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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « The Old Gospel | Main | Lovely Progression »

    The Hidden Treasure (4 -- Refining the Gold)

    As difficult and arduous as are the labors of bringing out the precious minerals from their hiding places in the depths of the earth, any miner will affirm that, once they have been so gathered up, his labor is not at all done. For the gold and silver to gleam with all their beauty and be valued at their full worth, they must first be purified and refined; which is just to say that, any substance which is not true to their nature, must by various means be teased out and discarded. This process of refinement is unexceptionally necessary in the pursuit of earth’s buried treasures, for the desired minerals are never found thoroughly pure, but always mingled with some degree of unwanted substances, the worthless dross, to be rid of which is the design of the refinement. A miner who takes a sack of gold ore into a store might gain some use from his riches, but not nearly so much as he who takes a refined and certified ingot.

    In our labors for the gospel gold, as well, we must take especial pains to refine what we have digged up, or else we will not get the usefulness and beauty out of it that we might otherwise have had. For the truth is the same with us as it is with the miner, that when we first discover the vein, the minerals we bring out will not be altogether pure. The reason for this impurity is different in the one case than in the other, however. The impurity of the miner’s gold consists in itself, and in its natural state as it lies buried in the dirty earth. The impurity of the gold of the gospel, which we extract from God’s Word, consists always in ourselves, and the impurities we bring with us to the veins we are discovering. The gold in the fields of divine revelation is without exception one-hundred percent pure: but we are so stained with filth, that when once we have touched it, we defile it, and must get rid of the imperfections that we have brought in ourselves to the mines. So then, the process of refining the gospel gold is really a process of refining ourselves: as we treasure up the gold in our hearts, and store up the knowledge of the Savior, we must be casting out the dirt which had previously been laid up there, so that we might have a most refined and precious substance in our storehouses, untainted by all which is opposed to its nature, which had at first inhered in the storage place. This is a lifelong task, but the goal is well worth every effort spent in its pursuit.

    It is manifest at once that this should be so: for the gold we have been seeking is only the knowledge of the Savior, and through him, the knowledge of all the Triune Godhead; but both the source of man’s fall and the terrible results to which that fall gave rise involve, most importantly, a mistaken knowledge of God. When Eve first began to doubt the true knowledge of God that she possessed, and allowed the Serpent to trade a little pure gold for the dross of his lying caricature of God, she fell, and the result of that fall was that she lost all her intimate knowledge of and fellowship with God. When she traded off just a little gold, she had all her gold taken from her, and all that was left over in her heart was the dross of a god fashioned in her own image. The preciousness of God’s promise of grace was that, in his great goodness and bounty, he undertook to restore her lost riches to her, and bring her back into fellowship with himself. But the way in which he did so, and the way in which he ever works among the fallen men of his favor, was by slow degrees, and through a gradual process of burning away the heart’s impurities and purifying the precious gold of the knowledge of himself, which is an operation the Spirit most readily performs through the sole means of the seven-times purified word of God.

    But see how many impurities there have remained within Christendom, in the true gospel gold of knowing God? Everywhere abounds the dross of Arminianism, man-centered theology, and all the filth that Satan has ever devised and mankind has ever swallowed, which makes the treasures of even sincere and genuine Christians manifestly less beautiful and valuable than they ought to be. Let us be certain that, as Satan is ever in the process of shoveling the dirt in, we must ever be in the process of getting rid of it, and purifying such gold as God has entrusted to us, lest we find in the end that we have no gold at all. For this has been the outcome of many: a little Arminianism has led to a thoroughgoing Pelagianism, or more recently, to Open Theism, in the treasure chests of which false religions there remains nothing at all of the gold of knowing Christ, so thoroughly has all that been cast out to make room for the ear-tickling lies of dross and man-made theology. Ah believer, will you be like so many, and opening up your treasure chest on the Day of Judgment, find that you have no gold at all but a pile of filthy rags, and hear those terrible words of the Savior you professed to know, “Depart from me: I never knew you”? Then let us be certain that we remain ever in the process of refinement; into which, we will now inquire in some more detail.

