Saturday, May 29, 2010

Background Information Part 2

On April 3, I wrote a post about my family's situation. Obviously, some time has passed and more paperwork has been done and more hoops have been jumped through.

I am pleased to announce that earlier today I was able to book tickets for my wife and our two daughters. They will be arriving in the States on June 26.

It has been a very long road - 2 1/2 years to be exact. God is good and He has sustained us through all the difficulties that we have encountered as a family and as individuals during this period.

The picture above was taken before I left the Philippines. Our youngest daughter just turned 4. So that should give you an idea of what we've missed.

I am grateful for all the prayers and help we've received through this difficult stage.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, May 28, 2010

I Can't See Their Hearts

I have been irritated lately. I have heard a dozen or so comments from various people that have just really angered me. I’ve already tipped my hand by the title of this post. Yes, it’s about this lily-livered, spineless, relativistic, “who-am-I-to-judge-anyone” attitude that has infected, or should I say, infested much of so-called Christian thought. Much more could be said that I will say, but there are some huge flaws that this mindset betrays.

First of all, it is based on the assumption that truth is subjective. That idea in and of itself is absolutely idiotic. I don’t know of a nicer way to put it. It is so fashionable for people to say that what is right for one person may not be right for someone else. But this is sheer idiocy and hypocrisy. If a person, outside the Christian faith wants to believe such drivel, I say, let them. Paul said we didn’t judge those outside the Church. But, for a person who claims Christianity to hold to such a philosophy is unpardonable. Christianity means nothing if it doesn’t mean it absolutely.

The world has been turned on its head by this relativistic mindset. G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, remarks that we were meant to be sure of the truth and doubtful of ourselves, but we have reversed the order. It is considered arrogant to make exclusive truth claims. Classic Christianity is too “narrow” because it views all other religions as false and holds that no one who does not believe in Christ is or will be saved. Period! Somehow it has been portrayed as humble to be doubtful or, at least, to not be insistent about the exclusive claims of Christianity about salvation and sin. What kills me though is that the same people who are so “modest” and “humble” as to doubt God’s Word, are the same ones who are unspeakably confident in themselves. The only reason that the subversive Emergents reject the exclusivist claims of Christianity, is because they place their own minds above God’s. Chesterton quipped that we are well on our way to producing a race of men too modest to believe in the multiplication table!

But it gets uglier. As my title suggests, I’m particularly irritated by the Osteen-esque refusal to pin oneself down theologically by appealing to this wimpy, “I Can’t See Their Hearts,” copout. Say what you like, but this is nothing other than a denial of sin. It is based on the false, anti-Christian belief that all men are essential good. It is assumed that regardless of how a person lives or believes, as long as he has a “good heart” then nothing else matters. But there’s the rub. Scripture claims that NO ONE has a good heart. Outside of Christ, everyone is vile, corrupt, wicked and perverse. The noblest unbeliever is on a greased slide to hell.

Here’s a short sample of what God says, and incidentally, He can see the heart.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer. 17:9

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

I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Gen. 8:21

Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. Job 14:4

Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Ps. 51:5

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil. Jer. 13:23

Peter tells us that the spurious believer is "in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." Acts 8:23

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

All men are by nature children of wrath.... and dead in trespasses and sins. Eph. 2:1, 3

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spurgeon on False Doctrine

"I have not much patience with a certain class of Christians nowadays who will hear anybody preach so long as they can say, ‘He is very clever, a fine preacher, a man of genius, a born orator.’ Is cleverness to make false doctrine palatable? Why, sirs, to me the ability of a man who preaches error is my sorrow rather than my admiration.

“I cannot endure false doctrine, however neatly it may be put before me. Would you have me eat poisoned meat because the dish is of the choicest ware? It makes me indignant when I hear another gospel put before the people with enticing words, by men who would fain make merchandise of souls; and I marvel at those who have soft words for such deceivers.

“‘That is your bigotry,’ says one. Call it so if you like, but it is the bigotry of the loving John who wrote—‘If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.’

“I would to God we had all more of such decision, for the lack of it is depriving our religious life of its backbone and substituting for honest manliness a mass of the tremulous jelly of mutual flattery.

“He who does not hate the false does not love the true; and he to whom it is all the same whether it be God's word or man's, is himself unrenewed at heart. Oh, if some of you were like your fathers you would not have tolerated in this age the wagon loads of trash under which the gospel has been of late buried by ministers of your own choosing. You would have hurled out of your pulpits the men who are enemies to the fundamental doctrines of your churches, and yet are crafty enough to become your pastors and undermine the faith of a fickle and superficial generation." —C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Repentance isn't Meritorious

“God will not pardon for repentance, nor yet without it.” Thomas Watson

This is an amazing statement. Few authors match Watson for his ability to convey so much meaning in so few words.

Surely Watson is right. For most of my life I have heard about repentance. After all, I grew up in a Christian home. I was a missionary kid. I served as a missionary and pastor. I find it interesting though that I never heard that repentance was not meritorious. I never cease to be amazed at people who say that salvation is “not by works” then slip some work in the back door.

Our salvation is, as the Reformers put it, sola fide, - by faith alone. But it is important to point out that even this faith is a gift from God. It is not a work which we do that then enables us to be saved. Salvation is of the Lord. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Another Puritan, Thomas Taylor, put it this way, “We are not saved for believing but by believing.”

Taylor’s point is exactly the same as Watson’s. God saves us by faith and we exhibit our saving faith when we repent. He does not save us because we have repented, as if that earned us some points with Him. Neither does He save us because we believe. It is by faith, not because of it that we are saved.

In the classic, Cur Deus Homo, Anselm warns his audience, “You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin.” To think that sin is something that can be atoned for by repentance is to underestimate the sinfulness of sin. God requires repentance, but salvation isn’t earned by it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Has Church Discipline Been Outmoded?

One of the greatest quandaries faced by contemporary pastors is the thorny issue of discipline. While this paper is far too short to deal with all the relevant questions, we will try to make a few suggestions and amend a few misconceptions along the way.

There was a time in the history of the Church when discipline was definite and specific. When one reads the works of Tertullian in the early Third Century and Basil a century later, one sees a definite plan and a prescribed method for dealing with all sorts of incidents. The early Church used a practice known as exomologesis. While this practice is difficult to define precisely, it is clear that it was founded on the desire to obey the command of Scripture to, “bring forth fruit in accord with repentance.”1 Various sins were dealt with by a predefined set of disciplinary actions intended to be a corrective to the sinner and a deterrent to the weak and tempted. 2 The chastisement usually involved public confession and exclusion from the Lord’s Table during a specific period of time to be determined at the bishop’s discretion.

