"...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)

Two Recommendations

Today, I watched two sessions from this year's Ligonier Ministries National Conference, made available through their web site. I would just like to highly recommend them to our readers. I was profoundly moved by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson's 40 minute message on "the Doctrines of Grace." As the teaching progressed, I found the clarity and depth of insight quite outstanding, giving me a new and fresh appreciation for both Calvin, and more importantly, the work of the perfect Savior and the grace of God found only in Christ.

Secondly, the question and answers session with Dr. Ferguson, Dr. Steve Lawson, Dr. Al Mohler and Dr. Ligon Duncan, fielding questions posed to them about the life, ministry and theology of Calvin (approx. 65 minutes) was extremely edifying also.

I am grateful for Ligonier Ministries making these sessions available to a wide audience on video through their website (if even for a limited time). They can be found here - (go to the video section and you can find the two sessions there as you scroll down the list of available messages).

July 31, 2009  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

Question on The State of Man's Will Before the Fall

Visitor: Hello Sir, I would like to ask you a question that has picked my brain for a while now....
All of the human race was deemed guilty at the Fall, this I understand. Now not one single person can do anything good in the sight of God, because his nature is to do evil, and he can not determine his own nature, this I also understand. But what was mans nature before the Fall? If it was good, then how did he Fall? And if it was not good or bad, then....we arrive at the Arminian's argument for a supposed 'freewill.' If good tree produces good fruit, then how did Adam produce bad fruit if He was good?? I'm sorry if this is a question you cannot answer now, if you can't, then thank you for reading, but if so, I would greatly appreciate hearing your response to this.

Response: Hi, thanks for your inquiry regarding the question of free will. Up front we should clarify so we don't misrepresent anyone here, that both Classic Arminians and Calvinists believe in total depravity. That is, both positions affirm that fallen man is utterly impotent in his own strength to believe on the gospel. So neither of them believe in free will, apart from some kind of grace. Left to himself, man has no hope both would affirm. The difference becomes more apparent when we see that Arminians believe in a concept called "prevenient grace", which temporarily place humanity in a state above their depravity so they can choose to believe OR not. Of course this begs the question because if two people have the same grace then what makes them to differ? Jesus Christ or something else? The Calvinist/Augustinian/Monergist, on the other hand, believes that God grants a new heart to the sinner in regeneration effectually enabling him to believe and persevere to the end. This grace itself makes the will free ... i.e. it is no longer in bondage to sin but loves righteousness and believes the gospel.

So again, we see that for both parties, the natural man's will is in bondage to sin. So apart from grace he has no free will - he is impotent, unless God does something. We believe His Holy Spirit, in uniting us to Christ, must give us eyes to see and ears to hear.

Now that this is clarified, per your question regarding the state of man before the Fall ... we affirm that pre-fall man was not in bondage to sin. With Augustine we affirm that Adam was "able to sin, and able not to sin" (posse peccare, posse non peccare). His nature was inclined to good (thus making his sin all the more greivous), but as you can see, God did not create Adam and Eve sealed in righteousness, that is, like the unchangable state we will be when sealed in glory with Christ. So we could say that Adam and Eve were in a state that was free from the bondage to sin, but not free from its influences. They were being tested. In glory, of course, we will all be be completely free from sin's influences. The Westminster Confession, in Chapter 4 On Creation, says:

II. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness after his own image, having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Besides this law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

Reading Romans 6 and elsewhere we see that the Bible defines freedom, not as "free to do otherwise" as Arminians do, but freedom from sin. Christ sets us free, and we have a small taste of it now, but will drink it fully at the resurrection. Consider, God is the most free and yet He is unable to sin. His very nature makes it impossible because He is holy. Yet we still consider He and the gloried saints as the most free. They actually have less 'libertarian freedom' (as Arminians define it) than we do, since they can only choose good. They dont have the 'libertarian freedom' to choose evil because they are sealed in righteousness by nature. The point I am making is that Arminains we importing a philosophical idea of freedom rather than letting the text of Scripture speak for itself about what freedom is.

So lets return to your original question. if we ask, did pre-fall man have a free will? We must first ask, "free from what?" If you mean was the will free from the bondage to sin, the answer is uneqivocally yes. But, was it free from God's eternal decree? Obviously not. Consider chapters 2 & 4 of the Book of Acts. Both chapters say that the crucifixion was ordained by God.

"this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Acts 2:23 "...truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." Acts 4:27, 28

Notice that God actually ordained the most evil event in history to certainly take place through lawless men, yet the lawless men are fully accountable for their actions. They will be judged for them. The point is that God ordains all things to come to pass (Eph 1:11) and yet men's sins are imputed to them. One could say, He ordains sin, sinlessly. So while Adam and Eve were free from the bondage to sin (pre-fall), God still ordained all things that came to pass. And the Fall certainly did not take God by surprise. In fact, He knew that the Fall would take place even before He created the world. If His forknowedge is certain then these events could not be otherwise, no?

Hope this helps

July 29, 2009  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

Heresy is not a Victimless Crime

There are times when it is necessary for Leaders to confront heretics head on because of the harm they do to others in the Church. Here's day 1 of a radio debate done this week between Dr. James White (a friend of mine) and Harold Camping, who is telling people to flee the local Church (amongst other things). Day 2 of the debate found here. Each program lasts approximately one hour. - JS

July 29, 2009  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

New Format @ (Book Reviews)

The book reviews @ (a ministry of Monergism) have a new easy-to-use format. Come check out the revised content layout at the website. Also don't miss our top five list, a list of what we consider to the the top three to five Reformed books in all categories, including commentaries of every book of the bible, classics, soteriology, Christology, Calvinism, Covenant theology, Christian Life, etc...


July 28, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

A Moral Cannot

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2.14)

“Take notice that this is a moral ‘cannot,’ not a physical ‘cannot.’ When Paul says, ‘The natural person…is not able to understand them,’ he means that the heart is so resistant to receiving them that the mind justifies the rebellion of the heart by seeing them as foolish. This rebellion is so complete that the heart really cannot receive the things of the Spirit. This is real inability. But it is not a coerced inability. The unregenerate person cannot because he will not. His preferences for sin are so strong that he cannot choose good. It is a real and terrible bondage. But it is not an innocent bondage.” (John Piper, Finally Alive), p. 52

July 27, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Absolute Truth

One of the guys in my Wednesday morning men's group sent me this email that I wanted to share with you:

As I was driving in to work this morning, I was listening to Alistair Begg.
He quoted from a study, “Only 32% of Evangelical Christian believe in Absolute Truth.”

