Tuesday, September 29, 2009

0 BibleWorks 8.0 First Impressions

First impressions? Smooth. Clean. FAST.

When I had BibleWorks 8.0 up for the first time and was reading through Ephesians, chapter 1, looking through the NA27 Greek text, those were the words that immediately popped to mind. I was delighted as coordinated lexical entries flashed by in the analysis window while I moved my mouse over the Greek words in the main text window. When I had brought the program up the first time, a friendly pop-up window had told me, providentially, that I should hold down [Shift] as I move the mouse over the Greek text if I wanted to freeze the results of the Analysis Window on a particular word. So, as I moved on to Ephesians 1:7, I moved over to the Greek word ἀπολύτρωσιν (translated "redemption") I then held [Shift] and moved the mouse over to the Analysis window, where I was given the lexical information and several other references for the word. Going back to the Greek, I decided to double click on ἀπολύτρωσιν and up came in the left-hand window all the instances of the word in exactly the same form in both the LXX and the NT (in this case there are just 6 instances, all NT). Further, a right click on ἀπολύτρωσιν enabled me to send the verse to the Lexicon Browser...with no instruction and no searching on the Help functions, I was simultaneously pleased and excited at the resources already in my hands at a few minutes into my use of this package.

The installation of BibleWorks 8.0 from the DVD-ROM that arrived via UPS today was exceedingly simple and straightforward. It couldn't have been 20 minutes from the opening of the package (okay, 35 minutes, which included 15 min
utes helping a student with Quantum Mechanics homework) I had BW8 up and running on my laptop after a quick reboot as required by the installer. Then I got to work. First things, first - I looked at the default texts in the middle panel of the main window - pulling down the menu that by default came up as KJV - and selected "ESV" and "NAU" (NASB 1995) out of the multitude of English texts available. Then, the above paragraph describes the first few minutes with the program. The two screen shots below show the interface as I have them before me, without having to fiddle with any settings at all: A very clean and useful presentation, I think.

Main Window, Ephesians 1:7 in focus, together with a search for

After having brought up the Lexicon window for ἀπολύτρωσιν:

At this point in time, I have to say that while I know next to nothing about this software, I already feel as though I can quickly begin to make good use of it in my preparations for teaching and leading Bible Studies. The tools available are quite impressive, even at this very first blush (ten minutes of playtime elapsed so far). Please see this list, provided at the BibleWorks website, for the multitude of resources available in this package. In addition, more original language and other resources are also available at extra cost to the user. I very much look forward to digging in to see how powerful Bibleworks 8 is.

I am needless to say impressed at the outset. I have done previous original language study only with online tools and my hard copies of the Greek New Testament, TDNT, BDAG and TWOT. While those are indeed wonderful resources, I employ Microsoft Word to write my own notes for teaching and preaching - and the time going back and forth between hard-copy resources and the electronic tools at my disposal prior to my receipt of BW8 was often substantial. I will be anxious to compare the ease of preparing exegesis and study notes having this powerful tool in my hands - and will be reviewing my experiences here as I write several BibleWorks 8 reviews over the next few months.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive this copy of BibleWorks 8 gratis - and I thank the folks at BibleWorks for the opportunity to fully exercise this software package as I prepare these reviews. BibleWorks is available at the publisher's website and other outlets such as the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

0 Recounting God's Works to Our Children

In my reading this morning I came across Psalm 78:1-4, and was immediately reminded of the awesome privilege and responsibility (funny how those two often go hand-in-hand) of recalling for our children the wondrous works of God as He has cared for and shepherded His people throughout history.
78 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.

(Ps. 78:1-4, ESV)
We who are parents cannot shirk this responsibility, or pass it off to anyone else - the degree to which we fail to glorify God in our homes by calling our children to witness the glory of God as revealed in His providential dealings with the world and specifically with the sheep of His hand is one of the measures of our faithfulness to our calling as parents. The blessings of knowing God and passing on to the next generation a faith that grounds itself upon God Himself and His sovereign grace are too many to describe.

