Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Unqualified Solomon?

"The choice of Solomon as one of the writers of the Bible, at first sight startles, but on deeper study instructs. We would have expected a man of more exemplary life a man of uniform holiness. It is certain that in the main, the vessels which the Spirit used were sanctified vessels. 'Holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” But as they were all corrupt at first, so there were diversities in the operation whereby they were called and qualified for their work. There were diversities in the times, and degrees of their sanctification. Some were carried so near perfection in the body, that human eyes could no longer discern spot or wrinkle; in others the principle of grace was so largely overlaid with earthliness, that observers were left in doubt whether they had been turned to the Lord’s side at all. But the diversity in all its extent is like the other ways of God; and He knows how to make either extreme fall into its place in the concert of his praise. He who made Saul an apostle, did not disdain to use Solomon as a prophet. Very diverse were the two men, and very diverse their life course; yet in one thing they are perfectly alike. Together in glory now they know themselves to have been only sinners, and agree in ascribing all their salvation to the mercy of God.

Moreover, although good men wrote the Bible, our faith in the Bible does not rest on the goodness of the men who wrote it. The fatal facility with which men glide into the worship of men may suggest another reason why some of the channels chosen for conveying the mind of God were marred by glaring deficiencies. Among many earthen vessels, in various measures purged of their filthiness, may not the Divine Administrator in wisdom select for actual use some of the least pure, in order by that grosser argument to force into grosser minds the conviction that the excellency of the power is all of God?

If all the writers of the Bible had been perfect in holiness—if no stain of sin could be traced on their character, no error noted in their life, it is certain that the Bible would not have served all the purposes which it now serves among men. It would have been God-like indeed in matter and in mould, but it would not have reached down to the low estate of man—it would not have penetrated to the sores of a human heart. For engraving the life lessons of his word, our Father uses only diamonds: but in every diamond there is a flaw, in some a greater and in some a less; and who shall dare to dictate to the Omniscient the measure of defect that blinds Him to fling the instrument as a useless thing away?

When God would leave on my mind in youth the lesson that the pleasures of sin are barbed arrows, he uses that same Solomon as the die to indent it in. I mark the wisdom of the choice. I get and keep the lesson, but the homage of my soul goes to God who gave it, and not to Solomon, the instrument through which it came. God can make man’s wrath to praise him, and their vanity too. He can make the clouds bear some benefits to the earth, which the sun cannot bestow. He can make brine serve some purposes in nature which sweet water could not fulfil. So, practical lessons on some subjects come better through the heart and lips of the weary repentant king, than through a man who had tasted fewer pleasures, and led a more even life."

- William Arnot, Studies in Proverbs (Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Isaac Ambrose on Faith and Obedience as Conditions of the CoG

"In some sort, obedience, as well as faith, may be said to be a condition of the covenant of grace. I shall give you my thoughts in this distinction: obedience to all God’s commands, is either considered as a cause of life, or as a qualification. In the former sense, it cannot be a condition of the covenant of grace; but in the latter, it may. If by condition we understand whatsoever is required on our part, as precedent, concomitant, or subsequent, to the covenant of grace, repentance, faith, and obedience are all conditions: but if by condition we understand whatsoever is required on our part as the cause of the good promised, though only instrumental, why then faith is the only condition. Faith and obedience are opposed in the matter of justification and salvation; not that they cannot stand together, (for they are inseparably united,) but because they cannot meet together in one court, as the cause of justification or salvation. Now, when we speak of the condition of the covenant of grace, we intend such a condition as is among the number of true causes. Indeed, in the covenant of works obedience is required as the cause of life; but in the covenant of grace, though obedience must accompany faith, yet only faith is the cause of life contained in the covenant." (Looking Unto Jesus)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Highlights of John Owen's "The Glory of Christ" (Part 3)

Click here for: Part 1, Part 2.

Chapter XI. The glory of Christ in the recapitulation of all things in him.

