Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38 (Part 1)

Divine Sovereignty in Lamentations 3:37-38

Lamentations 3:37-38

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

This passage says so much is such few words that it boggles the mind. Over the next several posts, I hope to treat several aspects of it. The plan of explanation that I intend is as follows:

1: To whom do the words ‘who is this’ apply?

2: What is it to “speak,” and it “come to pass?”

3: How does God’s primary agency affect the good deeds of men?

4: How does God’s primary agency affect the evil deeds of men?

5: Contentment with Divine Providence

Part 1 will seek to demonstrate that the “who” of this passage is none other than God Almighty. By way of application, we are warned against presumption regarding the future and our plans for it.

Part 2 deals with what the passage means when it says “speaks” and it “comes to pass.” The meaning of these words can be none other than absolute Divine sovereignty.

Part 3 seeks to address the thorny issue of how God’s sovereignty over all things affects men’s good deeds, for this is no less thorny than the question of how God’s absolute sovereignty relates to men’s evil deeds. Scripture teaches both that God is the Prime Mover behind all our good and that our good deeds are genuinely reward-able.

Part 4 attempt to tackle the ever thornier question of how God’s sovereignty over all relates to the evil deeds men do. As with the previous post, Scripture teaches both that God is the Prime Mover behind all our deeds, but that we are morally responsible agents whose evil deeds are genuinely punishable. Several passages of Scripture are brought to bear on this difficult issue.

Part 5 brings the four previous posts to a close with a practical application. God is sovereign over all things and He has ordered all things with a view to His own glory. We should seek our ultimate satisfaction by submission to whatever role He has created for us to play in His order.

Part 6 will revisit the passage and treat contentment with God's sovereignty over all things.

I do not assume that this treatment will be comprehensive, but I am attempting to be Scriptural.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Holy Heresy (Part 3)

Unverifiable claims.
I have already mentioned some of the claims made by some of the leaders of the modern Charismatic Movement.  The burning question in regard to their claims is: “How can I verify them?”  I mean, how can any of us really know that these people are telling the truth?  It is not as if I could place a video camera on Mrs. Walters and tape her angelic visitors.  We all know that this is impossible.  These experiences are either lies, self-induced delusions or undisciplined imaginations run amuck, but whatever they are, they cannot be allowed to be sources of doctrine.  The Bible explicitly forbids it. (1) The Holy Spirit plainly forbids us to give heed even to angels if what they say runs counter to Scripture.  We don’t stone false prophets anymore, but their sin is no less serious.  These men (and women) have the gall to label doctrine “opinion” yet they pass off their unverifiable extra-biblical revelations as beyond questioning.  The second you question the biblicality of barking like a dog or laughing insanely they label you a “Pharisee” who cares more for tradition than for God.
Charismatics are notorious for saying things that are intended to sound fresh or insightful, while being completely ignorant of the downright heretical ramifications of what they say.  After the recording of their big hit worship album, Hillsong music directress, Darlene Zschech, did an interview with Josh Bonnett in which she said, “God has been moving on the hearts of His people, right around the world, and He’s causing just incredible things to happen, in the Spirit and in people’s lives.” (2) The phrase, “in the Spirit,” is blatantly heretical.  It reveals a belief that the Spirit is an influence rather than a Person.  The preposition “in” is used in regard to places; the Holy Spirit is not a place or a realm of experience.

The late John Wimber used to say, “God is bigger than His Word.”  This seems to be saying something true at first blush.  But a moment’s reflection is enough to show its true colors.  This statement was used by Wimber as a defense against those who questioned the heterodox teaching within the Vineyard.  The Vineyard teachers supposedly got fresh revelations from God, who is bigger than His word.  In other words, Scripture cannot be used as a standard by which to test any teaching.  Yet the Psalmist tells us that God has exalted His Word above His name. (3) 

Intimidation of those with opposing views
This is perhaps the greatest weapon of the Charismatic heresy.  They revel in mocking any and every opposing view.  And they do it with such panache - such vehemence and acerbity.  Benny Hinn has repeatedly claimed that God has shown him, by divine revelation that He is going to kill those who oppose Hinn’s ministry.  What are we supposed to say to such asininities?  Hinn is not the only one to resort to such ludicrous tactics.  Countless of these self-proclaimed “prophets” torture 1 Chronicles 16:22 (Touch not my anointed…) into an umbrella to shield themselves from all scrutiny.  Despite the fact that 1 Chronicles 16:22 has no possible application to their cause, they do not extend the same leeway to their opponents.  They speak in the most brutal terms against any who do not subscribe to their “manifestations.”  Perhaps not many have gone as far as Hinn in claiming that God is going to kill his critics, but every single one of his ilk is guilty by association.
Another tactic is to discount the right of those outside their circles to judge their orthodoxy.  One of the arch-heretics of the Third Wave, Roberts Liardon says, “Spectators do not have the qualifications to comment on participators.” (4) This line of reasoning is patently false.  It is begging the question to say that I cannot judge the orthodoxy of their doctrine or practice because I haven’t experienced these things.  Do I have to commit murder or adultery in order to know that they are wrong?  Should I have to experience Buddha worship to analyze its falsity?  If I asked Benny Hinn if he believed that homosexuality is sin, I would like to believe that he would answer in the affirmative.  What would he think if I asserted that he had no right to judge the validity of the gay lifestyle because he had never tried it?  This is pure question begging, but he would use the same line of reasoning against me if I called into question his bizarre practices.

