Monday, January 31, 2011

Limited Atonement 1

John 10:11-29 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.

In defending the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, or Particular Redemption we shall often venture into other theological issues. This is normal, and to be expected. If Scripture is a unified whole, as all Christians profess, then we should not be surprised to see an interconnectedness among its teachings.

We often compartmentalize our thinking in ways that are not warranted Scripturally. For instance, to say that Jesus is your Savior implies that you needed saving. To say that you needed saving implies that you were in some sort of danger, etc. To say you believe the Bible is the Word of God, implies that you believe that God has spoken authoritatively. It also implies that you reject other "revelations" which claim to be from God as well.

Logical implications are not always the ruling factors in our thinking, however. So many people who honestly believe that Christ atoned for their sin have never seen the unbreakable connection between this fact and the irrevocable nature of election. Thus, as I said, in treating Limited Atonement we will occasionally treat other related matters as well.

1. Could God have saved everyone without exception had He wanted to?
2. Does the death of Christ actually save anyone? Or does it merely make salvation possible?
3. If Jesus' death was for ALL men without exception, and God is trying to save all men, why aren't ALL men saved? Can we therefore say that God has failed?

How does Scripture answer these questions? Sadly, it is often simply assumed that much of Christian doctrine is simply speculation on the part of theologians and pastors. Nothing could be farther from the truth. That is not to say, of course, that some theologians and pastors aren't guilty of speculation. But it is important to realize that Scripture has much to say about a lot of subjects we simply take for granted as untouched or untreated.

1. Could God have saved everyone without exception had He wanted to?
Let me hasten to note that I am note asking just yet about the extent of the atonement. What we are driving at is this: Some men have already perished, and many more will still yet undoubtedly perish. If God wanted to, could He have saved these people? What immediately surfaces when we ponder this question is that God has to have some design or plan regarding all men, including those who, in fact, actually perish eternally. If He could not have done anything about the fact that they will perish, then His sovereignty is limited. Some Arminians are comfortable with that idea, though Scripture clearly abominates such a notion. The popular Arminian assertion that God has willingly limited His sovereignty or power so that men can exercise their free will is NOWHERE found in Scripture. In fact, many Scriptures blast that idea right out of the water.

Here are a few:
Exodus 15:18 The LORD will reign forever and ever.
Joshua 11:20 For it was the LORD's doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
1 Samuel 3:25b But they would not listen to the voice of their father for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.
Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he wills.
Isaiah 40:13-15 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Isaiah 46:9b-10 For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times thing not yet done, saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.
Daniel 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done."
Romans 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

As I said, that was a small sampling of the Biblical evidence. Any student of Scripture knows that that list could easily be expanded tenfold.

2. Does the death of Christ actually save anyone? Or does it merely make salvation possible?
Ever since the days of the arch-heretic Arminius himself, his followers have been quite comfortable in affirming that Christ's death did nothing else than make salvation a possibility. Arminius and his original cohorts made no bones about asserting that Christ's death did not actually save anyone. Yet we, again, find Scripture stating the diametrical opposite:

Matthew 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.
Romans 5:9-10 Since, therefore, we have been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life
Romans 8:24a For in this hope we were saved.
2 Timothy 1:9 Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave un Christ before the ages began.
Titus 3:5 He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

3. If Jesus' death was for ALL men without exception, and God is trying to save all men, why aren't ALL men saved? Can we therefore say that God has failed?
How does it not impugn God's honor to say that He can't accomplish that which He wants to accomplish? Why is this not considered open, bold-faced blasphemy? Arminians make such a big hoopla over man's supposed free will, but have you ever noticed that in the system of these champions of free-will, it is God who has no free-will? I doubt if I am alone in that observation. Scripture repeatedly insists on God's sovereignty and power over men's wills. Here are a few passages:

Joshua 11:20 For it was the LORD's doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
1 Samuel 3:25b But they would not listen to the voice of their father for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.
Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he wills.

The implication, of course of Proverbs 21:1 is that if God can move the king's will at his own discretion, how much more the ordinary folk like you and me? A king is the most powerful human we can imagine, and yet God claims to be able to turn the king's will any way He wishes. If the king's will presents no challenge to God's power, how much less does yours or mine?

Moreover, what happens to saved sinners once they get to heaven? Will they still be able to sin? Arminians will, of course, say, "No." But think about this. Given the length of eternity, a lapse into sin would be almost inevitable if there were no safeguards on our created natures to preclude such an occurrence. All professing Christians, Arminians included, affirm that in Glory God will so renovate our natures so as to make sin impossible. I don't know about you, but I can't wait! But wait a second: If God can so exercise His power over our wills to renovate them in Glory, a point which even Arminians concede, where do they get off denying that God can control human wills now? You can't have your cake and eat it too. Either God can or He cannot control human wills.

Now, looking back at our original three questions, we can see that the Scripture tells us that: (a) Some men have and will still yet perish. (b) Christ's death actually secures the salvation of those who are saved. (c) Since God controls men's wills and some men willfully die in their sins, then God has limited the efficacy, indeed the intent, of the atonement to the Elect, whom He has chosen to save out of the mass of fallen humanity.