Time both weakened and corrupted this practice. By the Middle Ages, punishments were prescribed by the priests upon a person’s confession that were intended to be a payment or propitiation for their sin. Thus by the Fourteenth Century, the Church was inundated with a host of merit-earning and sin-atoning devotional forms and acts. This was partly because rules about various forms of correction were frequently used in the monasteries. 3 This created the notion that these acts were the provenance of the spiritually superior. Once this happened, the purveyors of this “discipline” began to believe they were superior.

There were two basic flaws in the thinking that pervaded the Church in the Middle Ages with regard to discipline, and these two problems are still prevalent in our day. This first is a misconception about the meaning of the word “discipline.” Discipline should be understood, first and foremost, as a “molding or shaping of character toward a desired end.” It is the process whereby someone is made into what they should be. However, the word has almost always been understood in the sense of “punishment.” While this is inherent in the word, it is only a secondary meaning. The word “discipline” comes from the word disciple, i.e., matqhthv - a learner, a student, a follower. Thus discipline is not mere punishment. That is only one of several means of attaining its end.

The second flaw is treating the mis-defined discipline as meritorious. In Catholic theology, devotional activities, such as prayers, are prescribed as payment for sin. The result is that people instinctively dislike devotional activities because they associate them with punishment. And people begin to believe that their “Hail Marys” earn them favor with God. The result is a thoroughly Pelagian theology that does not need the sacrifice of Christ because each sinner can and must pay for his own sins. Penitence was replaced with penance. Starting in 1215, penance at least once a year was made compulsory. 4 Then the whole understanding was developed in a new way which was eventually codified at the Council of Trent, when penance was made a sacrament.

If we can first overcome these wrong conceptions of discipline, we can then move forward to a positive implementation of true discipline in our church communities.

The first step in implementing discipline is self-discipline on the part of the shepherd. Self-discipline is indispensable. As water cannot rise above its source, so no church will be better disciplined that its pastor. In his classic work on the duties of the clergy, St. Ambrose, Augustine’s mentor, spent the first fifty chapters discussing the private character of the leader himself! 5

The second step a leader can take as a foundation to effective discipline is to instill into his congregation a deep sense of belonging. How effectively this can be attained by means of a membership process is perhaps outside the scope of this paper, but there is no doubt that a meaningful membership structure is of utmost importance. Without this, erring members will simply float away rather than stay and face correctional action.

This brings us to a most peculiar difficulty. The very possibility of correctional action in severe cases has been effectively eroded because of disunity. Before the Great Schism of 1054, a person under disciplinary action anywhere in the world was under the censure of the worldwide Church. When the East and West divided, they no longer recognized the legitimacy of each other’s corrective policies. After the Reformation, the situation was worsened because the Protestant churches began to disagree and split into ever smaller factions. This has in point of fact declawed the lion. Punishment no longer stings. A person censured in one congregation can simply pull up stakes and move to another one. More likely than not, the new church will sympathize with the person and disregard his former pastor’s decision. I am personally aware of cases where a member has committed a grievously immoral sin. When the individual was expelled from the church, this person simply moved down the road a few kilometers and was received with open arms into another church – only to repeat the cycle there too. It is rather sad that only cults and the Roman Church can effectively excommunicate members if the need arises.

If we can’t resolve on a method of effectual expulsion or correction in extreme cases, we must not lose heart and forsake all attempts at discipline.

It is for this reason that many pastors opt for a short-cut. Christian leaders are increasingly applying principles from the corporate world to the Church. Thus they are often like elusive or self-important CEOs. It is assumed, rather erroneously, that this pompous air will fill people with fear or respect for the aloof leader. The people will be less likely to cause trouble thus lessening the need for his involvement in their daily lives.

The second short-cut is the megalomaniacal method that is becoming frighteningly more common. Many pastors enforce draconian policies through Machiavellian leadership tactics in order to attain discipline in the church. Rather than be servants of God and His people, they are “Kim Jung-Il” type dictators. This is the coward’s way of achieving discipline and it pushes the church in the realm of the cultic. This is a particular problem in countries where the Roman church is dominant. People are born and raised on the Roman philosophy that the priesthood speaks directly for God and must therefore never be doubted of questioned. As far as I know, no evangelical pastor would claim infallibility like the Pope, but many pastors behave as if they possess it. Matters of doctrine and practice can never be discussed because “Rome has spoken,” i.e., the pastor has given his declaration on the matter and any question is regarded as a challenge to his authority.

This is a perilous situation – for both sides. As Philippine patriot Jose Rizal noted in his Letter to the Maidens of Malolos, “The priests are emboldened to command vile things because of the people blindly obey.” 6 Once people surrender their reasoning and discerning powers, there is no end to the evil they can be driven to do. Ron Enroth 7 has documented many churches and para-church organizations that have run into the grossest of immorality (wife-swapping, incest, group sex, etc.) by the direct command of the leader/pastor, who usually claims to be speaking with full Divine inspiration and/or authority. Unquestioned power is a drug to its possessor, creating an insuperable addiction that, barring Divine intervention, is impossible to surrender.

The key word that should define discipline in our minds is: Structure. A disciplined life is a structured life. We discipline our children by setting guidelines and limitations they are expected to abide by. If we decide that their bedtime is 8 pm; then we must consistently put them to bed at 8 pm. If they are not to watch television until their homework is finished, we must always enforce this policy and be consistent about it – despite their protests until the habit is ingrained into their character. It becomes instantly apparent that more “discipline” is required on the part of the parent than the child. They are simply made to do as we command; we must be habitual and consistent – or else all is lost. “Hit and miss” discipline creates only confusion and anger.

The second keyword is Humility. St Peter warns us about “lording it over” 8 the church. And immediately after this he admonishes us to humility because “God resists the proud.” 9 A pastorate is not a vice-presidency at a Swiss bank! And by the example of Christ himself who washed His disciples’ feet, 10 we are walking in great foolishness when we begin to exalt ourselves with various forms of ostentatiousness. It is true that we are commanded to respect those in authority in the church, 11 but this is a far cry from demanding blind, unquestioning obedience. We are all aware of the blasphemous way Benny Hinn and his ilk have interpreted, “touch not mine anointed.” 12 Unfortunately scores of otherwise orthodox pastors have unwittingly fallen victim to this same corruption of Biblical leadership. Many pastors never verify the legitimacy of such an interpretation and so falsely assume that pastors are spiritually superior to “average” Christians. This is a reversion to Roman Catholic priesthood. The Bible teaches what Luther called “The Priesthood of the Believer.” 13 As pastors, we are not to act as if we are the congregation’s mediator between them and God and we are not to allow them to think so either.

