Saturday, June 27, 2015

Marriage, the World, and the Gospel...

Some thoughts rumbling about in my head regarding the recent Supreme Court marriage ruling:

The cultural environment is arguably becoming more anti for the Christian church in America, though hardly rising to anything I would would label as persecution. Certainly not a pleasant thing for Christians and possibly even more so for pastors going forward. But I wondering if this development, this increase in antithesis between Christ’s kingdom and the kingdom of this world, may be something that ends up helping to clarify the gospel call to believe in Christ. Similarly, as when the antithesis of Law and Gospel is diminished things get dangerously fuzzy concerning the role of believer's faith and works in their salvation, maybe also the lack of antithesis between church and state in America muddies the church's identification with Christ's kingdom that is not of this world. The result? Too many in the world end up seeing the church as only a “clean club” and hearing her message as just one of many vying to establish its own particular beatific vision of how life should be lived in America. The gospel's offense of the cross, though not intended, sadly ends up taking a back seat. Just wondering…

The Constitution, fairly read, indeed should protect the free exercise of religious belief. But maybe the time is here when the world in the person of the State isn’t inclined to read the 1st Amendment fairly. The words of Jesus are helpful and comforting to me:
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
Update: The Bible doesn't teach that the role of the church is to get the world to shape up or back off, but to proclaim the gospel, calling sinners out of the world into the kingdom of Christ. To the Church: preach Christ and him crucified. The rest, we are promised of God, will fall into place...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Calvin: Man, Law, and the Civil Kingdom

"Since man is by nature a social animal, he is disposed, from natural instinct, to cherish and preserve society; and accordingly we see that the minds of all men have impressions of civil order and honesty. Hence it is that every individual understands how human societies must he regulated by laws, and also is able to comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence the universal agreement in regard to such subjects, both among nations and individuals, the seeds of them being implanted in the breasts of all without a teacher or lawgiver. The truth of this fact is not affected by the wars and dissensions which immediately arise, while some, such as thieves and robbers, would invert the rules of justice, loosen the bonds of law, and give free scope to their lust; and while others (a vice of most frequent occurrence) deem that to be unjust which is elsewhere regarded as just, and, on the contrary, hold that to be praiseworthy which is elsewhere forbidden. For such persons do not hate the laws from not knowing that they are good and sacred, but, inflamed with headlong passion, quarrel with what is clearly reasonable, and licentiously hate what their mind and understanding approve. Quarrels of this latter kind do not destroy the primary idea of justice. For while men dispute with each other as to particular enactments, their ideas of equity agree in substance. This, no doubt, proves the weakness of the human mind, which, even when it seems on the right path, halts and hesitates. Still, however, it is true, that some principle of civil order is impressed on all. And this is ample proof, that, in regard to the constitution of the present life, no man is devoid of the light of reason."
John Calvin. Institutes: Christian Religion, 1.2.13

Monday, June 22, 2015

We Can Glory Only in His Mercy...

"We, indeed, are perfectly conscious how poor and abject we are: in the presence of God we are miserable sinners, and in the sight of men most despised — we are (if you will) the mere dregs and offscourings of the world, or worse, if worse can be named: so that before God there remains nothing of which we can glory save only his mercy, by which, without any merit of our own, we are admitted to the hope of eternal salvation and before men not even this much remains, since we can glory only in our infirmity, a thing which, in the estimation of men, it is the greatest ignominy even tacitly to confess."
John Calvin. Institutes, Book 1 