  • "Moreover, his being and goodness are the same. The goodness of God is the meetness of the Divine Being to be communicative of itself in its effects. Hence this is the first notion of the divine nature, -- infinite being and goodness, in a nature intelligent and self-subsistent."
  • "Being and goodness must be the first outward effects of the divine nature, which, being wrought by infinite power and wisdom, do represent unto us the glory of God in the creation of all things. Infinite being in self-subsistence, which is necessary in the first cause and spring of all things, -- infinite goodness to communicate the effect of this being unto that which was not, -- and infinite wisdom and power in that communication, -- are gloriously manifested therein."
  • "To suppose any other race of intellectual creatures, besides angels in heaven and men on earth, is not only without all countenance from any divine testimony, but it disturbs and disorders the whole representation of the glory of God made unto us in the Scripture, and the whole design of his wisdom and grace, as declared therein. Intellectual creatures not comprehended in that government of God and mystery of his wisdom in Christ which the Scripture reveals, are a chimera framed in the imaginations of some men, scarce duly sensible of what it is to be wise unto sobriety."
  • "There is no contemplation of the glory of Christ that ought more to affect the hearts of them that do believe with delight and joy, than this, of the recapitulation of all things in him. One view by faith of him in the place of God, as the supreme head of the whole creation. Moving, acting, guiding, and disposing of it, will bring in spiritual refreshment unto a believing refreshment unto a believing soul.

    And it will do so the more, in that it gives a glorious representation of his divine nature also. For that any mere creature should thus be a head of life, motion, and power, as also of sovereign rule and disposal, of the whole new creation, with all things reduced into order thereby, is not only an impious, but a foolish imagination.

    Did we live more in the contemplation of this glory of Christ, and of the wisdom of God in this recapitulation of all things in him, there is not anything of our duty which it would not mind us of, nor anything of privilege which it would not give us a sense of, as might easily be demonstrated."
  • "Whatever there is of order, of beauty, of glory, in heaven above, or in earth beneath, it all ariseth from this new relation of the creation unto the Son of God. Whatever is not gathered into one, even in him, in its place, and according to its measure, is under darkness, disorder, and the curse."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Friendship of God

"Let it be of great comfort to the saints that God is their father and friend and is always present with them and in them; that they live and move and have their being in Him who loves them with a great and everlasting love. Our earthly friends cannot be with us always; we are often called to part with them. But God is a friend who is always at hand, always with and in those who are His. Let those, therefore, who have given themselves to God and have chosen God to be their God consider this: You are in Him and are favorable to Him. He delights in you and always consults your good and seeks your welfare. You are in Him and no one can separate you from Him; wherever you are, you are still with God. This is a matter of consolation to such persons, whatever dangers and difficulties they are brought into, that they are with God. He is nigh at hand, so that they need not be terrified with any amazement; for they are in Him who orders all things and who loves them, so that He will surely take care of them and order all things well for them. If they pray to Him in their difficulty and beg His help, He is present to hear their prayers. They need not go far to seek Him nor cry aloud to make Him hear, but He is in them and hears the silent petitions of their hearts. If they are in solitude and are very much left alone, yet God is with them. None can banish them from the presence and society of God. A Christian never needs to be lonesome as long as he is in the company of such a one."

Jonathan Edwards, God Is Everywhere Present, pp. 217–18

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Martin Bucer on Good Works as Secondary Cause of Salvation

Martin Bucer was John Calvin's "father in the faith."

