Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas and the Gift of Humanity

If there's one more lesson to be derived from Christmas then it must be the truth of God's magnanimous declaration that His physical creation is good and that Christ's putting on of human flesh is the guarantee that the physical bodies of His saints, along with the whole of the created order, shall finally be saved and delivered from the tyranny of sin through the bearing in His physical body of its pains, terrors and penalty, both in His perfectly righteous life and in His atoning death.

Another is that when Christ took on the Curse the very moment His newborn infant lungs started breathing air and when He suffered through its harsh realities as He grew in strength and stature as a man (like each and every one of us), He showcased to the universe what a human being was supposed to be, something that only He as the Second Adam could accomplish.

In effect God, in Christ, was giving us back the gift of humanity by becoming human Himself—something that should elicit in us the same praise and worship that it did in the heavenly host, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14).

The Gift of Gifts

O Source of All Good,

  What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
  thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
  my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
  his self-emptying incomprehensible,
  his infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders:
  he came below to raise me above,
  was born like me that I might become like him.
Herein is love;
  when I cannot rise to him he draws near on
    wings of grace,
  to raise me to himself.
Herein is power;
  when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
  he united them in indissoluble unity,
    the uncreated and the created.
Herein is wisdom;
  when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
  and no intellect to devise recovery,
  he came, God-incarnate, to save me
    to the uttermost,
  as man to die my death,
  to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
  to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, 
    and enlarge my mind;
  let me hear good tidings of great joy,
    and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore
    my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
    my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
  place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
    to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
    and in him account myself delivered from sin;
  let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child
    to my heart,
  embrace him with undying faith,
  exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou hast given me so much
    that heaven can give no more.

— The Valley of Vision, Edited by Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975).

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mortification, Faith, and the American Pitbull Terrier

One of the reasons why I inveterately adore the American Pitbull Terrier—and probably why most fanciers fancy them as well—is that this breed possesses the traits of gameness and tenacity at a level far above all other breeds. The pitbull, at least those that come from reputable, tested stock, will not back down from a challenge and will keep coming back for more in spite of injury or trouble to itself.

Another reason why I love "pits" is that they remind me of the tenacity and gameness required in the Christian life. The fallen world, the devil, and most especially our own remaining propensity for sin necessitate our incessant coming back to Christ. This "keep coming back for more" virtue in the Christian is called faith, and John Owen tells us that we are to "by faith ponder on this, that though you are no way able in or by yourself to get the conquest over your distemper, though you are even weary of contending, and are utterly ready to faint, yet that there is enough in Jesus Christ to yield you relief (Phil. 4:13)" and "Christ tells us that we obtain purging grace by abiding in him (John 15:3). To act faith upon the fullness that is in Christ for our supply is an eminent way of abiding in Christ, for both our insition [engraftment] and abode is by faith (Rom. 11:19-20)." [1]

Let the following reflections be fuel for your continued "scratching" back to Christ:

"I am a poor, weak, creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is becomes as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of naught. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succor and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Jesus Christ, that has all fullness of grace in his heart [John 1:16], all fullness of power in his hand [Matt. 28:18], he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for  my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror [Rom. 8:37].

'Why do you say, O my soul, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Have you not known, have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint' (Isa. 40:27-31).

He can make the 'dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water'; yea, he can make this 'habitation of dragons,' this heart, so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place for 'grass' and fruit to himself (Isa. 35:7)." [2]

[1] John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, eds. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor [Illinois: Crossway, 2006], 131-132).
[2] Ibid., 132.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Looking to Christ + Loving Sin = Futility

We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. The recovery of the doctrine of justification was the crowning achievement of the Reformation, and the Gospel is the good news not only for the unbelieving sinner but for the believing one as well.

But in our daily looking to Christ for the assurance of our salvation—which, the Reformers taught, is of the essence of faith—are we perhaps missing a key ingredient? Do we look to Christ in the manner with which the Apostle Paul did in his description of the normal Christian life in Romans 7, i.e., in utter abhorrence of the sin that still clings to him like a strapped-on carcass, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24-25)?

John Owen strips off our cloaks of deceitful comfort in the ff. statements:

"When men are wounded by sin, disquieted and perplexed, and knowing that there is no remedy for them but only in the mercies of God, through the blood of Christ, do therefore look to him, and to the promises of the covenant in him, and thereupon quiet their hearts that it shall be well with them, and that God will be exalted, that he may be gracious to them, and yet their souls are not wrought to the greatest detestation of the sin or sins upon the account whereof they are disquieted—this is to heal themselves, and not to be healed of God...When men do truly 'look upon Christ whom they have pierced,' without which there is no healing or peace, they will 'mourn' (Zech. 12:10); they will mourn for him, even upon this account, and detest the sin that pierced him.....Now this, I say, if it be done according to the mind of God, and in the strength of that Spirit which is poured out on believers, it will beget a detestation of that sin or sins for which healing and peace is sought.....When God comes home to speak peace in a sure covenant of it, it fills the soul with shame for all the ways whereby it has been alienated from him. And one of the things that the apostle mentions as attending that godly sorrow which is accompanied with repentance unto salvation, never to be repented of, is revenge: 'Yea, what revenge!' (2 Cor. 7:11).....he must come to self-abhorrency if he come to healing.....Let a man make what application he will for healing and peace, let him do it to the true Physician, let him do it the right way, let him quiet his heart in the promises of the covenant; yet, when peace is spoken, if it not be attended with the detestation and abhorrency of that sin which was the wound and caused the disquietment, this is no peace of God's creating, but of our own purchasing.....For instance, you find your heart running out after the world, and it disturbs you in your communion with God; the Spirit speaks expressly to you—'He that loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him' [1 John 2:15]. This puts you on dealing with God in Christ for the healing of your soul, the quieting of your conscience; but yet, withal, a thorough detestation of the evil itself abides not upon you; yea, perhaps that is liked well enough, but only in respect of the consequences of it. Perhaps you may be saved, yet as through fire, and God will have some work with you before he has done; but you will have little peace in this life—you will be sick and fainting all your days (Isa. 57:17). This is a deceit that lies at the root of the peace of many professors and wastes it. They deal with all their strength about mercy and pardon, and seem to have great communion with God in their so doing; they lie before him, bewail their sins and follies, that anyone would think, yea, they think themselves, that surely they and their sins are now parted; and so receive in mercy that satisfies their hearts for a little season. But when a thorough search comes to be made, there has been some secret reserve for the folly or follies treated about—at least, there has not been that thorough abhorrency of it which is necessary; and their whole peace is quickly discovered to be weak and rotten, scarce abiding any longer than the words of begging it are in their mouths." (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, eds. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor [Illinois: Crossway, 2006], 119-121).

Sobering words for the sin-parched pilgrim.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Defense of Hell: Six Arguments Against Annihilationism

"In the first place, the amount of time spent in wrongdoing is often irrelevant in determining the sentence. As I write these words, police in London are looking for thugs who attacked a forty-five year old man in broad daylight, almost severed his arm with a billhook, pummelled him with a baseball bat and sprayed hydrochloric acid in his face. The assault was all over in less than a minute; would sixty seconds in jail be an appropriate sentence? As William Hendriksen says, 'It is not necessarily the duration of the crime that fixes the duration of the punishment...What is decisive is the nature of the crime.'

