Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Covenant of Grace is a Costly Covenant

"The two covenants differ in this — the one was vastly more expensive than the other. The one cost the Almighty but the breath of his lips. He spake and it was done, he commanded, and it stood fast. But the other required vastly more. There was need of more than words to establish it. Who can fully declare what the covenant of grace has cost a Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost? To accomplish its great ends,  
"God behoved to tear his Son as from his bosom, and to send him forth made of a woman, made under the law, Gal. iv. 4. To recover enemies, he behoved to part with an only Son. Ere he could smile on them, he was to frown on him and to desert him: before he could put the sword of justice as into its scabbard, he behoved, Father as he was, to plunge it into the bowels of his own, his only Son.  
"The Son, the Mediator and Surety of the covenant, behoved in virtue of his suretyship, to forego the ineffable pleasures of a Father's bosom, to be clothed in the likeness of sinful flesh, to be a reproach of men, covered with darkness, surrounded with sorrow, overwhelmed with fear, attacked by devils, stricken, smitten, and forsaken of God, and at last to die. What amazing cost is here! To use the words of one, " It is an expended Deity on human weal!"  
"The Holy Spirit whose it is to apply the Covenant to sinners, how costly work is it to him! He strives more with one sinner in a day, than ever he did with angels since they fell. He never knocked at their door, but, oh, how long he stands at that of mankind-sinners! How he strives and expostulates, ere he get access. What rebellion often against him! what resistance! and when received, what untender treatment often follows! Sons and daughters vex, grieve, and well nigh quench him. And thus as violence was done to the Son, so also to the Holy Spirit. He suffers in his influences and operations, though he cannot in his adorable person. He bears with the manners of his people, though often grievous to him, and does not altogether cast them off.  
"Thus the covenant of grace is a costly covenant. Nothing could be equally so. The salvation of one sinner has cost God more than creation in all its extent, pomp and splendour. Ten thousand worlds had been as easily created as one. But to accomplish the ends of the covenant, what did God do? I shall tell you in the language of inspiration, and if not inspired, perhaps it had not been safe to use it, " God laid down his life," 1 John iii. 16. And now, my brethren, what could have been done more for the vineyard than has been done? Isa. v. 4. Surely a synod of angels could not say. The cost could not possibly rise higher: God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all: Awake, said he, O sword, against the man that is my fellow." 
Thomas Bell. A Treatise on the Covenants of Works and Grace, 213-214

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wise Counsel For Preachers

"The year was 1768. A twenty-eight year old preacher by the name of Augustus Toplady, who wrote many of our best hymns, including "Rock of Ages", spent the afternoon in London with Mr. Brewer — an older, veteran Gospel preacher, whom he greatly admired and from whom he learned much. This is what Mr. Brewer said to the young Toplady, as Toplady later recorded in his diary:"

I cannot conclude without reminding you, my young brother, of some things that may be of use to you in the course of your ministry:
1. Preach Christ crucified, and dwell chiefly on the blessings resulting from His righteousness, atonement, and intercession. 
2. Avoid all needless controversies in the pulpit; except it be when your subject necessarily requires it; or when the truths of God are likely to suffer by your silence. 
3. When you ascend the pulpit, leave your learning behind you. Endeavor to preach more to the hearts of your people — than to their heads
4. Do not affect too much oratory. Seek rather to profit your hearers — than to be admired by them.
HT: Grace Gems

