Friday, July 29, 2011

Arminius was Not Misunderstood

In recent years it has become more and more in vogue to reinterpret the past. We know it as “revisionism.” We have all probably encountered re-interpretations of the lives of our national heroes such as Washington and Lincoln, which, if true, it is a wonder that these men were ever admired in the first place. I have little doubt that this is all fueled by the desires of degenerate men and women in our times, who wish to project their wickedness and abominable behaviors into the past, in order to lessen the stench of their own lives.
With the unregenerate, while it is still a vile, deceitful practice, it is understandable. If you can make it appear that in the midst of the Puritan era of England and America men and women were routinely engaged in adultery, fornication and sodomy (and that this behavior was normal, acceptable and unjudged), this certainly makes modern moralists appear idiotic.

As already stated, with the unregenerate, historical revision is understandable, though still despicable. What is not understandable is when so-called Christians revise Church history. Every now and then some ‘reputable’ scholar revisits the life of a notorious person from Church history and suggests rethinking the man’s life and/or doctrine.

I have recently encountered papers written by professing Reformed theologians suggesting that perhaps Arminius has been misunderstood. Having read many of Arminius’ contemporaries, I find it very hard to believe, indeed impossible, that Arminius has been misunderstood. His opponents in the 17th century were much closer and more familiar with both his writings and his person. This is why I find it problematic when a writer from our era re-analyzes the controversies of that period and comes to a different conclusion from the men who were involved in it. It sounds revisionist to me. Secondly, it is always possible, within any writer as voluminous as Arminius, to find a stray sentence here and there which can pass the test of orthodoxy when placed in isolation. I’m sure the same could be done for Arius, and even Pelagius himself.

Here are a few quotes from Arminius. Hardly orthodox, and very Pelagian:

“It is certain that God determineth divers things which he would not, did not some act of man’s will go before.”

“God would have all men to be saved, but, compelled with the stubborn malice of some, he changeth his purpose, and will have them to perish.”

“No such will can be ascribed unto God, whereby he so would have any to be saved, that from thence his salvation should be sure and infallible.”

If you can read these quotes and find nothing objectionable then you either aren’t familiar enough with the theological implications and ramifications involved to make an accurate assessment, or you are an Arminian, and thus you have a vested interest in defending such pestilential statements.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Improving Our Baptism

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Question: Why is baptism mentioned, rather than faith or other things more internal and necessary to salvation?
1. Faith is implied (Mark 16:16)
2. Baptism is the visible rite of receiving converts to Christ.

Question 2: Why in the name of Jesus Christ only? The Father and Spirit aren’t mentioned as per the formula of Matthew 28:19.
Answer: The form of baptism is not here under discussion, but rather its use and end.

What use and benefit does baptism have with respect to obtaining remission of sins by Jesus Christ?

I. God has always dealt with His creatures covenantally.

II. Because the first covenant was broken (the Covenant of Works) on our part, it pleased God to enter into a second covenant (the Covenant of Grace). In this covenant He would demonstrate His redeeming grace to fallen man. This was done in Christ (2 Cor. 5:19).

III. In the Covenant of Grace, the privileges and duties are suited to the state in which man was in when God invited him into covenant with Him. We are in need of repentance and remission of sins. This is exactly what is proclaimed in the preaching of the Gospel.

IV. We are invited to our duties by our interests. Accepting the benefits of the covenant is part of the condition.

V. The two privileges of the covenant are pardon and life.

VI. Our covenant duties either concern our entrance into the Christian life or our progress in it. Covenants are made (Psalm 50:5) and kept (Psalm 25:10; 103:18)
     A. Entering the covenant requires repentance and faith (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21;
         1 Peter 3:18)
                 1. Renounce the world, the flesh and the devil (Eph. 2:2, 3)
                 2. Devoting and giving ourselves to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 8:3; 
                     Rom. 6:13; Psalm 100:3; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; Jer. 24:8; Isa. 26:13)
     B. Regarding our progress, we need to always come to God by Christ. This requires
          three things:
                 1. We must forsake and renounce the enemies of God and of our souls.
                 2. We must love, please and serve God all of our days.
                 3. We must always live in the hope of Christ’s return (Titus 2:13; Jude 21).