Friday, January 28, 2011

TULIP Definitions 5

Perseverance of the Saints is the Biblical doctrine that teaches that the elect whom God has chosen for salvation will eternally reside in His sovereign care. There is a divine certainty the elect will be brought to dwell with the Lord in heaven. Christ assures His own they will not be lost but will be glorified at the last day. What Christ has promised, He will perform. The perseverance of the elect does not depend upon their good works, but upon the faithfulness of God.

Based upon the truth of the previous four points, what may we say about the salvation of the elect? To say that it is anything less than eternally secure is to undermine everything which we have already shown to be Scripturally true. If salvation can be lost, then I have to think that it is inevitable. If the security of our salvation hangs upon nothing securer than our own will, then we are eternally on thin ice. If God can't secure my salvation now, why should I think He can in the eternal state?

If, as Scripture says, God's calling is "irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29), then we cannot imagine God electing a man to salvation, only to get fed up with him later and unelecting him. Furthermore, if salvation is not of works, then it is not of works! Works don't earn salvation, neither do they maintain it. Anyone who says this is a license for sin is a fool and anyone who uses it as a license for sin has been "designated to this condemnation" (Jude 4).Paul explicitly argues that precisely because justification is not of works a saved man will walk in the good works God has prepared beforehand for him (Eph. 2:10).

The Father always hears the Son (John 11:42). The Son expressly asks the Father to bring to Heaven, both His original disciples as well as all who will believe on Him because of their preaching (John 17:20-24).Christ ever lives to make intercession for them for whom He died (Heb. 7:25). How can I say that He intercedes only for those for whom He died? Hebrews 7:25 says, "He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" Note the words "draw," "save," and "intercession" We have already seen that only those whom God draws come to Christ (John 6:44). Moreover, it is these for whom He died. And it is only these for whom He intercedes. Jesus tells us Himself, as we eavesdrop in on His High Priestly prayer, "I am praying for them (those whom the Father has given Him). I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me" (John 17:9). Tie all these strands together and you have this: Those whom God elected and Christ atoned for and to whom the Spirit applies this redemption, are eternally secure because no less than Jesus Himself intercedes for them based upon the Father's satisfaction with the Son's atoning work. To deny the eternally secure nature of the elect's salvation is to deny one or more of the aforementioned explicit statements of Scripture.

Again, we must remember that the perseverance of the elect does not depend upon their good works, but upon the faithfulness of God. In the words of the Psalmist, "Not to us, Oh LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness" (Ps. 115:1).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

TULIP Definitions 4

Let's review the previous ideas a second to see the inevitability of our next point. If all men are total depraved and therefore totally unable to do anything tending to their own salvation, God must elect those who will be saved; otherwise no one would ever be saved. No man who is totally evil and whose heart and imagination is given over to only evil continually will ever, on his own, exercise his will to believe in Christ. Faith and repentance are spiritual acts and thus cannot be done by carnal men. If God elects those who will be saved, and has provided in Christ's death the atonement for their sins, then they must of necessity come to saving faith.

Hence Irresistible Grace is the inevitable and positive response produced by the power of God in the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit when the outward call is given by the proclamation of the gospel. Christ Himself teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a sure knowledge of the truth. Individuals always come to Christ for salvation when the Father effectually calls them. The eternal and omnipotent Holy Spirit of Almighty God causes the elect to manifest genuine evangelical repentance. It is a source of great comfort and joy to know that the gospel of redeeming grace will wondrously save as it subdues the most hardened, sinful heart.

Think back to John 10. Jesus tells his disciples that He has are other sheep, referring to those who will come to faith through the Church's obedience to the Great Commission (John 17:22). Throughout the first 30 verses of John 10, Jesus uses some pretty confident language about the future faith of the "other sheep." He says, I MUST bring them," and "They WILL come" (emphasis mine). Jesus entertains no doubt about the future faith of the "other sheep."

Arminians insist that the deciding factor in salvation is man's free-will. Man must be free, they argue, to accept or reject Christ, otherwise salvation is a sham. Since I have dealt with this ridiculousness elsewhere, I won't refute it in great detail here. But let me merely observe that Arminians, for all their extolling of free-will, have no trouble giving God the short end of the stick when it comes to free-will. Everybody seems to have it but Him. The word "Almighty" means nothing if it does not mean "mighty over all." This would include man's will. Scripture does not hide the fact that God controls men's wills, either. And, as we noted previously, Scripture presents a tension between God's sovereignty in salvation and man's responsibility to believe which it does not try to resolve. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both true.

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Note well that these verses do not says, "No one will come to me," or "will not accept," because the passages are not addressing willingness. They both say "can not." this refers to ability. The only person who ever comes to Christ is the one the Father draws, which word in the Greek means literally, "to drag." Men come to Christ when God drags them to Him. And you still want to say that God does not control men's wills?

Note also that only a spiritual person, that is, one who God has made alive in Christ, can understand the things of the Spirit of God. Faith is a gift of God. How can it be a requirement for regeneration when it is the result of it?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TULIP Definitions 3

Limited Atonement answers the question, "For whose sins did Christ atone?" The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom the Father gave Him to save. Christ died for the elect, which refers to all who will be born again. Belief in the doctrine of a definite redemption provides an incentive for evangelistic zeal and under-girds the presentation of the gospel. With confidence the soul winner can share the Scripture that promises that Christ will not lose any that the Father has given to Him. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." The death of Christ was not one of potential atonement for all people. Rather, Christ died to accomplish a real redemption for His people. The night Christ was born, the angels declared that Jesus had come to "save His people from their sins." Christ’s atoning work was not designed to make men savable but to actually purchase their salvation by His own precious blood. The work of the Cross is effectual only for the elect.