Of course, Love must not be neglected. Jesus spoke rather harshly to His disciples at times. 14 But their final analysis was, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” 15 People will endure strict discipline if they are thoroughly convinced that it is being done out of love. You cannot correct a man you don’t love – and he knows that too. This is why I mentioned the importance of a sense of belonging. If people do not have a deep sense that they really and truly belong, they will not believe the sincerity of any form of correction and will most likely leave rather than face the potential embarrassment. 

No leader can afford to be without Wisdom. The Bible refers to God's people as “sheep.” 16 Someone has cleverly quipped, “Sheep are dumb.” Sheep certainly do not have a reputation as the most intelligent creatures on four legs. There was a reason why the Scripture chose to identify God's people with these creatures. It is for this reason that a leader cannot be without great practical and Biblical wisdom. People are by nature gullible. The world’s plethora of harebrained superstitions is testimony to that fact. If people hear anything long enough they will start to believe it. The biggest fool in the congregation is the pastor if he doesn’t realize this fact. The media has people believing that the secret to happiness is found in a soft drink and that every pubescent sexual fantasy imaginable can be attained by the use of the right body spray. We are absolutely crazy if we think that people aren’t naïve in doctrinal matters too. 

Another keyword is Impartiality. The leader must establish structure, but he must be ruthlessly neutral. By His own character, God warns us against favoritism. 17 The moment equality is compromised meaningful discipline goes out the window. Impartiality is easier said than done. We all have “favorites.” But we dare not let these feelings cause us to treat some people’s sins lighter than the same sins in others (especially those we don’t really like). The Bible warns against such unbalanced judgment. 18

Finally, leaders must be Conciliatory. The ultimate goal in any punitive action is the eventual restoration of the erring individual. The person is not punished so that the leader can flex his muscles and feel important. Nor is the congregation to treat the erring person as a leper after the period of correction is finished. St Paul makes this extremely clear to the Corinthian church. 19 Paul unhesitatingly demanded that the sinning man be excommunicated immediately. But his motive was the eventual restoration of the man’s relationship to God and the church.

In conclusion, we return to our earlier remark: Self-discipline is indispensable. The task of shaping, molding and forming the character of those under our charge requires more out of us that it does of those under our care. They may never even realize that fact. Without self-discipline, chaos and destruction will reign. 20 We must be structured; we must be humble; we must be loving, wise, fair and conciliatory. Without these ingredients, there can be no meaningful discipline in our Christian communities.

1. Mat. 3:8
2 One can see examples of such things in Basil of Caesarea, Letter CXCIX, to Amphlilochus, concerning the Canons.
3. See The Rule of St. Benedict
4. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “Penance”
5. Ambrose, On The Duties of the Clergy, Bk. 1
6. Jose Rizal, Letter to the Maidens of Malolos
7. Ron Enroth, Churches That Abuse
8. 1 Pet. 5:3
9. 1 Pet. 5:5
10. John 13:14
11. Heb. 13:11
12. Ps, 105:15, cf. 1 Sam. 24:6
13. 1 Pet. 2:9
14. see Mat. 16:23; Mk. 4:13
15. John 6:68 ASV
16. Psalm 23:1ff; 74:1; 78:52; 79:13, etc.
17. Romans 2:11
18. Proverbs 11:1; 16:11; 20:10, 23
19. 2 Cor. 2:5-8 cf. 1 Cor. 5:5-12
20. Proverbs 25:28

Monday, May 24, 2010

Preaching Election

There’s a story about a minister who preached the truth about Election to his church. He gradually began to see the consequences of it in terms of his own congregation, which was like the mixed crowd that went up out of Egypt when Israel was "born" as a people of God. He saw many of them taking offense when this truth was brought up and began to fear for them lest they leave the church. The result of this, of course, would be a dangerous reduction in the church's finances. This would also harm his reputation as a pleasant, sensitive and open-minded man. Slowly he began to turn from the Word of God and one day said with strong emphasis, "If teaching doctrine is going to split my congregation, I'll never preach doctrine again."

What did this really indicate? What is "doctrine"? Doctrine is teaching, instruction; and Biblical doctrine is teaching what the Bible says. So here we have a minister of the Gospel who determines in his heart and promises publicly that he will never again teach what the Bible teaches about the true nature of man, about the true meaning of the Gospel, and about the real significance of God’s sovereign grace. How long can the Church of God remain a force in the world when its pastors depart so far from following the pattern set by the Shepherd of souls?

But when does one meet the topic of Election head on and proclaim it as an essential part of the Gospel? How does one present it? Traditionally, Calvinism starts with the Total Depravity of man and not as Arminianism does with man's alleged capability to exercise saving faith on his own. Such a capacity, Arminians have held, is what God foresees and makes the basis of Election. But this places man in the position of being able to cooperate with God, actually of being needed by God in a cooperative capacity before his salvation can be effected. In a very real sense man becomes his own savior, though not without God's help. This is patently false!

On the contrary, the Biblical view of man is best epitomized by the term Total Spiritual Inability. If we start here we will most reasonably move on to the question of why God should be interested in man at all. From this we ask, “If man's salvation is wholly dependent upon the will of God, on what basis did God then decide to save certain individuals but not others?” You see, there is a certain logic to the ordering of the questions in the whole Calvinist position and above all it is a system so deeply rooted in Scripture that it can justifiably be identified with the Gospel itself. Calvinism is the Gospel and to teach Calvinism is in fact to preach the Gospel.

The opinion of the great Christian warriors of the past 1900 years has been amazingly consistent in this. They have never questioned the aptness or the need of openly proclaiming the sovereignty of God's grace. Certainly Paul's Epistles make no apology, nor does Peter. John's Gospel is equally unequivocal in the matter.

