Thursday, February 7, 2019

Confessing Imputation: Christ’s Righteousness

In justification the righteousness of Christ's death and obedience are accounted, credited, or imputed to sinners by faith alone, not infused or worked inherently into them.

Heidelberg Catechism 60
Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God's commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

Belgic Confession 22
Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits and so many holy works which he has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness.

Westminster Confession of Faith 11.1
Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them.

Westminster Larger Catechism 71
Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepts the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Westminster Shorter Catechism 33
Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Law and Gospel: Tom Wenger Introduces William Tyndale

"Most know William Tyndale (1484-1536) as one of the most important figures in translating the Scriptures for the English-speaking world. But rarely discussed are his deep, pastoral concerns
that all who read those Scriptures must understand the distinction between the law and the gospel. In fact, Tyndale saw this as so crucial that he wrote a lengthy Prologue for his new translation that focused on unpacking the importance of this distinction. Knowing that many of his readers would be handling the Scriptures themselves for the first time, Tyndale's Prologue is an impassioned plea for them to understand the roles of the law and the gospel before they read the Bible so that they will divide it rightly from the very beginning. As he says at the outset:"
Nevertheless, seeing that it hath pleased God to send unto our Englishmen...the scripture in their mother tongue, considering that there be in every place false teachers and blind leaders; that ye should be deceived of no man, I supposed it very necessary to prepare this Pathway into the scripture for you, that ye might walk surely, and ever know the true from the false: and, above all, to put you in remembrance of certain points, which are, that ye well understand what these words mean; the Old Testament; the New Testament; the law, the gospel; Moses, Christ; nature, grace; working and believing; deeds and faith; lest we ascribe to the one that which belongeth to the other, and make of Christ Moses; of the gospel, the law; despise grace, and rob faith.
Excerpted from Modern Reformation

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Essential Use of The Gospel Promise for Christians

"When true Christians are, at any time, in the dark about their personal interest in  Christ, they should as sinners, apply and trust the indefinite promises, directed in the gospel-offer to sinners as such; but, when they are assured of their interest in him, they may besides, apply and trust the definite promises, addressed to believers as such

Hebrews 8:10-12
"The absolute promises, as they are directed in the offer to sinners indefinitely, are of general use (Hebrews 8:10-12). They serve as a ground of faith to such sinners, as are beginning to believe in Jesus Christ; and also to such believers, as are not assured by reflection, that they are already saints. Presented as they are, to sinners indefinitely, they are of course addressed, as a warrant for trusting in Jesus for salvation, to believers, considered in themselves as sinners. They are directed, not only to sinners without exception, who hear the gospel; but to saints, and that not as saints, but sinners in themselves and in their own view. 

"The apostle Paul, long after his conversion, accounted himself the chief of sinners. In proportion as believers grow in grace, and in spiritual knowledge, the more sin, do they perceive in their hearts, and in all their thoughts, words, and actions. The less of remaining sin they have, the more of it do they see and feel. And sometimes, when their evidences of grace are veiled from their view, they can discern nothing in their hearts but sin; nothing in their past experience, but what appears counterfeit; and nothing in their present frame of mind, but strong, impetuous, and prevailing corruption. Now, the absolute promises are perfectly adapted to believers, when in such distressing cases. They are directed to sinners, and to believers as sinners; in order that they may warrantably apply, and trust, and plead them anew; or, that it may be warrantable for them, to come as sinners and trust them, as if this were but the beginning of their confidence. They are promises, not only of the first grace, but of all the future degrees of grace. Believers, therefore, have need to apply and trust them, at all time, and more especially, when they cannot discern their evidences of union with Christ. They are addressed in offer to them as sinners; that they may see their Divine warrant, for applying and pleading them, even in their deepest defection of spirit. When they can discern nothing in themselves, but sinfulness, then, they have the more need to look to, and fasten upon, the Lord Jesus in absolutely free promises. Whatever grace or degree of grace, they want, they are commanded, as sinners in themselves, to believe in the compassionate Saviour, and in believing, to take and trust those most comprehensive promises, as their security for it. —- 

"On the other hand, when a believer is assured of his personal interest in Christ, he may then apply and trust the definite promises, which are addressed, in the gospel, to believers as such. Now that he is satisfied of his evidences of vital union with Christ, and so, of the reality of his union and communion with Him, he should embrace and trust, not only the indefinite, but the definite promises; in order that, he may be filled with all joy and peace in believing, and may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost."

