Wednesday, August 26, 2009

0 Today's Egalitarianism vs. the Bride of Christ

I was thinking this morning, having seen a quotation from James Durham's Exposition of the Song of Solomon, about the picture of the church as the Bride of Christ. This word-picture that God has used in His Word is rich with application and can serve as a very helpful illustration of who Christ is for the church and how we relate to Him. Today, however, with egalitarianism running rampant, and exact equivalence postulated between men and women, much of the understanding of the brideship of the church with respect to her Husband is lost, or at least hard to extricate. Our culture is so far gone away from a good understanding of male-female relationships and marriage in particular that I suspect understanding the images God gives to us in this regard are obscured at best.

A couple of things struck me as I meditated upon this this morning on my walk to work. First, Christ is Head and Protector of His Bride. We are covenantally bound and have duties and responsibilities as well as blessings and benefits as the Bride of Christ. The relationship is sealed in covenant and eternally binding. As our covenant Head, Christ leads us -and we are to listen, to honor and to obey, and to love our Husband. Our Husband, at the same time, only commands what is good and right for us. There is NO inappropriateness, NO impropriety, NO command that Christ gives His Bride that does not benefit fully the Bride herself. As Head of His Bride, Christ leads perfectly - and it is Hers to obey Him in all things.

The modern view of marriage is nothing like this, for various reasons. Marriage has gone so far off its moorings that it's even hard to picture what the ideal marriage as taught in Scripture looks like... and I think we often import our wrong understanding of marriage into our understanding of Christ's role as Head and Husband of the church, much to our detriment.

The bride and husband in marriage, today we say, are perfectly equal partners, with neither leading and neither following. They marry and stay married as long as love lasts. Each is seen as independent, and the chiefest virtue often seems to be that each one feels individually satisfied and affirmed, and "their own person". If these skewed views of marriage get imported into the picture of Christ as Husband and the church as Bride, then how FAR away from a Biblical understanding of the relationship between Christ and church will ensue!

Second, and this is the idea that surprised me somewhat - but I think it's valid - let's think a little about how Middle Eastern marriages functioned. In such marriages, brides didn't propose to their potential husbands, or pursue them as often they do today. It wasn't even an equal pursuit. one of another. Rather 1) the marriage was likely to be arranged by the father of the bridegroom and 2) the initiation and proposal was made by the groom.

If we look at marriage with 21st century postmodern eyes, as thoroughly egalitarian affairs, in which each of the marriage partners pursues the other, and, if love seems to last during ups and downs of intimate relationship building, then marriage might ensue... we won't understand what picture God draws in His word. Christ calls us - we don't call Him. Christ the Bridegroom calls to His Bride and beseeches her to be His. This isn't today's view of salvation. Can the world rightly understand the initiator in salvation if the world has rejected this view of marriage? How far do egalitarian social principles go to foment egalitarian principles of salvation, and thus destroy the understanding of the relationship of the believer to Christ?

The Father arranges the marriage by election. The ultimate cause of the marriage is the Father's election, not the whim of the bride. With the old picture of marriage abhorred and abominated by the world, how can the world understand the church's relationship to Christ, when that is the understanding of marriage that Christ and His Apostles were working with when illustrating the relationship by using the picture of marriage?

These aren't conclusive thoughts, I don't think, but I do wonder what our egalitarian view of the male-female relationship in the home (in marriage, really, but let's be realistic in today's society) has done to our understanding of who we are in Christ. It cannot be a net good impact.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

0 Flavel: The Temptation to Walk Among the Shadows

I was reading this morning from John Flavel's Practical Treatise of Fear, found in Volume 3 of the Complete Works of John Flavel, published by Banner of Truth, and found the following convicting statements. How pertinent and pithy his remarks are for us today. In this section, the author is challenging his hearers to walk plainly and uprightly despite the disadvantage (or rather the fears of disadvantage) that such an open and visible practice of their faith may bring them. His words are immediately applicable today, and indeed in any society or time.

Flavel writes,
"... so long as we can profess religion without any great hazard of life, liberty, or estates, we may shew much zeal and forwardness in the ways of godliness; but when it comes to the sharps, to resisting unto blood, few will be found to own and assert it openly in the face of such dangers." (p. 277, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
This of course is stating the case in extreme conditions - such as those faced by Flavel's hearers in the 1660's and 70's. However, what follows next is clearly and directly applicable to us and our society, wherein zealous pursuit of Biblical Christianity is in many ways frowned upon and judged as extremist practice:
"The first retreat is usually made from a free and open, to a close and concealed pursuit of religion; not opening our windows, as Daniel did, to shew we care not who knows we dare worship our God, and are not ashamed of our duties, but hiding our principles and practice with all the art and care imaginable, reckoning it well if we can escape danger by letting fall our profession which might expose us to it..." (p. 277, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
This "first retreat" is something to which I think we are quite subject today - and thanks be to God that there is no further danger than might cause us to retreat here to this first step. We at present face no danger, in general, to life and limb, or to personal security - as yet. However, even under the relatively light dangers of a bad reputation, or judgments about a lack of liberality of character, or under the accusations of personal offense when our practice of our Christianity causes unbelievers discomfort or to feel guilty, we are, I think, quite prone to this first retreat.

We want to be liked, so we hide our practice from onlookers. We do little more than bow our heads at table in the restaurant, rather than praying out loud but in soft voice appropriate to a public place. We make excuses rather than express the real reason we aren't planning to let our kids play on sports teams that participate on the Lord's Day. We fail to discuss the real reasons why we don't go to movies very often, making cost the issue, rather than the rampant sex and vulgarity and the assumption of wicked and evil worldviews that characterize nearly all of Hollywood's productions. We hide our faith from the onlooking world because we're not sufficiently steeled in the practice of a firm and zealous public profession. In this we fail our Lord, and show ourselves ashamed to be His. How easy it is to say through our actions things we do not believe, and which contradict the very faith we cling to as our only hope. I have found in my brief read through Flavel this morning plenty to think about, and to reassess as Christ molds and remakes me into His holy image.