The ff. is sourced from Brian Lugioyo's Martin Bucer's Doctrine of Justification: Reformation Theology and Early Modern Irenicism (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology):

By faith alone means that in faith Christians contemplate Christ, and because faith comes with the bestowal of the Spirit of Christ, they become possessed by him so that believers now live in him and he in them. In this sense of mutual inhabitation, Christians are allowed to cooperate with God in salvation, since these works are not their own but the work of Christ in them. This agency is expressed in Bucer primarily in terms of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, [285] being clothed in Christ, [286] participation in Christ, [287] being in communion with Christ, and so forth. [288] If a believer “does any good, it results from the fact that he is a creation of God, created for good works, works which God himself prepares, makes and performs, so that he rewards in us gifts which are already his.” [289] Hence, Bucer follows Augustine’s view that “when God crowns our merits, he crowns nothing but his own gifts.” [290] Merit is not the result of works but the result of the believer cooperating with the Spirit who works within the believer:

Nevertheless, when God wants us to cooperate with him by good works for our salvation, or rather, even to “work it out” (κατεργάζεσθαι) [Phil. 2:10] and has thus determined to repay us according to our deeds, there is brought about also in its own way our justification; that is, eternal life is assigned to us as a result of works. But this is the case only when through our election and the purpose of God formed before the ages, there is already assigned to us before the foundation of the world this life of God as a result of the grace of God and the merit of Christ [Ephesians 1 and 3]. This life moreover is assigned to us through faith, that is, after we believe in Christ and have in some way become already possessed of him. This of course comes about at that blessed beginning of faith which belongs to the sons of God through the Spirit, who is the pledge of this inheritance. For good works are the fruit of this faith and of the Spirit. [291]

Works are in a sense a cooperating cause, which Bucer speaks about as a secondary cause elsewhere.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Vision of Christ and the Necessity of Good Works

The first thesis in Luther's famous 95 states that all of the Christian life is characterized by repentance. Repentance, by its very nature, necessarily includes faith in its exercise. This faith, to be true faith, can only have one object of focus, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Putting faith in Christ is synonymous to looking unto Him (Heb. 12:2), and this vision of Christ transforms the beholder into His image and likeness (faith now conforms progressively [2 Cor. 3:18], while actual sight in glory conforms instantly [1 John 3:2]).

Highlights of John Owen's "The Glory of Christ" (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1.

Chapter VI. The glory of Christ in the discharge of his mediatory office.

  • "It is our duty to endeavour after freedom, willingness, and cheerfulness in all our obedience. Obedience has its formal nature from our wills. So much as there is of our wills in what we do towards God, so much there is of obedience, and no more. Howbeit we are, antecedently unto all acts of our own wills, obliged unto all that is called obedience. From the very constitution of our natures we are necessarily subject unto the law of God."
  • "He unto whom prayer was made, prayed himself night and day. He whom all the angels of heaven and all creatures worshipped, was continually conversant in all the duties of the worship of God. He who was over the house, diligently observed the meanest office of the house. He that made all men, in whose hand they are all as clay in the hand of the potter, observed amongst them the strictest rules of justice, in giving unto every one his due; and of charity, in giving good things that were not so due. This is that which renders the obedience of Christ in the discharge of his office both mysterious and glorious."
  • "We might here look on him as under the weight of the wrath of God, and the curse of the law; taking on himself, and on his whole soul, the utmost of evil that God had ever threatened to sin or sinners. We might look on him in his agony and bloody sweat, in his strong cries and supplications, when he was sorrowful unto the death, and began to be amazed, in apprehensions of the things that were coming on him, -- of that dreadful trial which he was entering into. We might look upon him conflicting with all the powers of darkness, the rage and madness of men, -- suffering in his soul, his body, his name, his reputation, his goods, his life; some of these sufferings being immediate from God above, others from devils and wicked men, acting according to the determinate counsel of God. We might look on him praying, weeping, crying out, bleeding, dying, -- in all things making his soul an offering for sin; so was he 'taken from prison, and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off from the land of the living: for the transgression,' says God, 'of my people was he smitten,' Isa. liii. 8. But these things I shall not insist on in particular, but leave them under such a veil as may give us a prospect into them, so far as to fill our souls with holy admiration."
  • "How glorious is the Lord Christ on this account, in the eyes of believers! When Adam had sinned, and thereby eternally, according unto the sanction of the law, ruined himself and all his posterity, he stood ashamed, afraid, trembling, as one ready to perish for ever, under the displeasure of God. Death was that which he had deserved, and immediate death was that which he looked for. In this state the Lord Christ in the promise comes unto him, and says, Poor creature! how woeful is thy condition! how deformed is thy appearance! What is become of the beauty, of the glory of that image of God wherein thou wast created? how hast thou taken on thee the monstrous shape and image of Satan? And yet thy present misery, thy entrance into dust and darkness, is no way to be compared with what is to ensue. Eternal distress lies at the door. But yet look up once more, and behold me, that thou mayest have some glimpse of what is in the designs of infinite wisdom, love, and grace. Come forth from thy vain shelter, thy hiding-place I will put myself into thy condition. I will undergo and bear that burden of guilt and punishment which would sink thee eternally into the bottom of hell. I will pay that which I never took; and be made temporally a curse for thee, that thou mayest attain unto eternal blessedness. To the same purpose he speaks unto convinced sinners, in the invitation he gives them to come unto him."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Highlights of John Owen's "The Glory of Christ" (Part 1)

