Posts Tagged With: Salvation

Augustine of Hippo On Faith as the Instrumental Means of Salvation

Augustine of Hippo spends one chapter in his work, the city of God recapping the various philosophical schools of Greece and Rome. He relates and critiques their debates about the supreme good and evil, virtue, pleasure, and their interrelation. Then he contrasts that “earthly city” with the “city of God”, in the process affirming the doctrine of justification by faith alone, adapting the philosophical categories and terminology to his purpose for the benefit of his pagan readers:

“if then, we be asked what the city of God has to say upon these points, in the first place, what its opinion regarding the supreme good and evil is, it will reply that life eternal is the supreme good, death eternal the supreme evil, and that to obtain the one and escape the other we must live rightly. And thus it is written, ‘the just lives by faith,’ or we do not as yet see our good, and must therefore live by faith; neither have we in ourselves power to live rightly, but can do so only if he who has given us faith to believe in his help do help us when we believe and pray.” Augustine, the City of God, book 19, chapter 4

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Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation–St. Augustine

For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism. For He who said, “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John 3:5 made also an exception in their favor, in that other sentence where He no less absolutely said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven;” Matthew 10:32 and in another place, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” Matthew 16:25 And this explains the verse, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Augustine, City of God, Book XIII, chapter 7.


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Does Revelation 22:17 Teach Arminianism?

“And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17b KJV

New Testament Greek text:

ὁ θέλων λαβέτω ὕδωρ ζωῆς δωρεάν SBL

My literal translation: “May he who wills receive the water of life for free.”

“May…receive” (λαβέτω) This verb is in the subjunctive tense. It expresses a wish, hope, or desire. The author is expressing a desire that those who are willing will receive the water of life free of charge, IOW without payment.

“the water of life” (ὕδωρ ζωῆς), this is a picture of the grace of God in Christ, that water that Jesus spoke of at the well, which if anyone drinks, he will never thirst again. It’s the promise of eternal life in happiness with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“he who wills” (ὁ θέλων)—In greek this is literally a participle with the definite article, such as you have if it were just like this in English: “the willing.” But of course we don’t write or talk like that in English, so the KJV adds what is implied “whosoever will” and I have supplied, “he who wills”

The idea really isn’t about telling us who has a will to receive, or who is able to have the will, or might possibly have the will to receive what is offered. It’s simply stating that having the will to receive the free gift of the water of life is a condition to receiving it. God has limited the recipients of eternal life to only those who have the will to receive it. No one will get it who does not will to receive it.

This verse does not say that everyone has the will to receive it. This verse does not tell us how those who have the will, got the will to receive it. It doesn’t tell us who is and is not able to have the will to receive it, based on the condition of their own heart. It doesn’t even tell us that only those whom God has chosen and made new then have the will to receive it (although other passages tell us that.) It simply states that it is those who have the will who will receive.

My position is that no one has the will to receive, until the Holy Spirit makes them new in the new birth aka regeneration, a miracle from above, and then and only then do they have the will to receive the eternal life which is offered upon condition of having the will to receive it. This verse just says that those who do receive it, must have the will to receive it, or they won’t receive it. I agree with that, obviously. So this verse is entirely compatible with my definition of free will.

(The foregoing is extracted from an email to a relative of mine)

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Unmasking Corporate Election

Unmasking “Corporate Election”

