SPEAKER ONE: “One Faith, one Hope, one Lord,” words penned by the apostle Paul, who’s John’s model of ministry, from one of his favorite books, the book of Ephesians, Ephesians 4 and 5. We welcome you on a milestone Lord’s Day. A milestone; the Lord has not yet come, another week to share our faith with those who are lost. A milestone; another week to worship the Lord in spirit and truth. And a milestone to celebrate the 30th anniversary of John’s ministry at Grace Community Church.
We’re thankful for God’s faithfulness to us and salvation and to us in the pastor and shepherd that he’s given to us. It was February 9, 1969, John and Patricia came to Grace Community Church. He preached is first sermon as the official pastor of the church. They were over in the chapel in a smaller version. The little nursery building had been built. They tell me there were a few chicken coops to finish the architectural tour out in the parking lot, and that was it. And look at what god has done. Not in buildings, but in the lives of people, for which we thank the Lord and celebrate his faithfulness and his blessing in John’s life and ministry.
If you talk with John much about the ministry or listen to what he’s had to say on multiple occasions, you know that he’s frequently said, “I’ll work on the depth of my ministry and God can take care of the breath of my ministry.” And all of that was built on Ephesians chapter 4 verses 11 to 13. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” That’s been the biblical foundation of John’s ministry and we honor the Lord, we exalt the Lord for what it is that He’s done over these past 30 years. Let’s pray together.
Father our hearts are filled with gratitude, with thanksgiving, with praise. Father, may we express now in our worship, our sense of debt, our sense of obligation to You, our sense of deep, deep appreciation for what You mean to us as Savior and redeemer. For the One who’s conforming us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ and promised us that one day You’d come and we would be called to be with You and be with You forever. Father, receive that that we offer now as acceptable worship in Your sight. We pray for Jesus’ sake and in His name, Amen.
I’m going to read Psalm 66, Psalm 66. You can listen and follow along as I read. “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious. Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works! through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.’ Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. He turned the sea into dry land; they went through the river on foot. There we will rejoice in Him.
“He rules by His power forever; His eyes observe the nations; do not let the rebellious exalt themselves. Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to be moved. For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.
“I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows, which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble. I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, with the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats. Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul. I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me!”
Join me in prayer. Father, we feel like the psalmist, who wanted to come into Your house with burnt offerings; burnt offerings of fat animals and rams and bulls and goats just thinking of how lavishly he wanted to sacrifice in acts of worship to You. We bring not animal sacrifices, but we bring ourselves, our songs, our psalms, our hymns, our praise. We come to renew our covenant of obedience. We come to declare what You have done for our souls. We come to thank You for Your mercy and Grace. Stream upon stream of Grace and love has overflowed our pathway.
You made us out of nothing and nothing we were in our fallenness. And You recalled us from that far country of sin and judgment. You translated us from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from misery to peace, from folly to wisdom, from error to truth, from death to life, from sin to eternal glory. Oh God, we thank You for our high and holy calling. And we bless You for being the giver of all good.
We bless You for ministering angels sent forth to minister to us, for the comfort of the Scripture, for the ordinance of the church, for the teaching of the Holy Spirit, His guidance in our lives. We – we bless you for the communion of saints, for Christian fellowship. We bless You for the history, the recorded annals of Holy lives, who have become patterns and models for us to follow. We bless You for examples of others who, in response to You, have walked obediently and known Your power, in whose footsteps we walk.
We thank You that your will is to provide all our necessary provisions, to give us all that pertains to life and Godliness, to grant us all that is necessary to enable us to grow in Grace and to be fitted for Your eternal presence. We thank You for Heaven borne faith that granted us a promise of eternal life. Thank You for the new birth and with it that pledge of living with You forever.
We thank You that one day we drew near to You only to find that You had first drawn near to us. We ask of You forgiveness, only to find out that You had already elicited the faith in our hearts. We entrusted ourselves to You, knowing later that You had already begun to redeem us from sin. We bless You, we adore You, the eternal God, for the comfort of all these truths, the joy of all our hopes. We come to add our praise to the psalmists and to all the Saints of all the ages who have glorified You. Hear our praise. In Jesus name.
We believe the Lord has been exalted in the history of Grace Community Church. It dates back to 1956. Two couples, Dick and Shirley Smith, Burt and Deloris Mickelson and others came and settled here on Roscoe Boulevard. For the first 13 years through the ministry of two men: Dr. Don Householder and Dr. Richard Elvee, who it turned out, were literally in the twilight of their ministry. They found themselves without a pastor late in the year of 1968, had John MacArthur and Patricia come and candidate. I think that the candidating message lasted somewhat over an hour and they thought they’d never be invited back again. But they were, and in a sense, the rest is history. God has sovereignly and graciously chosen to pour his blessing out on you as a congregation, on John as our pastor, all for His glory.
It would take volumes to record all of the details. If you know anything about Grace Church, it is that it’s never the same day by day. It’s always growing. There’s never anything that’s repetitive or redundant, except for our love for the Savior and our tenacious teaching of the word of God. John has been involved in a number of different ministries, any one of which is enough to consume any one individual. And we’re going to ask Matt McArthur, John’s oldest son to come and tell us a little bit from his prospective as one who grew up in John’s house and who also serves as a board member at Grace to You. Tell us a little bit about the milestones of John as a broadcaster, author, and president of the Masters College.