    The chief and most effective means of refining gold and silver is fire. When dross is exposed to the fire, it immediately burns up; but the gold will remain unharmed. This must be the way that we purify our buried gold: we must bring it all before the fire of God’s Word, and let that which cannot stand before this fire be consumed. How simple this process is, and yet it is a process that no person will naturally be willing to perform, for the flames will scorch his own self-vanity. When we bring the impure gold of the Arminian gospel to the fire of God’s Word, all that it says about God’s power and grace remains untouched; but those ways in which it limits God’s power and grace, saying that his power is bounded by man’s free will, and his grace is limited to a mere offer, and is not the almighty and irresistible stirring to life that the bible shows it to be, must be burned up at once by the fires of a thousand verses. Thus our gold, which boasts in the infinite greatness of God, is made more pure and beautiful, but the dross that we had loved, because it made much of ourselves and our ability to shape our own destiny and determine our own being, is painfully burned away. This is ever the process of refinement that we must be pursuing. But just as the application of an antiseptic ointment at first stings and then heals, so it is in this case: at first, we are pricked and stung to cast away those things we pridefully delighted in, but then, when we see that the removal of those false ideas of sin, self, and the Savior only made room for a better treasure of knowing God more intimately, we are glad for the little bit of pain which healed so much corruption and sorrow-working gangrene. We think that we can only be happy if others worship and adore us, or at least if we can worship ourselves; but we soon grow weary of exulting in our little natures, and that which promised eternal joy casts us into ceaseless gloom and misery. The truth is, we can only be happy if we are freed to worship something infinitely and eternally glorious. And we can only be so freed if we die to ourselves, and live to Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

    How then are we to bring the flames of God’s Word into the kiln where we have stored up our gathered treasure? It is only by the twin-handled bellows of an historical-grammatical exegesis that we may do so. Although fire may only flame up where there is wind, and so the fire of God’s Word may only be kindled where there is his Spirit; yet there are means to be made use of, and those means require much tiresome labor, just as the energetic operation of a bellows is not for the feeble or irresolute. It makes a mockery of God’s chosen means to pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, and then spend our time slothfully, reading through a chapter a day in haste, and not giving much time to careful reflection and meditation. All the care in the world avails nothing without the Spirit, but a lazy presumption on the Spirit’s working is never to be honored by God. We must work the bellows of exegesis ardently and fervently, and yet all the while in humility, praying that God will send his Spirit to enlighten our hearts. For just as God has made it a law that, where the bellows are drawn he sends the wind, so he has made it a spiritual law that, where a believer is seeking to know Christ earnestly, through the careful study of the scriptures, and calling out for the Spirit of illumination, he will not forever be disappointed.

    Let us dwell a little more fully upon the nature of these bellows: the first handle, the historical hermeneutic, effectively cuts off many a slipshod and careless misreading of the text. How many well-meaning Christians have isolated a verse from its historical context, and the flow of thought in which it had originally been delivered to the saints, and thereby perverted it into something it certainly could not have meant, and was never intended to convey? God revealed his message progressively and by slow degrees, to his people whom he had brought to a certain point along their journey, and who had a certain amount of background information to which the message being added would have worked together to form a certain whole; as well as a certain amount of forward-looking and mysterious faith, which recognized in some things a fuller truth merely hinted at in the shadows of dusk, but which would later be revealed in the greater plainness of the mid-day sun. When the historical situation has been lost sight of, many calamities may occur. When Moses proclaimed, “If you do these things, you shall live,” it would cast one into eternal ruin to forget the gospel foundation to which this message was added, a foundation everywhere taught and exemplified in the revelation that these saints had already been given. A truth may not without great danger be isolated from the character of its original audience, the state of their needs, the problems it was addressing, and the promises, in varying degrees of clarity, that it was holding forth to such a people at such a time.