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Utility of Indwelling Sin

Indwelling sin—it is the scourge of the Christian life, even more so than the world or the devil. Though the Christian has been made a partaker of the nature of Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, still, absolute freedom from sin is not to be had in this present age.

To be sure, it is the Christian's duty to be mortifying sin in his life, as far as he is aware of particular instances of dominance. However, it may come as some comfort to know that this enemy has both a God-glorifying and man-benefiting function, the knowledge of which can never be a warrant for lawlessness, but is actually the impetus behind the pedagogical use of the Law.

John Owen writes,

"To mortify sin is not utterly to kill, root it out, and destroy it, that it should have no more hold at all nor residence in our hearts. It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished. There is no man that truly sets himself to mortify any sin, but he aims at, intends, desires its utter destruction, that it should leave neither root nor fruit in the heart or life. He would so kill it that it should never more nor stir anymore, cry or call, seduce or tempt, to eternity. Its not-being is the thing aimed at. Now, though doubtless there may, by the Spirit and grace of Christ, a wonderful success and eminency of victory against any sin be attained, so that a man may have almost constant triumph over it, yet an utter killing and destruction of it, that it should not be, is not in this life to be expected. This Paul assures us of: 'Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect' (Phil. 3:12). He was a choice saint, a pattern for believers, who, in faith and love, and all the fruits of the Spirit, had not his fellow in the world, and on that account ascribes perfection to himself in comparison of others (v. 15); yet he had not 'attained,' he was not 'perfect,' but was 'following after' (v. 12): still a vile body he had, and we have, that must be changed by the great power of Christ at last (v. 21). This we would have; but God sees it best for us that we should be complete in nothing in ourselves, that in all things we must be 'complete in Christ,' which is best for us (Col. 2:10)" (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, eds. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor [Illinois: Crossway, 2006], 69-70, italics original, emphasis mine).

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Presuppositionalism of Herman Bavinck

"The method of theology is established on three foundations (principia). The ultimate source and foundation of revelation is God (principium essendi). God's self-consciousness is conveyed through his self-communication and presented in the world as the external foundation of knowledge (principium cognoscendi externum). With the possibility of conducting science established, the Logos makes reason and intellect possible as the creator of the reality outside ourselves and the laws of thought within us. Scripture, the instrumental cause of theology, bears witness to the fact that revelation proceeds from God before and after the fall. Scripture is revelation itself. Third, the principium cognoscendi internum presupposes the disclosure of divine self-revelation mediated deeply into the human self-consciousness through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Creation is the foundation for revelation from which proceeds all religious and ethical life. For Bavinck the question is never 'does God exist' but 'what is our relationship to him.'

Sin has disrupted true religion but has not eradicated the principium essendi. Religion is integral to human nature as created in the image of God. The entire world is a revelation of God; every creature, 'In its own way is the embodiment of a divine thought.' General revelation permeates nature and human history unfolding through historical process. It appeals primarily to the intellect but cannot itself produce saving knowledge or personal faith. E. P. Heideman finds Bavinck's position dangerously close to the Greek concept of the hule yet consistently maintaining that reason is not independent of revelation without going so far to say, as Emil Brunner, that reason is co-worker with revelation. Bavinck warns everywhere that without a strong view of revelation rooted in sola scriptura the alternatives will lean toward autonomy and run a course into deism and pantheism. Assuming as much dissolves religious knowledge into unconscious impressions of the divine or else casts faith into the mold of the enlightenment as a logical assent to the historical fact of scripture. For Bavinck this is disaster: dogmatic truth not aiming at the knowability of God loses its character, its certainty, and the intimate link between externum and internum in the personal activity of the Holy Spirit." (Joel Heflin, Sin, the Menace to Certainty, ETS, Nov. 2009. Italics Original).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Living Today in Light of the Future Resurrection of the Body and the Renewal of Creation

This is the sermon that I was supposed to speak on at church today. I prepared the content for the whole of yesterday, and as I was practicing reading it aloud in front of my wife, I realized how bad my stuttering was and that I may not actually be called to the ministry of a verbal presentation of the Word of God. Gifts determine calling and I simply do not have the gift of speech facility. I backed out of the speaking engagement.

Living Today in Light of the Future Resurrection of the Body and the Renewal of Creation

Purpose: To lay out Scripture's teaching on this aspect of the redemption of Christ wherein the physicality of man and the rest of creation is not maintained as it is or utterly destroyed in the glorious future but renewed, and how this drives present-age obedience.

Text: "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good..." (Gen. 1:31); "And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God..." (Job 19:26); 1 Cor. 15:35-58.


I come before you today, brothers and sisters in Christ, in much fear and trembling (And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God — 1 Cor. 2:1-5). But I direct you not to the weakness and frailty of my stuttering tongue but to the message of hope that God has for us today, a message of bodily and physical redemption purchased for us by the person and work of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, and that in this hope we may live lives of grateful obedience at the present time.

I. Physical Creation is Good

The first thing that must be said is that the material, the physical, the tangible, that which is apprehended by the senses is not intrinsically evil. The idea of atoms, molecules, and physical substance was God's. He created the universe as physical, and after being done with His masterful work unanimously declared it as good. The notion that only the spiritual, or the immaterial, is of inherent goodness does not arise from the teaching of Scripture but from pagan, Gnostic philosophy (Which the Apostle Paul in v.36 of our main text emphatically considers as foolish, i.e., not in accord with godly knowledge and wisdom). This is why Gnosticism cannot accept that Christ, as God, willingly took on the physical form of a human being. But then we know that Scripture explicitly teaches that Christ did indeed become a man, with all the physical limitations that humanity imposes, and therefore implicitly reaffirmed the goodness of physical creation.

Christ, by the power of His providential Word, sustains the universe as it is now, carrying its existence on to the time when it will be purged with fire and reformed into its intended glorious state, still retaining its substance but different in form. Indeed, as John 3:16 states, God so loved the world, He so prizes His creation, that through Christ, the way was made for the entire cosmos—heaven, earth, and humans—to be  freed from the curse and tyranny of sin ("The world according to it [Scripture], consists of heaven and earth; humans consist of soul and body; and the kingdom of God, accordingly, has a hidden spiritual dimension and an external, visible side" — Herman Bavinck, 'The Last Things', 158).

II. God Has No Plan B

We have established the goodness of the physical universe as created by God; now, it must be noted that even though Adam's sin ushered the universe into chaos, evil, and death, God never changed His mind about displaying the splendor and majesty of His attributes through a physical universe.

At the present age, there is death, and death runs its course in every aspect of creation. Stars lose energy and die out, entire continents are wiped out by quakes and flooding, crops and vegetation are decimated by climate change and various pestilences, many animal species become extinct, livestock die from the plague, and humans kill savagely and are themselves killed either by each other or by disease. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "but in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."

As universal as death is, it will not have the last laugh. How can it when God desires the praises of His glory to ring forth from physical human beings living in a physical earth? Though in Adam most of us must still taste death, for we are still clothed with a body cursed by sin, we are nevertheless assured of greater things since we are not merely in Adam, with respect to the flesh, but ultimately we are in Christ where our lives are hidden. Through His life, death, and resurrection, death has no hold on those who have put their faith in Him. His own resurrection from the dead guarantees that everyone united to Him by the Spirit will be resurrected (It is fascinating to note how God Himself, in poetic metaphor, displays this victory of life over death in the natural processes of the created order: a seed dies and out comes a tree, carbon is subjected to extreme heat and pressure over a long period of time and out comes the hardest substance on earth—the diamond, etc).

