Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thoughts on Romans 6:1,2

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Romans 6:1, 2 (KJV)

Defining our terms, it's easy to see that "continue in sin" = still live in it.

If Paul’s doctrine had been that salvation depends in any degree upon our good works, no such objection to it could have been made. We know from Romans 3:8 that it was brought against the apostles. We can also gather from Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 2:16 and Jude 4 that some gave occasion to the charge. But it is a total perversion of the doctrine of Grace. That is what the apostle here proceeds to show. Chapter 1 establishes the sinfulness of the Gentiles. Chapter 2 describes the sinfulness of the Jews. Chapter 3 sums up this line of reasoning, and shows that only by free grace and justification by faith does the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ come. Chapter 4 portrays Abraham as proof of this doctrine. Chapter 5 demonstrates the blessings that flow from it. Then Chapter 6 takes on this error.

Continuing to live in sin once one has died to it is no more logical than to try to live in a house after you’ve sold it. A death row inmate set free, but who refused to leave his cell, would still be legally free even if he didn’t walk in it experientially. His not leaving the cell would not argue against his freedom, but against his understanding of Freedom. This is the situation of one who is saved but continues in sin. His freedom is not lost or retracted, but for practical purposes, it might as well have not been granted.

This would, in fact, never happen in the real world. Its opposite, however, is the actual state of every unregenerate man. Adam alone would have retained memory of his former state of Original Righteousness; the rest of us have been born in prison. Our natural enmity toward God causes us to deceive ourselves into imagining we are free when, in fact, we are in bondage. It is a billion times easier psychologically to convince yourself that you are free when you are not (sort of a moral “Stockholm Syndrome”), than to convince yourself that you are bound when you are actually free. There is nothing to motivate that delusion.

So to get caught up on the question of whether salvation can be lost or not (although one side is definitely correct), is to miss the whole point of this passage. The hypothetical “Christian” who accepts the Lord as Savior and then proceeds to continue in his same life of sin based on the assurance that once he is saved, he can never sin away his salvation, is no Christian at all. We would deny the very existence of such a person. Scripture categorically denies that those who willfully persist in sin were ever elected in the first place because we are elected through sanctification unto obedience. This is “putting God to the test,” and no Christian would ever do this! What kind of “Christian” makes this hypothetical experiment to see whether or not he really can remove himself from Christ’s hand? The notion is simply asinine. This is like a pardoned death-row inmate trying to see whether he can still get executed!
“Therefore it is a desperate adventure to try conclusions, to drink rank poison to experiment the goodness of an antidote, or to wound ourselves mortally to try the virtue of a plaster.” Thomas Manton

This false conclusion overlooks the following:
1. the fact that a Christian has a renewed nature;
2. that justification is more than just forgiveness of sins;
3. the difference between a lapse in Christian character and living in sin; and
4. the fact that justification by its very nature leads on to sanctification.

1. A Christian has a renewed nature.
The Christian life itself begins with death to the old life. It is when we are made partakers of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Moreover, the Christian life works from the inside out.

2. Justification is more than mere forgiveness of sins. This is the mistake Whitefield pointed out in Wesley’s theology. Justification is a change of status before God: from “in sin” to “in Christ.” We are translated from the power of darkness to the kingdom of Christ. Hence it is a change wrought in us by God whereby we are changed from in sin to in Him. It may even be considered a change of citizenship (Colossians 1:13).

Furthermore, justification, when God imputes Christ’s righteous to us, has a built-in principle of righteousness (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

3. There is a difference between a lapse in Christian character and living in sin.
It would be false to assert that a Christian will never lapse (David, Peter, etc.). However, equating a lapse in Christian character with an ongoing living in sin will always result in an absolute lack of assurance of salvation. We all know people who fear God will strike them dead with a lightning bolt every time they mess up. I have seen men who have been elders and deacons for decades respond to every altar the pastor gives! How can a man be of any service to Christ’s kingdom when he isn’t even sure if he’s in it?

It dishonors God when we cower in fear when we sin rather than coming boldly before the throne of grace. Christ commanded us to forgive 70x7 a day! Can we expect less of Him than He commands of us? It should be obvious that I am not advocating sin with impunity. That is precisely what Paul's foolish opponents accused Him of teaching. There is a difference between a cowering, servile fear of God that runs and hides from His presence and a healthy, sanctifying fear of God that is confident in the merits of Christ's atoning sacrifice.

4. Justification by its very nature leads to Sanctification.

The whole point of the New Covenant is to ensure holiness (Jer. 31:31-33). Where the Law lacked the power to work holiness in us, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit brings us by degrees into a progessively closer walk with God. Morever, God only justifies those whom He intends to sanctify (Rom. 8:29, 30). Any Reformed writer worthy of the name has pointed this out.

The order is “justified by faith,” not “justified by sanctification.” The later error gives birth to the objection Paul refutes in this passage! Sanctification is built on the foundation of justification: not the other way around.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Confessions of a Former Pentecostal

When I was a child, my family attended a church that practiced the so-called Pentecostal gifts. We did not use the term “church;” we were a “fellowship.” There was no pastor; there were elders. All of the elders held a belief in what they called “plurality” in leadership, by which they inferred that pastors were not a NT office. One of them even had a teaching that the Nicolaitans in Revelation were people who held to the idea of singular leadership in the church.

It was not unusual for the Sunday worship to be interrupted by a “word” in tongues or a “prophecy.” People who asked for prayer were often “slain.” The service format was extremely informal. The song leader had no planned music; everyone was free to just call out a song title, which would be sung.

I remember many strange things about that church, despite the fact that I was so young. In hindsight, it was obviously God’s superintendence over my life in a way that would bring me to the Doctrines of Grace.

I recall that there was a stack of papers in the lobby every Sunday. Once when I looked at what was on them, I discovered that they were printouts of “prophecies” that were given the previous week. Even then it struck me as wrong. I remember asking my Dad, “Can they do that?” He remembers it too.

When I was about 10 or 11, a lady visitor from one of the other fellowships we were loosely associated with gave a “prophecy” that if we didn’t repent by a specified date, God would remove our lampstand. The church ended up splitting over that "word of prophecy." It was just vague enough that no one knew exactly whether the church had complied with what God was supposedly commanding.

Years later a friend invited me to go with him to church. It was the smaller of the two factions from that old church. During the elder's "message" he quoted prophecies given years back by Bro. France, as if they were Scripture. He carried a mini-cassette player in his pocket and a pile of tapes that were cued up to the relevant sections of these “prophecies.” They even had hand-outs in the lobby of printed copies of the "prophetic words" given by Sis. So-and-so the previous Sunday. Actually I don't recall a single Scripture being read or even quoted unless the wording was incidentally mimicked in the KJV-esque language of some "word."

While I was in high school, I developed a strong interest in Church history. But rather than simply read historical narratives, I sought out writings by the history makers themselves so that I could read them in their own words. I quickly became aware that I did NOT find anything I had been taught in church in the writings of the Fathers, Reformers or Puritans. I slowly began to realize that my theology had changed. I still struggled with letting go of my beliefs about the Holy Spirit. For many years I reasoned that the extraordinary gifts were real and for us today, but that what we generally witness are abuses or fakes. This idea was undoubtedly fed by the numerous books I read exposing clowns like Hinn, which were written by fellow Pentecostals. It took some time for me to finally arrive at the conclusion that these manifestations of extraordinary gifts are all fake. The real, historical ones served their purpose in the early Church, but are not for the Church today. I finally realized that in my whole life, I had never actually witnessed a manifestation I could unquestionably call “real.” George Smeaton’s book, “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” was a tremendous help to me. When I started seminary I discovered that what I had become is called a Calvinist and even a cessationist (gasp!). I had to rebuild my theology from the ground up.

During my MDiv studies, I researched more of the heretical qualities of the charismatic movement and wrote a paper on it. The impetus for the paper (apart from its being an assignment) was Tertullian’s observation that heresies are a necessary trial of the church to show the true and false believers. (Paul says the same thing in 1 Cor. 11:19.) I was terrified at the enormities of these Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers. All the unverifiable claims and extra-biblical revelations! It would be comical if it weren’t blasphemous.

God graciously brought me out of that stuff and I have not looked back. I have friends who have come out of the same background, but unlike them, I have no fond memories of it. I feel healthier spiritually the farther away from it I get. God is good. Scripture is the only revelation I’ll ever need.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Evangelical Christian Perfection

Evangelical Christian Perfection

Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Philippians 3:15

The content of this article is mainly mine, but some of the salient points were suggested to me in a sermon upon this text by Thomas Manton. I wrote this in response to a sermon on Christian perfection by a man from the Wesleyan school of thought - a second blessing type preacher.

In this passage Paul is addressing Christians at two stages of maturity: the mature, grown believers, whom he designates perfect, and the weaker, younger believers, who are, “otherwise minded.” Paul’s advice to the perfect is to think like him regarding his assessment of superficial righteousness which starts back at verse 3 of this chapter. To the weaker believers, Paul expresses his confidence that though they may not as yet be able to accept the abrogation of the ceremonial laws, God will eventually show them the correctness of Paul’s teaching.

