Thursday, April 30, 2015

Faith through hearing by the Word of God...

Some thoughts on old business from this very long thread at Green Baggins: Roman Catholic apologist Bryan Cross responding to this phrase, "But faith come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God," comments:
True, but one must first determine that something is divine revelation; otherwise, one falls into fideism by believing arbitrarily. So reason must be used in order to determine that an alleged divine revelation is truly such. Hence the motives of credibility, which I explain in “Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective,” and the comments under that thread.
This highlights a significant difference between Rome and Reformed. The Reformed Christian believes that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, not by a determination arrived at through one's rational judgment (though the rational faculty is employed). Rather it is the Word of God rightly proclaimed through the operation of the God the Holy Spirit which is the power that creates saving faith in the one who hears.  And when that person believes, the Word ultimately makes sense to him.  "I was blind, but now I see!" (John 9:24-26).  He may not be able to explain everything as to the hows and whys, but now he knows that his sins are forgiven and that he has been saved through faith in Jesus who bore the penalty of those sins on the cross. God, in a sense, trumps any autonomous, personal/rational powers of self determination and judgment and sovereignly saves fallen man through His own initiative and power; the power of salvation found only in the Gospel (Rom. 1:16).

The idea that a lost man can and must use his rational powers to determine how to be found is an absurdity. Even more so if one were to say that a dead man must use his rational faculties in order to recognize Resurrection, lay hold of it, and thus receive Life. It is to those God chooses and calls that He cleanses, gives a new heart, and makes alive unto Himself.  It isn't about determining what is the right information and then believing it.  It is about a death to life transformation through the sovereign work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Another commenter wrote: Might the peace mentioned in Philippians 4:7, be part of what you mean?

Yes, and more. That peace is a peace now established between sinful man and his holy God through the intervention and mediation of Another, Jesus Christ the crucified and risen. It is a mind-boggling thing that God the Savior would sovereignly, and without my input, pay the penalty for my sin and guilt and give to me, an enemy of righteousness, the gift of eternal life. As the B.J. Thomas song says – it’s more than a feeling. And it doesn't become true for me just because I happen to figure it out and then believe. By his law God sovereignly “shuts my mouth” (Rom. 3:19) and by his gospel graciously births His salvation in me through hearing by faith (Rom. 10:4-17). It isn’t a rational process per se, but an extra-rational intervention of God’s Word.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)

God's Word proclaimed doesn't need me as its interpreter/go-between. The Holy Spirit mediates his Word. By the Word and the Spirit the heart believes and receives salvation. With all the discussion of paradigms, logical argumentation, and presuppositions one can lose sight of the wonderful truth that Christianity is a supernatural religion. A sin-forgiving and life-imparting religion born of God in hard, stony hearts; hearts that become soft and believing when the powerful and Divine Word of salvation acts on and penetrates the soul. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Life Upon Condition of Perfect Obedience

"5. The apostle Paul informs us, That the commandment was ordained to life, "The commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death." By the commandment, as the context plainly shows, is meant the moral law, that  right transcript of the image of Jehovah; which is a system of holy commandments, so intimately connected, and so entirely consistent with each other, as if they had been but one precept. This law, he tells us, "was ordained to life,'' or was unto life. When it was given to mankind, it was given with a promise of life, to all who should yield to it a perfect obedience. Now since it is evident, that the perfect obedience, either of Adam, or of any other mere man, could not by any intrinsic value of its own, merit life for him, at the hand of the infinitely high and holy Jehovah; it follows, that when the law was given with a promise of life, to such as should perfectly obey, it must have been given as a covenant of life; a covenant, according to which the Lord condescended to promise life, upon condition of perfect obedience; saying, "The man which doeth those things, shall live by them." The law could not have secured a title to life, to such as should have performed perfect obedience, if it had not been vested with the form of a covenant of life, for that, as well as for other purposes."
John Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Covenant of Works. page 12.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Speaking of Merit...

File under the Active Obedience of Christ:
Bernard equates God's mercies to us with merit given to us. And that merit he equates with Christ's righteousness. So then the mercy given by God to believers is the merit of Christ, i.e. the righteousness Jesus earned before the law in our place for us.
"My merit, therefore, is the compassion of the Lord; plainly I am not devoid of merit so long as he is not devoid of commiseration. But if the mercies of the Lord are many, equally many are my merits. Shall I sing of my own righteousness? O Lord, I will make mention of thy righteousness alone. That righteousness is mine also, being made mine by God," (Bernard, Serm. 61, in Cantic.) Again, in another passage, "Man's whole merit is to place his whole hope in him who makes the whole man safe," (in Psalm Qui Habitat. Serm. 15.)
from Calvin's Institutes 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Thoughts on Purpose, Persuasion, and Preaching...