0 Reviews of Bibleworks 8 Coming Soon

Starting next week, Lord willing, I'll be presenting a series of reviews of BibleWorks 8, as I noted in this post a couple weeks ago. I'll be beginning with a review of the software installation and "first impressions" as I install and start to explore the features of this wonderful package. The folks at BibleWorks have put together an excellent brochure (in PDF) for describing the features of BibleWorks 8, which is available for download from this location.

BibleWorks 8 can be obtained directly from the company, or from distributors like Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

0 Peace and Redemption

As Calvin continues in his Sermons on Ephesians, we come to Ephesians 1:7, wherein we are reminded that our acceptance (touched on in verse 6) before God is bound to the blood of Christ, the redemption we have through that blood, and the forgiveness of sins that accompanies that sacrifice. We are further told that this has come about according to the riches of His grace.

I have had conversations with people in the past that seem to indicate that at least among some there is a lack of preparedness to connect the bloody sacrifice of Christ to the forgiveness of sins. If God is truly gracious, the argument goes, then Christ's death wasn't necessary - a truly gracious act, so it is said, must require nothing at all in return. Their argument amounts to the assertion that God, being truly gracious, must never have required Christ's death, but that Christ's execution was outside the redemptive plan of God.

Despite the fact that this does grave injury to Scripture, which clearly proclaims God's hand in and predestinating purpose in Christ's death for sin (one need only look to Isaiah 53:1-12, Acts 2:23-24, and Acts 4:24-28 to name only three pertinent passages), people seem to want God to forgive sins without the need for justice. God's justice must be maintained, however - it would be unjust of God to grant a status of "just" upon one whose sins remain on him - and it would be unjust of God to merely remit sins without requiring atonement. The whole of Scripture clearly speaks against his "mere grace" idea - and Calvin does also, in his sermon on Ephesians 1:7-10. He writes,
"How then does it come about that God's wrath is pacified, that we are made at one with him, and that he even accepts and acknowledges us as his children? It is by the pardoning of our sins, says St. Paul. And furthermore, because pardon necessitates redemption, he yokes the two together. The truth is that, in respect of us, God blotted out our sins of his own free goodness and shows himself altogether bountiful, and does not look for any payment for it at our hands. And, in fact, what man is able to make satisfaction for the least fault that he has committed? If every one of us, therefore, should employ his whole life in making satisfaction for any one fault alone, and by that means seek to win favor at God's hand, it is certain that such a thing far surpasses our abilities. And therefore God must necessarily receive us to mercy without looking for any recompence or satisfaction at our hands. But, for all this, the atonement, which is freely bestowed in respect of us, cost the Son of God very dear. [1 Peter 1:19] For he found no other payment than the shedding of his own blood, so that he made himself our surety both in body and soul, and answered for us before God's judgment to win absolution for us. (p. 51, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth, emphasis mine)
Free indeed his this grace, as respects us and our efforts at remediation. We cannot pay a dime toward our rescue - for we are not capable, being sinful and being finite. God Himself, the God-man Jesus Christ, is able and has. For all for whom His death was given, all are redeemed through His blood. The Old Testament picture of substutionary atonement is clear - there is no general redemption, but it is in every sense particular... the lamb slaughtered is for those who have looked to it as a covering. Christ's death is given, and payment is received by God... once the payment is received, Peace is had - and those for whom payment is given are accepted in the Beloved. It is free - but not free, for it is no mere "grant"; it is without respect to persons, but with respect to God's election. Calvin continues, along these lines:
"...the full remission of our sins through God's free goodness, is not given without the ransom that was paid by our Lord Jesus Christ, not in gold or silver (as St. Peter says in his first epistle, 1 Peter 1:18), but it was necessary that he who was the spotless Lamb should give himself for that purpose. Wherefore, whenever we intend to seek God's favor and mercy, let us fasten the whole of our minds on the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may there find the means by which to appease God's wrath. And, furthermore, seeing that our sins are done away by such payment and satisfaction, let us understand that we cannot bring anything of our own by which to be reconciled to God. ... For there is, so to speak, an inseparable bond between these two things, namely that God puts our sins out of his remembrance and drowns them in the depth of the sea, and, moreover, receives the payment that was offered him in the person of his only Son. Therefore we cannot obtain the one without the other." (pp. 52-3, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
The fact of God's perfect redemption, and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for believers again points out the fact that Calvin has been hammering on in his discussion of election as the ground for every blessing. It is NOT IN US, but only IN CHRIST that we have acceptance before God, and true Peace.