Based on what Paul says, there is a kind of perfection attainable in this life.

We should immediately notice that Paul must be using the word perfect in a limited sense, since in verse 12 he says of himself, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect…” Yet in verse 15 he includes himself in the group which he labels perfect. To understand Paul’s use of the word perfect in anything but a limited sense would result in an inconsistency or seeming contradiction.

In order to avoid confusion, it is necessary to unpack the word perfect. In the English language, or at least as it is commonly understood, the word perfect implies faultlessness in an absolute sense. The Greek root word behind both uses of the word perfect (verses 12 & 15) in this text, is telos. The word telos always conveys the idea of completeness, accomplishment or maturity. So right away we see a very different notion of perfection than what is commonly implied by the English word perfect. This is how Paul can refer to himself as both not perfect (i.e., not having attained the ultimate heavenly goal) and perfect (mature) at the same time.

Having said this, we must distinguish all the various ways that perfection can be understood.

A. Perfection of Reward and Perfection of Grace
B. Legal Perfection and Evangelical Perfection
C. Absolute Perfection and Comparative Perfection
D. Positional Perfection and Experimental Maturity

A. These two ‘perfections’ may be termed final, or ultimate perfection and the perfection of grace. The former will be attained in the life to come. It is the perfection of reward. This is the perfection expressed in Jude 24: Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (ESV). The second perfection is the perfection of grace which is attainable in this life and is spoken of in Col. 4:12, “That ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” This perfection is when we lack nothing pertaining to our salvation.

B. In speaking of the perfection of grace we must make a clear distinction between what Manton calls “legal perfection” and “evangelical perfection.” Manton says, “Legal (perfection) is unsinning obedience: evangelical is sincere obedience: the one is where there is no sin: the other no guile.”

Legal perfection is conveyed in Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ “(ESV) Legal perfection is a perpetual, unswerving obedience. The slightest misstep or omission places us squarely under the full brunt of the curse of the law. Since man is already fallen and filled with mixed principles, this kind of perfection is impossible and unattainable in this lifetime. And when one substitutes it for evangelical perfection, legalism is the inevitable result (This is precisely what Paul was contending in Philippians 3.).

Evangelical perfection is, as Manton calls it, “without guile.” There is a world of difference between guilt and guile. Hezekiah was hardly guiltless, yet he prays, “I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” 2 Kings 20:3 (KJV). That this perfection is consistent with weakness is expressed in 2 Chron. 15:17 “Nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days” (KJV). Asa did not remove the high places, clearly a flaw in his character, yet he is called perfect. Evangelical perfection is a sincere bent of the heart toward God, a desire to please him in all things. Evangelical perfection is a wholehearted commitment to God without rival. “The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” James 1:8. Manton says, ”A heart against a heart; in point of faith, between God and other confidences; in point of love, between God and the vanities of the world; and God’s interest is not chief, nor do we love him above all things; in point of obedience, between pleasing God and pleasing men, and pleasing God and our own vain fancies and appetites, honouring God and promoting our worldly ends; you set up a rival and partner with God. Now this perfection we must have or we are not in a state of salvation.”

Writing along the same lines, Thomas Watson says, “Though an adopted heir of heaven cannot obey every precept perfectly, yet he does evangelically. He approves of every command. ‘I consent to the law, that it is good’ Rom. 7:16. He delights in every command. ‘O how I love thy law!’ Psalm 119:97. His desire is to obey every command. ‘O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!’ Psalm 119:5. Wherein he comes short, he looks up to Christ’s blood to supply his defects. This is evangelical obedience; which, though it be not to satisfaction, it is to acceptation.”

C. A further distinction is necessary between absolute perfection and comparative perfection. God and God alone is absolutely perfect. As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him. Psalm 18:30 (KJV)

Absolute perfection is not attainable by any saint while living upon this earth. This can be proven by the following considerations:
1. Whenever there are remnants of the carnal nature left, a man cannot possibly be absolutely perfect. This is precisely the state of all believers. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” Galatians 5:17 (ESV). This remains true regardless of one’s interpretation of Romans 7.
2. There are none but sometimes sin. “(F)or there is no one who does not sin” 1 Kings 8:46 (ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” Eccles. 7:20 (ESV). “For we all stumble in many ways” James 3:2 (ESV). Therefore, no man is so perfect as to be without all sin.
3. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to forgive others since we need forgiveness as well. This fact presupposes a righteousness that is not without defects. The best of God’s children have flaws, weaknesses and frailties which should be guarded against every step of the way to heaven.

Comparative perfection is seen plainly in the fact that Paul addresses the two groups in Philippians 3:15. There are some whom Paul calls perfect, and then there are some who are, as yet, otherwise minded.

D. Something should also be said of our positional status with God in contradistinction to our experimental growth in grace. When one is in Christ he is immediately “complete in Him,” regardless of his level of maturity. When Christ said, “It is finished,” He used the same word, telos, which Paul uses to describe a “perfect” Christian. The newest-born babe in Christ is perfect before God positionally, even before he has begun to work out that which God has worked in. This means that it is proper to refer to all believers as perfect when we restrict that word to a positional sense. However, a Christian is to work out his salvation and grow in grace, and this is growth in experimental perfection (which would be better termed maturity). Perhaps this may be more clearly expressed by saying that positional perfection is a perfection of parts, meaning that we have all things pertaining unto a state of salvation. While experimental perfection could be better termed perfection of degrees. The ultimate end of this perfection of degrees will come in heaven when we join the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:23). In this life we may be considered upright, but only in heaven can we be termed perfect in any absolute sense.

If we combine the positive elements of these points, we discover that Christian perfection is positional, first and foremost. Then based upon the fact that God is at work in us to will and to do His will, we are to work out our salvation, i.e., work out what God has worked in. Positional perfection is what we need for salvation, and experimental growth in grace is its natural outworking. We also discover that Christian perfection is what Manton calls, “evangelical” perfection. It is not a legal, sinless perfection; it is rather a full bent of the heart to obey God without guile. And finally, we discover that Christian perfection is not absolute perfection, which belongs properly to God alone.

Absolute, sinless perfection is not attainable in this life, but it is to be our final reward in heaven. This means that it should be our goal in this life. The fact that no one can attain to a sinless state in this life should not serve as a “cop-out” to excuse a lack of zeal for Christian growth in grace.

We have a perfect God, a perfect rule, a perfect Redeemer and a perfect reward. Although we are perfect positionally, i.e., we lack nothing pertaining to salvation, yet we are to endeavor after the perfection which will eventually be our reward in glory.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Covenant of Redemption, by John Flavel, Pt 3

Today we conclude Flavel's masterful message. He concludes in true Puritan fashion by demonstrating some lenghty applications of the doctrine expounded thus far.

Next let us apply it to ourselves.

Use 1. The first use that offers itself to us from hence, is the abundant security that God has given the elect for their salvation, and that not only in respect of the covenant of grace made with then, but also of this covenant of redemption made with Christ for them; which indeed is the foundation of the covenant of grace. God’s single promise is security enough to our faith, his covenant of grace adds, ex abundanti, farther security; but both these viewed as the effects and fruits of this covenant of redemption, make all fast and sure. In the covenant of grace, we question not the performance on God’s part, but we are often stumbled at the grand defects on our parts. But when we look to the covenant of redemption there is nothing to stagger our faith, both the federates being infinitely able and faithful to perform their parts; so that there is no possibility of a failure there. Happy were it, if puzzled and perplexed Christians would turn their eyes from the defects that are in their obedience, to the fulness and completeness of Christ’s obedience; and see themselves complete in him, when most lame and defective in themselves.

Use 2. Hence also to be informed, that God the Father, and God the Son, do mutually rely and trust to one another in the business of our redemption. The Father relies upon the Son for the performance of his part; as it is, Isa. 42: 1, “ Behold my servant, whom I uphold.” Montanus turns it, on whom I lean or depend. As if the Father had said, behold what a faithful servant I have chosen, in whom my soul is at rest: I know he will go through with his work, I can depend upon him. And, to speak plain, the Father so far trusted Christ, that upon the credit of his promise to come into the world, and in the fulness of time to become a sacrifice for the elect, he saved all the Old Testament saints, whose faith also respected a Christ to come; with reference whereto, it is said, Heb. 11: 39, 40. “That they received not the promises, God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect,” i. e. without Jesus Christ manifested in the flesh, in our times, though believed on, as to come in the flesh, in their times. And as the Father trusted Christ, so does Christ, in like manner, depend upon, and trust his Father. For, having performed his part, and left the world again, he now trusteth his Father for the accomplishment of that promise made him, Isa. 53: 10. “That he shall see his seed,” &c. He depends upon his Father for all the elect that are left behind, yet unregenerated, as well as those already called, that they shall be all preserved unto the heavenly kingdom, according to that, John 17: 11. “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world; and I come unto thee: holy Father, keep, through thine own name, those whom thou hast given me.” And can it be imagined, that the Father will fail in his trust, who every way acquitted himself so punctually to the Son? It cannot be.