I hope for you, wherever you are in this journey, and whatever challenges you face in your walk, that today's little snippet of a reminder has encouraged and exhorted you, whatever your particular needs might be.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

2 Marrow Theology: Our Natural Desire to be Justified by Works

One of the things that I think we are prone to, in our times in which God's Word has been fully revealed, and the purposes of the law made known to us more fully, is a prideful disdain for the Old Testament people of God who so often failed to recognize the purpose for which God re-presented the covenant of works at Sinai. We so readily look at those who missed the foundation of our holiness, the coming Messiah, and say in our hearts, "how could they have made that mistake?" We forget, in doing so, that we only know anything aright because of the revelation of God and the illumination of our hearts by God's Spirit. We neglect the great benefit of having the whole of God's Word given to us in our time.

In The Marrow of Modern Divinity, the author describes the chief difference between the covenant of grace as administered to the Old Testament people of God and that unto us as a difference of human construction. After having discussed the purpose of the republication of the covenant of works, Fisher turns his sights on this distinction, through his characters Antinomista and the pastor, Evangelista.
"Evangelista: Truly the opposition between the Jews' covenant of grace and ours was chiefly of their own making. They should have been drive to Christ by the law: but they expected life in obedience to it, and this was their great error and mistake.

Antinomista: And surely, sir, it is no great marvel, though they in this point did so much err and mistake, who had the covenant of grace made known to them so darkly; when many amongst us, who have it more clearly manifested, do the like.

Evangelista: And, truly, it is no marvel, though all men naturally do so: for man naturally doth apprehend God to be the great Master of heaven, and himself to be his servant; and that therefore he must do his work before he can have his wages; and the more work he doth, the better wages he shall have." (p. 34, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
The law of God, being written on the hearts of man, is present with us always. In fact it is thoroughly reasonable to expect it to be hard, this sense of law and of justice being part and parcel with us, for men to think otherwise than that their righteousness must be established by their conformity to "right and wrong". Even in today's postmodern age, it is clear to most and embraced silently by many that there are "rights" and "wrongs", stated or unstated, though the existence of those absolutes contradicts their stated worldview. Conformity to those "rights" and "wrongs" is even taken as a standard of "righteousness" by which they are judged morally "upright" in an absolute sense.

This points to the natural tendency that we have as human beings having God's law written on our hearts - the grace of the Gospel is foreign to us; justification by another's righteousness and a fully gracious declaration of our Sovereign is wholly outside our natural ability to understand. We err naturally in expecting that we will be acceptable based on our conformity to God's standard. When God's Law was presented at Sinai, the natural tendency was to read it as being presented as a covenant by which justification unto life was granted, and presented as supplanting the promise. Fisher continues,
"the general opinion of men's reason throughout the whole world, that righteousness is gotten by the works of the law; and the reason is, because the covenant was engendered in the minds of men in the very creation, so that man naturally can judge no otherwise of the law than as of a covenant of works, which was given to make righteous, and to give life and salvation. This pernicious opinion of the law, that it justifieth and maketh righteous before God, says Luther again, "is so deeply rooted in man's reason, and all mankind so wrapped in it, that they can hardly get out; yea, I myself, says he, have now preached the gospel nearly twenty years, and have been exercised in the same daily, by reading and writing, so that I may well seem to be rid of this wicked opinion; yet, notwithstanding, I now and then feel this old filth cleave to my heart, whereby it cometh to pass that I would willingly have so to do with God, that I would bring something with myself, because of which he should give me his grace." " (p. 85-86, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
This natural tendency is a universal characteristic of men - from the days of Moses, and of the apostles - and of Luther, and Fisher - to today. Many, many were then and are now persuaded of their acceptance before God being dependent upon and measured by their conformity to the law. This being our tendency as humans, is understandable; though understandable, it is nevertheless a pernicious error.
"Antinomista: Sir, I am verily persuaded, that there be very many in the city of London that are carried with a blind preposterous zeal after their own good works and well-doings, secretly seeking to become holy, just, and righteous, before God, by their diligent keeping, and careful walking in all God's commandments; and yet no man can persuade them that they do so: and truly, sir, I am verily persuaded that this our neighbour and friend, Nomista, is one of them.

Evangelista: Alas! there are thousands in the world that make a Christ of their works; and here is their undoing, &c. They look for righteousness and acceptation more in the precept than in the promise, in the law than in the gospel, in working than in believing; and so miscarry. Many poor ignorant souls amongst us, when we bid them obey and do duties, they can think of nothing but working themselves to life; when they are troubled, they must lick themselves whole, when wounded, they must run to the salve of duties, and stream of performances, and neglect Christ. Nay, it is to be feared that there be divers who in words are able to distinguish between the law and gospel, and in their judgments hold and maintain, that man is justified by faith without the works of the law; and yet in effect and practice, that is to say, in heart and conscience, do otherwise. And there is some touch of this in us all; otherwise we should not be so up and down in our comforts and believing as we are still, and cast down with every weakness as we are." (pp. 86-87, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
So effectual is our natural tendency that we often forget the dictum given us by the Apostle Paul - Christ is the end of the law to those that believe. Christ's righteousness, and his alone, qualifies. Even as it is theoretically possible for any who absolutely is conformed to the Law of God to be declared righteous in God's eyes - no man has ever or will be so conformed (apart from Christ) both because of the weakness of the flesh we inherit naturally from Adam, and because of the condemnation we share in him already as his covenant posterity. We lie guilty under the law from the start - and even if we should perfectly live subsequently, we are already condemned.

