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).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Calvin: The Completion of Faith is Assurance

"The reason he assigns why no one can please God without faith, is this, — because no one will ever come to God, except he believes that God is, and is also convinced that he is a remunerator to all who seek him. If access then to God is not opened, but by faith, it follows, that all who are without it, are the objects of God’s displeasure. Hence the Apostle shows how faith obtains favor for us, even because faith is our teacher as to the true worship of God, and makes us certain as to his goodwill, so that we may not think that we seek him in vain. These two clauses ought not to be slightly passed over, — that we must believe that God is, and that we ought to feel assured that he is not sought in vain.

...yet it is evident, that except the Lord retains us in the true and certain knowledge of himself, various doubts will ever creep in, and obliterate every thought of a Divine Being. To this vanity the disposition of man is no doubt prone, so that to forget God becomes an easy thing.

...he denies that we can have an access to God, except we have the truth...

But if the true knowledge of God has its seat in our hearts it will not fail to lead us to honor and fear him; for God, without his majesty is not really known. Hence arises the desire to serve him, hence it comes that the whole life is so formed, that he is regarded as the end in all things.

...we ought to be fully persuaded that God is not sought in vain; and this persuasion includes the hope of salvation and eternal life, for no one will be in a suitable state of heart to seek God except a sense of the divine goodness be deeply felt, so as to look for salvation from him.

Now Scripture assigns this as the right way, — that a man, prostrate in himself, and smitten with the conviction that he deserves eternal death, and in selfdespair, is to flee to Christ as the only asylum for salvation. Nowhere certainly can we find that we are to bring to God any merits of works to put us in a state of favor with him.

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.

...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." (John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, emphasis mine).

Dad's Day Didactics

Today is the day of dads, and as a dad myself, I've discovered that the one thing that figures prominently in the lives of many dads is the anxiety that comes with the job of being a dad itself. All dads endowed with the common grace of sanity desire to be able to provide the best that they possibly can for their families. In this the analogy of the human dad as a reflection of the fatherhood of God is expressed, in the desire to cater to the well-being of one's children.

Therefore, I've deemed it appropriate to present two passages on the issue of anxiety, first and foremost from the Word of God, and secondly, from an esteemed poet. Happy Father's Day to us, dads!

Matthew 6:25—34 (Do Not Be Anxious)

"Therefore I tell you, f do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. h Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For l the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first o the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Inseparability of Covenant-Renewal with Covenant-Ratification

When the Word of God (Law and Gospel) is preached during the weekly Sabbath assembly, it is actually a declaration of the terms and stipulations of the Covenant of Grace. We hear of the demands of God in the Law, and we also hear of Christ as having fulfilled all the requirements of the Law on our behalf, which is the Gospel. God's pledge of faithfulness to this covenant is brought to the fore and we are comforted and motivated to grateful obedience.

However, if it ended there, the "covenant formula," if I may so speak, would be incomplete. Where is the ratification of this renewing of the covenant between God and His redeemed? In the Old Covenant, this would take the form of the blood sacrifice of bulls and goats, but in the New, Christ paid the price of His blood for our redemption from the curse of the Old Covenant, therefore, no blood sacrifice is left nor required. What the Lord Himself left us is the sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper. In the Supper is the visible, material, and tangible sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace—the physical Gospel. Through it, the Spirit affords us the assurance that God is faithful, that we are justified in His sight through Christ's atoning sacrifice, and that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us—then our faith is invigorated. As Article 35 of the Belgic Confession affirms:

To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls.

Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God's Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.

Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood—but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith.

So the case is made that the preaching of the Word, as it is the renewing of the Covenant of Grace, must always have with it the administration of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as it is the ratification, the sign, and the seal of the just renewed covenant.

The following are Calvin's thoughts on the frequency of the Lord's Supper:

"What we have hitherto said of the sacrament, abundantly shows that it was not instituted to be received once a-year and that perfunctorily (as is now commonly the custom); but that all Christians might have it in frequent use, and frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ, thereby sustaining and confirming their faith: stirring themselves up to sing the praises of God, and proclaim his goodness; cherishing and testifying towards each other that mutual charity, the bond of which they see in the unity of the body of Christ. As often as we communicate in the symbol of our Saviour’s body, as if a pledge were given and received, we mutually bind ourselves to all the offices of love, that none of us may do anything to offend his brother, or omit anything by which he can assist him when necessity demands, and opportunity occurs. That such was the practice of the Apostolic Church, we are informed by Luke in the Acts, when he says, that 'they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers' (Acts 2:42). Thus we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and [offerings]. We may gather from Paul that this was the order observed by the Corinthians, and it is certain that this was the practice many ages after. Hence, by the ancient canons, which are attributed to Anacletus and Calixtus, after the consecration was made, all were to communicate who did not wish to be without the pale of the Church. And in those ancient canons, which bear the name of Apostolical, it is said that those who continue not to the end, and partake not of the sacred communion, are to be corrected, as causing disquiet to the Church. In the Council of Antioch it was decreed, that those who enter the Church, hear the Scriptures, and abstain from communion, are to be removed from the Church until they amend their fault. And although, in the first Council of Tholouse, this was mitigated, or at least stated in milder terms, yet there also it was decreed, that those who after hearing the sermon, never communicated, were to be admonished, and if they still abstained after admonition, were to be excluded" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (IV, xvii, 44); translated by Henry Beveridge).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Spiritual Disciplines or the Means of Grace?

We've all heard of the various methods that are supposedly the keys to hastening our sanctification. We are people of the new nature, the Christ nature, and we want to be conformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ—a Spirit-wrought desire. But these methods, the ones we have come to know as spiritual disciplines, are they really the means to the receiving of Christ's enablements? The most famous of these "disciplines" is the proverbial "quiet time" wherein one purposefully sets aside an appropriate amount of time each day to spend in private prayer and Bible study. Now, times of private devotion are commendable and even necessary, but I would venture to say that when the "quiet time" becomes one's chief "means" of the attainment of Christlikeness, as what medieval monasticism and more recent pietism advocate, then we have a problem.

If faith is the way by which we are united to Christ, then we must ask how the Spirit, the Person of the Trinity tasked with the progressive transformation of our characters, creates and strengthens this faith in us. The historical, confessional, Reformed church (another way of saying the church that holds to apostolic doctrine) has always recognized that the Spirit quickens faith through the means of grace. What are these means? No, not journaling, blanking out the mind, or even fasting; they are the Word, the sacraments, and prayer.

It is quite easy to see how the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments cannot be effected in the privacy of one's room when one is alone, and even less appropriately in one's pajamas! This is because the Christian life was meant to be corporate, in the context of the local, visible church. Sanctification will not progress if one is not a member of a local church and receiving the preached Word and sacraments. Times of solitude, though needed sometimes, is not particularly more "spiritual" than being faithful in attending to the means of grace—and attending to the means of grace is not possible without being concomitantly faithful to keeping the Sabbath holy in church attendance.

It really seems to me that if more of us would disrobe ourselves of our monastic habits (def. robe of a monk) and instead put on our best Sunday church clothes, then more Christlikeness would be apparent in us.

"Consider how William Perkins (1558—1602), the father of English Puritanism, described the Christian life. In his 1558 catechism, The Foundation of the Christian Religion Gathered into Six Principles, he made it clear that conversion is not ordinarily a momentary or epochal experience and certainly not chiefly a private religious experience, but rather and ordinarily the result of the prevenient grace of justifying faith which comes through the hearing of the preached gospel and the consequent grace of sanctification received in the means of grace administered in the church. In the first part of the Foundation, Perkins summarizes briefly the six principles. Under the fifth principle he asks,

Q. What are the ordinary or usual means for obtaining faith?
A. Faith cometh only by the preaching of the Word and increaseth daily by it: as also by the administration of the sacraments and prayer.

This is virtually identical to the language of HC Q.65. The only difference between the HC and Perkins is that the latter added prayer as a means of grace, a position later taken up by the Westminster divines in the WCF 14.1.

Many years later, in his 1586 A Treatise Tending unto a Declaration, Perkins addressed the question of how sinners, who are part of Christ's visible church, which is composed of believers and unbelievers, can know that they are in fact Christians, that is, 'in a state of grace.' There can be no question whether Perkins was zealous that Christians have a deep and healthy experience of communion with Christ through His Spirit. Nevertheless, the place where Christians find their assurance in the gospel is in the hearing of it preached and in the administration of the sacraments. Perkins wrote at length about the inward work of the Spirit in convicting sinners of their need for a Savior and the 'benefits of Christ' that accrue to believers, but he always connected these operations of the Spirit to the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. The empirical evidence to which Perkins appealed was not a peculiar emotional or heightened state of religious experience, but a joyful reception of God's Word preached, regular attendance to the means of grace, and condemnation of those who do not attend to the means of grace" (R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2008), 334—335).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hebrews 9 Bible Study

Posted below is the content of the handout I gave to the participants of the Hebrews 9 Bible study that I led this afternoon:

HEBREWS 9 Bible Study
(Date: June 12, 2010)

9:1: The "first covenant" refers to the Sinaitic Covenant which was destined to be abrogated by the new covenant in Christ. This old covenant had prescriptions for worship particularly suited to that time of types, shadows, and prefigures, with its reference to "earthly" pointing to its role in signifying the "heavenly."