John Colquhoun, A Collection of the Promises Of The Gospel; pp 17-20

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Thomas Bell: The Law Accompanies The Gospel in the Administration of The Covenant of Grace

The implications for preaching?
“The covenant of works cannot but attend the covenant of grace, considering the state of those to whom this last is administered. They are all such as are by nature under the covenant of works. And if they refuse to enter into the one, they mnst of necessity abide under the other. This being the truth, they are fairly warned of it. Hence it is no uncommon thing to find the doctrine of the two covenants, law and gospel, in one and the same text of scripture. So Mark xvi. 16. “He that believeth, shall be saved:” there is gospel. “ He that believeth not shall be damned:” there is law. So also John iii. 36. Meanwhile this offer of the one covenant accompanied with the high command of the other, cannot be called a gospel-covenant made with sinners. It is a setting life and death before them, blessing and cursing: bidding them choose the one, and flee from the other, Deut. xxx. 19. Were it a covenant, it would not be more a covenant of grace, than of wrath, of life than of death. “For while the one part would be, If thou believe, thou shalt be saved: the other would be, If thou do not believe, thou shalt be damned.” It is not a covenant therefore, but the solemn administration of the covenant of grace.
Thomas Bell, A Treatise on The Covenants of Works and Grace

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Gospel via Thomas Boston...

Lastly, Here is a demonstration of the absolute necessity of being united to the
Second Adam, who kept the second covenant, and thereby fulfilled the demands of the first covenant. See your absolute need of him; prize him, and flee to him by faith. Behold him with an eye of faith, who has repaired the breach. The first Adam broke the first covenant, by eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree; Christ has repaired the breach, by hanging on a tree, and bearing the curse, for his people. Adam's preposterous love to his wife made him sin: Christ's love to his spouse made him suffer and satisfy. In a garden Adam sinned, and therefore in a garden Christ was buried. Eating ruined man, and by eating he is saved again. By eating the forbidden fruit all died; and by eating Christ's flesh and drinking his blood by faith, the soul gets life again, (John vi. 57). O then have recourse to Christ; and thus shall you be saved from the ruins of the fall, and have an interest in the covenant made with Christ, the condition of which being already fulfilled by him, can never be broken, or they who are once in it ever fall out of it again. 
Thomas Boston on The Covenant of Works

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Some Thoughts On How Then To Live...

When beginning the day once again with the hope of living in a manner pleasing to the Lord, a question may arise in the heart, "How then?", which can cause one to somewhat tremble and fall prey to a necessity-driven kind of response. The way in which one deals with this moment (a moment that often reoccurs throughout the day) can lead to either a resting trust in Christ as the ground of Christian living or an unsure-works-direction based on the unconscious faulty notion that one's acceptance before God is somehow dependent in part upon one's obedience rather than that of Christ’s obedience and sacrificial death on the cross.

Is this experience necessarily a bad thing? I don't so. In fact, it seems that it necessarily follows given that we are sinners who by nature look to excuse ourselves from the accusations of our conscience (Rom. 2:15). So can't it can be said that, in part, this is the normal Christian life? On one level we certainly know that to be a believer means more than just "believing." After all, we have been saved from our sin that we might begin to live more righteous and holy lives. We are saved unto good works in Christ Jesus (Titus 2:11-14). But, if we are honest with ourselves (always a challenge) and have a modicum of self-knowledge, we know how desperately short we fall of the obedient living to which we are called. In our sense of failure is the nagging thought that something very crucial is missing, some clearer truth, stronger determination or power that enables one to Do this! Hence a threatening imperative presses in on the conscience to find some way to do a better obedience! Or more likely, the demands of the day simply take over, hours fly by before realizing another day has passed, and not much has changed. Maybe tomorrow...