I would affirm that meaningful dialogue with heretics is impossible and that all dialogue in hopes of recovering them to the truth is almost pointless.  Matthew Henry wrote, “Real heretics have seldom been recovered to the true faith: not so much defect of judgment, as perverseness of the will, being in the case, through pride, or ambition, or self-willedness, or covetousness, or such like corruption, which therefore must be taken heed of: ‘Be humble, love the truth and practise it, and damning heresy will be escaped.’" (5) The marginal notes to the famous Puritan Geneva Bible of 1557 remark, “The ministers of the word must at once cast off heretics, that is, those who stubbornly and seditiously disquiet the Church, and will pay no attention to ecclesiastical admonitions.” (6)

Surely this must be the reason for the harshness of the Church’s polemic against heresies.  Irenaeus calls the heretical teaching such things as “imposture,” and “buffoonery.”  The followers of the false teaching he calls, “cracked-brained,” and “senseless.” (7) Tertullian says the heretic, Marcion, has a melon for a heart! (8) Terms such as, “abominable blindness and heresy,” (9) are commonplace in Luther’s works.  John the Baptist spoke with vehement fury against the hypocritical Pharisees who came to see him preach. (10)  And no one can hold a candle to Jesus’ diatribe in Matthew 23!  It is not that we do not care for men’s souls, but rather, “contending for the faith,” (11) outweighs all other considerations, including the feeling of those who cross the line theologically.

In conclusion, we ask, “What should we do?”  This is an incredibly difficult question.  If all the denominations and/or congregations that are not reeling in Rodney Howard-Browne’s drunken stupor and all those who have not been “slain” through Benny Hinn’s mesmerism called an assembly similar to the ancient Councils and excommunicated the entire Charismatic Movement, this would probably be of no effect.  Charismatics recognize no authority outside their own circles because they see themselves as superior to the Body of Christ.  Such a move would probably serve to strengthen them.  They would see themselves as martyrs being persecuted by the spiritually blind.  Perhaps persistent expository preaching and persistent polemic is the only tool we have left.  We can preach the word in truth and expose error when the opportunity presents itself.  May God help us!

Galatians 1:8, 9
2 Hillsong Magazine, cited in Praise Music’s Power Pack
Psalm 138:2
Cited in Walters’ Spirit of False Judgment
Matthew Henry on Titus 3:10
Geneva Bible Notes on Titus 3:10
7 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.13.1
Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.40
Martin Luther, Table Talk CLXXVIII
10 Matthew 3:7
11 Jude 3

Friday, February 24, 2012

Holy Heresy (Part 2)

Mystical Interpretations of Scripture
Charismatics are infamous for bizarre and far-fetched interpretations of Scripture.  They love to downplay theological education in favor of their being “led by the Spirit.”  Nonetheless, they make weird displays of knowledge for the purpose of making their audiences feel that they are not ignorant. 
I heard a message by Rich Wilkerson, brother of the famous (and equally weird) David Wilkerson.  His sermon on Acts 9:31-34 was entitled, “What To Do When You Lose Your Nerve.”  In his message he explained that after the church was in a time of peace, Peter went to Lydda, which Wilkerson said in the Greek meant “place of conflict.”  By this he meant to say that when there was peace, Peter went looking for a fight.   He then went on to say the Aeneas means noble and Aeneas’ disease, palsy, in the Greek meant “loss of nerves.” 
The only reason why he was able to get away with such stupidity is that Charismatics are na├»ve.  First of all, Lydda does not mean place of conflict.  Strong’s Concordance tells us that the word is of Hebrew origin and its exact meaning is uncertain.  In other words Lydda does not mean anything in the Greek, because it is Hebrew.  But not only does it not mean anything in Greek; it doesn’t mean anything, period!  Secondly, saying that Peter went to the Lydda looking for a fight because the name means place of conflict is like saying that to find angels we need to go to Los Angeles!  This is not interpretation; it is an undisciplined imagination run amuck!  No doubt, there are people in the world named Philip who do not like horses, despite the fact that Philip in the Greek means lover of horses.  Likewise, just because Aeneas means noble, this does not imply anything about his character.  And on top of it all, whether or not palsy means loss of nerves in the Greek this is not a reliable medical explanation.  I doubt very seriously that Mr. Wilkerson would be satisfied if his doctor still practiced medicine at the level of Hippocrates or Galen.  And never mind ancient medicine.  Neither would he like it if his doctor practiced blood-letting like the physicians of 200 years ago.  Besides, “losing one’s nerve” is an English idiom and everyone knows that idioms do not mean what the individual words mean literally.
Disregard for Scripture
With all their lip service to Scripture, they are no different that the Hegelian relativists outside the Church who deny the existence of objective truth.  Nearly 100 years ago, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “At any innocent tea-table we may easily hear a man say, ‘Life is not worth living.’  We regard it as we regard the statement that it is a fine day; nobody thinks that it can possibly have any serious effect on the man or on the world.  And yet if that utterance were really believed, the world would stand on its head.  Murderers would be given medals for saving men from life; firemen would be denounced for keeping men from death; poisons would be used as medicines; doctors would be called in when people were well; the Royal Humane Society would be rooted out like a horde of assassins.  Yet we never speculate as to whether the conversational pessimist will strengthen or disorganize society; for we are convinced that theories do not matter.” (1)  How are we supposed to reason with these people meaningfully regarding the truth of Scripture, when “the truth” is interpreted on the basis of their latest vision or visitation?