Use 3. Moreover, hence we infer the validity and unquestionable success of Christ’s intercession in heaven for believers. You read, Heb. 7: 25. “That he ever lives to make intercession; and, Heb. 12: 24. “That his blood speaks for good things for them.” Non, that his blood shall obtain what it pleads in heaven for, is undoubted, and that from the consideration of this covenant of redemption. For here you see that the things he now asks of his Father, are the very same which his Father promised him, and covenanted to give him, before this world was. So that, besides the interest of the person, the very equity of the matter speaks its success, and requires performance. Whatever he asks for us, is as due to him as the wages of the hireling, when the work is ended; if the work be done, and done faithfully, as the Father has acknowledged it is, then the reward is due, and due immediately; and no doubt but he shall receive it from the lands of a righteous God.

Use 4. Hence, in like manner, you may be informed of the consistency of grace with full satisfaction to the justice of God. The apostle, 2 Tim. 1: 9. tells us, “We are saved according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Jesus Christ before the world began.” i. e. According to the gracious terms of this covenant of redemption; and yet you see notwithstanding, how strictly God stands upon satisfaction from Christ; so then, grace to us, and satisfaction to justice, are not so inconsistent as the Socinian adversaries would make them; what was debt to Christ, is grace to us: when you hear men cry out, Here is grace indeed! pay me all, and I will forgive you; remember, how all mouths are stopped with that one text, Rom. 3: 24. “Being justified freely by his grace;” and yet he adds, “through the redemption that is in Christ.”

Use 5. Again, Hence judge of the antiquity of the love of God to believers! what an ancient friend he has been to us; who loved us, provided for us, and contrived all our happiness, before we were, yea, before the world was. We reap the fruits of this covenant now, the seed whereof was sown from eternity; yea, it is not only ancient, but also most free: no excellencies of ours could engage the love of God; for as yet we were not.

Use 6. Hence judge, How reasonable it is that believers should embrace the hardest terms of obedience unto Christ, who complied with such hard terms for their salvation: they were hard and difficult terms indeed, on which Christ received you from the Father’s hand: it was, as you have heard, to pour out his soul unto death, or not to enjoy a soul of you. Here you may suppose the Father to say, when driving his bargain with Christ for you:

Father: My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls And thus Christ returns.

Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. 8: 9. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”) yet I am content to undertake it. Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, has Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh? O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.

Use 7. Lastly, How greatly are we all concerned, to make it sure to ourselves, that we are of this number which the Father and the Son agreed for before the world was; that we were comprehended in Christ’s engagement and compact with the Father?

Objection: Yea, but you will say, who can know that, there were no witnesses to that agreement.

Solution: Yes, We may know, without ascending into heaven, or prying into unrevealed secrets, that our names were in that covenant, if,
(1.) You are believers indeed; for all such the Father then gave to Christ,r John 17: 8. “The men that thou gavest me (for of them he spake immediately before) they have believed that thou didst send me.”
(2.) If you savingly know God in Jesus Christ, such were given him by the Father, John 17: 6. “I have manifested thy name unto the men thou gavest me.” By this they are discriminated from the rest, verse 25. “The world has not known thee, but these have known,” &c.
(3.) If you are men and women of another world; John 17: 16, “They are not of the world, as I am not of the world.” May it be said of you, as of dying men, that you are not men and women for this world, that you are crucified and dead to it, Gal. 6: 14, that you are strangers in it? Heb. 11: 13, 14.
(4.) If you keep Christ’s word, John 17: 6. “Thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.” By keeping his word, understand the receiving of the word, in its sanctifying effects and influences into your hearts, and your perseverance in the profession and practice of it to the end, John 17: 17, “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth”. John 15: 7, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will.” Blessed and happy is that soul upon which these blessed characters appear, which our Lord Jesus has laid so close together, within the compass of a few verses, in this 17th chapter of John. These are the persons the Father delivered unto Christ, and he accepted from the Father, in this blessed covenant.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Covenant of Redemption, by John Flavel, Pt 2

Now, to open this great point, we will here consider, (1.) The persons transacting one with another. (2.) The business transacted. (3.) The quality and manner of the transaction, which is federal. (4.) The articles to which they agree. (5.) How each person performs his engagement to the other. And, Lastly, The antiquity or eternity of this covenant transaction.

(1.) The persons transacting and dealing with each other in this covenant; and indeed they are great persons, God the Father, and God the Son, the former as a Creditor, and the latter as a Surety. The Father stands upon satisfaction, the Son engages to give it. If it be demanded, why the Father and the Spirit might not as well have treated upon our redemption, as the Father and Son! It is answered, Christ is the natural Son of God, and therefore fittest to make us the adopted sons of God. Christ also is the middle person in the Trinity, and therefore fittest to be the mediator and middle person betwixt us and God. The Spirit has another office assigned him, even to apply, as Christ’s vicegerent, the redemption designed by the Father, and purchased by the Son for us.

(2.) The business transacted betwixt them; and that was the redemption and recovery of all God’s elect: our eternal happiness lay now before them, our dearest and everlasting concerns were now in their hands: the elect (though not yet in being) are here considered as existent, yea, and as fallen, miserable, forlorn creatures: How these may again be restored to happiness (salva justitia Dei) without prejudice to the honour, justice and truth of God; this, this is the business that lay before them.

(3.) For the manner, or quality of the transaction, it was federal, or of the nature of a covenant; it was by mutual engagements and stipulations, each person undertaking to perform his part in order to our recovery.

We find each person undertaking for himself by solemn promise; the Father promiseth that he will “hold his hand, and keep him,” Isa. 42: 6. The Son promiseth, he will obey his Father’s call to suffering, and not “be rebellious,” Isa. 50: 5. And, having promised, each holds the other to his engagement. The father stands upon the satisfaction promised him; and, when the payment was making, he will not abate him one earthing, Rom. 8: 32. “God spared not his own Son,” i. e. he abated nothing of the full price he was to have at his hands for us.

And as the Father stood strictly upon the terms of the covenant, so did Christ also; John 17: 45. “I have glorified thee on earth, (saith he to the Father) I have finished the work thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify me with thine own self.” As if he had said, Father, the work is done, now where is the wages I was promised? I call for glory as my due, as much my due as the hire of the labourer is his due, when his work is done.

(4.) More particularly; we will next consider the articles to which they do both agree; or, what it is that each person does for himself promise to the other. And, to let us see how much the Father’s heart is engaged in the salvation of poor sinners, there are five things which he promiseth to do for Christ, if he will undertake that work.

(A.) First, He promiseth to invest him, and anoint him to a threefold office, answerable to the misery that lay upon the elect as so many bars to all communion with, and enjoyment of God; for, if ever man be restored to that happiness, the blindness of his mind must be cured, the guilt of sin expiated, and his captivity to sin led captive: answerably, Christ must, “of God, be made unto us, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption,” 1 Cor. 1: 30. And he is made so to us as our Prophet, Priest, and King; but he could not put himself into either of these; for if so, he had acted without commissions and consequently all he did had been invalid; Heb. 5: 5. “Christ glorified not himself to be made an High-Priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son”. A commission therefore to act authoritatively, in these offices, being necessary to our recovery, the Father engages to him to seal him such a threefold commission.

He promiseth to invest him with an eternal and royal Priesthood, Psal. 110: 4. “The Lord has sworn, and will not repent; Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchisedec.” This Melchisedec being King of Righteousness, and king of Salem, that is, Peace, had a royal priesthood; and his descent not being reckoned, it had an adumbration of eternity in it, and so was more apt to type and shadow forth the priesthood of Christ than Aaron’s was, Heb. 7: 16, 17, 24, 25, as the apostle accommodates them there.

He promiseth moreover to make him a Prophet, and that an extraordinary one, even the Prince of prophets; the chief Shepherd, as much superior to all others, as the sun is to the lesser stars; so you have it, Isa. 42: 6, 7. “I will give thee for a light to the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes,” &c.

And not only so, but to make him king also, and that of the whole empire of the world; so Psal. 2: 6, 7, 8. “Ask of me, and I will give thee the Heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost ends of the earth for thy possession.” Thus he promiseth to qualify and furnish him completely for the work, by his investiture with this threefold office.

(B.) Secondly, And forasmuch as he knew it was a hard and difficult work his Son was to undertake, a work that would have broken the backs of all the angels in heaven, and men on earth, had they engaged in it; therefore he promiseth to stand by him, and assist and strengthen him for it: so, Isa. 42: 5, 6, 7. “I will hold thy hand,” or take hold of thee with my hands, for so it may be rendered, i. e. I will underprop and support thy humanity, when it is even overweighted with the burden that is to come upon it, and ready to sink down under it; for so you know the case stood with him, Mark 14: 34, and so it was foretold of him, Isa. 53: 7. “He was oppressed,” &c. and indeed the humanity needed a prop of no less strength than the infinite power of the Godhead: the same promise you have in the first verse also, “Behold my servant whom I uphold.”

