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 -

Evangelista:
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...?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Calvin on Good Works...

John 5:29. And they who have done good.
"For without the pardon which God grants to those who believe in Him, there never was a man in the world of whom we can say that he has lived well; nor is there even a single work that will be reckoned altogether good, unless God pardon the sins which belong to it, for all are imperfect and corrupted. Those persons, therefore, are here called doers of good works whom Paul calls earnestly desirous or zealous of them, (Titus 2:14.) But this estimate depends on the fatherly kindness of God, who by free grace approves what deserved to be rejected."
Calvin, John. Commentary on John 5:29

Thomas Boston: Concerning Works For Salvation - "God Would Never..."


Refuted:
That believers must do good works to answer the demands of the law, as a covenant of works, if they will obtain salvation.
 
Truly our good works will never be able to answer these demands; and if we pretend to do them for that end, as the covenant of works will never accept them, so we cast dishonour on Christ, who has answered all these demands already for believers, by his perfect and perpetual obedience. 
When God set Adam to seek salvation by his works, he was able for works; it was a thousand times easier to him to give perfect obedience, than for us to give sincere obedience. So we may be sure God bringing in a second covenant for the help of lost sinners, would never put them again on seeking salvation by works, after their strength for them was gone.
A View of the Covenant of Works by Thomas Boston

Sunday, February 11, 2018

John Calvin and The OPC Third Membership Vow: To Abhor or not to Abhor? (Part 6)

The Third membership vow of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church...
As unpacked in the previous posts, the vow summarizes the Reformed understanding of sinners/saints and their repentance before God. The following prayer of John Calvin seems to be, as it were, an expanded two-part template for the entire third vow:

The Vow (3) 
Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself...
John Calvin:  "Grant, Almighty God, that since we are too secure and torpid in our sins, thy dread majesty may come to our minds, to humble us, and to remove our fear, that we may learn anxiously to seek reconciliation through Christ, and so abhor ourselves for our sins, that thou mayest then be prepared to receive us: and that unbelief may not shut the door against us, enable us to regard thee to be such as thou hast revealed thyself, and to acknowledge that thou art not like us... 
 ... but in Jesus Christ alone?
Calvin continues: "... but the fountain of all mercy, that we may thus be led to entertain a firm hope of salvation, and that, relying on the Mediator, thy only-begotten Son, we may know him as the throne of grace, full of compassion and mercy. O grant, that we may thus come to thee, that through him we may certainly know that thou art our Father, so that the covenant thou hast made with us may never fail through our fault, even this, that we are thy people, because thou hast once adopted us in thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."*
*Prayer of John Calvin from his commentary on Hosea

Friday, January 26, 2018

Forsaken? More Thoughts on Abhorring and Loving The Sinner - Part 5

A.M. (Mac) Laurie, January 26, 2018 via email:
"Your post regarding the meaning of abhor, as distinguished from hate, especially from hate's common understanding and usage has raised a new thought in my mind regarding the dissimilarity between the two words. Hating does not necessarily involve action, whereas action (the shrinking back from, the recoiling from) is a part of abhorring. If Jesus had abhorred the Virgin's womb he would have shrunk back from the experience of "being born of a woman." But he did the opposite of shrinking back. He willingly, as a necessary part of the foreordained plan of salvation, entered into it. Entering into vs Shrinking back from!
"Your argument that God can - and does, Praise Him - both abhor and love the sinner unclothed with Christ's righteousness is quite persuasive. I recall a scene that remains very vivid after thirty or so years: Walking back to my hotel one Sunday morning after attending worship in Bangkok, Thailand I was approached by one of the many, many prostitutes of that city (we will name her Forsaken). Nothing subtle about her approach, she immediately offered herself to me. But this one was not youthful and alluring, as those advertised by the brothels; she looked old, in contradiction to her 35 or so years, and tired, so very tired, and ill, most probably infectious.
"My response? The temptation to sin that would have inevitably risen in my heart, had the offer been made by one of her not-yet-used up and castaway sisters in the trade, was not there. I shrank back from her, not from her behavior or her appearance but from her as a human being. I abhorred her. But at the same time, because of the grace God had given me, I loved her. I am sorry to say that there have been few times when I have had, in its depth and wonder, the compassion of Jesus, but that was one of those times."
Mac Laurie has served as a ruling elder in the OPC for fifty-plus years

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

To Abhor or Not To Abhor? - Part 4: John Calvin and John Owen Explain From Scripture

More from the cloud of  Reformed witnesses...