This will be the first post in a series of posts that will contain all the portions of John Owen's Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ in His Person, Office, and Grace—or "The Glory of Christ" for short—that I highlighted.

This work by Owen is significant by virtue of the topic treated and the fact that it was the last book he ever wrote, thus reflecting the knowledge and wisdom of a mature, battle-worn faith that is now about to graduate into sight:

"There are some facts which impart peculiar interest to these Meditations. They were drawn up, according to the author's own statement, 'for the exercise of his own mind,' in the first instance; and illustrate, accordingly, the scope and tenor of his Christian experience. They form, moreover, his dying testimony to the truth, -- and to the truth, with peculiar emphasis, as it 'is in Jesus;' for they are the substance of the last instructions which he delivered to his flock; and they constitute the last work which he prepared for the press. It is instructive to peruse the solemn musings of his soul when 'weakness, weariness, and the near approaches of death,' were calling him away from his earthly labours; and to mark how intently his thoughts were fixed on the glory of the Saviour, whom he was soon to behold 'face to face.' On the day of his death, Mr Payne, who had the charge of the original publication of this treatise, on bidding Dr Owen farewell, said to him, 'Doctor, I have just been putting your book on the Glory of Christ to the press.' 'I am glad,' was Owen's reply, 'to hear that that performance is put to the press; but, O brother Payne, the long looked-for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done yet, or was capable of doing in this world.'" (William H. Goold, Prefatory note.)

I can see these posts as being profitable to the reader as a devotional or as an introduction to Owen's theology of the beatific vision. May they serve to make Christ more glorious and beautiful—and thus desirable—to us as we look to Him now in faith, and thereafter in sight.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Start Workin' Like Bradley

It seems that good works as it relates to final salvation/final judgment is once again the talk of the town. Therefore, I am pleased to have in my hands this book by Bradley G. Green entitled, Covenant and Commandment (Works, Obedience, and Faithfulness in the Christian Life).

The ff. is from the Introduction, and it portends a book that is bound to be both clarifying and enabling:

Among the heirs of the Protestant Reformation there has been an emphasis on salvation by grace in general and sola fide (by faith alone) in particular. These were proper biblical recoveries during the Reformation era. It was important for the church to recover the central truth that we are justified by God, that this is an act of God’s grace, and that faith – apart from works – is the means by which we are justified. It is striking that evangelicals have had to ‘fight’ the battle of justification many times, and this issue continues to divide Protestants and Catholics today in intriguing ways. Related to the question of justification is a key issue in biblical interpretation and evangelical church life: the nature of works, obedience or faithfulness in the Christian life. While evangelicals can generally agree that one enters into a covenant relationship with the God of the Bible by grace (even solely by grace) apart from works, there is often much more disagreement over how to construe the nature of works, or obedience, inside this covenantal relationship. My argument is that in the new covenant, works are a God-elicited and necessary part of the life of the converted person, a constant theme in the New Testament (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; Rom. 2:13–14; 11:22; 1 Cor. 15:2; Phil. 2:12–13; Heb. 3:6; 3:14; 4:14; 1 John 2:3–6; 3:24; 5:3; Rev. 12:17; 14:12). In short, ‘works’ are ‘necessary’ for salvation because part of the ‘newness’ of the new covenant is actual, grace-induced and grace-elicited obedience by true members of the new covenant. When the New Testament documents are read against Old Testament texts such as Jeremiah 31:31–34 and Ezekiel 36:22–29 (cf. Ezek. 11:19; 18:31), this obedience is seen as a promised component of the new covenant.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Dr. Ron Gleason and Reformation Day 2014