But like dogs, we return to our vomit and seek to justify ourselves, fooling ourselves, deceiving each other. The truth of the Gospel must ever be before us. Enemies of Gospel truth must always be withstood, even in the same way as Paul withstood Peter to his face when Peter had succumbed to the pressure of the Judaizers of his day. Let us beware of the leaven that seeks to undo what Christ has done perfectly, and what Christ alone can grant.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

0 Bayne on Ephesians: The Fruit of Faith

I was reading again this morning from Paul Bayne's exposition of Ephesians, published by Tentmaker, and was struck by a passage in which the author comments on the meaning of Paul's addressing "the saints who are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus". The Apostle here unites the concepts of "saint" (i.e. one set apart, holy) with "faithful in Christ" (i.e. those who are trusting in Him, united by faith) Bayne in his commentary, notes:
"Observe, then, that he calleth those saints whom here he describeth to be faithful ones in Christ; that is, faithful ones who are through faith united with Christ, so that he dwelleth in them and they in him... Observe then who are the true saints, viz. all who by faith are in Christ Jesus. Saints and faithful ones are carried as indifferent with the apostle, Col. i.2 and elsewhere. For though the formal effect of faith be not to sanctify, whence we are denominated saints, but to jnstify, whence we are called righteous, through forgiveness of sin and adoption unto life, yet faith effectually produceth our sanctification, whereupon we have the name of saints. Three things go to this: 1, the purifying of the heart; 2, the profession outward of holiness; 8, holy conversation." (p. 8)
The root, Bayne says, is faith - that is what unites to Christ - and in the uniting comes the fruit, as the result of Christ's dwelling within. This distinction is critical - it is not the outward that unites to Christ, but the outward which shows and confirms the inward state of the heart. He who is united to Christ CANNOT continue in the way in which he once walked, unconcerned about Him and His ways. If our profession is that we are in Christ, then the truth of that profession can be gleaned by a changed life - not a perfect life, by any means, but one which is qualitatively different, and growing. Bayne continues,
"If you have learned Christ·as the truth is in..him, you have so learned him as to put off the old man and to put on the new. Faith worketh by love, even as a tree hath both his leaf and fruit. And as if a tree should be changed from one kind to another, the leaves and fruit should likewise be changed; as if a pear tree should be made an apple tree, it would have leaves and fruits agreeing to the change made in it; so man by faith having his heart purified, made a tree of righteousness, he hath his leaves and fruit; leaves of profession, fruit of action. So as sin a man, as a new tree set into and growing out of Christ, beareth a new fruit: he converseth in holiness and newness of life. Thus you see how those that are faithful are also saints, because by faith their heart is purified, their profession and conversation are sanctified; wherefore such believers who are mockers of saints, who will not be accounted saint holy, and such who are not changed into new creatures, walking in newness of life, they may well fear that their belief is not true, such as doth unite them with Christ; for whosoever is a true believer is a saint, whosoever is by faith in Christ is a new creature. We would be loath to take a slip or be deceived with false commodities in a twelve ponnd matter; let us be here no less diligent, that we take not an ungrounded, fruitless profession for a true faith, which resteth on God's word, made known, and is effectual to the sanctifying of the believer." (p. 9)
The characteristic fruit of the believer is a growing fruit of righteousness - not perfection, for no man is perfect, save Christ. One reason, I think, why people dislike the name "saint" for those who profess Christ, is because they believe somehow that "saint" implies a prideful attachment to assumed perfection in one's life. We don't want to associate ourselves with something that doesnt' describe our current state of sanctification.... but indeed, "saint" is appropriate, for we are justified in Christ - and we are in Him, and because we are in Him we are growing, if slowly, haltingly, imperfectly. We should grasp hold of the name "saint", because it is not WE who make ourselves so, but Christ!

Eschewing that name, I think, gives us an excuse - an excuse to be lazy, to pay no regard to sin in our lives, to make no effort to cleanse our conversation (meant in the old Puritan way of conversation - the entirety of the Christian walk), because we know this side of glory we shall not be perfect. We are so prone be lazy - so prone to wander - so prone NOT to want to do the hard heart-work Scripture calls us to.

On the other hand, grasping that name and identity, and recognizing who we are in Christ, I believe, is supreme motive to walk in our Saviour's footsteps and seek renovation of heart and life, for we know it pleases the Lord who died for us and the Father who renews us by His spirit daily. Grasping that name and identity, we readily turn to the Word of God for meat and drink. Grasping that name and identity, we humbly admit our failings and confess them before our God and Father. If the Word is our meat and drink, if confession and repentance are ready upon our hearts and lips, and if we know in Whom we believe... that fruit will come. Christ has guaranteed it. The Apostle has encouraged us by it. The most High God will be vindicated through it all as the world sees Christ's sheep sanctified and being sanctified by His Spirit's work in them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

1 Images of Christ: Hyde and Durham

Several months back, I got a copy of Danny Hyde's excellent new book that concerns images of Jesus Christ, In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace, and have since found it a wonderfully edifying and clear exposition of an almost totally-forgotten doctrine. How many of us who grew up in evangelical Christian homes in the 70's did NOT have what I lovingly call the "Jesus Christ senior portrait" on their parents bedroom wall or Dad's study? Like them, so did I. Churches, too, got into the act, and many had (and still have!) them in their sancutaries and fellowship hall. Who ever would have thought that images of Christ were inappropriate or idolatrous? It is sad to say that none did, and I certainly had no different ideas until I began learning Reformed thought in the early 90's in suburban Chicago in the PCA. It was there I came into contact with the Westminster Standards and came to a rapid conviction that images of Christ (and the Godhead in general) were right out. Convincing others of that fact, though, has been nearly impossible - this is where Hyde's book is most helpful. He traces the Bible's teaching on images, what he calls "Man's Media", and then follows up with "God's Media" - that is, preaching of the Holy Word of God, and the proper administration of the sacraments. These are the means of "imaging" Christ that God has ordained - and no more.