When will this resurrection take place? The resurrection of the elect, wherein they will be given imperishable, spiritual, and glorious bodies, will occur at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this climactic event, those who have been dead in Christ, whose souls have been in heaven with Him, shall have their previous bodies raised in a glorious state and given back to them, and those still alive shall be transformed "in the twinkling of an eye" into the same type of bodies as the former. Individuality, identity, character, and personality will not be altered. The Warren I am now will be the same Warren I will be then—minus sin and death!

Along with the redemption of men's bodies, heaven and earth shall also be renewed. Fire will purify the earth from all remnants of sin and death and God will establish the new heaven and the new earth where God and man shall dwell together (As opposed to 2 aberrant views: a. ) the present state shall be retained and b.) total destruction paving the way for a new creation). Herman Bavinck states in "The Last Things", p. 160, that "The substance [of the city of God] is present in this creation. Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat, upon dying in the ground, produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam's fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so, too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the bondage of decay."

It must be noted that when Paul refers to our glorified bodies as "spiritual" and that "flesh and blood" cannot inherit the kingdom of God, he is not denying the physicality of these bodies. What he is doing is drawing a contrast between the present age, in-Adam, corruptible, sin-tainted, "natural" physical body and the future age, in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, incorruptible, "spiritual" physical body.

III. Pilgrim Life Now, Glorious Life Later

Paul grounds the meaning, weight, and significance of the Christian life in the present age, with its labors, countless woes and persecutions, on the future glory to be revealed. He admonishes us to live pilgrim lives in consideration of the ff:

A. We Are in Christ, Not in Adam

Though we are still encumbered by our Adamic nature (indwelling sin), our lives are now "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). The spiritual blessings of Christ are now ours to enjoy and we must live in them as we await the physical resurrection, i.e., "holiness (Rev. 3:4,5; 7:14; 19:8; 21:27); salvation (Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:9; Heb. 1:14; 5:9); glory (Luke 24:36; Rom. 2:10; 8:18, 21); adoption (Rom. 8:23); eternal life (Matt. 19:16, 29, etc.); the vision of and conformity to God and Christ (Matt.5:18; John 17:24; Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4); fellowship with, and the service and praise of, God and Christ (John 17:24; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; Rev. 4:10; 5:9, 13; 7:10, 15; 21:3; 22:3, etc.)" — Herman Bavinck, 'The Last Things', 161. These blessings were purchased for us by Christ on account of His having obeyed the Law perfectly and by virtue of His having died on the cross for the guilt of our own Law-breaking. The merits of Christ's work are imputed to us in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit whom He has given us as a pledge that we shall indeed share in His resurrection and glory.

B. Our Citizenship Is in Heaven

The saints of all ages have always held to the conviction that the world in the present age is not their home. Abraham looked to the eternal city of God as his final destination. Such a consideration gave him a loose hold on the prosperity and security that he would be leaving behind as he obeyed the command of God to leave his present homeland for a strange, distant country. Paul himself says, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Phil. 3:20-21).

As citizens of heaven, worldly allurements should not have us bound. We must not seek the things that the world seeks, but must set our hearts and hopes on Christ and the future physical kingdom that He will be establishing. Do we love our careers more than Christ and the future physical kingdom? Our cars? Our homes? Even our spouses and children? Do we jealously guard the keeping of the Sabbath against all worldly enticements to our time, knowing that in the Sabbath we have the foretaste of the future eternal rest?

C. We Must Stand Firm in What We Are Now and What We Shall Become

To stand firm in the truth of our possession of Christ's spiritual benefits now and the truth of our future possessing of physical glory is to look to Christ in faith, and "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). If we are to stand firm, we must then be fully immersed in the Word of God, for as we get to know the promises of God in Christ as revealed in His Word, hope and gratitude are formed—"we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience"  (Rom. 8:23-25).

Monday, October 4, 2010

VoV: Paradoxes

O Changeless God,

   Under the conviction of thy Spirit I learn that
   the more I do, the worse I am,
   the more I know, the less I know,
   the more holiness I have, the more sinful I am,
   the more I love, the more there is to love.
     O wretched man that I am!
O Lord,
   I have a wild heart,
     and cannot stand before thee;
I am like a bird before a man.
How little I love thy truth and ways!
I neglect prayer,
   by thinking I have prayed enough and earnestly,
   by knowing thou hast saved my soul.
Of all hypocrites, grant that I may not be
   an evangelical hypocrite,
   who sins more safely because grace abounds,
   who tells his lusts that Christ's blood
     cleanseth them,
   who reasons that God cannot cast him into hell,
     for he is saved,
   who loves evangelical preaching, churches,
     Christians, but lives unholily.
My mind is a bucket without a bottom,
   with no spiritual understanding,
   no desire for the Lord's Day,
   ever learning but never reaching the truth,
   always at the gospel-well but never holding water.
My conscience is without conviction or contrition,
   with nothing to repent of.
My will is without power of decision or resolution.
My heart is without affection, and full of leaks.
My memory has no retention,
   so I forget easily the lessons learned,
   and thy truths seep away.
Give me a broken heart that yet carries home
   the water of grace.

— The Valley of Vision, Edited by Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bavinck on Truth and Catholicity

"Scripture is not designed so that we should parrot it but that as free children of God we should think his thoughts after him. But then all so-called presuppositionlessness and objectivity are impossible. So much study and reflection on the subject is bound up with it that no person can possibly do it alone. That takes centuries. To that end the church has been appointed and given the promise of the Spirit's guidance into all truth. Whoever isolates himself from the church, i.e., from Christianity as a whole, from the history of dogma in its entirety, loses the truth of the Christian faith. That person becomes a branch that is torn from the tree and shrivels, an organ that is separated from the body and therefore doomed to die.... For just as the Son of God become truly human, so also God's thoughts, incorporated in Scripture, become flesh and blood in the human consciousness. Dogmatics is and ought to be divine thought totally entered into and absorbed in our human consciousness, freely and independently expressed in our language, in its essence the fruit of centuries, in its form contemporary." [1]

"It is not apart from the existing churches but through them that Christ prepares for himself a holy, catholic church. Nor is it apart from the different ecclesiastical dogmas but through them that the unity of the knowledge of God is prepared and realized. In the same way the dogmatician will best be able to work fruitfully for the purification and development of the religious life and the confession of his church.... This significance of the church for theology and dogmatics is grounded in the link that Christ himself forged between the two." [2]

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, (John Bolt [ed.] & John Vriend [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 83.
[2] Ibid., 84.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wisdom: Carnal and Spiritual Compared