In the following video, taken at the Talbot School of Theology on the occassion of Reformation Day 2012, Dr. Ron Gleason (author of Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian) gives a good and solid lecture on the basic tenets that undergirded the Reformation.

However, what impressed me the most was what he said at the 7:15 mark:

"In 1980, the Lord called me to take the casket of my 4-month old son and put it into the ground as my last earthly duty as his father. And I recall going back to our home in the Netherlands, to a little village in Kampen, and literally just falling back on the bed and wiping the tears, and that verse came to my mind and I said, 'This, too, Lord?' And he said, 'Yes, this, too. This will mold you and shape you into a better person, a better Christian. This will conform you more to the image of Christ. You will be able to comfort others with the comfort with which I am going to comfort you.'"

I was reminded of an old post:

"John Calvin lost his wife and son.

John Owen had eleven children. All died in early youth, except one daughter.

Francis Turretin had four children. Only one survived."
(Underdog Theology: Personal Tragedy to Apostasy, Oct. 29, 2012)

Monday, October 27, 2014

H vs. H on the Imitatio Christi

"Michael Horton so wants his readers to focus on Christ instead of imitation that he encourages an emphasis on the wickedness of characters, running them through Romans 3. This is an important aspect of Christian interpretation, but it is not the only way in which the New Testament uses characters (indeed, a majority of references are not concerned to show 'all have sinned'). To fit the biblical data to his interpretation, Horton tries to downplay this emphasis in his interpretation of the more famous passages illustrating the use of characters as examples: 'The so-called ‘Hall of Heroes’ in Hebrews 11 is misnamed. The writer consistently mentions that they overcame by faith in Christ, not by their works.'[34] But faith is never pitted against works. Rather, Abraham and Rahab (to take two) are commendable because they had the sort of faith that worked. Their appearance in Hebrews parallels their appearance in James, where they are commended neither simply for what they believed, nor for what they did apart from faith, but for what was done on the basis of belief (Jas 2:14-16), since faith without works is worthless. Contra Horton, the heroes are held out as examples precisely because they acted in obedience and faithfulness on the basis of God’s character and in response to his promises and commands. These characters overcame and persevered by faith and by works.

We can contrast the biblical emphasis on finding Jesus and examples within Scripture with Horton’s puzzling comments that appear to limit the imitation of Old Testament characters to mere belief in Jesus and God’s promises. '[Abraham’s] willingness to sacrifice Isaac was not an example for us, but was an occasion for God to foreshadow Christ as the ram caught in the thicket so that Isaac—and the rest of us—could go free.'[35] Horton sets up a false dichotomy between two approaches to interpretation: the passage either points to Christ, or the passage shows us a faithful model. But what if the New Testament takes Genesis 22 in both directions? Should we not follow the New Testament’s approach? We certainly do not imitate Abraham by sacrificing our children. But as we have seen, imitation is not rote, indiscriminate mimicry, but 'creative imitation' informed by Scripture.[36] The New Testament authors use Abraham as a model of faith and obedience (not least in Gen 18:17-19; 22:1-24; Heb 11:17; Jas 2:14-26). Abraham does not merely believe. Trusting God to raise the dead, he acts in obedience (Heb 11:19).[37] What’s more, Abraham’s obedience is crucial to the original meaning of the text, given the role that it plays in describing the covenant relationship between himself and God (Gen 22:1, 16-17)." (Jason Hood, Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern)