MATT MacARTHUR: Thank you, Dick. On this momentous occasion, it’s appropriate to take time out and to give honor where honor is due. Dad, I know you’re not fond of accolades, but being that I am your son, I will take that privilege this morning. I want to give two perspectives, if I can, on the ministry that the Lord has given to both you and to Mom over the last 30 years at Grace church. First of all, I want to reflect on your ministry, as a board member of Grace to You. And then secondly, as a family member or an insider, shall we say.
Fourteen years ago in 1985, Dad became the president of the Master’s College and Seminary. The enrollment today has grown from 285 students to over a thousand; that’s a four-fold increase. The majors have increased from 18 to over 50 today, and we’ve graduated nearly 2000 students. Since 1969, over 11 million tapes have been distributed around the world. Radio broadcasts are now heard over 750 times a day. In fact, every hour of every day, somewhere in the world the proclamation of God’s word is aired.
You’ve written over 70 books; hard to imagine. Dad, I can hardly read them as fast as you write them. Those books include The Gospel According to Jesus and Rediscovering Expository Preaching, which – most of you don’t know this – recently won the Gold Medallion Award. These books have been translated into over 35 languages. You have authored over 110 different articles and, most significantly, recently concluded the MacArthur Study Bible, your life work.
I asked, recently, the leadership of Grace to You to put in writing what the ministry has meant to them. And, if I may, I’d like to read that to you this morning. Ask almost anyone in the evangelical world today who the greatest living Bible expository is, in all likelihood the reply you will hear, without hesitation, is John MacArthur. It is certainly true that no one else in our generation has labored so faithfully over a 30-year span to produce such high quality in-depth biblical teaching, covering virtually the entire New Testament, all the while pastoring one congregation.
Besides that, he has written dozens of significant books, a series of in-depth commentaries and a major study Bible. He’s been featured worldwide for nearly 20 years on the daily radio broadcast of Grace to You, and he is well known for motivating and training other men for ministry. It is clear that if the Lord tarries the ministry of our pastor will be remembered by future generations as one of the most significant preaching ministries in 2,000 years of church history.
We, Grace Church, are exceedingly privileged to sit under John MacArthur’s teaching. Because a prophet is without honor in his own country, many in our own congregation may not realize years from now what a tremendous blessing the Lord has given us in the person of our pastor. It is good to pause and reflect on these things from time to time so we can give thanks to the Lord.
If I could switch gears for a minute I’d also like to share with you, as a family member, what I believe has made this ministry, Dad’s 30 years of service at Grace Church, so significant. And that is the fact that he has demonstrated in his life uncompromising integrity. Let me put it to you another way. The greatest sermon he’s ever preached is his life. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Dad and Mom, we Grace Community Church, and we, the MacArthur family, are eternally grateful for your faithful service and for your long obedience in the same direction. Thank you.
SPEAKER ONE: Well, God has done exceedingly, abundantly beyond anything John or you and I could ever ask, or think, I’m sure. 1969, he started the tape ministry in kind of a fairly amateurish fashion. It was 1971 that a little booklet on demons was published, which wouldn’t be his biggest or best piece of writing. It was 1977 that he started on just one radio station. In 1985, he took over as president of the Master’s College when it really was kind of in the trough of its experience. In 1986, John became the president of the Master’s Seminary and, as you all know, we share your campus, your facility and have knit our ministries together in a most wonderful way. The attendance was 95 that first year. This spring semester it’s 295. Our faculty has grown four-fold, from 14 to 17 in those days. We’ve graduated 355 men. One out of every six is ministering somewhere outside of the United States in 23 different countries. In America they’re in 38 different states and we’re looking to graduate 53 more come May.
In the midst of all of that, John’s been a Bible conference speaker and has traveled to 38 states in our own nation and to over 20 countries to herald the word of God. But all of that is somewhat secondary to his major focus, his primary love, and what it is that we celebrate today, and that is, 30 years of faithful ministry here at Grace Community Church. It’s hard to believe that John has preached over 2,500 different messages. We were talking in-between the services – probably having preached over 10,000 times in that period of time, which is a lot of preaching. Add to that the 300 bread and cup services that he’s presided over here at Grace Church. Not to mention the hundreds of weddings and funerals and baptisms and hospital visits and meetings and all of the rest that goes along with the life of a pastor.
There were several hundred people here when John came in 1969. Over in the chapel today, over 7,000 gather in two morning services here in our worship center. The chapel and a little nursery building were the beginning buildings and you can go out and see all the rest that the Lord has built in those years. And today, we would welcome a membership of over 4,000, all of that to honor and glorify the Lord. We understand, and John would want me to make it crystal clear, that it is the Lord who, from beginning to end, has sovereignly done this but he’s chosen to work through a faithful man, a man who considers holiness of life as the highest priority, and one who supremely believes in the integrity and the sufficiency of the Word of God.
The Bible says that we’re to render honor to those to whom honor is due. And we believe that today is that particular day. And to do it a little more tangibly, John, if you would escort your lovely wife to the platform we’d like to do just a little more if we could. And while they’re coming I’m going to invite Rob Iverson, who’s chairman of our elder board. And Rob, along with, I think, a great deal of help from his wife, Dawn, has selected and gift wrapped a present for Patricia.