On that worldwide source for “Charismatic chaos,” TBN, I heard a young preacher interpret Habakkuk 2:2 (2) as saying that when God gives us a “vision,” (which word was left completely unexplained) we have to write it down so we can go back to it and read it and study it.  What is this but creating one’s own Scriptures?  Yet as he spoke, he was greeted with a continual stream of “Amen’s.”  This shows the level of ignorance that is prevalent through the entire Charismatic movement: A man can get on TV and blaspheme the Holy Scriptures and have the complete assent of the audience.
The famous Charismatic preacher, T.L. Osborne, came to the Philippines with his wife in the early 1990’s to conduct a seminar.  What he really did was promote his and his wife’s literature by the outrageous claim that using their material would “win the world.”  One got the impression that what he really wanted to say was that it was better if everyone used his material rather than their own – or even the Bible.  In the course of his lecture he commented on St. Paul’s prohibition against women preachers (3) by calling Paul a “male chauvinist.”  His exact words were, to the best of my memory, “How dare he tell me what my wife can or cannot do!”  John MacArthur was correct when he said that although the Liberal theologians and the neo-orthodox were unable to sell their theology to the Pentecostals, they succeeded in selling them their exegesis. (4)

G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, Introduction
2 And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
1 Timothy 2:12
John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Holy Heresy (Part 1)

At first blush, it seems like a strange statement to say that the true Church needs heresy. But history demonstrates the truth of this assertion.  The great ante-Nicene African theologian, Tertullian, wrote, “We ought not to be astonished at the heresies (which abound) neither ought their existence to surprise us, for it was foretold that they should come to pass; nor the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause is, by affording a trial to faith, to give it also the opportunity of being ‘approved’.” 1 This statement is especially poignant when one stops to remember that Tertullian himself fell for Montanism is his later years. St. Paul warned that heresies must occur.  He said, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”2

Perhaps at this point we should define heresy.  In the earliest uses it meant primarily the work of schismatic or divisive teachers within in the Church.  But by the writing of Peter’s second epistle, heresy had come to mean the false teachings of these schismatic or divisive teachers.  This is the meaning which has persisted to the present day.  Peter calls their teaching,”damnable heresies.” 3

But even in the Old Testament, God warned Israel that false teachers would arise and that the whole point was to test Israel’s faithfulness to God’s covenant.  Moses wrote, “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”4 This means that attractive leaders are not always led by God.  New ideas from inspiring people may sound good, but we must judge them by whether or not they are consistent with God’s Word.

Throughout the history of the Church, heresies have forced us to formulate more clearly what we mean to say by the terminology we employ.  In the first four centuries of the Church, the heresies of Marcion, Arius, Paul of Samosata, Nestorius, Eutyches, Sabellius and Pelagius drew forth from the early Fathers the great Creeds of Nicaea, Constantinople and the definition of Chalcedon.  During the Reformation era, the Remostrants prompted the synod of Dort.  This is perhaps one of the greatest services of heresy for the true Church: it forces us to think clearly.  We are required by the exigencies of the situations to declare the whole counsel of God not in an “uncertain sound.” 5

This method has always been an effective remedy for false teaching.  But since the Enlightenment, men in general have become increasingly relativistic in their view of truth.  Unfortunately, this has trickled down into the church as well.  Therefore, since the onslaught of Liberalism in the late 1890’s the Church has lost her ability to effectively put down heresy.

No plainer example of this fact exists than the Pentecostal movement and the Charismatic Movement in particular.  The Pentecostal movement began exactly 100 years ago in a small church on Asuza Street in downtown Los Angeles.  Many of the key leaders of the “revival,” including its primary leader, William Seymour, were adherents of the “apostolic faith” theology, 6 which is pure Sabellianism.  Apostolics are known by such names as “Oneness,” and “Jesus Only,” because of their denial of the Trinity in three Persons.  They adhere to the Sabellian doctrine that the three are really One Person manifesting Himself in three distinct modes. 