This post and the last three (herehere, here) are concerned with the Orthodox
Presbyterian Church's Membership vow #3, addressing specifically the first clause and its biblical and Reformed heritage and whether it is consistent with and/or necessary to a profession of faith in Christ alone:
Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?
It is imperative to grasp that this teaching of self-abhorrency as related to our sinfulness directly issues from a want of an innate righteousness before God's Law and holiness. In terms of justification this is especially important as the unrighteous sinner is accepted and justified by God only when the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him through faith alone. John Calvin shows that herein God is glorified. And as we become aware of our poverty of nature we begin to apprehend something of the true knowledge of God.

From Calvin’s Institutes of Religion: (1559)
When the question relates to righteousness, we see how often and how anxiously Scripture exhorts us to give the whole praise of it to God. Accordingly, the Apostle testifies that the purpose of the Lord in conferring righteousness upon us in Christ, was to demonstrate his own righteousness. The nature of this demonstration he immediately subjoins, viz., "that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus," (Romans 3:25). Observe, that the righteousness of God is not sufficiently displayed, unless He alone is held to be righteous, and freely communicates righteousness to the undeserving. For this reason it is his will, that "every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God," (Romans 3:19). For so long as a man has anything, however small, to say in his own defense, so long he deducts somewhat from the glory of God. Thus we are taught in Ezekiel how much we glorify his name by acknowledging our iniquity: "Then shall ye remember your ways and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for all your evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings," (Ezekiel 20:43, 44.) If part of the true knowledge of God consists in being oppressed by a consciousness of our own iniquity, and in recognizing him as doing good to those who are unworthy of it, why do we attempt, to our great injury, to steal from the Lord even one particle of the praise of unmerited kindness?...
In the excerpts below, John Owen explains how it is part of the normal Christian life to have an attitude of self-abhorrency when it comes to our sin. This is not a perverse introspection but part of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, not only in our justification, but in our sanctification.

From John Owen's Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, Book IV (1674)
Besides, there is no notion of sin and holiness whereof believers have a more sensible, spiritual experience; for although they may not or do not comprehend the metaphysical notion or nature of this pollution and defilement of sin, yet they are sensible of the effects it produceth in their minds and consciences. They find that in sin which is attended with shame and self-abhorrency, and requires deep abasement of soul. They discern in it, or in themselves on the account of it, an unsuitableness unto the holiness of God, and an unfitness thereon for communion with him... 
... Our want of due answering unto the holiness of God, as represented in the law, and exemplified in our hearts originally, is a principal part and universal cause of our whole pollution and defilement by sin; for when our eyes are opened to discern it, this is that which in the first place filleth us with shame and self-abhorrency, and that which makes us so unacceptable, yea, so loathsome to God. Who is there who considereth aright the vanity, darkness, and ignorance of his mind, the perverseness and stubbornness of his will, with the disorder, irregularity, and distemper of his affections, with respect unto things spiritual and heavenly, who is not ashamed of, who doth not abhor himself? This is that which hath given our nature its leprosy, and defiled it throughout. And I shall crave leave to say, that he who hath no experience of spiritual shame and self-abhorrency, upon the account of this inconformity of his nature and the faculties of his soul unto the holiness of God, is a great stranger unto this whole work of sanctification...
... for wherever there is a sense of guilt, there will be some kind of sense of filth, as fear and shame are inseparable. But this sense alone will never guide us to the blood of Christ for cleansing. Such a sight and conviction of it as may fill us with self-abhorrency and abasement, as may cause us to loathe ourselves for the abomination that is in it, is required of us; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost, belonging to that peculiar conviction of sin which is from him alone, John 16:8. I mean that self-abhorrency, shame, and confusion of face, with respect unto the filth of sin, which is so often mentioned in the Scripture as a gracious duty; as nothing is a higher aggravation of sin than for men to carry themselves with a carnal boldness with God and in his worship, whilst they are unpurged from their defilements. In a sense hereof the publican stood afar off, as one ashamed and destitute of any confidence for a nearer approach. So the holy men of old professed to God that they blushed, and were ashamed to lift up their faces unto him... 
... There is a shame which is evangelical, arising from a mixed apprehension of the vileness of sin and the riches of God’s grace in the pardon and purifying of it; for although this latter gives relief against all terrifying, discouraging effects of shame, yet it increaseth those which tend to genuine self-abasement and abhorrency. And this God still requires to abide in us, as that which tends to the advancement of his grace in our hearts. This is fully expressed by the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 16:60-63, “I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed. And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD.”