Thy body is weak, spare it, and weary it not; it cannot abide toil, labour, and weariness; spare thyself then. Your body is God's as well as your spirit; spare it not for glorifying God (1 Cor. 6:20). 'In weariness and painfulness' (2 Cor. 11:27). 'He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength' (Isa. 40:29). This thou hast experienced.
Labour to get neat and fine expressions; for these do very much commend a preaching to the learned; and without these they think nothing of it. Christ sent thee to 'preach the gospel not with wisdom of words' (1 Cor. 1:17). Go not to them with 'excellency of speech, or of wisdom' (1 Cor. 2:1). Let not thy speech and preaching be with 'the enticing words of man's wisdom' (verse 4).
Endeavour to be somewhat smooth in preaching, and calm; and do not go out upon the particular sins of the land, or of the persons to whom thou peachest. 'Cry aloud, and spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet: shew my people their sins' (Isa. 58:1). 'Open rebuke is better than secret love' (Prov. 27:5). 'Study to shew thyself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth' (2 Tim. 2:15).
If thou wilt not do so, they will be irritated against thee, and may create thee trouble; and what a foolish thing would it be for thee to speak boldly to such a generation as this, whose very looks are terrible! 'He that rebuketh a man, afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue' (Prov. 28:23). I have experience of this. 'Fear them not, neither be afraid at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. I have made thy face strong against their faces' (Ezek. 3:8,9). Experience confirms this.
It is a dangerous way to speak freely, and condescend on particulars; there may be more hazard in it than thou art aware of. 'He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely' (Prov. 10:9). 'Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved' (28:18).
Thou wilt be looked on as a fool, as a monster of men; thou wilt be called a railer, and so lose thy reputation and credit, and thou hadst need to preserve that. Men will hate and abhor thee; and why shouldst thou expose thyself to these things? 'Thou must become a fool, that thou mayest be wise' (1 Cor. 3:18). 'We are made a spectacle to the world' (1 Cor. 4:9,10). 'The servant is not greater than his lord,' (John 15:20, compared with 10:20), 'He hath a devil, and is mad, why hear ye him?' If thou wilt be Christ's disciple, 'thou must deny thyself' (Matt. 16:24). 'If the world hate you, ye know it hated me before it hated you,' (John 15:18) says our Lord.
Great people especially will be offended at you, if you speak not fair to them and court and caress them. And if you be looked down upon by great people, who are wise and mighty, what will you think of your preaching? 'Accept no man's person, neither give flattering titles to man: for, in so doing, thy Maker will soon take thee away' (Job 32:21,22). 'Few of the rulers believe on Christ' (John 7:48). 'Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called' (1 Cor. 1:26). 'Speak thou God's word to kings, and be not ashamed' (Ps. 119;46).
Our people are new come out from under Prelacy, and they would not desire to have sins told particularly, and especially old sores to be ripped up. They cannot abide that doctrine. Other doctrine would take better with them. Hold off such things; for it may well do them ill. It will do them no good. 'Thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, for they are most rebellious' (Ezek. 2:7). 'Give them warning from me. If thou do it not they shall die in their sins, but their blood will I require at thy hand' (3:17,18). 'What the Lord saith to thee, that do thou speak' (1 Kings 22:14).
If you will preach such things, yet prudence requires that you speak of them warily. Though conscience says you must, yet speak them somewhat covertly, that you may not offend them sore, and especially with respect to them that are but coming in yet, and do not fill them with prejudices at first; you may get occasion afterwards. 'Cry aloud and spare not' (Isa. 58:1). 'Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully' (Jer. 48:10). 'Handle not the word of the Lord deceitfully.' Peter, at the first, told the Jews that were but coming in to hear, 'Him (Christ) ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucifed and slain' (Acts 2:23). 'Work while it is called today; the night cometh wherein thou canst not work' (John 9:4).
Be but fair especially to them that have the stroke in parishes, till you be settled in a parish to get stipend. If you will not do so, you may look for toiling up and down then; for parishes will scare at you, and will not call you, and how will you live? And so such a way of preaching will be to your loss, whereas otherwise it might be better with you. 'To have respect of persons is not good; for, for a piece of bread that man will transgress' (Prov. 28:21). 'The will of the Lord be done' (Acts 21:14). 'God hath determined your time, before appointed, and the bounds of your habitation' (Acts 17:26). 'And his counsel shall stand, oppose it who will' (Isa. 46:10). 'It is God that sets the solitary in families' (Ps. 68:6). 'If thou be faithful, thou shalt abound with blessings; but if thou makest haste to be rich, thou shalt not be innocent'

Thomas Boston, The Art of Manfishing, A Puritan's View of Evangelism (Scotland, GB: Christian Focus, 1998), 64—68.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What Is the Priesthood of All Believers?

"From the riches of his perfect ministry Christ gives every grace to his people. The 'universal priesthood of believers' is not a religious application of democracy. Every Christian has access to the heavenly holy place only because Christ is there among the lampstands, his priestly garment girded with royal gold (Rev. 1:13). The believer has no rights as prophet, priest, or king in his own name, but in Christ's calling his rights exceed those of every prophet, priest, or king of the Old Testament. There was no greater prophet than John the Baptist, but he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he: greater, that is, not in obedience or service, but in position, in calling (Matt. 11:9-11). After Christ's outpouring of his Spirit at Pentecost all the people of God are as prophets, sharing with Simon Peter in that confession of faith which is revealed not by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven (Matt. 16:18). In that same Spirit they are sanctified, offer themselves as living sacrifices, praise God, and make intercession for men as a kingdom of priests (I Pet. 2:9). Through the power of the risen Christ they have dominion over the hosts of darkness and will rule with Christ at his appearing (I Cor. 4:8; 6:2, 2; Rom. 16:20)" (Edmund P. Clowney, Called to the Ministry (New Jersey: P & R, 1964), 42, 43).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Calvin Paid His Dues

John Calvin suffered through being in a place and situation he didn't prefer. The demands of the ministry on him were enormous. Enemies wanted his head on a plate. Relatives broke his heart. He was frequently ill. He lost his wife and son.

John Calvin was no mere brainiac. He lived hard and paid his dues.

"Above all by sufferings he wishes us to be conformed to the image of his Son, as it is fitting that there should be conformity between the head and the members" (John Calvin).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Romans 8: The Greatest Chapter in Scripture

The late Dr. James Montgomery Boice agreed, and F. Godet, in his 'Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), 295', reports the German Lutheran Pietist, Philipp Jakob Spener, as having stated that, "If Holy Scripture was a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans a precious stone, chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel."

Do your soul an immense favor and go through this series on Romans 8 by Dr. Philip Graham Ryken.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Living Out the Law and Gospel Distinction

"Therefore, feeling thy terrors and threatenings, O law! I dip my conscience over head and ears, into the wounds, blood, death, resurrection, and victory of Christ; besides him I will see and hear nothing at all. This faith is our victory, whereby we overcome the terrors of the law, sin, death, and all evils, but not without a great conflict" (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 4:5, 597, cited in E. Fisher's The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2009), 128).

"It is easy to speak of these things, but happy he that could know them aright in the conflict of conscience" (idem., Commentary on Galatians 2:19, 259, cited in E. Fisher's The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2009), 128).

The preceding quotations from the great Reformer, Martin Luther, shed light on the fact that if those who have biblical knowledge of the Law and the Gospel and their distinction go through upheavals of conscience in the application and living out of these truths, how much more pitiful are those who, bereft of the knowledge of these truths, strain and struggle to live out a vital Christian life!

How alarming and heart-breaking it is to see pastors and teachers devote significant amounts of time to instructing their flock in "chaff" when the "wheat" of the Law and the Gospel is neglected in favor of schemes that are, ironically, designed to enable them to become "disciples" of Christ.

Get the Law and the Gospel right and you will have MEN in your church.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Works-Righteousness: A Hard Habit to Break

We are justified by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. This very beautiful and hope-giving truth has been echoed down through the ages, via the preaching and writing of our esteemed divines, that we would think the seduction of works-righteousness has all but lost its appeal. But then, "Nay, what says Luther? It is, says he, the general opinion of men's reason throughout the whole world, that righteousness is gotten by the works of the law; and the reason is, because the covenant was engendered in the minds of men in the very creation, so that man naturally can judge no otherwise of the law than as a covenant of works, which was given to make righteous, and to give life and salvation" [1].