The Pentecostal movement lived under the disapproval of mainstream Christianity until the late 1960’s when Dennis Bennett (1917-1991), an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California was “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” and began to speak in “tongues.”  From there, the Charismatic Movement has spread like wildfire throughout the globe.  But surely water cannot rise higher than its source.  And surely God cannot condone error.  But this is what the Pentecostals and Charismatics would have us believe.  If this movement is genuine, then God is in fact endorsing Sabellianism, post-biblical revelations, Buddhistic mind-over-matter “faith,” and even image-worship (the Charismatic movement has spread to the Roman Catholic Church and its equally idolatrous sister, the Greek Orthodox Church). 7

All accounts of heresy and its counterpart polemic since the days of Irenaeus to the present, have given us six main characteristics of heresy, all of which can be seen in the dark from a thousand miles away in the Charismatic Movement.  They are: Novelty, Mystical experiences as a source of post-biblical revelation, mystical interpretations of Scripture, disregard for Scripture, unverifiable claims, and intimidation of those with opposing views.

Marks of Heresy Within the Charismatic Movement


New ideas are the part and parcel of heresy.  In theological matters novelty is another name for heresy.  Even a cursory reading of the Reformers will reveal how deeply they believed that they were standing in the stream of historic Christianity.  The sheer number of citations by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli to Augustine and the other Fathers is proof of this assertion.  They knew that novelty is another name for heresy.  Every single Charismatic preacher is guilty of using lines like: “Are you ready for something new?”  They love to entice their audiences with bits of new revelations from God that only they have.  This is Gnosticism.

Mystical experiences as a source of post-biblical revelation

A common feature of heresy, and especially the Charismatic movement, is its appeal to unverifiable spiritual experiences which, in turn, serve as sources for extra-biblical revelation.  Charismatics pay lip-service to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, but it is no secret that they rely much more on “words of prophecy,” or words in supposed “tongues.”  And if a “word of prophecy“ ever runs counter to the revealed word of God, the “new” always takes the place of the old.  Tommy Tenney sold millions of copies of his God Chasers, wherein he refers to Scripture as old worn-out love letters. 8 He tells of a mystical experience where the church’s plexiglass pulpit split in two, throwing the speaker to the ground.  He then appeals to this as proof of all the erroneous things he says throughout the book.  Tenney inteprets Hebrew 1:3 (upholding all things by the word of his power) by saying that God not only holds all things together, but that He is the sum of all things! 9 Even the untrained eye can see that this is heresy!  It is not Christianity; it is pantheism – the same pantheism taught by Hindus for centuries.  It would be easy to question the reality of the “split pulpit” story, but that is beside the point.  Even if it were true, it is still not a verification of doctrine.

Kathie Walters has a book entitled The False Spirit of Judgment.  It is the usual Charismatic refusal to submit their theology, rather mythology, to the bar of Scripture.  Walters, who by her own estimation, knows how to live in the supernatural realm of the Holy Spirit, recounts how her four year old daughter was taken up to heaven.  The 4 year-old saw and talked to Jesus.  She came back down saved and speaking in tongues.  The little girl can give you a description of what she saw and heard. 

Of course, the acorn (or should I say ‘nut’) doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Walters has had “several dynamic angelic visitations.” 10  Plus she has had two very special visitations with the Lord.  On the first one, she was “taken up into heaven every day from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.”  On another occasion, she was taken to heaven every day for three and a half weeks.  She promises us that she can describe it all and she is writing a book about it.  The book, she says, will probably surprise many of her evangelical friends.  Of course, none of us can compete with this, so she is above the law.  But what never seems to strike any of these people is, that in Scripture there is not a single description of heaven or hell by any of the people who died and came back to life.  Tertullian refuted this tomfoolery nearly 2000 years ago.  He wrote, “Now, although Paul was carried away even to the third heaven, and was caught up to paradise, and heard certain revelations there, yet these cannot possibly seem to have qualified him for (teaching) another doctrine, seeing that their very nature was such as to render them communicable to no human being.” 11 If Paul was not permitted to communicate what he saw and heard in heaven, what makes these people believe they are allowed to do so?  Walters explicitly tells us in her book that she has had visions which she believes are prophetic “for the entire Church.” 12  If that is not a claim to inspiration on the level of the Biblical Prophets, nothing is!

The upshot of all these extra-biblical experiences is the professors are thereby impervious to correction.  Someone once said, “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”  Granted, this saying has a legitimate use; it is unfortunately true regarding adherents of heretical experiences.  When people like Kathie Walters, Benny Hinn or Oral Roberts claims to have had angelic visitations or personal meetings with the Incarnate Christ, how are ordinary Christians like us supposed to compete?