Thursday, January 18, 2018

To Abhor or Not To Abhor? The Reformed Witness of a Credible Profession of Fatih - Part 3

The doctrine regarding the self-abhorence and humility of the believer before God has been part of a Reformed, biblical confession of faith in Christ going back centuries and even longer to the earliest periods of time (Job 42:6). Yet some today would consider the humble repentance of a believing sinner confessing his self-aborrence because of his sinfulness before an holy God to be a destructive self-image-heterodoxy which deceptively entices the Christian down a crooked path to a negative self-esteem (modernism alert!). Those of past ages would be more than a bit perplexed and disturbed by such a self-enhancing denial of Scriptual teaching. The concern raised here is not some theoretical exercise of looking for potential error, but hopefully a corrective to a culturally-influenced mindset in the modern church, a swerving-from-truth that clothes itself in the garment of a supposed "enlightened" biblical understanding of man. (see Part 1 and Part 2)

For those who confess the Westminster Standards here are two more of the many historical witnesses among the Reformed...

Robert Shaw. A Reformed Faith: Commentary on
The WCF. (1800s)

WCF Chapter 15. Of Repentance Unto Life
4. True repentance includes hatred of sin, not only as that which exposes us to death, but as hateful in itself, as the abominable thing, which God hates, and as that which renders us vile and loathsome in his sight. If this hatred of sin is genuine, it will lead us to loathe and abhor ourselves, and it will extend to all sin in ourselves and others.—Job xiii. 6; Ezek. xxxvi. 31; Jer. xxxi. 19; Ps. cxix. 128, 136.
______________________________________________

Thomas Watson. A Body of Divinity: Contained In Sermons Upon The Westminster Assembly's

Catechism 1692, excerpts:
II. Sin is evil in the nature of it. 
... It makes God loathe a sinner, Zech 11:8; and when a sinner sees his sin, he loathes himself. Ezek 20:42....
This is one reason God has left original sin in us, because he would have it as a thorn in our side to humble us. As the bishop of Alexandria, after the people had embraced Christianity, destroyed all their idols but one, that the sight of that idol might make them loathe themselves for their former idolatry; so God leaves original sin to pull down the plumes of pride. Under our silver wings of grace are black feet. 
_____________________
Continuing,
What justifying faith is. True justifying faith consists in three things: 
(1:) Self-renunciation. Faith is going out of one's self, being taken off from our own rmerits, and seeing we have no righteousness of our own. Not having mine own righteousness.' Phil 3:3. Self-righteousness is a broken reed, which the soul dares not lean on. Repentance and faith are both humbling graces; by repentance a man abhors himself; by faith he goes out of himself. As Israel in their wilderness march, behind them saw Pharaoh and his chariots pursuing, before them the Red Sea ready to devour; so the sinner behind sees God's justice pursuing him for sin, before, hell ready to devour him; and in this forlorn condition, he sees nothing in himself to help, but he must perish unless he can find help in another.
(2:) Reliance. The soul casts itself upon Jesus Christ; faith rests on Christ's person. Faith believes the promise; but that which faith rests upon in the promise is the person of Christ: therefore the spouse is said to lean upon her Beloved.' Cant 8:8. Faith is described to be believing on the name of the Son of God,' I John 3:33, viz., on his person. The promise is but the cabinet, Christ is the jewel in it which faith embraces; the promise is but the dish, Christ is the food in it which faith feeds on. Faith rests on Christ's person, as he was crucified.' It glories in the cross of Christ. Gal 6:14. To consider Christ crowned with all manner of excellencies, stirs up admiration and wonder; but Christ looked upon as bleeding and dying, is the proper object of our faith; it is called therefore faith in his blood.' Rom 3:35.
(3:) Appropriation, or applying Christ to ourselves. A medicine, though it be ever so sovereign, if not applied, will do no good; though the plaster be made of Christ's own blood, it will not heal, unless applied by faith; the blood of God, without faith in God, will not save. This applying of Christ is called receiving him. John 1:12. The hand receiving gold, enriches; so the hand of faith, receiving Christ's golden merits with salvation, enriches us… _____________________ 
And,
When once God gives those who now dress themselves by the flattering glass of presumption, a sight of their own filthiness, they will abhor themselves. ‘Ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils.'...
_____________________ 
Last,
How shall we know that we are God's elect people? By three characters.
God's people are a humble people. The livery which all Christ's people wear is humility. Be clothed with humility.' 1 Pet 5: 5. A sight of God's glory humbles. Elijah wrapped his face in a mantle when God's glory passed by. Now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself.' Job 13: 5, 6. The stars vanish when the sun appears. A sight of sin humbles. In the glass of the Word the godly see their spots, and they are humbling spots. "Lo", says the soul, "I can call nothing my own but sins and wants." A humble sinner is in a better condition than a proud angel.
God's people are a willing people. A people of willingness;' love constrains them; they serve God freely, and out of choice. Psa 110: 3. They stick at no service; they will run through a sea, and a wilderness; they will follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.
God's people are a heavenly people. They are not of the world.' John 17: 16. As the primum mobile in the heavens has a motion of its own, contrary to the other orbs, so God's people have a heavenly motion of the soul, contrary to the men of the world. They use the world as their servant, but do not follow the world as their master. Our conversation is in heaven.' Phil 3: 20. 
Such as have these three characters of God's people, have a good certificate to show that they are pardoned. Forgiveness of sin belongs to them. Comfort ye my people, tell them their iniquity is forgiven.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

