(Warning) VBS - when the Gospel doesn't matter anymore...
""Justification by faith alone is the article of the standing or falling Church."
"Whoever departs from the article of justification does not know God and is an idolater . . . For when this article has been taken away, nothing remains but error, hypocrisy, godlessness, and idolatry, although it may seem to be the height of truth, worship of God, holiness, etc. . . If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time."
"When the article of justification has fallen, everything has fallen. Therefore it is necessary constantly to inculcate and impress it, as Moses says of his Law (Deut. 6:7); for it cannot be inculcated and urged enough or too much. Indeed, even though we learn it well and hold to it, yet there is no one who apprehends it perfectly or believes it with a full affection and heart. So very trickish is our flesh, fighting as it does against the obedience of the spirit."
"This doctrine [justification by faith alone] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour. For no one who does not hold this article or, to use Paul's expression, this 'sound doctrine' (Titus 2:1) is able to teach aright in the church or successfully to resist any adversary . . . this is the heel of the Seed that opposes the old serpent and crushes its head. That is why Satan, in turn, cannot but persecute it." - Martin Luther
Back in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church believed (then as it does now) that justification is by grace, through faith and because of Christ. What Rome does not believe is that justification is by faith alone, or by grace alone, or by Christ alone. For Rome, justification is by grace plus merit, through faith plus works; by Christ plus the sinner's contribution of inherent righteousness. In contrast, Martin Luther and the Reformers called the Church back to the one true Biblical Gospel: Salvation is by God's grace alone, received through faith alone, because of Christ alone, based on the Scriptures alone, to the Glory of God alone.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of Luther's posting of his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door, October 31, 1517. Its a sad reflection of the current crisis in the church at large to read the following report. This is what happens when things like the truth and the Gospel do not matter to people anymore - read about it here.
This sort of thing is happening more and more. Another example is the hugely successful and international ministry (more than 33,500 courses run in 163 countries) of Alpha with its introduction to the Christian faith materials provided for both a Protestant and a Catholic context (here). - JS
Hell is not a halloween prank
John Piper posted something at the desiring God site that I thought might be worthwhile for us to think through. So many people are abandoning "hell" as a sustainable doctrine in our day, borne, I believe, not because the Scripture is obscure on the subject - it isn't - but because of human philosophy and the feeling that a "good" God would never allow suffering in hell for eternity even for the worst of His enemies. Yet we hear more about the details of the punishment and suffering of those who will end up in hell from the lips of Jesus than anyone else in Scripture. I think that is by design. God entrusted the message of hell most to His dear Son perhaps because we might never have believed it if it only came through a Daniel, a Paul or a James. We would be very prone to say "oh that's just Paul. I don't accept what he says. Thank God Jesus the loving Savior never talked of such things." But this is something we cannot do because it is the One who taught us most about the Father's love, the Son of God Himself, who tells us most clearly about the realities of hell. Here's John Piper's short article below - JS
How Willingly Do People Go to Hell? Does Anyone Standing by the Lake of Fire Jump In?
C.S. Lewis is one of the top 5 dead people who have shaped the way I see and respond to the world. But he is not a reliable guide on a number of important theological matters. Hell is one of them. His stress is relentlessly that people are not â€œsentâ€ to hell but become their own hell. His emphasis is that we should think of â€œa bad manâ€™s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is.â€ (For all the relevant quotes, see Martindale and Root, The Quotable Lewis, 288-295.)
This inclines him to say, â€œAll that are in hell choose it.â€ And this leads some who follow Lewis in this emphasis to say things like, â€œAll God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.â€
Book Review: The Truth About Man, by Paul David Washer
Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford
At the beginning of his classic Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin heads his very first paragraph thus: â€œWithout knowledge of self there is no knowledge of Godâ€. This observation is strikingly true, and if one would take the time to discuss the gospel in depth with the definite majority of American citizens living today, he would doubtless find that the one great obstacle preventing them from prizing and embracing the gospel of God's grace is a faulty view of self. The gospel is not for people who are basically pretty good, but just need to believe in themselves, build up their self-esteem, and pick themselves up by their bootstraps. If there is one problem that consistently hinders my attempts at gospel-witnessing, it is that. Oh, for a tool that would give the true picture of man in his sin and helplessness, and so pave the way for a true picture of God in his holy justice and limitless grace! Paul David Washer's biblical study, The Truth About Man, is just that tool, and I enthusiastically recommend it. more...
What's would be the point of Evangelism if Divine Election is true? by Pastor John Samson
What would be the point of evangelism if some people are "elect" and some are not and don't have the free will to choose Christ? Doesn't this make evangelism a farce?