If we are keeping score, up to this point the Law has been the dominant player. And again, this is not a bad thing. The Law, in fact, is doing its assigned work. The problem lies, as the apostle Paul tells us, not in the Law which is holy and good but in me the sinner/saint (Romans 7:12-13, 22-23). Someone/Something in me says, "Do this or else!" And that someone is sin in me! "What?", you say?! Yes. Within our hearts still lives the legal tenor of unbelief willfully expressed as seeking at least a partial acceptance before God which we can personally hold as formed in part by our own works and obedience.

So then how to respond to this legal attitude or leaning that infects the heart? To fight it by seeking to measure up to it is a sure way to increase condemnation and a resultant weakening faith. Rather, to embrace the implication or indictment that my wavering faith and lack of obedience brings is to actually yield to the Law's purpose in the hand of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), i.e. to convict of sin and to us lead to Christ (Galatians 3:24), the mercy of God's forgiveness and cleansing found in him. This is the solid ground of our sanctification and holiness.

From John Owen's Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit -
This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls...

The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel.
From The Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men (see WLC Q/A 95), it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
And an encouragement from Thomas Boston, A View of the Covenant of Works, from the Sacred Records: Exhortation to Believers, pp 230-231 -
Secondly, Believers in Christ, delivered from this covenant [of works],

(1.) Be thankful for your deliverance, as a deliverance from the Curse. Let the warmest gratitude glow in your breasts for so great a deliverance; and let your soul, and all that is within you, be stirred up to bless your glorious deliverer for this unspeakable blessing. 
(2.) Walk holily and fruitfully in good works, since the bands of death are removed, and your souls are healed. Be holy in all manner of life and conversation; adorning the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things. Let the whole tenor of your lives testify that you are not under the curse, but that you inherit the blessing of eternal life, by living to the praise and honour of Christ, who hath delivered you from the wrath to come.
(3.) Turn not back to the broken covenant of works again, in legal principles, nor in legal practices. The more the temper and frame of your spirit lies that way, the more unholy will ye be; and the more your duties savour of it, the less savoury will they be unto your God. It is only by being dead to the law, that ye. will live unto God.

Monday, June 11, 2018

How Not To Make God Relevant

“The piety in which many of us were raised encourages a heavenly mindedness that sometimes tends to denigrate our common lives and callings here and now. Reacting against this flight away from the here and now, others preach a more this-worldly salvation. This message comes in two seemingly different packages: a prosperity gospel, focusing on either personal peace and happiness, or a social gospel, focusing on redemptive political policies and action. But whether it promises “your best life now” or “our best world now,” the assumptions are similar. We’re tired of waiting for “pie in the sky bye and bye,” and if God is going to be relevant, we have to see results now. Both versions make God a means to an end and make us rather than Christ alone the agent of redemption. Either one plays better in our culture than the call of Jesus Christ to die to ourselves and be raised with Christ. It is being baptized into Christ as the firstfruits of the age to come that gives us faith, hope, and love to endure the present evil age with neither resentment nor triumphalism.” [emphasis added]
Michael Horton. Calvin On The Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever

Monday, May 28, 2018

John Fesko on the Westminster Standards...

"The divines never formally addressed the matter of subscription (the manner and degree to which ministers and elders were required to adhere to the Standards), but at two points--the republication of the covenant of works and the covenant of redemption---a principled diversity of views existed behind the scenes. This plurality of views confirms that the divines never intended the Confession to be a doctrinal straightjacket but instead a corporate confession for the church, not the manifesto of one particular party.
(John Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, p 167)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Covenant of Grace - In the time of the Law... In the time of the Gospel (3)

The question continues in this form: How was the covenant of grace administered in the Old Testament or in the time of the law and how is it administered in the New Testament or under the gospel? Continuity?