VII. This covenant has visible ordinances, called sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), which relate to the whole tenor of the covenant. Sacraments are a sign and seal on God’s part and a badge and bond on our part.
     A. On God’s part they are signs and seals (Rom. 4:11). The sacraments are a sign to signify
          and a seal to confirm, to represent the grace and assure the grant of pardon and life.
     B. On our part they are a badge and bond: a badge of profession and a bond to engage
          us to the duties the badge calls us to.

VIII. These visible confirming sacraments give us great advantages over the word and bare proposal of the covenant.
     A. They are an expression of God’s earnest sincere intentions regarding our salvation. Not
          only has He promised, but He has condescended to our weakness and confirmed His
          own immutable promise by signs and seals which place Him under obligation, 
          unnecessary as that is considering His character, to fulfil His covenant promises.
     B. The sacraments have this advantage over the word: they are a closer application. The
          word is spoken openly, without distinction, to all; the sacraments to each one in particular.
     C. By these sealing signs we are invested into a right to the things promised.
     D. The great mysteries of godliness are laid before our eyes in visible rites; hence they have 
          greater force to excite the mind to serious consideration.

Use: Let us not be slack in the use and improvement of our baptism. It implies a solemn covenant with God that we may obtain remission of sins and eternal life. Therefore, consider:

1. Baptism is a perpetual bond upon us, obliging us to repentance and holy life.
2. The improvement of baptism is the best preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Christ first washed the apostles before He instituted the Sacrament of His body and blood.
3. If we don’t improve our baptism, it will be a witness against us.

How do we improve it?

1 Personally and solemnly own the covenant made with God at our baptism, whether in adulthood or infancy.

2. Renew often the sense of your obligation to God (Acts 227:23; Phil. 1:21; 2 Pet. 1:9).

3. Use frequent self-reflection, that you may come to know whether you are indeed washed from the guilt and filth of sin (1 Cor. 6:11).

4. Use it as a great help in temptation. Remember that you are no debtor to the flesh (Rom. 6:1, 2). It is also a comfort and help in persecution. The African martyr Majoricus as he faced martyrdom, was comforted and encouraged to constancy by his mother, Dionysia, with these words: Memento, fili, te baptizatum esse in nomie Patri, Filii, et Spiritus Sancti – Remember, my son, that you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and be constant.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Notice The Similarities?

For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many. They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD. For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles. Isaiah 66:15-19

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. Acts 2:2-11

Friday, July 22, 2011

Scripture Does Not Teach Free-Will

To listen to Arminian preachers, you’d swear the Bible is brimming with affirmations of free-will. You’d think every page of Scripture affirms that men are basically good and simply need to apply themselves. You’d think there’s a verse somewhere that actually says, “God has done His part, now the ball’s in your court.” You’d think “God helps those who help themselves” was a Biblical concept.

Below is a SMALL list (There are many, many more passages of Scripture to this effect) of Scripture passages denying that the unregenerate have free-will. If you can read the following list and come away still convinced that man is basically good and that he has the intrinsic power to choose right, then I question your skills of comprehension, not to mention your honesty when it comes to being instructed by Scripture.

Genesis 6:5: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Psalm 33:10: "He maketh the devices of the people of none effect."

Psalm 81:12: "So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels."

Psalm 119: 36-37: “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. 37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.”

Proverbs 21:1: "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will."

Proverbs 28:26: "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool."

Ecclesiastes 7:20: "For there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not."

Isaiah 63:17: O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance.

Jeremiah 4:22: "For my people is foolish, they have not known me … they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge."

Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Matthew 7:18: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

Matthew 16:17: “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

John 1:13: "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

John 3:27: "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven."

John 6:44: "No man can come to me except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day."

John 6:65: "Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father."

John 15:5: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing."

John 15:16: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you."

John 17:1a-2: “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”

Acts 4:27-28: For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

Romans 3:10-12: "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is no that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one."

Romans 5:6: "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."

Romans 7:18-19: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."

Romans 8:7: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."

Romans 9:16: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy."

Romans 10:20: "I was found of them that sought me not."

1 Corinthians 2:11, 14: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God…But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

1 Corinthians 4:7: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”

1 Corinthians 12:3: “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

2 Corinthians 3:5: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God”

Ephesians 2:1: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins."

Ephesians 2:5: "Even when we were dead in sins, hath he quickened us together with Christ; (by grace ye are saved.)"

Philippians 1:29: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”

Philippians 2:13: "For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

Colossians 1:21: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled”

Colossians 2:13: "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses."

Titus 3:3-5: "For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Friend or Foe?

