Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Election Presupposes Total Depravity

Once a person understands the reality of Total Depravity, the doctrine of Unconditional Election is clear. It will be obvious just how securely connected this doctrine is Total Depravity. If men are utterly sinful in every part of their being, so that all their faculties, including the will, are under the power of sin, the salvation of any man must rest solely upon an act of God. This act must be unconditioned, meaning to say that God was not coerced into this act nor was it necessary on account of any other factor except for His own good pleasure. Pelagians and Arminians alike are forced into a clandestine denial of God’s sovereignty and a not-so-clandestine denial of Original Sin.

Spurgeon says somewhere that Arminianism is guilty of confusing doctrines and of acting as an obstruction to a clear understanding of the Scripture because it misstates or ignores the eternal purpose of God. It dislocates the meaning of the whole plan of redemption. So we see that confusion is inevitable apart from this foundational truth of Election. Again we must emphasize that it is unconditional. Scripture tells us that God elects before a good or evil act can be committed. (Mal. 1:3; Rom. 9:13)

Scripture teaches the following facts about Election:
A. It is an eternal act of God – Eph. 1:4; Rom. 9:11.
B. This choice is immutable – 2 Tim. 2:19; Jas. 1:17.
C. This choice is made in Christ – Eph. 1:4.
D. There is a certain number known to God – 2 Tim. 2:19; Jn. 6:64; 17:2, 6.
E. This number is chosen to salvation – 1 Thess. 5:9
F. This number is also appointed to sanctification as the means of attaining the end – 1 Pet. 1:1, 2; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14.
G. The cause of this choice was the good pleasure of God’s will – 2 Tim. 2:19; Rom. 9:15, 16; Eph. 1:9.
H. The end of it all is the praise of His grace – Eph. 1:5, 6.

The seventh point (G) is of utmost importance to our present subject. All Pelagian/Arminian systems make God’s election to salvation of an individual contingent upon His foreknowledge of the future faith and good works of the individual. They wish to place the cart before the horse and make God’s decree contingent upon His foreknowledge of who will freely believe in Him. Scripture explicitly denies such a fallacy of reason. Peter said that Christ was put to death according to the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” (Acts 2:23) - in that order. God knows what will be precisely because He has decreed what will be; not vice versa. Hence we see that Total Depravity presupposes sovereign grace.

Indeed, Scripture forthrightly denies that God’s elective purposes are contingent upon His foreknowledge. Romans 9:11 teaches us that election is not based upon God’s foreknowledge of works. In fact, Scripture never speaks of God’s foreknowledge of events. Of course God knows all future events; He ordained them all. However, when Scripture speaks of God’s foreknowledge, the object of this knowledge is never actions or events, but rather, people (cf. A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God, ch. 4). Anyone familiar with the vocabulary of Scripture will be aware that to “know” is to “look upon with favor.” How else could Jesus declare to someone, “I never knew you?” (Mat. 7:23) How could God tell Israel that they alone were the people He knew? (Amos 3:2)

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Doctrine of The Divine Decree

Louis Berkhof noted that outside of Reformed circles one seldom hears of the doctrine of God’s decree. Arminians reject, or at least ignore it, because it runs against their view of man’s self-determining will.

Open Theists, on the other hand, reject it because of their twisted notions of Scriptural language. They that when Scripture says that God is said to repent, not to fulfill His promises and/or threats, commands something different than He did before that this is not anthropomorphic or anthropopathic language, but indeed denotes a change in God’s plans and dealings with man.

What both parties fail to recognize is the overwhelming weight of Scriptural evidence regarding the Divine decree. The all-inclusive nature of the Divine decree is everywhere taught in Scripture. There is nothing that falls outside its reach. All occurrences on the whole and every single detail of them are included in the scope of the decree. This applies to everything including the results of man exercising his free will, such as wars and their outcomes, marriages and all their related incidents, the times and places of our residence, our birthday and day of death. Nothing is excluded. Scripture gives us several clear declarations.

First, there are texts of an all-inclusive nature. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18); “... Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). The word “all” in these cases leaves no exceptions.

Secondly, there are texts that refer to specific matters:
(1) The place and time of everyone’s residence. “determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26);
(2) All the events that happen in man’s lifetime. “He performeth the thing that is appointed for me” (Job 23:14);
(3) The blessings that will be bestowed upon the elect. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will...Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself” (Eph 1:5,9);
(4) Election and reprobation. “That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:11-13);
(5) Even what accomplished by the exercise of man’s “free will.” This is clear from what men did to Christ. “And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22); “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken,” etc. (Acts 2:23); “For of a truth against Thy holy Child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28);
(6) Marriage. “Let the same be the woman whom the Lord hath appointed out for my master’s son” (Gen 24:44); “What therefore God hath joined together ...” (Matt 19:6).

Thirdly, the time, place, type, and circumstances of the death of every person have been determined.
(1) Scripture states this explicitly: “seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). Job speaks of a specified number of days and months that are appointed to man. David speaks similarly. He says: “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth” (Ps 39:4-5). He is not referring to the general brevity of human life. Rather, he means the particular measure of days God has allotted him. The duration of his life has specifically defined limits, like a handbreadth – meaning that his life’s duration was predetermined. “... and hath determined the times before appointed” (Acts 17:26).

(2) As God has determined the day of everyone’s birth, so has He determined the termination of each one’s life. God has life and death in His hand, works everything according to His determinate counsel (Acts 2:23), and according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11).

Consequently, man’s age has been determined: “My times are in Thy hand” (Ps 31:15); “Thou turnest man to destruction” (Ps 90:3); “He shall cut off the spirit of princes” (Ps 76:12); “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive” (1 Sam 2:6).

Even when someone dies in an apparent accident, this is not outside the Divine decree. If a man is killed by an axe head that has slipped from the helve (Deut. 19:5), God claims to have delivered that man into the hand of woodcutter (Exod. 21:13). God determined Ahab’s age, even though he appeared to have been hit by an arrow out of sheer dumb luck (1 Kings 22:28, 34).

As we noted above, nothing, absolutely nothing, is outside the reach of the Divine decree. Nothing is ever really “out of control.” God is in control.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Charles Hodge on Augustinianism

The Calvinistic soteriology, though always held by the true Church, was first clearly formulated in a thorough manner by Augustine of Hippo. Charles Hodge states the Augustinian position quite beautifully when he writes: “The Augustinian scheme includes the following points:

1. That the glory of God, or the manifestation of his perfections, is the highest and ultimate end of all things.

2. For that end God purposed the creation of the universe, and the whole plan of providence and redemption.

3. That He placed man in a state of probation, making Adam, their first parent, their head and representative.

4. That the fall of Adam brought all his posterity into a state of condemnation, sin, and misery, from which they are utterly unable to deliver themselves.