To Abhor or Not To Abhor? Charles Hodge Weighs In - Part 2

This post is part 2 dealing with the 3rd membership vow of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and whether it is an accurate description of the Christian's confession of faith, specifically focusing on the vow's teaching of self-abhorrence. Part 1 is found here >>> To Abhor or Not To Abhor? That Is The Question.


Prior to the 20th century, the Romans 7 passage below was widely understood among Reformed theologians to be speaking of the normal Christian experience (see Rev. Kim Riddlebarger’s article “Romans 7 and the Normal Christian Life”):
Rom. 7: 21-8:1 - So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
From the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Book of Church Order, Membership vow #3:
Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?
The meaning in both Paul’s words and those of the vow echo one another. They express the normal experience of Christians who, though redeemed, yet remain real sinners who increasingly comprehend the reality of their sinfulness (the flesh) in light of an increasing apprehension of God’s holiness. As the Christian grows in Christ, he is convinced more and more that there is no other remedy for comfort and refuge from his sinfulness but to flee by faith to Christ alone for his salvation.

There is a long and rich Reformed testimony to the doctrine found in the OPC 3rd membership vow stretching from the earliest days of the Reformation to our time. Here is one:

Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology - 1871: 
Chapter VIII - Sin, Section 13. Original Sin, Second Argument from the Entire Sinfulness of Men, 5. Argument From the Experience of God's People. 
"In the New Testament the sacred writers evince the same deep sense of their own sinfulness, and strong conviction of the sinfulness of the race to which they belong. Paul speaks of himself as the chief of sinners. He complains that he was carnal, sold under sin. He groans under the burden of an evil nature, saying, O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? From the days of the Apostles to the present time, there has been no diversity as to this point in the experience of Christians. There is no disposition ever evinced by them to palliate or excuse their sinfulness before God. They uniformly and everywhere, and just in proportion to their holiness, humble themselves under a sense of their guilt and pollution, and abhor themselves repenting in dust and ashes. This is not an irrational, nor is it an exaggerated experience. It is the natural effect of the apprehension of the truth; of even a partial discernment of the holiness of God, of the spirituality of the law, and of the want of conformity to that divine standard. There is always connected with this experience of sin, the conviction that our sense of its evil and its power over us, and consequently of our guilt and pollution, is altogether inadequate. It is always a part of the believer's burden, that he feels less than his reason and conscience enlightened by the Scriptures, teach him he ought to feel of his moral corruption and degradation."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

To Abhor or Not To Abhor? That Is The Question - Part 1

The Pharisee and the Publican
The 3rd membership vow of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church reads as follows:
(3) Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone
Abhor... such an antiquated and negative word, at least as many understand it today. I submit that we moderns really need to refresh ourselves with a biblically and theologically sound understanding of the word abhor. It isn't a word commonly used anymore. Today, the shorthand definition or synonym is "to hate." Yet the word abhor classically understood, in a theological sense and as used in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church 3rd membership vow, does not mean "to hate" (i.e. to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; to detest). And why, you ask, is this the subject of a blog post? Because in some corners of the OPC the third membership vow is indeed controversial because the understood meaning is that to abhor myself means to hate or detest myself, which I agree is a somewhat negative and extreme position to take as a Christian. And, as the thinking goes, for a Christian to abhor himself because of his sinfulness is to deny that God loves him as he is now in Christ and therefore the use of the word abhor in the vow should be rejected.

