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.)

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