After reading this work, which I trust will be a welcome resource for any who have to deal with this question in their families or churches, I decided to pull out another excellent resource - James Durham's Exposition of the Ten Commandments, and check again his remarks on the 2nd commandment. They are extremely helpful, and I offer a couple here.

Durham is careful to delineate the issues concerning images and their prohibition in the 2nd commandment - which images are forbidden, and which are allowable. He argues clearly that many images are most certainly allowed under the 2nd commandment - that two things are primarily in view:
"Though making of images simply is not unlawful and discharged by this commandment, yet thereby every representation of God (who is the Object to be worshipped) and every image religiously made use of in worship [emphasis in the original] is condemned... (1) Because such images cannot but beget carnal thoughts of God (as Acts 1:7, 29), contrary to his commandment. (2) Because God discovered hijmself (Deut. 4:15-16, etc.) by no likeness, but only by his Word, that they might have no ground of likening him to anything. (3) Because it is impossible to get a bodily likeness to set him out by, who is a Spirit and an infinite Spirit. So then, every such image must be derogatory to God, as turning the glory of the invisible God to the shape of some visible and corruptible creature; which is condemned (Rom. 1:22-23), for every image supposes some likeness." (p. 95)
Images of God - in general - Durham says, are forbidden. This he says flatly - but then goes on to describe images of Jesus Christ and why they are forbidden as well, despite what seem to be arguments made in his day that resemble those made in ours. Durham writes that all images purporting to portray God in any way or in any of his persons are condemned:
"All representing of the persons as distinct, as to set out the Father (personally considered) by the image of an old man, as if he were a creature, the Son under the image of a lamb or young man; the Holy Ghost under the image of a dove: all which wrongs the Godhead exceedingly. Andalthough the Son was, and is man, having taken on him that nature, and united it to his Godhead, yet he is not a mere man. Therefore that image, which holds forth one nature, and looks like any man in the world, cannot be the representation of that person which is God and Man." (p. 95)
That is as succinct an explanation as can be given.. images of Christ are simply wrong, because they either divide the humanity of Christ from his Divinity, or they seek to portray his Divinity as the second person of the Triune God. Each is condemned. Durham writes further, stating that the existence of such an image also has problems - even if it is accepted as "Christ's portraiture."
"...shall that be called Christ's portraiture? Would that be called any other man's portraiture, which were drawn at men's pleasure, without regard to the pattern? Again, there is no use of it. For either that image behooved to have but common estimation with other images, and that would wrong Christ; or a peculiar respect and reverence, and so it sins against this commandment that forbids all religous reverence to images. But he being God, and so the Object of worship, we must either divide his natures, or say that the image or picture does not represent Christ." (p. 96)
Many times I hear people argue (not dealing with the above objections, which are outside the thoughts of most, I suspect) that images of Christ (and even indeed of God the Father) are fine as long as they don't bow down to worship them as such. Even so, as many of them will admit, such images draw them into reverential thoughts and private worship of Christ, as an image of Christ (were it legitimate and allowable) ought to, as Durham wrote above.

This second objection misses the point.. worship of images does not require the worshipper to be caught in the thought that the image itself IS a god of some sort... even worship of the true and living God, if images are used to direct the thoughts, or as aids in his worship, is strictly forbidden by this commandment. Durham swiftly gets rid of this objection by 1) remarking that if the image itself is worshipped as though it properly were a god, then that would not be a breaking of the second commandment, but the first!
"The first was more gross, when worship was given to the image, as being some godhead of itself. Thus some think the images of Baal, Ashtaroth, etc., and particular images, that have special names, were worshipped. Thus are men said properly to worship the works of their hands. This is against the first commandment." (p. 97)
Rather, Durham argues, the issue concerning worship of the true and living God (separately considered, or considered in His Trinity) through images is forbidden. Worship that is well directed, but practiced contrary to God's commandment is simply forbidden - much of Durham's exposition of the second commandment, in fact, is directed at this score in general. Durham remarks,
"There was a worshipping of images as representing God, and so the worship was gone about as part of service done to the true God; such was (in conformity to the heathen's practice) the worship given to the calf (Ex. 32:1-7), and such were the groves and sacrificings in the high places (2 Chron. 33:17)....this may be made to appear from the command where the Lord forbids not only the worship of idols, but of himself by images (Deut. 12:31). Thou shalt not do so to the Lord thy God. That is, 'Thou shalt not worship me by images, as the heathen do their gods.' And therefore this is not only possible, but is also, and that most certainly, a grievous guilt." (pp. 99-101)
Images of the Godhead - whether for the express purpose of worshipping Him, or for the mere possession of them (which, because they excite devotion, and a worshipful frame in the believer, are no different than the first case) - are quite clearly condemned in Scripture. Hyde and Durham, two men 400 years apart, treat the subject differently, but with the same conclusion. Let us worship God aright and take care, however unpopular, to obey Him in ALL that he commands.