As to purpose... One way I think about purpose is to think in terms of direction. And with that in view my question is - when it comes to a sermon - where is the preacher heading or what is he hoping to accomplish? In other words, to what destination is he hoping to bring his hearers? A preacher always has a purpose that guides his sermon, even if it is one of which he isn't particularly conscious. He is indeed intending to communicate something with his words to his listeners, even if that intention and something is isn't always evident to himself. 

As image bearers of God, what we do and say always has a purpose or intention. We were created with a will, a will by which we set goals or purposes and choose to do this or that to accomplish those goals. And that purposing always sets a direction toward an end. In other words, the why one says or does something always determines the what one says or does and so is central in determining the final destination of the where one ends up. 

For instance, if you know that your house guest is hungry will you go to the clothes closet to find food with which to feed him? Of course not. You'll go to the kitchen and most probably the refrigerator. And the reason is obvious. Because you know that's where food is kept and you know going to the kitchen is the best route to take in order to satisfy your guest's hunger. Therefore based on what you know you set a purpose or direction toward the kitchen. You carry out that purpose, go to the kitchen and get the food. You then serve it to him and he eats. 

Can it be any less the case when it comes to feeding the flock of God? The preacher needs to know not only that his people are hungry for the food of heaven. He needs to know what the food of heaven is (doctrinal information and truths?), where to find it (duties and admonitions to faithfulness?), and how one serves it.

The analogy breaks down at this point because Christians are sinners and are always, to some degree, in denial as to their hunger/need for the heavenly. Ironically, they're often inclined to avoid that which they truly need and go after that which they shouldn't - an operational description of what it means to be a sinner. Unlike someone who is physically hungry we sinners aren't necessarily convinced of our spiritual hunger and need. What we tend to be convinced of is that we're getting along "fairly well" and that by just a little more faithful living we can satisfy our hunger for that "I'm really am OK" feeling. Or maybe we fall into the camp of those who are convinced that there is something wrong with them. We don't know why that is. But we know it disqualifies us from the assurance that the blessings of the Christian life are really ours. Too aware of our failures, we are resigned to our plight that we don't measure up. We believe in Christ, yet are convinced that, unlike others, we just can't produce enough sanctified living to warrant peace with God. Saved or not, sinners don't readily see that their failed strategies for pursuing a satisfying life or those that gloss over their failures in order to avoid pain are nothing more than broken cisterns. It seems natural to continue wandering along our path.

This brings into focus the core of the problem to be addressed by the preacher. What sinners have is less of a hunger and more of a critical need. Yet it's a need to be cured of something we don't naturally view as an ill. So our natural rejection of God's diagnosis needs addressing, and not just once. So how is a sinner convinced of his need?

Persuasion and preaching... We saints of God are in need of being persuaded that we are sinners, persuaded not once but regularly. Why? Because part of being a sinner is that we are prone to unbelief and are inclined to reject the idea that we're really all that bad or sinful. If we feel that our sin isn't all that deadly and condemnable then we'll not feel much of a need for the Savior's cure. We'll remain somewhat convinced that we can "with God's grace" pull things off. So sermons ought to be about persuading sinners/saints of their sin that they may again fall on their knees before the cross and trust in Christ, coming to him in weakness and repentance. Preachers need to be persuaders.

It is the message of Scripture that is the means of persuading sinners not only of their sin, and its consequences, but also their need of God's remedy - Christ crucified. It is the law of God which not only exposes our insufficient obedience and outright sin, but also undermines the false confidence we hold within ourselves. We tend to think we can get by with just enough help from God. But the law exposes our misguided and sinful autonomy, magnifies our precarious plight apart from Christ, diagnoses our terminal illness, and pronounces the deserved judgment of death over us. Yes, the law teaches us of our duty. Yet we know we fall painfully short. 

But the message of the good news of Jesus Christ declares that God's judgment and curse have fallen upon his Son in whom, according to God's redemptive plan, is the forgiveness of sins received through faith for all who are called to him. Apart from Christ crucified there is no living the Christian life. As J. Gresham Mach wrote, "For clearly if Christianity is anything it is a way of getting rid of sin" (Christianity and Liberalism, p. 90). And as the apostle Paul wrote near the end of his life, It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all (1 Tim. 1:15).