Read the following quotations carefully. Think over their implications and the view the author of these statements must possess of God and Scripture to have uttered these things. I will not supply the author’s name just yet. That will follow. As you read the following remarks, ask yourself if the person who said these things is a friend or foe of the Christian faith. I guarantee you’ll be rather shocked if you do not already know the source.

“In some of the Psalms, the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth. In others the same spirit ceases to be frightful only by becoming (to a modern mind) almost comic in its naivety. Examples of the first can be found all over the Psalter, but perhaps the worst is in 109. The poet prays that an ungodly man may rule over his enemy and that “Satan” may stand at his right hand (verse 5).”

“The examples which (in me at any rate) can hardly fail to produce a smile may occur most disquietingly in Psalms we love; 143, after proceeding for eleven verses in a strain that brings tears to the eyes, adds in the twelfth, almost like an afterthought ‘and of thy goodness slay mine enemies.’ Even more naively, almost childishly, Psalm 139, in the middle of its hymn of praise throws in (verse 19) ‘Wilt thou not slay the wicked, O God?’ – as if it were surprising that such a simple remedy for human ills had not occurred to the Almighty.’”

“The hatred is there (in the Psalms. AKU) – festering, gloating, undisguised – and we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passion in ourselves…

“We can still see, in the worst of their maledictions, how these old poets were, in a sense, near to God. Though hideously distorted by the human instrument, something of the Divine voice can be heard in these passages.”

“Worst of all in ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ (Psalm 23), after the green pasture, the waters of comfort, the sure confidence in the valley of the shadow, we suddenly run across (verse 5) ‘Thou shalt prepare a table for me against them that trouble me’ – or as Dr. Moffatt translates it, ‘Thou art my host, spreading a feast for me while my enemies have to look on.’ The poet’s enjoyment of his present prosperity would not be complete unless those horrid Joneses (who used to look down their noses at him) were watching it all at hating it. This may not be so diabolical as the passages I have quoted above but the pettiness and vulgarity of it, especially in such surroundings are hard to endure. One way of dealing with these terrible or (dare we say?) contemptible Psalms is simply to leave them alone but unfortunately the bad parts will not ‘come away clean.’”

“We need therefore by no means assume that the Psalmists are deceived or lying when they assert that, as against their particular enemies at some particular moment, they are completely in the right. Their voices while they say so may grate harshly on our ear and suggest they are unamiable people. But that is another matter and to be wronged does not commonly make people amiable. But of course the fatal confusion between being in the right and being righteous soon falls upon them. In Psalm 7, from which I have already quoted, we see the transition. In verses 3 to 5 the poet is merely in the right; by verse 8 he is saying, ‘give sentence with me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the innocency that is in me’”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Notable Quotes 7

“Whence I, once rustic, exiled, unlearned, who does not know how to provide for the future, this at least I know most certainly that before I was humiliated I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came and in His mercy lifted me up, and raised me aloft, and placed me on the top of the wall. And therefore I ought to cry out aloud and so also render something to the Lord for His great benefits here and in eternity – benefits which the mind of men is unable to appraise.”

Confession of St. Patrick 12

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Continuity of the Covenant in Calvin's Theology

There are many who are deeply indebted to Calvin’s theology, but who see his doctrine of infant baptism as unacceptable or even dangerous. It is considered as an unfortunate carryover of Romish doctrine in the Reformers’ thought. (This is an incorrect assumption that we have dealt with in a previous post.) Consequently, Baptists and those who hold a baptistic view of baptism see themselves as completing the Reformation Luther began and Calvin advanced. These Calvinistic Baptists generally believe that they have are doing no injustice to Calvin’s system by discarding just this one doctrine. This is because they assume that all of the other parts of Calvin’s system are independent of the doctrine of baptism. This is perhaps understandable; however, one wonders whether Calvin saw the doctrine of baptism in this kind of isolation.

Calvin’s conception of the relationship of baptism to other important doctrines is actually very easy to discover. In a passage discussing infant baptism, Calvin attacks the Anabaptists by arguing that their rejection of the identity of infant baptism and circumcision results in a frightening corruption of Scripture.