February 23, 2010

 “Corporate Election” has been gaining in popularity among some biblical scholars in recent decades.  It purports to offer an alternative framework to understand passages that deal with the topic of election such as Romans chapter 9 and Ephesians chapter 1.  “Corporate Election”, (as presented by its proponents,) denies the traditional Reformed or Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election.  That is, it claims that these passages do not teach that God has chosen a fixed number of humans for salvation not based on any choice or will of theirs[i].  Its main arguments are as follows:  Both the historic background and Old Testament context of the New Testament epistles indicate that election needs to be understood in a group vs. individual context.  In other words both Jews and Greeks in the first century A.D. would have understood “he predestined us[ii]” as speaking about the group having been predestined.  Each person’s individual chosen status depends on whether or not he or she is part of the group or not.  It is by being part of the elected group that ones election is determined.  One becomes elect by joining the group, and if one leaves the group, one is no longer elect.  In the teaching of the New Testament, it is said, individuals join the group of God’s elect people by exercising faith in Christ, and therefore, it is not necessary to interpret these particular New Testament passages (Romans 9 and Ephesians 1) as ruling out human choice as the original distinguishing factor between those who are saved in Christ and those who are not.  If Christians join the body of Christ by exercising faith in him, and then become “elect” by virtue of their membership in the “elect” group, then, goes the argument, there is no need for us to think that God has determined who will be saved and who will not be saved with no regard to their own independent “free will” choice.  I will attempt to show that this idea of “Corporate Election” misses the point of the New Testament teaching on election.  I will do this by making especial use of the epistle to the Ephesians, and also show why this issue matters to the body of Christ. Ephesians chapter 1:3-14 presents a flowing summary of God’s plan to save “us” in Christ, from his predestination of “us” before the foundation of the world, to redemption, adoption, inheritance, holiness, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit[iii].  Its major theme is God’s grace shining in this whole plan from start to finish, and the scope of the whole is God’s glory.  The reference to God’s plan being “in Christ” is repeated eleven times in these eleven verses!  Obviously Christ is central in this whole plan of salvation from start to finish, (from election through the obtainment of the promised possession.)  Commenting on this passage, Dr. Brian Abasciano writes, “the idea is not that God’s choice was based on our foreseen faith per se. It is that the Church’s election is intrinsic to the election of Christ[iv]”.  A proponent of “Corporate Election”, Dr. Abasciano argues that Christ is the primary object of election, the original “Elect One” and that secondarily those who unite themselves to him by faith become members of his body, and therefore, they are elect in Christ and individually.  Dr. Abasciano is an Arminian theologian, but his take on “Corporate Election” presents a nuanced argument that differs somewhat from the traditional Arminian argument:  that predestination is based on God’s foresight of individual faith.  However, Abasciano’s argument fails to take into account the place of Christ in God’s plan as revealed by God in the New Testament.  God the Son became man and undertook the office of Christ the Mediator not simply to be the object of the Father’s choosing, (as he had no need of being chosen, himself being God from all eternity,) but to save a people.  Without an elect people having been loved and chosen by God from all eternity, and a plan to save them by means of Christ, there would have been no need for an incarnation, no Savior.  From the announcement of the angel that Christ would be born to “save his people from their sins[v]” to Jesus statement that “the Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many[vi]”, to Paul’s statement that God the Father “predestined us to adoption through Jesus Christ to himself[vii]”, the place of Christ in God’s eternal plan of salvation is that he is the means of accomplishing the objective of God’s whole plan, which is the salvation of God’s elect, to the praise of his glory.  From our perspective, then, as Paul shows us in Ephesians chapter 1, it is in union with Christ that we receive all the blessings and benefits that God’s grace has bestowed on us in the New Covenant.  He is the means to every spiritual blessing for us as we have been united to him.  