1 Tertullian - The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 1. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3
2 1Corinthians 11:19
2 Peter 2:1
Deuteronomy 13:1 – 4
1 Corinthians 14:8
Seymour went to Charles F. Parham’s Bible school.  Parham was the founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement
Another feature of Pentecostalism, and its daughter the Charismatic Movement, is the prominence of women in positions of authority.  Both camps speak strongly of interpreting Scripture literally, but they resort to exegetical gymnastics when they interpret Paul’s prohibition against women preaching.  Many of the leaders of the Azusa Street revival were women.  Seymour was actually replaced by a woman, Jennie Evans Moore, as senior pastor of his church when he died.  Moore held this position until 1936.  If we hold to the position that women should not preach, we must assume that theological error is endemic in their teaching, because they are disobedient to Scripture in the first place.  A short survey of Church History confirms this.  In most of the heretical movements from the doctrines of Paul of Samosata, to Arianism, to Montanism, women have been prominent figures.  Surely this is not without significance.
Tommy Tenney, God Chasers
10 Kathie Walters, The False Spirit of Judgment
11 Tertullian - The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 24.  Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3
12 Kathie Walters, The false Spirit of Judgment

Monday, February 20, 2012

Self-Resurrecting Dead

“Arise, ye dead,” Arminius cries;
Arise, ye dead in sin!
Unstop your ears, unseal your eyes
And a new life begin.
Why will ye die, ye wretched souls?
Ye dead, why will ye die?
Quicken and make your spirits whole;
to life eternal fly.”
As Baal’s worshippers of old,
begg’d, pray’d, and cry’d aloud;
cutting their bodies, as we are told,
to move a fancied god;
so on the idol man he’ll call,
and pompously declare,
though slightly damaged by the fall,
how great his powers are.
“Rise, noble creature! Man, arise!
And make yourself alive!
Prepare yourself to mount the skies;
For endless glory strive.”
Deluded Seer! But man will lie
Still senseless as a stone;
And you yourself stand fooling by,
‘till both are quite undone:
Unless Almighty power be mov’d
By God’s free-will, not thine,
To quicken both, and make his love
On both your hearts to shine.

Serious Essays, in verse, Rev. John Ryland Jr.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Notable Quotes 9

A man is not free from a fault, as long as the fault is laid to his charge; he is then free from the fault, when it is not charged upon him. All the powers of the world united are not able to pronounce a person faultless and an innocent person, but only the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the way by which a poor sinner, even in this world, may be pronounced an innocent person; even in this world, I say, and be acquitted and discharged from the fault and guilt of his sin. It is impossible the law should do it; the apostle speaks of it expressly, Rom. viii. 2, "The law of the spirit of life in Christ hath freed me from the law of sin and death." Here it is put upon Christ, to free from the guilt of sin. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, for sin condemned sin in the flesh." "The law," saith the text, “could not do it;" not that the law could not pronounce innocence where innocency was: not that the law could not condemn sin, where it is condemnable by its authority: the law can do this, if it can find subjects whereupon to do it. But the law runs upon these terms, as it finds a person himself without fault, so it pronounceth sentence upon him; if it finds a fault in his person, then it chargeth this fault upon the person alone, as thus: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." Till then thou canst not be absolutely freed from the acting of a thing in its nature that is faulty; thou canst not hear it speak any otherwise but of faultiness, which it chargeth upon thee.

Tobias Crisp, Works, Sermon 1 on John 14:6

Monday, February 13, 2012

Notable Quotes 8

It is a great folly in the children of God to question His love merely because of the greatness of their afflictions. We presently cry out, as Job, chapter 30:21, “Thou art become cruel to me; with thy strong hand thou opposeth thyself against me;” that He hath put off all fatherly affection, because we judge of the cross according to the sense of our own flesh. And therefore to question God’s love because of afflictions is folly. Rather we conclude the contrary of the two. Bastards are left to a looser disciple than sons; the bramble of the wilderness is suffered to grow and spread when the vine is cut, and pruned, and pared; the stones that are to be set in the building are most hewed and squared, others lie neglected in the quarry and are left to their own roughness. Multiplied afflictions are a sign God hath a care of you; He will not suffer you to run wild. And therefore, in defiance of the cross, learn to call God Father; look through the cloud of the present dispensation to the love of God towards you. 

Thomas Manton – Sermon on Luke 23:34

Friday, February 10, 2012

Grounds of Saving Faith 3

Having dispensed with what are not the grounds of justifying faith we must not ask: What then are the grounds of true justifying faith? This is what we now propose to answer.

The Covenant of Grace, or the gracious call of God in the Gospel - as it is held out in Scripture - is the only, adequate ground of faith. In this call, or offer of the Gospel there are six particulars to be considered which are the special grounds of believing:

A. The Gospel call declares that there is a sufficient Savior. This Savior is Jesus Christ. There is no other way. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “either Jesus is not a complete Saviour; or that they, who by a true faith receive this Saviour, must find all things in him necessary to their salvation (Lord’s Day 11, Question 30).