Calvin says, “Now let us examine the arguments by which certain mad beasts ceaselessly assail this holy institution of God. First of all, since they feel that they are immoderately cramped and constrained by the likeness between baptism and circumcision, they strive to set these two things apart by a wide difference so that there may seem to be nothing in common between them. For they say that these two signify different things, that the covenant in each is quite different, and the calling of children under each is not the same. . In asserting a difference between the covenants, with what barbarous boldness do they dissipate and corrupt Scripture! And not in one passage only – but so as to leave nothing safe or untouched! For they depict the Jews to us as so carnal that they are more like beasts than men. A covenant with them would not go beyond the temporal life, and the promises given them would rest in present and physical benefits. If this doctrine should obtain, what would remain save that the Jewish nation was satiated for a time with God’s benefits (as men fatten a herd of swine in a sty), only to perish in eternal destruction?” (lV.16.10)

Infant baptism is actually not Calvin’s largest concern. What he is riled about is what he fears is an inherent danger to all of Scriptural doctrine if the Anabaptist argument is accepted. The only way he sees that infant baptism can be rejected is if the continuity of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant is denied. If this is done then the Old Testament saints become simply recipients of material blessings at the expense of their salvation.

It should be very obvious then that Calvin would disagree with those who claim that they can simply remove paedobaptism from his system without harming it. Denying paedobaptism is denying the covenant. This endangers all other doctrines of Scripture. Everywhere in Calvin’s writings we encounter this relating of doctrines to the covenant. By doing so, Calvin demonstrates the danger to all doctrine by the Anabaptist approach.

To prove this, we’ll look at Calvin’s argument for the continuity of the Old and New Covenants. Essentially, Calvin proposes that God always covenants His people to Himself by the same doctrine. So he says, “All men adopted by God into the company of his people since the beginning of the world were covenanted to him by the same law and by the bond of the same doctrine as obtains among us.” (II.10.1)

A little further on, he says, “The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation” (II.10.2).

Even the Mosaic legal system has to be seen in conjunction with the one divine covenant, “I understand by the word ‘law’ not only the Ten Commandments, which set forth a godly and righteous rule of living, but the form of religion handed down by God through Moses. And Moses was not made a lawgiver to wipe out the blessing promised to the race of Abraham. Rather, we see him repeatedly reminding the Jews of that freely given covenant made with their fathers of which they were the heirs. It was as if he were sent to renew it. This fact was very clearly revealed in the ceremonies.” (II.7.1)

There is one covenant of God in different administrations in terms of progressive redemptive history. Calvin describes it in this way,

“The Lord held to this orderly plan in administering the covenant of his mercy: as the day of full revelation approached with the passing of time, the more he increased each day the brightness of its manifestation. Accordingly, at the beginning when the first promise of salvation was given to Adam it glowed like a feeble spark. Then, as it was added to, the light grew in fullness, breaking forth increasingly and shedding its radiance more widely. At last – when all the clouds were dispersed – Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, fully illumined the whole earth.” (II.10.20)

“For the same reason it follows that the Old Testament was established upon the free mercy of God, and was confirmed by Christ’s intercession. For the gospel preaching, too, declares nothing else than that sinners are justified apart from their own merit by God’s fatherly kindness; and the whole of it summed up in Christ. Who, then, dares to separate the Jews from Christ, since with them, we hear, was made the covenant of the gospel, the sole foundation of which is Christ?” (II.10.4)

Now of course, this raises an interesting issue: If the grace of the covenant in the Old Covenant era is the same as that of the New Covenant era, then their sacraments must have equal significance also. This is exactly what Calvin says Paul believed,

“Indeed, the apostle makes the Israelites equal to us not only in the grace of the covenant but also in the signification of the sacraments. In recounting examples of the punishments with which, according to Scripture, the Israelites were chastised of old, his purpose was to deter the Corinthians from falling into similar misdeeds. So he begins with this premise: there is no reason why we should claim any privilege for ourselves, to deliver us from the vengeance of God, which they underwent, since the Lord not only provided them with the same benefits but also manifested his grace among them by the same symbols.” (II.10.5)

“Because the Word of God was present in the Old Covenant, eternal life was also a key blessing of the covenant that tie Old Covenant saints shared with the New Covenant believers, the spiritual covenant was also common to the patriarchs…Now since God of old bound the Jews to himself by this sacred bond, there is no doubt that he set them apart to the hope of eternal life…Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham and other patriarchs cleaved to God by such illumination of the Word. Therefore I say that without any doubt they entered into God’s immortal kingdom. For theirs was a real participation in God, which cannot be without the blessing of eternal life.” (II.10.7)

Calvin asserts that even the very formula of the covenant possessed by the Old Testament saints demands that they be seen to be possessors of eternal life.