Saturday, November 21, 2015

B. B. Warfield on the Prodigal Son...

"In other words, its lesson is not that God loves His children, but that God loves sinners. And thus this parable is seen ranging with the preceding ones. The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, have only this one thing in common, that they are lost; and the three parables unite in commending the one common lesson to us, that as men rejoice in the recovery of what is lost, so God rejoices in the recovery of sinners since sinners are the things that to Him are lost... What it teaches is that God will receive the returning sinner with the same joy that the father in the parable received the returning prodigal; because as this son was to that father's heart above all other things that he had lost, his lost one, and his return was therefore above all other things that might have been returned to him his recovery; so sinners are above all else that God has lost in the world His lost ones, and their return to Him above all other restorations that may be made to Him His recovery. The vivid picture of the father not staying to receive the returning son, but, moved with compassion as he spied him yet a great way off, running out to meet him and falling on his neck and kissing him in his ecstasy again and again; cutting short his words of confession with the command that the best robe be brought to clothe him, and shoes for his blistered feet, and a ring for his finger, and the order that the fatted calf be killed and the feast be spread, and the music and the dance be prepared because, as he says, "This my son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found " —  all this in the picture is meant to quicken our hearts to some apprehension of the joy that fills God's heart at the return of sinners to Him. 
"O brethren, our minds are dulled with much repetition, and refuse to take the impression our Lord would make on them. But even we - can we fail to be moved with wonder today at this great message, that God in heaven rejoices — exults in joy like this human father receiving back his son when sinners repent and turn to Him? On less assurance than that of Jesus Christ Himself the thing were perhaps incredible. But on that assurance shall we not take its comfort to our hearts? We are sinners. And our only hope is in one who loves sinners; and has come into the world to die for sinners. Marvel, marvel beyond our conception; but, blessed be God, as true as marvellous. And when we know Him better, perhaps it may more and more cease to be a marvel. At least, one of those who have known Him best and served Him most richly in our generation, has taught us to sing thus of His wondrous death for us:"
That He should leave His place on high,
And come for sinful man to die,
You count it strange ?—so do not I,
Since I have known my Saviour. 
Nay, had there been in all this wide
Wide world no other soul beside
But only mine, then He had died
That He might be its Saviour; 
Then had He left His Father's throne,
The joy untold, the love unknown,
And for that soul had given His own,
That He might be its Saviour!
"Is that too high a flight for us-that passion of appropriation by which the love of Jesus for me - my own personal soul - is appreciated so fully that it seems natural to us that He, moved by that great love that was in Him for me — even me — should leave His throne that He might die for me, — just me, — even were there none else beside? At least we may assent to the dispassionate recognition that in the depths of our parable is hidden the revelation of that fundamental characteristic of Jesus Christ by virtue of which He did become the Saviour at least of sinners. And seeing this and knowing ourselves to be sinners, we may acknowledge Him afresh today as our Saviour, and at least gratefully join in our passionate sinner's prayer:"
And oh! that He fulfilled may see
The travail of His soul in me,
And with His work contented be,
As I am with my Saviour! 
Yea, living, dying, let me bring
My strength, my solace from this spring,
That He who lives to be my King,
Once died to be my Saviour!
The Prodigal Son by B. B. Warfield, preached in the Chapel of Princeton Seminary on the text of Luke 15: 11-32, somewhere between 1910-1913.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Through Which Covenant-Lens?

Just some questions... Could the answers indicate the covenant-lens through which you tend to view your sanctification: through the Covenant of Works (Law) or the Covenant of Grace (Gospel)?
1. Are you more conscious of your good works or your sins?
2. Are you more aware of your strengths or your weaknesses?
3. Are you more attuned to your successes or your failures?
4. Are you more acquainted with your confidence or your fears?
5. Are you more certain of your moral growth or your lack thereof?
6. Are you more familiar with your other-centeredness or your self-centeredness?
7. Are you more cognizant of a love for God or a lukewarm heart?
8. Are you more witting of the rightness of your positions or the wrongness of your attitudes?
9. Are you  more up-to-date with your moral consistency or your too-oft ambivalence?
10. Are you more versed in your basic goodness or your too-oft hypocrisy?
11. Are you more alive to the comfort of your good works or Christ's works for you?
12. Are you  more sensible to your obedience or the obedience of Christ? 
13. Are you more enlightened to your love for God or God's love for you
14. Do you see the strength of your sanctification as increasing your standing with God? 
15. Do you see the weakness of your of sanctification as decreasing your standing with God?
Though justified by grace from the Covenant of Works through faith in Christ, isn't our fallen tendency or bent to still look at ourselves to see how we measure up (self-justify)? Can't it be said, as believers seek to walk in the direction of obedience, that  sanctification is yet a slow, life-long process of removing from our eyes that lens of measuring ourselves against ourselves?... dying to the esteem of our works, our goodness, our strengths... becoming more aware of the lack of true righteousness within us?... and moving toward finding all our righteousness, indeed everything we need for salvation, in Jesus Christ and his finished work alone? For those who think I'm ignoring good works, not to worry. Exhortations to love God and neighbor are commanded and necessary, the path we walk as Christians. But is that what sanctifies? We should seek to love God and neighbor while resisting sin. But do those works make one holy? It is the power of the gospel that sanctifies. No longer under the law as a covenant of works but under the covenant of grace we find
"This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls... 
"The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel."                                           - John Owen. Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jesus: A Parable-Centered Ministry