Augustine was straightforward indeed. In his De Bono Perseveratiae he affirms that the preaching of the Gospel and the preaching of Predestination are but two sides of the same coin. (1) He is very explicit in this matter. In his correspondence with Prosper and Hilary, written about 428/9 A.D., he acknowledges (2) that people were saying that since the doctrine of Predestination clearly implies that some will receive the Word and will obey and will come into the faith and persevere in it, while others "are lingering in the delight of their sins."…If one is predestinated to be chosen though as yet still unsaved he will receive the necessary grace to believe in any case, and therefore won't need exhortation. If, on the other hand, a man is predestinated to be rejected he will not receive the strength to obey the Gospel and threatenings will serve no purpose. Augustine replies: “Although these things are true, they ought not to deter us from confessing the grace of God…For if on the hearing of this some should be turned to torpor and slothfulness, and from striving should go headlong into lust after their own desires, is it therefore to be counted that what has been said about the foreknowledge of God is false? If God has foreknown that they will be good, will they not be good whatever the depth of evil in which they now engage? And if He has foreknown them for evil, will they not be evil whatever goodness may now be discerned in them?”

The basic problem is whether the abuse of the truth should encourage us to prefer error. Will not error be a greater evil in the long run? And so Augustine’s solution is: Weigh in the balance what will cause the greatest harm: to deny a truth to one able to bear it and be greatly profited thereby merely to prevent further harm to one who is already injured by ignorance of the truth, or alternatively, to do such good to the understanding of the one able to bear it that it outweighs the harm done to the one without understanding. And if it is a matter of permanently benefiting the saved while possibly causing temporary harm to the unsaved, our first responsibility must be to the saved. If there is a choice of doing good to the one or the other, the saved or the unsaved, and it is not possible to do good to both at the same time, we must follow Paul's injunction to do good as far as possible to all men, but "especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (3)

Luther was equally convinced that God did not plan the truth of Predestination and Election to be buried in secrecy. He said to Erasmus: “Where, alas, are your fear and reverence of the Deity when you roundly declare that this branch of truth which He has revealed from heaven is, at best, useless and unnecessary to be known. What? Shall the glorious Creator be taught by you his creature what is fit to be preached and what to be suppressed? Is the adorable God so very defective in wisdom and prudence as not to know till you instruct Him what would be useful and what pernicious? Or could not He whose understanding is infinite, foresee, previous to His revelation of this doctrine, what would be the consequence of his revealing it until these consequences were pointed out by you? You cannot dare to say this!” (4)

Luther's contemporary, Martin Bucer, shared his views concerning the preaching of this doctrine. In his Commentary on Ephesians Bucer wrote: "There are some who affirm that election is not to be mentioned publicly to the people. But they judge wrongly.... Take away the remembrance and consideration of our election, and then, good God! What weapons would be left to us wherewith to resist the temptations of Satan?"

Even Melancthon, one of the less dogmatic of the Reformers, in his work entitled The Common Places (5) treats of free will and predestination by first of all establishing that it is both a necessary and a useful doctrine in many ways, both to be asserted and believed. In fact, he goes so far as to say: "A right fear of God and a true confidence in Him can be learned more assuredly from no other source than from the doctrine of predestination."

Calvin no doubt believed this doctrine was to be preached and not merely believed. In a tract entitled The Eternal Predestination of God, which he published in 1552 in reply to certain criticisms of his openness in declaring his faith, he wrote: ”I would in the first place entreat my readers carefully to bear in mind the admonition which I offer [in the Institutes]: that this great subject is not as many imagine a mere thorny disputation, nor a speculation which wearies the minds of men without any profit; but a solid discussion eminently adapted to the service of the godly, because it builds us up soundly in the faith, trains us to humility, and lifts us up into an admiration of the unbounded goodness of God towards us, while it elevates us to praise this goodness in our highest strains.”

Benjamin B. Warfield wrote: “The biblical writers are as far as possible from obscuring the doctrine of election because of any seemingly unpleasant corollaries that flow from it. On the contrary, they expressly draw the corollaries which have often been so designated, and make them part of their explicit teaching. Their doctrine of election, they are free to tell us for example, does certainly involve a corresponding doctrine of preterition (i.e., of the omission of those not elect).” (6)

J. I. Packer has many prudent things to say on this matter. He argues that, “ far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility – indeed, the certainty - that evangelism will be fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen… Regarded as a human enterprise evangelism is a hopeless task. (7)

And though Augustine rightly said that some of the Lord's people are not yet ready to receive the deeper things of God, he also held firmly to the principle that the harm done by withholding this doctrine from the Lord's people is far greater than the danger of exposing the unregenerate to it. If a choice must be made, Election must be taught – for God has most certainly not concealed it in Scripture. Augustine was perfectly right when he said, "We must preach, we must reprove, we must pray, because they to whom grace is given will hear and act accordingly, though they to whom grace is not given will do neither." (8)

Such a spurious Gospel as we hear so often preached today leads to unreal conversions. The kind of conversions we often see passed off as the result of successful evangelism are more like the kind of conversion experiences which William James, the famous psychologist wrote about as occurring among unbelievers all over the world and throughout history. It is psychological rather than spiritual, and as long as it is initiated humanly this is all it will ever be. The best defense against such artificial forms of conversion is absolute faithfulness in the preaching of Election and the sovereign grace of God. In our present disturbed social setting the need for such faithfulness is greater than ever, and to suppose that falsehood is safer than the truth in such a crucial matter as Election is surely absurd.

1. Chapter 36 

2. Chapter 38
3. Gal. 6:10
4. Quoted in Jerome Zanchius, Absolute Predestination, p. 97
5. Chapter 1
6. Biblical and Theological Studies ("On Predestination")
7. Packer, The Sovereignty of God in Evangelism pp. 106, 109
8. On the Gift of Perseverance, XIV.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Practice of the Purity of the Visible Church

In treating this subject of the power of discipline in the Church, I have chosen to place it in the context of maintaining purity in the visible church. For this surely is one of the main purposes behind all ecclesiastical disciplinary practice. To this end we must first define our terms.

We are probably all familiar with terms like visible church, invisible church, church militant and church triumphant. Since the latter are not especially pertinent to our topic, we will restrict ourselves to the two former terms: visible church and invisible church.

By the term invisible church, we mean the entire Church comprised of the elect of all denominations. Since the term church triumphant is meant to refer to the saints who have already died, we restrict our meaning to the living saints. The invisible church is exclusively composed of true believers: God’s elect.

By the term visible church we mean the whole mass of individuals who attend church or are counted as members or attendees of any Christian congregation.