“…let us pass on to the very formula of the covenant…For the Lord always covenanted with his servants thus: “I will be your God, and you shall be my people…” But one cannot obtain such a presence of him without, at the same time, possessing life…They had a clear enough promise of spiritual life in these words: “I am…your God.” For he did not declare that he would be a God to their bodies alone, but especially to their souls. Still souls, unless they be joined to God through righteousness, remain estranged from him in death. On the other hand, such a union when present will bring everlasting salvation with it. (II.10.8)

Having read these statements then, we can now understand Calvin’s vehemence against the Anabaptist rejection of infant baptism. This rejection makes the Old Testament covenant into a material covenant and injures several important doctrines associated with it. If the Anabaptist basis for rejecting infant baptism prevails, then there is no progressive revelation and preparation for the Messiah in the Old Covenant. Since the Old Testament covenant was only material, Christ would be never present before them, and salvation would have been withheld. Equally serious, there would have been no Old Testament counterpart of the grace of justification which was founded on Christ. If such a carnal covenant were correct, Paul’s argument on the example of Israel’s punishment for disobedience supported by the equality of sacraments of the Old and New Covenants would be in complete error. Moreover, the Word of God present in the covenant formula would be severed from eternal life.

These errors are what drive Calvin to speak of infant baptism as a safeguard of Scripture and doctrine. If paedobaptism is taught, the continuity of Scripture in the one divine covenant of grace is affirmed. To reject infant baptism is to deny the unity of the covenant and thus to result in such confusion.

Of course no modern Baptist would make the assertions that Calvin refutes here. But we are still left with a glaring inconsistency. If the Old Covenant was a history of redemption, and Christ as Mediator was being gradually revealed, who was the Old Covenant saints’ ground of justification? If God’s Word was truly present, how could the sacraments not be spiritual as well? Yet all stripes of Baptists reject the equation of circumcision and infant baptism. They assert that circumcision was merely a material-political sign, not primarily a spiritual sign as is New Covenant baptism. They cannot agree with Calvin at the first points, disagree with Calvin at the last point of the spirituality of the covenantal sign of circumcision and still remain consistent. If we grant this, Calvin would argue that nothing prevents the New Covenant believer from claiming the same promise by the spiritual sacrament of infant baptism that the Old Covenant believer claimed in the spiritual sacrament of infant circumcision.

All citations are from Calvin's Institutes

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

J.C. Ryle on the Puritans

The following extract is from J. C. Ryle’s sketch of the life of the great Thomas Manton found in the 22 volume set of Manton’s works. Though Ryle is speaking primarily of Manton, he makes it clear that what he says of Manton applies to the other Puritan theologians.

Ryle writes:
If ever there was an English divine who must be classed as a Puritan, that man is Dr. Manton. But what of it, if he was a Puritan? It does not prove that he was not a valuable theologian, an admirable writer, and an excellent man. Let me once for all make a few plain statements about the school to which Manton belonged – the school of the English Puritans. It is one of those points in the ecclesiastical history of our country about which the ignorance of most Englishmen is deep and astounding. There are more baseless and false ideas current about them than about any class of men in British history. The impressions of most people are so ridiculously incorrect, that one could laugh if the subject were not so serious. To hear them talk about Puritans is simply ludicrous. They make assertions which prove either that they know nothing at all of what they are talking about, or that they have forgotten the ninth commandment. For Dr. Manton’s sake, and for the honour of a cruelly misrepresented body of men, let me try to explain to the reader what the Puritans really were. He that supposes that they were ignorant, fanatical sectaries, hater of the Crown and Church of England – men alike destitute of learning, holiness, or loyalty – has got a great deal to learn. Let him hear some plain facts, which I will venture to copy from a work written by myself in 1868 (“Bishops and Clergy of other Days).

“The Puritans were not enemies to the monarchy. It is simply false to say that they were. They great majority of them protested strongly against the execution of Charles I, and were active agents in bringing back Charles II to England, and placing the crown on his head after Oliver Cromwell’s death. The base ingratitude with which they were afterwards treated, in 1662, by the monarch whom they helped to restore, is one of the most shameful pages in the history of the Stuarts.