0 Calvin Sermons on Genesis 1-11

Lest you missed the announcement earlier this year, I'll repeat it - this is a great volume, as most volumes of Calvin's sermons are. As a friend told me at the start of the year when everyone (including me) was itching to blog through Calvin's Institutes, "much of Calvin's really best stuff isn't in the Institutes," and from reading his Tracts and Treatises (a gold mine!) I know this to be very true. Calvin is often at his best when addressing particular problems, whether in polemical or pastoral fashion. Calvin's sermons contain some of his most excellent writing and careful exposition. This new volume is well worth the pricetag, and treats of exceedingly important foundational material for understanding God's dealings with the world.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: Republication of the Covenant of Works, part III

One of the important points that Edward Fisher makes in The Marrow of Modern Divinity is that the presentation of the Law made at Sinai was in fact in substance the same Covenant as existed in the pristine Garden, prior to Adam's Fall. He has made the point, as I've noted in previous posts in this short series, that the reason for God's re-presentation (or re-publication) of the Covenant of Works was not to muddy the waters and confuse the people, but to show them directly to what Covenant they already were obligated - to present to them exactly what righteousness God requires of man: a perfect conformity in thought, word and deed to that Law. This presentation has (at least) two impacts - one, to drive man entirely to the mercy of God in Christ (in the Sinaitic context, to the coming Seed) because of the immediate clarity with which one sees one's own sin when confronted with the Law of God, and two, to magnify and glorify the Son of God. Christ perfectly satisfied that which God required (and, even after the Fall, STILL requires of man), and through the republication of the Covenant of Works at Sinai we are clearly shown the glory of the God-Man by way of reminder of what God requires.

One of the important things the republication shows us is that Adam's breaking of the Covenant of Works does NOT imply in any sense that somehow man no longer has to measure up to that standard. The republication shows clearly that in fact all men MUST have that righteousness required of Adam. The glorious Covenants of Grace and Redemption, in which context the Covenant of Works was republished, give forth the truth that man CAN by substitutionary atonement of God's ordained Lamb in fact satisfy these standards to which every man is beholden still, even in the wake of Adam's fall.

Now that I've let the cat wholly out of the bag, let's pick up Fisher's text on these points. Fisher argues that the law covenant presented at Sinai was not some appending of rules and regulations to the Covenant of Grace, but in fact was a re-presentation of the same covenant of works God laid upon Adam:
"Antinomista: And, sir, did the law produce this effect in them? [to make them sigh and long for the promised Redeemer - TKP]

Evangelista: Yea, indeed, it did; as will appear, if you consider, that although, before the publishing of this covenant, they were exceeding proud and confident of their own strength to do all that the Lord would have them do; yet when the Lord came to deal with them as men under the covenant of works, in showing himself a terrible judge sitting on the throne of justice, like a mountain burning with fire, summoning them to come before him by the sound of a trumpet, [yet not to touch the mountain without a mediator,] (Heb 12:19,20), they were not able to endure the voice of words, nor yet to abide that which was commanded, insomuch, as Moses himself did fear and quake; and they did all of them so fear, and shake, and shiver, that their peacock feathers were now pulled down. This terrible show wherein God gave his law on Mount Sinai, says Luther, did represent the use of the law: there was in the people of Israel that came out of Egypt a singular holiness; they gloried and said, "We are the people of God; we will do all that the Lord commandeth.
...
Thus you see, when the Lord had, by means of the covenant of works made with Adam, humbled them, and made them sigh for Christ the promised Seed, he renewed the promise with them, yea, and the covenant of grace made with Abraham." (pp. 65-67, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Fisher plainly says - this covenant of law IS not merely a statement of rules - but in fact is a presentation anew of the Covenant of Works - the real deal, as it were, showing God's clear expectations upon man if he is to be acceptable before Almighty God. Without that re-publication it may not necessarily be clear to us that in fact that righteousness is still required of us! At this point, Thomas Boston adds an important footnote:
"Making a promise of Christ to them, not only as "the seed of the woman," but as "the seed of Abraham," and yet more particularly, as "the seed of Israel: the Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet, from the midst of THEE, of THY BRETHREN," (Deut 18:15). And here it is to be observed, that this renewing of the promise and covenant of grace with them was immediately upon the back of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, for at that time was their speech which the Lord commended as well spoken: this appears from Exodus 20:18,19, compared with Deuteronomy 5:23-28, and upon that speech of theirs was that renewal made, which is clear from Deuteronomy 18:17,18." (footnote, p. 67, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
The purpose, then of this re-presentation is made clear.... to magnify the glory of Christ, AND, I might add, to magnify the wonder and glory of the Covenants of Redemption and Grace! Without this backdrop, it seems to me, the grace of God doesn't quite stand out in such stark relief. God through Moses gave immediate and clear reminder of what God requires of man - and with immediate clarity man sees that, as Isaiah says in chapter 6 of his prophecy, "I AM UNDONE!" What glorious grace shines forth at this moment as the Promised Seed, the Lamb, Christ Jesus is then brought to mind on the heels of the reminder of our unworthiness!

We are reminded later in this work again that Christ was born under the Law - and satisfied it, and that in this the Covenant of Grace is intimately tied in with the Covenant of Works. Again, Fisher:
"Antinomista: But, sir, was the form quite taken away, so as the ten commandments were no more the covenant of works?

Evangelista: Oh no! you are not so to understand it. For the form of the covenant of works, as well as the matter, [on God's part,] came immediately from God himself, and so consequently it is eternal, like himself; whence it is that our Saviour says, (Matt 5:18), "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no ways pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." So that either man himself, or some other for him, must perform or fulfill the condition of the law, as it is the covenant of works, or else he remains still under it in a damnable condition: but now Christ hath fulfilled it for all believers; and therefore, I said, the form of the covenant of works was covered or taken away, as touching the believing Jews; but yet it was neither taken away in itself, nor yet as touching the unbelieving Jews." (p. 74, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)

The glory of Christ shines most brightly when we see that He alone satisfied that which is incumbent upon all man from Adam's creation... perfect holiness, righteousness, conformity to the Will of God. That righteousness without which no man shall see the Lord, that which is incumbent upon all because of the requirements placed upon man in the Covenant of Works, and re-presented at Sinai, IS GRANTED, AND (I cannot emphasize this strongly enough) IS REALLY OURS THROUGH CHRIST. The measure of righteousness has been laid out clearly. The impossibility of our satisfying it (one because of Adam as our head falling, and two because of the organic weakness to obey the Law that all have, also stemming from Adam's fall) is clear and highlights Christ's glory for us.