(C.) Thirdly, He promiseth to crown his work with success, and bring it to an happy issue, Isa. 53: 10. “He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” He shall not begin, and not finish; he shall not shed his invaluable blood upon hazardous terms; but shall see and reap the sweet fruits thereof; as the joyful mother forgets her pangs, when she delightfully embraces and kisses her living child.

(D.) Fourthly, The Father promiseth to accept him in his work, though millions should certainly perish, Isa. 49: 4. “Surely (saith he) my work is with the Lord.” And, verse 5. “I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord.” His faith has therein respect to this compact and promise. Accordingly the Father manifests the satisfaction he had in him, and in his work, even while he was about it upon the earth, when there came such a “voice from the excellent glory, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

(E.) Fifthly, As he engaged to reward him highly for his work, by exalting him to singular and super-eminent glory and honour, when he should have dispatched and finished it. So you read, Psal. 2:7. “I will declare the decree; the Lord has said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” It is spoken of the day of his resurrection, when he had just finished his sufferings. And so the apostle expounds and applies it, Acts 13: 32, 33. For then did the Lord wipe away the reproach of his cross, and invested him with such glory, that he looked like himself again. As if the Father had said, now thou hast again recovered thy glory, and this day is to thee as a new birth-day.

These are the encouragements and rewards proposed and promised to him by the Father. This was the “joy set before him”, (as the apostle phraseth it in Heb. 12: 2.) which made him so patiently to “endure the cross, and despise the shame.”

And in like manner Jesus Christ restipulates, and gives his engagement to the Father; that, upon these terms, he is content to be made flesh, to divest, as it were, himself of his glory, to come under the obedience and malediction of the law, and not to refuse any, the hardest sufferings it should please his Father to inflict on him. So much is implied in Isa. 50: 5, 6, 7. “The Lord has opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back; I gave my back to the smilers, and my cheeks to them that pulled off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting: For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded; I have set my face as a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.” When he saith, I was not rebellious, “mariti”, he meaneth, I was most heartily willing, and content to accept the terms; for there is a Meiosis in the words, and much more is intended than expressed. And the sense of this place is well delivered to us in other terms, Psal. 40: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. “Then said I, Lo I come, I delight to do thy will, O God, thy law is within my heart.” O see with what a full consent the heart of Christ closeth with the Father’s offers and proposals; like some echo, that answers your voice twice or thrice over. So does Christ here answer his Father’s call, “I come, I delight to do thy will; yea, thy law is in my heart.” And thus you see the articles to which they both subscribed, or the terms they agreed on.

(5.) I will briefly show how these articles, and agreements were on both parts, performed, and that precisely and punctually. For,

(A.) The Son having thus consented, accordingly he applies himself to the discharge of his work. He took a body, in it fulfilled all righteousness, even to a little, Matth. 3: 15. And at last his out was made an offering for sin, so that he could say as it is, John 17: 4. “Father, I have glorified thee on earth, I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.” He went through all the parts of his active, and passive obedience, cheerfully and faithfully.

(B.) The Father made good his engagements to Christ, all along, with no less faithfulness than Christ did his. He promised to assist, and hold his hand, and so he did; Luke 22: 43, “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” That was one of the sorest brunts that ever Christ met with; this was seasonable aid and succour. He promised to accept him in his work, and that he should be glorious in his eyes; so he did: for he not only declared it by a voice from heaven, Luke 3: 22!. “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased:” But it was fully-declared in his resurrection and ascension, which were a full discharge and justification of him. He promised him that “He should see his seed,” and so he did; for his very birth-dew was as the dew of the morning; and ever since his blood has been fruitful in the world. He promised gloriously to reward and exalt him; and so he has, Phil. 2: 9, 10, 11, and that highly and super-eminently, “giving him a name above every name in heaven and earth.” Thus were the articles performed.

(6.) Lastly, When was this compact made betwixt the Father and the Son? I answer, it bears date from eternity. Before this world was made, then were his delights in us, while as yet we had no existence, but only in the infinite mind and purpose of God, who had decreed this for us in Christ Jesus, as the apostle speaks, 2 Tim. 1: 9. What grace was that which was given us in Christ before the world began, but this grace of redemption, which was from everlasting thus contrived and designed for us, in that way which has been here opened? Then was the council, or consultation of peace betwixt them both, as some take that scripture, Zech. 6: 13.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Covenant of Redemption, by John Flavel

John Flavel is one of my favorite preachers. I can never seem to decide whether I like him or Thomas Manton better. They were both Puritans and possessed the same great exegetical skills. Expository preachers par excellence. One of Flavel's greatest works, in my opinion is his "The Fountain of Life, Opened Up." It is a series of over 40 sermons on the mediatorial work of Christ. The third sermon in the book is on the Covenant of Redemption. It alone is worth the price of the book. It has meant so much to me that I want to share it. It is rather long by today's standards, as all Puritan sermons were. Therefore, I am breaking it up into 3 posts. I have not altered the spelling or grammar.

The Covenant of Redemption betwixt the Father and the Redeemer.
Therefore will I divide him [a portion] with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

In this chapter, the gospel seems to be epitomised; the subject matter of it is the death of Christ, and the glorious issue thereof: by reading of it, the Eunuch of old, and many Jews since, have been converted to Christ. Christ is here considered absolutely, and relatively; Absolutely, and so his innocence is industriously vindicated, ver. 9. Though he suffered grievous things, yet not for his own sins, “for he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth;” but relatively considered in the capacity of a surety for us: so the justice of God is so fully vindicated in his sufferings; ver. 6. “The Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all.” How he came to sustain this capacity and relation of a surety for us, is in these verses plainly asserted to be by his compact and agreement with his Father, before the worlds were made, verse 10, 11,12.

In this verse we have, 1. His work. 2. His reward. 3. The respect or relation of each to the other.

(1.) His work, which was indeed a hard work, to pour out his soul unto death, aggravated by the companions, with whom, being numbered with transgressors; the capacity in which, bearing all the sins of the elect, “he bare the sins of many in and by the manner of his bearing it, viz. meekly, and forgivingly, “he made intercession for the transgressors;” This was his work.

(2.) The reward or fruit which is promised him for this work, “therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he will divide the spoil with the strong;” wherein is a plain allusion to conquerors in war, for whom are reserved the richest garments, and most honourable captives to follow the conqueror, as an addition to his magnificence and triumph; these were wont to come after them in chains, Isa. 45: 14. see Judges 5: 3

(3.) The respect or relation betwixt that work and this triumph: some will have this work to have no other relation to that glory, than a mere antecedent to a consequent: others give it the respect and relation of a meritorious cause to a reward. It is well observed by Dr. Featly, that the Hebrew particle “lachen”, which we render therefore, noting order, is not worth so much contention about it, whether it be the order of casualty, or mere antecedence; neither do I foresee any absurdity in calling Christ’s exaltation the reward and fruit of his humiliation: however, it is plain, whether one or other, it is that the Father here agrees and promises to give him, if he will undertake the redemption of the elect, by pouring out his soul unto death; of all which this is the plain result:

Doctrine: That the business of man’s salvation was transacted upon covenant terms, betwixt the Father and the Son, from all eternity.

I would not here be mistaken, as though I were now to treat of the covenant of grace, made in Christ betwixt God and us; it is not the covenant of grace, but of redemption, I am now to speak to, which differs from the covenant of grace, in regard of the federates in this, it is God the Father, and Jesus Christ, that mutually covenant; in that, it is God and man: they differ, also in the receptive part, in this it is required of Christ that he should shed his blood, in that it is required of us that we believe. They also differ in their promises; in this, God promises to Christ a name above every name, ample dominion from sea to sea; in that, to us, grace and glory: so that these are two distinct covenants.

The substance of this covenant of redemption is, dialogue-wise, expressed to us in Isa. 49, where, (as divines have well observed) Christ begins, at the first and second verses, and shows his commission, telling his Father, how he had both called, and prepared him for the work of redemption; “The Lord has called me from the womb - he has made my mouth like a sharp sword, and made me a polished shaft”, &c. q. d. by reason of that superabundant measure of the spirit of wisdom and power wherewith I am anointed and filled; my doctrine shall, as a sword, pierce the hearts of sinners; yea, like an arrow, drawn to the head, strike deep into souls standing at a great distance from God and godliness.

Having told God how ready, and fit he was for his service, he will know of him what reward he shall have for his work, for he resolves his blood shall not be undervalued; hereupon, verse 3, the Father offers him the elect of Israel for his reward, bidding low at first (as they that make bargains use to do) and only offers him that small remnant, still intending to bid higher: But Christ will not be satisfied with these, he values his blood higher than so: therefore, in verse 4 he is brought in complaining, “I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought,” q. d. This is but a small reward for so great a suffering, as I must undergo; my blood is much more worth than this comes to, and will be sufficient to redeem all the elect dispersed among the isles of the Gentiles, as well as the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Hereupon the Father comes up higher, and tells him, he intends to reward him better than so; and therefore, verse 6 says, “It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Thus is the treaty carried on betwixt them, transacting it after the manner of men.

Now, to open this great point, we will here consider, (1.) The persons transacting one with another. (2.) The business transacted. (3.) The quality and manner of the transaction, which is federal. (4.) The articles to which they agree. (5.) How each person performs his engagement to the other. And, Lastly, The antiquity or eternity of this covenant transaction.