What Christ Won for the Elect - Greater Than If Adam Obeyed

Following up on the last post: if eternal life was indeed promised in the covenant of works, then is there no difference between what Adam could have won for his posterity and what Jesus Christ actually purchased for those in him? Again, John Colquhoun:
It ought here, however, to be observed, that though the eternal life in heaven, which was promised in the covenant of works, was the same in its nature, with that which is promised in the covenant of grace; yet, in several respects, it would have been inferior to it. — I shall mention a few of them.
1. The title of Adam in innocence, to eternal life, could not have been confirmed, in the adorable person, and stupendous death, of the Son of God incarnate; nor could the charter of his right to it, have been what it now is, to every true believer in Jesus, — a new testament, or new covenant in his blood. Adam was to have had good security for life, namely, the covenant of works fulfilled; but the true Christian, has a far more glorious charter; — the everlasting covenant of Grace, written with blood, the infinitely precious blood, of Jesus the only begotten of the Father. 
2. Upright Adam, could not have seen in heaven, what the glorified saint will now behold, the incarnate Lamb, the Lamb, as if it had been slain. He was to have enjoyed bright discoveries of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: but he could not have been blessed with the beatifical vision of the eternal Son, in human nature; — that immaculate Lamb, who is ten thousand times brighter than our meridian sun, and will to all eternity, continue to be the light of the heavenly temple. He could have beheld Jehovah sitting upon the throne; but not, the Lamb in the midst of the throne. He could have contemplated the only-begotten Son, in heaven, and in the bosom of the Father, but not, in the human nature; not, as his near kinsman, his brother, who for him and for his salvation, was dead, but is now alive, and liveth forevermore. He could have had none of those astonishing, and transporting,  manifestations of the glory of Jehovah, in the face of Jesus Christ; none of those delightful discoveries of his perfections, and purposes, in the glorious work of redemption, which, in heaven, are and shall be enjoyed by the ransomed of the Lord. 
3. Again, Innocent Adam, could indeed have praised Him who sitteth on the throne, as the Creator and Preserver of all things; but he could not have joined, in this transporting anthem: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood; and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father: to him be glory, and dominion for ever and ever, Amen" (Rev. 1.5, 6).
4. Adam could have dwelt in heaven, as the creature, the servant, and the friend, of God the Son; but the redeemed present themselves there, as his brethren and sisters, his spouse, his members (Eph. 5.30; John 14.19), and his spiritual seed, the fruit of the travail of his soul. He could not have been so early allied, nor so intimately related, to the only-begotten Son, as they are honoured to be.
5. Upright Adam, could have sat down before the celestial throne, arrayed in the garment of his own righteousness; but not, as invested with that spotless, that best robe, the immaculate righteousness of the incarnate Redeemer, with which, as their garment of salvation, his ransomed are adorned,
6. In a word, Adam's enjoyment of eternal life, could not have been sweetened, by his remembrance of any sad experience, that he formerly had had of sin, or of misery, or of sorrow; as will be that of the redeemed from among men. The relish, which the saints shall have, of the pleasures that are at the right hand of God, will, after their bitter experience of sin, sorrow, sickness, and pain, be higher than Adam's could have been, who is supposed never to have known, what it was to experience any of those evils. [emphasis in the original]

Treatise of the Covenant of Works, John Colquhoun, pages 76-78

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eternal Life Promised in the First Covenant...