Praise be to the Lord on High that He has accepted us in the beloved Son and accounted to us that righteousness He requires. Does this not make your heart exult in God's Work? Let us praise Him with every fiber of our being!








Monday, August 17, 2009

0 Office Hours: A New Podcast at Westminster Seminary California


Starting today at Westminster Seminary, California, is a new monthly podcast, Office Hours. Each month in the academic year they will release a new show featuring, for the first season, an interview with one of the WSC faculty. I'd strongly encourage you to subscribe to the program podcast, as I am certain it'll be both informative and a blessing as you hear from these men of faith.

Today marks the release of the 15-minute preview show, followed on August 31 by the release of the first two programs. The first, involves the President of WSC, Robert Godfrey - and the second one is with a good friend of mine and my wife's from our days together in the Chicago area, Julius Kim, who is Associate Professor of Practical Theology at WSC. Both will be interviewed by Professor of Historical Theology and Church History, R. Scott Clark. Godfrey, Kim and Clark are pictured at left, center and right, below.





To encourage people to subscribe and to listen the program will be giving away five gift packages (books by Horton, Godfrey, and Stonehouse, conference passes, and audio) during season one. Instructions for how to participate are in the preview show and on the website linked above.

Here's the web link: http://www.wscal.edu/officehours

The contact email for the program is: officehours@wscal.edu

Listeners cans subscribe to Office Hours on iTunes and via our website


Sunday, August 09, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: Republication of the Covenant of Works, part II

The author, Edward Fisher, and the commenter, Thomas Boston, in The Marrow of Modern Divinity lay out carefully the doctrine concerning the relationships between the Covenant of Works, of Grace and of Redemption and the Sinaitic covenant. Central to their thesis is the doctrine of republication of the Covenant of Works - not as a covenant unto life, as Boston writes in the footnotes to this work, but for the purpose of showing believers their absolute inadequacy in establishing their own righteousness. This teaching has much to recommend it, and Boston and Fisher do an excellent job of explaining what republication means, and what it does NOT mean.

One thing that is exceedingly important, and which Fisher takes pains to make clear through several illustrations, is that the covenant of works republished is NOT meant to replace or make more complete the covenant of grace. There is no annulment of the promise to Abraham, by which the covenant of grace is very clearly illustrated, as is clear from Galatians 3:17 - "The covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was 430 years after, cannot disannul." There is no fault in the covenant of grace, such that the republication of the covenant of works was needed to satisfy. The purpose of the republication, it seemed, was pedagogical -
"But it was added by way of subserviency and attendance, the better to advance and make effectual the covenant of grace; so that although the same covenant that was made with Adam was renewed on Mount Sinai, yet I say still, it was not for the same purpose. For this was it that God aimed at, in making the covenant of works with man in innocency, to have that which was his due from man: but God made it with the Israelites for no other end, than that man, being thereby convinced of his weakness, might flee to Christ. So that it was renewed only to help forward and introduce another and a better covenant; and so to be a manuduction unto Christ, viz: to discover sin, to waken the conscience, and to convince them of their own impotency, and so drive them out of themselves to Christ. Know it then, I beseech you, that all this while there was no other way of life given, either in whole, or in part, than the covenant of grace. All this while God did but pursue the design of his own grace; and, therefore, was there no inconsistency either in God's will or acts; only such was his mercy, that he subordinated the covenant of works, and made it subservient to the covenant of grace, and so to tend to evangelical purposes." (p. 63, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
The Sinaitic covenant involved the republication of the covenant of works - "not for the same purpose", Fisher says. Indeed, life was promised in this republication to those who perfectly upheld its conditions, namely perfect obedience in every particular. This hadn't changed - life WOULD be granted to any who satisfied its conditions. "Do this and you shall live" was still a valid statement. It was, as Fisher writes, "the covenant of works made with Adam" (p. 67) - though such fulfillment on the basis of any human attainment, after the fall, was impossible. As Fisher continues,
"...and if any man could yield perfect obedience to the law, both in doing and suffering, he should have eternal life; for we may not deny [says Calvin] but that the reward of eternal salvation belongeth to the upright obedience of the law. But God knew well enough that the Israelites were never able to yield such an obedience: and yet he saw it meet to propound eternal life to them upon these terms; that so he might speak to them in their own humour, as indeed it was meet: for they swelled with mad assurance in themselves, saying, "All that the Lord commandeth we will do," and be obedient, (Exo 19:8). Well, said the Lord, if you will needs be doing, why here is a law to be kept; and if you can fully observe the righteousness of it, you shall be saved: sending them of purpose to the law, to awaken and convince them, to sentence and humble them, and to make them see their own folly in seeking for life that way; in short, to make them see the terms under which they stood, that so they might be brought out of themselves, and expect nothing from the law, in relation to life, but all from Christ." (p. 64, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Again, as I noted last time, this propounding of life upon the terms of perfect coherence with God's Law serves the noble purpose of showing the impossibility of its achievement, and the absolute necessity of resting in another, the one and only man who ever did in fact keep those terms. "How shall a man see his need of life by Christ," Fisher writes, "if he do not first see that he is fallen from the way of life?" (p. 64)

How, today, is any to understand their need for Christ if they are not clearly brought face to face with the fact of their inability to satisfy God's requirements and fulfill the righteousness that He demands? The Psalmist clearly marks as acceptable him whose hands are clean, and him alone in Psalm 24:3-5:
"3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?