PATRICIA MacARTHUR: Well, I must say thanks. This is a beautiful gold necklace that I will wear with pleasure and I will cherish it as a representation of one of the memories we have had at this church with this congregation. Thank you.
SPEAKER ONE: Thank you, Patricia. No jewelry for John, though. But it is something along the artistic line. And Rob and John Bates are on their way out with it. It is a very, very unique picture – and you’ll later on want to take time to examine it thoroughly – that combines all of John’s ministry. John is somewhat in the center. The lower left-hand corner is the seminary; the upper left-hand corner are his commentary series, the Moody New Testament Commentaries; to the right, Grace to You; the bottom right, the Master’s College and in the center, I think you can see the cross that’s right behind us. All of that around the core and the hub of the preaching of the word at Grace Church. It magnifies the name of the Lord and the ministry that God’s given to John.
JOHN MacARTHUR: Thank you. Well, this is really overwhelming and I should really be hearing all of this from my casket. You’re not – you’re not applauding my death, are you by any means? I’m really planning on being around for a while but this is really overwhelming and it’s such a generous expression of your love. Really, we – we look at these gifts as a – as just a token of the outpouring of love that we’ve enjoyed in all the 30 years we’ve been here. Not everybody, by any means, is so blessed by God as to have a church like this. We – we have been free of conflict and failure through the years and maybe the Lord knew we couldn’t handle that. But God has just poured out blessing upon blessing and you – you are that blessing. That blessing is people and you have enriched our lives so greatly. Thank you for your prayers and your love and thanks to the elders and everybody who had a part. And thanks to you Dick. God bless you.
SPEAKER ONE: I could not help but think if John could hear all of this kind of thing from the casket it would be a greater miracle than the first 30 years. I think I could speak on your behalf, and I know I do for the elders and the staff, that it’s been a phenomenal, unthinkable privilege just to be a part and to be a member. To be allowed by God to be a piece of what he’s done through Grace Community Church and just to be a part of your life in ministry John. Thank you.
We decidedly and unanimously, as elders, thought there was one man in America who would be the appropriate speaker for this glorious day, Dr. James Montgomery Boice. Dr. Boice is senior pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia. If we think we’re old at 43, his church was founded in 1829. He’s been there. He’s just kind of a young guy there. He’s been there 31 years, since 1968. And as you might add up, a year ago celebrated his 30th year of expository ministry at that church.
He’s also the radio Bible teacher on the Bible study hour, and has been since 1969. He chaired the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, which undoubtedly was the most strategic theological council called in America, at least in this century. And he did that from 1977 until they believed that their mission had been accomplished in 1988. He’s been the author of or contributor to over 60 volumes related to Bible exposition and theological subjects. And he and his wife, Linda Ann, live near the church in City Center, Philadelphia. They have three daughters, three grandchildren. James Montgomery Boice could easily be defined as a man who’s a staunch defender of the faith. He’s an outstanding expositor of God’s word. He’s also a special friend of our pastor and of Grace Community Church. Let’s give a warm welcome to Dr. Boice.
DR. JAMES BOICE: Well, thank you very much. It’s a great privilege for me to be here. I’ve always enjoyed my time at Grace Church. I’ve been out several times before on what I think were significant occasions but none, of course, are significant as this. So it’s not only a joy to be here, but also a privilege to bring the greetings and congratulations and prayers from our board of elders and the congregation and many individual members who have been blessed by the ministry of John MacArthur over the years. Whenever I go off to speak, we print in the calendar the previous weeks where I’m going so people can pray for me as I go. And we did that a week ago, mentioning that I was going to be here this Sunday for these services.
And after our morning service a number of people came up and said, “Please give my greetings to John MacArthur. He probably doesn’t remember me but years ago he helped me.” And they gave me a variety of stories that literally came from all over this country, some from Philadelphia. I remember one person that had been in Texas at the time and had been blessed by the preaching there and several who have been here as members of this congregation, sat under the ministry, grown under the Bible teaching, and now are with us in Philadelphia. And I imagine it’s happened the other way around.
I – I’ve had an opportunity this year to speak to pastors in a number of places, encouraged to speak to them about what I consider important, necessary for the pastoral ministry and preaching today. And in several places. I’ve talked along these lines. I’ve said, “What we need is a recovery of three things: preaching the Gospel, preaching the Bible, and preaching Christ. And I can’t think of a ministry that has done that more faithfully, consistently over a greater period of time than that of John MacArthur here at Grace Church. Those three go together. Each one includes the others. Because when you preach the Gospel it comes from the Bible. It’s all about Christ and John has exemplified that in what I think is a God-glorifying, and certainly, much blessed way over the years.
Well, I’m going to talk about justification by faith, certainly the heart of the Gospel and therefore, I think, an appropriate subject for a morning like this. And I’d like you to look at Romans 3 verses 21 through 26 which, as you may know, is the initial statement of the Gospel and Paul’s writings. Paul begins in the first chapter by talking about a wrath of God being revealed from Heaven. He’s shown how that manifests itself in culture.
He’s dealt with the kind of objections that come very naturally to our minds when we say, “Well, what you say about the need of a Savior is alright for other people but it doesn’t apply for me for various reasons.” And Paul has answered all of those and summed up our desperate need in the middle of the third chapter, pointing out that none of us are righteous, none of us understand anything about God or spiritual things, and certainly none of us have ever sought God. Instead we run away. But then having shown how desperate the situation is in these verses, for the first time, as I said, he begins to unfold the Gospel.