A few weeks ago Rick Philips wrote a post asking whether a gospel-centered ministry is sufficient for the church's ministry. To answer that question he focused on the ministry of Jesus as presented in the book of Mark. Philips writes:
This raises the question to me as to whether Jesus himself can be said to have a "gospel-centeredTM ministry?"
To satisfy my curiosity, I turned to the Gospel of Mark, which is currently being read during the morning worship services of the church I serve. I do realize that the Gospels are not given as a statistical sample of Jesus' ministry day-to-day. Still, we should be able to get a fair sense of our Lord's own priorities if we categorize the types of messages recorded in his Gospels...
But how was Jesus gospel-centered? The answer is that he revealed himself as the divine Messiah and enlightened man about God, he showed the power and grace to live a new kind of life, he exposed darkness and unbelief as false and ungodly, and he offered forgiveness to broken sinners.
I think Rick Philips makes some fair points regarding the ministry of the church. But I also think he is making a questionable assumption about the connection between the priorities of Jesus's ministry and that of the church by offering an approach which may not be as helpful as it seems on its face. Do the gospels present Jesus as a ministry-template for the church? Is the focus and mix of the church's preaching and teaching to be shaped by reflecting how and what Jesus did in his spoken ministry? One obvious caveat to that last question: in one crucial sense what Jesus did and taught is not only central to the church's ministry it is the church's ministry. Yet to look at the mix of what Jesus taught isn't necessarily the pointer for pastors. One obvious difference is that Jesus did many miracles. He raised the dead, healed the sick, made the blind to see and the lame to walk. Do we? No. But more to the point of this post is the nature of Jesus's spoken ministry. In his spoken ministry did Jesus reveal himself as the divine Messiah? He certainly came as the divine Messiah. And the gospel writers certainly present him as such. But it seems that Jesus himself wasn't as intent on making himself known as Philips' conclusion states. By and large when addressing the crowds that followed him, the gospels present Jesus speaking in what were confusing parables and less than clear teachings. In fact, a center-piece of his public ministry was speaking in mysteries or parables, cloaking the true nature of his identity and mission:
And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. Mark 1:34
for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. Mark 3:10-12
As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” Mark 4:10-12 
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. Matt. 13:34
It was primarily to the apostles that Jesus revealed himself. And even at that, his words were often cryptic and misunderstood by them. This approach is in stark contrast with the purpose and ministry of the church in the New Testament as well as today. The apostle Paul writes in Colossians that his purpose was to proclaim and reveal Jesus Christ to all men:
Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. Col. 1:25-29
In contrast, one can argue that Jesus's priority was to not reveal himself (thus his parables and other cloaked teachings) but rather, as the One purposely unrecognized by Israel (Isaiah 53:2b-3), to offer himself as a sacrificial Lamb for the sins of his people. Whereas the church's mission is to fully reveal Christ as Lord and Savior, God who came in the flesh and who has accomplished salvation by his death on the cross. In examining Jesus's spoken ministry it's helpful to keep in view that Jesus had not yet died on the cross. In a sense, his was a moment between the two covenants. The New Covenant in his blood had not yet been inaugurated. And inaugurating that covenant was the end or goal of his ministry. Redemption had not yet been accomplished. The very definitive fullness of the gospel would only at Pentecost be first proclaimed - Christ crucified and risen and ascended. What Jesus taught and how he taught in the gospels worked together to both proclaim the kingdom of heaven at hand and yet in such a way for himself to remain hidden. He not only spoke in parables, Jesus was a walking, living Parable to those around him. He was headed somewhere. 
When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined [lit. set his face] to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
This was even more clearly seen when the disciples were approached by 'certain Greeks' who had heard about Jesus and wanted to see him. The word was getting out about Jesus, even beyond the borders of Israel! It was as if that moment of unwanted wider fame was an alarm going off. What Isaiah 53:10 prophesied was about to be fulfilled.
Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip *came and* told Andrew; Andrew and Philip *came and* told Jesus. And Jesus *answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. John 12:20-23
But why would Jesus, the Son of God come in the flesh, speak in parables and hide his identity? One reason it seems is that the Jews who were looking for the Messiah wanted fervently the restoration of Israel's past glory. That could only be accomplished by reestablishing the throne on David in the earthly Jerusalem. And that road to recognition and glory was not the path to the cross. The gospel of John tells us, as Jesus's identity became more widely known he took measures so that he would not be diverted from Calvary and the one thing necessary to complete his mission. He had no interest in being fully revealed and getting sidetracked from his purpose.
Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. John 6:14-15
His was an unique ministry both in purpose and execution. His was not the Christian church's ministry of proclaiming Christ crucified. His was the ministry of the Sin-bearer come to die. And because of that I would suggest that we should be cautious when trying to find patterns in Jesus's life and ministry to be used as templates or examples for the life and ministry of the church.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Calvin on Election...