But someone may say, "Hey, I'm already saved! Do I still need Christ crucified preached to me? Isn't my present need just to be taught how to live the Christian life? Show me the means God gives for godly living and then I'll get on with it." Well... no, we don't graduate from needing Christ crucified proclaimed to us. Our faith is so often under assault, as John Calvin writes, 
So deeply rooted in our hearts is unbelief, so prone are we to it, that while all confess with the lips that God is faithful, no man ever believes it without an arduous struggle...
But that the foretaste which we obtain from any minute portion of faith is certain, and by no means fallacious, he elsewhere shows, when he affirms that "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord," (2 Corinthians 3:18.) 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. (Institutes)
Jesus offered himself as the true food and the true drink to be received by sinners through faith and not as just a one-time conversion experience or infrequent meal, but for daily sustenance and refuge from the accusations our consciences continually bring to mind. Jesus said "I am the bread of heaven and the water that satisfies." Faith that looks to him feeds on his death and resurrection. He is the Lamb of God who takes away sin with its always heavy load of guilt. 

Do Christ's sheep still sin? Do they sometime struggle under the burden that their sins make them second class Christians, insecure under a threat of condemnation? It's the grace of the gospel - the message of Christ's shed blood - that daily cleanses guilty consciences and is the food that nourishes and maintains the faith of the saints. And that message is true food to be proclaimed and served to ears that hear which message then goes directly to hearts that believe.
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. (Marrow of Modern divinity, Edward Fisher)
... and the synagogue having been dismissed, many of the Jews and of the devout proselytes did follow Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were persuading them to remain in the grace of God... and he was reasoning in the synagogue every sabbath, persuading both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 13:43; 18:4)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ursinus: Law/Gospel - Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace

36 Q What is the difference
between the law and the gospel?

A The law contains the covenant of nature [or works]
established by God with man in creation;
that means,
it is known by man from nature,
it requires perfect obedience of us
to God,
and it promises eternal life
to those who keep it
but threatens eternal punishment
to those who do not.

The gospel, however,
contains the covenant of grace
that means,
although it exists,
it is not known at all from nature;
it shows us
Christ’s fulfillment of that righteousness
which the law requires,
and its restoration in us
through Christ’s Spirit;
and it promises eternal life
freely on account of Christ
to those who believe in him.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Calvin - Faith and this Present Life

Faith does not promise us length of days, riches and honors, (the Lord not having been pleased that any of these should be appointed us); but is contented with the assurance, that however poor we may be in regard to present comforts, God will never fail us. The chief security lies in the expectation of future life, which is placed beyond doubt by the word of God. Whatever be the miseries and calamities which await the children of God in this world, they cannot make his favor cease to be complete happiness.
- John Calvin, Institutes.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Paul on the Mosaic Covenant...

Lee Irons writes:
"Did the Mosaic law demand obedience as the legal basis of obtaining life (Lev 18:5), or is that only a Jewish misunderstanding of the law? If the latter, one cannot make sense of the teaching of Paul that the Mosaic law-covenant was Israel’s “pedagogue unto Christ” (Gal 3:24). One could try to get around this by claiming that it is not the Mosaic covenant but the universally-binding, trans-historical “moral law” that has this pedagogical function. But Paul has already blocked that move by defining what he means by “the law” (ὁ νόμος) in the context: it is the specific covenant that came 430 years after the Abrahamic promise (Gal 3:17); it is the historical expression of the law accompanied by the threat of a curse to the disobedient (Gal 3:10 quoting Deut 27:26) and a promise of life to the doers of the law (Gal 3:12 quoting Lev 18:5); it is the temporary guardian set over the minor children (Israel) “until the date set by the father” (Gal 4:1-2). Of course, there is universal application of this pedagogical function, even for Gentiles, as the Spirit uses the law to convince us of our inability to keep it, but the original reference is to the historical Mosaic covenant and its pedagogical role in redemptive history."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Law-Gospel Application...

This is manifest, not only from the most of the arguments, advanced in the preceding chapter, which prove no less, that Adam was the public representative of his posterity, than that a covenant of works was, in that capacity, made with him; but also, from the following considerations:

First, As the spiritual seed of the second Adam, are called after his name, to show that they were all included in him, as their glorious Representative; so, the natural posterity of the first Adam are, in the original language of the Old Testament, more than four hundred times, called Adam. On the other hand, as Christ the second Man, to show that in the covenant of grace he represented his spiritual offspring, is in the Old Testament, denominated Jacob and Israel...