5. From the mass of fallen men God elected a number innumerable to eternal life, and left the rest of mankind to the just recompense of their sins.

6. That the ground of this election is not the foresight of anything in the one class to distinguish them favorably from the members of the other class, but the good pleasure of God.

7. That for the salvation of those thus chosen to eternal life, God gave his own Son, to become man, and to obey and suffer for his people, thus making a full satisfaction for sin and bringing in everlasting righteousness, rendering the ultimate salvation of the elect absolutely certain.

8. That while the Holy Spirit, in his common operations, is present with every man, so long as he lives, restraining evil and exciting good, his certainly efficacious and saving power is exercised only in behalf of the elect.

9. That all those whom God has thus chosen to life, and for whom Christ specially saved Himself in the covenant of redemption, shall certainly (unless they die in infancy), be brought to the knowledge of the truth, to the exercise of faith, and to perseverance in holy living unto the end.” *

* Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology - Part 3 (Soteriology), Volume 2, § 8

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Finney’s False Idea of Sin

Anyone even remotely familiar with the works of Charles Finney will be aware that he taught that sin, each and every sin was a conscious act. He therefore repudiated any repentance for sin that was a general plea to God for forgiveness. In others words, he rejected the idea that one could ask God to forgive him of all his sins and be forgiven of them in one act of confession. He taught that one should list down every sin he has committed and repent of each one individually. His argument was: “You committed them one at a time; you should repent of them one at a time.” Thankfully, this sort of extreme legalism isn’t terribly widespread. But neither has it perished from the earth. When Keith Green was still alive, Last Days Ministries’ magazine featured an article on this very subject, - Finney’s own work, with slightly updated language.

The logic behind this goes like this: All sin is committed consciously and with the full acquiescence of man’s free-will. If this be true, many other false ideas present themselves. First of all, this is a clandestine denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Finney made no bones about his denial of Original Sin. He argued, rather moronically, that since God declared that the son shall not be punished for the sins of the father, then it would a grave miscarriage of justice for Him to impute Adam’s sin to all his progeny.

First things first. It simply is not true that all sin is committed consciously and with the acquiescence of the will. Not only is this idea extra-biblical but it is also contrary to Scripture. Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, and 27 all speak of sins committed in ignorance. Peter asserts that the most vile sin humanity ever did, i.e., putting Christ to death, was done in ignorance. This neither minimizes the gravity of it nor the culpability for it.

Wilhelmus à Brakal writes, “It is one thing to do something against one’s will and another to sin without the conscious acquiescence of the will; and indeed, the first sin was committed with the full acquiescence of the human nature.” (1)

Let’s face it: We have all done things against our so-called better judgment. Moreover, it is easy to imagine a circumstance in which someone violates their conscience and sins through what they perceive to be coercion. Many people have lied, who would not have done so, except that they felt forced into it. As I stated abovr, this neither minimizes the guilt, nor removes the responsibility for the sin. It simply proves that Finney was a lousy theologian. He knew neither the Scriptures nor human character.

The problem with an inadequate concept of Original Sin is that one cannot form a proper concept of imputed righteousness, either. If we don’t get it that we have all actually sinned in Adam’s first sin because we are united to him covenantally, then we will never understand the imputed righteousness of Christ that comes from covenantal union with Him. It’s that simple. I suspect that whenever we find a false or inadequate view of imputed righteousness, we will find a faulty view of Original Sin as its fountainhead.

1. The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Volume 1, Ch. 14

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dependence Disproves Free-Will

It should be noted first of all that man’s free will is not independent from God. Man is totally dependent upon God. This dependence includes 1) his being, 2) his activity, 3) God’s prerogative to obligate him to His will and laws, and 4) the foreknowledge and decree of God. This foreknowledge cannot be thwarted; and this decree cannot be changed.

Secondly, the will does not function independently of the intellect. The will cannot function apart from the intellect. It cannot act other than the intellect dictates, because man is a rational being and therefore functions rationally. Otherwise the will could reject that which is good as well as what it perceived as being good, and find delight in sin as sin – which is irrational. All sin is loved because it is perceived to be good and/or its results are perceived as desirable (Gen. 3:6).

Thirdly, the will of man is not free from human peculiarities. People function according to their respective natures. A person who is holy in his nature will be a servant of righteousness, and the will shall respond accordingly (Rom 6:18). But, is a man is sinful in his nature, he is a servant of sin (John 8:34). The will responds and functions in harmony with man’s sinful nature. To a holy nature belongs a holy will, and to a sinful nature a sinful will.

Moreover, the will is not the whole essence of being. It is merely a faculty that exists in living rational creatures and only in living creatures. Corpses have no will. Scripture declares that our breath is in God’s hands (Dan. 5:23). An old country preacher I know, commenting on this verse, use to say, “All God has to do is tighten His grip and you’ll have trouble breathing!” Inflammatory perhaps, but true nonetheless.

The will is not independent of the intellect, nor is it independent of the nature of the person in whom it resides. And most definitely it is not independent of God. Wherein then is the supposed freedom of which the papists and Arminians boast? The fact is they have imported a false idea into Christianity. They assume, without Scriptural warrant, that free-will means self-determination (autexousia). This concept is NEVER found in Scripture. On the contrary, Scripture portrays man as dependent on God for everything, from his breath (Dan. 5:23), to his daily food (Mat. 6:11), to his age and nationality (Acts 17:26), to his saving faith in Christ (Phil. 1:29).

Human freedom is just as much a creation of God as are earthworms, and as such it presents no quandary to Him as how to reign supremely and yet not “interfere” with men’s so-called freedom.