Well may I first alter the question? In that I am convinced that Divine election is clearly taught in Scripture, I believe it would be better to ask, "Since Divine election is true, why are we told to evangelize?"
The first obvious answer to this is because God tells us to. The same Bible that teaches Divine Sovereign Election in Romans chapters 8 and 9, also gives us Romans 10, saying "how shall they hear without a preacher?" Romans 10 is in no way a contradiction to Romans 8 and 9.
The simple answer to this question is that God has ordained both the ends and the means. The ends, are His elect coming to Himself in saving faith. The means, is the proclamation of the Gospel.
In John 10: 16, Jesus, in speaking of His sheep amongst the Gentiles said, "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd."
The Main Issue of The Reformation - The Necessity v. The Sufficiency of Grace
I posted the following article here on the blog back in December 2005... - JS
There is no doubt that the 16th century witnessed the greatest ever split in Church history. Some view the Reformation as a sad or even an evil episode. Others see it as a time when God restored the one true biblical Gospel back into the hands of the masses. But what exactly were the issues back then? And what are the issues in our own day? Was this a mere tempest in a tea cup?
I suggest that the issues then and now are exactly the same - who or what speaks for God, and what exactly is the Gospel?
In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church believed (and still does today) that justification is by grace, through faith, because of Christ. What Rome does not believe is that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. According to Rome, justification is by grace plus merit, through faith plus works; because of Christ plus the sinner's contribution of inherent righteousness.
In contrast, Martin Luther and his Reformers had 5 main slogans, all using the word "sola," which is the Latin word for "alone." It was this word "alone" that designated the biblical Gospel and set it apart from all other pretenders. The cry of these Reformers was not simply "FAITH!," "GRACE!," "CHRIST!," "THE SCRIPTURE!," or "THE GLORY OF GOD!" All embracing a false Gospel could do that!
The cry was "FAITH ALONE!," "GRACE ALONE!," "CHRIST ALONE!," "SCRIPTURE ALONE!," "THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE!" With Scripture alone as the sure foundation, the Reformers affirmed that justification is by grace alone, received through faith alone because of Christ alone â€” to the glory of God alone.
The Providence of God (2 Messages)
The Church at large has tried to put man at the center of the Universe for so long in its sermons, books and articles that today, when we do hear a preacher talk about the Sovereignty or Providence of God, it actually seems very strange to our ears. We think "what new doctrine is this?" But the truth is that this is not a new concept at all, but in fact the classic, orthodox, Christian view of the God of the Bible.
Regarding the Sovereignty of God, Dr. R. C. Sproul makes the point that if there were one maverick molecule out there somewhere apart from the plan of God, we would have no reason to hope in God. That one maverick molecule could be the one detail that defeats God's eternal purpose. If God is not in Sovereign control, perhaps that one "maverick molecule" could have got into the lungs of Jesus as a young baby and God's eternal plan of salvation could well have been derailed with Jesus dieing in infancy. As the old saying goes, "For lack of the nail, the shoe was lost. For lack of the shoe, the horse was lost. For lack of the horse, the rider was lost. For lack of the rider, the battle was lost. For lack of the battle, the war was lost."
In contrast to this picture, our God is All-Powerful (Omnipotent), and all of history is merely the outworking of His eternal plan. God not merely created the world, but His eternal power sustains it and continues its existence by the sheer exertion of His will - were God to "blink," all would come to an end.
Here (below) Dr. James White teaches two sessions on "the providence of God." The second session refutes the "middle knowledge" doctrine that is becoming more and more prevalent in our day. Both of these messages are highly recommended - very much a worthwhile use of your time. - JS
In his concluding message from Great Falls, Montana, Dr. James White expounds the sixth chapter of John's gospel. Jesus' words, heard here in their context and in progression, proclaim much the same revelation as Paul's words in Romans 8 and 9. God is truly Sovereign in the matter of salvation. (Approx. 46 minutes youtube video below)
Monergism's New Abode
We want to express our thanks for all of your prayers and support over the last few weeks. Our move into our new office went as smooth as one could have hoped for except we are exhausted. The huge amount of work keeping up Monergism, coupled with the move, took a toll on us, but we are thankful the Lord has been favorable and given us a building with a lot more room (over 6100 sq feet) plus a giant open upstairs which could be used for a number of functions, such as seminars, teaching & training in apologetics, missions, Bible and theology, or more office space.
Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, we have recently had to lay off a couple of content producers who worked for us. This was really a difficult decision as these brothers took care of our MP3 library and other subsections of the Monergism website. I cannot express how great a job they have been doing for the couple of years and how thankful I have been to have them. Maintaining this site is now more than a full time calling, one which I love, but it is truly exhausting to do it without enough outside help. Pray the Lord raise up skilled laborers willing to work along side us to create, produce and maintain Monergism.com.