And they go like this, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ, all who believe. There’s no difference. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his Grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith and his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
And let’s take just a moment and pray. Our Father, we know, because we are told in Your word, that we are unable to understand spiritual things by ourselves. We have to be taught by Your Spirit. And even when we’re taught those things, to understand them we need Your Grace to receive them into our thinking and our lives, so we actually begin to act as Christian people. So as we begin to look at this great text this morning we do ask for the ministry of Your Holy Spirit in our midst, and we might be given that understanding which leads to salvation and growth and Grace. And that as we leave this place we might go saying, “Yes, from the Scripture, by the Spirit we have heard the voice of God.” We pray that in Jesus name. Amen.
I want to begin by mentioning three books which I came across a number of years ago, all published at about the same time and, in one way or another, all stating the same message. The first was by Dr. David Wells. He’s pastor – has been a pastor but he’s professor of theology at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, north of Boston. And he published a book called, No Place for Truth. The second book was by my colleague, Michael Horton, founder of Pure Ministries now part of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and his book was called, Power Religion. And then the third book was by your pastor, John MacArthur, and it was called, Ashamed of the Gospel.
A significant thing about those three books is that they were written by men with three very different kinds of ministries. One, a professor of theology, one a founder of a para church organization, one a pastor. And yet, they were all addressing what each perceived to be a fundamental need of the Evangelical church, namely that the Evangelical church in our day has become exceedingly worldly, repeating in our time for the Evangelicals much of what happened with the liberal church a generation ago. The subtitles of those three books are even more revealing than the titles because David Wells’ book, No Place for Truth, bears the subtitle, Or Whatever happened to Evangelical Theology? Michael Horton’s book, Power Religion, has as its subtitle, The Selling out of the Evangelical Church. And John MacArthur’s book, Ashamed of the Gospel, bore the subtitle, When the Church Becomes like the World.
That’s what it really is to be worldly. And what these men were saying, each in their own way, is that the Evangelical church has, in many cases, become virtually indistinguishable from the world around it. And in other cases is in danger of becoming so. David Wells, in his book, says that the Evangelical church, as he understands it, is either dead or dying as a significant religious force because it has forgotten its theology. Now he’s not suggesting for a moment that we are fading away as a sociological presence because Evangelical Christianity is big business. We have big churches, we have large budgets, we sell a lot of products. What he is suggesting is that we are ceasing to make a significant religious impact upon our world because we’ve forgotten that theology, which has really defined Christianity and, until recently, has set the Evangelical church apart.
Where do we begin when we begin to talk about the essentials of the Gospel? A number of years ago now, this new organization mentioned here a moment ago, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, held a meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We wanted to discuss the problem as we saw it. We were seeking reformation of the church in our day, beginning with repentance for our worldliness. And we said, “If we’re talking about a recovery of the Gospel, where do we begin? There are many aspects to the Gospel.” And we said, “If we really are thinking in terms of a modern reformation, which we need, a place to begin is with that fundamental definition of the Gospel that took place at the time of the Protestant Reformation.
Evangelicals have much in common with those that go by the name of Christian in various branches of the church down through history. We have part of our roots in the early ecumenical councils that define such doctrines as the Trinity and the true natures of Christ and other things along those lines. But chiefly, our identification comes out of the Protestant Reformation. Reformers did something interesting in their day. They often wrote in Latin, as you know, and they took one great Latin word, the word, sola or solus – it means only or alone – and they coupled it to various doctrines, which, of course, were affirmed by the church. You could hardly pretend to be Christian without affirming them in one sense or another. But insisted that properly understood you had to have those doctrines in their purity, that is undiluted by the traditions of mere men and women.
They taught, for example, of Scripture alone. Their phrase was sola scriptura. They meant by that that the Scriptures were the ultimate authority and utterly sufficient in all matters of salvation and faith and Christian life in the Roman church of that day, of course, according to the Scriptures. But what had happened is that the people of the Middle Ages were ignorant of the Bible. The Bible was not properly disseminated. The priests didn’t understand the doctrines. And so, all kinds of debilitating traditions had grown up in the church. And when the Reformers came along they didn’t say, “Well, you just throw out all the traditions.” You can’t do that. Anytime you have a service there are certain traditions that you follow, certain ways of doing things.
But they said, “You have to understand that the unique authority in the church is the Bible because that’s from God. All traditions are merely for man.” And so they emphasized that by saying, “sola scriptura,” Scripture alone. You can have your traditions but if traditions come in conflict with the Scriptures it’s the traditions that must be judged and the Scripture must be exalted over all. Now they called that the formal principle of the Reformation. What they meant by that was, it was the doctrine that gave form or substance to everything else. If you say, “What do we believe about God?” the answer is, “What the Bible teaches. What do we believe about Jesus Christ is what the Bible teaches,” and so on. And they called that the formal principle.
But then they had three other doctrines that they put together. And they said, “These are the material principle of the Reformation.” And, again, they used the word, sola or solus. They spoke, for an example, of Jesus Christ, and they said, “solus Christus,” Christ alone. Now, the medieval church talked about Christ, of course, but they mingled all kinds of human efforts and human attainments with His work on the cross so that one was said to be saved, not by Christ and his work alone, but by the work of Christ plus the merit of the Saints or the merit of individuals, in one way or another, somehow qualified for salvation.
