Book Review: Galatians For You – Tim Keller

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letter-gGalatians For You, as might be suspected, is a commentary on the book of Galatians. Timothy Keller’s aim with the book is to offer a bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applicable, and easily readable look at the book in question.

The key point of Galatians for Keller is the fact that “the gospel is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom; it is the way to live as part of the kingdom. It is the way Christ transforms people, churches and communities” (p9). Paul is in essence calling his readers to live out the implications of the gospel, and Keller’s utmost goal is to point out to his readers how “It is not simply non-Christians but also believers who need continually to learn the gospel and apply it to their lives” (p11).

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Book Review: Concerning Christian Liberty – By Martin Luther

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Letter WWritten by the iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty is a treatise on the nature of the Christian’s life; or as Luther puts it, “a summary of the Christian life put together in small compass.”

The treatise itself is an attachment to a letter written by Luther to Pope Leo X in which he attempts to point out various corruptions within Rome. The treatise, apart from serving the purpose of summarizing the Christian life, is also meant as a gift to the Pope “By this you may perceive in what pursuits I should prefer and be able to occupy myself to more profit, if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed, by your impious flatterers.” It is meant as an example of the work to which Luther would pursue if not under attack by others within the church.

The goal of the treatise is to address the question of Christian liberty. During the time which Luther wrote the church was filled with those teaching a works righteousness, that one must observe the precepts of the church in order to gain salvation and thereby placing the believer in a sort of bondage. Luther makes it his task to refute this idea and to proclaim the wonders of salvation by faith alone and putting works into the proper place in the Christian life.

The treatise is divided into three parts. The first is regarding “the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian.” The second “[Giving] an answer to all those who, taking offence at the word of faith and at what I have asserted, say, “If faith does everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded? Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?” The third answering the objection of from those who “when they hear of this liberty of faith, straightway turn it into an occasion of licence.”

Throughout this effort Martin Luther masterfully lays out the right relationship of the Law to the work of Christ, and in turn the right relationship of works to faith. “[The precepts] show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength…Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, ‘If you wish to fulfill the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.'”

Yet this freedom is not a freedom from works nor a license to sin, for “It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from the belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works.”

There is nothing more which can be said, to restate the words of Luther are the best service which can be done. The treatise may serve not only as a deep devotional message, but a deep theological one as well; it is the message presented here which reformed the Christian faith and is indeed the heart of that faith.

Memorable Quotes:

“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

-“Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils.”

-“It is certainly true that, in the sight of men, a man becomes good or evil by his works; but here “becoming” means that it is thus shown and recognised who is good or evil, as Christ says, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. vii. 20).”

-“It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that, by its soundness and well-being, he may be enabled to labour, and to acquire and preserve property, for the aid of those who are in want, that thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member, and we may be children of God, thoughtful and busy one for another, bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.”

“Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith.

Specific Criticisms

I have no criticisms of this text to offer, instead I’ll simply point out something which I find noteworthy, which is the passage stating: “Returning to the subject which we had begun, I think it is made clear by these considerations that it is not sufficient, nor a Christian course, to preach the works, life, and words of Christ in a historic manner, as facts which it suffices to know as an example how to frame our life, as do those who are now held the best preachers, and much less so to keep silence altogether on these things and to teach in their stead the laws of men and the decrees of the Fathers. There are now not a few persons who preach and read about Christ with the object of moving the human affections to sympathise with Christ, to indignation against the Jews, and other childish and womanish absurdities of that kind… But alas! it is at this day unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached nor sought after, so that we are quite ignorant about our own name, why we are and are called Christians.”

Here Luther addresses the dominant messages of his day as regards Christianity, including: work-righteousness, using Christ as merely an example for good living, or as merely an individual to sympathize with. It is these same fallacies which ever crop up, these same heresies against which Machen and Chesterton fought under the guise of Liberalism and Modernism, which we fight today under some manifestations of Postmodernism and the Emergent Church.

Even further there is the statement that the truth is being neither preached nor sought after in his day such that individuals are ignorant to what Christianity even is; indeed, this is the same problem which the church has always faced, which the church fathers faced, which Spurgeon lamented, which Machen up through those today continue to fight against.

We like to make it a point of pointing towards the past and asking for a revival in spirit as what was seen in those days, and yet in the days of Luther, in the days of Spurgeon, in the days of Machen, all were facing these same issues.

Book Review: All of Grace – By C.H. Spurgeon

 

Spurgeon All of Grace.pngletter-aAll of Grace was the first book of Spurgeon‘s which I ever. I read it once a few years ago and found it to be wonderful, I’ve recently read it again and found it to be just as wonderful, touching and relevant as the first time I read it.

The design of the text is one aimed at introducing an unbeliever to the gospel, as Spurgeon says in the first chapter “Reader, do you mean business in reading these pages? If so, we are agreed at the outset; but nothing short of your finding Christ and Heaven is the business aimed at here.” It is a text directed at the new or potential Christian, and yet it’s content may no doubt be enjoyed and and benefited from by the most advanced of Christians, and the reason for this is quite simply that what is presented is the gospel truth and the Christian spirit may never tire of the truths of salvation and sanctification.

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Book Review: Rid of My Disgrace – By Justin & Lindsey Holcomb

JandL Holcomb Rid of My Disgrace.pngletter-sSexual assault is not something that happens to someone, ends, and is over; rather, it has lasting effects that can have an impact on every aspect of the person’s life. In Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb seek to address shame and disgrace, particularly powerful and lasting influences on those who have experienced sexual assault. While these are real effects, there is hope for escape from them, and it is this hope which the authors seek to convey.

The authors go about addressing this in three parts. In the first part of their book the define sexual assault, analyze its effects (to include the trauma, negative stereotypes, and self-blaming), discuss the emotions which go along with it, and begin a discussion on how healing is to be found in the grace of God. The second part of the book focuses on how this grace is applied, with each chapter being preceded by the story of somebody who was sexually assaulted and gained the freedom of grace.

This section of the book seeks to address six ways that grace is applied: first in overcoming denial (facing the truth, admitting the damage, naming the evil, and seeking God’s presence); second in restoring the distorted self-image (through the renewed identity in Christ); third in defeating shame (through the biblical truth of its defeat by Christ on the cross, whereby shame no longer defines nor has power of you); fourth in removing guilt (through the biblical truth of the grace of God being applied; through the truth that you are accepted by God); fifth in assessing anger (realizing that anger is warranted and justified, and yet moving from this to find forgiveness); and sixth in escaping despair (through the hope of redemption in Christ).

This second section is the more practical application of theology portion of the book. In the third part they move on to a general presentation of the gospel of grace as particularly addressed to victims of sexual assault, and as seen through the lens of the Old and New Testaments, ending with a concluding prayer.

All in all, this text is an excellent presentation of the gospel’s power to overcome the shame and disgrace inflicted by sexual assault. While there is much other healing which may need to be done, the truths presented here are central to finding a solid basis on which the person may find freedom from their shame.