Luther admits that even time cannot fully erase this deeply-ingrained propensity in man for trying to earn God's favor through a sort of barter trade: my good works for Your blessings. He states, "I myself...have now preached the gospel nearly twenty years, and have been exercised in the same daily, by reading and writing, so that I may well seem to be rid of this wicked opinion; yet, notwithstanding, I now and then feel this old filth cleave to my heart, whereby it cometh to pass that I would willingly have so to do with God, that I would bring something with myself, because of which he should give me his grace" [2].

So it is that we must constantly be reminded of the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: Sola Fide! Sola Gratia! Solus Christus!

[1] Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2009), 105.
[2] ibid., Luther cited, 105—106.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Anatomy of Repentance

Psalm 51 is one of my favorite Scripture passages, more out of necessity than anything else. In it we see David, a man who was endowed which such divine favor and honor, broken into a heap of guilt-ridden humanity, seeking to be refashioned by God into a vessel of integrity and uprightness once more. An integral aspect of the heinousness of David's sin does not come so much from the desecration of the stately position upon which he was placed by divine mandate as king of Israel (though that is certainly an important part of it), but from his intimate knowledge of God's character and will as expressed in his affection for the law—a knowledge that did not prove a deterrent. Calvin writes, "He acknowledges that it was not a mere superficial acquaintance with divine truth which he had enjoyed, but that it had been closely brought home to his heart. This rendered his offense the more inexcusable. Though privileged so highly with the saving knowledge of the truth, he had plunged into the commission of brutish sin, and by various acts of iniquity had almost ruined his soul" [1].

But what I would like to seek out is an understanding of the seeming peculiarity of the vehement nature by which David appealed for God's pardon and restoration of favor, as expressed in this psalm, even though the prophet Nathan had already assured him of such graces. Was it unbelief on David's part? An appendage to his already glaring list of sins?

Two things emerge from Calvin's ruminations on the matter:

1.) It is within the province of piety to implore God for forgiveness and spiritual restoration through the employment of the totality of the faculties of our souls even when His covenant promises assure us of such benefits, as this is a recognition of the utter deplorability of our sin and His holiness.

2.) As human beings, we are creatures of our physical senses, and are naturally of the disposition to waver in faith. Therefore, God has mercifully and graciously provided us with physical signs and seals of His favor and fatherly love, communicated through the Sacraments.

"But here it may be asked why David needed to pray so earnestly for the joy of remission, when he had already received assurance from the lips of Nathan that his sin was pardoned? (2 Samuel 12:13.) Why did he not embrace this absolution? and was he not chargeable with dishonoring God by disbelieving the word of his prophet? We cannot expect that God will send us angels in order to announce the pardon which we require. Was it not said by Christ, that whatever his disciples remitted on earth would be remitted in heaven? (John 20:23.) And does not the apostle declare that ministers of the gospel are ambassadors to reconcile men to God? (2 Corinthians 5:20.) From this it might appear to have argued unbelief in David, that, notwithstanding the announcement of Nathan, he should evince a remaining perplexity or uncertainty regarding his forgiveness. There is a twofold explanation which may be given of the difficulty. We may hold that Nathan did not immediately make him aware of the fact that God was willing to be reconciled to him. In Scripture, it is well known, things are not always stated according to the strict order of time in which they occurred. It is quite conceivable that, having thrown him into this situation of distress, God might keep him in it for a considerable interval, for his deeper humiliation; and that David expresses in these verses the dreadful anguish which he endured when challenged with his crime, and not yet informed of the divine determination to pardon it. Let us take the other supposition, however, and it by no means follows that a person may not be assured of the favor of God, and yet show great earnestness and importunity in praying for pardon. David might be much relieved by the announcement of the prophet, and yet be visited occasionally with fresh convictions, influencing him to have recourse to the throne of grace. However rich and liberal the offers of mercy may be which God extends to us, it is highly proper on our part that we should reflect upon the grievous dishonor which we have done to his name, and be filled with due sorrow on account of it. Then our faith is weak, and we cannot at once apprehend the full extent of the divine mercy; so that there is no reason to be surprised that David should have once and again renewed his prayers for pardon, the more to confirm his belief in it. The truth is, that we cannot properly pray for the pardon of sin until we have come to a persuasion that God will be reconciled to us. Who can venture to open his mouth in God’s presence unless he be assured of his fatherly favor? And pardon being the first thing we should pray for, it is plain that there is no inconsistency in having a persuasion of the grace of God, and yet proceeding to supplicate his forgiveness. In proof of this, I might refer to the Lord’s Prayer, in which we are taught to begin by addressing God as our Father, and yet afterwards to pray for the remission of our sins. God’s pardon is full and complete; but our faith cannot take in his overflowing goodness, and it is necessary that it should distil to us drop by drop. It is owing to this infirmity of our faith, that we are often found repeating and repeating again the same petition, not with the view surely of gradually softening the heart of God to compassion, but because we advance by slow and difficult steps to the requisite fullness of assurance. The mention which is here made of purging with hyssop, and of washing or sprinkling, teaches us, in all our prayers for the pardon of sin, to have our thoughts directed to the great sacrifice by which Christ has reconciled us to God. “Without shedding of blood,” says Paul, “is no remissions” (Hebrews 9:22;) and this, which was intimated by God to the ancient Church under figures, has been fully made known by the coming of Christ. The sinner, if he would find mercy, must look to the sacrifice of Christ, which expiated the sins of the world, glancing, at the same time, for the confirmation of his faith, to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; for it were vain to imagine that God, the Judge of the world, would receive us again into his favor in any other way than through a satisfaction made to his justice" [2].

[1]  John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms — Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1991), Psalm 51:3—6).
[2]  ibid., Psalm 51:7—9, italics original).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Depression Is the Perception of Reality As It Really Is Apart from Christ (Reality Bites!)

This is probably the most insightful article on depression that I've come across thus far. The definition provided hit the nail on the head for me.

"It is my conviction that depression usually arises from a perception of the world (as it is apart from Christ) which is more honest and accurate than that of the average person. This may come as a surprise to those who have never experienced deep depression, or even to those who have. After all, the common response, when one is depressed, is to remind him of all the good in life. If one is depressed, is it not because he has an eye only for that which is wrong in the world? Because he is blind, as it were, to the many thousand legitimate delights that life has to offer? I would contend that this is not the case. The world is deeply, deeply wrong. The hatred, the killing, the lust and sinfulness that run rampant throughout life are hardly to be compensated for by the fleeting and ephemeral diversions from reality that distract the minds of the common inhabitants of earth. Life begins in pain, proceeds through struggle and travail, and from these rough beginnings does not go on to brighter days, but instead fades increasingly until it ends in death after the manifold trials of old age have finally and fully been undergone. The pointlessness and gratuitousness of the many sorrows and pains of life are so blatant that the only response by which one may cope with them without despair is to numb himself from the pervasive presence of reality by amusements which divert the attention from life’s sad dilemmas. This is how most of the world gets by; and so great is the self-delusion, that they are smilingly able to call themselves happy. But their happiness is built upon chimeras, upon the elaborate constructions of unreality in which they spend the greater part of their lives. For a few persons, this coping mechanism of diversion appears as hollow as it is in reality. It is largely to these faultedly honest persons that depression comes. This is not to say that depression comes only from a conscious deliberation on the nature of the world as it really is apart from Christ. Many times, perhaps more often than not, it is the unconscious reaction of the soul that has felt, even if not deliberated upon, the vanity of life in a fallen world. But in any case, it usually arises from some recognition, deliberate or not, that the world is all wrong. These preliminary thoughts lead me to my conclusion that the only true cure for depression is the hope that is in Christ. Everything else is a mere masking of the symptoms" (Nathan Pitchford, Thoughts on Spiritual Depression).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Was the Covenant of Works Republished at Sinai?

