Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Essential Use of The Gospel Promise for Christians

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

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

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Gospel via Thomas Boston...

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Some Thoughts On How Then To Live...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

How Not To Make God Relevant

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

Monday, May 28, 2018

John Fesko on the Westminster Standards...

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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

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

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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 31, 2018

John Calvin - Put off the Old Man...

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Persuasion of the Gospel (3)...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

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

An example of gospel persuasion -

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

Fisher, Edward. The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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

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

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..."

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

OPC Ruling Elder 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. 
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… _____________________ 
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.'...
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."