Memorable Quotes:

“What has happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame.”-p.15

“Grace is being loved when you are or feel unlovable.”-p.15

“the message you hear most often is self-heal, self-love, and self-help.”p.16

“Naming and describing the evil done to you does not ensure automatic personal healing. However it does provide clarity regarding sexual assault, and it allows for acknowledgement.”-p.35

“What you believe has a huge connection to how you respond to disgrace, violence, denial, shame, guilt…”-p.44

“Perhaps the greatest fear of a person marked by shameful defilement is the fear of exposure.”-p.102

“No longer do you have to hold your head in shame in prayer, but you can come to the Father with Christ-centred confidence.”-p.203

“Christ’s victory give us back our identity and restores our meaning.”-p.204

Knowing Who Christ Is, What He Has Promised, And Expecting This Of Him – The Person & Work of Christ

cross.pngLetter IIn his classic book All of Grace, C.H. Spurgeon makes the statement in regards to Christianity that “Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.” If this is accepted as an accurate description of what the Christian faith entails, then the we must analyze what these things are which are to be believed.

If faith is believing that Christ is what he is said to be, it must be determined what Christ is said to be. If faith is believing that Christ will do what He has promised to do, it must be determined what Christ has promised.

Only after this is done may we as Christians move on to the sphere of trusting in or expecting this of Christ; so, it must be determined who Christ was and what he did, does, or will do.

Before any of this may be done it is first necessary to construct some basic context from which we as Christians may view the person and work of Christ. Historic Christianity in such texts as the Athanasian Creed has asserted that Christ is both God and man.

In order to set the context it is necessary to analyze both God and man individually, before proceeding to the Christ who embodies both – or as John Calvin states in the first line of his tremendous Institutes of the Christian Religion, our wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

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The Missional Church of the Missional God – Coming Into a Fuller Understanding of Christian Missions

Missions.pngletter-fFor many Christians in the church today the term “missions” brings to mind fuzzy images of Caucasian Christians entering into jungles to give the Gospel to the unreached tribal peoples who live therein.

Mission isn’t something that the majority of Christians see themselves as being involved in apart from the occasional donation they might give to their church’s mission fund; instead, they see mission as the vocation of the few specially called individuals who dedicated their lives to taking the Gospel to unreached peoples. This is an unfortunate view to have of missions and a view that the church needs to work to correct.

If the church is to correct this it must first properly define mission and convey an understanding of its relation to the Gospel, afterwhich it can analyze how mission has been approached throughout history whether for good or bad, learning from those lessons and bringing into the church a more holistic missional theology such that all those who locate themselves within the body of Christ will understand their role in the mission of God.

A Biblical, Gospel-Centered Foundation of Mission

Along with the misconception that mission is a “West to the rest” endeavor for the specially called, there is the further misconception that mission – and indeed evangelism as a whole – is something that was started in the New Testament, when in fact “the source of world missionary activity is rooted in God’s call to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.”

If the church is to gain a Biblically based and Gospel-centered theology and vision of mission, it must first understand what exactly mission is and where it began; this requires the Christian look to the Old Testament.

The concept of mission in the Old Testament goes as far back as Genesis. In Genesis God connects his blessing of Abram and of making Abram into a great nation with the good of the entire world. Abram is blessed by God “so that you will be a blessing” and “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This theme is made clear again in Exodus 7:5 where it is stated that one goal of God’s actions in the exodus narrative was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” A key point of the Exodus then is that “in his mighty acts of salvation for his own people God makes himself known to the other nations.”

God’s actions towards His people are never for His people alone but also for the rest of the world, for “when God graciously saves his people, it is not only for their own sake; it is also for the sake of others.”

This key theme of the Old Testament – that God’s acts of salvation are God’s means of making himself known to the nations – is central for understanding mission because it both provides the Biblical foundation for mission as well as its Gospel center.

Firstly, this theme highlights the fact that mission is primarily God’s doing, that mission is primarily derived from God. As inspired by Karl Barth and articulated by David Bosch, this theme finds its outworking in the idea of the missio Dei, of God the Father sending the Son and the Holy Spirit, and all three sending the church; God is thus recognized as a missionary God, where the church is an instrument for that mission.

Indeed, the church is essentially missional and “mission is essentially ecclesial.” The result of this is a focus on the ecclesial nature of missions and the missional nature of the church, the two go hand in hand, with God’s hand being the one wielding them. They go hand in hand because the church is the visible incarnation of the kingdom of God on earth; He makes himself known not just for its own sake, but to expand His kingdom.

The church in this context is not merely a church building or the group of people that meet in that building, but is the entire body of Christ, the kingdom of God, all professing Christians.

Mission should therefore be seen primarily as the mission of the Triune God working through the instrument of his people – the church – to the end of blessing the nations and making Himself known to them via His acts of salvation to His people for the purpose of expanding his kingdom.

The greatest of these missional acts of salvation came in the form of Christ’s death on the cross, and it is through this that the missio Dei builds upon its Old Testament foundations to incorporate the message of the Gospel.

The Gospel is central to mission and mission is central to the Gospel, with the Gospel being the supreme message and means of God making Himself known to and blessing the world. God works through his people the church to achieve His missional ends and does so in two methods, via centripetal and centrifugal mission; that is, by the church drawing others into the fellowship through the witness of their lives and by actively expanding the church, both which serve to make the church into a “light for the nations,” or as Timothy Tennent puts it: “Missionaries are both bearers of a message and embodiments of that message.” The first of these is the practice of what Francis Schaeffer calls “an observable love” before “a watching world.”

By living a life of love toward God and neighbor, the church draws outsiders towards it. But the church is not merely meant to attract others to it, it is also meant to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In breaking down this command it can be seen that it involves an outward thrust of ‘going’, that this going involves making disciples – a task that necessarily entails the spread of the Gospel message – and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, which is an act that necessarily involves the expansion of the church.

The way this works itself out practically for missions today must be analyzed, but it is helpful to first look at the ways which mission has been approached throughout Christian history and glean what lessons can be learned from those examples.

Mission Throughout History

Christian mission has been approached in a variety of ways by a variety of groups over the history of the faith and these approaches have had positive and negative qualities. In the earliest church mission based on the attractiveness of the local congregation and the individual Christian community. These were a group of people who differed from their culture in attractive ways such that “the exemplary moral lives of ordinary Christians stood out against the rampant immorality of Rome.”

After a few hundred years Christianity found itself accepted by the Roman empire, eventually even becoming the official religion of the empire, thereby ushering the long era known as Christendom.

As the church gained the power which came with being the official religion of the empire its focus shifted from one of missions to one of maintaining power; as the official cultural religion the need of standing out against the culture and of spreading the Gospel was seemingly lost.

In spite of this loss, Christendom did help to shape the cultural life of Europe for the better and when the monastic movements came about they worked to spread the Gospel message to the ‘barbarian’ people and also brought back some of the godly living which had attracted earlier cultures to the faith; their missional function was therefore not entirely intentional, but the way they lived their life made them attractive to those around them.