I still bet that is too high.
I bet if you talked long enough to those 32% the real number would drop even more.”

But then again, that is what I believe.
And I wouldn’t want to push that on you.
You might have a different belief that is just as valid.
In fact all seven of you might have complete different ideas on the subject that are just as true as mine.


July 27, 2009  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

The Sovereignty of God and the Christian Mission

The doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God, particularly as it finds expression in his predetermination of the events concerning redemption, and his unconditional election of men to salvation, has often encountered the objection that it is a deterrent to evangelism and missions. Unfortunately, this objection has sometimes been legitimate: Christians holding to a Calvinistic or predeterministic theology have sometimes drawn the inappropriate conclusion that personal evangelism is unnecessary because the elect will certainly come to Christ in any case. Consider, for example, the well-known story of how John Ryland is said to have responded to William Carey's desire to bring the gospel to the heathen in India with the quip, “Sit down, young man; when God wants to convert the heathen, he'll do it without your help and mine”[i]. Of course, this attitude is inconsistent with the true biblical understanding of God's sovereignty as predetermining the means of gospel proclamation as well as the end of the conversion of the elect, and completely ignores the major biblical motif of the obligation of Christians to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth. The common Calvinistic response to this objection against predeterminism is formulated along these lines, that is, by showing how the hyper-Calvinistic disavowal of missions does not follow from the biblical teaching on God's absolute sovereignty, and demonstrating that the bible both demands the means of evangelism and promises the end of the conversion of the elect[ii]. This article, however, will take another tack, and attempt to show from a fuller-orbed perspective how the absolute sovereignty of God is so far from being a hindrance to the cause of the Christian mission that it is actually its non-negotiable foundation, both in its ultimate goal and its mediate accomplishment. To do this, I will first propose some preliminary considerations on the purpose of redemption and, by extension, the purpose of the Christian mission; second, discuss the display of God's sovereignty in redemptive history at large; third, discuss God's sovereignty in the climax of redemptive history, at the cross; and finally, draw some conclusions concerning the sovereignty of God and the Christian mission.

Continue reading "The Sovereignty of God and the Christian Mission" »

July 25, 2009  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Our Common Confession as Christians

1 Timothy 3: 14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He [5] was manifested in the flesh,
[6] by the Spirit, [7]
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

[5] 3:16 Greek Who; some manuscripts God; others Which
[6] 3:16 Or justified
[7] 3:16 Or vindicated in spirit

Watch Dr. James White exegete this text (below)

Continue reading "Our Common Confession as Christians" »

July 25, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

The Doctrines of Grace - now in paperback

I wonder what you or I would do if we were told by a doctor that we had just weeks to live. What Dr. James Montgmery Boice did was set about writing a book. It was obvious that he considered the material he was writing to be the most important of his life, and it certainly had a profound effect upon me. I read the book through 4 or 5 times and gave multiple copies away to people. It had similar effects upon all those who read it.

I remember sitting in a Christian conference meeting about a year after first reading this book and noticed the name tag of the gentleman sitting next to me. It said "Rev. Philip Ryken." I asked him, are you the gentleman who co-wrote "the doctrines of grace" with Dr. Boice? He said, "Yes," but indicated that it was really Dr. Boice's book - Dr. Ryken simply worked hard to arrange the material in a book form.

I then told him that the book had been used mightily by the Lord in my own life and had totally transformed my understanding and ministry. It was key information for me in making the transition from having both feet firmly planted in mid air confusion to understanding the reformed faith and delighting in the grace of God in salvation.

Dr. Ryken seemed very happy to hear this, and even surprised to hear the book had such an impact. For my part, I was very grateful to God for the opportunity to thank the man who was instrumental in getting this book into print.

The book is a rich gift of legacy from Dr. Boice to the Body of Christ. Therefore, I am so glad to now see the paperback release of this work, "The Doctrines of Grace" by Dr. James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken. As the authors state, "The doctrines of grace together point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God; and because it is all of God, it is all for his glory."

It is available at a discount at monergism books here. Written in easily accessible language, I recommend this book very highly. - JS

July 23, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

The Best Moments in Life Make You Feel Insignificant

July 23, 2009  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

DVD Review: Why We Believe the Bible, by John Piper

Of all the essential doctrines of Christianity, perhaps the most foundational are the doctrines of the scriptures – what they are, why they matter, whether they really are inspired and inerrant in the original manuscripts – for the great foundational doctrines of our eternal salvation through Christ and his cross are all firmly rooted in the bible alone. It is evident, therefore, that one of the most pressing necessities for all believers is that they be taught to know with certainty what books make up the inspired scriptures and the foundational premises for studying them carefully, trusting them implicitly, and defending them unwaveringly. John Piper's small group series on Why We Believe the Bible is an excellent resource for such a purpose, and a tool I would eagerly recommend for small groups and any other Christians desirous of a more stable foundation or a more God-honoring approach to interacting with cynics and skeptics on the vital topic of the Word of God.

Continue reading "DVD Review: Why We Believe the Bible, by John Piper" »

July 21, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

The Seeker Sensitive Movement

R C Sproul and Al Mohler respond to a question about the Seeker Sensitive Movement:

July 21, 2009  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

Chapter Eleven: My Reward is With Me

We have now come to the final chapter in this description of just what Christianity is and what it means for all of us, no matter who we are. In this chapter, I would motivate you to be living your life in light of eternity. This life, in which we invest all our time, labors and resources, and in which we make very clear what is of ultimate importance to us, does not end after eighty years (or even a hundred, for that matter). It is just the stepping stone to eternity, and what we do with our time now, how we spend the few years we have on this earth, will determine what we will be doing with our time for all eternity, for good or bad. But there are no shades of gray, no middle ground, in the eternal destinies confronting us in the here and now. There are only two options: for those who have given up everything to follow the Savior, there is eternal joy and reward beyond imagination; but for those to whom the pleasures of this life have been ultimate, whether they professed to be Christians or not, there is only unspeakable, unending darkness and wrath. Christianity is not just some game to be played or some hobby to occupy our time – it is where true, ultimate, eternal reality confronts us, and how we respond will have effects more real and lasting and dramatic than any other decision we will ever make.