    Let us take especial care, then, that we use the bible itself to inform our understanding of the historical background of any passage. There is a reason that the scriptures contain a mixture of histories, didactic materials, and so on; and no one part can stand on its own, but all are mutually buttressed up by the other parts. When we read the psalms, let us note the circumstances which inspired them, to as precise a degree as the original headings, which point to the events recorded in the histories, enable us. When we read the prophets, let us set them against the backdrop of their own day, and only then trace out their portraits of a coming day. The foretelling of the prophets points from something to something, and until the starting point is made clear, the ending point must be obscure. Just as we require a series of points to line up, in order to extend a line in a precise direction, so we need the whole flow of redemptive history to sight down, and thus determine the direction toward which the prophets are looking. And so it is with many other things: unless we retain a broad view of the scriptures, fully-informed by the flow of redemptive history, the circumstances in which they came, and many other contextual factors, we are opening ourselves up to many false interpretations, which will settle like filthy dross on the pure gold we have digged up.

    The second handle we must grasp, if we would work the bellows of exegesis, is the handle of grammar. God designed human language to be governed by a very definite set of rules, and it is the simplest truth conceivable, yet a truth which, to grasp firmly must be the death-blow to an innumerable host of false doctrines, that a statement simply cannot mean in truth what it does not mean grammatically. The statement “Whosoever will may come,” gives a definite result contingent upon a variable which is not assumed: if a person so desires, without saying whether this or that person or none at all ever will desire; then, he certainly has permission to come to God. The sentence can never be twisted around to mean, “All are able of themselves to change their evil desires, and so be willing to come”. If one were to say, “Whoever jumps to the surface of the sun will be scorched,” he would be speaking the truth; but it would be foolishness to wrest his words into the proposition, “All are able to jump to the surface of the sun”. See by what a simple observation of grammar we have put to rest a thousand different arguments on the lips of a hundred thousand misguided souls? In this and innumerable other ways, we must put the test of grammar to our theology, and where it fails to stand up to the test, we must cast it into the fire; it is certainly dross.

    The sum of all this is that, we must always take pains to read carefully and intentionally. Let us ever be asking ourselves, “What does this word mean? How does this author use it elsewhere? What is he saying about it? How does what he says here relate to the next sentence? Does it provide a condition necessary for the fulfillment of any other statement? Does it give a purpose or justification for what he has stated elsewhere? How does it fit into the flow of thought that this author has been taking pains to unfold?” It is a strenuous task to read the scriptures so thoughtfully, but we may be sure that if we read them lazily, many precious nuggets will slip us by, and much impurity and dross will remain to corrupt the beauty and value of that gold we already possess.

    As we undertake our labors, let us never forget that such careful study may be done in community, or that training, guidance, and preparation for the labor may be profitably put to use as well. If we feel ourselves unqualified, as all of us indeed are to some degree, let us take the necessary steps to become ever more fitted for so arduous a task, which holds forth the promise of such great profit. If we are young, strong, and unattached, let us seek the tools of Greek and Hebrew grammar and study at the feet of the wise and learned elders of Israel. If we are too feeble or burdened down with other responsibilities and cares, let us comfort ourselves with the truth that, ninety-nine percent of the grammatically-derived errors in currency may be put to flight by a careful reading of any good translation that we have before us; and we are rather to be blamed for not using what we have, than for not having what we are not able to obtain. If we lack practice, let us seek out an experienced believer who can put his hands over our own, and help us to work the bellows by a joint effort, until we are familiar enough to continue on our own, maybe slowly, but diligently and surely. No one of us is able to perfect the art of refining, but all of us are able to apply ourselves more arduously to the task, seek the Spirit’s help more faithfully, make a more concerted use of the means that God has laid before us, and so grow by slow degrees in the knowledge of him in whom is hidden our eternal treasure.

    Posted by Nathan on February 25, 2008 05:18 PM

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