This is perhaps the least favorite of the five points by the detractors of Reformed soteriology. Arminians and their theological first cousins, Roman Catholic, bristle at the notion of an atonement intended for some men and not for everyone. This doctrine is hated because it is portrayed as unfair or unjust. Actually though, fairness or justice have little to do with. Simply consider this: All men are equally guilty before God and thus hell-deserving. If we were to appeal logically to justice and fairness, God should damn everyone to Hell. The fact that He has chosen anyone speaks of kindness and mercy.

I always feel confidently secure that my theology is correct in this regard when an Arminian assails me with the same arguments Paul's opponents brought against him. You'd think they had never read Romans 9:18-24: "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me, 'Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?' But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump on vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory - even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?" When an Arminian assaults us with the same arguments that Paul's opponents used, that seems to indicate that we are on the right track theologically. Furthermore, when Paul says that God "has not destined us for wrath," doesn't that logically imply that some men are destined for wrath?

If the Atonement is not limited to the elect, but God is earnestly trying to save all men without exception, what do we do with these Scriptural statements?
Joshua 11:20 For it was the LORD's doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
1 Samuel 3:25b But they would not listen to the voice of their father for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.
John 10:11, 26 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep...but you do not believe me because you are not part of my flock.
2 Thessalonians 2:11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.
Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Let's set the record straight: Neither I nor any advocate of Reformed theology, derive any pleasure from the idea that some men have gone and still will go to Hell. We derive no morbid satisfaction, nor any self-flattering enjoyment from the notion that Christ's atoning sacrifice was efficacious for some and not others. But that is beside the point. We may not, without imperiling our immortal souls, toy with God's Word simply because we place less stock in it than we do in our own fallen sense of justice and equality.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TULIP Definitions 2

This doctrine states that God has chosen, apart from human merit, those whom He is pleased to bring to knowledge of Himself. This divine selection was not based upon God looking forward to see who would receive the offer of the gospel. Nor it is based on God looking into the future to see who will reject the Gospel. Both the preterition of the non-elect and the choosing of the elect are based solely on the counsel of God's own will. Some individuals have been chosen for glory, while others have been prepared for destruction (Prov. 16:4; Rom. 9:22). The act of election took place before the foundation of the world. The doctrine of unconditional election does not diminish man's responsibility to believe in the redeeming work of God the Son. Scripture presents a tension between God's sovereignty in salvation and man's responsibility to believe which it does not try to resolve. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both true.

I worked so hard to make the above paragraph succint that it hardly seems necessary to say much more. One need only to look through the Scriptures to any passage where God's people are said to be elect or chosen, and when we inquire why they are so elect or chosen, Scripture with unified testimony repeatedly affirms that it is due to nothing more than God's sovereign good pleasure. 

Case in point,

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

(Romans 9:9-26 ESV)

Monday, January 24, 2011

TULIP Definitions 1

The acronym TULIP is a mnemonic device for Reformed soteriology, that is, the doctrine of salvation. There are five letters, hence the frquent reference to 5-point Calvinism.

The letters stand for the following:
Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Over the course of this week, Lord willing, we will briefly explain what is meant by each of the five points. After so many more weighty theological posts, why something so fundamental and basic now? I take nothing for granted. I have been a Christain long enough to know that much of Christian doctrine goes unexplained and it is simply assumed by preachers and teachers that their congregations are fully conversant with these things. I feel it wise to, ever no and again, go back and refresh our memories about some of the simple basic truths of our most holy faith.

Total Depravity

The doctrine of Total Depravity, or as it it sometimes known, Total Inability, teaches the complete inability of man to save himself, nor indeed to have any part in saving himself because of the effects of sin in the soul. Man is dead in his sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1), and therefore he can do nothing, as a corpse, to bring himself back to life. Every part of man's nature was corrupted by sin, therefore, we say that man has a sinful nature, which longs only to rebel against God (Hosea 6:7; Gen. 6:5; Ps. 58:3)

Man’s sin is extensive as well as intensive. Individuals may not be as bad as they can be; they are as bad off as they can be. The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has corrupted every part of his personality: intelligence, emotions and will. The unregenerate person is declared to be "dead" in sin. Apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit the natural man is "blind" and "deaf" to the message of the gospel. There is a natural but total inability to come to faith in Christ apart from a divine work of grace in the heart.

Every act of an unbeliever is done outside of faith in Christ. Scripture says that whatever is not of faith is sin (1 Cor. 14:23). In our flesh there dwells "no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). All of our righteousness is as "filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). Even acts of apparent self-sacrifice mean nothing to God, for even the "sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination (Pro. 21:27).