Read the rest of this entry...

July 20, 2009  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink


Dr. James White writes: In his July 1 Sunday School presentation, William Lane Craig said the following:

"...I think as a non-Calvinist, what I do want to say is that if a person does sincerely turn to Christ in repentance and faith that God will not dishonor him and say 'No, I won't regenerate you, I'm going to leave you and pass over you....' I think God's desire that all persons should be saved, and His desire to bring all persons to Himself is a promise that we can hold to, that God isn't going to just leave us."

Keep in mind that Dr. Craig has repeatedly said that he sees no difference between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism. In any case, may I just briefly state clearly and without reservation that Dr. Craig has a fundamental, basic misunderstanding of the theology he rejects? He should know that no Calvinist believes there has ever been any person who has turned in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ who has been turned away. Not a one. Never. Impossible. Absurd in the highest. It should be obvious to anyone even slightly familiar with Reformed writings that we do not believe any dead sinner, mired in his hatred of God, chained in his slavery to sin, would ever of himself "turn to Christ in repentance and faith." Hence, the proposed situation is outside the realm of possibility to begin with. It seems Craig's human libertarianism is so strong and over-riding that he even reads it into systems that reject it.

Let it be fully understood. The Bible teaches absolute libertarianism---the free will of God. Man's will is a creaturely will, that, since Adam, is the slave of sin. As a result, there has never been, and never will be, any sinner who has turned to Christ in repentance and faith and found Him to be anything less than a perfect Savior. To attribute such a concept to Reformed theology is simply libelous (though, in this case, it seems to flow solely from ignorance). The fact that Craig is missing is this: no sinner has ever turned to Christ in faith and repentance who was not first freed from the shackles of slavery by the omnipotent and sovereign Spirit of God! He thinks slaves are free to end their own slavery, raise themselves to spiritual life, do what is pleasing to God by some kind of generic "prevenient" grace. This leads to his misrepresentation of the views he denies.

July 20, 2009  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

Justification - Exegesis v. Eisegesis

Some passages of Scripture are crystal clear in terms of their meaning, while others are less clear. Though confirming the fact that Peter viewed Paul's writings as Scripture, he admitted to finding some of Paul's letters "hard to understand."

"There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures." (2 Peter 3:16)

One of the basic rules of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation) is that on any given subject, we start with passages that are clear on the issue before moving to what is seemingly unclear (at least at first). When seeking to understand an issue, we must start with passages that actually address the subject in the Bible, and this will allow us clarity when seeking to understand the doctrine in possible inferences made elsewhere in Scripture.

In terms of the biblical doctrine of justification and whether someone who is genuinely justified has the possibility of losing that salvation, passages such as Romans 8:28-39 come to mind because of its sheer clarity. Here we read:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What follows below is an interesting interchange on youtube video between a Roman Catholic caller and Dr. James White on his Dividing Line program. I think it shows a clear comparison between exegesis (drawing out the meaning from the text) and eisegesis (reading into the text). - JS

Continue reading "Justification - Exegesis v. Eisegesis" »

July 18, 2009  |  Comments (7)   |  Permalink

An Important Mark of a Sound Conversion

We turn from our own RIGHTEOUSNESS. Before conversion, man seeks to cover himself with his own fig-leaves, and to make himself acceptable with God, by his own duties. He is apt to trust in himself, and set up his own righteousness, and to reckon his pennies for gold, and not to submit to the righteousness of God. But conversion changes his mind; now he counts his own righteousness as filthy rags. He casts it off, as a man would the verminous tatters of a nasty beggar. Now he is brought to poverty of spirit, complains of and condemns himself; and all his inventory is, 'I am poor, and miserable, and wretched, and blind, and naked!' [Rev 3:17]. He sees a world of iniquity in his holy things, and calls his once-idolized righteousness but filth and loss; and would not for a thousand worlds be found in it!

Now he begins to set a high price upon Christ's righteousness. He sees the need of Christ in every duty, to justify his person and sanctify his performances; he cannot live without Him; he cannot pray without Him. Christ must go with him, or else he cannot come into the presence of God; he leans upon Christ, and so bows himself in the house of his God. He sets himself down for a lost undone man without Him; his life is hid in Christ, as the root of a tree spreads in the earth for stability and nourishment. Before, the gospel of Christ was a stale and tasteless thing; but now—how sweet is Christ! Augustine could not relish his once-admired Cicero, because he could not find in his writings the name of Christ. How emphatically he cries, 'O most sweet, most loving, most kind, most dear, most precious, most desired, most lovely, most fair!' all in a breath, when he speaks of and to Christ. In a word, the voice of the convert is, with the martyr, 'None but Christ!'

Excerpt from Alarm to the Unconverted by Joseph Alleine, 1671

July 17, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

The Satisfied Lamb

Matthew 1:21 - you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Isaiah 53:8 - By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Ephesians 5:25 - Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...

Rev. 5:9 - for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation

Christ's work on the cross achieved all of the Divine purposes for it. The intent of the design was not merely to try to save all, but when all was said and done, the plan could fail for many because of that stubborn thing called "free will," with the Savior sad for all eternity because many He died for received no benefit for all His labor. No, He died a satisfied Savior, giving Himself for His friends, for His sheep, for His people, for His Church, and fully accomplished the work of redemption for all in this number.