So the burning question is this: If the man who is believed to self-determining is absolutely dependent upon God in every single detail of his life, how is he then self-determining?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wilhelmus À Brakel’s Response To Continuists:

In volume 2 of à Brakel’s “Reasonable Service” he discusses the marks of true and false churches. The sixth mark he refutes as a mark of a false church is the continuing presence of miracles. To this à Brakel replies:

“Sixthly, miracles are proposed as one of the distinguishing marks of the church. To this we reply:
(1) Miracles do not belong to the distinguishing marks of the true church. This is nowhere to be found in the Word of God.
(2) Miracles are not intended for believers, but for unbelievers; thus the church has no need of them. If one were desirous of bringing an unbeliever into the true church, one would have to perform a wonder time and again, which, however, the proponents of this mark do not do.
(3) The performance of and boasting in miracles in the post-apostolic era, as a means of the confirmation of doctrine, is a distinguishing mark of the anti-Christian church. “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9). This certainly confirms that the performance of miracles does not belong to the distinguishing marks of the church.” (Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, pg. 29.)

Isn’t ironic that the continuists claim to follow Scripture, hence their practice of charismata, yet Scripture nowhere states that miracles are a distinguishing characteristic of the Church. In fact, Scripture takes it for granted that false teacher may perform “miracles.” (Deut. 13:1-5; 2 Thess. 2:9). In fact, Jesus never rebuked the Pharisees for not believing in His miracles; He rebuked their unbelief of His teaching and the Scriptures. The warning of Deut. 13:1-5 is surely behind this fact.

I once knew a missionary who claimed that miracles were, in his words, “the dinner bell to salvation.” I watched him preach and pray for those who came forward to his altar calls. I can’t recall a single miracle. No doubt there were many in his imagination, but there were certainly no verifiable miracles. I don’t buy the claims of healing from headaches or back pain.

Moreover, à Brakel’s point is dead on: where are the people performing verifiable miracles over and over to bring unbelievers into the Church. Indeed the Charismatic doctrine of faith precludes this. On the Charismatic scheme, miracles occur for those who have the faith to believe for their miracle, hence an unbeliever could never receive a miracle. If miracles are to convince unbelievers, we have a catch-22 on our hands. Those who need miracles and for whom they exist can never have one!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Patristic Witness To Irresistible Grace

Clement of Alexandria writes, “The heavenly and truly divine love comes to men thus, when in the soul itself the spark of true goodness, kindled in the soul by the Divine Word, is able to burst forth into flame; and, what is of the highest importance, salvation runs parallel with sincere willingness – choice and life being, so to speak, yoked together.” (1) Here we see Clement arguing (to pagan Greeks, we might add) that the human ability to respond to God’s grace comes from God Himself simultaneously with the grace. He does not assert that there is “good in every man.” The “spark of true goodness” Clement mentions, is kindled by Christ. There is no “divine spark” in all men that simply needs to be tapped into. That is Eastern mysticism, not Christian theology.

Minucius Felix has a remarkable statement. His pagan opponent says, “For whatever we do, as some ascribe it to fate, so you refer it to God: thus it is according to your sect to believe that men will, not of their own accord, but as elected to will.” (2) Note that this pagan is not corrected as having a faulty view of Christian doctrine. He understands ift perfectly. What does Christianity teach? Only the elect will.

In the following passage, the Theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus eloquently describes the loving response to God’s grace that election creates. “If thou hast poured out upon God the whole of thy love; if thou hast not two objects of desire, both the passing and the abiding, both the visible and the invisible, then thou hast been so pierced by the arrow of election, and hast so learned the beauty of the Bridegroom, that thou too canst say with the bridal drama and song, thou art sweetness and altogether loveliness.” (3) Notice his expression – “pierced by the arrow of election.” How can anyone construe such a notion as resistible grace from that figure? It suggests the image of a man hunted down, ambushed and attacked unawares. There is no notion there of a grace that is offered and rejected. If a man knew that he would be shot by an arrow he would resist, and that is the whole point. God’s grace must be irresistible; if it were not, every single soul would resist it!

Augustine’s mentor Ambrose had this to say: “The Lord considered and knew who were His, and He drew His saints to Himself. And those whom He did not choose He did not draw to Himself.” (4) Jesus’ statement in John 6:44 is clearly the influencing factor behind such a comment. Ambrose unmistakably sees God’s grace as both efficacious and irresistible. Based on John 6:37, there really is no alternative. Jesus as much as says that everyone the Father has given (past tense) to Him, will come (future tense). Let the Arminians play their word games if they “will”; we say, “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” (5)

The pioneer missionary Patrick described his own conversion in these telling words: “Whence I, once rustic, exiled, unlearned, who does not know how to provide for the future, this at least I know most certainly that before I was humiliated I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came and in His mercy lifted me up, and raised me aloft, and placed me on the top of the wall. And therefore I ought to cry out aloud and so also render something to the Lord for His great benefits here and in eternity - benefits which the mind of men is unable to appraise.” (6) Patrick envisions himself like an inanimate stone lying in the mud. This is a brilliant image. It illustrates perfectly man’s inability to do anything about his own spiritual condition. It illustrates man’s deadness in “trespasses and sins.” (7) A stone can no more lift itself from the mire than it can understand the obnoxiousness of its condition.

This also demonstrates the flaw in much of contemporary evangelism. Telling the sinner that all he has to do is simply take advantage of all God has done, leaving to him the last step, is like telling a corpse that if he wants to live again he should raise his hand! I have heard altar call appeals that picture the sinner as a sick man on his deathbed. The doctor (God) enters the room with the medicine that will save his life. God pours the medicine into a spoon and even sticks the spoon into the man’s mouth. Yet the man must swallow the medicine if he would recover. Such illustrations are extremely deceptive. They appear to place all the work of salvation into God’s hands, but in the final analysis, man must still make the crucial step, without which all of God’s work is frustrated. Even on such a scheme, man is his own savior. Widely respected evangelists such as Billy Graham use the aforementioned illustration. Patrick’s illustration is much more theologically sound.

1. Clement of Alexandria, Protepticus XI
2. Minicius Felix, Octavius XI
3. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration XII on Matthew 19:1
4. Ambrose, Letter 59
5. Romans 3:4
6. The Confession of St. Patrick, 12
7. Ephesians 2:1

Friday, August 20, 2010

Irresistible Grace

Grace by definition is undeserved. Man, in his fallen condition is incapable of even seeking God’s grace. If he is to ever experience it, it must be purely of God’s initiative and it must be effectual. Irresistible Grace teaches that when the Spirit of God is sent to change a person's heart, that person cannot resist the change. This is when the Spirit of God applies the work of Christ to the soul. This does not mean that the person is unwilling to be changed because the Spirit of God is "fighting against him," rather the Spirit changes the heart of stone to beat as a heart of flesh. The change opens the eyes of the spiritually blind to the work of Christ. The Spirit of God does this on His own, previous to any act of man. The Spirit of God will accomplish what He is sent out to do and will not be frustrated in His work of changing the sinner's heart.