What about the "good" in the world? What about the fact that unsaved husbands and wives usually love each other and their children? First of all, we must not get carried away with our ascriptions of "good" to the unregenerate. "Good" is only defined as God defines it, which means all of the so-called "good" that the unregenerate do is hopelessly and irredeemably polluted by sin. Scripture says that all of our righteousness is filthy rags. The Hebrew term for filthy rag refers to a polluted menstrual cloth. - Not a very congratulatory evaluation of the so-called "good" that sinners do.   Secondly, all who do not worship God are idolaters. The essence of idolatry is actually self-worship and the image merely becomes the tool or instrument for the attainment of the worshippers desired ends. Thus, we are on solid Biblical ground for saying that much of the "good" in the world is simply the result of self-interest. If I kill my customers, I can't get them to buy my products, thus murder cramps my style. Moreover, it seems warranted by Scripture, in light of language about sinners' deadness and blindness and alienation of mind, to assert that our depravity is so bad that we misread our world and see in it as a much better place than it is.

This is, no doubt, an unpopular doctrine, because our world unquestioningly accepts the idea that all men are basically good, that there is good in everyone. True Christian much abominate such a belief. Scripture declares that all men are sinners, all men seek only evil continually, all men are at enmity with God and all men stand before God with nothing but the menstrual rags of the our "righteousness."

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Days of Relic-ry Are Not Over

A couple of days ago the AP reported that a vial of John Paul II's blood is being sent to a Roman Catholic church in Poland as a relic.

I find it odd when I hear this in the light of so many remarks to the effect that the Roman Catholic church has changed since the Middle Ages. The relics that are known to have circulated the Romish world during the Middle Ages are strange, bizarre, and even obscene. 

I guess the one difference between this relic and the old-fashion ones, is that this relic can be verified. The old relics claimed to be nutty things like Noah's beard or bottles of the Virgin Mary's breast milk. At least this relic, a vial of blood can be authenticated.

That doesn't save the ship however. It is still an evil idolatrous practice. Thigh bone of a saint, piece of the cross, the holy grail, a vial of pope's blood - it's all a bunch of hocus-pocus. There is no Biblical warrant for venerating relics, and certainly not for worshipping by means of them. They are nothing but animistic charms or amulets dressed up in "Christian" garb.

In case you may be tempted to think I'm making this up, below is a link to the CBS/AP story. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thoughts on Hosea 8:12

I have written to him the great things of My Law, but they were counted as a strange thing.
Hosea 8:12

A series of sermons could easily be written on this passage, but today I merely want to make a couple of observations.

First, the audience of God’s Law. In other words: To whom is God’s Law addressed? For whom was the Bible written? This is a question of great importance, but one that is seldom considered. Let me just state the truth here and then explain why it is so. The Bible was written to God’s people and to them alone. In our passage, God says that He had written His law to Ephraim. God’s Law was not written for the Amorites, the Hittites or the Philistines. It was written only for God’s chosen people.

The Bible is not addressed to unbelievers. They cannot understand its message because it is “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). It is to them the odor of death. When an unbeliever reads the Bible it is like reading a stranger’s mail. Although you may understand every word on the page, you will never understand the meaning of the letter because you do not know the author, nor do you know the nature of the subjects it treats. As long as a man is “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19), the Bible will be “foolishness unto him” (1 Cor. 2:14). This is, no doubt, the explanation behind many of the strange teachings that drift around in the Church. The Bible has been read and preached by unconverted men.

And incidentally, I would argue that this is why many of the modern Bible translations are unacceptable. Many of the modern translations are based on a philosophy that believes the Bible is God’s “gift to mankind.” I object! Speaking of the Old Testament, Paul says in Romans 3 that the Jews were entrusted with oracles of God. The Scriptures were not for the Amalekites or Jebusites. The salutations to the Apostolic Epistles exclusively limit their audience to “saints,” or, “elect.” And we are committing a grave offense when we try to interpret, or rather, translate Scripture in language that is understandable or acceptable to the worldly, carnal, unregenerate mass of fallen humanity. The world in which we live is overrun with a Hegelian relativism that denies the existence of absolutes, especially moral absolutes. How in the world can we translate the Scriptures, which emphatically assert that homosexuals have their part in the Lake of Fire, that sex before – or outside of - marriage is sin, that Papists, Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus – in short, that all idolaters will perish in an eternal Hell – How, I say, can we render the Scriptures in a way that is inoffensive to these people. The Bible is not ‘politically correct.’

My second observation is regarding how God’s Word is often treated. “Counted as a strange thing.” This refers to the treatment the Bible often receives – not at the hands of infidels, mind you, but at the hand of professing believers.

The Bible is often outright ignored. Charles Spurgeon once commented that there is enough dust settled on many people’s Bible that you could write the word “Damnation” in it with your finger. It’s a sad fact that many of us are more familiar with TV and movie celebrities, with sports stars and singers than we are with Bible characters. What excuse do we have for such behavior? And what could we possibly present to God on Judgment Day as a justification for such neglect of His Word?

Secondly, the Bible is often mishandled. There are more foolish, ignorant statements made in Sunday sermons every week than there are grains of sand on the seashore. I have heard pastors preach contradictory messages two consecutive Sundays. When I hear the idiocy spewed forth by the likes of Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne, Kenneth Hagin, Morris Cerrulo, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Schuller, etc… I am amazed that God does not rend the heavens and stop them mid-sentence to put an end to their enormities! But one day, He will; rest assured: one day He will. “You are judging,” someone will say. CORRECT! I am told to judge. John 7:24, Jesus says, “Judge righteous judgment.” The holy Word of God is not a plaything to be toyed with by ignorant, arrogant men.