All who are particularists (who believe that not everyone will be saved - that some people will in fact spend eternity in hell) believe in some type of limitation to the atonement of Christ. The Arminian limits its power, for it only becomes effectual through man's cooperation; the Reformed person limits its extent. As C. H. Spurgeon said, "The doctrine of Holy Scripture is this, that inasmuch as man could not keep God's law, having fallen in Adam, Christ came and fulfilled the law on the behalf of his people; and that inasmuch as man had already broken the divine law and incurred the penalty of the wrath of God, Christ came and suffered in the room, place, and stead of his elect ones, that so by his enduring the full vials of wrath, they might be emptied out and not a drop might ever fall upon the heads of his blood-bought people." (Sermon 310 - "Christ our Substitute - New Park Street, Southwark)

Continue reading "The Satisfied Lamb" »

July 17, 2009  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

Edwards on Receiving Criticism

"Be advised to consider what others say of you and improve it to this end, to know whether you do not live in some way of sin...And though the imputation may seem to us to be very groundless and we think that they, in charging us so, are influenced by no good spirit; yet if we act prudently, we shall take so much notice of it as to make an occassion of examining ourselves ... it is most imprudent as well as most unchristian, to take it amiss, and resent it, when we are thus told of our faults: we should rather rejoice in it, that we are shown our spots ... we should improve what our enemies say of us. If they from an ill spirit reproach and revile us to our faces, we should consider it, so far as to reflect inward upon ourselves and inquire whether it not be so, as they charge us ... they are likely to fix on real faults, they are likely to fall upon us where we are weakest and most defective."
- JOnathan Edwards, The Necessity of Self Examination.

July 15, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Calvin on Dominion Over Creation

"...the custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition, that being content with a frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain. Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated. Let him so feed on its fruits that he neither dissipates it by luxury, nor permits to be marred or ruined by neglect. Moreover, that this economy, and this diligence, with respect to those good things which God has given us to enjoy, may flourish among us; let every one regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses. Then he will neither conduct himself dissolutely, nor corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved." - John Calvin on Genesis 2

July 15, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Establishing a New Religion of State

As I was online discussing current political and social issues in America with someone this morning, we were commenting that philosophical pluralism (or if you prefer - progressive secularism) is becoming the established religion of the state. It is difficult to get over the irony of this view since they often attack in others the very thing they have become in themselves. Though many of them would not want to be branded religious, their drumbeat of moralizing to the American masses (while all other views are ridiculed) make this indictment harder and harder for them to evade. This of course blatantly violates the separation of church and state which has traditionally meant that we should allow all religious views to be expressed in the public square. True tolerance was to fight for the right of people with opposing views, but now it spiralled out of control to mean "our view of pluralism is right" so if you don't like it, keep it to yourself. If they can really pretend they are not religious, they imagine they have a trump card to establish their statism while marginalizing all traditional views as "religious". This is, of course, being done at the expense and marginalization of other views in the free market of ideas --- modern day secularists are not merely secular, but secularists and so have clear religious dogmas but pretend (or are blind to the fact) that they have none. A simple example is today I heard someone I work with speaking with a friend from Congo who was telling him about the kind of questionnaires he has to fill out for his immigration paperwork. He said that among the questions one asked something like, "Do you oppose homosexual freedom?" It's as if there are a certain number of new commandments declared to be moral law by the new thought police, thoughts which are must be accepted in this country by the Secular Progressives to pass the test. But I suppose none of this should surprise us. If political power is your religion and only hope, I guess anything is possible, including establishing a tyranny.

What is so dangerous about this is, not that Secularists have a clear agenda that is different than mine, but rather that they don't even recognize their position is one among many philosophies and religions, a position which falls under the separation clause. Simply because they don't have a traditional view of God, does not mean their self-declared authority allows them to marginalize all other intellectual positions aside from their own. Many of them appear to be blind to the fact that they have a bias or religious viewpoint. For all their talk of pluralism and tolerance, they appear to fail most miserably at this point - tolerant of other cultures at the surface (when it comes to music and food) but not tolerant of other culture's traditional principles.

What I found really striking this morning is that soon after we were discussing this issue, I ran across a quote by Doug Wilson (posted by someone on Facebook) that I thought did a good job expressing the similar idea, but with some added humor:

One area of secular blindness (one of many) is their inability to see how religious they are being. Having defined religion quite narrowly as church buildings and altars, they are utterly incapable of seeing the all-pervasive and quite religious nature of their frenzies and crusades. The problem with invisible religions like this is that one cannot watch them to see if they are going bad. And so they don't.

They do not see Tetzel in carbon offsets. They do not see shunning in the treatment the neighborhood gives the guy who doesn't sort his garbage according to the dictates of the regulatory bishops. They don't see a fierce imposition of morality in their crusades for the sake of saving us all from climate change. They do not see blasphemy laws in thought crimes legislation. They do not see their religion in everything they do, and this is because idolaters are blind.

Related Resources:
Philosophical & Religious Relativism by Tim Keller and Charles Garland
Why is Secularism Exempt from the Separation of Church and State? by J.W. Hendryx

July 14, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Follow Up on Codex Siniaticus

After posting the article on Codex Siniaticus a couple of days ago here on the blog, a pastor friend of mine from the United Kingdom wrote to me asking a couple of questions about Mark 16:9-20 (which was referred to in the Dr. Dan Wallace article I pointed people to). I thought that it might be useful to post our interchange here (my pastor friend's questions are in italics to help the reader understand who is writing):

Quick question for you John - did you know that Mark 16:9 onwards was historically disputable as being part of the authentic original texts, and do you accept it as the Word of God? ie, do you think there is enough evidence, and does it really matter in the Sovereignty of God over His Word? I mean, Luther slated James, didn't he? (Although for different reasons than this case).

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July 14, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Whoever Trusts in His Own Mind is a Fool

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
- Proverbs 28:26

While the above proverb may seem counter-intuitive at first glance, yet it is perhaps the most profoundly helpful admonition or counsel from a friend that you will ever receive. Take the time to consider it. If a young man were to come to your door asking for wisdom, you could do not better than to impart him the counsel to never trust himself, or his own mind. That would not be a wasted word. As I consider my own life, the more than two decades I have been a Christian, I can only lament the times where I trusted my own mind. That ‘idol factory’ I have in my heart is constantly at work, and is so prone to make poor choices, so above all we must “keep our hearts". Thankfully, God does not leave us to ourselves, but has lovingly condescended to us to give us The Way of Wisdom. When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take us our cross, He does not leave us there to suffer alone … He has promised to be with us so in our self-denial He also calls us to “follow Him” in suffering ... and we can be assured that He knows the way home. And He gives us His word to direct our every step in His wisdom.

