OPC Third Membership Vow and Self-Abhorrence (6 Part Series)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now looking again at the OPC 3rd membership vow -

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

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

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

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.

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 (hereherehere) 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.”

Friday, January 26, 2018

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

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

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

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