Friday, September 18, 2009

1 Election, Assurance, Sanctification

As I continue to read through the early sermons in John Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians, I am struck by the depth of his analysis of election and God's purposes in it as he exposits the early verses of chapter 1 of the Epistle. I've already written of his argument that God cannot rightly be praised or known if He is not known as the Sovereignly-electing God - He who has elected whom He purposed prior to the foundation of the world to save, according to the good pleasure of His own will. If God is not acknowledged and praised for His attributes and His works as Scripture teaches them - which surely includes this doctrine of Election, then I do believe Calvin is right to question whether the one who rejects this doctrine truly knows who God is... His Sovereignty is part and parcel with His being God.

Further, in Calvin's 2nd and 3rd sermons in this series, he teaches that election is intimately tied to our assurance of salvation, and to our being encouraged to live a holy life. He writes,
"...we must not hesitate or doubt, but we must be thoroughly resolved and persuaded in ourselves that God counts us as his children. And how may that be but by embracing his mercy through faith, as he offers it to us in his gospel, and by assuring ourselves that we are grounded in his eternal election? ... If, then, our faith were not grounded in our election, it is certain that Satan might pluck it from us every minute. Though today we were the most steadfast in the world, yet we might fail tomorrow. But our Lord Jesus shows us the remedy to strengthen us against all temptations in that he says: 'You do not come to me of yourselves, but the heavenly Father brings you to me; and since I have taken you into my keeping, be no more afraid, for I acknowledge you as the inheritance of God my Father, and he that has given me charge of you and put you into my hand is stronger than all. [John 10:28-29] We see, then, that besides setting forth God's glory, our salvation also is assured by God's eternal predestination, which ought to be sufficient reason to move us to consider what St. Paul says of it in this place." (p. 29, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
If we were to ground our assurance in ourselves... what assurance could we possibly have that did not derive from delusions of grandeur about our own qualifications? Calvin has already struck down the idea of looking to ourselves in salvation - and here again he places our assurance in the fact that one stronger than we - stronger than all - holds us in His hand. As Christ also says elsewhere, NONE shall take those the Father has given to Him from His grasp. We may be assured insofar as we understand that God's electing purpose and His acceptance of Christ's full righteousness on our behalf have accomplished our salvation. Outside that, how can we have any assurance at all?

Commonly it is objected that the doctrine of election leads to libertinism - and this cannot be farther from the truth - and certainly is not a logical derivation from the verses on which Calvin preaches in these sermons (Eph. 1:3-6). For, he writes,
"he [Paul] shows here that although God's election is free and beats down and annihilates all the worthiness, works and virtues of men, nevertheless it does not provide us with license to do evil and to lead a disordered life, or to run amok, but rather it serves to withdraw us from the evil in which we were plunged...You see, then, that to which he meant to bring the faithful was to make them know that just as God has elected them of his own free grace, so he does not give them leave to yield themselves to all wickedness, but intends to keep and preserve them undefiled to himself. For God's electing of us and, with that, his calling of us to holiness are things joined inseparably together, even as St. Paul says in another passage, that we are not called to uncleanness and filthiness, but to be dedicated to God in all piety and holiness." (pp. 33-34, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
God's purpose in displaying His rich blessing of us was for encouragement and for our eyes to see that we might prayse Him all the more - not only with our mouths, as Calvin writes later, but with our whole life. Naturally, as we aim to live according to God's precepts and with a view to holiness of conduct and thought, we will find that we fail. This mustn't cause us to decide that we are not God's children after all, however - as Calvin later writes. We are not to assume that if we fail perfectly to uphold God's standards, we have lost His love or His adopting grace - though we surely are tempted to that. Calvin's words here are precious to the trembling believer:
"Moreover let us also observe that though God has reformed us and set us in the good way and made us to feel that he has worked in us already to subdue us to his Word and to make us serve him obediently in all things, yet it does not therefore follow that we are fully reformed on the first day, no, nor yet in our whole lifetime. St. Paul does not say that God brings his elected and faithful ones to the fulness of perfection, but that he draws them towards it, and so we are but in the way thitherward even to our death. Therefore, as long as we live in this world, let us learn to profit and go forward more and more, resting assured that there is still always very much that is blameworthy in us. For they that imagine any perfection are as good as bewitched by hypocrisy and pride, or rather, have no feeling or fear of God in them, but they are far gone mockers. For he that examines himself shall always find such as tore of vices that he shall be ashamed of them if he seriously consider them.