Lastly, as our verse says, the Bible is treated as a “strange” thing. The word “strange” in the King James means “foreign.” One does not need to watch modern Christendom for very long to see that the Bible is foreign to it. How often does someone actually “turn the other cheek?” How often are we encouraged to let unbelievers mistreat us? When was the last time we heard a sermon on lending and not asking for the payment in return? There are myriads of Bible principles that are slighted, ignored and downright rejected as impractical because we have not “renewed our minds” and we are striving to live the Christian life according to the dictates of worldly wisdom and secular philosophy. This is why Christians today indulge in behavior that unbelievers of 100 years ago would never have dreamt of engaging in. It is no secret that the Church is worldly. Nearly a half century ago, A.W. Tozer wrote, “Christianity is so entangled with the world that millions never guess how radically they have missed the New Testament pattern. Compromise is everywhere. The world is white-washed just enough to pass inspection by blind men posing as believers.”

Every month, all over the world there are Christian conferences held on every subject imaginable – except the Bible! The Bible is treated as a strange thing. With all due respect to Rick Warren, why is it that millions of congregations joined in the “40 Days of Purpose” program, but never a “40 Days of Exodus 20,” or even “2 Days of Matthew 5-7?” The Bible is quoted and read out of a sense of obligation or tradition, but it really is foreign to most of us.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Christ's Gethsemane Prayer Answered

The following paragraphs are from Hugh Martin's classic: The Shadow of Calvary. This is a very profound book. The paragraphs I have transcribed here deal with the Father's answer to Christ's prayer in Gethsemane, "Thy will be done."

We must bear in mind that the ultimate agony of Christ's prayer consisted of a burning and unquencable desire that the will of God might be done. "O my Father, Thy will be done." And this will of God embraced immediately and ditrectly these two objects: first, that Jesus should offer Himself a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour to God; and secondly, that herein He should be an effectual and accepted ransom securing the redemption if those whom the Father hath given to Him. The first part of this will of God, namely, the offering of the body of Christ once for all, is asserted in the well-known passage: "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body thou hast prepared me; in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast no pleasure. Then said I,lo! I come to do thy will, O God" (Heb.10:5-7) And the second part of God's will, namely, our separation and consecration to God, and thereby also our salvation, as the fruit of Christ's death and sacrifice, is set forth in close connection with this in a subsequent verse, when the apostle says, "By th which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). Hence when the apostle describes His anguish of prayer in Gethsemane in these terms, "In the days of his flesh, he offered up suplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death," and wheh he assures us that His prayer was heard and answered "in that he feared" (Heb. 10:7); he proceeds to show that it was precisely in these two points that the answer to His prayer consisted; first, that He might receive all needed grace to be "obedient unto death," positively offering Himself a sacrifice; for this was that will of God which He came to do: and, secondly, that all His sheep, His children, the travail of His soul, might be secured unto eternal salvation. For unquestionably in these respects would the aposlte have us to understand that He was "heard in that he feared;" namely, first, inasmuch as "though he were a Son he learned obedience by the things which he suffered" (verse 8), being made perfect in His function as a high priest, not by mere passive obedience, which is the duty of a priest, and especially of such a priest as Jesus, to offer Himself without spot unto God. And then, secondly, the will of God being thus performed by Jesus, the sanctification or salvation of His people is also given to Him; for being thus "made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him" (verse 9).

Such are the two objects of God's will, the two corresponding elements of Christ's prayer, and the two-fold and complete answer. They embrace indeed, and briefly represent, the grand will and purpose of God in the everlasting covenant, consisting, as they really do, of the mutual pledge between the Father and the Son; first, on the part of the Son to the Father, that He should be obedient unto death, the ransom and the righteousness of the Church; and secondly, on the Father's part to the Son, that He should indeed see the travail of His soul, and that the Church in all her members should be ransomed and made the righteousness of God in Him for ever.

Hugh Martin, The Shadow of Calvary, Ch. 6

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

All Means What?

The typical Arminian objection to the doctrine of Limited Atonement is the tired old stand-by "all means all." By this they insist that whenever the Scripture uses the word "all" in reference to the Atonement, it must only and always be understood to refer every single individual on earth.

The Reformed way of understanding the word "all" when it refers to people affected by Christ's death is to affirm that this is a synonym for "of all kinds." Arminians always reject this reasoning and are usually angered by such an assertion.

When their "all means all" theory is put to the test, however, it falls apart quite quickly. Let me demonstrate. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 and in 1 Corinthians10:23 Paul asserts that, "All things are lawful to me." By the same reasoning Arminians use to deny the obvious Scripture doctrine of Limited Atonement we could argue that Paul means to say that adultery, murder, gluttony and theft are lawful for him. Hey, all means all! Once you begin to define the word "all" in these passages in a way that limits it to things which are not innately sinful, then you have implicitly admitted that limitation of the word "all" is indeed allowable.

For Pentecostals the case is even worse. In Acts 2:4 we are told that all spoke in tongues. Yet Paul asks rhetorically in 1 Corinthians 12:30, "Do all speak with tongues?" Using the Arminian hermeneutic of "all means all" we have a flat out contradiction on our hands here. Any attempt to wiggle out of this fact is again, a tacit admission that limitations of the word "all" are Biblically allowable. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. 