“The Puritans were not enemies to the Church of England. They would gladly have had her government and ceremonial improved, and more liberty allowed in the conduct of public worship. And they were right! They very things which they desired to see, but never saw, are actually recommended at this day as worthy of adoption by Churchmen in every part of the land! The great majority of them were originally ordained bishops, and had no abstract objection to Episcopacy. The great majority of them had no special dislike to liturgies, but only to certain details in the Book of Common Prayer. Baxter, one of their leaders, expressly testifies that a very few concession in 1662 would have retained in the Church of England at least sixteen hundred of the two thousand who were driven out by the Act of Uniformity on Bartholomew’s Day.

“The Puritans were not unlearned and ignorant men. The great majority of them were Oxford and Cambridge graduates – many of them fellows of colleges, and some of them heads or principals of the best colleges in the two Universities. In knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, in power as preachers, expositors, writers, and critics, the Puritans in their day were second to none. Their works still speak for them on the shelves of every well-furnished theological library. Their commentaries, their expositions, their treatises on practical, casuistical, and experimental divinity, are immeasurably superior to those of their adversaries in the seventeenth century. In short, those who hold up the Puritans to scorn as shallow, illiterate men, are only exposing their own lamentable shallowness, their own ignorance of historical facts, and the extremely superficial character of their own reading.

“The Puritans, as a body, have done more to elevate the national character than any class of Englishmen that ever lived. Ardent lovers of civil liberty, and ready to die in its defence – mighty at the civil board, and no less mighty in the battlefield – feared abroad throughout Europe, and invincible at home while united – great with their pens, and no less great with their swords – fearing God very much, and fearing man very little, - they were a generation of men who have never received from their country the honour that they deserve. The body of which Milton, Seldon, Blake, Cromwell, Owen, Baxter, and Charnock were members, is a body of which no well-informed Englishman ought ever to speak with disrespect. He may dislike their principles, if he will, but he has no right to despise them. Lord Macaulay, no mean authority in matters of English history, might well say, in his essay on Milton, ‘We do not hesitate to pronounce Puritans a brave, a wise, an honest, and a useful body.’ – Unhappily, when they passed away, they were followed by a generation of profligates, triflers and skeptics; and their reputation has suffered accordingly in passing through prejudiced hands. But, ‘judged with righteous judgment’ they will be found men of whom the world was not worthy. The more they are really known, the more they will be esteemed.”

Such was the school to which Manton undeniably belonged. Such is the truth about Puritans. That they were not perfect and faultless, I freely admit. They said, did, and wrote many things which cannot be commended. Some of them, no doubt, were violent, fierce, narrow-minded sectarians; some were half-crazy fanatics and enthusiasts. Yet, even then, great allowance ought to be made for the trying circumstances in which they were often placed, and the incessant, irritating persecution to which they were exposed. And where is the great school of religious thought which is not often disgraced by some weaker members? With all their faults, the leaders of the party were great and good men. With all their defects, the Puritans, as a body, were not the men that some authors and writers in the present day are fond of representing them to have been. Those who disparage Manton because he was a Puritan, would do well to reconsider the ground they are taking up. They will find it utterly untenable. Facts, stern facts, are dead against them. They may not admire Puritanism in the abstract, but they will never give any proof that we ought not to admire, value, and study the writings of Puritan divines.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Notable Quotes 6

Whatever God accomplishes in time has been decreed by Him from eternity. He selects some from the depraved mass of the human race to be the recipients of salvation, bringing them to Christ their Surety and saving them by Him. This presupposes that He decreed to do so from eternity. Yet, it is but a means to His objective, which is the magnification of His mercy and justice. It was for that purpose that God decreed the felicity of men; and for that purpose God decreed to create men, to conclude them in sin, and to deliver them through Christ. Therefore if we view predestination comprehensively—including both the end and the means whereby the end is accomplished—both sin and Christ are involved. Although we make a separate and sequential distinction between these various matters, we recognize that God has decreed everything with one singular, all-inclusive decreeing act. For the purpose of orderly presentation, however, we distinguish between the end and the means.