This is where we will pick up tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Low Can You Go

In my blog description, I call this a rant. Well, today I’m going to live up to that promise.

I am furious! If I could scream audibly in print, I would.

I have been observing and participating in a discussion about John Hagee. The substance of the discussion is his book called, “In Defense of Israel.” The thesis of the book is that Israel is innocent of rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. Hagee makes the ridiculous claim that the Jews are innocent of rejecting Jesus as their Messiah because Jesus didn’t come as Messiah and indeed, never claimed to be the Messiah. That Hagee is a Dispensationalist goes without saying. That Hagee is a heretic also goes without saying.

I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not making this up. I wish I were. Here’s a youtube link showing Hagee’s ad: here
If you have a Bible software program that lets you do a word search, look up the word Christ. You will find that it occurs 555 times in the New Testament in 522 verses. I’m not making that up either. Just for clarification’s sake, “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” I’m sure most people know that. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that even John Hagee knows that. Some preachers take an isolated verse of Scripture and erect a major doctrinal position on it. Hagee has done something much different. He has erected a major doctrinal position based on NO Scripture at all! In fact he has ignored the fact the Jesus is called the Messiah (Christ) in 555 times in the New Testament. That averages out to once in every 14 verses. Not only that. He also flushes hundreds of Old Testament passages down the toilet as well. Jesus literally fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that were predicted to be fulfilled by the Messiah. Bible: 555 – Hagee: 0.

What has me even more torqued off is this: Many Christians would say that we shouldn’t be too hard on a clown like Hagee because he’s a brother in the Lord. I want to know how anyone can assert with any level of confidence that someone who denies Christ is Christ can have a relationship with God and thus be a brother in the Lord. How low are we going to place the bar for people so that they can still be called Christian? How much shipwreck can be made of the faith before a man is labeled a heretic?

Scripture says, “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject” (Titus 3:10). I’m fairly sure that at least two people have tried to tell Hagee that his doctrine is…well…screwy. Youtube has more than one “John Hagee exposed” clip. There are numerous online rebuttals of his heretical teachings. He has been warned! So I say, “Hit the road, Jack! Never darken the doors of a church again.”

Now I can just hear someone crying, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Read the context! It has nothing to do with refuting error and defending the faith. Am I angry? Yes sir, I am. That’s my Savior he’s blaspheming. Jesus commands me to judge: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment (John 7:24). Again, read the context. This time, it has everything to do with false teachers.

The first line of the Athanasian Creed has always seemed so necessary. It runs like this: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

I’m going on record right now: I don’t think that this is unscriptural or overly strict. There are some things you MUST believe in order to have any legitimate claim to the name “Christian.” Surely, belief in Jesus as Christ is one of them. I can hear someone now playing the Doctrine Divides Card. I answer, "No kidding, Einstein!" It’s supposed to divide. How do we differentiate between true believers and pretenders? How do we differentiate between darkness and light? How do we differentiate between truth and error? How do we differentiate between faith and unbelief? Doctrine, that’s how!

There is a minimal standard of what one must believe to be called a Christian, and this is so whether Hagee believes so or not. He is WAY below that line. Sadly, he is not alone. Worse yet, thousands will continue to read his books. Christian TV executives won’t jettison him and he will continue to peddle his damnable heresy to an audience who should know better.

Someone once said, “I will not lower the standard of God’s law to suit your taste. You either come up to it, or perish! To which I say a hearty, “Amen!”

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture Pt 2

Our previous post looked at the inspiration of Scripture. We will now make some observations on the subject of Scripture’s Authority

The question of the Scripture’s authority is not in regard to the canonical authority, but to the authority attached to the writings that are acknowledged to be canonical Scriptures. The following point addresses itself to this issue: If the Scriptures have been proved to be divinely inspired, then their divine authority goes without saying. If they are His Word, they must be absolutely authoritative with regard to all the matters they treat. The Bible is the last word on doctrinal and ethical matters and all theological and moral disputes must be brought before the bar of the written Word. This is the orthodox Protestant position.

The Protestant holds the authority of Scripture to be exclusive in the sphere of religion. That is to say that there is no other authority in matters concerning the Church’s doctrine and practice. This has to be true unless it can be shown that God designed them to be restricted in the scope of their influence – in other words, that there is some other revelation of God’s will possessing the same authority as Scripture. Plenary inspiration must be proven then of this other revelation. There are several reasons why this cannot be proved:
• The Bible claims to address all men. It recognizes no rival revelation of God’s will.
• If the Bible is inspired this claim to worldwide authority must be true and exclusive. This exclusivity is unavoidable because each would limit and condition the other, which would be contradictory to the supremacy of either. Just as two sovereigns cannot reign in the political realm, so two sovereigns cannot reign in the spiritual realm.
• No other revelation has been established by clear and unimpeachable miracles.
• No other revelation provides for the redemption of man from guilt, depravity and destruction.
• The world needs a revelation that is characterized by unity, which is consistent with itself. The idea of several revelations that are incompatible with each other at certain points is completely absurd.

This principle of the exclusivity of authority of the Bible, known to the Reformers as sola Scriptura, is not new however to the Church. This principle is stated explicitly and implicitly by the Fathers.

The clearest proof token of the prestige enjoyed by Scripture is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the Fathers, whether polemical or constructive, was expended upon what amounted to the exposition of the Bible.
That the Fathers were firm believers in the principle of sola Scriptura is clearly seen from the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem, the bishop of Jerusalem in the mid fourth century. He wrote what are known as the Catechetical Lectures. This is an extensive series of lectures given to catechumens expounding the principle doctrines of the faith. His teaching is thoroughly grounded in Scripture and there is not one appeal in the entirety of the Lectures to an oral Apostolic Tradition that is independent of Scripture. He states frankly that if he presented any teaching that could not be validated from Scripture, they were to reject it.

The following are some of his statements from the Lectures on the final authority of Scripture: “This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture-proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures.” (The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17)

“But take thou and hold that faith only as a learner and in profession, which is by the Church delivered to thee, and is established from all Scripture… For the Articles of the Faith were not composed at the good pleasure of men: but the most important points chosen from all Scriptures, make up the one teaching of the Faith… Behold, therefore, brethren and hold the traditions which ye now receive, and write them on the table of your hearts.” (Lecture 5.12)

Notice that Cyril says that these catechumens are receiving “Tradition” and he exhorts them to hold to these traditions. Yet these traditions are not the “oral traditions” of Roman Catholicism; they are synonymous with Scripturally based doctrine. The Teaching or Tradition or Revelation of God that was committed to the Apostles and passed on to the Church is now accessible in Scripture alone. It is also quite significant that Cyril, who is communicating the entire faith to these catechumens as a recognized authority on the subject, did not make a single appeal to an oral Tradition to support his teachings. The entirety of the faith is grounded upon Scripture and Scripture alone.

This principle is also articulated by Gregory of Nyssa. “We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet (dogma); we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” (On the Soul And the Resurrection).

Athanasius, while speaking on other subjects makes many indirect references to the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture. In the first paragraph of his Contra Gentes, he declares, “the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth.”

Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea from 370 to 379 A.D., testifies to his belief in the all-sufficient nature of the Scriptures in these words taken from a letter he wrote to a widow: “Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.” (Letter CCLXXXIII)

These fathers are simply representative of the fathers as a whole. Cyprian, Origen, Hippolytus, Firmilian, Augustine are just a few of the fathers that could be cited as proponents of the principle of sola Scriptura, in addition to Tertullian, Irenaeus, Cyril and Gregory of Nyssa. The early Church operated on the basis of the principle of sola scriptura and it was this historical principle that the Reformers sought to restore to the Church.

The extensive use of Scripture by the fathers of the early Church from the very beginning are seen in the following facts:

• Irenaeus: He knew Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John. He lived from @ 130 to 202 A.D. He quotes from 24 of the 27 books of the New Testament. He makes over 1800 quotes from the New Testament alone.

• Clement of Alexandria: He lived from 150 to 215 A.D. He cites all the New Testament books except Philemon, James and 2 Peter. He gives 2400 citations from the New Testament.

• Tertullian: He lived from 160 to 220 A.D. He makes over 7200 New Testament citations.

• Origen: He lived from 185 to 254 A.D. he succeeded Clement of Alexandria at the Catechetical school at Alexandria. He makes nearly 18,000 New Testament citations.

By the end of the third century the entire New Testament (short of about 11 verses) could be reconstructed from the writings of the Church fathers. B.F. Westcott sums up the position of the New Testament Scriptures in the early Church with these words: "The first hundred years of the existence of the 27 books of the New Testament reveal that virtually every one of them was quoted as authoritative and recognized as canonical by men who were themselves the younger contemporaries of the apostolic age." (A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament)

Scripture has authority as all evangelical Protestants will agree because it is the Word of God. But Scripture is not the Word of God merely because the Church says so. Scripture’s authority comes from its intrinsic nature as a communication from God to man, in other words, it has an authority independent of the Church.