But why does the Holy Spirit call those who trust themselves a fool? Because we are but dust, sinful misguided creatures who have but a breath in their nostrils. Because we are a stiffnecked people who do not want God’s yoke on them who think they are free but are slaves to every form of depravity. And because all authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to Jesus who says to them, “…as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me (Luke 19:27). So while the world foolishly thinks that God is long in coming and will not judge them, Jesus, on the contrary, while He is now patient and merciful granting plenty of time for people to repent, there is a day soon when iniquity will finally reach its limits, and on that Day Jesus, with blazing fire in his eyes, will be invading with His armies who will judge the sons of men in the valley of decision:

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev 19:14-16)

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July 13, 2009  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Chapter Ten: Sanctify Them By Your Truth

If there is one thing that non-Christians usually associate Christianity with, it is moral behavior, or a “holy lifestyle” in some sense of the term. This could be largely negative – Christians may be seen as “holier-than-thou” hypocrites, who maintain squeaky clean external lives but are filled with pride and hatred, and look down on all the heathen sinners out there, whom they gladly profess to be different from. Or perhaps, Christianity may be seen as basically comprising some list of rules and regulations, which many good, sincere, persons strive to follow. The specific list may differ widely from culture to culture, but in many places in modern America it would probably include such elements as abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, performing well and without complaint in the workplace, and refusing to cheat in school. In some cultures, however, Christianity may be seen as characterized by an altogether different set of rules – for instance, the best Christians may be they who have given up any association with the world whatsoever, in order to pray in a solitary place in the desert, eating only crusts of bread and wearing nothing but rags. But in any case, a lifestyle that is different from the typical, and that is somehow viewed as holy, is what sets a real Christian apart from the rest of the world.

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July 13, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Secular Media Bias and Codex Sinaiticus

Digital imagery of Codex Siniaticus is now online! OK, that's great! Amazing, in fact. But what exactly does this mean? Why is this significant?

First some background. At the site where this codex can be found it states, "One of the core undertakings of the project was to capture each page of Codex Sinaiticus as a high-quality digital image. Each image offers a substitute for the real manuscript leaf. Careful imaging of Codex Sinaiticus therefore provides a life-like view of the pages and allows, for the first time, worldwide access to the manuscript. The digital photography of Codex Sinaiticus had to establish the best practice, taking into account that the leaves could not travel and had to be photographed at four different venues with different equipment; the writing on the leaves had to be readable on the digital images; the natural appearance of the parchment and ink had to be faithfully reproduced."

If you want to see Codex Sinaiticus, you can do so here.

This is not a normal subject to discuss, but in the face of media that constantly spurns out factually inaccurate stuff, maybe one article that is just about understandable for most people is worth passing on. I appreciate the work of men like Dr. Dan Wallace because they spend their whole lives researching this kind of material and help us know with a fair degree of certainty, what the Bible actually stated when it was originally penned. I have heard a few of his lectures on the subject and the more I learn, the more my confidence in the actual text of the New Testament grows. The facts are on our side, but you would not know that if you just listened to the secular reports on television or read the newspaper headlines at the grocery store.

I quote Dr. Wallace below and provide a link should you wish to read more. Thank God for His word, preserved for us, so we can know what it is, believe it, and be saved!!! - John S

Dan Wallace writes, "One of the most important ancient manuscripts has just gone on-line. The manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus, was penned in Greek in the mid-fourth century and originally contained the whole Bible as well as some writings of the apostolic fathers. The manuscript is currently in four locations: St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, Egypt; British Library, London; National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg; and Leipzig University, Germany. The British Library has the largest portion (about 350 leaves), Leipzig University has 43 leaves, St. Catherine’s has something like 18 complete or fragmentary leaves, and St. Petersburg has just a few leaves. This week marked the first time that all these leaves could be seen since the manuscript was dissembled 150 years ago... The significance of the manuscript can hardly be overestimated. Some highlights are as follows:

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July 12, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

John Calvin - born 500 years ago today

John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, exactly 500 years ago today. In Europe, especially in Geneva Switzerland, there are many celebrations taking place. I am not sure how much attention will be given to the significance of this date in the USA. He remains a very misunderstood man.

I recently read an article suggesting (with some merit) that Calvin's influence on the founding of America was so great that he needs to be mentioned in the same breath as the founding fathers. It was the Geneva Study Bible with study notes penned by Calvin (and his fellow Reformers) that was the Bible brought over on the Mayflower and his religious ideas had much to do with how our country was forged and shaped in its early decades.

Calvin, even today has widespread influence. His commentaries and certainly his Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he laid out a comprehensive theology for the doctrines of Protestant Reformation (when many of those who believed these things were dying martyrs deaths under persecution from Rome) are still being read.

Its actually unfortunate that a man's name is associated with the doctrines that came out of the Protestant Reformation. It is not something he would have wanted. He spoke and wrote very little about himself. He wanted his readers to be pointed to Christ, not to himself. In character, he specifically asked that he would be buried in an unmarked grave, such was his aversion to public interest. He did not wish for attention to be given to him - but to his Lord and Master.

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July 10, 2009  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

The Nature of Conversion by Joseph Alleine

Conversion then, in short, lies in the thorough change both of the heart and life, in which:

1. The AUTHOR of conversion is the Spirit of God. Conversion is a work above man's power. We are 'born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God' (John 1:13). Never think you can convert yourself. If ever you would be savingly converted, you must despair of doing it in your own strength. It is a resurrection from the dead (Eph 2:1), a new creation (Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10), a work of absolute omnipotence (Eph 1:19).

2. The efficient CAUSE of conversion is both free grace, which is internal, and the merit and intercession of the blessed Jesus, which is external.

3. The INSTRUMENT of conversion is the Word and those who minister it.

4. The final END of conversion is man's salvation, and God's glory.

5. The SUBJECT of conversion is the elect sinner, in all his parts and powers, members and mind. Whom God predestinates, them only He calls (Rom 8:30). None are drawn to Christ by their calling, nor come to Him by believing—but His sheep, those whom the Father has given Him (John 6:37, 44). Effectual calling runs parallel with eternal election (2 Pet 1:10). Do not stand still disputing about your election—but set to repenting and believing. Cry to God for converting grace. Revealed things belong to you; busy yourself in these, and not in unrevealed mysteries. Whatever the decrees of heaven may be, I am sure that if I repent and believe, I shall be saved; and that if I do not repent, I shall be damned. Is not this plain ground for you; and will you yet run upon the rocks?