Further, This is also evident, from these words of the apostle Paul: "For since by man came death, by man came also, the resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam, all die, even so in Christ, shall all be made alive." By the one man here, is evidently meant Christ the second man, and by the other, is understood Adam the first man. By the one, comes the resurrection of the dead, for in him, shall all his spiritual seed be made alive; by the other, came death, for in him, all, that is, all his natural descendants die. But, how could all his posterity die in Adam, if they had not all sinned in him, as their natural head, and federal representative? and, how could they have sinned in him, as their covenant-representative, when he sinned, by eating the forbidden fruit, if when the Covenant of Works was made with him, he had not been their representative?...

Again, The wrath of God which, Adam, by breaking the covenant of innocence, deserved and incurred, falls on all the human race. The elect of God are naturally under it, even as others. The believers in Ephesus "were by nature children of wrath, even as others." They were naturally chargeable with original sin, and from their very conception, were infected with it. On that account, they were condemned, and exposed to the eternal wrath of Jehovah as really, as those are, who are chargeable with actual transgressions. The first sin of Adam is imputed to the persons of his posterity, and the corruption of nature, under which he thereby fell, begins, as soon as they are conceived or formed in the womb, to be interwoven with their nature. They, therefore, as soon as they are conceived and born, before they can be capable of committing any actual sin, deserve, and are justly exposed to, the wrath of God. The obvious consequence is, that all the offspring of Adam, were comprehended or comprised in him, as their covenant-head and representative, when he sinned, and so became liable, to the sin-avenging wrath of the most High...

In the last place, The great Apostle of the Gentiles writes thus: "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second Man, is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also, that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." The second Man is the second or last Adam; the first man, is the first Adam. The Lord Jesus Christ is the second Man, in respect that, in the covenant of grace, he is a public Person, the Representative of his elect-seed. Adam therefore is the first man, because in the covenant of works, he was not only the natural, but the moral root, the public representative of his posterity. Since then there is a second Man, representing all his spiritual children, the opposition in the passage requires, that there be also a first man, a public person, representing all his natural offspring. When the covenant of works then was made, it was made with Adam, as—a holy and upright man; as the natural root;—and as the moral head or representative, of all his natural descendants...
It is evident from what hath now been advanced, that it is not enough that we assent, simply to the truth concerning the Covenant of Works, but that we believe and consider it well, with application to ourselves. We cannot consistently, take hold of God's covenant of grace, or apply to ourselves any of the promises of it, unless we previously believe with particular application, his covenant of works. Be persuaded, reader, that this covenant was made with the first Adam, in thy name, or for thee in particular. Consider it attentively, and with application to the state of thy own soul. Lay to heart, O, lay to heart, without a moment's delay, thy own case in relation to it. If thou be still under the dominion of sin, thou art as really, as completely, under that covenant, as if thou hadst in thy own person, consented to all the articles of it. O, do not any longer doubt of the reality of it. Thou and I, reader, have sufficient evidence even within ourselves that a covenant of life was made with our common parent. Nothing is more natural for us than to do, that we may live; than to think, that our performances will entitle us to the favour and enjoyment of God; and that if we do our part, God will do his.  
O do not flatter thyself, that, by thy own righteousness or strength, thou wilt be able to discharge, and dissolve the obligations of this covenant. Thy violation of it in Adam, instead of setting thee free from it, lays thee effectually and completely, under the dreadful penalty of it. Thou canst not otherwise be delivered from it, than by a discharge obtained from Jehovah himself, the other contracting Party: and such a discharge cannot be granted, but upon full satisfaction given to all its demands. Thou canst not have thy discharge, from the hand of Divine justice, till the very last farthing, of thy debt of obedience and suffering to the law be paid. — "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." It is impossible for thee, O sinner, ever to satisfy the demands of the law as a covenant, otherwise than by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ, as Jehovah thy righteousness, and counting to the law, all that he did and suffered, as done and suffered for thee. Assure thyself, that if ever thou "become dead to the law" in its covenant-form, it must be "by the body of Christ." Accept Him, then, as the end of the law for righteousness to thee in particular; and having received abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, thou shalt reign in life by one Jesus Christ, the glorious Head of a new, and a better covenant.
John Colquhoun, Treatise on the Covenant of Works, pp. 34-41