoever assigns to works of penance what belongs to Christ errs and slanders God.”[15]

1 Timothy 2:5–6 (ESV) 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all . . .

Christ, the only Atonement

The second battlefield in which the Reformers found themselves was over the area of Christ as the only atonement. Atonement means “a making at one.” It refers to the process of bringing two parties who are divided into unity. The concept of atonement is found throughout the Old Testament in the context of the sacrificial system. While the word is not used in the New Testament, the concept is throughout and finds its primary fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ, in which he made sinners, who were separate from God, at one with God.

As has already been stated, the Catholic church values the death of Christ, but the death of Christ is not sufficient in and of itself to extend pardon of sin.  Christ’s death is not sufficient to atone for my sins. I need to add my own penance and my own righteous deeds. On the other hand, the Reformers, in line with Scripture, acknowledged that Jesus Christ was the only sole atonement.

Christ’s active and passive obedience. There are two aspects that I would like to briefly point out this morning. Christ was the only perfect sacrifice and He was the only perfect righteousness. Both of these aspects play a part in our redemption and restoration to God the Father. The sacrifices of Christ are often referred to as his passive obedience, and the righteousness that he displayed through his perfect obedience to the law throughout his life is referred to as his active obedience.

Christ was the only Sufficient Sacrifice.

There is nothing we can do, no sacrifice we can make, no penance we can endure that will in anyway pay for any of our sins. In contrast, as John the Baptist said about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). We “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24–25 ESV).

Christ’s death, the climax of His passive obedience as displayed in his submission to the Father’s will, was not the only amazing gift of grace offered to believers. If Christ had only paid the penalty of our sin, we would have been brought to a place of neutrality. We would have had no sins and God’s wrath would not have been on us, but we would as well have no righteousness of which to merit eternal life in God’s presence. Our eternal life would be dependent upon our ability to perfectly obey the law of God. Christ’s passive obedience would have brought us back into a relationship with God like that of Adam.

The only Perfect Righteousness.

A beautiful truth. Christ not only paid our penalty by suffering in our stead, he as well lived a perfect life of obedience, perfectly following the law of God on our behalf. In so doing, he merited us the reward and he extends to us his righteousness – a righteousness we could never have attained personally.

We must be cautious that we don’t try to divide these two elements up. They work hand in hand.  Too often we try to simplify the concepts of Christ’s active and passive obedience by defining them as such: Christ’s active obedience refers to the perfect life which Christ lived, and His passive obedience refers to his death. In the first we are granted righteousness and in the second we are granted pardon. In the first He paid our penalty and in the second He kept the law meriting us the reward. This is too simple a definition.  For the entirety of His life He actively and passively submitted to the humility in which He had been placed and the suffering He had to endure. As well His death was the epic moment in which His active obedience was displayed. His active and passive obedience are weaved throughout his life and death in a beautiful tapestry of divine grace and salvation, meriting us both pardon and righteousness.

MACHEN. During every moment of His life upon earth Christ was engaged in His passive obedience. It was all for Him humiliation, was it not? It was all suffering. It was all part of His payment of the penalty of sin. On the other hand, we cannot say that His death was passive obedience and not active obedience. On the contrary, His death was the crown of His active obedience. It was the crown of that obedience to the law of God by which He merited eternal life for those whom He came to save. [16]

Romans 5:19 (ESV) For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Christ, the only Way

In a post-modern culture of relativism and tolerance, it is a hard stance to take to declare that Christ is the only way. It’s fine to acknowledge him as one of many ways, but its intolerant to demand that he is the only way. And yet, Jesus answers Thomas with an exclusive answer when Thomas asked, “How can we know the way?” Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5–6 ESV).