A few of John Calvin's thoughts on the doctrine of election as found in the Institutes of Religion:

"In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory." 
"If the end of election is holiness of life, it ought to arouse and stimulate us strenuously to aspire to it, instead of serving as a pretext for sloth." 
"Those, therefore, whom God has chosen he adopts as sons, while he becomes to them a Father. By calling, moreover, he admits them to his family, and unites them to himself, that they may be one with him. When calling is thus added to election, the Scripture plainly intimates that nothing is to be looked for in it but the free mercy of God." 
"Then what is the end of election, but just that, being adopted as sons by the heavenly Father, we may by his favor obtain salvation and immortality? How much soever you may speculate and discuss you will perceive that in its ultimate object it goes no farther. Hence, those whom God has adopted as sons, he is said to have elected, not in themselves, but in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 1:4;) because he could love them only in him, and only as being previously made partakers with him, honor them with the inheritance of his kingdom. But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to engraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sanctification - the Necessary Consequence of Justification

"Since we have been focusing of Romans 3-5 it may be helpful to see how Paul continues his argument in Romans 6-7, for here he answers explicitly an objection from an imagined interlocutor about the moral life and justification. The objection is this: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?" (6:1). In other words, if the grace of justification is proclaimed to sinners, should we sin more in order to magnify God's grace? Does Paul's doctrine of justification make holy living irrelevant or perhaps even undesirable? Paul explains his short answer - "By no means!" - from 6:2 through 7:6. He argues that justified believers united to Christ are no longer under the law but under grace, and that having died to the law they are no longer under the dominion of sin but bear good fruit for God and walk by his Spirit. The precise point is striking. Paul does not say that a sanctified moral life is still possible despite his doctrine of justification, which wold have answered the objection narrowly taken. What he says is that a sanctified moral life is the necessary consequence of justification and that justification is the necessary prerequisite of the sanctified moral life. Dying to the law in justification somehow results in believers for the first time being able to do the holy works acceptable before God."
David VanDrunen, Divine Covenants and Moral Order, 437