The basis on which Christians accept the inspiration of Scripture is the fact already argued that the Scriptures themselves make this claim. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. Paul clearly states here that all Scripture is inspired by God. He is referring specifically to the Old Testament since the New Testament canon was not complete at the time he wrote, but the New Testament must also be covered by this statement for in 2 Peter 3:16. Peter refers to Paul’s writings (including this epistle to Timothy) as Scripture. The word used for ‘inspired’ literally means ‘God-breathed’.

The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that the Hebrew canon consisted of twenty-two books and did not include the Apocrypha. Josephus categorically rejects the Apocrypha as being truly inspired. Even the Roman Catholic Church affirms the fact that the Jews did not accept the Apocrypha, in that it was not part of the Hebrew canon, and acknowledges that the Protestant Church follows the canon of the Jews. For the Old Testament, however, Protestants follow the Jewish canon; they have only the Old Testament books that are in the Hebrew Bible.

The first list of the Old Testament canon given to us by a Christian writer is from Melito of Sardis. His list is preserved in the writings of Eusebius, the Church historian. Origen also names twenty-two books in his list of the Hebrew canon. First, there is the canon of inspired Scripture of the Old and New Testaments which he enumerates. Cardinal Cajetan, the great opponent of Luther in the sixteenth century, in his Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, dedicated to Pope Clement VII, fully supported Jerome’s teaching in separating the Apocrypha from the Hebrew canon. The books that were considered inspired and authoritative for the establishing of doctrine held a proto-canonical status.

Augustine held a kind of two-fold canonicity. Clearly, Augustine believed that the Church held the Apocrypha to be canonical in the broad sense that these writings provided a good example and an inspiration to perseverance in the faith. However, it is equally clear from Augustine’s writings that he did hold the Apocrypha to be canonical in the same sense as the canon of the Old and New Testaments.

The Councils of Hippo and Carthage did not establish the canon of the Scriptures, for their decrees on the Old Testament were unsupported by the Church’s earlier testimony and were not accepted afterwards. It was not until the mid-sixteenth century at Trent did the Roman Catholic Church approve the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament canon. St Jerome distinguished between canonical books and ecclesiastical books. The latter he judged were circulated by the Church as good spiritual reading but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. He refused to translate them for his Latin Vulgate, and they were only added literally over his dead body. The situation remained unclear in the following centuries.

According to Roman Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. Here is an authoritative Roman Catholic source affirming the fact that it was not until the sixteenth century that the Roman Catholic Church established the canon of the Old Testament. The Apocrypha was not considered to be part of the Old Testament canon. But at least it is honest enough to give an accurate picture of when the Old Testament canon was truly and authoritatively determined by the Roman Church.

The Protestant Church is continually charged with upholding dogmas which first appeared very late in the history of the Church. As we have seen, it is a ruling contrary to the testimony of the Jews to the canon of Scripture, to the general patristic witness of the Church and to the overall consensus of the Church right down to the time of the Reformation. Louis Gaussen summarizes this well when he writes, “With the single exception of Theodore of Mopsuestia [c. 400]…it has been impossible to produce, in the long course of the eight first centuries of Christianity, a single doctor who has disowned the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, unless it be in the bosom of the most violent heresies that have tormented the Christian Church.” (Theopneustia pp. 139-140)

In conclusion then, we sum up all the forgoing arguments by saying that the Bible claims to be breathed by God i.e., inspired. This inspiration is plenary, in other words, full; it applies to all of Scripture. This inspiration guarantees the accuracy and inerrancy of all of the Bible’s contents. This inspiration therefore makes the Bible authoritative in all areas of our spiritual life. Every issue we face as spiritual beings is, at bottom, a theological issue and as such is addressed and regulated by Scripture. The authority of the Scripture is the authority of God Himself. In Romans 9:17, St. Paul represents Scripture as addressing Pharaoh! Surely this is a strange way of speaking? This demonstrates that in St. Paul’s mind the authority of God and the utterances of His Word are inseparable. For the Scripture to say anything is for God to say it. David says in Psalm 138:2 that God has magnified His Word above His name! However lofty God’s name is, at least for the present state of affairs (discounting what things may be like in the Eternal State), God has made His Word, the Bible, the Supreme Authority in the universe on all spiritual, doctrinal, ethical, moral and theological issues. Not only is the Bible the supreme authority, there are no subordinate authorities to which appeal may be made. It is God’s Word and it is the Final Word.

The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture Pt 1

The Bible’s Inspiration and Authority Pt 1

In this post we will look at issues pertinent to the subject of Inspiration. Tomorrow, God permitting, we will look at the Scripture's authority. It should be fairly obvious that if the Bible is inspired by God, then it is authoritative.
The first step we should take in demonstrating the authority of Scripture is the affirmation of its inspiration. Against Pantheists and Intuitionalists, we affirm the possibility of supernatural revelation. Against Deists, we affirm the necessity of supernatural revelation. Against so-called Christian rationalists, we affirm its supreme authority. And against Mystics and Roman Catholics, we affirm its completeness.

The classical Protestant position regarding supernatural revelation affirms that the Bible, and the Bible alone – comprised of the Old and New Testaments – is the source and rule of a true theology. The Protestant Confessions are replete with declarations to this effect.

Any writing that is inspired by God is, of course, of divine origin, of infallible authority and is, ipso facto, entitled to be placed as an integral part of supernatural revelation. Before discussing the Nature, Degree and Proofs of Inspiration we should first discuss the reasons for considering the subject of Inspiration in the first place.

First of all, supernatural revelation is necessary to the religious interests of mankind. It is necessary in order to correct and reinforce the doctrines of natural religion that have been marred and obscured by sin. It is necessary to disclose the facts and truths of redemption without which there would be no deliverance from the effects of the Fall.

Secondly, the Bible asserts its own inspiration. The Bible claims to deal authoritatively with all questions of religion and morality.

Thirdly, it has been the uniform testimony of the universal Church. This has been the position of Jews and Christians. Even granting that this does not provide insurmountable proof for the inspiration of Scripture, it does merit consideration. It would be redundant to show that the Divine inspiration of the Bible has been the faith of scholars, philosophers, scientific men as well as that of countless saints from all walks of life.

Fourthly, study of this question has been necessitated by the attempts made by many to represent the Bible as of coordinate value with the sacred texts of other religions.

Fifthly and lastly, assaults upon the Scriptures have not only been made by avowed infidels. Most of these attacks have come from professing Christian scholars. This is at least true of the doctrine of Plenary Inspiration. The anti-supernaturalists have wide representation even in the institutions under the care of orthodox churches.

What is the Nature of Inspiration? To answer this, the first question we must face is what is our source of information on this subject? I embrace Dr. Hodge’s answer to this question: “The nature of inspiration is to be learnt from the Scriptures; from their didactic statements, and from their phenomena.” (Systematic Theology, Volume 1 Chapter 6, § 2)

The Old Testament claims, “Thus saith the Lord,” 413 times. There are numerous direct quotations and allusions throughout by the Old Testament authors to each other. The New Testament gives its familiar “It is written,” sixty-three times. The New Testament also cites itself on many occasions. Peter classes all of Paul’s epistles with the inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Paul quotes Luke’s gospel as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18 (cf. Luke 10:7). Luke refers to his previous work (Acts 1:1). Jude cites 2 Peter 3:2-3 in verse 18 of his Epistle. John alludes to his own gospel. Paul mentions another letter he had written to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9). Some of these examples are not formal quotations, but they do illustrate the fact that within the New Testament there is recognition of one inspired book by another.

The clincher though is in Revelation 1:2, where the Word of God is identified with the testimony of Jesus Christ! This statement runs in both directions. Firstly, it means that the testimony of Jesus Christ in the New Testament in as fully God’s Word as the Old Testament. Secondly, it means that the Old Testament is equally the testimony of Jesus Christ.

The Prophets and Apostles claimed to be commissioned by God to declare His will, which is the same thing as to be inspired. This was no arbitrary claim either. It was not addressed to an implicit faith. They backed up such claims with extraordinary credentials. The inspiration was proven by miracles, if not by the author himself by another author who recognized the inspiration of the other’s work. These miracles were not random. Pay attention and you'll notice the consistency of focus and inherent unity of the Biblical miracles. The inspired messages were recorded; these records are the Scriptures.