With regard to our present subject, the theological axe to grind is the issue of man’s free will in the transaction of salvation. Pelagians and Arminians alike would have man’s free will be the hinge on which salvation turns. If a man will be saved, they reason, he must exercise his will freely. Any form of influence is seen as unfair, taking away from man the merit of his good choice. But this is precisely what Scripture would take away from man! The Biblical testimony is quite astounding. Over and over we are told that our salvation was not a result of our will, but purely a result of God’s sovereign will. John’s gospel declares quite bluntly that regeneration is, “not of the will of man, but of God.” (1) The very image of salvation as a birth (born again – John 3:5) should serve to negate the idea of participation of the will on the part of the person being regenerated. What baby participates in its own birth? What baby decides when, where, how or even if it will be born? Christ says that He regenerates who He will. (2) He claims to give eternal life to those He chooses. (3) And He goes so far as to say that no one can come to Him unless he is drawn by the Father. (4)

The fact that this grace is irresistible is seen in its efficacy. Who among the people recorded in Scripture ever fought against God’s grace and won? Who successfully resisted God’s will in drawing him to Christ for salvation? If God is the author of the salvation and it is given by grace, then it must be efficacious. It is a theologically erroneous idea to suppose that there are sinners who seek God’s grace. The Bible explicitly denies such a notion. (5) There are no “seekers.” (6) Not only do men not seek after God, they are not even able to seek. (7) Was Saul of Tarsus seeking for God when he headed to Damascus breathing out slaughter against the Way?

This is another place where the Pelagian and Arminian systems break down. When they are forced into a corner by direct statements of Scripture, such as those regarding God’s sovereignty over the wills of men (in the reprobation Pharaoh, Judas Iscariot, et al., or the calling of Jeremiah, John the Baptist and St. Paul) they insist on treating such passages as special cases. Scripture however does not ever even insinuate that these are special cases. In fact, we have every reason to treat these cases as normative. (8) No doubt Paul saw something special in his commission as the Apostle to the Gentiles, but he made no pretensions of superiority over any other Christian on the planet when it came to his Christianity. The primacy of God’s will in the salvation of man is asserted again and again throughout the New Testament. But even this is an echo of the Old Testament declaration that, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (9)

1. John 1:13 οι ουκ εξ αιματων ουδε εκ θεληματος σαρκος ουδε εκ θεληματος ανδρος αλλ εκ θεου εγεννηθησαν
2. John 5:21
3. John 6:27
4. John 6:44
5. Rom. 3:11
6. Incidentally, this calls into question the whole current notion of “seeker-friendly” churches.
7. 1 Cor. 2:14
8. In Romans 9:16-18, Paul uses Pharaoh as a model for all whom God hardens.
9. Exodus 15:2; 1 Chronicles 16:23; 2 Chronicles 6:41; Psalm 3:8; 21:1; 24:5; 37:39; 85:7; Jonah 2:9

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mysticism Is Not Christian Spirituality

True biblical spirituality consists of having communion with God in Christ. Whenever people lose sight of this, they tend toward natural speculation, which they imagine to be extraordinarily lofty and spiritual. So-called Christians commit an especially grievous error when they walk this path. Removing Christ from the equation and looking inward to find God is the exact philosophy of Pantheism. It is not, nor ever will be, Christianity. Hinduism and other such Pantheistic religions busy themselves in such meditation and speculation.

The Dutch theologian Wilhelmus à Brakel, writes:

“The difference between the self-denial, love, beholding of God, etc., of the mystics and of the truly godly consists in this: The mystics comprehend, say, and do everything according to their natural intellect, fantasy, and imagination, doing so without the Spirit. They do not make use of the Lord Jesus (that is, as a ransom, and righteousness unto justification and peace), as being the only way of approach unto God, and unto true and genuine sanctification. Such exercises and this way are hidden from them. Those, however, who are truly godly, regenerate, and who truly believe, live by faith and not by sight. In all things they make use of the Lord Jesus. They come to the Father by Him, accustom themselves to behold God in the face of Jesus Christ, do everything as in the presence of God, and walk before God’s countenance in humility, fear, love, and obedience. These are the old paths. From this you can observe that the difference between the mystics and the truly godly is as the difference between imagination and truth; between being natural and without the Spirit and being led by the Spirit; between worldly and heavenly; between seeking an unknown God and serving the true God; and between being engaged without, and contrary to, the Holy Scriptures (dabbling with invisible things), and living according to the written Word of God. A truly godly person remains humble and serves God in Spirit and truth, and is thus kept from the temptation of entertaining high-minded and fabricated imaginations.” (1)

After reading that paragraph, one should easily see why mysticism has such an appeal for Charismatics. The whole Charismatic movement condones and practices spiritual behaviors, often called disciplines, never once recorded, let alone commanded in Scripture.

For instance, where in Scripture are we taught all the barking and laughing nonsense of the Toronto Blessing types? Where does Scripture teach mapping out cities and binding the spiritual ‘strong men’? Nowhere! But does this fact stop people from dreaming up this stuff? No it does not. I’ve recently heard of something called “third day prayer.” I haven’t the foggiest clue what that is supposed to be, but I can tell you this: It isn’t in the Bible. Where in the Bible are we told that evil spirits are causes of everything undesirable? I am not kidding when I say that I have heard people pray against the demon of post-nasal drip!

When I was young, I remember hearing some of the mothers at church talking about how they comforted their frightened children at night. The little impressionable children who were afraid of the dark, or perhaps afraid of the numerous evil spirits their parents constantly obsessed over, were told to hold their blanket as if they holding a hand and to pretend (read: visualize) that they were holding Jesus’ hand. Not only was this considered good Christian advice, despite that fact that Scripture nowhere teaches this, but it was strengthened by the supposed testimony of some of the children that they actually felt like they were holding a real hand! Any Christian who is not troubled by such behavior needs to have his head examined. Where do these people get the notion that it is permissible to make up spiritual exercises nowhere taught in Scripture?

1. The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. 2, ch. 43

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Natural vs. Spiritual

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor. 2:14

Since his fall in Adam, man in his natural state is incapable of anything spiritual. That is the gist of the preceding verse. This flies in the face of much that our contemporary secular culture believes. At virtually every turn, one hears someone rambling about being “spiritual” without ever defining what that term is supposed to mean.