9:2—5: The tabernacle set up in the desert, prior to entering the Promised Land, had 3 parts according to Calvin (1st: the court of the people, 2nd: commonly called the sanctuary; 3rd: inner sanctuary), and 2 parts by most commentators (1st: The Holy Place, 2nd: The Most Holy Place or "Holy of Holies").

The Holy Place contained The Golden Lampstand, The Table for the Bread of the Presence, and The Altar of Incense.

The Most Holy Place contained only The Ark of the Covenant. The current passage states that the Ark contained an urn holding the manna, Aaron's staff, and the tablets of the covenant, but the OT states that only the latter were contained therein. It is not unlikely that the two prior items were placed inside the Ark in a subsequent time.

These two sanctuaries were divided by a veil made from blue, purple, and scarlet dyed yarns woven with fine twined linen and embroidered with cherubim.

9:6—10: The priests of the Levitical tribe (narrowly, only the sons of Aaron)  went regularly into the Holy Place, dispensing of their priestly duties (changing the lamp oil, the bread of the presence, and the incense fire). However, for any given time, there was only a single High Priest, who had the right of access to the Most Holy Place. He would enter The Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), offering up a blood sacrifice for himself and the people.

It is notable that mention is made of "unintentional" sins. This is not to say that voluntary sins cannot be forgiven but that sins of an apostate nature are unforgivable in that sin that is not repented of cannot be forgiven. Anyone who does not look to Christ for the forgiveness of sin is intentionally sinning and in a state of rejection of the only way of forgiveness and restoration of a right standing with God.

While the old system was still in place, no one was permitted access to God except the priests, and the said system was a type, shadow, or prefigure of the antitype or substance that is to be found in the sacrifice of Christ, by which the way was made for those who look to Him in faith to come into the Most Holy Place, i.e., the actual presence of God.

The sacrifices of the old system are incapable of reaching the conscience, of conferring forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God—benefits received in faith only through the sacrifice of Christ.

9:11—12: We now come to the discussion of the reality itself, the substance to which the old covenant system pointed to.

1.) Only the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place. Only Christ was suited to enter the Most Holy Place of God's presence in heaven.

2.) The High Priest offered the blood sacrifice and entered entered the Most Holy Place only once a year. Christ, in the fullness of time, offered Himself up and, bearing the ultimate efficacy of His own blood as sacrifice, needed to offer it but once for all time.

3.) The High Priest offered the blood sacrifice before entering the Most Holy Place. Christ offered up His own blood on earth before entering the Most Holy Place in heaven.

4.) The High Priest offered the blood of animals as a sacrificial offering. Christ offered His own blood.

The redemption that Christ, by His blood, secured for His people is eternal, efficacious for the saints prior to His coming and for those after, and unalterable.

9:13—14: The blood of animals availed not in the cleansing of the conscience. However, Christ having lived a perfectly righteous and sinless life, empowered by the Holy Spirit, offered up His own blood which served to justify and sanctify before God. The cleansing of the conscience entails both these concepts of justification and sanctification in that we are declared as not guilty in the sight of God in justification and we are enabled to serve Him in the gift of a new nature in sanctification.

9:15: Moses, as a type of Christ, was the mediator of the old covenant, as Christ is the mediator of the new. Moses' mediatorial work presented the Law to the people but could not guarantee obedience to it and hence the promised inheritance. Christ's mediation, however, secures for His people the inheritance promised to Abraham in Gen. 15 by virtue of His having kept the Law perfectly on our behalf and the payment of the penalty of our breaking of the Law through His atoning death.

Only the called, or the elect, are the beneficiaries of Christ's mediatorial work.

Our eternal inheritance in Christ has two aspects, the "already" and the "not yet." We now already enjoy the benefits of justification and sanctification; and thus having the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of our future glorification, we eagerly await the second coming of Christ for the consummation of all things.

9:16—22: The term, "covenant", used in the current passage, denotes two meanings: the traditional meaning whereby an agreement between two living parties is ratified  with blood, and the second meaning as referring to a "last will and testament", whereby the beneficiary receives the blessing only after the death of the testator. Both meanings are applicable to the sacrificial death of Christ, whereby in the first sense, Christ died, taking upon Himself the curse for the breaking of the covenant stipulations by His people, and in the latter sense, the benefits of Christ being conferred on His people only upon His death.