What the Bible Says About Baptism
Just a note to let you know that my new categorized scripture list, What the Bible Says About Baptism which lays out the biblical case for Reformed paedo-baptism, is now available to purchase in print. The e-book may be downloaded for free, as well.
What convinced me that reformed theology was correct was not the logical arguments (as good as they were), nor the fact that a great majority of the church's great Bible scholars through the centuries believed and propagated it (as impressive as that is). What convinced me was the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.
Having read many counter positions on passages such as John 6, Ephesians 1, and Romans 8 and 9, I was amazed at what people needed to do to try to avoid the clear teaching of the passages. They could not just stay in the same passage and work through the verses one by one, allowing the writer to flow from one thought to the next. Instead, they had to argue that the writers were at one point talking about one thing and then in the next verse or even in the middle of the same verse, were speaking about something completely different. It was hard to follow, but not because of what the text said, but, as I came to understand it, because of the elaborate methodology being implemented to avoid what the text was actually saying. They ("they" being those who opposed reformed theology) would say that in one phrase he is referring to "nations" while in another he is referring to specific individuals, and then in the very next verse it referred to something else. Even if this was the case, what are "nations" but a large group of individual people? The "problem" they had of a Sovereign God choosing people for salvation does not go away. God still does this if he chooses one nation and not another. If God chose one nation, he is choosing individual people who make up that nation, and is therefore by this act, also not choosing other people. As I say, the "problem" does not go away.
In contrast to this, when the Scripture writer is allowed to "speak for himself" as to what he means, by simply taking his words, in context, allowing the words to flow from one statement to the next in the passage as he addresses his overall theme, a consistent correct interpretation emerges. This became so very clear to me. I am reformed in soteriology (the study of salvation) because bottom line, this is what I believe Scripture teaches.
On these issues, I used to have my feet firmly planted in mid air. What I mean by that is that I just didn't know where I stood on these things. Not only did I not know, I thought it was a display of humility to say so. Now, it would be humble if the Scripture was vague, elusive and impossible to understand on these things. Some things are clearer than others in holy Scripture. But when God has made His truth clear, it is actually the height of arrogance to say otherwise. Because there is a God and because He has revealed His existence to every man (as Romans 1 teaches) it is arrogance to be agnostic on the question of God's existence. It would be like standing in God's face and saying "You did not make this clear at all." In the same way, I believe God has addressed the issue of His Sovereignty in the matter of salvation in passages such as Romans 9 and that His truth is clearly revealed here.
One of the men of God who helped me (under God) to see this, is a man who became my friend in this whole process, the man in this youtube video, Dr. James White. How thankful I am now to be able to see (although much mystery remains) something of the stunning and majestic glory of God in the Sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. Here (below) is Dr. James White speaking for approximately 55 minutes in Great Falls, Montana, on the Romans 9 passage. I recommend it highly. - JS
Book Review: The Walk, by Stephen Smallman
Of all the books available on basic Christianity, evangelism, beginning discipleship, and so on, Stephen Smallman's new book, The Walk, stands out in two ways: first, it truly does start at the beginning, with the very basics, and without taking for granted any knowledge of Christianity at all; and second, it is a book designed not so much to impart basic information (although it does that too), but to motivate to a course of action. It is not so much an introduction to a religion as it is a guide for anyone willing to consider and act upon what it means to come to Christ. It takes by the hand those who have never heard the gospel, as well as those who are familiar with Christianity but have false or distorted perceptions of it based upon negative experiences or wrong personal choices, and leads them along, step by step, to the One whom to follow as a disciple is the heart of Christianity. The book is very patient and gentle, never pushy or prodding, and yet it makes very clear that to be a true Christian, a person must forsake all else and turn to follow Christ. And then it shows, in practical terms, just how this is done.
All this is summed up in the subtitle of the book: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus. This is not primarily a book of propositions, but of steps to be taken; they are the necessary steps for all who would be followers of Jesus; and they are the first steps for those who are new to Christianity, or for those who have had some experience with Christianity or the Church in the past, but have rejected or drifted away from it, and are now interested in being renewed as true followers of Jesus.