My purpose in this post is limited to showing that a believer abhorring himself as a sinner doesn't deny God's love, grace, and redemption in Christ, but rather more clearly affirms it. Or put another way, to abhor oneself because of one's sinfulness and at the same time to affirm God's love in Christ are not inconsistent positions.

From what can easily be found, consulting various dictionary sources, Abhor essentially is defined as "to regard with horror or loathing" and comes from the Latin word *abhorrre* which means to shrink. 

Let's look at a verse from the early Christian hymn (Ambrose), Te Deum Laudamus: 

When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man : thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb

And the Christmas carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful:
God of God, light of light, Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb
Working back from the above negative grammar use to the positive, let's ask a question or two with the synonym hate in focus. Are we to understand that prior to the incarnation God hated or detested, the Virgin's womb? That doesn't make sense since children are a blessing of God (Ps. 127:3). Scripture teaches that God, in the person of his Son, did not abhor taking humanity upon himself (Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:20). If abhor is understood to mean hate, does that mean that before the incarnation God hated and detested humanity? No. 

In the beginning God created humanity and saw that man, along with all creation, was very good (Gen. 1:31). Yet after the Fall with the introduction of sin into humanity God shrank back and separated from man, i.e. He removed His immediate presence and communion from sinful man so much so that in the Old Testament sinful man was threatened with death if certain rituals of cleansing from sin were not followed by the Israelites when approaching God in Temple worship. It wasn't because God hated humanity or the Israelites. But God, who is Holy, abhorred or looked upon His once holy but now sinful couple with an holy horror and separated from or shrank back from them. There were two reasons for this separation. First, an holy God and sinful man could not continue to dwell together face to face without the resultant death of man. Secondly, God, though abhorring Adam and Eve as sinners, yet already had a plan for their redemption born of His love (Eph. 1:4-6). God's protection, care, and love for man and his abhorrence of man as a sinner therefore were not inconsistent with one another.

So we see that after the Fall and because of man's sinfulness, God abhorred the sinner in that He looked upon the corrupted man and woman with horror in what they had done and become. He separated Himself or shrank back from sinful humanity (Gen. 3:22-24) as He drove Adam and Eve from the Garden. He did this because of man's sinfulness. And yet God also did this because He had, and has, in His eternal plan a caring and providential love for mankind and a redemptive love specifically for Adam and Eve and their children of promise (Gen. 3:20-21). To stay in God's immediate presence would have meant death for them. In a true sense we can say that for God to abhor the sinners Adam and Eve didn't exclude for God to love the sinners Adam and Eve. And we can thus deduce that if God had not abhorred sinful man by separating from Adam and Eve, then mankind would have died (in them) as can be understood by the warning God gave to Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Ex. 33:20). So God's abhorring or shrinking back from the sinner did not and does not exclude His love for the sinner.

Now looking again at the OPC 3rd membership vow -

(3) Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone
My focus is the question: Is it unbiblical for the Christian, because of his sinfulness, to abhor and humble himself before God? Some would say yes. Why would someone think that? Well, as the thinking goes, to hate ourselves as Christians is to deny that God loves us! If God loves us and we are now His children it would be an act of unbelief on our part to hate that which God loves as well as a nonacceptance on our part of what Christ has accomplished on the cross to remove our sin and sinner-status before God. We are now children of God, new creatures! In short, the thinking is that to abhor ourselves because of our sinfulness and to be loved by God are exclusive of one another. We should not hate that which God loves. This conclusion is erroneous and based upon an insufficient knowledge of holiness of God and knowledge of the sinfulness of man.