In his book, The Westminster Assembly, Robert Letham makes an assertion on page 233 that many today may assume to be correct,...
 both the Confession and the Larger Catechism say that law and gospel are  different means of administering the one covenant of grace... 
And on page 234 he writes: 
WCF 7.5 spells out clearly that the law was an administration of the covenant of grace.
One may assert that position, but the WCF and WLC do not state that conclusion:
WCF 7.5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.
WLC Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.
The Westminster Divines did not teach that the law was a means of administering the covenant of grace. Chad Van Dixhoorn writes in his book, Confessing The Faith:
... we are reminded that the covenant of grace was 'administered' differently 'in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel'. The one time is symbolized by the law engraved on stones... p 103
The redeeming feature of this time of the law was that these types and ordinances all pointed directly to a coming Christ... p 104
Nowhere in the Westminster Standards does it state that the covenant of grace in the Old Testament was administered by the law or by the commandments. This is not to say that the law commandments weren't and aren't essential to the outworking of the covenant of grace in God's work of bringing sinners to Christ and sanctifying the elect. Yet properly, the law itself speaks only of our duty before God and its condemnation of sinners for the breach of it. As its primary use (WLC 95, 96, 97) the law, through the work of the Holy Spirit, shines a light on our corruptions and lack of conformity to it. The law points sinners to Christ. Sinners, both unregenerate and regenerate, convicted by the law through the agency of the Holy Spirit are driven to see their need of the Savior and further, in the lives of the redeemed, increases both their gratitude to Christ and their desire to conform to its commands. 
WLC Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate? 
A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
But in the law no grace or power is offered to sinners for cleansing from or the overcoming of sin. As John Owen wrote, 
The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it [sin] and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its [sin's] dominion. But if you shall say unto it [the law], “What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it [sin] will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?” Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God: nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: “The strength of sin is the law.” (A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace)
What then, or Who, will then come to the aid of sinners under this heavy load? John Owen continues...
But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion…
Indeed, WCF 7.6 teaches that in the New Testament we find the covenant of grace fulfillment of not the law but the Old Testament types and shadows... 
Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper... 
In this time of the gospel, it is now these three New Testament ordinances by which God administers the covenant of grace to his people. These ordinances are not law, but the verbal and visible proclamations of the grace of God offered to sinners - Christ offered in the gospel -- the fulfillment of the promises, types, and shadows of the Messiah found under the law and in the time of the law. Christ was 'the substance' of the covenant of grace then promised but now revealed in the time of the gospel. God's means of administering the covenant of grace, under or in the law with the Old Testament types and shadows, did not change in the New Testament, but rather found its fulfillment in Christ under the gospel.
Q. 35. How is the covenant of grace administered under the New Testament? 
A. Under the New Testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Herman Witsius: "The covenant made with Israel at Sinai was..." (2)

The Question under consideration is how was the Covenant of Grace administered "in the time of the law?"

Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants:
"Having premised these observations I answer to the question: The covenant made with Israel at mount Sinai was not formally the covenant of works...
"Nor was it formally a covenant of grace: because that requires not only obedience, but also promises, and bestows strength to obey. For thus the covenant of grace is made known, Jer. xxxii.39. "And l will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever." But such a promise appears not in the covenant made at mount Sinai. Nay, God, on this very account, distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic, Jer. xxxi. 31, 32, 33. And Moses loudly proclaims, Deut. xxix. 4. "Yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day." Certainly, the chosen from among Israel had obtained this: yet not in virtue of this covenant, which stipulated obedience, but gave not power for it; but in virtue of the covenant of grace, which also belonged to them...
"What was it then? It was a national covenant between God and Israel, whereby Israel promised to God a sincere obedience to all his precepts, especially to the ten words; God, on the other hand, promised to Israel, that such an observance would be acceptable to him, nor want its reward, both in this life, and in that which is to come, both as to soul and body. This reciprocal promise supposed a covenant of grace. For, without the assistance of the covenant of grace, man cannot sincerely promise that observance; and yet that an imperfect observance should be acceptable to God, is wholly owing to the covenant of grace. It also supposed the doctrine of the covenant of works, the terror of which being increased by those tremendous signs that attended it, they ought to have been excited to embrace that covenant of God. This agreement therefore is a consequent both of the covenant‘ of grace and of works; but was formally neither the one nor the other." pp 34, 36