Although the approach is very basic, and does not usually employ all of the Reformed jargon, the book has very solid doctrinal foundations. Much is made from the beginning about the effectual call of Jesus (through his Spirit) as the unexceptional inception of any genuine response of submission and faith. In a day when a merely personal and private approach to religion is commonplace, the necessity of being joined to a local Church is made clear, and the purpose of Christ's redemptive work to fashion a new community, a holy and universal Church, and not just to save individuals and leave them alone, is emphasized. In the meat of the book, the glorious gifts of justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness and sanctification by the regeneration of the Spirit are clearly spelled out in very simple language. And finally, only on the purely gospel basis preceding, it is explained what a life lived according to that gospel looks like, and the great commission we have been given to be both disciples and disciple-makers brings all to a poignant conclusion.
The Walk is loosely organized around the idea of walking the reader through the gospel of Mark and then the book of Romans; but along the way, other scripture passages come up, and Smallman encourages his readers to spend time reading in various places. He encourages the reader not to rush through the book, and at the end of each chapter gives â€œassignmentsâ€ that he strongly encourages him to have completed before pressing on â€“ assignments such as having the gospel of Mark read through twice by a certain point in the book, and writing in a journal. To facilitate discussion and help encourage an actual â€œwalkâ€ toward Jesus, and not just mental assimilation, the book is designed to be read by small groups, under the guidance of an informal advisor or instructor. In a couple of appendices, Smallman gives direction for guiding people through the book effectively, and at the end of the book he even encourages those who have gone through it once to consider walking through it again as a guide to others. Clearly, true disciple-making is near to the heart of Smallman, and the design of his book gives ample evidence to that fact.
I believe this book will have a unique niche of usefulness among laypeople in the church who have friends, neighbors or relatives whom they would love to see coming to Christ, but who feel unqualified or uncertain how to lead them that way. The book will be very useful in assisting even a young believer to help others begin the same journey of discipleship that he himself has begun, even if very recently. The book will also be valuable for those who have not yet come to Christ, but are seriously considering doing so. All such persons may use this book most profitably, according to Smallman, if they keep the following things in mind: (1) â€œBegin with Jesus. The only prerequisite for profiting from The Walk is a sincere desire to know more about Jesus...â€ (2) â€œThis is 'Discipleship for Dummies'â€ â€“ don't worry about being too ignorant or unfamiliar with Christianity or the bible! (3) â€œThis is written as a handbook, not a 'complete package'...you need to stop and read the bible for yourselfâ€. (4) â€œConsider ways to study with others. This book is written to be used in a class, in a group, or with one or two othersâ€. And (5) â€œTake your time. To be a disciple of Jesus is a lifetime commitment.â€
For anyone willing to consider making this lifetime commitment, or wishing to help others see what all is entailed in that decision, The Walk may prove to be a very helpful tool.
Acts 13:48 and Evangelism
From Great Falls in Montana, Dr. James White teaches on God's Sovereignty and the ministry of apologetics and evangelism (approx. 53 minutes).
"And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." - Acts 13:48
If God Left us to Ourselves
The sins of the ungodly are looking-glasses in which we may see our own hearts. Do we see a heinous, impious wretch? Behold a picture of our own hearts! Such would we be--if God left us! What is in wicked men's practice --is in our nature. Sin in the wicked--is like fire which flames and blazes forth. Sin in the godly--is like fire hid in the embers. Christian, though you do not break forth into a flame of scandalous sin--yet you have no cause to boast, for there is as much sin in the embers of your nature! You have the root of all sin in you, and would bear as hellish fruit as any ungodly wretch--if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you by His grace!
Why might not God have left you--to the same excess of wickedness? Think with yourself, O Christian--why should God be more merciful to you, than to another? Why should He snatch you, as brand plucked out of the fire--and not him? How should this make you to adore free grace! What the Pharisee said boastingly, we may say thankfully--"God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers, etc."
If we are not as wicked as others--we should adore the riches of free-grace! Every time we see men hastening on in sin--we are to thank God that we are not such! If we see a crazy person--we thank God that it is not so with us. When we see another infected with the plague--how thankful are we, that God has preserved us from it! Much more when we see others under the power of Satan--how thankful we should be, that this is no longer our condition!
"For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, captives of various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful . . . ." Titus 3:3
- Thomas Watson
Book Review: Counterfeit Gods, by Tim Keller, Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford
When Wall Street began its painful crash in the Fall of 2008, a great deal of ill-placed global confidence was uncovered. Why did the Great Recession impact so many people negatively, what should we do in the aftermath, and how can we avoid being so let down as a nation and a culture again? In his latest book, Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller offers some real answers, not just for those tragically failed by the economic system, but for those let down and abandoned by any false hope or confidence whatsoever. Could it be that we are all guilty of trusting the wrong things for joy and security in life, and that our mask of idolatry was painfully ripped off when things turned bad? In a very insightful examination of our cultural â€œgodsâ€ the things we look to for meaning and success, Keller diagnoses our true underlying problems, which go far beneath the panic we felt when the stock market crashed, and gives hope for a true and lasting solution. A must-read for America today!