We should not be surprised, though that secular culture holds to beliefs at odds with Scripture. We should expect it. But the statement of 1 Corinthians 2:14 also flies in the face of much that passes for Evangelicalism as well.

From every Arminian pulpit in the world, the exact opposite of this verse is preached, week after week. It is repeatedly asserted that carnal men (men who are DEAD is sin, who have not the Spirit – Eph 2:1; Jude 19) can do the spiritual act of believing savingly on Christ if they want to. Charles Finney, the poster-boy for much contemporary evangelism used to unashamedly proclaim, “The only reason you are not a Christian is because you do not want to be one.” Damnable heresy by any other name is still damnable heresy.

The testimony of the true Church has always been in accord with the teaching of the Apostle. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp’s fellow disciple of the Apostle John procalaimed: “They who are carnal cannot do spiritual things. Unbelief (is incapable of) the deeds of faith.” 1 Those in the state of unbelief cannot repent and believe unless it be granted from above because faith and repentance are spiritual acts. Those who are in the flesh cannot perform spiritual acts.

(1)To the Ephesians VIII

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Pray?

I have often heard Arminians claim that Calvinism makes prayer meaningless. I am not interested here of defending the biblical doctrines of prayer and Divine sovereignty. What I wish to point out is the striking fact that Arminianism makes prayer for lost souls meaningless, for much worse reasons than the supposed contradiction of Calvinist prayer.

It is mind-boggling, to say the least, that Arminianism wishes to strip God of His sovereign power over all things, including men’s wills, yet they have no problem ascribing near impenetrable sovereignty to man. They stress over and over again the freedom of man’s will and his need to exercise this free-will in order to be saved, yet they find no contradiction in praying for their lost loved ones! What do they expect God to do? If God is unable to exert his power over men’s free-will, lest He make them robots, what is He supposed to do in answer to prayers for the lost? He is as helpless as we are to move the almighty free-will of man.

Indeed, is there any prayer that doesn’t at some point require some action from another human being? When I pray for some need to be met, doesn’t that involve God impressing the need upon someone else who is capable of helping? But, on the Arminian scheme, how can God violate this person’s volition? When I pray for someone’s safety on a trip, doesn’t that involve other motorists and pedestrians? How can I ask God to violate their autonomy, if indeed they have it?

The sarcasm is intentional. I have heard Arminians ignorantly rant about the robot-producing doctrines of Calvinism. I think it’s high time someone railed against the ear-tickling doctrines of Arminianism and their turning of God into a spineless wimp whose every plan is thwarted by His runaway creatures.

Moreover, the Arminian objections are selective. For as George Smeaton points out, “There is as little interference with human liberty in receiving the work of the Spirit to regenerate us, as in receiving the work of the Son to redeem and justify us.” The Doctrine of The Holy Spirit, 203.

So, the question “Why pray” really looms larger for the Arminian than it does for the Calvinist. As a Calvinist, I can say that God claims to work all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11), yet He also instructs me to pray. If God sees no contradiction in this, where do I get off assuming one? But, for an Arminian, what does he expect God to do when he prays? Virtually every prayer, whether for the salvation of the lost, or for anything else, inevitably runs into a human being from whom the pray-er wishes some action. But how can he with a straight face ask God to cause anyone to do anything? How can one affirm such a high view of man’s autonomy and yet ask God to do anything when it involves a human being’s will? He might as well pray to Baal or Daffy Duck, because they have as much power over man’s supposed autonomous will.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pelagius' Clones

The heresiarch Pelagius wrote, “We distinguish three things, arranging them in a certain graduated order. We put in the first place ‘ability;’ in the second, ‘volition;’ and in the third, ‘actuality.’ The ‘ability’ we place in our nature, the ‘volition’ in our will, and the ‘actuality’ in the effect. The first, that is, the ‘ability,’ properly belongs to God, who has bestowed it on His creature; the other two, that is, the ‘volition’ and the ‘actuality,’ must be referred to man, because they flow forth from the fountain of the will. For his willing, therefore, and doing a good work, the praise belongs to man; or rather both to man, and to God who has bestowed on him the ‘capacity’ for his will and work, and who evermore by the help of His grace assists even this capacity.” (NPNF 5:219)

Pelagius taught that man has the capacity of willing and doing good without God’s special aid. But so that it would be easier, God gave the Law and Christ’s good example. Pelagius’ version of grace was merely a gracious influence that God gives to those who deserve it because they have faithfully used their own powers. Hence “grace” can be resisted. So as to not sound completely Satanic, Pelagius smuggled God in through the back door by hastening to add that freewill is a gift from God.

This is a verbose way of saying, like Finney said, that God will not command what man cannot do. Finney draws an image of a father who commands a small child something that is clearly beyond the child’s ability and threatens to whip the child if he doesn’t obey. This is his despicable, vile, evil caricature of Gospel truth! The commands of Scripture are not only outside man’s ability to obey, they actually serve to demonstrate man’s inability, depravity and hatred of all that is holy. This unregenerate hatred of imputed righteousness is why Pelagius protested when Augustine said, “Grant what You command and command what You will.”

One need not search for more than a minute the writings or recordings of men like John Wesley, Charles Finney, Chuck Smith, Norman Geisler, Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Robert Schuller and Rick Warren to find Pelagian statements bolder than those of Pelagius himself. The same could be said for men like Max Lucado, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Louis Palau, and anyone else who appears on the Trinity Broadcast Network.

John Owen wrote, “The church of Jesus Christ cannot wrap in her communion Austin (Augustine) and Pelagius, Calvin and Arminius.” Owen also wrote, “Many at this day will condemn both Pelagius and the doctrine that he taught, in the words wherein he taught it, and yet embrace and approve of the things themselves which he intended.” The sad thing today is that many ministers have no idea what Pelagianism even is. They simply believe Pelagian or Arminian tenets and unabashedly proclaim this hogwash from the pulpit week after week without a clue to which side of the fence they are on.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Salvation In The Passive Voice

Cyprian, the martyred bishop of Carthage, in a most unforgettable passage describes how he came to have a real saving relationship with Christ. His description of his own sinfulness is quite poignant and revealing.