At this point a very important observation should be made: the invisible church is in the midst of the visible church. It is no secret that all congregations are a mixed crowd. Not everyone who attends Sunday worship is a true believer. We have a little saying in America that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a henhouse makes you a chicken! Any implementation of discipline in the Church should take into consideration this fact and conscientiously tackle this quandary.

This distinction is found repeatedly throughout Scripture. Paul tells us, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. 1 In fact, earlier in his Epistle, Paul says, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” 2 Jesus himself declared, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord…And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” 3

Israel, even during its periods of spiritual declension, always had a small remnant of faithful souls. God told Elijah that He had preserved a remnant of souls who had not bowed to Baal 4 Isaiah speaks of a remnant of Israel sixteen times. Throughout the history of the Church, even in her darkest days of apostasy, there was still a trace of faithful souls represented by the likes of Bernard of Clairveaux, Savanarola, Jan Huss, John Wycliffe, Jerome of Prague and Martin Luther. Having seen that the distinction exists, we now proceed to argue its relevance to the issue at hand, viz., the implementation of discipline. We must also hasten to elucidate that by discipline we do not mean merely punitive measures. Discipline should, above everything else, mean the setting up of a structured program intended to establish order and to mold and shape character.

It should be fairly obvious, on the strength of the foregoing definition that church discipline is intended for the benefit of the invisible church, but that it is applied to the visible church. By this we mean to say that the unconverted members of the visible church are not, nor are they to be considered the beneficiaries of ecclesiastical discipline. The beneficiaries are always the true elect of God: the members of the invisible church. Christ is returning for a spotless bride, without wrinkle, 5 terms which can by no means be applied to the visible church. Nevertheless, we have a moral responsibility, in faithfulness to the Heavenly Bridegroom, to strive to maintain purity in the visible church.

In speaking of purity, I am primarily concerned with orthodox theology. I believe that this is the primary purpose of discipline. The Corinthian church is a case in point. St. Paul called for the expulsion of a sinning member, but his directive was couched in a long refutation of false theology.

In 1970, the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer spoke to a national congress of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod on the subject of simultaneously exhibiting the holiness and the love of God. 6 His message details the implosion of the Northern Presbyterian Church in the United States in the 1930’s, due to a lack of discipline against false teaching.

In the late 1890’s, Dr. Briggs was put out of the ministry of the Presbyterian Church for being the first person to introduce modern Liberal Theology into Union Theological Seminary. But by the 1936 the Liberals defrocked Dr. J. Gresham Machen and put him out of the ministry. Schaeffer argues that the reason for such a change within the denomination was the fact that the leaders of the church waited far too long to apply discipline. And when they finally got up the courage to do so, it was too late: the Liberals had won the day.

Schaeffer argues that the Liberals have no right to the Church. The Church belongs to those who adhere to its Creeds and Confessions. One has no right to the Presbyterian ministry if he disbelieves the Westminster Confession of Faith. Tertullian used a similar argument against the heretics of his own day. He said that we should not allow them to use the Scriptures because the Scriptures belong to the true Church, not to the heretics. He says, “If in these lie their resources, before they can use them, it ought to be clearly seen to whom belongs the possession of the Scriptures, that none may be admitted to the use thereof who has no title at all to the privilege.” 7

When discipline is not applied swiftly and consistently, it can only wreak havoc in the church. And the Northern Presbyterian Church is a perfect illustration of this fact. In January of 1924, 150 Liberal theologians signed the Auburn Affirmation, which was a declaration of war by the Liberals against historic Christianity. 8 The Conservatives believed that the way to meet this was to get a conservative elected as moderator of the General Assembly. Later that year, they got a Bible-believing man, the Dr. Clarence Edward McCarthy, elected as Moderator in the General Assembly. Instead of disciplining the Liberals, the church tried diplomacy. The Liberals simply consolidated their power in the church bureaucracy. Within only a few years, the Liberals had kicked Machen out of the ministry and completely taken over control of the church and the seminaries.

It got so bad that many Bible-believing men began to exit the denomination. And here is where the real trouble began. Not all of the true Bible believers left at the same time. There was now a tension created – a polarization – between men who had stood side by side and fought together for years. This is where the importance of simultaneously exhibiting the holiness of God and the love of God comes into play. If we do not exhibit God’s holiness, we will compromise on every side. But, if we do not at the same time show forth God’s love, we will alienate our fellow believers who have not yet seen their way clear to leaving a corrupt church. Worse than that, we send a very ugly message to the world. Jesus told His disciples that the world had a right to judge whether or not they were truly His followers based on their love for each other. 9 Even more sobering is Christ’s statement that the world may judge whether or not the Father has sent the Son based on our love for each other. 10

Returning to my distinction between visible church and invisible church, I now submit that ecclesiastical discipline should guarantee that the visible church does not override, outweigh or control the invisible church. Our example above shows that when false professors of Christianity are given freedom to speak in the name of the Church, from the pulpit or the seminary podium, it is the invisible church that suffers. The invisible church must always be in control and always apply discipline with consistency. If we stress only the holiness of God, we will present to the world and to our children something hard and ugly. We will be inflexible absolutists who will crucify each other over minor doctrinal differences. But if we stress only the love of God, we will compromise left and right to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Both can be done in the flesh, but we cannot create and maintain the proper balance in the flesh. It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit within us that we can faithfully show forth both the holiness and love of God.

My guess is that we are all subconsciously aware of the initial negative reaction that a serious consistent disciplinary code would create. Accusations of uncharitableness and sanctimoniousness would fly. We would be called “holier than thou” and “Pharisees.” Worst of all we would probably be labeled “judgmental,” and be reminded that Jesus said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” And it is the fear of such initial reactions that hinders us from implementing any sort of systematic code of discipline in the church. Besides this, we are all too familiar with strange “control cults,” i.e., churches that psychologically manipulate their members by means of stern codes of behavior. The last thing we want is to be labeled a cult.