4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."

How many such are there among us? One, only one... and for His righteousness we must sigh, for it is His righteousness alone in which we are accepted. The republication of the covenant of works has the purpose of humbling proud sinners like me, and bringing us to recognize our deep and abiding need to be found in the promised Seed of Abraham, Him being our only hope.

There is nothing strange, nothing radical in this doctrine of republication that should be of concern to the confessionally reformed believer. It seems quite clear, at least in the presentation made in The Marrow of Modern Divinity, that what it entails is little different than Calvin's first use of the Law - to act as a goad and prod for stubborn sinners to see their need of Christ. I am thankful, ever thankful, that the Lord did place this republication in the clear context of the covenant of grace... that Christ is upheld in His righteousness so clearly through His obedience to the Law delivered at Sinai is critical for us to see. He satisfied in every particular the Law of God. He IS our righteousness. Thanks be to God for His marvelous grace and for His perfect Word through which we learn so clearly of His perfect redemption of His elect people.

Friday, August 07, 2009

1 Marrow Theology: Republication of the Covenant of Works, part I

After the discussion in The Marrow of Modern Divinity concerning the pre-fall Covenant of Works between God and Adam, Fisher (and Boston) take time to discuss the Sinaitic covenant in relation to the Covenant of Grace. Much can be written here, and has been - a recent work, The Law is Not of Faith deals explicitly with this idea and the concept of the Republication of the Covenant of Works in the Sinaitic Covenant - an old idea that goes back at least as far as The Marrow and the Westminster Era, and is widely found among Reformed and Puritan authors throughout the 17th century. Several of the Westminster divines held to this idea in various forms, so it's not as though the teaching arose with Meredith Kline, et al., as some have charged (and as Scott Clark has mentioned in his posts on the subject).

The doctrine of republication of the Covenant of Works at Sinai should not be taken as an indication that somehow Israel was under a Covenant of Works for salvation, though it is sometimes, by various parties, derided as such. That would be a gross misapprehension - and Fisher, and Boston through his footnotes in The Marrow, argue this quite emphatically.
"Nomista: But, sir, were the children of Israel at this time better able to perform the condition of the covenant of works, than either Adam or any of the old patriarchs were, that God renewed it now with them, rather than before?

Evangelista: No, indeed; God did not renew it with them now, and not before, because they were better able to keep it, but because they had more need to be made acquainted what the covenant of works is, than those before... So that you see the Lord's intention therein was, that they, by looking upon this covenant might be put in mind what was their duty of old, when they were in Adam's loins; yea, and what was their duty still, if they would stand to that covenant, and so go the old and natural way to work; yea, and hereby they were also to see what was their present infirmity in not doing their duty: that so they seeing an impossibility of obtaining life by that way of works, first appointed in paradise, they might be humbled, and more heedfully mind the promise made to their father Abraham, and hasten to lay hold on the Messiah, or promised seed.

Nomista: Then, sir, it seems that the Lord did not renew the covenant of works with them, to the intent that they should obtain eternal life by their yielding obedience to it?

Evangelista: No, indeed; God never made the covenant of works with any man since the fall, either with expectation that he should fulfil it, or to give him life by it; for God never appoints any thing to an end, to the which it is utterly unsuitable and improper. Now the law, as it is the covenant of works, is become weak and unprofitable to the purpose of salvation; and, therefore, God never appointed it to man, since the fall, to that end. And besides, it is manifest that the purpose of God, in the covenant made with Abraham, was to give life and salvation by grace and promise; and, therefore, his purpose in renewing the covenant of works, was not, neither could be, to give life and salvation by working; for then there would have been contradictions in the covenants, and instability in him that made them. Wherefore let no man imagine that God published the covenant of works on Mount Sinai, as though he had been mutable, and so changed his determination in that covenant made with Abraham; neither, yet let any man suppose, that God now in process of time had found out a better way for man's salvation than he knew before: for, as the covenant of grace made with Abraham had been needless, if the covenant of works made with Adam would have given him and his believing seed life; so, after the covenant of grace was once made, it was needless to renew the covenant of works, to the end that righteousness of life should be had by the observation of it. The which will yet more evidently appear, if we consider, that the apostle, speaking of the covenant of works as it was given on Mount Sinai, says, "It was added because of transgressions," (Gal 3:19). It was not set up as a solid rule of righteousness, as it was given to Adam in paradise, but was added or put to;* it was not set up as a thing in gross by itself." (pp. 61-63, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)

The footnote indicated at the * is an important restatement by Boston, in which he writes,
"It was not set up by itself as an entire rule of righteousness, to which alone they were to look who desired righteousness and salvation, as it was in the case of upright Adam, "For no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law," Lar. Cat. quest. 94. But it was added to the covenant of grace, that by looking at it men might see what kind of righteousness it is by which they can be justified in the sight of God; and that by means thereof, finding themselves destitute of that righteousness, they might be moved to embrace the covenant of grace, in which that righteousness is held forth to be received by faith. (p. 63, footnote, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
In no sense was the republication (or re-presentation) of the Covenant of Works at Sinai taken to be a replacement of the Abrahamic promise - the Covenant of Grace, whereby salvation was taught to us as being by grace through faith in Christ. The Sinai presentation of the Covenant of Works, rather, has much in common with Calvin's first use of the Law - for a good post on this topic, see Creed or Chaos here, and here. There is MUCH more to be said on the doctrine of republication as taught in the Marrow... but alas, it will have to wait til another time.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

2 Low Views of Christian Profession and Church Membership

I was reading this morning from Paul Bayne's exposition of Ephesians, as I am preparing to teach on the epistle in Sunday School this fall. I'm thankful for Tentmaker publications as one who has reprinted a number of valuable old commentaries by Puritans such as Bayne, Nicholas Byfield, etc., that are otherwise unavailable in recent printings.