He writes, “For as I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe that I could by possibility be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices; and because I despaired of better things, I used to indulge my sins as if they were actually parts of me, and indigenous to me. But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart, - after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man; - then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began to suggest a means of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible, to be capable of being achieved; so that I was enabled to acknowledge that what previously, being born of the flesh, had been living in the practice of sins, was of the earth earthly, but had now begun to be of God, and was animated by the Spirit of holiness.”

It is noteworthy that Cyprian says he was enabled, made capable and begun to be of God – all verbs in the passive voice. In fact, Cyprian never uses a verb in the active voice in this whole passage referring to his conversion.

This is how all of us should remember and recount our conversion. We should never see ourselves as active agents initiating anything. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). It is His to dispose of as He pleases. No man ever preceded God’s grace. God is always previous. Christ is the Alpha and Omega. He is the perfecter of the good work He begins (Rev. 1:8; Phil. 1:6).

(1) Cyprian, Ep. Ad Donatum, 4

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Where Do They Get This Stuff?

If you’ve spent much time around Charismatics or if you simply observe their methods, you’ll no doubt come away at times scratching your head and asking, “Where do they get this stuff?”.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church, so I know whereof I speak. I have seen and heard more than my fair share of oddities.

I can’t count the words of so-called prophecy I heard and was always amazed that no one else thought it strange that these words were invariably delivered in poorly imitated King James English. I’ve heard more “thee’s” and “thou’s,” “eth’s” and “est’s” than you can shake a stick at. My question is: Why? What on earth makes these people think that God speaks in this way. I’ve heard people who have never read a KJV snap off a word of prophecy chock-full of “Yea, I say unto thee’s” and “Lo, I wouldst that thou shouldst…” It wouldn’t be polite to say what I really think of this!

Then we’ve got these “spiritual warfare” and “spiritual mapping” knuckleheads. I defy anyone on earth to show me this in Scripture! It isn’t there! We don’t read of Paul coming into Athens and binding the spirit of idolatry and coming against the Apollo spirit that held Athens in its power. I don’t recall Paul casting out Zeus or Peter making war in the heavenlies against the unbelief of the Sanhedrin. Jesus never taught His disciples to win the world through “friendship evangelism” or by “being the gospel.”

Unfortunately, America is the largest purveyor of this hogwash to the rest of the world. We like our Burger-King “Have it your way” religion. And apparently Scripture has become little more than a figurehead to much of contemporary Evangelicalism. The Bible is to many churches what the queen is to England: a beloved symbol of some grand days of yesteryear, but virtually without any actual power to effect anything today.

“Slain in the Spirit,” “Spiritual mapping,” “War in the Heveanlies,” “Friendship Evangelism,” not to mention a host of spirits of this and spirits of that which rivals all the convoluted gods and titans of Greek mythology. - - Where do they get this stuff?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Perspicuity Doesn't Mean You're Qualified To Teach

One of the keystones of the Reformation is the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, which means the "understandableness" of Scripture, or clarity. This is not something that is imposed upon the text, rather something taught by it. For example, Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says, "For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it."

Again Scripture says of itself, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether." (Psalm 19:7-9)

And "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple." (Psalm 119:105,130)

Paul asserts that same regarding his letters: "For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge--just as you did partially acknowledge us, that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you." (2 Corinthians 1:13-14)

"All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:15-16)

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Peter echoes these thoughts on the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture -

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." (2 Peter 1:3-4)

"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:16-21)

What I wish to hasten to add though, is this: Just because Scripture is clear, and intended by God to be clear, that does not necessarily qualify everyone to pontificate upon its meaning. Many people have taken the idea of perspicuity to make themselves the supreme authority on the meaning of Scripture, claiming revelation from the Holy Spirit to authenticate an interpretation not necessarily validated by the Church as a whole.

Timothy was exhorted, in the famous words of 2 Timothy 2:15, to "study." The Apostles left of serving tables so that they could devote themselves to the study of Scripture. Ergo, just because Scipture is clear, one still needs to study it and interpret it properly.

If you don't know what the word "theopneustic" means, then don't argue about the inspiration of Scripture. You don't know what you're talking about. If you aren't familiar with the terms, ousia and hypostasis, then don't get involved in debates about Trinitarian theology. You aren't qualified. Just because you've read the Bible, that doesn't qualify you to teach it.

I want my doctor to have the appropriate degrees, and good grades at that, from an accredited medical school before he treats my ailing body. It seems like unspeakable chutzpah on my part to try and treat ailing souls without having been trained in proper hermeneutics.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Covenantal and Christocentric Hermeneutic

When I was teaching at a seminary in the Philippines, I had a discussion with one of my fellow teachers about hermeneutics. This, of course, was one of the subjects that was to be taught to our students.There was some debate, apparently, among some of the staff regarding the proper interpretive system or format to teach.

Several books were brought in as possible candidates for curriculum. One suggested Presbyterian theology, another generic evangelical, another Baptist theology, yet another Pentecostal theology (which I consider to be an oxymoron, like square triangles or honest liars).

I remarked that we were approaching the subject the wrong way. We were acting as if God dropped the Bible down out of heaven without giving us the slightest clue or hint as to how it is to be understood. Not only is this an insult to God's intelligence, it is Papist in its core.

Scripture gives us an interpretive framework by which to understand it. This framework is called covenant. The Bible is divided into two segments: Old and New Testaments. Testament is another word for "covenant." And all of God's covenant promises to His people from Adam to Abraham to Moses to David are centered on and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore Christ is the key to understanding Scripture. If we aren't interpretting Scripture on the grounds of redemptive history through the framework of God's covenant of grace with us in Christ, then we are mishandling Scripture.

Now to demonstrate that I am not imposing something on the text, I wish to show how Scripture teaches us to understand it this way, both in actual commands and by the interpretive examples of men of God in Scripture itself.

When John the Baptist was born, his father saw this as the beginning of the fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Abraham and David: "And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham," Luke 1:67-73 (KJV). In short, Zacharias interpretted the Old Testament in a covanental and Christocentric way.

After Jesus' resurrection, we told His disciples that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Moreover, He included the Psalms - not just the prophetic portions of Scripture that we naturally associate with Christ.