1 Corinthians 13 tells us that "Love suffers all things." Are Christians walking uncharitably when they file an insurance claim when some punk kid throws a rock through their car window? Whatever happened to "all means all?"

1 John 1:7 says that we are cleansed from "all sin." Now here is where the rubber meets the road as far as the Arminian "all means all" Procrustean bed goes. If "all means all" as they always insist, then their system collapses in on itself. It is self-stultifying. Scripture explicitly affirms that Christ has cleansed us from "all" sin. This kicks both legs out from under Arminianism. For no one should go to hell if Christ has paid for ALL their sins! Secondly, no one can lose their salvation because this would imply guilt for sins not paid for, yet Scripture says ALL sins are paid for.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Preaching Election

I heard of a minister who had introduced the truth about Election to his congregation. He gradually began to see the consequences of it in terms of his own congregation, which was without a doubt like the mixed crowd that went up out of Egypt when Israel was "born" as a people of God. He saw many of this mixed crowd taking offense when this truth was brought up and began to fear for them lest they leave the church, with the result that the church's finances would of course be seriously endangered, as well as his own 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, they 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. 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 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." 5

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.

1Chapter 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.

Friday, January 14, 2011

How You View The Church Affects Your View Of The Sacraments

The longer I study theology, the more I see how one point of doctrine or practice hangs upon another. Since my shift from Arminian Pentecostalism to Reformed soteriology, I have noticed that little by little, other aspects of my thinking have changed as well. As my grasp of the Reformed understanding of Covenant has become firmer and clearer, I have noticed profound changes on many other aspects of my theological stances. Sometimes the changes have been sudden, like a lightbulb going on; other times the changes have occured by imperceptible degrees. This realization, more than anything else, has shown me the importance of doctrine. It frequently turns out that any thought I have about some given subject hangs upon a previous question and affects a subsequent issue. My views on the Church, end times, and the sacraments have all undergone monumental changes stemming from my finally submitting to the Scripture's actual teaching about the nature of salvation.

One of the most profound changes in my theology has been regarding the question of the subjects of baptism. Here again, is a question which hangs upon a previous question. Inability to see this fact stunts most dialogue among Christians regarding the issue. Our doctrine of the Church will inevitably determine how we answer this question of who are fit subjects for Christian baptism. If we believe what Rome teaches - that She is the institute of salvation and it is only through the instrumentality of Her ordinances that we are united to Christ - then we will answer the question one way. But if we answer the question as Protestants, believing that Christ puts us in relation to the Church (and not the other way around) and that only those who are already in relation to Him have a right to the privileges of His house, then we will answer the question in quite a different way.

All Protestants are agreed upon the foregoing assertion. The division in Protestant ranks occurs when we inquire how "relation to Christ" is to be determined or defined. Some have a very narrow view and therefore are exclusive in administering baptism. They seek demonstrative evidence of participation in Christ before they baptize. This is the Baptist view and hence, this is why they exclude infants from baptism. If we define "relation to Christ" in a wider sense, we tend to be more inclusive. The former position is, as I said, the Baptist view; the latter is the general Protestant view. Since the Reformation, the Protestant view of the Church has been that of a Covenant community which acknowledges that covenant is not coextensive with election. Baptism is the sacrament which grants entrance into the Covenant people; it does not assert, affirm, guarantee or even suggest election.

The weakness of the Baptist system, as I see it, is that it attempts the impossible. No minister on earth (or in Heaven, for that matter) can read the heart. What does that mean? It means that no one, no matter how wonderful a display of Christian character he exhibits, is ever baptized based on a certain, infallible knowledge of his relation to Christ. We all are far too familiar with people who, at one time, appeared to be shining examples of Christian character, who are now up to their ears in sin. I personally know of men who were once preachers, who are now self-proclaimed atheists. No baptism is ever, ever administered based on knowledge. Presumption is the best that can be attained. Once one admits this, the whole Baptist argument is ceded. Furthermore, it seems that the only ground for the presumption of inclusion in Christ's body that can be invented is personal profession of faith. I hesitate not in stating that a human profession is no more solid a foundation upon which to build than is a Divine promise. It follows therefore that if baptism is administered, always and only, on presumption, and not knowledge, then we must baptize everyone we presume to belong to God's people. This most certainly must include the infant children of believers since there are so many precious promises of God to pious parents concerning their children - promises, I might add, that are as comforting and encouraging to devout credobaptist parents as they are to devout paedobaptist parents.

Children of believers in the Church of God in its Old Testament form were included, at God's express command, in the Covenant people by the parallel rite of circumcision. Never was there a hint that they would at some point in time be exluded from the people of God. The New Testament goes to great lengths to assure us that salvation in the New Testament ecomony is much more inclusive: There is no Jew or Gentile, Greek or barbarian, male or female, slave or free. Are we to take it for granted that though the doors have been flung open to men and women from every tribe and tongue, yet the children of the Covenant people are to be banished and treated as pagan children until they can make a profession of faith which give us nothing more certain than presumption of inclusion in Christ's Church anyway?