Around this same time but further to the East the Eastern Orthodox church took a different approach to missions, an approach which focused almost exclusively on the literal expansion of the church.

Because of this strong church-centeredness the Orthodox church came to equate the expansion of the church with the expansion of the kingdom, thus their missions were almost solely ecclesial; missions could not occur outside the established institutional church.

As Europe began to expand around the world Christendom entered into an age of colonialism. During this period “missions flowed along colonial lines.”

The primary focus was the Christianizing of native peoples (even if by force), and following the Reformation this Christianizing took on a highly individualistic aspect of focusing on the individual faith of each believer over and above institution of the church, specifically on the salvation of souls. On the whole, this created the sort of cross-cultural missions which focused on taking Christianity from the West to the rest of the world.

After hundreds of years of being tied to the ruling groups of Europe, Christianity became almost synonymous with European culture and with European political power. The result of this was a missionary endeavor which sought to transplant European culture onto other parts of the world, to “remake the world in their own image.”

As this era continued the Christian attitude toward missions took a number of different turns as more denominations and theological approaches came onto the scene. Missionary agencies came into being that would attempt to spread the Gospel around the world by preaching the word as well as by working to provide poverty relief and aid with other physical needs. This focus on physical needs grew in certain parts of the church and came to be known as the Social Gospel.

Mission Today

There are many lessons that can be learned from the history of Christian mission – some good and some bad – which can be used to craft a better approach towards mission today. These lessons should not be taken on their own, but should be woven into the Biblically grounded and Gospel-centered understanding of the missio Dei of the Triune God.

The missio Dei involves the Triune God using His people – the church – as His instrument for bringing the world into a knowledge of Himself. This is accomplished both through the centripetal and centrifugal action of God through His church, and it is through this lens that mission today must be undertaken.

First, the Triune God accomplishes His mission through the centripetal action of His church as its members live lives that are attractive to those outside.

This was a strong-point of mission in the early church and of mission in the monastic tradition; indeed, this is the mark of the Christian. This centripetal action is not merely passive, of refraining from doing certain things, but it is also active, of living out the love of God and of neighbor. It is this active aspect of mission that gave strength to the Social Gospel movement; part of the attractiveness of the Christian life is that the  work Christians do for societal transformation by helping those who are in need.

This centripetal work therefore consists of living lives in obedience to the will of God, to include both refraining from sin as well as actively working to help the poor and needy.

Second, the Triune God accomplishes His mission through the centrifugal action of His church as its members actively go out and spread the Gospel of the kingdom – and thereby the church – around the world.

Merely avoiding sin and helping the needy is not sufficient for missions, the Gospel and the church should also be present, for it is Gospel that ultimately empowers the Christian to live the life described above and it is within the context of the kingdom – the church – that they are to live it, drawing others into that community.

Christians are called to spread the Gospel of the kingdom, a key part of which is the salvation of souls as highlighted by the Reformation theologians.

This salvation is not an individualistic salvation, but it is salvation into a community, into the kingdom of God, into the church (the body of Christ). With this in mind the Christian cannot focus on getting non-believers to accept Christ without also bringing them into the baptism of the institutional church family, for it is in this family that they are discipled and in which they grow in the faith. The importance of this is twofold.

First, mission is not merely the calling of a handful of exceptional people within the body of Christ, but it is instead the calling of every believer as members of the church. All Christians are called to live missional lives, to live centripetal lives that are are in keeping with God’s commands and which in turn will prove attractive to the outsider.

Second, mission should not be divorced from the church as an institution. It is this ecclesial church-planting focus that the Orthodox so rightly emphasized, for missions and the church are vitally linked. This is not to say that a group such as a missionary agency cannot spread the gospel, but it is not as effective as it could be if it were wedded with the church.

This salvation is furthermore a salvation from one kingdom and into another, which further highlights the reality of the spiritual. While part of missions is working to help the needy materially, this material aspect must be balanced with the spiritual aspect of the kingdom, of the salvation of souls along with the defeat of the kingdom of Satan. One failing of many of the mission endeavors throughout Christian history has been a downplaying of this spiritual reality. Even when they did manage to focus on the salvation of the soul they would often neglect the spiritual warfare.

It is of note here that little has been said of contextualization or of cross-cultural, international mission. The global church has arisen and missions can no longer be seen as a question of how those in post-Christendom Western society can reach the rest of the world. 

The message of Christ is spread throughout the world and in turn mission and evangelism are becoming more synonymous.

Mission is a matter of leading lives representative of the Gospel, of spreading the church of the Triune God, and of teaching the Gospel which empowers those lives, which results in the spread of that church, and which results in the salvation of souls in the eschaton. Each group must decide how to incarnate the Gospel into the culture into which they are speaking regardless of whether they are ministering in China, Egypt, Russia, Mexico, Germany, or the United States.

Each mission field has its own cultural barriers and its own contexts that must be taken into account, and Christians cannot suppose that it is merely a matter of accommodating Western Christianity into some other context; to do so is to engage in ethnocentrism. Rather, each group must analyze their context and discern how best to engage the culture in which they minister. When this results in a Western Christian ministering to another culture, special care must be taken while teaching the doctrines of the Gospel and spreading the institutional aspect of the church that the Christian does not attempt to take the stance of superiority, but that they work as servants to the people they minister to, helping them to apply the truths of the Scripture to their native culture.

Whether interculturally or cross-culturally mission is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. As Stan Guthrie comments “There is no one way to ‘do’ missions in the local church, though there are many wrong ways.” It is up to each individual and each missional church body to discern how to apply the gospel to their own culture or to the culture of another, and when applying it to the culture of another they must always seek to do so in servant-hood to those they are ministering.

 

“Before a watching world an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians’ differences and other men’s differences. The world may not understand what the Christian’s are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences from the world’s differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level.”–Francis SchaefferThe Mark of the Christian

A Defense of Calvinism — C.H. Spurgeon

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The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.

It is a great thing to begin the Christian life by believing good solid doctrine. Some people have received twenty different “gospels” in as many years; how many more they will accept before they get to their journey’s end, it would be difficult to predict. I thank God that He early taught me the gospel, and I have been so perfectly satisfied with it, that I do not want to know any other. Constant change of creed is sure loss. If a tree has to be taken up two or three times a year, you will not need to build a very large loft in which to store the apples. When people are always shifting their doctrinal principles, they are not likely to bring forth much fruit to the glory of God. It is good for young believers to begin with a firm hold upon those great fundamental doctrines which the Lord has taught in His Word.

Why, if I believed what some preach about the temporary, trumpery salvation which only lasts for a time, I would scarcely be at all grateful for it; but when I know that those whom God saves He saves with an everlasting salvation, when I know that He gives to them an everlasting righteousness, when I know that He settles them on an everlasting foundation of everlasting love, and that He will bring them to His everlasting kingdom, oh, then I do wonder, and I am astonished that such a blessing as this should ever have been given to me!