They then which say that we can reach any perfection while we dwell in this mortal body clearly show that either they are utterly blinded with devliish pride, or else that they are profane people, void of all religion and piety. As for us, let us note (what I touched on before) that God has elected us that we should be blameless, but that we are not able to be so till we are fully rid of all our infirmities and departed out of this prison of sin in which we are now held fast. [Rom. 7:24] And, therefore, when we feel any vices in us, let us fight bravely against them, and let us not be downhearted as though we were not God's children because we are not yet faultless before him, and our sins, which make us blameworthy, are always before our eyes...

You see then, that our place of refuge and succour is God's mercy by which he covers and buries all our sins, because we have not yet attained to the mark to which he calls, that is, to a holy and faultless life. But, be that as it may, let us still go forward and take good heed that we do not get enticed from the right way." (pp. 37-38, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
Finding the middle way - hatred of our sin, tears of recognition of our unworthiness before God, striving for holiness in all things, assurance of our acceptance before Him - requires faith and trust, and a resting in the assurance that can only be obtained as we consider ourselves in Christ. If our salvation depends on us, we are the most to be pitied. If instead we recognize that God has elected us of His free grace, and has accounted us righteous because of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, how LOUD must our praises of God be! How glorious is this God! Praise Him, all ye lands, praise Him!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

0 Divine Election and Knowing God

Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians are an absolute gem of exposition, and if you can get your hands on a copy do so. It is a great blessing to read (and by extension, hear) the word preached by this most able expositor - and to see how the man clearly proclaimed the Word that we systematized in his Institutes of the Christian Religion* and his Commentaries**. There is a different approach in his sermons, as you might expect - and the sermons together with his Commentaries, the Institutes and his other writings fully and faithfully flesh out the sound theology we associate with Calvin and the Reformed faith.

In Calvin's exposition of Ephesians 1:3-4, Calvin makes a very interesting (and sobering) point. The exaltation of God's grace, the honoring of His glory, and the knowledge and praise of His Name are incomplete - even impossible - if the doctrine of His Sovereign Election is denied. One cannot worship God in truth if one embraces the error of denying His Election. This is a BIG deal - much of the church proclaims man's ultimate decision-making authority, or that God, if He elects at all, elects based on "foreseen faith" in the individual (thus making the individual the agent of record, as Calvin teaches it, and God merely an instrument to record the agent's choice). God must reign supreme in salvation, as Calvin argues, if He is to reign at all in truth in the hearts of men.