Scottish minister and theologian John Colquhoun (1748-1827) writes:
That eternal life in heaven, was promised to mankind, in the first covenant, may be evinced by the following arguments:
1. The life, which the second Adam, by his surety-righteousness, merited for his spiritual seed, is the same that the first Adam had forfeited, by his disobedience. Now that was life eternal. If "he who believeth, hath eternal life," and, if "the just shall live" an eternal life "by faith," "The man which doeth those things, shall live by them" (Rom. 10.5); that is, shall also live the same eternal life. Hence too, are these words of the apostle Paul : "That no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith; but the man that doeth them, shall live in them" (Gal. 3.11-12). That eternal life, then, which is received by faith, is here represented, as in substance the same with this, which, by the law, is connected with the perfect fulfillment of all its demands.
2. Our blessed Lord, when proposing the covenant of works, to a young man who was a legalist, told him, that he should have eternal life, as the performance of the promise of it, upon his fulfilling of the condition. "Behold one came and said unto him, good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, — If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments (Matt. 19.16-17). On another occasion, he returned a similar answer to a lawyer, who put a similar question to him: "He said unto him, thou hast answered right; this do and thou shalt live "(Luke 10.28), that is,— shalt live an eternal life. It was eternal life, then, which, in that covenant, was promised to Adam, upon condition of his perfect obedience to the law.
3. If for the breach of that covenant, Adam and all his natural posterity in him, were condemned to eternal death (Rom. 6.23; Matt. 25.46); it is requisite, according to the rules of remunerative justice, and the infinite equity of the Divine procedure, that if the condition of life had been fulfilled, they should have been adjudged to eternal life. Was the penalty of death eternal in the infernal world, annexed to the transgression even of a positive precept ? We may warrantably conclude, that life everlasting in the heavenly world, was included in the promise.
4. Reason also suggests, that, his all-bountiful Lord would promise to the man, as the reward of his obedience, a better life, than that which he already possessed; — that, as the earthly paradise, was adapted principally to promote the happiness of his body, there would be another, and a future state and place, fitted to afford such spiritual felicity, as should chiefly correspond to the spiritual, and heavenly, nature of his soul; — and that, after his present state of service and of trial, there would very likely be a future one, of reward and of enjoyment.
5. The divine appointment of the tree of life, as a symbol and seal of that covenant, plainly hinted that the promise of it, was a promise of a better, and even of an eternal life. — The tree of life signified and sealed to Adam, that upon the ground of his finished obedience, he should be confirmed in life, and should live for ever. It appears from the following words, that he so understood the design of it: "And now lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever;  therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden. And he planted at the east of the garden of Eden, Cherubim and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3.22-24).
6. Christ the second Adam, by his unsmiling obedience, merited for his spiritual offspring, that very life, which the law could not, because of the sinfulness of their nature, afford to them .— " For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us" (Rom. 8.3-4), &c. The law or commandment, under the form of a covenant of works, "was," we are told, "ordained to life;" ordained, to confer on them who should keep it, eternal life in heaven. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19.17). The inability of the law, therefore, to afford eternal life now, arises merely from the sinner's inability, to afford that perfect obedience, which it originally required, and still requires as the ground of a title to life. If sin had not been committed, the law as a covenant of works, could have still conducted men to that everlasting life, which Christ the last Adam, confers upon his children.
7. In the last place, Though justification, in which men are confessedly declared righteous, and entitled to eternal life, is, in the sacred records, affirmed to be altogether impossible now, by the works of the law; yet, it is nowhere suggested, that this proceeds from any other cause, than the sinner's own inability, to answer the just demands of the violated law (Rom. 3.19-20). It is nowhere hinted, that the reason why a man cannot be justified, or procure a title to eternal life, by the deeds of the law, is, that the law never had a promise of eternal life; but, that — "by the law, is the knowledge of sin;" and, that —  "all the world have become guilty before God." Thus it is manifest, that eternal life, was promised in the covenant of works.
[emphasis in the original]
Treatise of the Covenant of Works, John Colquhoun, pages 73-76 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Law-Gospel Hermeneutic: Two Different Words...

From chapter 3, The Source of Theology: Revelation of Dr. Michael Horton's sytematic theology:
Both Testaments include both commands and promises. When we speak of the distinction between law and gospel, therefore, we are referring to different illocutionary stances that run throughout all of the Scriptures— everything in both Testaments that is in the form of either an obligatory command or a saving promise in Christ. “Hence,” wrote Luther, “whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between the law and the gospel, him we place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.”
Calvin and his Reformed colleagues and theological heirs underscored this point as well. Wilhelm Niesel observes, “Reformed theology recognizes the contrast between law and gospel, in a way similar to Lutheranism. We read in the Second Helvetic Confession: ‘The gospel is indeed opposed to the law. For the law works wrath and pronounces a curse, whereas the gospel preaches grace and blessing.’” Ursinus, chief author of the Heidelberg Catechism, called it “the chief division of Holy Scripture,” and Beza insisted in his catechism that “ignorance of this distinction is one of the causes of the many abuses in the church” throughout history. The great Elizabethan Puritan William Perkins taught that it was the first principle for preachers to learn in interpreting and applying passages. More recently, Herman Bavinck and Louis Berkhof have observed the significance of this distinction for the whole Christian system of faith and practice. J. Van Bruggen adds more recently, “The [Heidelberg] Catechism, thus, mentions the gospel and deliberately does not speak of ‘the Word of God,’ because the law does not work faith. The law (law and gospel are the two parts of the Word which may be distinguished) judges; it does not call a person to God and does not work trust in him. The gospel does that.”
Horton, Michael S. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Seeing Christ Through The Law - Gospel Lens...

The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism

4. Christ is the substance and ground of the entire Scriptures. But the doctrine contained in the law and gospel is necessary to lead us to a knowledge of Christ and his benefits: for the law is our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ, constraining us to fly to him, and showing us what that righteousness is, which he has wrought out, and now offers unto us. But the gospel, professedly, treats of the person, office, and benefits of Christ. Therefore we have, in the law and gospel, the whole of the Scriptures, comprehending the doctrine revealed from heaven for our salvation. 