More particularly, this change of conversion extends to the whole man. A carnal person may have some shreds of good morality—but he is never good throughout the whole cloth. Conversion is not a repairing of the old building; but it takes all down, and erects a new structure. It is not the sewing on a patch of holiness; but with the true convert, holiness is woven into all his powers, principles and practice. The sincere Christian is quite a new fabric, from the foundation to the top-stone. He is a new man, a new creature; all things are become new (2 Cor 5:17).

Conversion is a deep work, a heart work. It makes a new man in a new world. It extends to the whole man: to the mind, to the members, and to the motions, or practice of the whole life.

Excerpt from An Alarm to the Unconverted by Joseph Alleine

July 09, 2009  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

What does the term “perseverance of the saints” mean, and does the bible teach it?

The term “perseverance of the saints” means that every true “saint,” or in other words, all who have actually been “sanctified by the offering up of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10), will certainly persevere in faith until the end, and so be finally saved. The term does not mean that true Christians will never have seasons of doubt, nor ever fall into sin, but rather that God will always cause their faith to triumph at the last, and will never allow them to remain in gross sin indefinitely, but will continue the work that he first began in them, bringing it to perfection in the Day of Jesus Christ (see Philippians 1:6). Neither does the term mean that no one who makes a profession of faith will finally fall away: on the contrary, there are many false professions, and there are different kinds of false faiths that flourish for awhile but then wither away (e.g. Matthew 7:21-23; 13:1-23); but all who have been granted true faith, which God alone can give (e.g. Joh 3:27; Phi 1:29; 2Pe 1:1; Act 16:14; 18:27; Eph 2:8-10; Act 5:31; 11:18; 2Ti 2:25-26; 1Co 4:7), will continue in the faith until they reach their blessed end in heaven.

The scriptures clearly teach certain truths which, when conflated, definitely confirm the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The bible teaches that, what God begins (especially concerning his work of grace in the hearts of the saints), he will certainly finish (Psa 138:8; Ecc 3:14; Isa 46:4; Jer 32:40; Rom 11:29; Phi 1:6; 2Ti 4:18); that of all whom he has called and brought to Christ, none will be lost (Joh 6:39-40; 10:27-29; Rom 8:28-31, 35-39; Heb 7:25; 10:14); and that, while his preservation of the saints is not irrespective of their continuance in faith and holiness (1Co 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Heb 3:14; 6:4-6; 10:26-27; 12:14; Rev 21:7-8; 22:14-15), yet he himself is the one who sanctifies them, and causes them to persevere in true faith and godliness (Joh 15:16; 1Co 1:30-31; 6:11; 12:3; 15:10; Gal 3:1-6; Eph 2:10; Phi 2:12-13; 1Th 5:23-24; Heb 13:20-21; 1Jo 2:29; Jud 1:24-25).

A denial of the final perseverance of all true saints is a very serious error for a couple of reasons; first, it logically demands that we must continue by the works of the flesh what God has begun by his gift of the Spirit – a serious error Paul addresses in Galatians 3:1-6. If God saved us by his grace alone, which was given to us in Christ Jesus, then how can we say it is up to us to continue in the faith, or that his grace alone, which was sufficient to give us faith and the Spirit at the first, is not sufficient to keep us in the faith and preserve us by his Spirit? In other words, any position which denies that Christ will persevere Christians to the end is implicitly denying that Jesus' work on the cross is sufficient to save to the uttermost ... That we must somehow maintain our own just standing before God. No small error. And second, if the Holy Spirit does not preserve all whom the Father has elected and brought to Christ, then the persons of the Trinity are working in contradiction to each other, which is an impossibility given the precious unity of the Godhead.

For further study see Monergism Theology FAQs

July 08, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Preface to "Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation" Michael S. Horton

christlord2.gif [Back in Print] The purpose of this volume is not to provide an exhaustive defense of what we would regard as the biblical position on the 'lordship salvation' debate. Indeed both leading spokesmen on either side, Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, Jr., have offered some reason for discomfort over the terms lordship/no-lordship salvation. As James Boice, J.I. Packer, and others have argued in their works, no respected, mainstream Christian thinker, writer, or preacher has ever held such extreme and unusual views concerning the nature of the gospel and saving grace as Zane Hodges. In this book, there is no doubt that we are taking a firm stand against what I would rather label the "no-effective-grace" position. While Hodges insists that he is only following the Bible, apart from any theological system, it is clear that he is missing the point of the gospel itself--to make enemies friends, to reconcile sinners to God, to break the power of sin's dominion, and to bring new and lasting life to those who before were "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1).

It is, in part, because of that tendency, sometimes evidenced on both sides in this debate, to pretend that one is reading the Bible without any theological influences or biases, that motivated us to get involved in this sensitive and emotional issue. Both Hodges and MacArthur claim the Reformers for support. In our estimation, there is not the slightest support for Hodges and Ryrie to claim the Reformers' favor for their novel views. The antinomians (that is, those who denied the necessity of Christian obedience) of the Puritan era so pressed the Reformers' defense of justification to the the point where there was no place left for sanctification. However, the modern antinomianism, represented by Ryrie and Hodges chiefly, appears not to be motivated by an unbalanced fear that any talk of human responsibility will take away from God's glory, but by fear that any talk of the effectiveness of grace will erode confidence in human responsibility and choice. In other words, the antinomians since the Reformation have erred by denying human cooperation to the point where every divine operation is while dependent on human willing and running, contrary to the words of the apostle Paul (Rom 9:16).

Nevertheless, this book is not merely an endorsement of John MacArthur's position, either. We will argue that MacArthur at certain points risks confusion on some fundamental evangelical convictions, particularly, between justification and sanctification. It must be said, however, that MacArthur has been most gracious in considering our concerns and we have been in dialogue with him for some time now. Significant changes have been made, as he has fine-tuned his definitions and applied a more specific theological framework to his exegesis. Revisions will appear in forthcoming editions of The Gospel According to Jesus and we are grateful for MacArthur's eagerness to discuss these issues. While other differences remain, there is a great deal of discussion taking place and there is every reason to believe that the chief differences lie in the realm of definitions and pastoral practice rather than substance. MacArthur's humility has been a lesson to us and we hope that we will be able to show our critics the openness he has shown us.