A few selections from his wonderful exposition of this passage help to illustrate his teaching on this point:
"And now St. Paul brings us to the origin and source, or rather to the principal cause that moved God to take us into his favour. For it is not enough that God has revealed the treasures of his goodness and mercy to us to draw us to the hope of the heavenly life by the gospel - and yet that is very much. For had not St. Paul added that which we see now, it might have been surmised that God's grace is common to all men and that he offers it and presents it to all without exception, and, consequently, that it is in every man's power to receive it according to his own free will, by which means there would be some merit in us...But St. Paul, to exclude all merit on man's part and to show that all comes from God's pure goodness and grace, says that he has blessed us according to his election of us beforehand." (pp. 22-23, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
Paul's reasoning is clearly and faithfully laid out by Calvin here - without this caveat - without this statement wherein we hear clearly that God's purpose of blessing is in accord with his predestinating and electing grace - we might think that somehow we have made the call - taken the leap - effected the change - been the active agent of our own salvation, or somehow merited it. Paul says, and Calvin echoes that, indeed, this is NOT the case - that God's blessing of His people is an act of HIS free grace, according to HIS electing purpose prior to the foundation of the world. Paul in Romans 9:11-12 makes illustration of this predestinating choice on God's part through the story of Jacob and Esau, who were distinguished in God's eyes before they could do either good or evil.

This is a hard doctrine for us to accept - and impossible, indeed, without God's Holy Spirit opening our eyes to the truth - for as natural men we would reject this out of hand - but if we are to understand at all the doctrine of salvation as Scripture provides it, we must hear God's voice speaking clearly about election. Calvin continues:
"In short, we have to note here that we shall never know where our salvation comes from till we have lifted up our minds to God's eternal counsel by which he has chosen whom he pleased and left the remainder in their confusion and ruin. Now then it is no marvel that some men think this doctrine to be strange and hard, for it does not fit at all with man's natural understanding.... let us also remember that in our own understanding we must not measure God by our own yardstick, and that it is too excessive a presumption to impose law upon God so that it would not be lawful for him to do anything but that which we could conceive and which might seem just in our eyes. The matter here, therefore, concerns the reverencing of God's secrets which are incomprehensible to us, and unless we do so we shall never taste the principles of faith. For we know that our wisdom ought always to begin with humility, and this humility imports that we must not come weighing God's judgments in our own balances or take it upon ourselves to be judges and arbiters of them." (pp. 23-24, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
We must accept God at His word - and His word can't get much clearer on the origination point of salvation of men than Paul's opening words in Ephesians.

Later, as if by making the above points it wasn't already clear that God, if we are to know God at all, and worship Him aright, must be praised as the God of electing grace, Calvin makes the point very explicit:
"...more reasons that this doctrine must of necessity be preached, and that we reap such great profit from it that it had been much better if we had never been born than to be ignorant of what St. Paul shows us here. For there are two things at which we must chiefly aim and to which it is fitting for us to apply all our studies and endeavors, and they are the very sum of all the things God teaches us by the holy Scripture. The one is the magnifying of God as he deserves, and the other is the assurance of our salvation, so that we may call on him as our Father with full liberty. [Rom. 8:15]. If we do not have these two things, woe to us, for there is neither faith nor religion in us. We may talk well of God, but it will be falsehood." (p. 26, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
How do we magnify God as He deserves? By calling upon Him and proclaiming Him as completely Sovereign in all things, and as the God who elects, saves and glorifies all whom He sees fit to. How do we call upon Him in assurance of faith? By trusting indeed that He in His electing purposes in Christ does not fail. Failing this, do we really know God or practice the Christian faith? Calvin's answer is quite stark, and hard to deny.

When we recognize the full sovereignty of God in all things - and most supremely in salvation, we are able to honor Him as God, and take Him at His word... and acknowledge Him as our only authority. Short of that, I tremble to say.

*While we normally quote from the 1559 edition of the Institutes, earlier editions are instructive in their own way - most recently there has been released a translation of the 1541 French edition, which offers an earlier and less fully expounded system of Calvin's thought - but a very useful addition to the library of any who'd like to see the development of Calvin's doctrinal system. Sample pages from that edition are available for download here. The older translation by Ford Lewis Battles of the original 1536 Latin edition are also available for purchase here.

** Note the version of the Commentaries listed in that link (also here) include the whole of Calvin's published commentaries AND the Henry Beveridge edition of the Institutes (which you can get separately here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

1 The Simplicity and Difficulty of Preaching

I have been reading John Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians as I mull over the text of the letter and plan out my teaching of Sunday School at our church - and continue to be impressed with the ease with which Calvin makes profound and important statements. His sermons on Ephesians will make several appearances here on In Principio Deus, as I'm teaching throughout the Fall (and perhaps the year) on this epistle.