Emperor Severus. When the emperor, Severus (145 – 211 AD), came to the throne, he added Jesus to the pantheon of gods who were worshiped by the Roman emperors. Severus thought he was offering a compromise or an olive branch of sorts to the Christians. He probably thought, “Look at me. Look how noble and tolerant. I’ll be inclusive and add a statue of Jesus with my other gods.” And yet, it accomplished nothing of the sort. In fact, Severus ended up being one of the worst persecutors of Christians. Christians would not be satisfied with anything other than Christ alone. Christ must be the only one worshiped because he is the only one who offers a real way of salvation. He is the only Son of God. He is the only perfect sacrifice. He is the only one who perfectly lived the law. He is the only one in which salvation can be found. All others, who claim otherwise are not only frauds but are leading millions to an eternal destruction.

CHALLIES. Is it unjust, unkind, unfair, un-humble to insist upon the exclusivity of Jesus Christ? No, it is unjust, unkind, unfair, un-humble not to, for in doing so we are simply describing reality. In doing so we are offering hope. If we are to return to God, we . . . must go in and by and through Jesus Christ alone. He demands exclusivity. We cannot use Jesus to hedge our bets, adding a little Jesus to our own efforts or to another guru or deity. We cannot use Jesus as a preferred way while allowing others to follow their own ways, their own paths. For Jesus is not a way, but the way—the only way there is, the only way there ever has been, the only way there ever will be.[17]

Additional Quotes

MACHEN’S DEATH BED QUOTE. On New Year’s Eve, 1936, in a Roman Catholic hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota, J. Gresham Machen was one day away from death at the age of 55. It was Christmas break at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, where he taught New Testament. His colleagues said he looked “deadly tired.” But instead of resting, he took the train from Philadelphia to the 20-below-zero winds of North Dakota to preach in a few Presbyterian churches at the request of Pastor Samuel Allen.

Ned Stonehouse, his New Testament assistant said, “There was no one of sufficient influence to constrain him to curtail his program to any significant degree.” He was the acknowledged leader of the conservative movement in Presbyterianism with no one to watch over him. His heroes and mentors, Warfield and Patton, were dead. He had never married, and so had no wife to restrain him with reality. His mother and father, who gave him so much wise counsel over the years, were dead. His two brothers lived 1500 miles to the east. “He had a personality that only his good friends found appealing.” And so he was remarkably alone and isolated for a man of international stature.

He had pneumonia and could scarcely breath. Pastor Allen came to pray for him that last day of 1936, and Machen told him of a vision that he had had of being in heaven: “Sam, it was glorious, it was glorious,” he said. And a little later he added, “Sam, isn’t the Reformed faith grand?”

The following day – New Year’s Day, 1937 – he mustered the strength to send a telegram to John Murray, his friend and colleague at Westminster. It was his last recorded word: “I’m so thankful for [the] active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” He died about 7:30 P.M.[18]

SCREWTAPE. He has to be a ‘great man’ in the modern sense of the word— one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought— a crank vending a panacea. We thus distract men’s minds from who He is, and what He did. We first make Him solely a teacher, and then conceal the very substantial agreement between His teachings and those of all other great moral teachers. For humans must not be allowed to notice that all great moralists are sent by the Enemy not to inform men but to remind them, to restate the primeval moral platitudes against our continual concealment of them.[19]

CONCERNING SEVERUS. First of all, if it were permissible, that is to say, if he had not lain with his wife, in the early morning hours he would worship in the sanctuary of his Lares, in which he kept statues of the deified emperors — of whom, however, only the best had been selected — and also of certain holy souls, among them Apollonius, and, according to a contemporary writer, Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, and others of this same character and, besides, the portraits of his ancestors. If this act of worship were not possible, he would ride about, or fish, or walk, or hunt, according to the character of the place in which he was.[20]