Furthermore, the historical evidence for the practice of infant baptism needs to be explained. It was the universal practice of the Church for 1500 years. I say that the burden of proof falls to the objectors since they are parting ways with historic Christian doctrine and practice. There is no hint anywhere in all of the corpus of patristic literature of paedobaptism being a Gentile innovation. The earliest believers were largely Jews and it is from them the the Gentile believers learned to read and understand the Old Testament and it is from them that Gentile believers learned Christain doctrine and practice. There is explicit reference to infant baptism in the works of Irenaeus. It is noteworthy that Irenaeus mentions the practice as if it were something that all of his readers well well aware of. The way that the subect is dealt with by Augustine and the Pelagians makes it clear that it was the universal and unquestioned practice of the Church during that period of time. The same can be said of the earlier ages of Cyprian and Tertullian. Whenever the practice has been objected to, the objection has always seemd to rest on one of two contrary misconceptions: an overestimation of the effects of baptism or an underestimation of the need of salvation for infants.

Those who held to Tertullian's erroneous view saw baptism as a removing of sins committed up to the date at which the sacrament was administered. The danger was that one might commit many more sins, for which there woud be no removal. Hopefully you can see what a faulty view this is of the efficacy of the atonement. Sins are forgiven and washed away by Christ's meritrious, vicarious sacrifice - not by baptism. Overvaluing baptism in this way belittles Christ mediatorial work and demands sinless perfection after baptism. Babies can not be expected to live a life of sinless perfection, nor can anyone else for that matter. This is why advocates of Tertullian's view tried to put baptism off as late as possible. Some were said to postpone until their deathbeds. There is an inherent danger in this system: no one knows when he or she will die. In postponing your baptism, you run the risk of dying unexpectedly and never receiving baptism. This meant that you die without having your sins washed away. That is, in a nutshell (or better yet, nutcase) the flaw in baptismal regeneration.

The other view is just as flawed. The question of whether infants need salvation is an uncomfortable subject and many a Calvinist has been villified for suggesting the possiblity that there might be non-elect people who die in infancy. This of course means that there could be sweet, lovable, innocent little babies in hell. This is a train of thought that not many have ever had the nerve to go down. It is a painful subject, no doubt. But regardless of anything else, we must ask: When does a person become a sinner? If we answer that we, as Scripture declares, are all estranged from the womb and conceived in iniquity, then there doesn't seem to be anything inherently unjust about a baby suffering hell for being a sinner. We find that hard to swallow since we all instinctively think of babies are morally innocent. But no self-respecting Protestant, the foregoing implications aside, will say that people are born in a state of moral innocence like Adam and their being a sinner is a trait that develops later in time. We all affirm that we are born sinners. And so it seems that advocates of the opposite of Tertullian's view are guilty of an equally eggregious blunder. They affirm that all people are sinners, infants included, but baptize on the basis of a system that only holds together logically if infants are morally innocent and have no need of salvation. Let me back up and clear the decks: baptism does not convey salvation. But among other things, it signifies that every member of the Covenant people of God stands in need of the same washing from sin, and that adults, like infants, bring nothing to the table.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Analysis of the Covenant of Redemption 8

Anyone familiar with Scripture is aware of the ubiquitous "therefore." Some great doctrinal truth is stated and expounded with careful precision, then comes the "therefore," indicating that doctrine is never merely an intellectual exercise. There are always practical implications and ramification to what we believe. Hence it is incumbent upon us to be diligent students of Scripture that we might believe aright.

Having said that, I wish to close this series on the Covenant of Redemption by pointing out some of the practical implications of this most comforting doctrine.

Practical Observations Concerning the Covenant of Redemption

We have spent a great deal of time and effort showing that relative to the salvation of the elect there is a Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Lord Jesus. I hope with all earnestness that no one supposes this to merely a matter of intellectual speculation, and that once one gets a handle on it, he can move on to other things, as if it were no more important than that. All doctrine has practical ramifications. This doctrine is the foundation and ground of unspeakable comfort, true joy, and holy wonderment at God's glory. We should strive to understand this doctrine - and to understand it aright, making frequent use of its manifold comforts.

In view of the Covenant of Redemption, we observe:

(1) The salvation of the elect is sure. Both parties are mutually satisfied. The elect need not keep themselves for they are in Christ's keeping. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8:35). Who shall disannul the covenant which has been established between them both? “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:55).

(2) The elect do not need to either accomplish their salvation or merit it. Nor indeed, do they need to add anything to it. In the Covenant of Redemption all the conditions which were laid down have been met by the Surety. He bore their punishment and He merited eternal life for them by perfectly fulfilling all righteousness. All Christ's merits extend to God's children.

(3) The Covenant of Graces and our covenant transaction with God in Christ, is based on, and rests completed in this Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Son. All of man's salvation - from beginning to end - issues from this covenant. Before anything or anyone existed it had already been decreed when, where and how each of the elect would be brought into the covenant.

(4) This covenant reveals God's unsurpassed love. Consider that you were the object of eternal love and the mutual delight of the Father and Son to save you! Will your heart not be filled with praise and wonder? The Father and Son were not moved to include any of us in this covenant because of some foreseen faith or good works. It was merely God's love and good pleasure. “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3). “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

(5) By virtue of the Covenant of Redemption, Christ is the executor of the salvation of the elect. The Father has given them to the Son and He will not lose one of them and will raise them up at the last day (John 6:39). Christ is all powerful and He is faithful. Little wonder then that the elect may say, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." We trust in the faithful promises of the faithful Christ. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Ps 138:8); “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps 73:24); “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him” (Ps 2:12)!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Analysis of the Covenant of Redemption 7

Another side issue, yet completely related issue to our discussion of the Covenant of Redemption is this question: Did Christ merit anything for Himself?