I. What then, according to the Scriptures, is Inspiration? Inspiration is:
• It is an influence of the Holy Spirit affecting a human mind.
• It is an influence exerted by the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 1:16, Acts 2:4, Acts 28:25, Mark 12:35,36; 1 Peter 1:10,11)
• It is an influence either strictly revealing unknown truth to the mind or presenting to it known truth.
• It is an immediate influence. By this I mean to say that it is not exerted through any medium. It brings truth directly into contact with the mind.
• It is a supernatural influence; meaning to say that there are no naturalistic factors that can account for it. It is above and beyond all natural faculties of the human mind.
• It is an objective influence. It comes from outside the mind and communicates an external revelation of God’s will to it.
• It is an influence that is intended to produce teachers. It is not intended to produce saints. Both Balaam and Caiaphas were subjects of this influence when they spoke their extraordinary prophecies. Even among the true Prophets and Apostles, we see less-than-ideal behavior when they were not under this influence (Peter at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas, Moses striking the rock, etc).
• It is an influence that guarantees infallible teaching. The inspired writer, as long as he was inspired, could not err. Without this influence they could and did err (see previous point), but with it, they could do or say no wrong.
• It is an influence that guarantees the teaching of God’s will in regard to the spiritual interests of mankind. This is its main purpose. It is not a textbook on physics, math or politics. If it does address these issues, it does so incidentally, not as its primary concern
• It is an influence whose didactic inerrancy is not affected by the degree of emotional intensity that accompanies it.
• It is an influence whose exertion upon the mind of others is attested by miraculous proof. Either the announcements themselves were accompanied by miracles or they were vouched for by others whose inspiration was attested to by miracles.

So we must conclude that revelation as the product of inspiration is common to the Prophets and the Apostles on one hand, and to us on the other. Their specific difference is inspiration, ours is faith. They communicate the Scriptures; we receive them. Therefore, revelation does not come before inspiration.

II The next concern is the Relation of Revelation to the Scriptures. By this we mean to discuss the extent of the inspiration and coterminous nature of the words Special Revelation and Scripture.

Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones addressed this issue in this way, “There is no question at all that the falling away…in this country is the direct consequence of the Higher Criticism. The man in the street says, 'What do these Christians know?’ We all therefore have to face this ultimate and final question: Do we accept the Bible as the Word of God, as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice, or do we not?…Do I accept Scripture as a revelation from God, or do I trust to speculation, human knowledge, human learning, human understanding and human reasons?…Do I pin my faith to, and subject all my thinking to, what I read in the Bible?…The Protestant position, as was the position of the early Church in the first centuries, is that the Bible is the Word of God. Not that it 'contains' it, but that it is the Word of God, uniquely inspired and inerrant. The Protestant Reformers believed not only that the Bible contained the revelation of God's truth to men, but that God safeguarded the truth by controlling the men who wrote it by the Holy Spirit, and that He kept them from error and from blemishes and from anything that was wrong…It is either this Book, or else it is ultimately the authority of the Church of Rome and her 'tradition'!” (From a sermon on Ephesians 6.14)

The error Dr. Lloyd-Jones is refuting is the belief that the Bible “contains” the Word of God but is not coterminous with it. But there is a further consideration to be made in this respect. I am referring to the extent of the inspiration, or put another way: Is the inspiration transferred to subsequent copies? Our reply is that the original manuscripts, also known as the autographs were inspired. Mistakes in copy and translation cannot make claim this original inspiration. A copy or translation is only authoritative inasmuch as it faithfully reproduces the autograph. The accuracy of the copies is a subject for further study, but it can be honestly said that although our 20th century translations do not possess original inspiration, they do possess a derived inspiration insofar as they are faithful to the original.

Critics have asserted that since the autographs are not extant, it cannot be held that the originals were inerrant. Our response is that Inerrancy is not an empirically known fact. It is a belief based upon what the Bible teaches regarding its own inspiration. Even though no infallible originals have been discovered, neither have any fallible originals been discovered. What we do have are very accurately copied manuscripts that have been adequately translated into other languages. Thus for all matters of doctrine and practice, toady’s Bible is an adequate representation of the authoritative word of God.

III What is the degree of inspiration?
There are four general theories with their own differing variations.

1. There is what is called the Mechanical theory. This theory claims that the inspired persons were involuntary, passive instruments. This has also sometimes been referred to as the Verbal Dictation method of inspiration.
2. There is a Differing Degrees of Inspiration theory. According to this theory, the degree of inspiration is greater or less depending upon the importance of the matter addressed.
3. There is the theory of spiritual insight. This is the theory of the rationalists and the so-called “higher critics.” The “inspiration” of this theory simply puts the writer into sympathy with the truth to be communicated. This does not guard him against liability to error in communication.
4. There is, lastly, the Dynamical theory. It asserts that both the thought and language are imparted by inspiring influence to the inspired author but in such a way as not to exclude or override the voluntary faculties of the human mind, which include the individual peculiarities of thought and language unique to the human authors.

As far as orthodox evangelical Protestants are concerned, the first and fourth theories are the only viable ones.

The biggest problem with the verbal dictation theory is that it seems a bit underhanded of God to let books be written in the names of authors who were really nothing more than photocopiers. On top of this there are the obvious characteristics of the individual writers’ styles. How is this to be accounted for without charging God with some sort of play-acting? The only verbal dictation theorist who has evaded this charge openly is John R. Rice. In his book Our God-Breathed Book – The Bible, he disclaims that this theory must necessarily be mechanical. Rice argues that God gave the dictation through the distinct personalities of authors, who God had providentially formed for this very purpose. God was then able, according to Rice, to give word-by-word dictation using the predetermined vocabularies of the different authors. This does not remove the above difficulty; it only hides it under a deeper layer. Proponents of this theory have appealed to recent phenomena like the so-called Bible Code. This is a weak appeal, in my opinion. The codes are necessarily arbitrary – as codes frequently are. This Code theory has been debunked by numerous scholars, many of whom are Jewish. Furthermore, if the fourth theory is correct, this appeal is not needed, even if the Bible Code theory were true.

On this fourth theory, A.H. Strong, in his Systematic Theology takes the view that is sometimes called conceptual inspiration. Strong means that God inspired the concepts, but not the particular literary expression. In other words, God provided the inspiration and the men of God gave it a verbal expression characteristic of their own styles. This resolves all the difficulties raised by the verbal dictation theory. It explains why the writings repeatedly tell us what, “saith the Lord,” while they claim to be the words of this or that prophet. Both are true. God is the Author of Scripture in the primary sense; but the human authors are true authors in a secondary sense. This does not violate the Divine or the human causality; both are real and are not contradictory to each other or exclusive of each other.

III Support for the Biblical Claim for Inspiration.

There are two lines of evidence to be considered on this question: the internal evidence and the external evidence. The internal evidence may be delineated as follows:
• Evidence of self-vindicating authority. This means that the Bible can vindicate its own authority once its voice is heard.
• Evidence of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is confirmed to His children by His Spirit.
• Evidence from the transforming ability of the Bible. It has the ability to convert the unbeliever and build up the believer in the faith
• Evidence of the unity of the Bible. Despite the fact that it was written by forty authors over the course of fifteen hundred years in several languages, it has an obvious unity of theme and exposition. Not a single point anywhere is contradicted by any other passage.

The external evidence may be listed as follows:
• Evidence from the historicity of the Bible. The Bible is historical and is therefore open to verification. This is done through archeological artifacts and written documents. Donald Wiseman writes, “The geography of Bible lands and visible remains of antiquity were gradually recorded until today (1958) more than 25,000 sites within this region and dating to Old Testament times, in their broadest sense, have been located.” (Revelation and the Bible). The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls makes an important point: there are more manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments than from any other book from antiquity.
• Evidence from the testimony of Christ. If Christ possesses any authority or integrity as a religious teacher, then the Scriptures are inspired. This can be demonstrated by His use of Scripture:
1. He knew the Scriptures thoroughly, even to words and verb tenses. He obviously had either memorized vast portions or knew it instinctively: John 7:15.
(Jesus need not verify every passage in the Canon or else we would find the whole Old Testament re-quoted in the New Testament, which is unnecessary. He verifies enough of it to assure us of complete approval of it all, including passages from all but a few books. Yet those also were in His Canon. He did not refute any of them.)
2. He believed every word of Scripture. All the prophecies concerning Himself were fulfilled, and He believed beforehand they would be.
3. He believed the Old Testament was historical fact. This is very clear, even though from the Creation (cf. Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:4, 5) onward. Much of what Jesus believed has long been under fire from the critics as being mere fiction. Here are some examples of historical facts from the Old Testament attested to by Jesus:
• Luke 11:51 Abel was a real individual
• Matthew. 24:37-39 Noah and the flood (Luke 17:26, 27)
• John 8:56-58 Abraham
• Matthew 10:15; 11:23, 24 (Luke 10:12) Sodom and Gomorrah
• Luke 17:28-32 Lot (and wife!)
• Matthew 8:11 Isaac and Jacob (Luke 13:28)
• John 6:31, 49, 58 Manna
• John 3:14 Serpent
• Matthew 12:39-41 Jonah (vs.42 - Sheba)
• Matthew 24:15 Daniel and Isaiah