B. Christ’s good-will and desire to confer the all-sufficient remedy. God gave His only Son, and the Son came to do the Father’s will. Not only is Christ a sufficient Savior, He is full of good-will and tender-heartedness toward the elect sinners for whom He atoned.

C. There is God’s promise of the all-sufficient remedy Christ’s satisfaction obtained. It is not just that we were dead in sin and in need of a Savior. We actually have the promise of God that all things we need for our salvation are to be found in Christ.

D. This promise is amply accomplished in that Christ both fulfilled the Law for His people and suffered the punishment their sins deserved. Christ perfectly obeyed God in our place, thus establishing the necessary righteous, perfect obedience to the Law of God, which Adam forfeited when He broke the Covenant of Works. Moreover, Christ paid the price of death which our transgressions incurred. So the two-fold requirement was met.

E. Furthermore, we have the explicit command of God to believe in Christ and to freely embrace the offer of salvation through His merits. More than merely being offered to poor sinners, the Gospel is actually commanded to be believed.

F We must also consider God’s faithfulness. Christ asserted that He would not drive away those who in saving faith came to Him (John 6:37).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Grounds of Saving Faith 2

Having looked at a couple of things that are not grounds of justifying faith, let us consider a few more before passing on to the positive side of our study.

3. The attributes of God (His power, mercy, love wisdom, etc.) are not formal grounds of justifying faith. I say this for these reasons:

A. If these were sufficient ground of believing, then Adam would have had sufficient grounds before the Gospel was proclaimed to him. No one ever had a more intimate and personal experience of God’s attributes of power and goodness than Adam. He experienced at least some fellowship with God unsullied by sin. Even after the Fall, he had an immediate and intimate knowledge of God’s attributes, living as he had in unspoiled nature. As far as this is concerned, the devils and those who have never heard the Gospel might be said to have sufficient grounds for faith. Satan knows God is powerful; so what? Pagans the world over all throughout history have ascertained that God created the world, so what?

B. This would mean that the Gospel is not a supernatural revelation. This is the weakness of natural religion. Natural theology, that is, what can be known about God from nature, is sufficient to leave man without excuse at the tribunal of God, but not sufficient to give saving faith. Revelation is needed for that.  

C. When we are called to believe, we are called to come boldly to the throne of grace, looking to be saved through the merits of Christ as held out to us in the Gospel. Believing that God is almighty and merciful (or whatever other attribute you can think of) comes short of this.

D. Jesus Christ, the God-man, dying for our sins, held out to us as a propitiation, is the only object of saving faith. We do not exercise saving faith in Christ’s offices or work, but in His person. A man can believe that Jesus is Mediator, without trusting in Him as Mediator. The demons who possessed the Gadarene man knew Christ was the Son of God, so what? 

4. The inward objective witness of the Spirit is not the grounds of justifying faith. What I mean by this is: we are not to suspend believing till we obtain this experience. Much that passes for Evangelical Gospel preaching falls into this pitfall. So much is made of experience. Those who have had any experience with Pentecostalism or Charismaticism will know what I mean.

The reason why personal “experience” can be no measure of genuine faith is because it is not impossible for experience to contradict Scripture, or to convey doctrine which is contrary to Scripture. If this happens, one is thrown back on one’s self for assurance rather than the promises of God. I am fickle, changing and uncertain. If my faith is based on nothing better than my subjective personal experience, I am in deep trouble. One thinks of the Benny Hinns of the world who, through professed spiritual experience gain access to all kinds of new revelation. This jettisons the Scripture and substitutes in its place the unverifiable clams of egocentric weirdos. I have met people that claim to have seen ghosts and even to have photographed them. Scripture tells me that when a person dies, that person’s soul goes to heaven or hell. It does not wander the earth looking for justice or looking after living loved ones. Do I believe experience or Scripture? I get a tingle up my spine when I repeat the sinner’s prayer. Is this a reliable ground for faith?

There is no way to distinguish truth from falsehood on this basis, either. Mormons experience their “burning in the bosom.” Are we to assume that they believe savingly? And, no, I do not accept Joel Osteen as an authority on this subject. Scripture is God’s revelation and it is either sufficient or it is not sufficient. Looking for a sign is the mark of a “wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39).

Besides, the witness of the Spirit comes after believing, not before it.

5.  Conviction, Remorse, moral goodness and the like are not grounds of justifying faith. Our reasons for asserting this are:

A. The true grounds of faith are outside a man. Faith goes out of itself to the name of Christ. Whatever purpose conviction, remorse, joy, morality, etc., may serve, they are all within the man and thus are not grounds of faith. If they were, then the man would simply be believing in himself. This theory has more in common with the Wizard of Oz than Biblical Christianity.

