by Geoff Thomas
I am now reading two books hot from the press with an identical title What is Saving Faith? One is a paperback written by Chris Osterbrock. It is inexpensive and straightforward. It asks how we define saving faith, receive it, be assured we have it, defend it, practise it, and finally if we have it why evangelize it. He quotes the Puritans and evangelical writers and presents us with a fine 8 page bibliography. It is splendidly done and my commendation is the first of those that begin the book,
The other book is an expensive hardback and is written by John Piper – What Is Saving Faith?: Reflections on Receiving Christ as a Treasure. It is beautifully presented; it has a lovely booky smell. It is 300 pages in length, and it says many helpful things. Many of the earlier versions of the book Piper had sent out requested that they be read by his discerning friends who might comment on his thesis, Numbers of them concluded that he was in danger of teaching justification by love rather than by faith. He has tried to clarify his position in this final version and says that that criticism is not valid, but as in all his books he is promoting here his conviction that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
But surely that is a progressive response of sanctification. It is not definitive, but justification is a once-for-all act of divine declaration “Righteous!” I am certainly more satisfied with Christ today than I was sixty years ago when I first believed, but I am not as satisfied with Christ as I should be, or could be, or as one day I will be. My saving faith in Christ seems often to me to be as thin as a spider’s thread. But it is united to the Lord Christ alone and that is essential. No hope without that, but that saving faith is Jesus’ gift to me. He has put himself in charge of the maintenance of that thread. He has made it utterly and totally unbreakable, quite infrangible. That is what the blood of Christ has bought me and every believer and what the Holy Spirit keeps. It is so mightily strong because God is determined to prevent it ever snapping and thus sending me crashing down and down into the lake of fire. He has made up his mind that not all the hosts of hell with all their unknown powers can ever destroy that thread. I am dissatisfied with my own faith and always will be. “Help my unbelief” are the words that I will still be crying to God on my deathbed. My hopes of glory are all in the total satisfaction that the Lord Jesus – my substitute – gave to God in his life and at his death. Even the Lord Jesus, the man, was not satisfied with the cup his Father had given him to drink and pleaded for the possibility of another cup. His dissatisfaction speaks of the knowledge he had of the damnation he would voluntarily endure, in the loss of his Father’s comforting presence, and thus his human enquiry of whether there could be another way of saving us. But his perfect saving faith in his Father made him add, “Nevertheless not my will but Thine be done.” I will never be satisfied with my own trust in him. My whole focus is in Jesus’ satisfaction, not in my satisfaction with his satisfaction. This trust of mine should of course be huge and strong (like a hawser made of woven iron cables holding an aircraft carrier to the dock) – but it is to bring a wrong focus into my life if I am being challenged with my lack satisfaction in my own faith in him. No. Be satisfied with Jesus, He alone is my hope and my plea.
I have that misgiving with the book. I feel that its cumbersome style and length is caused by John trying to advance his own view of Christian hedonism imposed upon what could have been a mind-blowing, glorious declaration of what is saving faith. Then we would all be satisfied with the gift of the Christ-wrought and Christ-given and Christ-maintained faith that is going to present a company of believers more than any man can number faultless before Jesus Christ in that great day.
Feeling that way puts me off completing reading the 300 pages of this attractively produced, costly but uncertain book. The prospect makes the reading a duty more than a delight, but I may be wrong.
The fact is: If God is satisfied with what Christ has done and has highly exalted him, then I can be satisfied with the Lord Jesus and so can every Christian.
Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Thomas was the minister of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales, from 1965 for the next fifty years. Born in 1938 in Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, he became a Christian as a teenager in his home church, the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Hengoed, in 1954. After grammar school, he read Biblical Studies, Greek and Philosophy at Cardiff University (BA, 1963). He found fellowship in the Inter-varsity Fellowship group, and was influenced by the ministry of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and reading books such as J. I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God, Whitefield’s Journals, Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, and J. C. Ryle’s Holiness. At that time he also began to take The Banner of Truth magazine, which he has served for some years as Associate Editor.
He preached for the first time in 1959 and ‘thenceforward Sunday after Sunday’. In 1961 he travelled to the United States to study for three years at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, under men such as Edward J. Young, Ned Stonehouse, John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, Meredith Kline, Norman Shepherd, Jay Adams and Edmund Clowney. Returning to Wales after graduation (M.Div, 1964), he married Iola, ‘the girl back home’. Assured during the last months of his course at seminary of the call to preach, he began his first and only pastorate at Alfred Place the following year.
Geoff has systematically preached the Bible to his congregation ever since, and has published the complete text of almost a thousand sermons on the church’s website. He has served as the chairman of the Grace Churches of England and Wales, and of the Association of Evangelical Churches of Wales. He is the author of scores of articles and ten books, including The Holy Spirit, Daniel: Servant of God Under Four Kings, Philip and the Revival in Samaria, Ernest Reisinger: A Biography, The Holy Spirit, Brownlow North, The Sure Word of God and You Could Have It All, as well as booklets Reading the Bible, Satisfied with the Scriptures, How Do I Kill Remaining Sin? How Can I Please God in Everything? What is True Religion? some of which have been published by the Trust. He has also written a number of children’s books. A Festschift was published in his honour edited by Joel Beeke and Derek Thomas entitled The Holy Spirit and Reformed Spirituality. His autobiography appeared at the end of October 2021. He has been a frequent speaker at conferences throughout the world, and is a Visiting Professor of Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 2011 Westminster Seminary awarded him a Doctor of Divinity degree.
Geoff’s wife Iola after 53 years of marriage died in October 2016, passing, as Geoff wrote, ‘from the state of grace to the state of glory’. Two of Geoff’s daughters are married, one to a deacon and one to an elder. A third daughter is a pastor’s wife, mother of five sons. Geoff has eight grandsons and one granddaughter and, so far, five great grandchildren. His grandson, Rhodri Brady, followed him to the pastorate in Aberystwyth in 2016. He remarried in 2018, Barbara Homrighausen, an old family friend and a former member of Westminster Chapel under Dr. Lloyd-Jones, and also later of the London Free Church of Scotland congregation, and now the International Presbyterian Church. Geoff’s latter years have been largely spent in writing books, He is a member of Amyand Park Chapel where he occasionally preaches. He travels extensively to speak in different churches.