If you ask the average American on the streets if we are a nation given to idols, the obvious answer would be, â€œNo!â€. Idolatry was commonplace in the pagan Greek and Roman cultures, but may scarcely be found in these more enlightened times. But what if there really are counterfeit gods all around us, only the kind not made of stone or metal? â€œIn Ezekiel 14:3,â€ Keller reminds us, â€œGod says about elders of Israel, 'these men have set up idols in their hearts.' Like us, the elders must have responded to the charge, 'Idols? What idols? I don't see any idols?' God was saying that the human heart takes good things like career, love, and material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the integrating centers of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and complete fulfillment, if we attain themâ€. If this really is the definition of idolatry, then perhaps it is not so foreign as we think. And perhaps we are not just given over to, but being destroyed by idols. If we look for â€œsafety and complete fulfillmentâ€ in things that can never finally provide that, then are we not doomed to despair? Are there not a great many more Wall Street experiences in store for us?
I like it!
Designing a mission statement is often times the first place to start when starting anything... a business, a church, a ministry. It is so helpful to know what the purpose of something is and then work to accomplish that purpose. A Mission Statement is very different from a Statement of Faith. A Mission statement talks about what it is you are seeking to do. A Statement of faith (or Confession) describes what it is you believe.
Someone rightly said, "when we do not know the purpose of a thing, abuse is inevitable." Think of a hammer. A hammer has been designed with a specific purpose in mind - to propel nails into objects. A hammer is not to be used for hitting people on the head - that's an abuse of the intended purpose.
When I was given my first ever hammer as a young child, my parents were wise enough to give me a plastic one, knowing that I might not stick to using it for its intended purpose. They were right. Everything within sight was hit by that hammer. I loved the thing and loved the sound it made as different objects around the house received blow after blow from the hammer. Again, when we do not know the purpose of a thing, abuse is inevitable. :-) Everything has been created for a purpose. Finding that purpose is a key ingredient for discovering God's will for something, including our own lives.
Our mission at King's Church in Phoenix is "The Gospel - Getting it Right, Living it Out, Getting it Out." There's much I could say about this, but I will refrain right now. As I look around the various ministry mission statements out there in the Church at large, several stand out in my mind. The one that I perhaps like the most is the mission statement of Desiring God Ministries (with John Piper). It reads, "Desiring God Ministries exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ." Concerning this Matt Perman of DGM recently wrote the following (and I thought it was very insightful):
"By turning a few things around, we can also see what our mission is not - and therefore more clearly what it is. Our mission is not to create cul-de-sacs, but to spread. Our mission is not to spread just knowledge about God. It is to spread a passion for God. Head and heart. Our mission is not to spread a passion for the mediocrity of God or for the overlooking of God or for the assuming of God. It is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God. Our mission is not to spread a passion for the supremacy of human beings or Western materialism or even you. It is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God. Our mission is not to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in just a few things, or just a few parts of your life like the time you spend at church, but in all things. We aim to do this not simply for Americans or Western Christians but for all people groups. We aim to do this not for the boredom or gloom or sadness of all people groups, but for the joy of all people groups. â€œLet the nations be glad and sing for joyâ€ (Psalm 67:4). And we aim to do this not through our own efforts or with an ambiguous God-is-whoever-you-think-he-is God in mind, but through Jesus Christ, who died for us on the cross 2,000 years ago, rose again, ascended into heaven, sent the Holy Spirit, and will come again."
Whatever the wording of our mission statements, be they personal, corporate or ministry related, I pray that we might understand our true purpose under God and have a similar like passion for God, for His gospel, and for His glory. - JS
How well do you know John Calvin? Take the quiz
I studied hard for this quiz, but the question of the color of John Calvin's socks that he wore to sleep on his third Tuesday night in Geneva was a tough one.. I seemed to remember that they were bright red wollen socks, a little itchy, but very warm, nonetheless.. but I was not absolutely sure. I tried to use one of my lifelines to call a friend to get some help, but John Hendryx' phone was busy. :-) - JS
The Covenant of Grace (Quote) by Thomas Boston
â€œAs a narrow vessel cannot contain the ocean, so neither can the finite creature comprehend the infinite good: but no measure shall be set to the enjoyment, but what ariseth from the capacity of the creature. So that, although there be degrees of glory, yet all shall be filled. . . God will be all in all to the saints: He will be their life, health, riches, honour, peace, and all good things. He will communicate Himself freely to them. . . There will be no veil between God and them, to be drawn aside; but His fulness shall ever stand open to them.â€
- Thomas Boston
Why We Should Read the Church Fathers, with an Excerpt from Gregory Nazianzen
In the Reformed world, it sometimes seems as though godly, Christian literature began to be written in the sixteenth century. The most uneducated person who was raised in a Reformed Church will at least be able to tell you who Calvin was, and something of his importance and theological output. But that same person, when asked about the Church fathers, might be apt to say, â€œAmbrose Who?â€
Even among us who know something of the Church Fathers, most of us, I think I may say without presumption, are less at home with them than we would be with the Reformers and Puritans. We can give a fairly detailed description of the Institutes off the tops of our heads, we can produce for any occasion an incisive and brilliantly worded one-liner from Luther, but even if we know who Ambrose was, do we know what his major writings were? And if so, can we give an overview and description of them? Have we read any of them?