B. Everyone is commanded to believe, but not everyone is humbled, weary and heavy laden. The obligation to believe precedes any awareness or sense of guilt or humility. Just because a man does not feel remorseful, this does not excuse him from the sinfulness of rejecting the Gospel.

C. The Gospel command to repent and believe is given to creatures who have no spiritual feeling. They are dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). Many in Laodicea felt the exact opposite of their true spiritual condition (Revelation 3:18).

6. Lastly, in honor (or rather dishonor) of the Hagin theory of faith. Faith is not to put in faith either. Anyone who has ever heard a Word of Faith preacher, has heard him/her claim that we must put faith in our faith, that is, have faith in our faith. Besides sounded stupid, this is ridiculous counsel. What else is this but faith in one’s self? Scripture curses such faith. Someone once remarked that faith in faith is like driving in the dark on a bridge that doesn’t reach the other side. Faith, as such, is not some mystical power in the universe that we can tap into once we know the secret. That has more in common with Wicca than Christianity. My faith in God is not what saves me, but rather the God in whom I have faith, is who saves me. There is a world of difference between those two things.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Grounds of Saving Faith 1

Saving faith is perhaps one of the most undefined things in all of Christendom. In thousands of pulpits around the world, sinners are called to believe for their salvation. The need for faith is asserted over and over, but what exactly this faith is and what are its grounds, is seldom, if ever defined. In the absence of proper definition and explanation, false ideas slip in unawares.

So in answering this question regarding the grounds of faith, it seems profitable to start by showing what are not grounds of faith

1. A sense of misery, considered by itself is not a ground of justifying faith. I have heard preachers bend over backwards to create in their hearers a sense of their miserable condition separated as they are from God. There is no doubt that a sense of one’s sinfulness before a holy God will create in the heart of a sinner a sense of misery. The Psalmist speaks of feeling that his sins have “gone over his head” (Psalm 38:4).

What we mean, however, is the simple sense of one’s misery and sinfulness. The sense of this is not the grounds of faith. No doubt, even the devil, his demons, and the damned souls in hell sense their misery. Preachers like Finney gave people the impression that this feeling of dread and misery was a prerequisite for faith. So that his listeners had the idea that they are not obliged to belief until they felt this, or that their belief was not real until they felt some extraordinary sensation of guilt and/or relief from it.

Think this through for a moment and you will see that it is nothing but works-righteousness. The only reason they wish to come to Christ is because they are weary and heavy laden. They fear hell and therefore they come to Christ as an escape hatch. This is mere legalism. I desire to be saved and I want to be happy, hence, I will go to Christ to make my dreams come true. This is the heart of the pseudo-gospel preached by the likes of Joel Osteen. “Come to Christ because He doesn’t want you to be unhappy and miserable. You’re a great guy and He wants to show you how much He thinks of you by making your wildest dreams become a reality.”

We are to believe, not so much because we find ourselves miserable sinners, but because we are miserable sinners and are commanded to believe. There is nothing wrong with Hell fire and brimstone preaching, per se. But when the objective is to simply intimidate people through servile fear to accept Christ, you are merely making false converts. Nobody loves parachutes simply as parachutes. No one wants one strapped to his back while he’s lounging in his recliner. But people will kill for one on a crashing plane. How can we, who would be insulted if we were treated this way, expect God to be pleased with this kind of faith?

2. Man’s testimony is no ground for justifying faith. I have been in hundreds of meetings where someone’s “testimony” was shared as a means of evangelizing the lost. It is true that a man’s testimony may serve as a motive to us to give assent to the truth of Scripture. The people of Samaria believed because of the woman’s report, but upon hearing Christ, they said, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves.” John 4:42

It is nice to hear how God has sovereignly worked in someone else’s life, but this is not the Gospel that it to be savingly believed. Our point is this, if a person “believes” merely on the strength of my personal testimony of my experience, that person’s faith is grounded in nothing better than his subjective acceptance of my experience. Unless faith is based upon Christ and His own word, it has shifting sand as a foundation.

Friday, February 3, 2012

How Christ Limits the Atonement 4

Today we will conclude, for the time being, our look at the nature and extent of the atonement. We must first hasten to reiterate that the two things, nature and extent, are intimately connected. As we have asserted and will further assert, the nature of the atonement defines its extent.

Answering the question “Who are the objects of Christ's atonement?” would have been much simpler had men been satisfied with the statements of Scripture and the ideas derived from these statements of Scripture. The atonement is simply coextensive, as far as its saving effects are concerned, with the number of true believers. This should have been the last word, and indeed would have been, were it not for men who, being driven less by religious convictions than by speculative tendencies, deemed it necessary to extend the atonement to all men alike. Rather than contenting themselves with the Scriptural revelation that the atonement was coextensive with it effects, they insisted that it be coextensive with the entire human race, and for each member equally.

This brings us full circle to something I said at the outset of our discussion, that the issue at stake when this subject is broached is that what is really being questioned is not the extent of the atonement, but rather its nature. One need only to look at the various universalist theories to see that this is, in fact, the case.