However from the divine perspective of God’s plan, Christ is the means to saving God’s elect people whom he loved before the foundation of the world.  The Savior presupposes a beloved people whom God intended to save.  And this is the teaching of Paul in Ephesians chapter 1, that before the foundation of the world, God predestined his elect to adoption “through Christ” (1:5.) “Corporate Election” ignores Paul’s description in Ephesians of God’s plan as incorporating individuals who are not part of Christ into him.  In other words Paul does not merely present an elect group who are viewed as already having been united to an elect head; rather he presents God’s work of gathering disparate persons into one group under one head.  Paul describes the “summing up” of all things to Christ.  Ephesians 1:10 says, “in order to the administration of the fullness of time, when he will sum up[viii] all things in Christ, whether things in heaven or things on the earth.[ix]”  Paul is not only describing a fixed group united to Christ which existed in the mind of God before the foundation of the world, but individual disunified parts and how he would gather or “sum” them up unto him.  Persons who were not part of a group and not under any one head are brought together by God’s sovereign working under one head, that is, Christ, and only then do they belong to the group.  Therefore, the election of the group necessarily presupposes the election of individuals.  Those who were not a people have now become a people, taken out (selected!) from out of the great mass of sinners in the world.  And this gathering is presented as God’s own work from start to finish. In chapter 2:1-3 of Ephesians Paul makes reference to the former state of those who are now united to Christ, having been by nature deserving of God’s wrath and conducting themselves after the course of the whole mass of sinners in the world.  But how had they become part of Christ?  Paul addresses this in chapters 1 and 2, and ascribes all to God.  For example, the apostle speaks of the believers’ first exercise of faith in Christ (1:11-14), ascribing even this “first hoping in Christ” to God!  He says, “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, in order that you might be to the praise of his glory, who first hoped in Christ.”  And, “In which also when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in which also, believing, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance, to the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.”  Notice the apostle’s reference to God’s sovereign working of all things according to the counsel of his will (1:11) as if to say, “not only did God choose us, he worked it all out in time, uniting us to Christ, just as he works his will in everything else.  What he had planned he also brought to fruition.”  Notice in verse 14 the ascribing of glory to God for the faith of God’s people in Christ, in particular for their first “believing” on him.  If this faith which unites them to Christ were not a work of God in them as part of his sovereign and immutable plan to save his elect people and draw them individually out of the whole mass of sinners, gathering them unto one head, that is Christ, Paul could not have praised God’s glory for their first exercise of faith as he does in verses 1:12 and 1:14.  “to the praise of his glory.”  It is not only election of a group that is in view, but the election of sinners who are not yet part of a group (2:1-3) and the means by which God planned to gather them together under one head, that is, by working faith in them (1:12, 14; 2:5-8.) I believe that I have shown that “Corporate Election” ignores major parts of God’s plan of salvation based on what is presented in the epistle to the Ephesians, particularly how God planned to gather individuals from a common sinful mass into a new group united to Christ by granting them faith on him.  But “Corporate Election” does not only ignore this part of God’s plan, it inserts an element quite foreign to the sweeping theme of Paul in this epistle, which is God’s glory.  It ignores the parts of the plan I have discussed in order to make room for the Arminian idea of a “free will” choice of sinners to believe in Christ.  By denying that God intended to save a fixed set of individuals by union with Christ in his election of him, and by asserting furthermore, that sinners unite themselves to Christ by exercising an autonomous choice to believe in him, and that they become “elect” because of their resulting union with him, the proponents of “Corporate Election” introduce a break in God’s plan of salvation.  The plan that was for Paul one sweeping crescendo of praise to God now acquires gaps.  There is a link in the chain which we must supply ourselves, one which cannot be ascribed to God’s glory.  