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"In the time of the law..." (1)

What did the Westminster Divines mean by "in the time of the law" and in what way was the Covenant of Grace administered during that period of redemptive history...

Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter 7:
4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed. 
5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament. [footnote in original Gal.3:7-9,14]
A.A. Hodge wrote concerning the above: 
"Under the old dispensation the covenant of grace was administered chiefly by types and symbolic ordinances, signifying beforehand the coming of Christ, and thus administration was almost exclusively confined to the Jewish nation with constantly increasing fullness and clearness- (1) From Adam to Abraham, in the promise to the woman (Gen. 3:15); the institution of bloody sacrifices; and the constant visible appearance and audible converse of Jehovah with his people. (2) From Abraham to Moses, the more definite promise given to Abraham (Gen. 17:7; 22:18), in the Church separated from the world, embraced in a special covenant, and sealed with the sacrament of Circumcision. (3) From Moses to Christ, the simple primitive rite of sacrifice developed into the elaborate ceremonial and significant symbolism of the temple service, the covenant enriched with new promises, the Church separated from the world by new barriers, and sealed with the additional sacrament of the Passover."Hodge, A.A., A Commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Is the Mosaic Covenant, strictly speaking, best described as The covenant of grace or better as an administration of the covenant of grace? And is there a difference? Some say no! Some say yes. Part of the problem in answering that question is that, as I and others have pointed out, the term Mosaic Covenant is not a Biblical term nor a confessional term. There was a specific covenant given at Sinai through Moses that Scripture often refers to as the Law (Galatians 3:17). But within the continuing dispensation of the time of the law were different elements which served different functions. In a word, there were both Law and Gospel in the Mosaic economy. Being that they are not the same (Galatian 3:12), they had very different purposes or functions. Yet even those conditional legal elements served to further the unfolding Covenant of Grace in history. And not all elements of the Mosaic economy (the time of the Law from Moses to Christ) were, by any means, included in the Sinai covenant given at Mt. Horeb. Some were. Some were not.

There is plenty of precedent for understanding the Mosaic Economy/Covenant as a mixed covenant (e.g. Hodge, both Charles and A.A.) and also one not strictly or solely of grace or works (see Witsius next post). Of interest to me is that WCF 7.5 does not say the Law was, or even administered, the Covenant of Grace, but rather that "in the time of the law" and "under the law" the Covenant of Grace was administered... by what? By "promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come." Conspicuously absent from this list of administration elements are any conditional legal works references which are nonetheless very prominent during the Mosaic covenant/economy inaugurated at Sinai (e.g. Deuteronomy 28 among many references). 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

John Calvin - Put off the Old Man...

Ephesians 4:22.
"That ye put off... He [Paul] demands from a Christian man repentance, or a new life, which he makes to consist of self-denial and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Beginning with the first, he enjoins us to lay aside, or put off the old man, employing the metaphor of garments, which we have already had occasion to explain. The old man, -- as we have repeatedly stated, in expounding the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and other passages where it occurs, -- means the natural disposition which we bring with us from our mother's womb. In two persons, Adam and Christ, he describes to us what may be called two natures. As we are first born of Adam, the depravity of nature which we derive from him is called the Old man; and as we are born again in Christ, the amendment of this sinful nature is called the New man. In a word, he who desires to put off the old man must renounce his nature."
John Calvin. Ephesians Commentary 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Persuasion of the Gospel (3)...