And the Scriptures taught, according to the Reformers, that it wasn’t merely Jesus Christ with whom we are concerned but Christ alone. And so they said, “solus Christus. You don’t have Christianity without it. They went on to Grace; they talked about Grace alone. It meant that God doesn’t owe us anything nor can we put God in our debt. God saves us. He saves us by Grace alone. And you don’t really have the Gospel without that. And finally, they talked about faith alone, sola fide, because they said we are saved, not by faith plus works – leading to our justification – but by faith alone on the basis of which we are justified and then begin to live for God, producing works. But it’s not part of the justification process.
Now this is what Romans 3 is all about. There are a number of great doctrines in that passage that I read. And, of course, if we had time for the series, we’d talk about each one. It talks about a sacrifice of atonement for an example. Many translations use the word “propitiation,” and in that case, I prefer those translations than the New International version, which is the one from which I read. It has to do with turning aside the wrath of God.
That’s an essential element. We forget it today. Don’t hear much about it today because people don’t really want to think about wrath. Somehow, it’s all right to think about the love of God. But if we talk about the love of God without the wrath of God, we have a truncated God. We’ve got a reductionistic kind of theology. God is all of those things and many more besides. Our great problem is that, as sinners, we stand under condemnation, we are facing the wrath of God in eternity and what we need is a Savior who’s able to turn the wrath of God aside. That’s what propitiation is all about; it’s done by sacrifice.
The ancients were a lot wiser than we are at that point because they understood what propitiation was. They thought if you did something bad, if there’s a God, there must be a God who’ll get you sooner or later. And so, in order not to be zapped by God, at some point, what you had to do is get God to stop being angry, so you made a sacrifice. Now that’s the word that’s taken over into Christianity but with a fundamental difference. And you and I are not able to make any kind of sacrifice that will turn aside the wrath of God, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered up Himself as the sacrifice in our place. That’s propitiation.
And then you’ve got redemption. That’s the word that B.B. Warfield said is the most beloved term in the Christian vocabulary. And the reason for that is that it describes what the Lord Jesus Christ does for his people. Propitiation, you see, is a term that describes what Jesus does in relation to God the Father. He turns the wrath of God the Father aside by His death on the cross. Redemption describes what He does for us. It’s a commercial term. It means to buy out of slavery, to set a person free. So Christians who have been set free by the work of Christ, experiencing that Grace in their lives, love that term. And the way B.B. Warfield proved that it was the most-beloved term in the Christian vocabulary, is by quoting at length in one of his addresses, the number of hymns and psalms that actually use that word.
And then there’s this third great word and this is the one we’re chiefly concerned about. Propitiation describes what Jesus Christ does in relation to God the Father, redemption describes what Jesus Christ does in relation to His people, justification describes what God does in relationship to us and it’s on the basis of the propitiation. In other words, Jesus does something that satisfies the justice of God and God, as the justifier, then acts in justifying those who trust Jesus. Let me give you the definition of justification. It’s an important one, each part of it matters. It goes like this. Justification is an act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous by Grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.
Sometimes you hear the phrase, “justified by faith,” and that’s what Luther talked about. That was theological shorthand for the longer definition. Luther said, “That’s the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” When you have that doctrine you stand firm, you’re a true church. But if you lose that, well, you can have all sorts of other things right but you’re no longer a true church because you no longer have the Gospel. And if we had said to Luther, “Well, come on, Luther, spell that out a little bit. We hear justification by faith. We also hear justification by Grace. Which is it, faith or Grace?” Luther would have said, “All of the above and this is the definition. Justification is an act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous because of the work of Jesus Christ, because of His Grace and received through faith.”
And that was a great discovery at the time of the Reformation. And the reason is that in the Middle Ages everybody worked with the Latin Bible. It had been written – translation by Jerome. Lived about the time of St. Augustine at the end of the 4th century and into the next century. And when Jerome was looking around for a Latin word to translate the Greek term for justification and righteousness. The two words are linked, dikaioō and dikaiosunē, he settled upon the Latin term, justificare. That’s where we get our word justification.
But it was an unfortunate translation in this respect. If you take that word justification, justificare in its Latin firm – form and divide it into two parts, you’ve got justice or righteousness on the one hand, and facio facare on the other, which means to make or to do. We had a lot of these words over in English, justice, obviously, and facio facere has given us factory or something is made and manufacturing, where something’s made by hand. And if you take those two parts of the word and try to understand it that way, as undoubtedly people in the Middle Ages did, what you have is a doctrine by which God makes, intrinsically, people righteous. And justification by God is something that occurs at the end of that process because it’s only then that God, in all honesty, can say that people are truly righteous.
Now if God is going to do that, that’s good news, even in the form that you had it in the Middle Ages, where you have sinners who, by taking advantage of the sacraments, can have, perhaps, less sin and judgment now than they would have otherwise. And who, if they are not yet justified by the time they died – oh, perhaps a few of the saints have been – pass into a period of the afterlife and a form of it known as purgatory, where all of the impurities are burned away and righteousness is actually established. Whether that takes a hundred years or ten thousand years, at the end of which when you actually finally do become just, you’re declared just by God and you pass into Heaven. I guess that’s good news, not very good news.