But force of many, many passages in the Scriptures presents an unbroken chain of blessed acts and workings of God, for which he gets all the glory and the individual Christian gets absolutely none, especially Ephesians 1 and 2 but also Romans 8, 9, 1 Corinthians 1, etc.  The idea that the individual believer has supplied some part in his own salvation which cannot in itself be ascribed to God as a matter of praise is quite far from the whole point of Ephesians 1, and the apostle leaves absolutely no room for such an idea.  Not only does he ascribe all praise to God for every part of the salvation of Christ’s body, including the first believing of sinners in Christ, he also describes their former state as having been “dead in trespasses and sins.”  The Apostle describes our former state as death and service to sin as a natural state of enmity to God both in our conduct and in our “minds” (2:3).  The human mind is the source of all human will and choices.  Therefore those who are in such a spiritually dead state of mind are naturally unable to exercise faith in Christ while they remain in that state according to Paul’s teaching.  For this reason the apostle highlights the sovereign power of God to raise the spiritually dead to spiritual life (2:5).  And this involves the work of the Holy Spirit to produce faith in them, as we also saw in chapter 1. For this reason in 1:15 Paul says, “having heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”  Paul is giving thanks to God for the Ephesian believers’ faith in Christ.  Certainly Paul would not have been able to give thanks to God for the Ephesians having believed in the Lord Jesus unless it were God’s work.  One does not receive thanks for things that one did not do.  If it were the Ephesians who had first exercised faith in Christ independently of God, or even with his help but with them completing the act of faith independently, Paul would be thanking the Ephesians for believing in Christ and not thanking God that they had believed in Christ.  The fact that the giving of thanks to people for believing in Christ is so foreign to the New Testament is not merely a matter of style; it is because God has actually performed every part of salvation from start to finish, including the ends and the means.  That is the reason why God always gets all the thanks, all the glory, and Christians never get any, as we see here. Having shown how the idea of “Corporate Election” conflicts with Paul’s teaching, I would like to answer the “So what?” question.  Is this not a subject on which genuine Christians may safely disagree?  I submit that this topic bears significant implications for the sanctification of believers, and it bears on both doctrine and practice of the people of God.  It is a matter of holiness and godliness to have the correct view on this topic.  For it is a question of whether or not God gets all the glory for our salvation.  In speaking of the doctrine of election, Paul says, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” so that no man may boast before God[x].” and elsewhere, “you are saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, in order that no one may boast[xi].”  The point of Paul’s teaching on election is that Christians may ascribe all glory to God for their salvation and none to themselves.  The reference to “boasting” occurs not merely to prevent boasting, but makes a larger point.  It is that we cannot think that we contributed anything to our salvation.  We must give all the glory to God. Why then is it important that this topic be decided in the minds of Christians and in the teaching of the Church?  Certainly there are dear brothers and sisters in Christ who take the wrong view on this topic, who would never claim to have any reason to boast of their salvation, not the least of whom is my professor Dr. Abasciano.  But the point is not whether or not they are boasting.  The issue of the question is whether there is room left in the still-sinful hearts of Christians who are being sanctified for them to secretly and quietly think of themselves as wiser or smarter than those who have not made a decision to follow Christ.  The Arminian idea that humans may make a “free will” choice to believe in Christ without complete dependence on God’s grace for this choice does mitigate God’s glory in salvation and leaves a little boasting room in the still-sinful hearts of believers.  This boasting room the apostle is careful to exclude.  But why is boasting excluded?  Not just because boasting is immoral but because in fact Christians have nothing in salvation to take credit for, not even one little decision.  And so the great plan of salvation from start to finish and all means occurring in between is a subject for the praise of God’s glorious grace.  For this reason “Corporate Election” must be tossed in the trash with all other doctrines that rob God of any part of his glory in salvation.