The apostle Paul:
Acts 19:8.And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
When it comes to sermons I have to admit that I have a pet peeve. And certainly it's by no means the most important thing to focus on in a sermon. That being said, this itch of mine needs to be scratched. The itch is what I would call the Essay-Format Sermon and/or the Theological-Academic Sermon. Though distinct examples of the sometimes pulpit message, they yet can both appear in the same sermon. These preached messages are more or less biblically sound and yet unfortunately mostly ineffective, in that the listening congregation, appropriately nodding their heads in agreement, often remain somewhat indifferent or unmoved by the truth presented. 

I tend to think of these two types of sermons as manifested in two different forms. The first is what I call the Essay-Format Sermon. In this sermon one finds the tour guide -commentary approach. The congregation hears a faithful travelogue through the Scripture text under consideration; think Amplified Bible as a Commentary-through-the-Bible-tour. The second is the Theological-Academic Sermon modeled on the classroom teaching experience that most pastors encounter in seminary. In the TAS the congregation hears a well crafted lecture delivered on a particular Bible text. Doctrinal truths and insights are explained. Quotes and footnote asides are highlighted. And yet while the congregation silently "Amens", they are left wondering if growth in the Christian life is somehow bequeathed to those inclined toward an academic pursuit. Is the comfort of salvation really dependent on being able to digest all this truth in order to pass a final exam at a future date? In a word, pulpit preaching is not seminary teaching.

In both types of sermons the assumption underlying the preacher's approach is that his job is solely to deliver accurate biblical truth to the congregation. Caveat Alert... yes, Christians need to learn and they need to have true knowledge of Scripture presented to them. True Biblical knowledge is indeed necessary for a true faith. John Calvin begins his Institutes of Christian Religion with: 
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.
True knowledge, biblical knowledge, coupled with intellectual understanding is essential. Yet when delivered to a congregation as a mere Christian informational or educational enterprise, it falls short of what is necessary to strengthen faith in Christ. 

J. Gresham Machen writes in Faith and Works
Faith is indeed intellectual; it involves an apprehension of certain things as facts; and vain is the modern effort to divorce faith from knowledge. But although faith is intellectual, it is not only intellectual. You cannot have faith without having knowledge; but you will not have faith if you have only knowledge. Faith is the acceptance of a gift at the hands of Christ. We cannot accept the gift without knowing certain things about the gift and about the giver. But we might know all those things and still not accept the gift. We might know what the gift is and still not accept it. Knowledge is thus absolutely necessary to faith, but it is not all that is necessary. 
Faith requires more than sound biblical information or truth. Or put another way, preaching a sermon and the hearing of that sermon are more than a cognitive affair

Machen continues,
The preacher of the gospel ought to appeal, we think, in every way in his power, to the conscious life of the man whom he is trying to win; he ought to remove intellectual objections against the truth of Christianity, and adduce positive arguments; he ought to appeal to the emotions; he ought to seek, by exhortation, to move the will. All these means may be used, and have been used countless times, by the Spirit of God; and certainly, we have not intended to disparage them by anything that we have just said. But what we do maintain is that though necessary they are not sufficient; they will never bring a man to faith in Christ unless there is with them the mysterious, regenerating power of the Spirit of God.
This leads me to the point of this post, as well as the last two. In the sermon, the preacher should not only address the rational capacity of his hearers but also appeal to their hearts where doubts and unbelief hide. Through preaching, the Word and Spirit address the intellect and heart of unbelievers and believers alike in order to bring them to Christ with a new or a renewed faith and repentance. This heart-appeal is a matter of gospel persuasion by the preacher.