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself ... And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

Luke 24:25-27, 44-46 (KJV)
Most explicit perhaps is John 5:39. Christ affirms that all Scripture testifies to Him. He is the key to understand Scripture. He is the Lamb God promised to Abraham; He is the fulfillment of all the covenant promises in the Old Testament. Matthew, in his Gospel, uses the formula, "This happened to fulfill what was written," twelve times. And he cites more than 50 Old Testament passages in his narrative of Chris's life.
To get back to my original point: Scripture itself tells us how we are to undestand and interpret it. We must be covenantal, for covenant is the internal framework of Scripture. Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant promises, therefore, we must be Christocentric. Scripture gives us the unfolding narrative of God's covenantal redemptive purposes, so we must always keep the redemptive history in the foreground. If we go any other way, like the common moralistic interpretations that we encounter so frequently, we evacuate the Gospel of all its power and reduce Scripture to little more than a moral code equal to the code of Hammurabi.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Four Insurmountable Arminian Errors

The kernel of Arminian doctrine regarding man’s natural state is that he has a natural inclination to repent and believe. One must simply appeal to this inclination with the right amount of persuasion. This belief, however, is so antithetical to scripture that it is almost impossible to put it into words. But here goes. There are four Scriptural declarations concerning man in his natural fallen state that Arminianism either disbelieves or disregards. The end result is the same.

1. First, man is totally blind as far as spiritual things are concerned. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them” (Eph 4:18). Jude says, that they “have not the Spirit” (Jude 19). Paul says that they people cannot discern spiritual things, which is not to say that it is impossible for a person to imagine them without revelations, for he speaks this of natural men who lived under a gospel ministry (1 Cor. 2:8). This is evident from what he adds, “for they are foolishness to him.” No one considers something to be foolish if he has never heard of it before. Man is so blind that the ability to see and understand must be given to him by God. God gives this to some people and withholds it from others. Christ said to his disciples, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matt 13:11). Someone who is blind to this degree can neither will, repent of himself, nor believe in Christ, even if he hears the gospel.

This whole line of reasoning, solidly Scriptural as it is, flies in direct contradiction to Arminianism. Arminians act is as man simply has his eyes closed. In fact, we have probably all heard Arminian preachers urge their listeners to open their eyes.

2. Secondly, man by nature has such an evil disposition that he isn’t willing to repent. In fact he CANNOT even will to do so, for he cannot respond with his will to that which he does not know. Even if one judges a given matter to be desirable in its very essence, he will have no interest in this now, here, and for himself, since the things of this world appear to him as being much more desirable and beneficial now, here, and for himself. Spiritual things and sinful things stand in direct opposition to each other, it is impossible to delight in spiritual things if you enjoy sinful things. The natural man loves things that are sinful and of the world, therefore he cannot be willing, nor is he ever actually willing to love spiritual things. “And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40); “... and ye would not!” (Matt 23:37). If the natural man perceives but a few rays of spiritual light and life, he will hate it at once. “... men loved darkness rather than light. ... For every one that doeth evil hateth the light” (John 3:19-20); “... haters of God” (Rom 1:30); “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me” (John 15:18). Wherever there is such a disposition, it is impossible to be willing and to repent.

3. Thirdly, since man is ignorant and unwilling he simply cannot repent. “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). The phrase “no man” is all-inclusive. Whoever a person may be, he is unable and does not come. God’s almighty power and drawing is what is needed in order for anyone to come. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom 8:7).

4. Lastly, as far as spiritual life is concerned, man is dead: “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:12). Paul is not only referring to those who had never heard the gospel, but also to those who had heard it, for Paul includes himself. Among the Ephesians there were many Jews (Acts 19:8), and the expression used is general in nature. He is not referring to natural death, but to being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. Spiritual death consists of the absence of union with God. We know this because spiritual life is defined for us as communion with God (Gal 2:20). Those who are without such a union are atheoi, that is, atheists or without God (Eph 2:12); those “having not the Spirit” (Jude 19). Nor is he simply speaking of the punishment for sin, its wages being death. Rather he is speaking of that death which is the opposite of spiritual life. Since spiritual life is the very opposite of spiritual death, he speaks of spiritual death. “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Eph 2:5). Since man is dead, he cannot make himself alive. Both nature and Scripture teach us that a dead person cannot do this, regardless of the type of death referred to.

Now let us tie these four points together. Natural man is blind and ignorant. He is so evil that he is utterly unwilling and hates repentance and belief in Christ. Furthermore, he is so impotent that he is completely unable to repent and believe. And to top it all off, he is dead, with no internal disposition, propensity, ability or power to repent and believe in Christ.

To accept Arminianism, one would have to discard this weight of Scriptural evidence – or completely ignore its existence. This is precisely what Arminianism does. It says, in the teeth of tons of biblical evidence, that man is basically good and has within him a natural desire to do what is good. He sins because he doesn’t understand the consequences of his sin. If only a preacher could tell him how self-destructive his behavior is and convince his that living for Christ is ultimately more fulfilling, he could coax him into repeating the sinner’s prayer and all would be well. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Comments on Acts 13:48

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48 (KJV)

This passage is one of the most forthright declarations of predestination in the New Testament. What is particularly noteworthy about this text is that occurs in a historical narrative, not a theological Epistle. It is simply Luke's commentary on the event. As far as I can tell, this is an even stronger affirmation of the doctrine, because it shows the underlying assumption in the author's mind. When a biblical author takes something for granted, we should perk up and take notice. Incidentally, the only authors or commentators who have ever denied the obvious reference to Predestination are raving Arminians. Wesley's notes on this passage are an outrage.

I submit a few examples of more solid theological exposition.
Geneva Bible notes Acts 13.48

Ac 13:48
13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were {t} ordained to eternal life believed.

(t) Therefore either all were not appointed to everlasting life, or either all believed, but because all did not believe, it follows that certain ones were ordained: and therefore God did not only foreknow, but also foreordained, that neither faith nor the effects of faith should be the cause of his ordaining, or appointment, but his ordaining the cause of faith.

Matthew Henry on Acts 13.48

(1.) Those believed to whom God gave grace to believe, whom by a secret and mighty operation he brought into subjection to the gospel of Christ, and made willing in the day of his power. Those came to Christ whom the Father drew, and to whom the Spirit made the gospel call effectual. It is called the faith of the operation of God (Col. ii. 12), and is said to be wrought by the same power that raised up Christ, Eph. i. 19, 20.

(2.) God gave this grace to believe to all those among them who were ordained to eternal life (for whom he had predestinated, them he also called, Rom. viii. 30); or, as many as were disposed to eternal life, as many as had a concern about their eternal state, and aimed to make sure of eternal life, believed in Christ, in whom God hath treasured up that life (1 John v. 11), and who is the only way to it; and it was the grace of God that wrought it in them.