Now back to the third membership vow. How are we to interpret the first clause of the third vow? It says that being sinners who have sinned against and do still regularly sin and offend our Creator's holiness, we should have a certain regard or attitude toward ourselves when it comes to salvation. The attitude we are to have is that because of our sinfulness, we should completely shrink back from or separate from any perceived ground of goodness or righteousness in ourselves. Why? Because even our righteousness are as filthy rags before God (Isa. 64:6; Rom 3:10-1, 7:18-19; Phil. 3:9a). And that we, remaining sinners in this life, should regard ourselves with a kind of self-separation, loathing, or horror of ourselves as sinners who have and still do rebelliously sin against God (Ez. 36:24-32), especially in light of the mercy and grace lavishly bestowed upon us in our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian acknowledges a truth that is based on a biblically revealed knowledge of self:
That which is OF me produces no good or righteousness IN me. In other words, nothing OF me can move me toward an acceptance with God. Rather what I am in and of myself as a sinner can only move me away from God.
Thus the only ground, source, and hope for forgiveness and righteousness that secures everlasting fellowship with God, and indeed eternal salvation, lies in 1) abhorring oursleves (judging our sinful selves as completely wanting of any righteousness and shrinking from or turning away from ourselves), 2) in repentance humbling ourselves before God, and 3) trusting alone in the One who abhorred not the Virgin's womb. God in Christ Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, ended the separation between Himself and sinful man by uniting Himself with our humanity. Jesus took upon Himself our sins and judgment in order that we should be counted righteous and without sin unto eternal life solely on the basis of His work of the cross (Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:21; John 3:16).

In a word, there is a G
ospel necessity, that because of our sinfulness we confess our self-abhorrence and humble ourselves in repentance before God as an integral part of placing our complete trust in Christ and his finished work alone for our salvation.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

John Colquhoun - The Believer's Duty: Obedience "From" Life Not "For" Life...


"Hence learn how the believer ought to perform the duties of holiness. He ought not to perform them for life, or in order to entitle himself to life ; but to perform them from life, from the faith and hope of eternal life. Jesus the adorable Surety fulfilled all righteousness for life to his spiritual seed: his design in doing so was to entitle them to life. Instead then of obeying for life, or thrusting your duties in the room of his surety- righteousness, your duty is to rely on his obedience for a title to life, and then to obey from life. You who have believed through grace are under the firmest obligations to advance in holiness ; but you must not, under pretense of this, rely on your performances for your title to life. This would be to erase the Surety's name out of your debt-bond, or, at least, to impute imperfection to his payment of the bond. Relying on his righteousness for all your title to the justification of life, repose the confidence of your hearts in him for grace and glory. Trust that he will be graciously and sensibly present with you at his Holy Table; saying with the Psalmist, "I shall surely be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple," Psal. lxv. 4." 
SERMON V: ON THE SURETISHIP OF CHRIST.
John Colquhoun


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.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Thomas Boston - The Impossibility of Obedience to the Law FOR Life...

"Salvation by works of our own is quite impossible; there is no life nor salvation to be had by the law: Gal. 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse. Will ye bring your good meanings and desires, your repentance, your obedience, such as it is, and think to get life, and salvation, and acceptance with God, thereby? Remember, if ye will be doing in order to live, your obedience must be perfect and perpetual; and that if you fail, you are under the curse. That is the tenor of the covenant of works, and it will abate nothing. And therefore ye must quit the way of that covenant, or perish forever; for ye are absolutely incapable to answer its demands."
A View of the Covenant of Works by Thomas Boston 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Rom. 8:13 - Promise of Life Not Made to the Work of Mortification But to Him Who Works, For Christ's Sake

Robert Haldane on Romans 8:13:

  • For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live. 
  • "Ye shall live." — Here eternal life is promised to all who, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body. The promise of life by the Gospel is not made to the work, but to the worker; and to the worker, not for or on account of his work, but according to his work, for the sake of Christ’s work. The promise, then, of life is not made to the work of mortification, but to him that mortifies his flesh; and that not for his mortification, but because he is in Christ, of which this mortification is the effect and the evidence. That they who mortify the flesh shall live, is quite consistent with the truth that the gift of God is eternal life, Romans 6:23; and in this gift there is no respect to the merit of the receiver. This describes the character of all who shall receive eternal life; and it is of great importance. It takes away every ground of hope from those who profess to know God, and in works deny Him; for they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.  [Robert Haldane, Commentary on Romans]