In the introductory comments covering verse 1, Bayne examines the addressing of the letter as "to the saints which are at Ephesus", and comments,
"We see the vanity of many who think they are not tied so strictly as others, because they make not so forward profession. Warn them of an oath of wanton dissoluteness, they slip the collar with this, they are not of the precise brotherhood; yea, they allow themselves in that, for which they will be on the top of another, because they profess no such matter, as the other doth; but in this is their gross ignorance; ask them whether they will be members of the church, they answer yea. If thou wilt be a member of God's church, thou professest thyself a saint..." (p. 8, Paul Bayne, Ephesians)
The world (and increasingly the church) generally has a low view of what it means to profess Christ. Since to the world "going to church" is just something people want to do with an hour a week (or an hour once in a while when they need a spiritual 'pick-me-up'), professions of faith in Christ are not seen as terribly shocking things (when it should be). To claim the mantle of Christianity, particularly in this country, is to claim very little - in our culture to be known as one who goes to church is of little consequence, and little difference is expected in those who make such an admission.

The fact that the world errs in what it means to make a Christian profession is neither suprising, nor should it be particularly problematic for us - they will think whatever they will. The problem arises when we become content with the world having a low view of what it means in terms of what we expect of ourselves. When the church is content with people within its doors making "light" professions - professions of mere attachment and not wholesale devotion to Christ - we are in trouble. It's a major problem when we in the chruch are happy to be known as Christians as long as people identify our profession with a simple 'religious preference'. The moment it becomes known that we regard ourselves and the church as striving after holiness and newness of life, we become uncomfortable with our profession of faith in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, to profess Christ IS indeed to profess that you are striving after holiness of life, and aiming to walk as Christ did in this present darkness. We cannot be content with the worldly definitions of what it means to profess Christ, but constantly have recourse to what the Word of God says our profession means and must entail. The church isn't a social preference, or a weekly get-together... but it is the very body of Christ - association with which Christ Himself told us requires one to 'count the cost'. It isn't an idle thing.... but a serious undertaking. Are we prepared to face up to what our profession actually entails for our lives? Or are we willing to take our cues from the world?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: Geerhardus Vos on Garden Eschatology

Another voice on the question of Adam's covenantal relationship with God prior to the Fall comes from Geerhardus Vos, from his book The Eschatology of the Old Testament. He makes a very important point concerning eschatology in general that we often miss - and which is helpful in addressing the errors of the monocovenantal perspective.

Vos writes,
"It is not biblical to hold that eschatology is a sort of appendix to soteriology, a consummation of the saving work of God. Eschatology is not necessarily bound up with soteriology. So conceived, it does not take into account that a whole chapter of eschatology is written before sin. Thus it is not merely an omission to ignore the pre-redemptive eschatology; it is to place the sequel in the wrong place. There is an absolute end posited for the universe before and apart from sin. The universe, as created, was only a beginning, the meaning of which was not perpetuation, but attainment. " (p. 73, Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament)
In other words, when we append eschatology to soteriology - that is, when we make all eschatological pronouncements somehow active only in the era of redemption - then we miss the fact that God had placed something in Adam's view before he fell into sin. God promised something - something more than simple existence forever in the probationary state in which Adam lived prior to his fall. He promised a further paradise. Vos:
"This goal was not only previous to sin, but irrespective of sin. For the sake of plainness, let us distinguish between the goal as an absolute, perfect, ethical relation to God and as a supernaturalizing of man and the world. These elements are intimately related, but logically distinct. Both of these elements could have been realized apart from sin and redemption. The ethical element could have been carried to the highest point of unchangeable rectitude. Similarly the supernaturalizing element could have been realized apart from sin. The relation of these two is also conceivable on the same basis, i.e. apart from sin. In sum, the original goal remains regulative for the redemptive development of eschatology by aiming to rectify the results of sin (remedial) and uphold, in connection with this, the realization of the original goal as that which transcends the state of rectitude (i.e. rising beyond the possibility of death in life eternal). The nonredemptive strand explains the preeminence of the natural (physical) element in biblical eschatology. Thus, it is not a mere questin of the conversion of man (absolute ethical relation to God), but of the transformation and supernaturalizing of the world." (pp. 73-74, Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament)
For the same reason that covenants can be considered outside of the redemptive era (this is a key claim of some who err in covenant theology - that all covenants between God and man MUST be redemptive) so, too, can and must eschatology be considered in the pre-redemptive era. There was an end - a goal - for creation, presented to Adam by God that was above his present state at his creation. He was not to remain in his state of suspended animation, as it were, but was to come, along with all creation, to a point of consummation and an era of confirmed hope. We gain insight, as I've already written, into that which Adam was to expect, by looking at what Scripture says about our eternal state. We cannot be satisfied to envision Adam's "eternal life" as consisting of anything but that which our own will consist in after That Day. Vos continues along these lines:
"Two principles stand out in this primeval eschatology. First, the intimate conjunction between eschatology and ethics. We have here the possibility of an attainment of a higher state, but it is conditioned by obedience... Second, as to its content, it is highly religious. Highest life is characterized by the most intimate connection with God." (p. 75, Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament)
The most intimate connection with God, according to Vos, is a confirmed state of full rectitude - something that Adam did NOT have in the Garden - and hence something to which he must have looked forward prior to the Fall. This promise of a higher state, higher than Adam's "very good" creation, was the promise of the covenant in which he was created.... a covenant requiring perfect obedience to God's commands - the covenant of works. This conclusion is very had to deny... unless one is willing to do great violence to the Word of God. I think now (finally) I'll be returning to The Marrow of Modern Divinity and the Covenant of Grace.
 

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