“Pause, my soul! adore, and wonder!
Ask, ‘Oh, why such love to me?’
Grace hath put me in the number
Of the Saviour’s family:
Hallelujah!
Thanks, eternal thanks, to Thee

I suppose there are some persons whose minds naturally incline towards the doctrine of free-will. I can only say that mine inclines as naturally towards the doctrines of sovereign grace. Sometimes, when I see some of the worst characters in the street, I feel as if my heart must burst forth in tears of gratitude that God has never let me act as they have done! I have thought, if God had left me alone, and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depths of evil, nor should I have stopped at any vice or folly, if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners, if God had let me alone.

I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of Divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share His glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of Him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit. Looking back on my past life, I can see that the dawning of it all was of God; of God effectively. I took no torch with which to light the sun, but the sun enlightened me. I did not commence my spiritual life-no, I rather kicked, and struggled against the things of the Spirit: when He drew me, for a time I did not run after Him: there was a natural hatred in my soul of everything holy and good. Wooings were lost upon me-warnings were cast to the wind- thunders were despised; and as for the whispers of His love, they were rejected as being less than nothing and vanity. But, sure I am, I can say now, speaking on behalf of myself, “He only is my salvation.” It was He who turned my heart, and brought me down on my knees before Him. I can in very deed, say with Doddridge and Toplady-

“Grace taught my soul to pray,

And made my eyes o’erflow.”

and coming to this moment, I can add-

“Tis grace has kept me to this day,

And will not let me go.”

Well can I remember the manner in which I learned the doctrines of grace in a single instant. Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul-when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man-that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God. One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment- I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”

I once attended a service where the text happened to be, “He shall choose our inheritance for us;” and the good man who occupied the pulpit was more than a little of an Arminian. Therefore, when he commenced, he said, “This passage refers entirely to our temporal inheritance, it has nothing whatever to do with our everlasting destiny, for,” said he, “we do not want Christ to choose for us in the matter of Heaven or hell. It is so plain and easy, that every man who has a grain of common sense will choose Heaven, and any person would know better than to choose hell. We have no need of any superior intelligence, or any greater Being, to choose Heaven or hell for us. It is left to our own free- will, and we have enough wisdom given us, sufficiently correct means to judge for ourselves,” and therefore, as he very logically inferred, there was no necessity for Jesus Christ, or anyone, to make a choice for us. We could choose the inheritance for ourselves without any assistance. “Ah!” I thought, “but, my good brother, it may be very true that we could, but I think we should want something more than common sense before we should choose aright.”

First, let me ask, must we not all of us admit an over-ruling Providence, and the appointment of Jehovah’s hand, as to the means whereby we came into this world? Those men who think that, afterwards, we are left to our own free-will to choose this one or the other to direct our steps, must admit that our entrance into the world was not of our own will, but that God had then to choose for us. What circumstances were those in our power which led us to elect certain persons to be our parents? Had we anything to do with it? Did not God Himself appoint our parents, native place, and friends? Could He not have caused me to be born with the skin of the Hottentot, brought forth by a filthy mother who would nurse me in her “kraal,” and teach me to bow down to Pagan gods, quite as easily as to have given me a pious mother, who would each morning and night bend her knee in prayer on my behalf? Or, might He not, if He had pleased have given me some profligate to have been my parent, from whose lips I might have early heard fearful, filthy, and obscene language? Might He not have placed me where I should have had a drunken father, who would have immured me in a very dungeon of ignorance, and brought me up in the chains of crime? Was it not God’s Providence that I had so happy a lot, that both my parents were His children, and endeavoured to train me up in the fear of the Lord?

John Newton used to tell a whimsical story, and laugh at it, too, of a good woman who said, in order to prove the doctrine of election, “Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.” I am sure it is true in my case; I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine. I recollect an Arminian brother telling me that he had read the Scriptures through a score or more times, and could never find the doctrine of election in them. He added that he was sure he would have done so if it had been there, for he read the Word on his knees. I said to him, “I think you read the Bible in a very uncomfortable posture, and if you had read it in your easy chair, you would have been more likely to understand it. Pray, by all means, and the more, the better, but it is a piece of superstition to think there is anything in the posture in which a man puts himself for reading: and as to reading through the Bible twenty times without having found anything about the doctrine of election, the wonder is that you found anything at all: you must have galloped through it at such a rate that you were not likely to have any intelligible idea of the meaning of the Scriptures.”

If it would be marvelous to see one river leap up from the earth full-grown, what would it be to gaze upon a vast spring from which all the rivers of the earth should at once come bubbling up, a million of them born at a birth? What a vision would it be! Who can conceive it. And yet the love of God is that fountain, from which all the rivers of mercy, which have ever gladdened our race-all the rivers of grace in time, and of glory hereafter-take their rise. My soul, stand thou at that sacred fountain-head, and adore and magnify, for ever and ever, God, even our Father, who hath loved us! In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup; long ere the echoes awoke the solitudes; before the mountains were brought forth; and long ere the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being-when the ether was not fanned by an angel’s wing, when space itself had not an existence, when there was nothing save God alone-even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His bowels moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul. Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world-even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

Then, in the fulness of time, He purchased me with His blood; He let His heart run out in one deep gaping wound for me long ere I loved Him. Yea, when He first came to me, did I not spurn Him? When He knocked at the door, and asked for entrance, did I not drive Him away, and do despite to Ms grace? Ah, I can remember that I full often did so until, at last, by the power of His effectual grace, He said, “I must, I will come in;” and then He turned my heart, and made me love Him. But even till now I should have resisted Him, had it not been for His grace. Well, then since He purchased me when I was dead in sins, does it not follow, as a consequence necessary and logical, that He must have loved me first? Did my Saviour die for me because I believed on Him? No; I was not then in existence; I had then no being. Could the Saviour, therefore, have died because I had faith, when I myself was not yet born? Could that have been possible? Could that have been the origin of the Saviour’s love towards me? Oh! no; my Saviour died for me long before I believed. “But,” says someone, “He foresaw that you would have faith; and, therefore, He loved you.” What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself) No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, “I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.”

I am bound to the doctrine of the depravity of the human heart, because I find myself depraved in heart, and have daily proofs that in my flesh there dwelleth no good thing. If God enters into covenant with unfallen man, man is so insignificant a creature that it must be an act of gracious condescension on the Lord’s part; but if God enters into covenant with sinful man, he is then so offensive a creature that it must be, on God’s part, an act of pure, free, rich, sovereign grace. When the Lord entered into covenant with me, I am sure that it was all of grace, nothing else but grace. When I remember what a den of unclean beasts and birds my heart was, and how strong was my unrenewed will, how obstinate and rebellious against the sovereignty of the Divine rule, I always feel inclined to take the very lowest room in my Father’s house, and when I enter Heaven, it will be to go among the less than the least of all saints, and with the chief of sinners.

The late lamented Mr. Denham has put, at the foot of his portrait, a most admirable text, “Salvation is of the Lord.” That is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it.

If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.” I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, “God is my rock and my salvation.”

What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ-the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here.

I have my own Private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

“If ever it should come to pass,

That sheep of Christ might fall away,

My fickle, feeble soul, alas!