God has also decreed that He will be magnified in His justice. To accomplish that objective He decreed to create men, to permit them to sin volitionally, and to justly damn them for their sins. God did not create one human being to happiness and another to condemnation. Rather, He created the entire human race perfectly holy, and thus unto felicity—His objective in doing so. I repeat that we must here consider God’s objective in creating man, for the felicity of man was the objective of the state of innocency. If man had remained in this state, it would have resulted in the felicity of all mankind. We should not confuse the objective of creation and the objective of the Creator. In creation it was not God’s objective that all men would attain unto salvation; for as God’s counsel will stand and His purpose will always be accomplished, all would then indeed attain unto salvation. God prevents no one from obtaining salvation, but man excludes himself since he sins willfully. The election of some unto salvation is not to the detriment of others. Reprobation is neither the cause that someone sins, nor why someone is damned, but the sinner himself and his sin are the cause. It is true that those who have not been elected will not be saved; it is equally true that none but sinners will be damned. It is also true that whoever repents, believes in Christ, and lives holily will not be damned but saved. Man is therefore to be blamed for not doing so. Likewise when God converts someone, brings him to Christ, and sanctifies him, it is to be attributed to His sovereign grace. It is thus evident that it is nothing but vicious slander to insist that the church teaches that one man is created unto felicity and the other unto damnation—and therefore someone who would be virtuous to the utmost degree would nevertheless be damned, whereas someone else who would engage in wickedness to the utmost degree would nevertheless be saved. Far be it from the Almighty to do unjustly! That He has determined to manifest His grace and justice to man proceeds purely from His goodness and holiness. It is a pure manifestation of holiness to deliver men through Christ and to lead them unto salvation in the way of holiness. It is also a pure manifestation of holiness to leave men who sin voluntarily in their sin, and to damn them for their sins. When a person becomes godly and a believer, this is not to be attributed to any efforts by man who, being evil, wishes only to do evil. It must rather be attributed to the work of God’s grace which He only performs in the elect.

Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, Volume 1, Chapter 6

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Objections Against the Doctrine of the Trinity

Having asserted the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity in our previous post, we would now like to dispatch with the objections heretical sects seek to use against the doctrine. We should perhaps pause here and give the simplest explanation of the Trinity. The commonest way the Church has explained the Trinity is to affirm that God is one in essence, i.e., God is one divine Essence; yet this One divine Essence subsists in Three Persons.

Having put that definition is place we are now prepared to look at the objections frequently made against our doctrine.

1. How can one essence be three persons? One being three is a contradiction, isn’t it? If God is one essence, He can’t be three persons.
Reply: This objection hold true for created, and therefore finite, essences which cannot be one and the same in three persons. However this does not hold true with God who is infinite. God’s essence is not divided among the Persons of the Trinity. Hence the simplicity (meaning that it is not a composition of many different elements) of God’s essence is not impaired by the number and distinction of the Persons. That may sound like an overly intellectual, obtuse answer, but we are not dealing with a pulp fiction deity. This is the infinite, ineffible, inscrutable God if the Bible.

2. Three and one make four distinct things. If, in God there are three persons and one essence, there are then four things in God, which is absurd.
Reply: Where there are three and one really distinct, - yes there are four things. But in God, the Persons are not distinct from the Essence, for the three Persons of the Godhead are one divine Essence. They differ only in the mode of subsisting.

3. Giving three names to one substance is Sabellianism. The doctrine of the Trinity ascribes three name to one substance. Isn’t it therefore the heresy of Sabellius?
Reply:  This syllogism switches the meanings of its terms. If substance means “person” then the objection vanishes. It only holds if by substance one means essence. The former is the orthodox Christian doctrine; the latter is Sabellianism

4. He who is the whole Deity, beside him there is no person, in whom the whole Deity is, in a like manner. If the Father is the whole Deity, then the whole Deity is not in another person.
Reply: We deny the major premise of this objection. The same Deity whichis entire in the Father, is also entire in the Son and Holy Spirit. There is neither more or less of the divine essence in one person than in two or three Persons.

5. Persons to whom distinct operations are ascribed must have different essences. There are affirmed different internal operations in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore their essences are distinct.
Reply: The main gist of this objection holds against finite essences, but it is false when understod of the infinite divine Essence.

6. The divine essence is incarnate. The three persons are the divine essence. But it is absurd to say that the three persons are incarnate.
Reply: The basic premise of this objection has no bearing at all on the divine nature, because the divine Essence is incarnate in the Person of the Son alone.

7. Jehovah, or the true God, is the Trinity. The Father is Jehovah, therefore, He is the Trinity.
Reply: Again we have a premise without any bearing on the divine nature at all. It is not accurate to say that whatever is Jehovah is the Trinity.

8. No abstract term signifies substance. “Trinity” is just such an abstract term. Therefore it signifies no substance.
Reply: The premise of the objection is false. Deity and humanity are abstract terms which most definitely signify substances.