But on the other hand, what are our options? Will we ever be a church without spot if we refuse to punish false teachers? Will we ever present a credible witness to the world if we act as relativistic as they do? The Church has been infected by the Hegelian relativism that controls the world’s thinking. Modern man does not believe in truth. It is not that he does not believe that he has the truth; he does not even believe that such a thing as truth even exists. Then we come along claiming to know the truth, yet we act as if the truth weren’t binding upon us. When the chips are down, would rather compromise with error than to be accused of being bigots. This is the spirit behind the whole ecumenical movement. True believers should have no more to do with Open Theists or Papists than they do with Voodoo priests, yet, bound by the Hegelian spirit of the age, we form alliances with such blasphemers! 11

We have two opposite choices: destroy the beauty of the Church by presenting a caricature of God that is hard and unyielding, or destroy the purity of the Church by sleeping with the enemy. The only safe way through this mine field is applying discipline in love and holiness in order to maintain the purity of the visible church.

1. Rom. 9:6
2. Rom. 2:28. 29
3. Mat. 7:22, 23
4. 1 Kings 19:18
5. Eph. 5:27
6. The tape recording of this message is available from the tape ministry of Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL, from their “Voices From the Past” series.
7. Tertullian, Prescription Against the Heretics, XV
8. Auburn Affirmation, Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
9. John 13:35
10. John 17:21
11. One such alliance is ECT – Evangelicals and Catholics Together. What we must realize is that the only thing we share in common with Rome is some terminology

Friday, May 21, 2010

Paul's Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

St. Paul’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The apostolic testimony to the Holy Spirit is given by Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude and the author of Hebrews. One thing must be stated at the outset regarding the apostolic theology of the Spirit. They all, with full consent, take for granted the corruption of man’s nature. Thus, they refer to the Spirit as the Originator and Source all the saving, sanctifying and comforting influences that Christians experience. 1 They do not stop to inquire how the renewing of the Holy Spirit is to be harmonized with the freedom of the will – as if these questions were not part of their concern. Nevertheless, the fact of men’s responsibility along with the proclamation of converting grace and the renewing of the Spirit is set forth with a gravity and exigency to which the solution of these questions could add no further weight – if it were possible to solve them.

We do not find in any of the apostles the sheer volume of allusions to the Holy Spirit’s work in saving and sanctifying as we find in the Epistles of St. Paul. This is most accurately, besides other reasons, to be ascribed to the fact that Paul had not know Christ after the flesh 2 but had received his revelations more through an inward communication of the Spirit than by direct discourse with the Lord. Paul has this distinguishing feature, quite different from the other apostles.

Paul most emphatically affirms that Christ is never to be conceived of apart from the Spirit, and, conversely, that the Spirit is never to be conceived of apart from Christ. The memorable passage where he says, “Now the Lord is that Spirit,” 3 shows the close connection in which Paul places Christ and the Spirit and how fully he understands their joint mission. We will look at several features of Paul’s theology of the Spirit, but the above point should be constantly borne in mind as the groundwork and underpinning for all of Paul’s understanding of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle gives us quite an ample testimony to the dignity of the Spirit. In Acts we find him saying that the Spirit spoke by the prophet Isaiah 4 and that the Spirit testified from city to city that bonds and imprisonment awaited him. 5 In his own Epistles, Paul declares that the Holy Spirit sustained him in his ministry. 6 Paul appeals to the Spirit and calls Him to witness. 7 But in demonstration of the aforementioned connection in Paul’s theology of the work of the Son and the Spirit, we advert to the fact that Paul uses the same expression, sent forth (εξαπεστειλεν), to describe the Spirit’s mission as he used to describe the Son’s mission 8

The titles Paul uses for the Holy Spirit are quite numerous, and revealing of his understanding as well. For instance, he calls Him the Spirit of God, 9 the Spirit of His Son, 10 the Spirit of Christ 11 and the Spirit of Him that raised Christ from the dead.12 If we look at the economy in which the Spirit is sent, He is said to be shed on us abundantly. 13 If we examine the titles He is given by Paul in view of the blessings and benefits derived from Him, He is called the Spirit of grace, 14 the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, 15 the Spirit of adoption, 16 the Spirit of life, 17 the Spirit of meekness 18 and the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 19

Paul invariably attributes to the Spirit the instigation of the Christian life. Thus we find him saying, “No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” 20 And in another place he says, “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” 21 Whether or not we interpret the phrase “washing (laver) of regeneration,” as referring to baptism (which is not correct), the last phrase (renewing of the Holy Ghost) must be construed as referring to the active operation of the Spirit at the commencement of the Christian life. Since it is to this shedding or pouring out of the Spirit to which salvation is traced, this cannot be referred to mere doctrine. The personal Spirit is mentioned as the producing cause.

One may ask how men can said to be saved by the renewing of the Spirit when the salvation is in Christ. The answer is obvious. There is a chain, or series of events, of which no link may be lacking.
We are saved by divine purpose. God has so decreed and chosen us to salvation before the foundation of the world.
We are saved by the atonement as the meritorious basis of all.
We are saved by faith as the bond of union to Christ. We are saved by grace as contrasted to works we have done.
We are saved by the truth that conveys God’s testimony.
And we are saved, as it expressed here, “by the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” as producing faith in the heart. So we find the Spirit called the Spirit of faith, 22 that is, the Author or producing cause of faith.

Therefore we may unhesitatingly affirm that the commencement of the Christian life must be attributed to the Holy Spirit absolutely and completely.

Of all Paul’s epistles, it is perhaps to the Galatians that his doctrine on the economy of the Spirit is most full. This was, of course, due to the circumstances which necessitated the letter in the first place. We are all perhaps conversant with the history of the Galatian church. They had no sooner been founded than they were subjected to the test of counterfeit teachers. Representatives from the Pharisaical party of the Jews insisted that an adherence to certain Jewish rites was necessary for justification before God. Paul replied to this error by stating that they had not received the Spirit through works of the Law, but by the preaching of faith. The ordinary saving gifts of regeneration and holiness, as well as other supernatural gifts, were not received by any performance of the ceremonial and moral law.

The next thing Paul demonstrates is that the promised Spirit was procured by the vicarious death of Christ. This proves the assertion made earlier about Paul’s view of the joint mission of Son and Spirit. The giving of the Spirit is connected with the atonement. Paul says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” 23 The meaning of this passage is that the death of Christ was the purchase of this gift – the promised Spirit. The final article (ινα) leans on the words that describe Christ’s sacrifice.