And Luther, above all, didn’t think it was good news because Luther was trying to do all that. Luther was a very pious monk. He did everything he was told to do. He struggled with it. He confessed his sin so much that finally his superior said, “For Heaven’s sake, Luther, go home and don’t come back until you have something worth confessing.” And the more he confessed his sin, the more sinful Luther realized he was. He said, “Even my repenting requires repentance.” And as he struggled with it, he said, “I was told to love God but I didn’t love God. I actually hated God because not being satisfied to terrify us with the law, He makes things impossible with the Gospel. Gospel is supposed to be good news. The law condemns. The Gospel is supposed to announce a liberation and salvation, but if the Gospel 44:45 means actually having to become that over a period of millennia, perhaps in purgatory, suffering the flames of purgatory if not the flames of Hell, that is hardly something in which I can rejoice.”
And he had a great spiritual superior – his name was Johann Staupitz – who said to him, “Luther, you’re destroying yourself that way. You’re never going to find peace with that kind of reasoning. What you need to do is study the Bible.” And so Luther went back and began to study it. And what he found out is that justification in its biblical form doesn’t mean a process by which eventually we become holy, but it’s an act of God by which He declares us holy and it’s instantaneous. And if we say, as obviously we must. “Well, you know, how can that be because God obviously has to do the right thing? God can’t pretend that we’re holy when we’re not actually holy. How can he declare us holy?”
We might understand how he might want to. We would like to do it ourselves in the same position. But, after all, the righteous God of the universe has to act justly.” The answer was, “God does it but He does it because of the work of Jesus Christ.” You deserve to die for your sin. You ought to be in Hell for your sin but Jesus Christ has taken your punishment upon Himself. And in order to stand before God it’s not enough to be neutral; you’ve got to be holy. But you’re going to be able to stand before God because of the holiness of Jesus Christ.
And Luther saw that you have a two-fold transaction there in justification. Our sin is placed upon Jesus and punished there. His righteousness is placed upon us, and in that righteousness, we stand boldly before the thrown of Grace. And Luther said, “When I understood that, it’s as if the bronze gates of paradise swung open and I entered in.” And at that point, he was able to go out and was used by God, actually, to be the human instrument that brought about the Reformation. Now that’s the Gospel. That’s what we need to hold onto. If David Wells says we’re forgetting the Gospel, that, above all, is the Gospel we must maintain.
Rudyard Kipling, at the very end of the last century, at the time of the great jubilee for Queen Victoria, was asked to write a bit of poetry about it and he did. And it went like this, at least the first of the four stanzas. “God of our fathers, known of old,/Lord of our far-flung battle line,/Beneath whose awful hand we hold/Dominion over palm and pine—/Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,/Lest we forget—lest we forget!.” The people of that day didn’t like it. It was a great jingoistic period of British rule, the height of the empire. The scuttlebutt of the day is that Kipling lost his chance to be appointed poet laureate because he wrote that poem, reminding the British people that maybe they were forgetting God who had actually blessed them and made them great.
Let me suggest we need to hear that today. This is the Gospel. It is what has blessed the Evangelical church. But let us not forget it because we’re in danger of doing it. You say, “How in the world are we in danger of forgetting that?” You talk about Christ alone? You can’t really understand that we would forget Christ alone. After all, Evangelicals above all people, talk about Jesus. We talk about Jesus all the time. Yes, but even in a man-centered age, even in a therapeutic age, sin is no longer, for most people, an offense against the law and majesty of God.
It has to do, more or less, with psychological dysfunction. In a climate like that salvation really is wholeness, getting it all together and Jesus becomes a great example. So we talk about Jesus and His teaching about how to live a holy life and be happy and get along with your family and all of that, but Christ and His work on the cross is pushed aside.
This is one of the things that the Cambridge Declaration said. It had a paragraph that went like this, “As Evangelical faith has become secularized it’s interests have been blurred with those of the culture. And the result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and His cross had moved from the center of our vision.” And the sociologists polled the Evangelical community to find out what it is that Evangelicals actually believe about the Gospel. The bottom line in our day is this. Evangelicals believe in God helping us to help ourselves. And to that extent Christ and His cross have been forgotten.
And then we talk about Grace. Reformers said, “It’s all of Grace. God doesn’t owe you anything.” If you talk about that today people get upset because, well, we’re living in an age that’s focused on ourselves. Obviously, we’re focused on our own abilities and, may we say it, our own goodness. We think we’re really pretty good stuff with God. And if that’s the case then God owes us something. Some years ago, Thomas Yancy wrote a book for the Evangelicals called, Disappointed with God.” He was really hitting it on the head. I read it and I said, “My goodness, how can that be, that Christian people could be disappointed with Almighty God? But, of course, we are. And the reason is we think God owes us something and he’s not doing exactly what we think he ought to be doing in our lives. And so we’ve forgotten Grace.
One of our theologians wrote some years ago about Amazing Grace. That was the great song of the church a generation ago. That great song, “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound,” written by John Newton, the former slave trader that had been miraculously redeemed. And this theologian said, “In our day, amazing grace has become boring grace instead.” If I recall his writing right, he said, “You know in a normal congregation today you can engage people in conversation about all sorts of things. You can talk about the budget – they have plenty of opinions of that – and the church expansion. And if you run out of that you can always talk about the stock market or sports or something like that.”