4. He believed the books were written by the men whose names they bear:
• Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Torah): Matthew 19:7, 8; Mark 7:10, 12:26 ("Book of Moses" the Torah); Luke 5:14; 16:29, 31; 24:27, 44 ("Christ's Canon"); John 1:17; 5:45, 46; 7:19; ("The Law [Torah] was given by Moses; Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ.")
• Isaiah wrote Isaiah: Mark 7:6-13; John 12:37-41.
• Jonah wrote Jonah: Matthew 12:39-41.
• Daniel wrote Daniel: Matthew 24:15.
5. He believed the Old Testament was spoken by God Himself, or written by the Holy Spirit's inspiration, even though the pen was held by men: Matthew 19:4, 5; 22:31, 32, 43; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37.
6. He believed Scripture was more powerful than His miracles: Luke 16:29, 31.
7. He actually quoted it in overthrowing Satan! The O.T. Scriptures were the arbiter in every dispute: Matthew 4; Luke 16:29, 31.
8. He quoted Scripture as the basis for his own teaching. His ethics were the same as what we find already written in Scripture: Matthew 7:12; 19:18, 19; 22:40; Mark 7:9, 13; 10:19; 12:24,29-31; Luke 18:20.
9. He warned against replacing it with something else, or adding or subtracting from it. The Jewish leaders in His day had added to it with their Oral Traditions: Matthew 5:17; 15:1-9; 22:29; (cf. 5:43,44); Mark. 7:1-12. (Destroying faith in the Bible as God's Word will open the door today to a "new" Tradition.)
10. He will judge all men in the last day, as Messiah and King, on the basis of His infallible Word committed to writing by fallible men, guided by the infallible Holy Spirit: Matthew 25:31; John 5:22, 27; 12:48; Romans 2:16.
11. He made provision for the New Testament by sending the Holy Spirit. We must note that He Himself never wrote one word of Scripture although He is the Word of God Himself (the living Torah in flesh and blood, see John, chapter 1). He committed the task of all writing of the Word of God to fallible men guided by the infallible Holy Spirit. The apostles' words had the same authority as Christ's: Matthew 10:14, 15; Luke 10:16; John 13:20; 14:22; 15:26, 27; 16:12-14.
12. He not only was not jealous of the attention men paid to the Bible (denounced as "bibliolatry" by some), He reviled them for their ignorance of it: Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24.
13. Nor did Jesus worship Scripture. He honored it even though written by men.
The above leaves no room but to conclude that our Lord Jesus Christ considered the canon of Scripture as God's Word, written by the hand of men.

• Evidence from prophecy. Hundreds of prophecies, given hundreds of years in advance have literally been fulfilled.
• Evidence from the Bible’s influence. No book has been more widely disseminated or has more greatly influenced the events of world history. It has influenced more thought, inspired more art and motivated more discovery than any other book. It has been published in billions of copies. There are no close seconds as an all-time best seller.
• Evidence from the Bible’s apparent indestructibility. No book has sustained more violent attacks. As early as 303, Diocletian tried to exterminate it. The Bible remains strong as ever after every attack. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:31)
• Evidence from the integrity of the human authors. There is no good evidence to doubt that the authors were honest and sincere men.
There are other possible arguments, but the weight of the case can rest on these.
Tomorrow we will deal with the Bible's authority.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Parable of the Sower - Unconditional Election Affirmed

I wish to use Christ’s Parable of the Sower to demonstrate some important points regarding the preaching of the Gospel to the lost and the subsequent harvesting of their souls into the Church. Most importantly, I want to us to notice how prominently Election figures into the parable.

I have heard numerous evangelistic sermons on the Parable of the Sower. They all share the same idea that the unsaved listeners should not let the devil steal away what they have heard or that they should put down good, deep roots, etc. I want to stress first of all that I believe this is a totally erroneous interpretation of the parable. Jesus’ own presentation of the parable, and especially His explanation of it, should prove this fact.

Jesus tells us several important facts in this parable.

  • Who is the Sower?

The Sower is not the preacher: it is Christ. It is Christ Himself who tells us this (Matt. 13:37). Whenever a pastor, evangelist or missionary preaches the Gospel, he is merely participating in Christ’s work. If we were to stretch the parabolic analogy we might say that the preacher is the hole in the seed pouch from where the seed falls. In theological circles there is what is referred to as the General calling and the Effectual calling. This parable serves to demonstrate that truth. Some of the seed falls in general areas and some of it falls in specifically designated places where it attains the desired result. The proclamation of the Gospel and the command to repent are to be given by the preacher to everyone without distinction. The Book of Acts finds Paul preaching in synagogues, city squares and at the Areopagus. The distinction between those who are elect and non-elect is not ours to make. It is Christ who decides who is good soil and who is not.

  • How does he sow?

Christ did not use parables as sermon illustrations – quite the opposite. It is considered an indispensable skill for a preacher to have a massive arsenal of illustrations at his disposal in order to make his points more understandable to his hearers. Christ used His parables in order to make His message intelligible to a specific group among His hearers and unintelligible to the rest. Jesus explicitly says, “[I]t is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matt. 13:11-13) Christ spoke in such a way as to give illumination to those He had chosen to salvation and to hide the truth from those who were not chosen. Few, if any preachers understand this skill today.

Let me emphasize again that it is Christ who does this: He is the Sower. Hence when we preach the Gospel, the Spirit either opens the listeners’ minds, thus making the message intelligible and effectual, or He simply leaves their minds in the innate darkness of their own fallen state, a condition in which understanding spiritual truths in impossible since they are spiritually discerned.

  • Where does He sow and/or not sow?

The seed stolen by the birds, that which fell on the rocks, and that which fell on thorny ground, was not sown! I cannot stress enough how vital this point is. The only seed that was actually sown was that which was taken by the Sower to good ground; the rest simply “fell” in various places. No farmer with an IQ above 6⅞ would purposely sow seed on the roadside, on stones or among thorns. Surely we must assume as much of Christ. When Christ the Sower set out to sow His seed He did not begin the actual, intentional work of sowing seed until He reached the designated plot of good ground. This fact illustrates the doctrine of Election. Election precedes foreknowledge. The farmer foreknows where his crops will grow precisely because he has already chosen the plot of land in which to plant them.

Imagine a farmer in his tractor driving out to the field where he plans to sow seed. It is not unimaginable that some seed (perhaps even a lot of seed) might spill out along the way. Furthermore, it is not improbable that some of the seed might be a free lunch to birds or that some of the seed might actually sprout up briefly. But none of us would be so foolhardy as to imagine a flaw in the seed or the farmer when these seeds fail to produce fruit. And the farmer would certainly not be disappointed when he couldn’t harvest fruit in the middle of the road or out in the gravel driveway! None but the seeds actually planted in the pre-appointed field are expected to produce a harvest.

  • How is the ground made good?

We must also hasten to point out that the receptivity of the soil is not its own doing. The farmer purposely plants in good soil. But no soil is good in and of itself. It must be first prepared by the farmer. He first picks out a plot suitable to his designs. He then begins to break up the fallow ground. He removes anything that might already be growing in this field. He ploughs the chosen plot and does other necessary preparations such as adding fertilizer. Theologically, there are massive implications here. The plot of land was chosen purely because the farmer in a sovereignty of his own decided that that particular piece of land fit best with his plans. The ground was not chosen because it was already good land. It was made so after it was chosen.

Here is where the flaw in the aforementioned evangelistic sermons becomes apparent. When the preacher warns his unregenerate audience to guard the Word so that the devil doesn’t steal it away, or to put down good roots by not being caught up in the cares of the world, he betrays a exceedingly defective misunderstanding of the parable. He operates on the faulty assumption that all ground is created equal. This is patently false. No one in the world, let alone a farmer, would assume that the growing potential of a well-trodden roadside is equal to a properly cultivated field. The Parable of the Sower is an explanation of how the Gospel proclamation works with regard to the elect and non-elect. It is not a Gospel proclamation itself. Not recognizing this distinction must certainly be the source of this common misinterpretation. Chaos would ensue if we interpreted other similar parables the same way. Just image how bizarrely the Gospel would appear if you tried to expound it based on the Parable of the Lost Sheep. What nonsense would ensue from telling sinners that they must go out looking for the lost sheep! The main reason that this Parable of the Sower is misinterpreted is because the mistaken exegesis lines up too easily with Arminian soteriology.

  • Who is responsible for the seed’s growth?

The seed is not expected to be fruitful in the undesignated areas. No farmer is disappointed because his crops do not grow out in the wild, uncultivated fields. He is not troubled because the seeds that accidentally, as it were, fell out in unsuitable places did not bear fruit. Christ did not represent the Seed as being ineffective. Rather, He blamed the deadness of the soil for the lack of fruitfulness. There is a significant theological truth here as well. The preaching of the Word is not to be considered an invitation, but a declaration. The Seed is effective in the areas where it did not grow: It serves to judge the unbelief of the impenitent hearers. We have become so results-oriented that we forget that the responsibility for fruit, indeed the fate of the Gospel, is not in our hands. God is sovereign and His plan will be fulfilled through our work or despite our work. Luther once said something to the effect that the growth of the Church would go on as God intended whether he were preaching or drinking a beer! This is a typical Luther statement, but it is most certainly true. Jeremiah the prophet preached for forty years and had, so far as we know, only two converts: his scribe Baruch, and an Ethiopian named Ebed-melech. He wouldn’t be invited to any church-growth seminars! William Carey labored in India for seven years before he saw his first convert. In a classic passage, St. Paul says,"I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1 Cor 3:6). In other words, regardless of who does the work and what work they do, the success of it ultimately lies in God’s sovereign power.

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