There are four basic categories of universalist theories.
A. The thorough-going theory of universal salvation; that is, the belief that in virtue of Christ's work, all men will ultimately be saved. The only good thing that can be said about this theory is that it carries its presuppositions through to their logical consequences. It affirms that the actual restoration attained by Christ is coextensive with the actual ruin of the race. It overlooks justice simply falls back on a fuzzy idea of Divine benevolence. Though it is completely and utterly unscriptural, it is at least self-consistent.

B. Arminianism is the second universalist theory. It is far less consistent than the above theory. Its trademark is the notion of universal grace. This affirms that the atonement made by Christ was coextensive with the whole of humanity, whether they believe it or not. By looking only at one side of the equation, they completely undermine the atonement as a valid fact. By holding that on God's side the remedy is as universal as the disease they lose in at the center what they gain in breadth. The atonement does not actually secure anything; it merely makes possible the salvation of man who, of his own free-will, chooses to believe. At bottom, it is tantamount to saying that the atonement made it possible for man to save himself.

C. The Amyraldist view of universal grace, while differing in some respects from the Arminian scheme, has the same fatal flaw at its center. This theory asserts that because of God's love to fallen men He appointed Christ as a mediator for every single individual human being – and that by this means all barriers on the side of Divine justice have been removed. Salvation is thus said to have been made possible, but it adds the condition which switches the application of it to God's sovereign will: it is for all if they believe. It should be obvious that this theory alters the nature of the atonement. It holds that Christ, by His own intention and the Father's purpose, died for everyone, that a salvation was purchased for everyone though not applied to everyone. Moreover, the atonement, though not actually securing redemption or faith - by causal connection, made it possible for God to bestow salvation on anyone He pleased and to form a new covenant of grace with humanity in general. Thus the atonement is not a transaction in its own nature, involving a covenant or substitution and securing its own application. Again, note that, like Arminianism, this theory falsely assumes that a limitation to the extent of the atonement is somehow a limitation to the power of God and the love of God.

D. Finally, there is a form of the universalist theory that is not the result of any philosophical speculation at all. It is little more that an uninformed and roundabout way of representing the universal call of the Gospel. Preachers of this theory (which is not even really a theory, as such) are content to say that Christ died for all men without ever working out the ramifications of such a statement. They never think through the logical consequences and all they really mean is that the invitation, when it is given by the preacher, is given to all alike. Many good men, under a confused impression, express themselves in this way without ever considering or investigating that their universal call must have a universal provision underlying it. They never ponder that, regarding the completeness of the atonement, it is necessary that the three involved parties (the Father, the Surety, and the man needing salvation) concur. There must be a consent of all the concerned parties. The sinner's exercise of faith must be seen as his approval of this method of salvation and his consent to it. This was signified in the Old Testament when the worshiper laid his hand on the head of the sacrifice demonstrating his consent to this form of expiation and confessing his sins onto the animal victim.

Proponents of this last form of universal atonement, generally assume that to believe in Christ is equivalent to believing that Christ died for us. These two are not the same thing. The first mental act is an apprehension of a sufficient Savior; the second is an inference from this. First of all, no one is called to believe that Christ died for him any more than he is required to believe that his sins are pardoned before he believes. Conversely, regarding the responsibility for rejecting the Gospel, the condemnation or punishment is due to the sinner's refusal to accept a sufficient Redeemer and accept this way of salvation. He rejects the idea and method of it, whereas faith is the acceptance and approval of it. The sinner concurs and signifies his concurrence by faith, demonstrating that he approves of this way of salvation and desires to be saved in no other way. Then all concerned parties are concurred.

Those who promote an indefinite atonement make the whole transaction complete without man's consent. I fail to see what conceivable advantage is gained by making the atonement wider that the number of those who approve of it and are willing to be saved by it.

These theories fall apart when we allow Christ to define the nature of the atonement, because the real question is its nature not its extent. Once the nature is defined, the question of the extent answers itself.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How Christ Limits the Atonement 3

Today we will look at the fifth title Christ affixes to the objects of redemption. We noted that first they are called the many, His sheep, His people, and the children of God scattered abroad.

Fifthly and finally, Christ calls them His friends, for whom He lays down His life (John 15:13). Clearly, the emphasis of this statement is the special love Christ has for His people, which here He calls friends.

The design for which He laid down His life is not mentioned here. But that had already been explained in the institution of the Lord's Supper. Christ's explanation of the Supper that His blood was to be shed for the remission of sins fully expresses the purpose and the effect of His atoning death. So when Christ wishes to teach His disciples mutual love, He appeals to His own example and points to the greatest proof that could be adduced of His love: His vicarious death.

Even without these considerations, it is clear that His death was in the stead of those He called His friends. Both the procuring of redemption and its application are stressed in this passage by the term friend and by the fact that He willingly lays down His life. This special love wins, finds, and rescues its object. 

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