But he said, “Try to talk to them about Grace. What you’ll discover is, not that they contradict you, Christians believe in Grace, but they have nothing to contribute. It’s just a boring subject to them because, of course, what we’re really thinking about is our own merit.” The more you press these points, the greater seems to be the similarity between our church today and the church of the Middle Ages before the Reformation. And then there’s sola fide. Luther summarized it by saying it was the doctrine of justification by faith, because faith was the critical thing. And certainly, it is in this passage in Romans 3. All of the elements that I mentioned are here because this redemption is by Grace and it comes through Christ Jesus. But faith, above all, is emphasized. The word occurs eight times there in those two paragraphs, beginning with verse 21 to the end of the chapter. And then we’ve got illustrations of it in the next chapter from the case of Abraham and David.
What’s happened to faith today? Are we in danger of forgetting that? I think so. Because what we’ve done is shrink it down to something manageable, that doesn’t actually require much of a difference in our lives. That’s what John MacArthur was writing about in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. It made a tremendous splash in the Evangelical world and produced an awful lot of anger, because, of course, we’ve reduced faith to mere intellectual assent in many cases. And people who were satisfied with that, who didn’t want to think in terms of actually having to follow Christ as Savior, got angry and said, “Well, you’re preaching another Gospel,” but he wasn’t doing anything of the sort. He was preaching biblical Gospel.
Because what John MacArthur recognized, and a number of us were talking about it at the same time, is this. When you look at a mass of Christians, you find many who are not living like Jesus Christ. They’re not living like Christians. And you ask the question, “Why aren’t they living like Christians?” The answer is what John said in his book. He was courageous to say it. The answer is, “Because they’re not Christians.” You say, “Well, you know, we came down an aisle, you know, when we’re 13. Of course we’ve lived like the devil ever since, except until we got to the point we wanted to be respectable. And we don’t show it too much but, you know, we made a profession.” And that was mere intellectual assent.”
You know the classic Reformers always said there were three elements in biblical faith. There’s the element of content; you have to have that. The word for it is noticia. In the classical theology it means what we mean by a notice or notification. It involves information and they said you can’t have Christianity without teaching. You have to teach the Bible. You have to go out and proclaim Jesus Christ. In the Middle Ages that was the big problem because, of course, there was very little knowledge and people asked the question, “If you’re to be saved by faith and you don’t actually know what it is you should believe, how do you exercise the faith?” And the Roman church answered, “It’s by an implicit faith.”
What they meant by that is, you don’t understand what the doctrines are but the church does so you just trust the church implicitly. And Calvin said, “That’s pious nonsense.” People aren’t saved that way. It’s like a man who was being interviewed for membership in the church. He came before the board of elders and they said, “What do you believe?” He said, “I believe what the church believes.” And they weren’t quite satisfied with that so they said, “Well, all right. But tell us, what does the church believe?” He said, “The church believes what I believe.” And they tried once more. They said, “All right, but tell us, what do you and the church believe?” He said, “We believe the same thing.”
And we have a lot of people that are like that today. They – the don’t understand the doctrines. They don’t study the Bible. They don’t know what it really is to be a Christian. You have to have noticia. But then they also said, “It’s more than that because the devils understand that. The devil’s a better theologian than you are, and he’s not a Christian.” What you also have to have is agreement with it. The word they use for that is assensus. It’s just like our word assent. You consent to it. You say, “Yes.” And some would say – I think John Piper is one; he’s got a good emphasis here. That also involves, what we would call, falling in love with Jesus Christ and loving God and desiring to glorify God. All of that’s an important element.
Calvin said, “You know, it’s not enough to have the doctrines simply flitting around in the top of your brain. They have to sink down to the point where they take root and begin to grow in your heart.” And just even that is not the fullness of salvation because faith in the biblical sense involves not only the content and agreeing with the content, it also involves that moment when we make a personal commitment to Christ. When we trust Him as our Savior because, of course, He’s the one about whom the Gospel is all about. So it’s like a marriage service.
You’ve had a couple that have gotten to know one another – that’s noticia. They’ve fallen in love; that’s assensus. But then the time comes when they stand before the minister and exchange their vows. And that’s what happens spiritually. It’s as if Jesus, the Bridegroom who has courted us when we were fleeing from Him and won us to Himself by His love, first of all, expresses his vow for us. He says, “I, Jesus, take thee sinner to be my disciple and I do promise and covenant before the Heavenly Father to be thy faithful Savior, bridegroom and Lord. In plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health for this life and for all eternity.”
And we come to that moment where we look into his face and repeat the words after him. “I sinner, take thee, Jesus, to be my loving Savior and bridegroom and Lord and God. I do promise and covenant thee for God the Heavenly Father to be my loving and faithful disciple in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, for this life and for all eternity.” And, God, the Father, who is conducting that service pronounces us joined to Jesus Christ forever. We came into that service as a sinner, we go out as Christian. We bear his name and now we have to bear it faithfully before the world.