J.C. RYLE ON FAITH. Have you faith? It is a priceless blessing. Happy indeed are they who are willing and ready to trust Jesus. But take heed you do not make a Christ of your faith. Rest not on your own faith — but on Christ. Is the work of the Spirit in your soul? Thank God for it. It is a work that shall never be overthrown. But oh, beware lest, unawares to yourself, you make a Christ of the work of the Spirit! Rest not on the work of the Spirit — but on Christ. Have you any inward feelings of religion, and experience of grace? Thank God for it. Thousands have no more religious feeling than a cat or dog! But oh, beware lest you make a Christ of your feelings and sensations! They are poor, uncertain things and sadly dependent on our bodies and outward circumstances. Rest not a grain of weight on your feelings. Rest only on Christ. Learn, I entreat you, to look more and more at the great object of faith, Jesus Christ, and to keep your mind dwelling on Him. So doing you would find faith and all the other graces grow, though the growth at the time might be imperceptible to yourself. He who would prove a skillful archer must look not at the arrow — but at the mark.[21]

ROSENBLADT ON FAITH. One of the things that makes this so difficult for the American pastor is the victory that revivalist thought has had in our day. The emphasis in revivalism was “Christ within” more than it was “Christ outside of us.” Luther faced this in the case of Melanchthon, his brilliant coworker. Genius that he was, Melanchthon was more “inward oriented” than was Luther. In a letter to Luther, Melanchthon fretted, “I wonder if I trust Christ enough? Perhaps I do not? What then?” Luther fired back his famous letter, “Melanchthon, go and sin bravely! Then go to the cross and bravely confess it! The whole Gospel is outside of us!” That which saves us is not Christ’s work within us. What saves us is Christ’s objective dying, his objective blood shed on an objective cross. This sounds so simple, but it is the battle between the true Gospel (which is totally objective) and a false gospel of inwardness. When our introspections result in despair (and well they might, because we continue to sin), Christ’s objective and sufficient work must be re-presented to us by our pastors.[22]

 

 

[1] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 203–204.

[2] Rosenbladt, Rod. Christ Alone (Kindle Locations 244-247). NRP Books. Kindle Edition.

[3] Keith Mathison, Top Five Books on the Five Solas: Solus Christus, (Ligonier Ministries). Accessed November 1, 2016. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/top-five-books-five-solas-solus-christus/

[4] Ulrich Zwingli, Sixty-Seven Articles

[5] The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a catechism written in 1646 and 1647 by the Westminster Assembly, a synod of English and Scottish theologians and laymen intended to bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland.

[6] Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851), 365.

[7] J.M, “Mediator,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 746.

[8] http://thiscatholicjourney.com/2007/11/one-mediator.html

[9] De Liguori, Saint Alphonsus. The Glories of Mary (p. 108). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[10] De Liguori, Saint Alphonsus. The Glories of Mary (p. 114). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[11] De Liguori, Saint Alphonsus. The Glories of Mary (p. 120). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[12] De Liguori, Saint Alphonsus. The Glories of Mary (p. 245). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[13] Catholic Answers, Isn’t calling Mary the mediatrix of all graces contrary to the doctrine that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man? (Catholic Answers) Accessed November 23, 2016. http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/isnt-calling-mary-the-mediatrix-of-all-graces-contrary-to-the-doctrine-that-jesus-is-

[14] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 252.

[15] Ulrich Zwingli, Sixty-Seven Articles

[16] J Gresham Machen. The Active Obedience of Christ. Accessed November 23, 2016. http://graceonlinelibrary.org/doctrine-theology/the-atonement/the-doctrine-of-the-atonement-part-ii-the-active-obedience-of-christ-by-j-gresham-machen/

[17] Tim Challies, Unjust, Unkind, Unfair, Un-humble? (challies.com) Accessed November 24, 2016. http://www.challies.com/articles/is-the-exclusivity-of-christ-unjust

[18] John Piper, J. Gresham Machen’s Response to Modernism, (Desiring God). Accessed November 23, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/j-gresham-machens-response-to-modernism

[19] Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters (pp. 124-125). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[20] History Augusta, The Life of Severus Alexander Ch.29

[21] J.C. Ryle. Christ is All! (Excerpt from Holiness). Accessed November 22, 2016. https://www.monergism.com/christ-all

[22] Rosenbladt, Rod. Christ Alone.  (Kindle Locations 474-480). NRP Books. Kindle Edition.

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