Now, there are certain good reasons for this. The theological struggles they dealt with are less commonly encountered today than the doctrinal struggles of the Reformation, which still rise up against us on every side. But even that fact should tell us something about the amazing output of these Spirit-filled giants who struck down such subtle and insidious and at times all-but-ubiquitous heresies with such faith and vigor that only a stray, pitiful remnant of them remains today.
I speak to myself here as much as to anyone else. But of late, I have taken to extended forays into the massive 38 volume series of Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene fathers, edited by Schaff; and although at times I have been a little (or even a lot!) uncomfortable, I have much more frequently been hugely helped in my theological precision and practical devotion. Why let the Catholics have exclusive dibs on these treasures? Although in some points they would side with the modern Catholic Church against us, yet in the most fundamental truths of the gospel, they are on our side. We are their true heirs, we are the true Catholics, holding to the catholic faith once for all delivered to the saints. If you read the Church Fathers extensively, you will be challenged much, you will find yourself sometimes in sharp disagreement, but I think you'll also find in many places a robust Gospel of justification by faith alone, penal substitution and imputation of active obedience, some of the issues for which we still ardently contend today.
And of course, the Trinitarian theology. Why were the Church Fathers sometimes obscure or (we think) even wrong about certain issues which we hold so vital today? Because they were so busy pouring out their lives, giving all their immense labors and wisdom, to preserving and clarifying for us the most precious heritage any people has ever been given â€“ the doctrine of the Trinity. The passion, precision, and skill with which they preserved these foundational truths from the struggles and assaults which were in their day every bit as important as the struggles over soteriology in the Reformers' day are simply stunning.
One of my favorites is the Cappadocian Father Gregory Nazianzen. His orations are brilliant, fervent, and always worth the read, and the best of them, his five â€œtheological orationsâ€ (for which he received the nickname, â€œThe Theologian,â€ an appellation he shared first with the apostle John and now with John Calvin!) are pure gold. In them, he combines an Edwards-like skill of logic and argumentation with a deep reverence and humility characteristic of the best of the Puritans. I give you here an excerpt from the third of these theological orations.
The Covenant of Grace
by Wayne Grudem
1. Essential Elements. When man failed to obtain the blessing offered in the covenant of works, it was necessary for God to establish another means, one by which man could be saved. The rest of Scripture after the story of the fall in Genesis 3 is the story of God working out in history the amazing plan of redemption whereby sinful people could come into fellowship with himself. Once again, God clearly defines the provisions of a covenant that would specify the relationship between himself and those whom he would redeem. In these specifications we find some variation in detail throughout the Old and New Testaments, but the essential elements of a covenant are all there, and the nature of those essential elements remains the same throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The parties to this covenant of grace are God and the people whom he will redeem. But in this case Christ fulfills a special role as â€œmediatorâ€ (Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24) in which he fulfills the conditions of the covenant for us and thereby reconciles us to God. (There was no mediator between God and man in the covenant of works.) The condition (or requirement) of participation in the covenant is faith in the work of Christ the redeemer (Rom. 1:17; 5:1; et al.). This requirement of faith in the redemptive work of the Messiah was also the condition of obtaining the blessings of the covenant in the Old Testament, as Paul clearly demonstrates through the examples of Abraham and David (Rom. 4:1â€“15). They, like other Old Testament believers, were saved by looking forward to the work of the Messiah who was to come and putting faith in him.ï»¿
Articles - Get Your Articles!