Next Paul describes the Spirit of adoption as given only to those who are sons by faith. 24 This is to further show that works are excluded and that the reception of the promised Spirit is exclusively due to the merits of Christ. This is why he says, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” 25

The last part of the Epistle displays the Spirit’s work in another light. The last two chapters set forth the graces of the Spirit and the Christian’s fruitfulness. The same Apostle who, in the first part of the Epistle was anxious to assert the Christian’s freedom and bid that we stand fast in it, is not less anxious to set forth the Spirit’s renewing and sanctifying influence. As the believer’s being led by the Spirit, Paul adduces their liberty from the curse of the law as a proof. 26 Then after cataloging the works of the flesh, he specifies as the fruit of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and temperance.” 27 He calls these fruit, as if they grew on a living tree. George Smeaton asserts that Paul means that against such people there is no law, arguing that των τοιουτων is an allusion to people. 28 Thus from living by the Spirit Paul argues the duty of walking by the Spirit 29 and concludes by referring to the duty of sowing to the Spirit. 30

In short, we may say that in Paul’s theology, the Spirit is the Source of the saving faith of believers, the Renewer of their natures and the Sanctifier of their lives. All these operations of the Spirit are connected to the work of the Son. Never do we find in Paul the work of the Spirit mentioned without a direct link to the work of the Son. This is, to my mind, the one distinctive feature of Paul’s theology of the Holy Spirit. This is exactly as it should be, for Christ Himself said, “He will glorify me.” 31

1. See Eph. 3:16; Rom. 15:13
2. 2 Cor. 5:16
3. 2 Cor. 3:17
4. Acts 28:25
5. Acts 20:23
6. Rom. 15:19
7. Rom. 9:1
8. Gal. 4:4-6
9 Rom. 8:9
10. Gal. 4:6
11. Rom. 8:9
12. Rom. 8:11
13. Tit. 3:6
14. Heb. 10:29
15. Eph. 1:17
16. Rom. 8:15
17. Rom. 8:2
18. Gal. 6:1
19. 2 Tim. 1:7
20. 1 Cor. 12:3
21. Tit. 3:5
22. 2 Cor. 4:13
23. Gal. 3:13-14
24. Gal. 4:6
25. Italics mine
26. Gal. 5:18
27. Gal. 5:22
28. George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
29. Gal. 5:25
30. Gal. 6:8
31. John 16:1

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Word Games

Have you ever had a discussion about the Bible with an avowed skeptic? I have had more than my fair share. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked about Cain’s wife. One of the common arguments I have encountered (Maybe it isn’t really common. Maybe it just gets sprung on me a lot.) is that the Bible is mistaken scientifically because it says that Jonah was swallowed by a “great fish,” in one passage – and by a “whale” in another. Whales aren’t fish therefore the Bible is wrong. That’s pretty much how the argument goes.

I usually explain – if the person is sincere and not just being a wiseacre – that the New Testament Greek word is κῆτος (kētos). This word was adapted by Latin and Latinized as cetus. The scientific names that animals and plants are given are Latin. The scientific name for the order of marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises is Cetacea. Critics of the Bible err when they cite this as mistake in the Bible. It is important to point out that both the Greek kētos and the Latin cetus were broader terms than our modern scheme for naming and classifying animals. The word kētos was applicable and acuurate to describe any large sea creature. We must never reply that people in Biblical times didn’t know that whales are mammals. The skeptic would simply point out that the Bible is supposed to be divinely inspired. If God inspired it, then He is mistaken about whales.

I can endure this sort of faulty reason from unbelievers. One cannot expect them to be aware or conversant with Bible languages. But I can’t endure this sort of logic when it is used by so-called Christians!

Throughout my childhood (I grew up in a Pentecostal church) I heard countless references to ‘Holy Ghost power.” If was not uncommon to hear that the Greek word for power is δύναμις (dunamis). This word is the source of our English word dynamite. It was then inferred that when the Spirit’s power was moving in our midst (whatever that’s supposed to mean), it would be explosive.

But this is the same mistake as the one about κῆτος. Dunamis was used long before dynamite. Dynamite derives its meaning from dunamis, not the other way around. Cetacea derives its meaning from κῆτος, not the other way around.

I propose a rule for preachers and teachers: If you are not fluent in the Biblical languages, don’t make pretensions of knowledge about them. Don’t do word studies and don’t try to explain the shades of meaning and nuances. If you don’t know what you’re talking about then don’t talk about it. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Wee Little Man

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. Luke 19:1-6

I am always amazed at those who preach the role of man’s free-will in salvation from this passage. Surely, the opposite is here shown.

The typical Arminian evangelistic approach to this passage goes like this: Zacchaeus was trying to get to Jesus. He was a short man so he couldn’t see over the crowd. He had to get to Jesus, so he came up with a way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, you know. Well, Zacchaeus saw a sycamore tree and climbed up it. He was doing everything he could. He had to overcome every hindrance to get to Jesus. When Jesus saw him up in the tree, He was impressed by this man’s persistence. Then Zacchaeus invited Jesus and His disciples over to his house. Later that day, Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today.” You see you have to get fed up with your life of sin and find a way to come to Christ. And on and on – You get the picture. Let me hasten to say that I have tried to paint a better picture of that type of evangelistic appeal than I have generally ever heard. Usually, the sermons are far worse than that.

But this is the exact opposite of what this passage teaches. First of all, the passage gives not so much as a hint of anything in Zacchaeus but curiosity. We are running way ahead of ourselves to assume anything righteous to Zacchaeus’ motives. He was simply curious. A huge crowd is coming down the road, huddled around someone and everyone seems excited. Zacchaeus is short and can’t see over the crowd to see what all the buzz is about. So, he climbs a tree. That is all that this text permits us to say. As far as Zacchaeus’ character is concerned, he was a crook. The text calls him a publican, which is always a bad thing in the New Testament. Publicans were tax-collectors. They were known to be thieves because they either skimmed money off the top of their collections or charged more than was actually owed so they could keep the extra. But more than just being called a publican, he is called the chief among the publicans. That surely means he was a thief. The fact that his repentance manifested itself in repaying what he falsely collected is clear proof of this.

More important though is what Jesus actually did. Jesus stopped, looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. One wonders how Jesus knew his name. Of course, as God, Jesus knows everything. Surely it is not without significance that Jesus calls by name a man whom he had never met before. More importantly, notice that Zacchaeus did not invite Jesus to his house; Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house and pronounced that salvation had come to it with Him.