It may be noted that all of the objections made against the Trinity are objections which intend to produce a contradiction. We have not here even considered the various arguments defending the Godhead of the Son and the Spirit; we have simply looked at the objections against the doctrine of the Trinity in general. These are the kind of arguments advanced by modalists like T.D. Jakes, the so-called “Oneness” Pentecostals, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why the Doctrine of the Trinity is So Important

The heart of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine has always been seen as necessary element of Christianity, one that cannot be surrendered without destroying the faith itself. This is undoubtedly true. Indeed, if you were to ask most Christians if they agreed with the previous sentences, they would likely answer in the affirmative. The burning question then is this: Why is the doctrine of the Trinity virtually never preached or taught? Raw belief in the doctrine is affirmed every Sunday in countless churches as they recite the Apostles Creed. Yet little more that this raw confession is ever, ever mentioned.

One need not be a genius to realize that something that is never taught or preached about is either unimportant or not true. How are millions of professing Christians supposed to believe that the Trinity is true, and that even if it is true, that it makes a difference anyway, if they never hear the doctrine explained? The simple fact is: they won’t. I am a baseball fan. But I do not, for a second, entertain the notion that baseball has any eternal or salvific value. Why? It’s never taught at church. I have never heard a sermon on the infield fly rule. Neither have you. I submit to you that a minister who does not nor has not preached on the Trinity either doesn’t believe it himself, or he hasn’t learned it well enough to teach it (in which case he shouldn’t be preaching in the first place!), or he is a Finney-ite who believes that any doctrine which cannot be twisted into providing a moral lesson is not important enough to bother with.

Zachary Ursinus defines God this way (and as you read it, ask yourself is such language would fly in any church you know of today!): “A theological and more complete description of God, the one which the Church receives, is the following: God is a spiritual essence, intelligent, eternal different from all creatures, incomprehensible, most perfect in Himself, immutable, of immense power, wisdom and goodness; just, true, pure, merciful, bountiful, most free, hating sin – which is, the eternal Father, who from eternity begat the Son in His own image; the Son, who is the co-eternal image of the Father; and the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, as has been divinely revealed by the sure word delivered by the Prophets and Apostles, and divine testimonies; that the eternal Father, with the Son and Holy Ghost, did create heaven and earth, and all creatures, is present with all creatures, that He may preserve and rule them by His providence, and produce all good things in them; and that from the human race, made after His own image, He hath chosen and gathers unto Himself an everlasting church, by and for the sake of His Son, that by the church this one and true Deity may, according to the word revealed from heaven, be here known and praised, an glorified in the life to come; and that He is the judge of the righteous and the wicked.”

Notice the stress which the doctrine of the Trinity receives. If it is true, because it is a truth about God, then it is of infinite importance.

There are two simple yet important reasons why the Church must hold fast to the doctrine of the Trinity.

1. For the sake of God’s glory. God must be distinguished from false gods. God must be worshipped as He has revealed Himself. He has revealed Himself as Triune. Worship of anything less is idolatry.

2. For the sake of our salvation. No one is saved without knowledge of the Father. But the Father is not known without the Son. Scripture says, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). And, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2:23). Further, no one is saved without faith in the Son: “This is the true God, and eternal life (1 John 5:20). “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard (Rom. 10:14). Similarly, no one is sanctified and saved with knowledge of the Spirit. If one has not receives the Spirit, he cannot be saved. Scripture says, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he in none of his” (Rom. 8:9). No one receives the Spirit without knowing Him; for Christ says, “Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him” (John 17:17). Hence if one does not know the Holy Spirit, he is not saved. It is necessary then, that for anyone to be saved, he must know the Triune God.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cessationism in the Early Church

The two following quotations are from the 4th Century. The matter-of-factness of both statements is rather startling. Neither author feels that any explanation is necessary. The study of Church History is important, and the following two quotes will show how history can speak to our current situation. Most Continuists assume (and many assert) that the so-called charismata have been uninterruptedly active throughout the history of the Church. Having said that, ponder the two quotations below by Chrysostom (d.407) and Augustine (d.430).

Chrysostom - writing on 1 Corinthians and the gift of tongues said, "This whole place is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?" (AD 347-407). Homily XXIX. 1 Corinthians

Augustine - comments on Acts 2:4: "In the earliest times, "the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed; and they spake with tongues," which they had not learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance." These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away." Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John

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