nomista: But, sir, were the children of Israel at this time better able to perform the condition of the covenant of works, than either Adam or any of the old patriarchs were, that God renewed it now with them, rather than before?

evangelista: No, indeed; God did not renew it with them now, and not before, because they were better able to keep it, but because they had more need to be made acquainted what the covenant of works is, than those before. For though it is true the Ten Commandments, which were at first perfectly written in Adam's heart, were much obliterated by his fall, yet some impressions and relics thereof still remained [both with him and them]; and Adam himself was very sensible of his fall, and the rest of the fathers were helped by tradition; and, says Cameron, 'God did speak to the patriarchs from heaven, yea, and he spake unto them by his angels'; but now, by this time, sin had almost obliterated and defaced the impressions of the law written in their hearts; and by their being so long in Egypt, they were so corrupted, that the instructions and ordinances of their fathers were almost worn out of mind; and their fall in Adam was almost forgotten, as the apostle testifies saying, 'Before the time of the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law' (Rom. 5:13—14). Nay, in that long course of time betwixt Adam and Moses, men had forgotten what was sin; so, although God had made a promise of blessing to Abraham, and to all his seed, that would plead interest in it, yet these people at this time were proud and secure, and heedless of their estate; and though 'sin was in them, and death reigned over them,' yet they being without a law to evidence this sin and death unto their consciences, they did not impute it unto themselves, they would not own it, nor charge themselves with it; and so, by consequence, found no need of pleading the promise made to Abraham; (Rom. 5:20), therefore, 'the law entered,' that Adam's offence and their own actual transgression might abound, so that now the Lord saw it needful, that there should be a new edition and publication of the covenant of works, the sooner to compel the elect unbelievers to come to Christ, the promised seed, and that the grace of God in Christ to the elect believers might appear the more exceeding glorious.

So that you see the Lord's intention therein was, that they, by looking upon this covenant might be put in mind what was their duty of old, when they were in Adam's loins; yea, and what was their duty still, if they would stand to that covenant, and so go the old and natural way to work; yea, and hereby they were also to see what was their present infirmity in not doing their duty: that so they seeing an impossibility of obtaining life by that way of works, first appointed in paradise, they might be humbled, and more heedfully mind the promise made to their father Abraham, and hasten to lay hold on the Messiah, or promised seed.

Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2009), 82—83.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Calvin on the Church Growth Movement

I am convinced that the vice behind much of the "seeker-sensitive" and "church-growth" movements is impatience. The natural human impulse is to want results—and to want them now! So we dream up ways and means to make the "church experience" palatable to the unregenerate, instead of breaking their hearts with the Law and providing the remedy through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The failure to make people understand their true condition before God, not in the level of their "felt needs," needs that are perceived through the filter of the carnal mind, but in the relationship of the Creator who demands His image to be perfectly represented in the only creature who bears it, effectively closes the door to the good news—the news that God has made a way, through His Son, for His demands to be spotlessly met in man if only man would know who this Son is, believe in Him, and trust Him for the solution to the problem—for if the problem is a lack of self-esteem, a lack of leadership, a lack of success, then only a false gospel will suffice.

Calvin thus speaks the truth:

"And, therefore, though some may murmur, and others scorn, and others slander, and though many differences of opinion may arise, still the preaching of the Gospel will not be without effect; so that we must sow the seed, and wait with patience until, in process of time, the fruit appear" (John Calvin, Commentary on John — Volume I (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classic Ethereal Library), John 7:31).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Presuppositionalism of Calvin

The apprehension of truth is not heart-condition-neutral. The common grace of reason is insufficient in assisting man in going from the particulars to the universals. Truth is not a banquet table from which everyone can feast. The best that the unregenerate can partake of is the measly morsel of Deism. To be able to think, and think truly, regeneration is the prerequisite.

"Christ, therefore, replies that sound judgment flows from fear and reverence for God; so that, if their minds be well disposed to the fear of God, they will easily perceive if what he preaches be true or not. He likewise administers to them, by it, an indirect reproof; for how comes it that they cannot distinguish between falsehood and truth, but because they want the principal requisite to sound understanding, namely, piety, and the earnest desire to obey God?" (John Calvin, Commentary on John — Volume I (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classic Ethereal Library), John 7:17).

Calvin on QIRC

In the pursuit of truth, man is prone to two erroneous extremes, rationalism and empiricism. Within the sphere of Christianity, the slide towards rationalism has been succinctly labeled and described by Dr. R. Scott Clark as "Q.I.R.C.", or the "Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty." Calvin agrees:

"If God acts by the usual means and in the ordinary way, those means which are visible to the eyes are — as it were — veils which hinder us from perceiving the Divine hand; and therefore we discern nothing in them but what is human. But if an unwonted power of God shines above the order of nature and the means generally known, we are stunned; and what ought to have deeply affected all our senses passes away as a dream. For such is our pride, that we take no interest in any thing of which we do not know the reason." (John Calvin, Commentary on John — Volume I (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classic Ethereal Library), John 7:15).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Idolization of Theology?

Picking up from where these 3 great posts leave off (Moderation Coalition, Of Militants and Moderates, Who, Us Self-Loathing?), I wonder what the "idolization of theology" actually means. If theology, to put it simply, is the study of God, His ways, and His will, then the total immersion of oneself in this endeavor, and the passionate defense of it against error, must be the greatest safeguards against true idolatry, would it not be?

The dichotomy erected by many against orthodoxy and orthopraxy has given rise to an emasculated Christianity that overemphasizes orthopraxy (translated as "niceness", "amiability", or "moderation") to the tarring and feathering of those who passionately and rightly declare that right doctrine, i.e. confessional Reformed theology, is the foundation and bedrock upon which all structures of godly living and devotion are built, i.e. confessional Reformed piety and practice.

We who put a premium on the confessions and creeds of our faith are constantly bombarded by the revilements of those who deem our unwavering and unbending stand on doctrine as divisive, offensive, and detrimental to the cause. But perhaps the problem is that, in truth, we actually have different causes! Whereas the pietists strive for Christlikeness (or their notion of it) through means other than sound, biblical, confessional Reformed doctrine, we of the confessional Reformed persuasion, with all our minds, soul, and strength, preach doctrine from the rooftops for we know that only through this can Christlikeness be truly formed. The former cause is achievable through pagan religion. The latter only through confessional Reformed theology.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What is the Covenant of Redemption?