This is how it always works. Jesus invites Himself into someone’s life. They hurry to Him and receive Him with joy. Jesus brings salvation with Him. He calls whom He chooses.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

God Is Motivated By His Glory

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Rev. 4:11

The Scriptures portray God’s zeal for His glory as the primary motivation behind all His acts. This is why I take issue with the very popular notion that God’s love is His central attribute. True, the Bible says that “God is love,” but it tells us this once, while it tells us the God is holy countless times. This does not mean to suggest that God is holier than He is loving, but that in the grand scheme of things, God willed to theopneustically accentuate His holiness more often than His love. God’s holiness is His glory. How many times does the Bible speak of the “beauty of holiness.” By this we mean to say that whenever God acts in any way, His principal impetus is His commitment to His glory before anything else. When God decreed the plan of salvation for His elect, His glory was the first and foremost concern. He did it out of love, but He did it for His glory first! Consider Paul’s statement that “every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.” 1 This tells us that the ultimate purpose and plan of God in the salvation of the elect and damnation of the lost is the recognition of Christ’s glory – which, since the Son is of one essence with the Father (ὁμοούσιος), brings glory to the Father as well.

God repeatedly calls Himself, “a jealous God.” 2 If we ask for what is He jealous, the obvious answer is: His glory. In Exodus 20:5 when God first declares His jealousy, it is in connection with the ban against idolatry. Idolatry is demeaning to God’s character in that it suggests that the image is a suitable substitute for the Reality. We are accustomed to viewing jealousy as sinful, but it is because our jealousy is always misdirected. People very seldom are as zealous for God’s glory as they are for their own. The few times it has occurred, God has taken special notice of it. 3 

This is a difficult concept for some people because of the apparent selfishness on God’s part in being thus motivated. Human self-centeredness is sinful precisely because it puts self before God. It places the interest of an insignificant, finite worm of a man before the interests of the great, ineffable, inscrutable glory of God παντοκράτωρ! In this, it is idolatrous. Likewise, it would be idolatrous (if such a blasphemy could be imagined!) for God to place any interest before His own. It is an unsullied, utterly wholesome selfishness: it is a commitment to the Greatest, All-Perfect Self: the source of all inferior selves, indeed selfhood itself.

If God is so committed to the advancement and display of His glory, we are quite mistaken if we do not do the same thing.

In Psalm 19:1, David proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” There are physical phenomena in the design of the universe that absolutely stagger the human imagination. Astrophysicists and cosmologists refer to these marvels as the “anthropic principle.” This is a sophisticated way of saying that all of the various design characteristics of the entire universe are so perfectly suited for human life, that this must be the reason behind them. In other words, whether the universe was created by God or simply evolved, it exists in order to support human life. Many non-Christian physicists unashamedly advocate this.

Yet, even though Christian apologists are correct when they note that such meticulous attention to detail shows God’s unfathomable love for His creation, the Psalmist tells us that this is more an expression of God’s glory than His love.

1 Phil. 2:9-11
2 Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Nahum 1:1
3 Numbers 25:10

Monday, May 17, 2010

An Observation on Election, by B.B. Warfield

“The marvel of marvels is not that God, in his infinite love, has not elected all of this guilty race to be saved, but that he has elected any. What really needs accounting for—though to account for it passes the powers of our extremest flights of imagination—is how the holy God could get the consent of his nature to save a single sinner. If we know what sin is, and what holiness is, and what salvation from sin to holiness is, that is what we shall feel.

“That is the reason why meditation on our eternal election produces such blessed fruits in our hearts and lives. That God has saved me, even me, sunk in my sin and misery, by the marvels of his grace, can only fill me with adoring praise. That he has set upon me from all eternity to save me, wretched sinner that I am, how can I express the holy joy that fills my heart at every remembrance of it? This is the foundation of all my comfort, the assurance of all my hope.

“‘Sure I am,’ says John Arrowsmith movingly, just to the point, ‘Sure I am that our blessed Savior once said to his disciples, ‘In this rejoice, that your names are written in heaven’; and that nothing doth more inflame a Christian’s love than a firm belief of his personal election from eternity after he has been able to evidence the writing of his name in heaven by the experience he hath had of an heavenly calling and an heavenly conversation. When the Spirit of God hath written the law of life in a Christian’s heart, and therewith enabled him to know assuredly that his name is written in the book of life, he cannot then but melt with flames of holy affection, according to the most emphatic speech of Bernard — “God deserveth love from such as he hath loved long before they could deserve it;” and, “his love to God will be without end, who knoweth that God’s love to him was without any beginning.” ’ ”

From the sermon: Election, God’s Grace Before Time, by B.B. Warfield

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Contentment With Divine Sovereignty

Lamentations 3:37-38
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

We must see and acknowledge God’s hand in all the calamities that befall us at any time, whether personal or public. This fact and Christian duty is laid out here as the plain truth and as a great truth. It goes a long way to quieting our restless spirits under our afflictions and to sanctify these afflictions to us to acknowledge:

1. That, whatever men's actions are, it is God that overrules them.
2. That, whatever men's lot is, it is God that orders it.

We must not quarrel with God for any suffering that He lays upon us at any time. (v. 39)

1. We are human. Let remember that. And let us behave appropriately. We are men, not animals. We are reasonable creatures who should act with reason. We are men, and not children that cry about everything that hurts them or frustrates their happiness.
2. We are alive. Through God’s hand may be upon us, we are still alive, though dying daily. Should a living man complain when he has more reason to be thankful? Our lives may be frail, but we are still alive.
3. We are sinful men, and what we complain of is the just punishment of our sins. At any rate it is far less than we deserve. We have little reason to complain of our trouble since we have ourselves to thanks for it.

We must align ourselves to God's intention in afflicting us. This is none other than to bring sin to our remembrance and to bring us to Himself. (v. 40)

Our afflictions and troubles should cause us to reflect on these two things:
1. A serious consideration of ourselves and a reflection upon our past lives.
2. A sincere repentance. Let us turn again to the Lord, to Him who is turned against us and whom we have turned from; to Him let us turn by repentance and reformation, as to our owner and ruler.

Matthew Henry writes “We must offer up ourselves to God, and our best affections and services, in the flames of devotion.”

When we are in affliction, we must look to God as a God in the heavens, infinitely above us, and who has an incontestable dominion over us. He rules and is therefore not to be quarreled with, but submitted to. But also we must pray with a believing expectation to receive mercy from Him. That is what is implied in verse 41 when it tells us to lift our hands. Lifting our hands to Him (a gesture commonly used in prayer) signifies our request of mercy from Him and our readiness to receive that mercy.

Visitor Counter

Flag Counter