Would fall a thousand times a day”

If one dear saint of God had perished, so might all; if one of the covenant ones be lost, so may all be; and then there is no gospel promise true, but the Bible is a lie, and there is nothing in it worth my acceptance. I will be an infidel at once when I can believe that a saint of God can ever fall finally. If God hath loved me once, then He will love me for ever. God has a mastermind; He arranged everything in His gigantic intellect long before He did it; and once having settled it, He never alters it, ‘This shall be done,” saith He, and the iron hand of destiny marks it down, and it is brought to pass. “This is My purpose,” and it stands, nor can earth or hell alter it. “This is My decree,” saith He, “promulgate it, ye holy angels; rend it down from the gate of Heaven, ye devils, if ye can; but ye cannot alter the decree, it shall stand for ever.” God altereth not His plans; why should He? He is Almighty, and therefore can perform His pleasure. Why should He? He is the All-wise, and therefore cannot have planned wrongly. Why should He? He is the everlasting God, and therefore cannot die before His plan is accomplished. Why should He change? Ye worthless atoms of earth, ephemera of a day, ye creeping insects upon this bay-leaf of existence, ye may change your plans, but He shall never, never change His. Has He told me that His plan is to save me? If so, I am for ever safe.

“My name from the palms of His hands

Eternity will not erase;

Impress’d on His heart it remains,

In marks of indelible grace.”

I do not know how some people, whobelieve that a Christian can fall from grace, manage to be happy. It must be a very commendable thing in them to be able to get through a day without despair. f I did not believe the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, I think I should be of all men the most miserable, because I should lack any ground of comfort. I could not say, whatever state of heart I came into, that I should be like a well- spring of water, whose stream fails not; I should rather have to take the comparison of an intermittent spring, that might stop on a sudden, or a reservoir, which I had no reason to expect would always be full. I believe that the happiest of Christians and the truest of Christians are those who never dare to doubt God, but who take His Word simply as it stands, and believe it, and ask no questions, just feeling assured that if God has said it, it will be so. I bear my willing testimony that I have no reason, nor even the shadow of a reason, to doubt my Lord, and I challenge Heaven, and earth, and hell, to bring any proof that God is untrue. From the depths of hell I call the fiends, and from this earth I call the tried and afflicted believers, and to Heaven I appeal, and challenge the long experience of the blood-washed host, and there is not to be found in the three realms a single person who can bear witness to one fact which can disprove the faithfulness of God, or weaken Ms claim to be trusted by His servants. There are many things that may or may not happen, but this I know shall happen-

“He shall present my soul,

Unblemish’d and complete,

Before the glory of His face,

With joys divinely great”

All the purposes of man have been defeated, but not the purposes of God. The promises of man may be broken-many of them are made to be broken-but the promises of God shall all be fulfilled. He is a promise-maker, but He never was a promise- breaker; He is a promise-keeping God, and every one of His people shall prove it to be so. This is my grateful, personal confidence, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me”-unworthy me, lost and ruined me. He will yet save me; and-

“I, among the blood-wash’d throng,

Shall wave the palm, and wear the crown,

And shout loud victory”

I go to a land which the plough of earth hath never upturned, where it is greener than earth’s best pastures, and richer than her most abundant harvests ever saw. I go to a building of more gorgeous architecture than man hath ever builded; it is not of mortal design; it is “a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.” All I shall know and enjoy in Heaven, will be given to me by the Lord, and I shall say, when at last I appear before Him-

“Grace all the work shall crown

Through everlasting days;

It lays in Heaven the topmost stone,

And well deserves the praise”

I know there are some who think it necessary to their system of theology to limit the merit of the blood of Jesus: if my theological system needed such a limitation, I would cast it to the winds. I cannot, I dare not allow the thought to find a lodging in my mind, it seems so near akin to blasphemy. In Christ’s finished work I see an ocean of merit; my plummet finds no bottom, my eye discovers no shore. There must be sufficient efficacy in the blood of Christ, if God had so willed it, to have saved not only all in this world, but all in ten thousand worlds, had they transgressed their Maker’s law. Once admit infinity into the matter, and limit is out of the question. Having a Divine Person for an offering, it is not consistent to conceive of limited value; bound and measure are terms inapplicable to the Divine sacrifice. The intent of the Divine purpose fixes the application of the infinite offering, but does not change it into a finite work. Think of the numbers upon whom God has bestowed His grace already. Think of the countless hosts in Heaven: if thou wert introduced there to-day, thou wouldst find it as easy to tell the stars, or the sands of the sea, as to count the multitudes that are before the throne even now. They have come from the East, and from the West, from the North, and from the South, and they are sitting down with Abraham, and with Isaac, and with Jacob in the Kingdom of God; and beside those in Heaven, think of the saved ones on earth. Blessed be God, His elect on earth are to be counted by millions, I believe, and the days are coming, brighter days than these, when there shall be multitudes upon multitudes brought to know the Saviour, and to rejoice in Him. The Father’s love is not for a few only, but for an exceeding great company. “A great multitude, which no man could number,” will be found in Heaven. A man can reckon up to very high figures; set to work your Newtons, your mightiest calculators, and they can count great numbers, but God and God alone can tell the multitude of His redeemed. I believe there will be more in Heaven than in hell. If anyone asks me why I think so, I answer, because Christ, in everything, is to “have the pre- eminence,” and Icannot conceive how He could have the pre- eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in Paradise. Moreover, I have never read that there is to be in hell a great multitude, which no man could number. I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to Paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them! Then there are already in Heaven unnumbered myriads of the spirits of just men made perfect-the redeemed of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues up till now; and there are better times coming, when the religion of Christ shall be universal; when-

“He shall reign from pole to pole,
With illimitable sway,”

when whole kingdoms shall bow down before Him, and nations shall be born in a day, and in the thousand years of the great millennial state there will be enough saved to make up all the deficiencies of the thousands of years that have gone before. Christ shall be Master everywhere, and His praise shall be sounded in every land. Christ shall have the pre-eminence at last; His train shall be far larger than that which shall attend the chariot of the grim monarch of hell.
Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, “It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,” they say, “to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.” I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer- I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.

But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.” I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

I do not think I differ from any of my Hyper-Calvinistic brethren in what I do believe, but I differ from them in what they do not believe. I do not hold any less than they do, but I hold a little more, and, I think, a little more of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. Not only are there a few cardinal doctrines, by which we can steer our ship North, South, East, or West, but as we study the Word, we shall begin to learn something about the North-west and North-east, and all else that lies between the four cardinal points. The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once. For instance, I read in one Book of the Bible, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Yet I am taught, in another part of the same inspired Word, that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

It is often said that the doctrines we believe have a tendency to lead us to sin. I have heard it asserted most positively, that those high doctrines which we love, and which we find in the Scriptures, are licentious ones. I do not know who will have the hardihood to make that assertion, when they consider that the holiest of men have been believers in them. I ask the man who dares to say that Calvinism is a licentious religion, what he thinks of the character of Augustine, or Calvin, or Whitefield, who in successive ages were the great exponents of the system of grace; or what will he say of the Puritans, whose works are full of them? Had a man been an Arminian in those days, he would have been accounted the vilest heretic breathing, but now we are looked upon as the heretics, and they as the orthodox.