"Whereupon there was a special covenant, or mutual agreement made between God and Christ, as is expressed (Isa. 53:10), that if Christ would make himself a sacrifice for sin, then he should 'see his seed, he should prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper by him.' So in Psalm 89:19, the mercies of this covenant between God and Christ, under the type of God's covenant with David, are set forth: 'Thou spakest in a vision to thy holy One, and saidst, I have laid help upon One that is mighty': or, as the Chaldee expounds it, 'One mighty in the law.' As if God had said concerning his elect, I know that these will break, and never be able to satisfy me; but thou art a mighty and substantial person, able to pay me, therefore I will look for my debt of thee. As Pareus well observes, God did, as it were, say to Christ, what they owe me I require all at thy hands. Then said Christ, 'Lo, I come to do thy will! in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God! yea, thy law is in my heart' (Ps. 40:7—8). Thus Christ assented, and from everlasting struck hands with God, to put upon him man's person, and to take upon him his name, and to enter in his stead in obeying his Father, and to do all for man that he should require, and to yield in man's flesh the price of the satisfaction of the just judgment of God, and, in the same flesh, to suffer the punishment that man had deserved; and this he undertook under the penalty that lay upon man to have undergone. And thus was justice satisfied, and mercy by the Lord Jesus Christ; and so God took Christ's single bond; whence Christ is not only called the 'surety of the covenant for us' (Heb. 7:22), but the covenant itself (Isa. 49:8). And God laid all upon him, that he might be sure of satisfaction; protesting that he would not deal with us, nor so much as expect any payment from us; such was his grace." (Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2009), 64—65.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hebrews 11:1—22 Bible Study

The handout for the Bible study tomorrow:

HEBREWS 11:1—22 Bible Study
(Date: June 26, 2010)

Introduction: The Apostle is writing to believers undergoing severe difficulties and hardship. He points to faith as the means of overcoming (1 Jn. 5:4) every sort of trial and temptation that may come their way. He then employs both the teaching tools of abstraction and particularization to fortify his point: Abstraction meaning theological truths, or doctrine, that form the basis of the particulars, which are the outworkings in history or "real life" of doctrine (application). The point is made that orthopraxy follows orthodoxy.


The Apostle is not so much as giving a complete definition of faith than a part of it that is preferential to the making of his point (see Introduction). Calvin notes that a key element of faith is patience: " can be no more separated from patience than from itself...We shall not reach the goal of salvation except we have patience, for the prophet declares that the just lives by faith; but faith directs us to things afar off which we do not as yet enjoy; it then necessarily includes patience" (Commentary on Hebrews 11).

Faith has both objective and subjective components. The objective component of faith is that which is true no matter if you or I believe it. This is Jesus Christ, the object of our faith—the substance—and included in Him are all His benefits. What are these benefits? Justification, sanctification, and glorification. It is when we lay hold of Christ and His benefits that faith becomes subjectively active in us. Faith demonstrates to us, gives us evidence, that the promises of God are confirmed and find validation in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

Faith, then, bridges the "already" and "not yet" tension of the Christian life:

"...for the Spirit of God shows to us hidden things, the knowledge of which cannot reach our senses: Promised to us is eternal life, but it is promised to the dead; we are assured of a happy resurrection, but we are as yet involved in corruption; we are pronounced just, as yet sin dwells in us; we hear that we are happy, but we are as yet in the midst of many miseries; an abundance of all good things is promised to us, but still we often hunger and thirst; God proclaims that he will come quickly, but he seems deaf when we cry to him. What would become of us were we not supported by hope, and did not our minds emerge out of the midst of darkness above the world through the light of God’s word and of his Spirit?" (Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 11).


The forefathers of the Church were approved by God, justified in His sight and counted as righteous, on no other basis than faith. The Apostle is remphasizing the point that merely being a part of the Jewish nation does not make one a Jew in the true sense of the designation (Rom. 2:28), and therefore all grounds for boasting on the basis of merely national ties to Abraham are excluded on the virtue of faith.

We acknowledge by faith that everything in reality was fashioned by God for His own intents and purposes. The word used for "created" also includes the meaning of intentional design, so we see that God in His wisdom and creative power made things as they are, upon which He placed His stamp of approval of "good."

The "invisible things" on which the whole created order is based are the excellencies of God that are apparent in His creation (Rom. 1:20). "God has given us, throughout the whole framework of this world, clear evidences of his eternal wisdom, goodness, and power; and though he is in himself invisible, he in a manner becomes visible to us in his works" (Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 11).


Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God not because it was a blood sacrifice, and Cain's was "of the fruit of the ground" or "vegetarian," but because he already had faith prior to his act of offering. It may be said here that his faith, which is evidence of God's favor prior to any good work on his part, was proved real by his righteous action. Cain was not as favored of God and therefore incurred His judgment. Therefore, Abel still speaks the word of faith, though dead, by magnifying the favor of God that is had through faith, as evidenced, in part, by God taking vengeance on account of his death, for "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Ps. 116:15).

Enoch pleased God, by faith, and because of this was given the privilege of not tasting the kind of death that is common to man. Calvin describes this "translation" or being "taken up" as "a sort of extraordinary death; nor let us doubt but that they were divested of their mortal and corruptible flesh, in order that they might, with the other members of Christ,  be renewed into a blessed immortality" (Commentary on Hebrews 11).

Now the impossibility of pleasing God without faith appears in the aforementioned fact that faith has an object, namely God. God, as the object of our faith, exists outside of ourselves, and the recognition of His existence (His objectivity) is critical to our subjective experience of Him. Our subjective experience is reinforced with the knowledge that He is favorably disposed towards us, and that He will reward our seeking of Him. As Calvin notes, "we must believe that God is, and that we ought to feel assured that he is not sought in vain" (Commentary on Hebrews 11). Also:

"For it is not to be laid down as an abstract principle, that God is a rewarder to those who seek him; but every one of us ought individually to apply this doctrine to himself, so that we may know that we are regarded by God, that he has such a care for our salvation as never to be wanting to us, that our prayers are heard by him, that he will be to us a perpetual deliverer. But as none of these things come to us except through Christ, our faith must ever regard him and cleave to him alone" (Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 11).


"...for the only true end of life is to promote his glory; but this can never be done, unless there be first the true knowledge of him. Yet this is still but the half of faith, and will profit us but little, except confidence be added. Hence faith will only then be complete and secure us God’s favor, when we shall feel a confidence that we shall not seek him in vain, and thus entertain the certainty of obtaining salvation from him" (ibid.).


Noah, after receiving the word from God that a global flood would ensue in 120 years and that he must build an ark to save himself and his family, in faith, acted upon the command. What were the obstacles that his faith had to overcome? Firstly, the proposition of a deluge on as massive a scale as that foretold by God, and the means of salvation for him and his family through a gargantuan ark is, to the common human mind, very outrageous and quite implausible. His faith looked to the unseen and improbable as if it was going to be as real as tomorrow's sunrise on the virtue that if God said it would happen, it would certainly happen. Secondly, the length of time from the announcement to the actual fulfillment might have caused the common man to slack off and forsake diligence. Noah's faith fitted him with a sense of urgency so as to put his hands to prompt hard labor. Lastly, it is a certainty that the wicked that surrounded him must have constantly persecuted him for the foolishness of his endeavor and his refusal to indulge the pleasures of the world with them. His faith that overcame the persecutions and temptations of the world typifies the experience of everyone called by God.

Here it must also be observed that reverent fear in the impending judgment of God is a component of the faith that is approved by Him. Calvin says that "there is no reason why faith should not look to God and reverently receive whatever he may say; or if you prefer another way of stating the subject, it rightly belongs to faith to hear God whenever he speaks, and unhesitatingly to embrace whatsoever may proceed from his sacred mouth. Thus far it has regard to commands and threatening, as well as to gratuitous promises" (Commentary on Hebrews 11).