Now a preacher may rightly claim it is only the Holy Spirit who can persuade and convince a hard heart. This is indeed true. Michael Horton writes in his book, Calvin on the Christian Life,
And it is the Spirit who persuades us inwardly that what we are hearing is not merely the word of man, even of the church, but the Word of God.
And yet he notes that Calvin had learned that...
the people, especially the leaders, had to be brought along to embrace the conclusions by persuasion from Scripture.
The point being that 'God speaks to us not primarily to inform us, but to encounter us in judgment and grace' (Horton, Calvin on the Christian Life). 

The preacher when giving a sermon is, in a certain way, facing a hostile crowd. What's that your say?! Yes, a battle rages beneath the calm waters appearing on the faces of those in the pews. The world, the flesh, and the devil are very much at work seeking to undermine the faith of the saints and entice them to doubt the goodness of God toward them in Christ as they struggle with guilty consciences. This hostility is a willful unbelief and is like a weed still present in the hearts of all Christians. Calvin from his Institutes:
In such degrees of ignorance much doubt and trembling is necessarily implied, especially seeing that our heart is by its own natural bias prone to unbelief. To this we must add the temptations which, various in kind and infinite in number, are ever and anon violently assailing us. In particular, conscience itself, burdened with an incumbent load of sins, at one time complains and groans, at another accuses itself; at one time murmurs in secret, at another openly rebels. Therefore, whether adverse circumstances betoken the wrath of God, or conscience finds the subject and matter within itself, unbelief thence draws weapons and engines to put faith to flight, the aim of all its efforts being to make us think that God is adverse and hostile to us, and thus, instead of hoping for any assistance from him, to make us dread him as a deadly foe.
And yet the Christian longs for relief, for a remedy, for rescue, for the comfort of the gospel. To effectively reach and help the hearer the preacher must teach not only truth but use godly persuasion to convince of that truth those weak in faith, those struggling with the guilt of sin, and those harboring doubts of God's steadfast favor toward sinners like them. Should not the preacher seek, as he unfolds the truths of Scripture in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, to convince and persuade all of their sin, the need to soften their heart of unbelief, and to believe with a fresh faith in Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel? The apostle Paul:
Acts 20:20-21, 31.I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ... Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Preaching Christ: The Art of Persuasion... (2)

An example of gospel persuasion -

So that all the covenant that believers are to have regard to, for life and salvation, is the free and gracious covenant that is betwixt Christ [or God in Christ] and them. And in this covenant there is not any condition or law to be performed on man's part, by himself; no, there is no more for him to do, but only to know and believe that Christ hath done all for him. Wherefore my dear Neophytus [a new Christian], to turn my speech particularly to you, [because I see you are in heaviness,] I beseech you to be persuaded that here you are to work nothing, here you are to do nothing, here you are to render nothing unto God, but only to receive the treasure, which is Jesus Christ, and apprehend him in your heart by faith, although you be never so great a sinner; and so shall you obtain forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal happiness; not as an agent but as a patient, not by doing, but by receiving. Nothing here comes betwixt but faith only, apprehending Christ in the promise. This, then, is perfect righteousness, to hear nothing, to know nothing, to do nothing of the law of works; but only to know and believe that Jesus Christ is now gone to the Father, and sitteth at his right hand, not as a judge, but is made unto you of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Wherefore, as Paul and Silas said to the jailer, so say I unto you, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"; that is, be verily persuaded in your heart that Jesus Christ is yours, and that you shall have life and salvation by him; that whatsoever Christ did for the redemption of mankind, he did it for you.

Fisher, Edward. The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Preaching Christ: The Art of Persuasion... (1)

"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (2 Corinthians 5:11a)
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20)  
Preaching not only has the purpose of presenting accurately the redemptive truths of Scripture, but it is the means of persuading, convincing, and urging listeners of the message preached to believe from the heart in Christ and embrace him, the very One to whom those truths point. Certainly one can appreciate the need to use persuasion and reasoning when preaching to the unsaved, but do pastors not also need persuasion when preaching to those who already have trusted in Christ...?