One thing struck me immediately in his first sermon (on Ephesians 1:1-3) that I thought worthy of sharing. Calvin writes this, discussing the authority of God and the connection to those that would preach and teach His Word:
"It has always been God's will to keep the guiding of his own church to himself, and that his Word should be received without contradiction. He has not given that privilege to any creature. And when Jesus Christ is ordained in the place of God the Father, it is because he is God manifested in the flesh, and the infallible truth itself, and his wisdom which was before all time. [1 Tim. 3:16].

Furthermore, when men speak they must not do it in their own name, nor put forward anything of their own fancy and brain, but they must faithfully set forth the thing that God has enjoined upon them and given them in charge. Thus you see why St. Paul uses this preface, as it were everywhere, that he is an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence he holds it as a settled principle that if any man introduces himself to speak in his own name, there is nothing but rashness in him, for he takes upon himself what belongs to God only." (pp. 8-9, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
If this doesn't leave the preacher or Bible teacher shaking in his boots, I don't know what will. How much must we pay attention to everything we say, and to be careful in every detail with what we teach, that we are not injecting our "own fancy" but speaking clearly the truth of God! Reminders of this truth are critical, and it is good to hear it again - and to be convicted again of the deep and abiding need for study and careful analysis of the texts one is preaching or teaching. How much is this neglected today!

This, too, it seems to me, to be a fantastic reminder of the solemnity with which we must approach the pulpit or the lectern. It's not a time for fun and games, nor is it a time to be cracking jokes... the precious Word of God is to be handled with care and severity - with humility and appropriate reverence. How short does so much of what passes for preaching fall compared to the standard that Calvin rightly proposes! It certainly gives me much pause to think carefully each time I prepare to stand before my classmembers or the congregation if I am called upon to preach as I was this past Lord's Day.

The importance of bearing carefully the Word of God must be understood... and we who teach and preach it must be concerned to "get out of the way", as it were, when we undertake our various roles with respect to its propagation. The Word must shine forth as gold, even though it is borne within cracked clay pots... let us not consider ourselves to be anything but that. We are not shiny new flawless pots, but those that have been rescued from the rubbish pile by God Himself; cracked vessels, transporting the precious Word. Let us humbly go forth, then, and proclaim Him faithfully.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

1 Upcoming Bibleworks 8 Reviews at In Principio Deus

In the coming months, look here for a series of reviews of BibleWorks 8, the latest edition of a fantastic software package for Biblical study and exegesis. The breadth of resources contained in this package is, from my point of view, astounding - and I am very pleased to be able to review this software for my readers here, and I thank the BibleWorks team for the opportunity. The new edition is packed with resources for in-depth study, particularly in the original languages - 190 Bible translations in 40 languages; 35 original language texts, and integrated morphology and analysis tools. The folks at BibleWorks have placed a premium on speed and utility of their software in terms of database searches and broad-based analysis of Scripture text. New tools included in this edition strengthen the already renowned capabilities of the BibleWorks platform. Look here for first impressions in the near future, and regular updates as I apply the software to my own teaching activities in my church.

Bibleworks can be obtained at these and other locations:

Westminster Seminary Bookstore
Christian Book Distributors

Monday, September 07, 2009

1 Special Edition of Office Hours, from Westminster Seminary California, Sept 8

Tomorrow, September 8, 2009, at 9AM PDT, Westminster Seminary California will be posting two new interviews as a special edition of Office Hours, their new podcast. This is a two-part special, aimed at those who are considering seminary and would like to hear more about Westminster Seminary California's programs. Part one of the program introduces people to three current students at WSC, while part two is an interview with their director of enrollment. If you are thinking about seminary or if you know someone who is, this episode of Office Hours will be helpful. You can subscribe to Office Hours in iTunes or via your RSS reader or you can listen online at the Office Hours website. Office Hours is free and a service of WSC.

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