Over the last few days I have been seeking to put most of the things I have written in some sort of order and in one accessible place. I was fairly surprised as to how many different topics have been covered over time. If there's one place I would recommend people to go to on the web for teaching articles, it would be www.monergism.com. Use the search feature there - it is so very helpful. However, perhaps these articles I have written could be a blessing too. Hope so, anyway. You can find them here. - John Samson
Two Quick Apologetic Tips on the Trinity
Just came across this short article by Alan Kurschner at the www.aomin.org blogsite. I thought his illustrations were very helpful in terms of defending the concept of the Trinity. - JS
Alan Kurschner writes:
The two most frequent objections to the Trinity can be illuminated with two simple, but effective, illustrations. First, "How can there be three and one at the same time"? This question conflates two categories into one. But Christians understand that there are two categories involved. There is one "What" (Being/Deity) and three "Who's" (Persons/Father-Son-Holy Spirit).
Here is the best illustration that I think brings out this fundamental difference in these two categories that unbelievers can immediately relate to: There is only one humanity (Being) but many individuals (persons). Individuals share in the Being of humanity, and that does not mean that I am you, and you are me â€” we are different persons with the same single Being.
This illustration is not intended to exhaust or explain all the elements of the Trinity; instead, it serves to illustrate this single categorical difference between Being and persons. Someone may object by saying, "Does not this analogy support polytheism, since there are billions of individuals, there can be billions of Gods or divine persons?" Let me be clear: this illustration is intended to show a single distinction between two categories â€” Being and persons; the point is not intended to show how many persons there are. Only Scripture can provide us this latter truth.
Book Review: Deserted by God?, by Sinclair Ferguson
Where do you go when you're feeling depressed, disconsolate, overwhelmed by sin, discouragement, loneliness, painful afflictions, dark valleys of despair? For the believer, there is no source of comfort that can compare to the psalter, that blessed â€œanatomy of the soul,â€ an apt description of the Book of Psalms first given by Calvin and referred to by Sinclair B. Ferguson in his book of remedies for the trials of this life, Deserted by God?. Happily, Ferguson is well aware of the rich cures of the psalter for every kind of painful affliction of the soul, and he spends the entire book walking through the darkest psalms of lament, distilling the precious cordial of hope from the bitterest agonies of the very human psalmists. For that reason, it is not just another book about depression â€“ it is a book that cannot fail to help all who take its instructions to heart, no matter how deep their trials may be.
Ferguson is a spiritual physician that knows to prescribe only the medicines that really do cure. He speaks compassionately, with empathy â€“ but what really matters is that he speaks the truth, truth that is living and active and able to help all who listen. If you struggle with depression, no matter the precise cause or form it may take, then read this book. It will help you, by God's grace, even when nothing else can.
I appreciate the fact that Ferguson is not naively optimistic or nauseatingly super-spiritual in how he addresses those who are overcome by despair, and yet he still does not buy into the nonsense that it's somehow ok to be angry with God and vent your sinful frustration in foolish words of accusation. Speaking of the idea that a good Christian will never doubt or be in despair, he states, â€œNor is this biblical spirituality; it is a false 'super-spirituality' that ignores or denies the reality of our humanity. We live in frail flesh and blood and in a fallen world which, John says, 'is under the control of the evil one' (1 John 5:19). There is much to discourage. Jesus felt that. To be free from the possibility of discouragements would be more 'spiritual' than Jesus â€“ and therefore not truly spiritual at all.â€ So yes, Ferguson would say, pour out your complaint to God and seek his mercy, as the psalmists did â€“ but there is a humble, reverent, and appropriate way to roll even your deepest trials on the merciful and loving God who is ready to take them upon himself for your greatest good.
What makes the book applicable for any discouraged person, no matter what he might be struggling with specifically, is that it simply walks through a few well-selected psalms, giving a straightforward and accurate exposition and application. And no matter what a person is dealing with, even when it feels like no one else has ever experienced the same thing, the psalmists dealt with something similar, and found hope and relief at the end of their journey. Ferguson's keen psychological acumen makes him able to probe what was really happening in the psalmists' perplexed souls, and give fitting application to modern humans who have the same trials.
Whether you struggle with guilt over sins in your past, feelings of abandonment and betrayal, physical illness or affliction, bereavement, unfulfilled dreams, or any other similar problem, you will probably find a chapter that speaks directly to you. Personally, I was greatly helped by the chapter, â€œCan I Be Pure?â€. My discouragement comes most poignantly from shame and frustration over falling into the same old sinful attitudes and actions that I thought I had left behind â€“ and there are psalms that deal with that! Whatever causes your despair, there are psalms that you'll find apply most aptly to you to.
The most outstanding portions of the book look ahead to Christ our great Champion and Savior, who took our weaknesses and infirmities, and who very often speaks through the psalmists who were types and foreshadows of him â€“ my only regret about the book was that, although there was much of this, in my opinion there wasn't always as much as there could have been. But when Ferguson does look ahead to the unspeakably wonderful Messiah, heaven comes down and fills the soul. I conclude with a quote from one of those times:
In asking for â€œmercy,â€ David, you are asking that God will show it to you, but withdraw it from Jesus.