Jameson, Fausset and Brown on Acts 13:48

a very remarkable statement, which cannot, without force, be interpreted of anything lower than this, that a divine ordination to eternal life is the cause, not the effect, of any man's believing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Smeaton On The Extraordinary Gifts

These extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were no longer needed when the canon of Scripture was closed. Up to that time they were an absolute necessity. They are now no longer so. Nor is the Church warranted to expect their restoration, or to desire prophetic visions, immediate revelations. Or miraculous gifts, either in public or in private, beyond, or besides, the all-perfect canon of Scripture. The Church of Rome, which still claims these extraordinary gifts, is to that extent injurious to the Spirit as the author of Scripture. And enthusiastic sects * that cherish the belief of their restoration, or an expectation to that effect, have not learned or duly pondered how great a work of the Spirit has been completed and provided for the Church of all times in the gift of the Holy Scriptures…

When it is alleged that the restoration of these gifts is an unwarranted expectation, the answer is, they are no longer required. The closing of the canon has superseded their necessity and value, inasmuch as the Church possesses in the Scriptures all that they were intended to accredit and commend. Beyond the written word which was completed before the apostles passed away, the Spirit has no further revelations or immediate communications of the divine will to impart.

(*) i.e., the Montanists of the 2nd century, the Irvingites of the 19th century and the Pentecostals and Charismatics of our day.

George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, pages 150, 151, 152

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I was recently present at a baby dedication. Throughout the entire ‘ceremony’ I was struck by several things that seemed quite strange. Indeed, it was the first such event I have witnessed since I have become Reformed that evoked this sort of reaction in me. To those who grew up in a Reformed church, the idea of a baby ‘dedication’ as opposed to baptism probably seems strange enough!

I grew up in a Pentecostal church, so it’s taken me some time to get used to the idea that we are supposed to baptize our babies. I understand the theology behind the doctrine of the covenant, so I am no longer baffled by the applying of a “sign of faith” to one who has no capacity for faith. Baptism is not a “sign of faith.” It is the sign and seal of God's covenant of grace, an acknowledgement of the child's place in the covenant community. Plus I understand that the children of believers have always been included in the covenant of grace. 

I could go on into an elaborate defense, but that isn’t really my point. What struck me was the language used during the ceremony. Reformed believers baptize their babies for the aforementioned reasons, among many more, but also to mark their children out as different from the children of unbelievers. We are God’s covenant people and our children should not be as the children of unbelievers, cut off from the covenant community. Anyway, language to this effect was used repeatedly by the pastor during the dedication ceremony. The whole tenor of the ceremony was more fitting or applicable to a baptism anyway.

Then it occurred to me: what is happening here is a man-made substitute for the sacrament of baptism that is trying its hardest to retain and confer all the covenant blessings of baptism.

For those who are interested in the subject, I recommend Robert R. Booth’s book, “Children of the Promise.” Of course any of the standard works on the subject are excellent reads as well, such as those by Samuel Miller and John Owen

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Doctrine Precedes Application

One of the trademarks of sloppy work as a preacher is the mad dash to application before the doctrine of the passage has been discussed.

It is not uncommon to hear a sermon that is nothing but moral application with no theology at all. Those familiar with theological jargon will recognize the terms doctrinal theology and practical theology. The terms are self-explanatory. The thing a minister must always keep in mind is that the practical theology rests upon the doctrinal theology and not the other way around. Nor can one discard the doctrinal theology and just go for the practical application.

Scripture presents a model in the balance seen in the New Testament Epistles. Most of the Epistles can be split right down the middle. The first half is pure doctrine; the second half is the practical application of this doctrine.

This is why it is ignorant for a preacher to jump right into a sermon on Romans 12:1-2 without having established the same theological groundwork Paul did in his Epistle. Paul spent 11 chapters delineating some complex theological truths before he started Chapter 12. After all, the first work of the chapter is, "Therefore."

Moreover, many times the application that Scripture presents based on the doctrines established is not so much a list of rules, but rather the natural results in a believer's life once he has understood this or that doctrine.

Without this preparatory work, sermons end up becoming lessons in pietistic legalism - Wesleyan perfectionism of the worst kind. The order is "justification by faith," not "justification by sanctification." Christians will generally agree that we are saved by grace (what they mean by this formula is another story, perhaps), but many get tripped up on whether salvation is maintained by grace as well. In other words: Can grace save a Christian?

Much of this shoddy theological work has its roots in Wesleyanism and has passed on to the rest of the Christian world through movements such as the Keswick Movement (aka - Higher Life). The results have been thousands of Christians who feel absolutely defeated and hopeless. They are fed a steady stream of do's and don'ts and are disillusioned when they find it isn't as easy as all that. We are Christians, first and foremost, because of what we believe. A person who does not adhere to the primary doctrines of the Christian faith is no Christian at all. Without the proper doctrinal framework, all the Christian conduct in the world means nothing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Debunking One's Self

I recently had a bit of a debate with someone over the gifts of the Holy Spirit, specifically tongues and prophecy. When I asserted that they were given by God for a particular time and purpose and were no longer necessary, I was greeted by the old standard, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

He didn’t seem to realize that if this passage really applied to tongues, then it had to apply to everything else as well. How come liars are being struck dead routinely in our churches? How come I can’t measure the shadow on my stairs and ascertain how much longer I will live? Why isn’t anyone successfully commanding the sun to stand still?

I can’t tell you how irritating I find this kind of close-mindedness. If we were to drive this kind of reasoning out to its logical conclusion we would have to ask why no one is still eating manna today since God never changes.

When discussing paedobaptism with someone, they replied that we are supposed to follow Jesus example and He wasn’t baptized as a baby. Disregarding the ignorance of covenant evinced by such a statement, I pointed out that if that is what is meant by following Jesus’ example, then we should all wait till we’re 30 years old to be baptized. No one quibbled about age when I asked to be baptized as a 10 year old!

I find it disturbing that Christians – people who are commanded to love God with all their minds – find it so easy so resort to such inane forms of argumentation. I could look the other way if this were coming from the mouths of fresh-faced converts. But it drives me to distraction to hear long time believers, who should know better, resort to reasoning that would destroy much of their own position if applied fairly. Some of the Arminian arguments against predestination, if carried out to their logical conclusions, would argue equally against Divine providence, the doctrine of Hell and many other doctrines that no one denies. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

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