The principal differences between these two parts of the doctrine of the church, consists in these three things: 
1. In the subject, or general character of the doctrine, peculiar to each. The law prescribes and enjoins what is to be done, and forbids what ought to be avoided: whilst the gospel announces the free remission of sin, through and for the sake of Christ. 
2. In the manner of the revelation peculiar to each. The law is known from nature; the gospel is divinely revealed. 
3. In the promises which they make to man. The law promises life upon the condition of perfect obedience; the gospel, on the condition of faith in Christ and the commencement of new obedience. Hereafter, however, more will be said upon this subject in the proper place.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Musings on Sin, the Blood, and Obedience...

Some thoughts rumbling around in my brain this morning...

The woman caught in adultery:
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” John 8:3-11
As a sinner, am I the Pharisee in this story or the prostitute? Something tells me I'm both...

John Owen wrote, "Where sanctification is enjoined us as our duty, it is prescribed under this notion of cleansing ourselves from sin." (Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit)
“Wash you, make you clean,” Isaiah 1:16. 
“O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved,” Jeremiah 4:14. 
“Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” 2 Corinthians 7:1
I find that I do poorly at reforming myself. The same sins of yesterday are more or less still with me. Jesus's call is not to reform myself but to come to him, the "fountain filled with blood..." He died for me in order to cleanse me of my sin, not to enable me to reform myself. I don't graduate from that in this life.
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. (William Cowper)
Where does obedience come in? Gratitude indeed. Thankful that he bore my sin and forgives me. My obedience is gratefully stumbling along in the direction of holiness, falling way short, not in order to make myself better - a fool's errand. I will become better after "the body of this death" dies and then resurrected I see him.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 1 John 3:2

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." Titus 2:11-14
Here is William Cowper's hymn in its entirety. It is said that it was one of the first hymns he wrote after his first major bout of depression:

There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood by William Cowper
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
I’ll sing Thy power to save,I’ll sing Thy power to save,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,

Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be,
For me a blood bought free reward, a golden harp for me!
’Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine,
To sound in God the Father’s ears no other name but Thine.

Friday, June 5, 2015

As many of you as have been baptized...

From John Calvin's commentary on Galatians 3:27. 

"The greater and loftier the privilege is of being the children of God, the farther is it removed from our senses, and the more difficult to obtain belief. He therefore explains, in a few words, what is implied in our being united, or rather, made one with the Son of God; so as to remove all doubt, that what belongs to him is communicated to us. He employs the metaphor of a garment, when he says that the Galatians have put on Christ; but he means that they are so closely united to him, that, in the presence of God, they bear the name and character of Christ, and are viewed in him rather than in themselves. This metaphor or similitude, taken from garments, occurs frequently, and has been treated by us in other places.

"But the argument, that, because they have been baptized, they have put on Christ, appears weak; for how far is baptism from being efficacious in all? Is it reasonable that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so closely linked to an external symbol? Does not the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as well as experience, appear to confute this statement? I answer, it is customary with Paul to treat of the sacraments in two points of view. When he is dealing with hypocrites, in whom the mere symbol awakens pride, he then proclaims loudly the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol, and denounces, in strong terms, their foolish confidence. In such cases he contemplates not the ordinance of God, but the corruption of wicked men. When, on the other hand, he addresses believers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he then views them in connection with the truth -- which they represent. In this case, he makes no boast of any false splendor as belonging to the sacraments, but calls our attention to the actual fact represented by the outward ceremony. Thus, agreeably to the Divine appointment, the truth comes to be associated with the symbols.

"But perhaps some person will ask, Is it then possible that, through the fault of men, a sacrament shall cease to bear a figurative meaning? The reply is easy. Though wicked men may derive no advantage from the sacraments, they still retain undiminished their nature and force. The sacraments present, both to good and to bad men, the grace of God. No falsehood attaches to the promises which they exhibit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Believers receive what is offered; and if wicked men, by rejecting it, render the offer unprofitable to themselves, their conduct cannot destroy the faithfulness of God, or the true meaning of the sacrament. With strict propriety, then, does Paul, in addressing believers, say, that when they were baptized, they "put on Christ;" just as, in the Epistle to the Romans, he says,
"that we have been planted together into his death, so as to be also partakers of his resurrection."(Romans 6:5.)
"In this way, the symbol and the Divine operation are kept distinct, and yet the meaning of the sacraments is manifest; so that they cannot be regarded as empty and trivial exhibitions; and we are reminded with what base ingratitude they are chargeable, who, by abusing the precious ordinances of God, not only render them unprofitable to themselves, but turn them to their own destruction!"