And I do want to add one more illustration. Because the problem with that, of course, is that in a marriage we always bring something on both sides. A husband contributes, the wife contributes, but not in salvation. We contribute nothing. We have nothing to contribute. It’s all of God, it’s all of Christ, it’s all of Grace and it’s received by faith alone. The apostle Paul talks about it, in terms of his own experience, in Philippians 3. You all know the passage. He says, “Before I was converted, if anybody had a reason to boast, certainly I did. I was circumcised on the 8th day, of the People of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, A Hebrew of the Hebrews. In regard of the law, a Pharisee. As for zeal persecuting the church. As for legalistic, righteousness, faultless, or whatever it was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”
That’s a very understandable illustration. He’s using a commercial image. He’s saying, “Before I met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus I – I had a great big line down the middle of my life and over on this side I had assets and on this side, I had liabilities.” The word here is profits and loss. And he said, “The way I thought you got into Heaven was by getting more under the column of assets than in the column of liabilities.”
Doesn’t everybody naturally think that way, even today? I’m a good person. When I get to Heaven I’ll say, “Well I did so and so. You ought to take me into Heaven.” Paul said, “I don’t know about everybody else but if anybody had it made I did because, look at all those things. All those things that I inherited simply because I was a Jew within the covenant People of Israel, and, more than that, all the things that I acquired for myself. I was a Pharisee, I was a zealous Pharisee. I was blameless so far as the keeping of the law was concerned as I understood it. And it was in that kind of self-righteousness that I was out persecuting the church and the Son of God. And then the time came on the road to Damascus when I saw Jesus Christ in His glory.
And Paul would say, “I learned two great lessons on that road. First of all I learned when I saw what real righteousness was that all these things I’ve been accumulating would never in a million years add up to holiness. I could have gone through purgatory forever and I would never be holy like Jesus Christ. Well, they weren’t righteousness at all. And then, secondly, I learned this. Not only didn’t they add up to righteousness, they weren’t even assets. They were actually liabilities because what I was doing was trusting those instead of trusting Christ. And what happened on that road to Damascus, I took that whole column of assets and I moved them over into the column of liabilities because that’s what they really were. And under assets I wrote, Jesus Christ alone. Because He’s the Savior and He’s done it all and there’s nothing that you and I can add to it. And if we think we can, we don’t have the Gospel, and if we preach it we’re not a true church.”
And we have to get to that point where we say, as Toplady did, in that great hymn, Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hands I bring,/Helpless, look to thee for Grace;/Naked, look to Thee for dress./Foul, I to the fountain fly;/Wash me Savior or I die./Rock of Ages, cleft for me,/Let me hide myself in Thee. And those who do that are those in whose life God has done the miracle of salvation and we’re going to spend eternity saying Jesus Christ alone. Amen? Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank You for the Gospel. We thank You for its clarity, its purity. It is so easy to understand, in spite of the fact that we come to it with all the distortions and prejudices of a sinful secular world. And, Father, grant in our day that as here, also in many other churches throughout our land, we might hear that again. And You might be pleased in our time for Your mercy sake to grant us a new Reformation. Amen and Amen.
JOHN MacARTHUR: I remember reading a number of years ago a book that was written about churches and they chose our church for one of the chapters in which they defined our church as, “A classroom church,” was the term heading up the title. And that we were basically a church that was consumed with the idea of refining Bible teaching. While that is true we are committed to Bible teaching, what you heard this morning is really the heartbeat of this church.
This is a church that is committed to the preaching of the true and pure Gospel of Scripture. That has always been our passion. That’s why our church has grown. That’s why we have seen so many people come to Christ through all these years. The ringing message from this pulpit is what you heard this morning; the clarity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what we preach and – and what we will always preach. 62:00 I trust in God’s hand will always be upon that Gospel and He will bless it.
I thank Dr. Boice for that tremendously rich word on this, the very core, the very heart of our faith; the doctrine of justification. As I said, nothing is more important than this in our church and nothing is more important than this in any other church. If we lose clarity and understanding of the doctrine of justification we lose the Gospel. That was a great, great word and we’re so grateful for it.
Again, my thanks to all of you for 30 wonderful years. A word of special thanks to my dear wife, Patricia. What a treasure, God’s perfect choice for me. She knew exactly what I needed and she is the perfect complement to make this ministry what God has seen fit to – to do with it. And my thanks to my children and my children-in-law and to grandchildren and cousins. And a lot of them were here in the first service; aren’t here in this one. But thanks to all of them for enriching my life so profoundly with all their love.
And a special word of thanks to my Dad, who’s here this morning. Mom is missing. She went to Heaven two weeks before this occasion and - three weeks, I guess, now – and would have loved to have had her here. There’s a little tribute to her. You can read about it in this morning’s Grace Today. But it’s great to have you with us Dad. I want you to come up and close in prayer. Would you do that? I need to say about him that the things I – I learned from him are what I carried into ministry. He’s been on the radio how many years?
JACK MacARTHUR: Fifty-six.
JOHN MacARTHUR: Fifty-six years. Still on the radio every week. He was on television for many years. I think probably 20 or 30 years. Wrote all kinds of books. I’m just sort of following on in the way he – he taught me. Lead us in prayer. Let’s stand.
JACK MacARTHUR: Our wonderful Lord, how wonderful it is that we will stand in Thy presence. Not clothed with any righteousness of our own because we have none. We’re clothed with the pristine, pure righteousness of our matchless Christ. How wonderful to know on the basis of that imputed righteousness we are accepted in the Beloved. How we thank Thee for the message we’ve just heard, which reiterated once again what the Gospel is. Justification by faith in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ, plus absolutely nothing. And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, the communion, the fellowship of the blessed person of the Holy Spirit rest and abide upon every life in divine presence now and forevermore. Amen.
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