Nevertheless since we are reviewing a position, and not a person, and most readers of this volume will have read the earlier edition of The Gospel According to Jesus, we have retained our criticisms on these points for the reader's benefit, noting MacArthur's revisions at the appropriate places. Let me also say that John has graciously allowed me to read the draft of his book, The Gospel According to the Apostles, which should be released about the same time as this volume. The sequel is clear, precise, and cautious, and it ought to correct the misunderstandings not only of those like Hodges, who have misrepresented MacArthur's position through caricature and hyperbole, but even perhaps the misguided zeal of some "lordship salvation" disciples as well.

It is because both positions claim to be echoes of the Reformation that we thought the debate was in need of a more historical treatment. For that reason, one will not find in Christ the Lord a comprehensive exegetical treatment. While there are chapters devoted to covering the biblical material (which is, after all, our "only rule of faith and practice"), the book has a decidedly historical tone to it. It is offered unabashedly as a "Reformation response" to the positions thus far presented, not because the Reformers and their successors were infallible, but because evangelical Protestantism owes a debt of gratitude to them for digging the gold out of the rich spiritual veins through the centuries so that we could learn from those who have gone before us. Theology, preaching, teaching, counseling, and pastoral care are not done in a vacuum; we are all influenced and shaped by our own traditions, upbringing, seminary education, and church curricula, and these are all shaped by certain theological systems. It is the goal of this book to help rub the sleep from our eyes, to drive away the naive assumption that we can just be "Bible teachers" without careful theological reflection from a particular systematic point of view.

The Reformers were certainly not infallible--they would be the last to say they were--but they were wise, wiser than any of us around these days. And we would be poor stewards of the inheritance God has given us through them if we did not at least attempt to gain their counsel on these important debates.

Michael Horton

Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation

Contributors include:
- W. Robert Godfrey
- Michael Horton
- Alister McGrath
- Kim Riddlebarger
- Rick Ritchie
- Rod Rosenbladt
- Paul Schaefer
- Robert Strimple

July 07, 2009  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

The Good-O-Meter

July 06, 2009  |  Comments (8)   |  Permalink

Chapter Nine: They Are They Which Testify of Me

In our quest to determine just what Christianity is, and whether it really matters to ordinary men and women in America and beyond, we have discovered a few, basic, all-important truths, including the little-recognized fact that Christianity is not primarily about individual salvation, but on the contrary, its ultimate design is to fashion a new, corporate body of redeemed persons, perfectly unified and purified, to be presented as a glorious bride to Christ, who before the world began had chosen this people as his reward for the great sufferings he would willingly undergo. What that means in our daily lives, as we examined in the last chapter, is that true Christians always advance in their journey to consummate their union with Christ from within the realm of local churches, that is, among others who share a commonality in the gospel accomplishment of Christ, and who, by the structures and institutions that God has prescribed for us in his word, continue to prod each other on to greater faith and holiness. In concluding that chapter, we looked at three marks by which to distinguish a true local church from a false one: the word must be rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline faithfully enforced.

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July 06, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

As We Celebrate

As we celebrate the great freedom we have in our country today, please remember the victims of a horrific attack against Christians in Pakistan that has left over a hundred houses vandalized and eleven people acid-scarred - see here.

July 04, 2009  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

Book Review: A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, by John Colquhoun

Having never before read any of John Colquhoun's considerable output, and only having, for that matter, a very sketchy idea of his place and significance in Reformed history, I was eager to get into what I thought could not but be his most important work, a treatise on the sum of biblical revelation, considered under the headings of Law and Gospel; but if I was eager beforehand, my enthusiasm only grew from the first page and on. “How,” I wondered, “did so insightful, meticulous, and applicational a writer escape my notice for so long?”. The treatise was a feast, and served further to drive home to me the unparalleled tendency of the historic Reformed faith to ground its adherents in the vast and glorious freedom of the Gospel, and always in such a way as not to minimize a life of practical holiness, but rather to excite and encourage true piety and devotion. I would earnestly recommend A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel to anyone at all, and in order to lend force to my recommendation, I would mention a few outstanding features of the work

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July 04, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

The Vital Necessity of Knowing the Power of Truth in our Own Experience

When engaging theological opponents, we need an approach that takes in view the people we are dealing with. This means showing kindness to the person in error.This means showing compassionate understanding, while at the same time being in prayer for them that God would open and soften their hard hearts. But it also means skillfully exposing and correcting their doctrinal error. The great Puritan John Owen wrote a refutation of the theological errors found in the Racovian Catechism called Vindicae Evangelicae ((Volume 12 in the Banner edition). Although the entire book was one of polemics, he reveals here a humble spirit and an example to us when contending for truth. He helps us to understand what graces we are expected to display when dealing with theological opponents; what must be at the heart of those defending the truth in a way that is pleasing to God. Near the end of his introduction to his Vindicae Evangelicae he wisely said:

"When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth; when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us; when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the things abides in our hearts; when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for, --then shall we be garrisoned, by the grace of God, against all the assaults of men. And without this all our contending is, as to ourselves, of no value.

What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense or sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul?

What will it avail me to evince by testimonies and arguments, that he hath made satisfaction for sin if, through my unbelief, the wrath of God abideth on me, and I have no experience of my own being made the righteousness of God in him,--if I find not, in my standing before God, the excellency of having my sins imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to me?

Will it be any advantage to me, in the issue, to profess and dispute that God works the conversion of a sinner by the irresistible grace of his Spirit, if I was never acquainted experimentally with the deadness and utter impotency to good, that opposition to the law of God, which is in my own soul by nature, with the efficacy of the exceeding greatness of the power of God in quickening, enlightening, and bringing forth the fruits of obedience in me?

It is the power of truth in the heart alone that will make us cleave unto it indeed in an hour of temptation.

Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in out own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him." (John Owen, Vindicae Evangelicae).

July 04, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

On this Independence Day

May the Lord really bless you and your family this Independence Day.