[i] Cf. Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, p.49ff.
[ii] Cf. Ephesians 1:4, 5.
[iii] There is much debate as to what the logical ordering of the verses in this passage are, since in the original Greek it is one long flowing sentence with many dependent clauses.  In any case the order is not strictly chronological.
[iv] Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9:  A Reply to Thomas Schreiner, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 49/2 June 2006, pp. 351-71, p. 17.
[v] Matthew 1:21.
[vi] Matthew 20:28
[vii] Ephesians 1:5
[viii] Gr. ανακεφαλαιωσασθαι – For a derivation of this word’s meaning as “summing up”, see Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, pp. 111.
[ix] Translations used in this article are mine.
[x] 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.
[xi] Ephesians 2:8.
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John Wesley on Faith As a Free Gift of God

‘For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves.’ Of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor your salvation: ‘it is the gift of God’; the free, undeserved gift; the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation which He of His own good pleasure, His mere favour, annexes thereto. That ye believe, is one instance of His grace; that believing ye are saved, another.

John Wesley on Ephesians 2:8, in “Salvation By Faith”, a sermon preached June 18th, 1738 at St. Mary’s, Oxford.


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A Signpost To Heaven

(The pastoral letter to Hope Congregational Church, August 2013, from Pastor Riley Fraas)

Love, grace, and peace be yours abundantly from God the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  I rejoice greatly in the shared communion and life that we have together in Christ.  It is something that should never be taken for granted, something that we will enjoy together forever with Him in heaven, of which we now enjoy a blessed foretaste. 

For human beings walking through life, there is a choice between two roads.  One leads to life everlasting, and the other leads to eternal death.  In the word of God, in Matthew 7:13-14, we learn, “…wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  The narrow road which leads to life is characterized by faith in God’s promises, especially salvation through faith in Christ, and a way of life that indicates a changed condition of the heart which makes it to be oriented toward God.  The broad road leading to everlasting punishment under the wrath of God in hell is easy to travel; and large crowds are going that way all the time.  It is characterized by a coldness toward spiritual things, self-righteousness, self-centeredness, greed, pride, lust, and apathy.

When you see a sign on the road pointing to a desired destination, you are informed which way you ought to go to get there.  We have recently seen one of our own go home to be with Jesus in glory and everlasting happiness.  There are those like her, who, by their example of faith, walking with God, and service to the saints, leave by their lives a signpost in the fork of the road.  Those who are on the way of life can be distinguished from those who are on the broad road that leads to destruction by the conduct of their lives and the ripe fruits that show the Holy Spirit’s work in them.  They do good works of love and compassion for those they can, and abound with the peace, love, and joy that only comes from peace with God through Christ, applied to the soul by the Holy Spirit.  It even shows in their personality.  By the legacy of their lives, they show the way to heaven which is their destination.  Like a sign in the road reading “To Heaven,” their path shows to those in their family and community the way of live which leads to everlasting happiness with the glorious Savior: a life by, from, and through grace, with steadfast faith in God’s promises in the Bible, which reflects the love of God in Christ to others out of thankfulness to Him for His precious gift of salvation.signpost

Let us, brothers and sisters, consider carefully what message we are leaving to our children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, fellow Christians, and neighbors, minding our pattern of life, deeds, and conversations.  If we walk consistently in love by the grace of God through faith, then when they day comes when we no longer walk this earth, we may leave by our life’s example a signpost pointing the way to heaven, so that if there were any doubt which way were the way to get there, it will have been made plain to those we know and love.

May the free and undeserved grace of God through Jesus Christ be our sustaining foundation for life, both now and forever.

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Calvin on Assurance of Election

When it comes to us, as I said, it is necessary for us to take the certainty of our election from the gospel; because if we try to penetrate the eternal decree of God, this will be an abyss for us to engulf us.  But after God has testified to us and made us to know that we are of His elect, we should climb higher, out of fear that the effect might bury the cause.  For there is nothing more unreasonable, when the Scripture tells us that He has illuminated us according as He has chosen us, that this clarity would blur our eyes, to the point that we would refuse to think we are elect.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.24.3 (translated from the French edition)

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Being Sure of Your Salvation, Part 5: The Danger of False Assurance

Part 5:  The Danger of False Assurance

Walking_On_Thin_Ice_by_X_ampleTo conclude this series, I would like to address the phenomenon of false assurance.  This is the unsaved person who thinks that he or she is saved.  There is a subjective certainty about it which is not grounded in reality.  How could this be?  There are biblical methods of gaining an infallible certainty that one is saved forever.  There are also some truly saved Christians who at a given time may not have a full certainty (as far as they perceive) that they are saved forever, who need to use the God-given means to attain this certainty, particularly meditating on the finished work of Christ and living in faithful obedience.  On the other hand, there are those who think they are saved but in reality they are not.  These folks will be in for a rude awakening!  These are like those described in Matthew 7:22, 23:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 

There is a biblical way to gain a full assurance that God is your eternal Savior, and there are other deceitful ideas that come from the imagination or from false teaching.  The two most common categories of false assurance are as follows:

1. “I’m a good person, so I’ll go to heaven.”