9:23: If the implements used in the old covenant system were purified with the blood of animals, being typological and pointing to the heavenly things, i.e. Christ and His mediatorial death, how much more shall the substance, the real thing, the heavenly things be put in place by the blood of Christ, the testator.

9:24—26: Christ, after having lived a perfectly sinless, righteous life and dying on the cross, shedding His blood on behalf of His people, has entered the Most Holy Place in heaven, God's presence, having purchased their redemption in the satisfaction of God's justice in a once-and-for-all act, as the True High Priest and Mediator of the New Covenant.  

9:27—28: Just as man is destined to die once and face the judgment of God, so Christ was offered up once-and-for-all and faced the judgment of God for our sins. Christ will come back again not to deal with sin once more, for He has already done that in His first coming, but to complete the work of redemption in bringing many sons to glory.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Longing for Rest

"If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account" (Philippians 1:22-24).

At age 34, I feel tired. Lately, there has been this gnawing need to—for lack of a better term—REST. And as one who has been given a foretaste of heaven through my Spirit-wrought union with Christ, that is where I long to be. I echo with the Apostle Paul the desire to be with Christ, to enter into the eternal rest, awaiting the consummation of my humanity through the covering of disembodied nakedness with the raiment of redeemed flesh.

But then, as with the Apostle, I must reflect on whether this desire is nothing more than laziness. Is this the sluggard in my fallen humanity that seeks to escape the duties of the present life? Do I not have more that I need to do in the service of Christ in His Kingdom? The love and nurture of my family, is this not an integral part of my ministry? The gifts that the Lord has bestowed upon me, do I dare expire without having used them for the building up of His Body in the grace and strength that He provides?

Indeed, I must remain here, in this earthly tent, to do my part in the coming of His Kingdom and the doing of His will. The rest that my soul now seeks the Lord has generously provided for in the Sabbath that He has instituted from since the creation of the world, and within it my sustenance through the means of grace (Word and sacrament). This Sabbath also voices the longing for the eschatological rest that still await fulfillment, and as I keep this day holy, I cry out along with it for the day when the pain and struggle of this life are all but a distant memory—when every day is rest.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mercy When Justice Is Deserved

"One of the most attractive features of David is his candor. At his best he is transparently honest. That means, among other things, that when there is an array of things going wrong in his life he does not collapse them into a single problem.

Nothing could be clearer from Psalm 38. Commentators sometimes try to squeeze the diverse elements in this psalm into a single situation, but most such re-creations seem a trifle forced. It is worth identifying some of the most striking components of David’s misery.

(1) He is facing God’s wrath (38:1), and (2) suffering from an array of physical ailments (38:3-8). (3) As a result he is full of frustrated sighing and has sunk into depression (38:9-10). (4) His friends have abandoned him (38:11). (5) Meanwhile he still faces the plots and deception of his standard (political) enemies (38:12). (6) He is so enfeebled that he is like a deaf mute (38:13-14), unable to speak, for his enemies are numerous and vigorous (38:19). (7) Meanwhile he is painfully troubled by his own iniquity (38:18).

One can imagine various ways to tie these points together, but a fair bit of speculation is necessary. What stands out in this psalm is that even while David is asking for vindication against his enemies, he does so in the context of confessing his own sin, of facing, himself, the wrath of God. It is quite possible that he understands both his physical suffering and even the loss of his friends and the opposition of evil opponents to be expressions of God’s wrath — which intrinsically he admits to deserving. In the psalm David does not ask for vindication grounded in his own covenantal fidelity. He frankly confesses his sin (38:18), waits for the Lord (38:15), begs God not to forsake him (38:21), entreats God to help him (38:22) and not to rebuke him in anger and wrath (38:1). In short, David appeals for mercy.

This is another face of the vindication theme...Yes, we want God to display his justice. In circumstances where we have been frankly wronged, it is comforting to recall that God’s justice will ultimately triumph. But what about the times when we are guilty ourselves? Will justice alone suffice? If all we want from God is justice, what human being will survive the divine holocaust?

While pleading for vindication, it is urgently important that we confess our own sin, and entreat God for mercy. For the God of justice is also the God of grace. If this be not so, there is no hope for any of us" (D.A. Carson, April 27, Numbers 4; Psalm 38; Song of Songs 2; Hebrews 2, For the Love of God (Volume I) (Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway Books, 1998)).

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