We have gone back to the old school; we can trace our descent from the apostles. It is that vein of free-grace, running through the sermonizing of Baptists, which has saved us as a denomination. Were it not for that, we should not stand where we are today. We can run a golden line up to Jesus Christ Himself, through a holy succession of mighty fathers, who all held these glorious truths; and we can ask concerning them, “Where will you find holier and better men in the world?” No doctrine is so calculated to preserve a man from sin as the doctrine of the grace of God. Those who have called it “a licentious doctrine” did not know anything at all about it. Poor ignorant things, they little knew that their own vile stuff was the most licentious doctrine under Heaven. If they knew the grace of God in truth, they would soon see that there was no preservative from lying like a knowledge that we are elect of God from the foundation of the world. There is nothing like a belief in my eternal perseverance, and the immutability of my Father’s affection, which can keep me near to Him from a motive of simple gratitude. Nothing makes a man so virtuous as belief of the truth. A lying doctrine will soon beget a lying practice. A man cannot have an erroneous belief without by-and-by having an erroneous life. I believe the one thing naturally begets the other.

Of all men, those have the most disinterested piety, the sublimest reverence, the most ardent devotion, who believe that they are saved by grace, without works, through faith, and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

Christians should take heed, and see that it always is so, lest by any means Christ should be crucified afresh, and put to an open shame.

 


Spurgeon.pngC.H. Spurgeon

C.H. Spurgeon was an influential British pastor in the Reformed Baptist tradition during the 19th Century. Often referred to as the ‘Prince of Preachers’, Spurgeon was known for his oratory skill and powerful sermons. He was also a prolific writer whose works included not only sermons but also commentaries, devotionals, poetry, and hymns.

 

The Holy Spirit in the Reformed Tradition

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Letter WWhat is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life and Christian theology according the Reformed tradition? If the stereotypes are to be believed, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much of a place in the Reformed church; the Holy Spirit, it seems, is only for those of a more charismatic or Pentecostal flavor. Perhaps the stereotypes are to be believed, after all, the Westminster Confession of Faith doesn’t even have a section on the Holy Spirit.

So where is the Holy Spirit in the Reformed church?

In his book The Christian Faith Michael Horton makes the point that “in every external work of the Godhead, the Father is always the source, the Son is always the mediator, and the Spirit is always the perfecting agent.” When referring to salvation, it might be said that the Father works in His people through an eternal decree by choosing them in Christ before the foundation of the world; that the Son works in His people by procuring for them a righteous standing before God; that the Spirit works in His people by applying to them that which the work of Christ procured.

The thing here being decreed, procured and applied might simply be called union with Christ, the pivotal element of salvation. There is thus a central theme of the Trinitarian God working out His grace to man: the Father ordains it, the Son procures it, and the Spirit imparts it. Thus once one understands the work of the Father and the Son, it is important to note that without the Spirit applying this work to the individual the endeavor is in vain. But what does that mean, and how does that work?

In light of this Trinitarian nature, the Reformed doctrine of the Spirit can be best seen by first looking at the Holy Spirit as a member of the Triune God, by then looking at salvation in itself, and finally by looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to this salvation. Because we want to be faithful to both the Scriptures and to the historic Christian faith, it is necessary to see what the Scriptures say on the matter, how the historic Christian church has addressed the issue, and how present theologians wrestle with it in the contemporary context.

The Person of the Holy Spirit

Within many Protestant circles the person of the Holy Spirit is often either given so much emphasis so as to overshadow the other members of the Trinity, or else the Spirit is forgotten by the wayside, with the chief focus of Christianity being placed upon the providence of the Father or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. In order to have a balanced theology, it is necessary to focus upon and understand the work of the Trinity in all its parts, neglecting none, for the work of each person of the Trinity is imperative if the Gospel is to have any effect.

As was noted above, it is said in Christian orthodoxy that the Spirit – along with the Father and the Son – is God. Perhaps the place in Scripture where this is most evident is in Matthew 28:19 where the command is given to go and make disciples “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This verse is important because it places the Holy Spirit in the same category as the Father and the Son. Still further, this is not a doctrine that is extrapolated from a single verse standing alone, but rather it can be found throughout Scripture: one may find Scripture that to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God (Acts 5:3-4); that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), which is elsewhere called “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16); that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son (Gal 4:6); that He is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). Thus it can be seen that the Holy Spirit is one with God.

It is also important to realize in this that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person, and not merely a force. That the Holy Spirit is indeed a person can be realized in passages where the Spirit is said to grieved (Eph 4:30), where He speaks (Heb 3:7), has a will (Acts 15:28), is able to guide us in truth (John 16:13), and where He intercedes for us to the Father (Rom 8:27). This final verse also demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is also a distinct person of the Trinity, given that He intercedes to the Father.

In looking at the person of the Holy Spirit, one may also look at the way the Holy Spirit acts apart from salvation. For instance the Spirit can be seen in creation (Gen 1:2), coming upon individuals in order to have them do something (Jdgs 6:34), inspiring Scripture (Acts 1:16), and even leading Christ into temptation (Mark 1:12). Even just in looking at the person of the Holy Spirit and the way He works outside salvation on can see the theme of the Trinitarian God working out His grace to man, indeed, while any contact that God makes with man is a gracious contact this can be seen most readily in the inspiration of Scripture, by which God has spoken to us. These truths guard against a number of false teachings in the Church. The primary of these are the various heresies surrounding the Trinity, such as modalism, for the Holy Spirit is both truly God and yet a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

Salvation

In speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit as applying the works of the Father and of the Son, it is important to know what the Holy Spirit is applying.

In speaking of salvation, the pattern most often used to describe the process is the ordo salutis. In Protestantism this is laid out as election, predestination, calling, regeneration, conversion (faith and repentance), justification, sanctification, and glorification. Overall, the thing being worked at here might be said to be union with Christ, indeed as A.W.Pink puts it “Our union with Christ is the grand hinge on which everything turns.” Or as it is stated by Sinclair Ferguson “the forgiveness of sins is not received in a vacuum, but in union with Christ.” Michael Horton makes note in turn that “justification is the judicial ground of a union with Christ that also yields renewal and sanctification” such that the Scriptures “call believers to become more and more of what they already are in Christ.”

Thus, union with Christ is the pivotal part of what salvation is, for it is in being unified with Christ that we are saved. It is into union with and conformity to Christ that we are elected and predestined (Rom 8:29), which we are called into, by which we are justified by having Christ’s righteousness be credited as ours, it is this conformity and this temporal realizing of our union with Christ which constitutes our sanctification, and it is the consummation of this union which is our glorification. Thus, salvation might be said to be the total work – from our election to our glorification – of the Trinitarian God in bringing us into union with Christ.