Nothing comes more natural to sinful human beings than to justify themselves—to think they are better than others, and therefore, that God should accept them.  One person thinks that being a good neighbor or civic service will save him.  Another thinks that being a church-goer or donating to the needy will put him over the finish line.  A third does not drink, smoke, or hang out with people who do, but spends all his time at work and with the family.  All of these ideas fall short.  The God of Scripture is holier than we sinners can even imagine.  He is in the One whose eyes are too pure than to behold sin (Habakkuk 1:13.)  The standard by which every one of us will be judged is not our peers, neighbors, or other humans, but we will be judged by God’s perfect standard of holiness, and none of us will measure up.  And by this standard, there is none who does good, no, not one (Romans 3:12) and the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 8:21.)  Even the very thought that you are good enough to merit His eternal reward is sinful pride, a sin worthy of eternal suffering in hell forever.

The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.  Psalm 10:4

Only one who realizes his sinful misery knows that he needs the one Savior of the world.  The self-secure will find themselves to have built a house on sinking sand rather than on the rock of God’s mercy to sinners in Christ.  And there can be no doubt that God, being a just and holy Judge of all the earth, will do what is right by punishing forever every person who seeks to be saved by his own goodness.

2. “Prayed the prayer, got the date written in my Bible.”

This fallacy bases ones certainty of salvation on a past experience.  Maybe one person has walked down an aisle and prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”  Another has been baptized as an infant and confirmed in the church.  None of these experiences in the past are a foundation of certainty that you are eternally saved.  The means given in Holy Scripture for gaining assurance of salvation are a resting on the finished work of Christ the everlasting Savior and a continued life of faith and obedience to Him.  Without these two pillars of assurance: the objective and subjective grounds given in Scripture for Christians to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are eternally saved, no past experience means a thing.  For as the Lord says, he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.  (Matthew 13:13)  But there are tragically many people who are fooling themselves into thinking that they’ve got it made forever because they’ve gone through the right hoops, as if eternal happiness were a simple matter of box-checking.  But the biblical picture is much more wholistic.

 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.  Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:  1 Peter 1:10 

It is possible for Christians, in this life, to get a full certainty of eternal salvation by using those ordinary means that God has given.  By studying the Scriptures, we found out that the two foundational pillars of assurance of salvation are trusting in the finished saving work of Christ, and living a life of faith and obedience in thankfulness to Him.  What a great and precious comfort it is for sinful humans to know that they will be happy with God forever!  Although there are some true Christians who for various reasons lack full assurance, or may lose it from time to time, any true Christian using the God-given means can attain to a full assurance.  There is a danger of false assurance, so we must be all the more dilligent to make use of those means God has given to gain certainty about our eternal destiny with God.  None of His own can ever be lost.  To Him be all glory in the saints forever and ever.  Amen.

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“Being Sure of Your Salvation” is available free of charge today in Amazon Kindle e-book format

“Being Sure of Your Salvation”, my little booklet, is free today on Amazon in Kindle e-book format and for the next four Fridays.  To access it on Amazon, click here.

–Pastor Riley

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A Minister’s Strength

from The Valley of Vision

Unchangeable Jehovah

When I am discouraged in my ministry

and full of doubts about my self,

fasten me upon the rock of thy eternal election,

then my hands will not hang down,

and I shall have hope for myself and others.

Thou dost know thy people by name,

and wilt at the appointed season

lead them out of a natural to a gracious state

by thy effectual calling.

This is the ground of my salvation,

the object of my desire,

the motive of my ministry.

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