In asking to experience God's â€œunfailing love,â€ you are asking that Jesus will feel it has been removed.
In asking to taste God's â€œgreat compassion,â€ you are asking him to refuse it to Jesus as he dies on the cross.
In asking God to â€œblot outâ€ your transgressions, you are asking that they will be obliterated by the blood of Jesus.
In asking to be washed, you are asking that the filth of your sin will overwhelm Jesus like a flood.
In asking to know the joy of salvation, you are asking that Jesus will be a Man of Sorrows, familiar with grief.
In asking to be saved from bloodguilt, you are asking that in your place Jesus will be treated as though he were guilty.
In asking that your lips will be opened in praise, you are asking that Jesus will be silenced, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb.
In asking that the sacrifice of a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart be acceptable, you are asking that Jesus' heart and spirit will be broken.
In asking that God will hide his face from your sins, you are asking that he will hide his face from Jesus.
In asking that you will not be cast out of God's presence, you are asking that Jesus will be cast out into outer darkness instead.
Oh, the depths to which Jesus went to bear our burdens and carry our sorrows! When we see such a Savior as that, what trial could we ever suppose will finally overcome us who are recipients of so vast a love?
I recently came across two very helpful websites. The first, Documenta Catholica Omnia, is a huge compendium of every extant writing of all the church fathers, extending well into the Medieval period. All the originals are included (mostly Latin and Greek, but occasionally in Syriac or some other minor language), and any available translation into English or other modern languages, when not protected by copyright laws, is also provided. A phenomenal way to become more acquainted with the theological growth of the early Church, and to realize just how great our debt is to those fathers who gave their lives for the clarification and explication of the one, holy, and catholic faith (and by "catholic" I don't mean any of the popery that grew up later as a cankerous plague!). The second is an online, searchable version of Liddell and Scott's classic and hugely helpful Greek-English lexicon. Searching by Latin transliteration makes it easy to use with a standard keyboard. For instance, if you want the Greek word for "faith," you would just type in the Latin transliteration "pistis," and the corresponding word would pop up in Greek characters. Enjoy!
The Holiness of God - Now in Russian (Online)
Dr. R. C. Sproul's classic six part teaching series on "The Holiness of God" is now available to watch and hear online in the Russian language here. This is a fabulous resource for our Russian speaking friends.
The Local Church
1Peter 2:5 - you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house...
Solomonâ€™s Temple was perhaps the most expensive building built in human history. Kings and Queens visiting from other nations stood in wonder and awe when seeing it for the first time. Yet in these days, God is now building a spiritual building that far exceeds Solomon's Temple in worth and value. It is made of human souls.
Christ said, "what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world let loses his soul?" The obvious answer is that all the gold and silver, all the wealth of this world and the prestige that goes with it - all would be futile if in the end, the soul was lost. That's because one human soul is worth more than all the riches of this world.
Christ builds individual Christians into a spiritual temple. It's spiritual because it houses the Holy Spirit. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). That's a reference to the local church, not to individuals in this particular context. The word "you" is plural, referring to the corporate gathering rather than individuals. Most people do not esteem the local Church in such high terms, because they see its obvious flaws. But it is good to be reminded that this is indeed how God sees it. The local Church is amazingly precious to God. - JS
King's Firecrackers Performance at the US Naval Academy - Totally Amazing!!
Prepared to be wowed!
In viewing this performance I think of the untold hours of preparation that must have gone into it - the discipline, the coordination, all the sweat and tears, all the bumps and bruises, and then masterminding all the team so that each person knows their role intimately and knows how to work with others to achieve a common purpose. Quite honestly, my mind boggles at the thought of it all. Then I think of the Scripture verse which talks of athletes and all they do to achieve an earthly prize: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." (1 Cor 9:24, 25)
These girls do not even receive a wreath to adorn the head as a witness to their tremendous skill and the spectacle they achieved (though they are now watched by thousands on youtube video, which I guess is something of a reward). However, we as Christians will receive an imperishable reward for the things we do in Christ's kingdom. Amazing, once again. Even though our works play no role whatsoever in our justification (Eph 2:8, 9), God has ordained that we would do good works (Eph 2:10) and even rewards these grace-fueled endeavors.
Seeing this outstanding performance really challenges me deeply and stirs me up to excel in what God has called me to be and do. May it do the same for all of us. - JS
Today's World Population Debunks Evolution
Mathematician, John Heffner PhD, and Dr. Carl Baugh crunch the numbers...