As has been stated, union with Christ is the pivotal element of this salvation but it is also made up of many facets (such can be seen through the ordo salutis). Yet even beyond the many facets of the ordo salutis, salvation can be seen in a number of different lights. For instance, on the one hand salvation is legal standing; because of our union with Christ, God does see our own debt but rather sees the credit of Christ accounted to us.

On another hand salvation is a relational standing; we are placed into communion and fellowship with God – and thereby into the relationship of the Father and the Son – through our union with Christ. In yet another, the union itself is a corporate one, for it is the church as a group that makes up the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), not any one individual. While it is always important to keep the communal aspect of salvation in view that we might not slip into individualism, it is also important to note that the focus is still a personal one, for the believer can be saved without the church as a visible institution.

With this corporate aspect, it is found that God only decrees his election upon a certain group of people, that is, those who believe upon His Son as their Savior (John 3:16). Yet those who believe are those who are decreed by God the Father as His elect, indeed in Acts 13:48 it is read that “when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Therefore while all have sinned and are justly deserving condemnation (Rom 3:23), God only chooses some in his mercy to receive this salvation, as is stated by John Owen:

Christ did not die for any upon condition, if they do believe; but he died for all God’s elect, that they should believe, and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principal effects and fruits of the death of Christ… Salvation, indeed, is bestowed conditionally; but faith, which is the condition, is absolutely procured.

Given that none are deserving of this salvation, it is still only through the utmost grace of the Trinitarian God that it is dispensed. Salvation is the sinners escape from the just condemnation of their sins, and this is accomplished according to the decree of the Father and made possible by the sacrifice of the Son who is able to fully satisfy the debt owed by us and bring us into the fellowship of the Trinity; yet as John Calvin notes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, to communicate the blessing of Christ to us he must dwell in us such that “teachers would cry aloud to no purpose, did not Christ, the internal teacher, by means of his Spirit, draw to himself those who are given to him of the Father.” Thus, for all of the realized and actual effects of salvation upon the sinner, one must speak of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit and Salvation

In following with the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism, as the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is given to the elect of mankind so that through faith they are made to share in Christ. As was stated above, the Father is the source of this grace, the Son the mediator, and the Spirit the perfecting agent; or similarly, that the Father ordains it, the Son procures it, and the Spirit secures or applies it.

For the purposes of analyzing the work of the Holy Spirit directly related to the individual, the sections of the ordo salutis in view are conversion through glorification: as is stated by Calvin “For the Spirit does not merely originate faith, but gradually increases it, until by its means He conducts us into the heavenly kingdom.” Thus, salvation for the purposes here begins with the conversion of the sinner to faith in Christ. ‘Conversion’ here is perhaps a poor term to refer to the originating of faith and repentance – indeed, many Christians are raised in the faith of Jesus Christ, and therefore they have no marked point of conversion. Regardless, whether faith is brought about from childhood or whether the individual comes to it later in life, this faith is a work of the Holy Spirit. We are saved through faith (Eph 2:8), and this faith – as noted by Calvin – originates in the Holy Spirit. Or as it is stated in the Westminster Confession: “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts…” Or as is stated in Scripture “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor 12:3). In this faith we share with Christ in his death and resurrection (Col 2:12) and are placed into union with Him.

While the Holy Spirit is active in bringing us into this union with Christ, the instrument for bringing about this union is the proclamation of the Gospel. This is perhaps made most apparent in Romans 10:14-15 where Paul asks:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Thus the proclamation of the gospel is the instrument which the Holy Spirit uses to bring the elect into faith in Christ. This faith is accompanied by repentance, thus we are called to “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). It is important to note here, however, that it is not the faith nor the repentance in and of themselves which truly save us, but rather it is the object of our faith, hence: “It is not the quality of faith itself, but of the person it apprehends, that makes it the sufficient means of receiving both our justification and sanctification.” It is also important – as was mentioned earlier – that this faith is given only to the elect, and does depend for its application upon the will of man, indeed: “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9:16). It is because of this truth that John Owen can say that while salvation is bestowed conditionally, faith – which is the condition – is absolutely procured. The will of man is fallen and must be changed in order to produce faith; free will is properly the will that has been freed from its state of sin to be able to choose the things of God, thus “by his grace alone, [God] enables [man] freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good.”

By sharing in this union which we are brought into by the Holy Spirit, we are justified. Yet we are not merely given a legal pardon through our union with Christ, only to be left in the reality of our sins. Rather “God does what he declares. When he pronounces someone righteous in Christ, he immediately begins also to conform that person to Christ.”

The Father declares us righteous due to our union with Christ, and we are brought into this union by the Spirit, yet even further than this the Spirit works to actually conform us to that image of Christ and to rid our selves of the pollution and corruption of sin. That is, we are sanctified. This is just as much wrought in man as the other areas of salvation, as is stated by the Westminster Divines, by the indwelling of the Word and the Spirit “the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they are more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces…”

The Westminster Confession here introduces two different aspects of sanctification, dying to sin and living to Christ, and in this we can see the more day-to-day out-workings of our union with Christ. These two facets can be seen in Scripture in such verses as Galatians 5:24 that “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” and in Colossians 1:10-11 that we are “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Yet even these good works are not fully our own, for we were “created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10) so much that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

So God will bring this good work to completion, and the works that we do have been prepared for us beforehand. In becoming more and more who we are in Christ, in being unified with him and being conformed to his image, we put to death sin and walk in holiness, and both of these are worked in us through the workings of the Holy Spirit, not of our own will or our own strength. Because it is the work of the Holy Spirit and not our own we can have assurance that we will persevere and not fall away from the faith; indeed, He who began a good work will finish it, and again “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Because it is the work of the Triune God we can be sure that it will not fail and we will be brought into glorification: the Father has not failed in his decree, the Son has not failed in his work on the cross but was raised from the dead for the remission of sins, and so the Holy Spirit has not and will not fail in his work of applying these benefits to the sinners and of brining them into the union of Christ into which they are predestined.

The Holy Spirit’s Work in Salvation Defending Against Heresy

Because of these truths of Scripture a great number of heresies and false teachings are guarded against, many of which are still present in the contemporary context. Because faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the will of man, the false teaching of Arminianism is guarded against. Because salvation is brought about by faith through the working of the Spirit and not by the good works of the individual (which are themselves also fruit of the Spirit), the false teaching of legalism is guarded against, that we must perfectly live up a given set of laws – indeed, Christ did this because we could not. Because the Holy Spirit is actively at work in those to whom he brings faith, the false teaching of antinomianism is guarded against, claiming that it doesn’t matter what the Christian does and opening up the possibility of being a carnal Christian. Similarly, because it is the work of God, the false teaching that one can lose their salvation after acquiring it is guarded against, for as has been stated none will pluck us out of His hand.