[34] Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), pp. 149-50. He adds on pp. 142-43, “The Old Testament saints were not heroes of faith and obedience but sinners who, despite their own wavering, were given the faith to cling to God’s promise.” Faith is a gift, but Horton’s approach veers in the direction of a monergistic approach to interpretation, where God’s work is all that counts and human work is downplayed, irrelevant or entirely negative.
[35] Ibid., p. 149.
[36] Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, and Jimmy Agan, “Toward a Hermeneutic of Imitation: The Imitation of Christ in the Didascalia Apostolorum,” Presbyterion 37 (2011): 42-43.
[37] Michael Allen, “Imitating Jesus,” Modern Reformation 18, no. 2 (2009): 27-30, correctly sees that in Heb 11, saints from Abel to Jesus have their obedience “described in multiple ways. They are to be imitated as those whose belief impelled radical obedience (11:6).” Both Horton and his Westminster Seminary California colleague S. M. Baugh deny that characters in Heb 11 function as exemplars in any respect save for faith in a saving God; see Baugh, “The Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews 11,” Westminster Theological Journal 68, no. 1 (2002): 132. Contrast Calvin on Hebrews 11, Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, trans. William B. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), p. 187. I owe the Baugh and Calvin references and analysis to R. Michael Allen, The Christ’s Faith: A Dogmatic Account (New York: T & T Clark, 2009), p. 324 n. 794, who identifies Baugh’s argument as a “reductionistic” account that “creates fissures where none need exist.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tiptonian Recapitulation vs. Meritorious Republication (And the Effectiveness of Gesticular Pedagogy)

I would liken Dr. Lane Tipton's lecture (entitled "Redemptive History, Merit, and the Sons of God") at the 2014 Reformed Forum conference to Dream Theater's stint at the Budokan—technical, precise, and O, so nice!

He invoked nuanced readings of portions of Meredith Kline's last published work, "God, Heaven, and Har Magedon," to bring home the point that Israel's role in the Mosaic administration of the Covenant of Grace as the typological son of God (contrasted with Adam as protological and Christ as eschatological) was not grounded on a republication of a meritorious Covenant of Works but a recapitulation of Adam's sin, fall, and exile, acting pedagogically to further manifest the utter necessity of the appearance of the eschatological Son of God!

"There's a distinction between the recapitulation of the sin-fall-exile of Adam on the one side and the republication of a merit principle for maintaining the land in Canaan on the other side...The problem with Israel was not that it violated a republished Covenant of Works that was given to Adam, nor was it that Israel violated a covenantal arrangement totally devoid of grace at the national level. The problem lies in the fact that Israel reenacts the sin and fall and exile of Adam by apostasy from the Covenant of Grace." (Lane Tipton, 'Redemptive History, Merit, and the Sons of God')

Abraham typified Christ positively by virtue of the reward of a holy people on account of the former's evangelical obedience.

Israel typified Christ negatively by virtue of the forfeiture of the holy land on account of the former's lack of evangelical obedience.

As the substance, Christ's person and work merited a holy people and a holy land, i.e., the glorified elect living in a New Earth.

What does all of this mean to me, this side of Christ's resurrection and ascension? It does highlight the fact that evangelical obedience, as incumbent upon the people of God and far from being an affront to the all-sufficiency of Christ's person and work, is actually a natural outworking of my union with Him.

It also means that when D. G. Hart mockingly refers to the "Obedience Boys," he actually honors them. Hehehe.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Zwingli the Flattener

"The death of Adam is not only a bodily death, even though that also came with time, for the passage 'then you will certainly die' means the following: the loss of the grace and friendship of God, the loss of the indwelling, ruling or leading of the spirit of God, the loss of the perfect order of human nature, and the fall into sin." (Huldrych Zwingli, Short Christian Instruction [1523], emphasis mine)

You can't lose what you didn't have prior.

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