One might ask this question since everything He did and suffered was on behalf of the elect. These are not contradictory ideas. In His suffering for the elect and fulfilling all righteousness for them Jesus manifested such love and obedience toward God that, according to the Covenant of Redemption, He merited the promised benefits for Himself as Mediator.

Consider firstly that since a covenant contains conditional promises, the party that fulfills these conditions merits what has been promised. The Covenant of Redemption is such a covenant with conditional promises. Since Jesus has fulfilled the conditions, He has merited the fulfillment of the promises which were made to Him and the elect.

Secondly, Christ anticipated the payment of His wages. He says, “Surely My judgment is with the Lord, and My work with My God” (Isa 49:4). There are two kinds of reward: one is of grace and is not according to merit; the other is a just reward that is according to merit. In this reference to Christ we see a contract that requires the payment of wages upon completion of the task. In this way we may say that Christ has merited a reward for Himself.

Thirdly, Jesus had an eye on His glory as a prize that was set before Him. “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2). This shows us that joy was set before Him upon condition of submitting to the cross. He had this joy in view and therefore He endured the cross, thereby meriting this joy for Himself.

Fourthly, this is also confirmed by all the Scriptures that point to His work as the cause of His exaltation. Christ humbled Himself, and therefore God exalted Him. “He shall see the travail of His soul. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, ... because He hath poured out His soul unto death” (Isa 53:11-12); “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows” (Ps 45:7); “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him” (Phil 2:8-9). This language is so common that the mere observation of these texts confirms that Christ did not only obtain glory in consequence of what had previously transpired, but also merited it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Analysis of the Covenant of Redemption 6

Christ's use of the Sacraments

In closing out the post regarding the Father's work on His part of the Covenant, we noted that God sealed the promises by sacraments. One might wonder what relation this has to the subject at hand. But one need merely recall that sacraments are a sign and seal of covenants to understand the relevance of this issue.

This presents us with a dilemma: How did Christ make use of the sacraments since they were instituted to seal the benefits of the covenant to those who are partakers of its benefits on the basis of Christ's work? It may be objected by some that since He was perfect and sinless, He had no need of the sacraments.

There is no doubt that Christ partook of the sacraments of circumcision and baptism. It is not quite clear whether He partook of the Lord's table. But in solving the above dilemma we should consider:

(1) Both the sinless as well as sinners may make use of the sacraments. Before the fall the Tree of Life was a sacrament for Adam. We know this because a sacrament, a) repeatedly and vividly brings to mind what has been promised; b) repeatedly reconfirms the certainty of the promises; c) provides a foretaste of what is signified by it; and d) rekindles the approbation of the conditions of the covenant as well as the person’s pledge to fulfill them. There is no reason why a sinless person could not partake of all this. Since Adam could use the sacrament this way, there is no reason to think that the Lord Jesus was unable to.

(2) The sacraments, being the seals of the covenant, sealed to Christ all the promises of the covenant of redemption. For believers, the sacraments seal the covenant of grace in Christ. For Christ they sealed the covenant of redemption, assuring Him that He would merit all the benefits for Himself and His children. It was thus sealed to Christ that His sacrifice was pleasing, His satisfaction was efficacious in removing the sins of the elect, and His perfect righteousness was efficacious to acquire for them eternal life.

(3) Jesus came and perfectly accomplished this indeed. “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:6-8). Hence He could say, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4), and “It is finished” (John 19:30).

(4) Having fulfilled the conditions, Christ demanded the fulfillment of the promises both for Himself and the elect. For Himself, He says, "I have glorified Thee on the earth: and now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:245). On behalf of the elect, He says, "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me” (John 17:24).

In summary, we need simply to see that Christ used the sacraments as seals of the Covenant of Redemption. The Holy Spirit uses the sacrament to seal to us the Covenant of Grace.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Analysis of the Covenant of Redemption 5

V. The work of the Son

We shall now consider the work of the other party, the Lord Jesus Christ, which consists of
(A) His acceptance of both the conditions and the promises,
(B) His fulfillment of these conditions, and
(C) His demand that the promises be fulfilled based on His having fulfilled the conditions.

First of all, the Lord Jesus, who is very God and a holy man, upon hearing these conditions, according to His human nature, could do naught else but accept them as due to His perfect holiness and love for God. With full joy He accepted them, as Psalm 40:6-8 states, “Burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart.” When this passage is cited in Hebrews 10:5-7, the application is extended more fully to Christ.

Secondly, He also accepted the promises. This is confirmed by the fact that the Father strengthened Him in executing the covenant by means of its promises, oaths, and seals. “He is near that justifieth Me; who will contend with Me?” (Isa 50:8). This is why He is said to be justified in the Spirit (1 Tim 3:16). In what way is Christ justified? The Father reaffirmed and assured Him of the fact that His suffering and death was a perfect ransom for all the sins of the elect, that He was perfectly satisfied with the execution of His suretyship, and that He merited a complete salvation for all the elect. Therefore He will “appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb 9:28). It is evident that Christ strengthened Himself with these promises, because in His suffering He anticipated the glory that was promised to Him. “...For the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2).

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