Regarding the contemporary context, perhaps the greatest heresy which is guarded against by the truths of the Holy Spirit is the great pessimism that comes with postmodernism. Pessimism, for one, that we as Christians can truly change; pessimism, for the second, as to whether we can even know God at all. Again, because salvation is the work of God, and because the real sanctification of the individual is a part of this salvation, we can be assured that we will truly be changed, that we are not left in total depravity throughout our mortal lives. Because it is the Holy Spirit – God himself – who has inspired Scripture and has decided in his grace to communicate with man, we can be assured that we can indeed know God in our finite way as much as God chooses to reveal himself. Furthermore, because the Spirit has inspired the Scriptures we can rest assured that the truth of them is not founded in any individual, which thereby guards against the great subjectivism of postmodernism; because this is the only Word which the Spirit is inspired, the pluralism of the contemporary world is also guarded against.

The mere fact that He has chosen to reveal himself is in itself gracious, and because He is God he will not fail in this endeavor and we can truly know him. Not only has God given us is Word in the form of the Holy Scriptures, but the Holy Spirit himself works in us to have faith and knowledge of this.

The Practical Effects of Spirit’s Work & Salvation

Just as these truths regarding the Holy Spirit and salvation guard against a number of false teachings within the church, so they are also of great practical benefit to the believer. As Horton claims “the gospel is the answer not only to our guilt and condemnation but to our corruption and slavery to sin.” Freedom from guilt and slavery to sin are in themselves supremely practical things; no longer must we dwell in the shame of our sin but we can look with joy upon the grace that has been decreed for us by the Father, wrought for us by Christ, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we are truly enabled and made by the Holy Spirit to be free from the tyranny of sin in our lives. This union with Christ is incredibly comforting and liberating, as John Bunyan put it upon realizing this truth: “Now did my chains fall off my legs; indeed I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away…”

A personal, practical, and real change is brought about in the believer’s life due to these truths, and because we do not have to rely upon our own strength but may see ourselves joined with Christ we may be kept from despair. Because the Holy Spirit is God he will not fail, and because he will not fail we will without a doubt be changed, that we will be graciously saved according to the decree of the Father that was worked out by the Son and is being applied by the Spirit.

In the same way that these truths affect our own personal assurance and growth, they also affect that of our ministry. We are called to preach the word, and the word is an instrument for the bringing of faith, yet because faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer we can be assured that so long as we faithfully proclaim the gospel of Christ that the Holy Spirit will do His gracious work. Thus it does not rest upon us in our own power of person, on our own eloquence, or on our own power of reason, to convince people to believe the gospel. A great weight is therefore taken off of the minister and they are able to distinguish their actual mission from the perversion that tends to turn the church into a cult of personality.

Just as we can have hope for real change in our lives, we can call our congregations to this change. We can hold them accountable for their sins when they fall into the habit of the carnal Christian and assure them that the Holy Spirit will work in them for their sanctification. The Trinitarian God is working out His grace to man: the Father has ordained it, the Son has procured it, and the Spirit is actively imparting it for our salvation.

On Dying Well – A PCA Pastor’s Example

cemetary2On April 7, 2015, PCA Teaching Elder Rick Lindsay went to be with the Lord at age 60 after an extended duel against advanced stage melanoma. In honor of his life and years of service his session wrote a moving article, stating towards the end that:

Rick served his Lord and Savior faithfully to the very end, being a witness to God’s faithfulness and love to all around him.  Rick was a teacher through and through, and even continued to teach throughout his illness, both in Sunday school and from the pulpit, even when he knew that if he preached, he would be too weak to do anything else the rest of the day. More importantly, Rick taught us by example in his everyday life, demonstrating that no matter your circumstances here on earth, God’s people are to be faithful to Him, and are to proclaim His goodness and love until He calls His people home.  Rick did that, and did it well.

 As stated so well by his session, Pastor Lindsay not only lived well, but also faced the end of his life well. While the session’s words are well-put, Rick’s final letter to his presbytery detailing the return of his cancer displays his attitude even better. It is worth the read:

To Churches and Brothers of Fellowship Presbytery,

By the time you receive this I will have had opportunity to inform my congregation, so now I can inform you.

My cancer has returned and it seems that God’s plan may be that I will not be serving with you for a long time. I do want to first say to those who in the past few weeks have ask directly how I am doing that my response “I an feeling fine” was indeed the truth. I do not feel ill even as I write this. I could not go into the whole truth until I was able to inform my mother and children and then my congregation. That has now been done so I can freely talk about it.

Here is the quick story. I had a biopsy on a suspicious site done right before Christmas and got the results of melanoma’s return on December 29. A PET scan was done this past Monday and last Tuesday we met with the oncologist. The news was not good in that the cancer was present and growing. The good news is that it is not yet in any organ. Surgery at this time will not help. I will meet with a team of oncologist this Tuesday to discuss what possible treatments that might help to slow the progression. Medically there is nothing to stop it. Even what is out there is questionable as to how it will work. Each individual they treat may react differently. Without any treatment the doctors say that my time will be measured in a few months.

I ask for your prayers. God is going to heal me one way or the other and I am comforted by that great truth. My greater concern is for my wife and children and my congregation. Please pray God’s grace and comfort for them. I have the easy task, they have the hard one.

It has been and continues to be a privilege and blessing to serve with you in God’s kingdom. Only He know how long He will allow me service here. May His will be done. Thank you for your support.

In our blessed Savior,

Rick Lindsay

“I have the easy task, they have the hard one.” Few words uttered have been more noble than those.

Rick continued to serve faithfully as pastor until his death, all through that time exhorting his congregation in how to proceed after his passing and counselling them on how to continue in their service to Christ.

In was in this light that he delivered what he considered his closing sermon, titled ‘In Conclusion’. His message centered on whether the church would continue the mission of Christ in spite of the changing times (from John 21):

“Love to God is an action response, it’s not an emotional response. Our actions will speak more about our love for God than anything else… If I’m no longer your pastor here and it’s not what you want, then at that particular time your love for God was not real; if you’re here because of me it’s not because of the love for God. That’s a problem, that’s a major issue within your own soul.

If I’m not here next Sunday, God is. Don’t forget that. You come here not because of a preacher, you come here because of God and what Christ has done in your life. That’s what we’re here to do, that’s our call… So next Sunday we outta be just as full as we are today. With that let’s pray.”

This is a shining example of how a pastor departs from a church well, and of how any Christian faces their death with dignity. He realized that as a leader it was not about him, but about Christ and his glory.

What is Reformed Theology? [Briefly Stated]

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Letter IIf you’re asking the question “What is Reformed Theology?” you’re likely to come across a lot of different answers. If you ask those who aren’t themselves Reformed, you might get the impression that Reformed theology is just the belief in predestination, they might say that it is a overemphasis on the sovereignty of God, perhaps going so far as to say that is a denial of man’s free will.

If you ask those are Reformed, they might say it is a focus on the grace of God or that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, they might list off five ‘solas’ or they might list the five points of Calvinism (TULIP). If they’re feeling particularly dismissive they might just say that Reformed theology is biblical Christianity, and perhaps they’re right, but that’s not a particularly helpful definition, given that many groups within Christianity claim ‘biblical Christianity’for their own.

So what is it?

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