Noah's obedience in building the ark, in the travail and suffering involved, is contrasted with the wicked's ease and sinful revelry, and highlights the justice in the latter's destruction. Given that God, in His mercy and foreberance, favors the company of the wicked if a righteous man is among them, the ark is the seal of their impending doom.

Abraham is "the chief father of God's church on earth" (Commentary on Hebrews 11) according to Calvin, but this distinction is his only because of his faith for "he had no excellency which did not proceed from faith" (ibid.). In fact, before God's call, Abraham worshipped idols; but after the call to leave the land beyond the Euphrates for the land of Canaan, his faith in the one, true God was exercised in that he trusted the promise of the land, which he knew not the whereabouts, as an inheritance. It is no small thing to leave the land which has been one's home for a significant amount of time for an unknown land, being assured only on the ground of faith in God's promise, but such is the faith of Abraham. And even when he and his family have already set foot on Canaan, it was not theirs to claim and possess then and there, for indeed they dwelled in tents. But the land that Abraham looked to and hoped for was not a land seen with physical eyes, but heaven itself! "It was no doubt a great thing to cherish in their hearts the assurance given them by God respecting the possession of the land until it was after some ages realized; yet as they did not confine their thoughts, no, not to that land, but penetrated even into heaven, it was still a clearer evidence of their faith" (Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 11).

Sarah, Abraham's wife, was also commended for her faith in believing that she would conceive of a child through whom the promise was to be reckoned, though initially her doubts were expressed in a reaction of laughter to the angel's announcement. It would appear that even the faith that falters is of value in God's sight, provided it not plunge headlong into unbelief; hence Calvin asserts, "that when our faith in some things wavers or halts, it ceases not to be approved of God, provided we indulge not the spirit of unbelief. The meaning then is, that the miracle which God performed when Isaac was born, was the fruit of the faith of Abraham, and of his wife, by which they laid hold on the power of God" (Commentary on Hebrews 11).

Therefore, through the faiths of both Abraham and Sarah, the nation of Israel was built; but more than that, the Church of Christ, since it is the Church that is the true Israel of God, from the O.T. to the N.T., since the reckoning of membership in Israel is by faith.


The patriarchs all died having their sights set, in faith, to the future fulfillment of the promises, for indeed they were looking to its consummation in Christ. When all they had were mere "samplings," still, their faith remained strong until death, as though they already had the fulfillment in their possession. This faith obscured the attraction and magnetism of the world and its pleasures so that they counted themselves as pilgirms passing through, destined for their true home in heaven, both after death in a disembodied state, and in the second coming of Christ when all those who have longed for His appearing shall be resurrected to glory, in the inheritance of a New Earth. This reminds us, who are now in possession of the full revelation of Christ, that we, in fact, have more reason to have faith and exercise it, since the fathers who had lesser light did so in tremendous fashion.

Because of faith, God identified Himself with the patriarchs through the appending of their names to His, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex. 3:6).

"We are hence to conclude, that there is no place for us among God’s children, except we renounce the world, and that there will be for us no inheritance in heaven, except we become pilgrims on earth; Moreover, the Apostle justly concludes from these words, — 'I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,' that they were heirs of heaven, since he who thus speaks is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 11).


Of all the trials of Abraham's faith, the offering up of his son, Isaac, must have been the greatest. As Calvin notes, "Abraham had indeed already proved what he was, by many trials; yet as this trial surpassed every other, so the Apostle would have it to be regarded above all his trials. It is then as though he had said, 'The highest excellency of Abraham was the sacrificing of his son:' for God is said to have then in an especial manner tried him" (Commentary on Hebrews 11). Perhaps only a father could know the gravity of this test. Imagine the agony of soul Abraham must have felt as they went on a three-day journey, looking unto Isaac those days, knowing that at the end of the road there awaited a bloody death for his beloved son—and that by his own hands. And fathom the knife that cut through his heart as Isaac inquired, "Where is the sacrifice, dad?" "The death of a son, under any circumstances, must have been very grievous, a bloody death would have still caused a greater sorrow; but when he was bidden to slay his own, — that indeed must have been too dreadful for a father’s heart to endure; and he must have been a thousand times disabled, had not faith raised up his heart above the world. It is not then without reason, that the apostle records that he was then tried" (ibid.).

We may ask what the need was for this extreme test; hasn't Abraham already proven himself in times past? One thing to realize is that God already knows our hearts even before He tries us. The trial is not to add to God's information but to ours, revealing to ourselves and others the current state of our hearts, and in the case of Abraham, a solid faith, for the praise of His glory. And this faith wavered not in laying hold of the promise that it was through Isaac that his descendants would be reckoned, as evidenced by the reasoning employed by Abraham in that God was able to raise his son from the dead, after he had obeyed, so as to fulfill the promise given in the perpetuation of his line. In a manner of speaking, Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead, for in his willingness to offer him up, driven by faith, it is as if he had indeed sacrificed him.

The faith of the father was produced in the son, and, in faith, Isaac looked to things unseen, far along in the future, and blessed his sons. Note that Isaac possessed nothing and had not the power to influence the future except in the conferring of the word of God to his children. He held on to the promises given to Abraham and these he passed on to his own children. In Jacob, as the chosen of God by which the fulfillment of the promises would progress, was this faith declaration most keen, and in the distinction between him and the reprobate elder sibling, Esau, who had the birthright but forfeited it, as decreed by God.

As with his father, Jacob blessed Joseph's sons even as yet not having the earthly power or rightful dominion over the promised land, and this by faith. Also, the same preference over the younger (as in the case of Isaac) in Ephraim is witnessed, in a breaking of tradition that could only have been motivated by faith in the promises of God. As a dying man, the strength of his faith, though his body weak, comes across powerfully, in this final act of worship and blessing.

Last among the patriarchs is Joseph, who by his faith in the promises of God, ordered that his bones be brought along in the future exodus of his people, thereby proclaiming his status as a pilgrim and one who esteemed not the glories of Egypt or this world (not even Canaan) but heaven.

God Uses the Slow of Speech

As a stutterer since the 4th grade, and as someone who burns with the desire to serve God in the preaching and teaching of His Word, Moses' weakness and subsequent victory over fear through faith, resulting in a life mightily used of God, is a tremendous inspiration to me. Thank You, Lord, for using underdogs.

"But Moses said to the Lord, 'Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue'" (Exodus 4:10).

"Moreover, we see that the instruments which seem but little suitable are especially employed by Him, in order that His power may more fully appear. He might, if He had chosen to use Moses as His ambassador, have made him eloquent from the womb; or, at least, when He sends him to his work, have corrected his stammering tongue. It seems a mockery, then, to give a commission of speaking to a stammerer; but in this way, (as I have said,) He causes His glory to shine forth more brightly, proving that He can do all things without extrinsic aid. Interpreters vary as to the meaning of the words. Some think that the clause 'since thou hast spoken to thy servant' is added in amplification, as if the tongue of Moses began to be more slow than ever since the vision had appeared; but since the particle, gam, is thrice repeated, I interpret it simply, that Moses had never been eloquent from his infancy, and that he was not now endued with any new eloquence" (John Calvin, Commentary on Exodus 4:10).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Calvin Was a Republicationist

"The example of Moses ought to have been remembered by the Jews, more than that of any other; for through him they were delivered from bondage, and the covenant of God was renewed, with them, and the constitution of the Church established by the publication of the Law" (John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews).

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