When the Lord called Elijah to hide from the king's wrath and find water at a time when the land was under the judgment of drought, God directed him to a brook called Cherith. Yet, in what I am sure was a situation that brought great anxiety to Elijah, day by day he watched the water level shrinking further and further. Lets remember that this very drought was the result of the words God had instructed him to proclaim. What a challenge this must have been!

Elijah Predicts a Drought

1 Kings 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 2 And the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 7 And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Yet even in the midst of famine, God had not forgotten his man and had provided means for supplying Elijah's needs, through a very unusual source - a widow who was preparing what she thought was her last ever meal before death. Think about that. This widow, at the very end of herself, was God's appointed means of provision for His prophet. God was surely showing Elijah that He has countless ways of providing, but also showing this widow such amazing love and mercy (though she might not be aware of this when asked to share her last meal with him). How tender He is with His people even as they face great trials and hardships. How great is His love.

God provided the Cherith brook for Elijah, but this means of provision was ending, and so God instructed Elijah to leave that place and go to another.

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July 04, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

How a Right Understanding of the Doctrine of the Fall Can Promote Love

Jesus identifies with the needy such that whatever is done to or for them, He takes as having been done to Himself. Among other things, to be a disciple of Jesus means, by the grace of God, we must, not only consider this in theory, but do it. This standard is so high that we usually fall woefully short of it, especially when we fail to treat other people as we would have them treat us.

A helpful doctrine to appeal to in this regard is the doctrine of the Fall. Martin Luther was well known for having said that redeemed Christians are "Simul Iustus et Peccator" or "At the same time righteous and a sinner". Although Christ has broken our bondage to sin, we are still susceptible to sins in which we don't treat others as we should. Gossip, as one example, misapprehends the reality that every day you and I (and everyone else), could easily have plenty of fodder that could be a matter of public gossip. Just consider many of the thoughts and desires you had this week, and what if they were to be projected on a screen for all to see? All of us would be ashamed. What if your family and neighbors could see everything you have thought? Why is this worth considering? Because every time we gossip and belittle, criticize and disparage others what we are doing is postulating that others have sin or weaknesses that you regard as not having in yourself. And when we do this are we taking our own sin seriously? We think ourselves too highly. The fact that we continually and desperately need the gospel as much as any other should therefore keep us humble as we consider any good gifts we have. Keeping this in mind, especially when you are communicating the gospel, will drive up your empathy to others, since we are a needy people.

Related Resources
Love or Die: Christ's Wake-up Call to the Church by Alexander Strauch
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
How to Love Difficult People: Receiving and Sharing God's Mercy (CCEF)

July 03, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

How To Deal With Church Members Attracted to False Teaching?

A very helpful section of Martin Downes book Risking the Truth:

How have you dealt with church members or students who have been attracted to, or taken in by false teaching?

Michael Horton:
‘Pastoral sensitivity and prudence is required in order to know whether a fellow-Christian needs ‘Law’ or ‘Gospel’. (A terrific discussion of this is found in William Perkins’ The Art of Prophesying.) So an obstinate person who persists in heresy should be warned with the threat of excommunication (as Paul treated the Galatians).

However, a struggling Christian who has been exposed to false teaching must be corrected with patience and love. This person is a bruised reed or a flickering candle, and we know how Christ treats them – for to some degree, we are all in this catagory.’

July 02, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

On Heresy, Creeds, Commentaries, Helps and Study Notes

Heresy is not so much rejecting as selecting. The heretic simply selects the parts of the Scripture he wants to emphasize and lets the rest go. This is shown by the etymology of the word heresy and by the practice of the heretic. "Beware," an editorial scribe of the fourteenth century warned his readers in the preface to a book. "Beware thou take not one thing after thy affection and liking, and leave another: for that is the condition of an heretique. But take everything with other." The old scribe knew well how prone we are to take to ourselves those parts of the truth that please us and ignore the other parts. And that is heresy. —A. W. Tozer, We Travel An Appointed Way

Men must interpret to the best of their ability each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teachings upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. Every student of the Bible must do this, and all make it obvious that they do it by the terms they use in their prayers and religious discourse, whether they admit or deny the propriety of human creeds and confessions. If they refuse the assistance afforded by the statements of doctrine slowly elaborated and defined by the Church, they must make out their own creed by their own unaided wisdom. The real question is not, as often pretended, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God's people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds. — A. A. Hodge, A Short History of Creeds and Confessions, 1869.

In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. - C.H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries, 1890.

But still ye will say I can not understand it. What marvel? How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read, nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest, keep it well in memory; that thou understandest not, read it again, and again. If thou can neither so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned. Go to thy curate and preacher; show thyself to be desirous to know and learn, and I doubt not but God - seeing thy diligence and readiness (if no man else teach thee) - will himself vouchsafe with his holy spirit to illuminate thee, and to open unto thee that which was locked from thee. — Thomas Cranmer, Preface to the Great Bible, 1540.

And considering how hard a thing it is to understand the holy Scriptures, and what errors, sects, and heresies grow daily for lack of the true knowledge thereof, and how many are discouraged (as they pretend) because they cannot attain to the true and simple meaning of the same, we have also endeavored both by the diligent reading of the best commentaries, and also by the conference with the godly and learned brethren, to gather brief annotations upon all the hard places, as well for the understanding of such words as are obscure, and for the declaration of the text, as for the application of the same as may most appertain to God's glory and the edification of his Church. — Geneva Bible Preface, 1560.

July 02, 2009  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Depravity According to Calvin

parsonscalvin.gif Quoted from John MacArthur's chapter John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 137–138

The phrase “total depravity” (not an expression of Calvin’s but a phrase descriptive of his view) has an unfortunate ambiguity about it. Many who are exposed to that terminology for the first time suppose it means Calvin taught that all sinners are as thoroughly bad as they possibly can be.

But Calvin expressly disclaimed that view. He acknowledged that “in every age there have been persons who, guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout life” [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.3.]. Calvin suggested that such people (even though there are “lapses . . . in their moral conduct” are of commendable character, from a human point of view. “They have by the very zeal of their honesty given proof that there was some purity in their nature” [Ibid.]. He went even further: “These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against adjudging man’s nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life”

Nevertheless, Calvin went on to say, such thinking actually points the wrong direction. Instead, “it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for God’s grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardly” [Ibid.].

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July 02, 2009  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink