Thursday, October 28, 2010

0 Four Covenant Radio Programs on Foundational Reformed Concepts

I feel as though I've just spent one of the more edifying and encouraging months of doing Covenant Radio with my good friend Bill Hill, with whom I've been co-hosting the program for just over a year. We began a series of programs covering basic doctrines of the Reformed faith a month ago, and have had some of the most invigorating and instructive conversations in recent memory on these topics. I would highly encourage any and all to take the opportunity to grab these broadcasts at the links below, and share them with folks whom you may know who might have some questions about these biblical concepts and issues. We were blessed with excellent guests who really made these programs simultaneously full of integrity from a scholarly and pastoral perspective, and enjoyable just as though our guest, Bill and I were seated around Bill's back yard table with a cigar and a good ale. (well, perhaps three cigars and ales to be equitable) :)

Election and Effectual Calling, Dr. Cornelis Venema
Regeneration, Rev. Chris Gordon
Justification, Dr. Guy Waters
Atonement and Imputed Righteousness, Rev. Richard D. Phillips

Please do check them out, and all our programs, at the Covenant Radio blog - and if you're desirous of a good reformed alternative to internet radio stations that you may come into contact with, please check out Sola5 Radio. Bill and I put in a fair amount of time putting the daily teaching programs, weekend lectures and Lord's Day sermons, in addition to psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, so that you all have a good and reliable place to go for music and teaching, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I hope you'll consider listening as regularly as you're able.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

0 Recent and Upcoming Programming at Covenant Radio

Just wanted to send out a heads-up to you all about our recent programs on Covenant Radio and the next two weeks in a series we've begun on foundational doctrines of the Reformed faith, which we're really excited about. We've had excellent guests (and have more upcoming) and these are just great topics to kick back and talk about with Reformed brethren.

Two weeks ago, we had Dr. Cornelis Venema from Mid-America Reformed Seminary on the topics of Election and Predestination, and then this past week, we had Rev. Chris Gordon of the Lynden United Reformed Church, of Lynden, WA, talking with us on the doctrine of Regeneration. These were two very enjoyable programs, and I think you'll find them edifying and enjoyable as well. These most recent programs can be downloaded any time from our website.

The next two weeks, October 21 and 28, we'll have two very exciting broadcasts, covering Justification, with Dr. Guy Waters, and the doctrines of Atonement and Imputed Righteousness with Dr. Richard D. Phillips. We hope you'll grab the podcasts when they come out - which are always available at our website. Follow us on Twitter (Covenant_Radio) to get updates of uploaded programs.

Also, just in case you've not seen it, I do want to point out our 24/7 radio station online, Sola5 Radio, which plays psalms & hymns, sermons and lectures, and replays of Covenant Radio, the White Horse Inn, etc. We've designed it as a place you can always turn to to get solid Reformed teaching & good, edifying music to listen to round the clock. I don't think there's much out there at all like it.

You can access that from the links at the webpage for Sola5 Radio, and I hope you'll try it out if you haven't already.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

0 A Blog in Arrears

Well, zip-bop there goes a month. Life flies along here in Northeast Iowa, and I've neglected In Principio ... Deus.

Posts will start appearing again - it seems as though the first several weeks of any school year take me out for a while, which I guess is understandable.

Nevertheless, I need to get back to it. So.... we have a lot going on with Sola5 Radio and Covenant Radio - and posts on these and other topics are forthcoming :)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

1 The Lost Art of Seeking Wisdom

Every time I come to Proverbs 1 in my reading of Scripture, I find myself wondering why it is I don't spend more time seeking wisdom from God's Word. The plain teaching of the first few verses of Proverbs is that we who believe must be about this business. The flesh is so weak, though.
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
(Proverbs 1:1-7 ESV)
The impact of refusing to seek true wisdom and instruction is evident all around us as the world spins like a sailboat without a rudder... yet we too fall prey to the temptation to just 'go with the flow' and not moor ourselves tightly to the bedrock of Christ and God's Holy Word. Wisdom is to be found as we do so... and it is to be valued above all earthly possessions.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

0 Covenant Radio: Interview with Rev. Wes White on The Federal Vision

On Covenant Radio tomorrow, Bill and I will be conducting a very important and interesting interview with Rev. Wes White (see his blog here) concerning his former identification with Federal Vision teaching, and his leaving it behind - we'll also be discussing current challenges in orthodox Reformed and Presbyterian communions that the Federal Vision teaching presents. We have been looking forward to this program for a very long time - so we are particularly pleased to bring it to you. This is a program I'm sure our Covenant Radio listening audience won't want to miss - so please check us out at http://www.covenantradio.com. Expect the program to be uploaded sometime on Friday, and if you're a subscriber you'll have it soon thereafter.

0 Sola5 Radio is Back!

For those who actively listened early this year to Sola5 Radio, which is a 24/7 venture of Covenant Radio, and were disappointed to see it go off the air, we've got news!

We're starting up Sola5 Radio again, which for those unfamiliar with our previous broadcasting, is an online radio station (click here to listen - bookmark it!) dedicated to bringing music, both jazz and classical, hymns and psalms, as well as solid Reformed teaching and preaching, to our internet audience. We regularly rebroadcast programs from the Reformed Forum (Christ the Center), Scott Clark (Heidelcast and Office Hours) and our own Covenant Radio programs, and also sermons from pastors such as Joel Beeke, David P. Murray and Alan Cairns, among others. The Lord's Day schedule will be non-stop preaching and psalms. On the other six days of the week we'll play a mixture of teaching, podcasts, and the other music in our grab bag.

We hope you'll take a listen and use Sola5 for the purpose we've intended it - enjoyment and edification - to be a service to the church and to the world. Again, click here to listen, and for our program guide, look to our blog (http://sola5.wordpress.com) as we set things up again (we're in "test" mode now, but plan to be basically running full time and introduce more teaching into the mix as time goes on).

You can also join our Facebook group, and sign on for Twitter updates by following the Twitter feed Sola5Radio.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

0 Colquhoun on Union with Christ

The doctrine of Union with Christ, which Reformers and Puritans such as John Calvin and John Owen saw as absolutely foundational to our understanding of soteriology, is under serious question and even attack in some conservative circles today. There are claims among some that real, saving union with Christ is effected at baptism - and that the non-elect, who ultimately are not saved, nevertheless enter into real union with Christ if they are baptized... and then lose those saving benefits which somehow they had in Christ for a time. This is completely foreign to the theology of the Reformation, and in particular of John Calvin - whom some of those who make the above claims somehow think they can lay claim to as a forefather in their understanding of Biblical truth.

John Colquhoun, in the first sermon in a recently published collection entitled Sermons on Important Doctrines emphasizes the permanence of union with Christ. He first writes of the intimate connection between the hypostatic union of human and divine natures in the person of Christ, with the personal, mystical union of Christ and the believer:
"the Lord... declared that no gracious relation between Him and our nature could be secure and permanent unless it were assumed to a subsistence in Himself. This union (TKP: the hypostatic union), then, is the sure foundation of the church's saving relation to God as a God of grace, and of the conveyance of gracious influences to its true members; and so long as that foundation stands, the safety, holiness and happiness of believers shall be secure. Now, the only begotten of the Father assumed our nature so that it might, in personal union with Him, be secured, and that our persons might never be in danger of losing conformity to Him or communion with Him." (p. 18, Sermons on Important Doctrines)
Colquhoun, writing on the doctrine of the Incarnation, links the two unions - the hypostatic and the mystical - in a necessary relationship. He argues that our union with Christ is grounded on the fact that Christ was both God and Man - united in one person - and hence the second union cannot exist without the first. Further, the permanence of the one union (the hypostatic) is seen as a ground for the permanence of the second union (the mystical). We know Christ is coming back in the same body He arose in (witness Acts 1). We know that union, of God and Man in the person of Christ Jesus is permanent... so too is the union of Christ with His elect. Later on, Colquhoun clarifies this doctrine in the following paragraph:
"Is the union of the divine and human nature in the person of Christ a sure foundation of His people's perseverance in the union with Him and conformity to Him? Let believers then be encouraged to press toward th emark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. This personal union is, and will continue to be, an everlasting security for the perpetuity of the mystical union between His person and the persons of believers. It will be as easy for an enemy to ascend the celestial throne and tear asunder the glorified humanity from the divine person of our exalted Immanuel, as it will be to dissolve the union that subsists between Him and the weakest member of His body. 'Because I live, ye shall live also.'" (p. 22, Sermons on Important Doctrines)
The idea that God might unite some to Christ who ultimately will not be glorified and have perfect, sinless communion eternally with Him in the new Heavens and Earth is inconceivable to Colquhoun, and, I should think, to any who take seriously the promises of Scripture. "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6) How can anyone seriously argue that one might attain a saving union with Christ, but then lose it at some later time? Is Christ one who abandons His sheep? Truly? Is this what people are really willing to believe, who accept the lie of the Federal Vision "temporary saving union" teaching? It is impossible for me to understand this, if Scripture is taken seriously, and Christ is given His due. That any united to Him truly might be torn away flies in the face of Scripture (e.g. John 10:27-28, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." or John 6:37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.") There are no lost sheep. All those in His flock are THERE - and none truly there, united with and under their Shepherd, are lost. The doctrine of "temporary saving union" is simply folly (and that's putting it lightly)

0 Today on Covenant Radio: J. Mark Beach on Piety's Wisdom

Later today on Covenant Radio, We're pleased to be speaking with Dr. J. Mark Beach, Professor of Ministerial and Doctrinal Studies and Dean of Students at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. In addition, he is an associate pastor at Redeemer United Reformed Church, also in Dyer.

Today we'll be speaking with Dr. Beach about a recent book of his published by Reformation Heritage Books, entitled “Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions”. This book is a very important contribution to literature for the church - a study guide to introduce people to the teaching of John Calvin in his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian religion. Please check the Covenant Radio website for ways in which you can subscribe to our podcast, as well as check out show notes and download previous shows.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

0 Imputation of Christ's Righteousness: Flavel in The Method of Grace

A dear friend and I read together weekly and discuss reading, most often from John Flavel's works. Today in our passage from The Method of Grace, which is found in his collected works, volume 1, one of the things we came across was the following treatment of Christ's saving benefits, which I found particularly illuminating and edifying. In this particular section (the first sermon in the Method of Grace series) Flavel is expositing 1 Cor. 1:30,

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

In this sermon, Flavel goes on to explain these benefits to believers, and makes a clear distinction in terms of the method by which God applies these benefits of Christ to us who believe. He clearly argues (and I'll blog on this later together with some material from John Colquhoun, who I quoted yesterday) for these saving benefits being tied strictly to the union of Christ with His elect people, and then describes God's method of application:
"Prop. 8. Lastly, Although the several privileges and benefits before mentioned are all true and really bestowed with Christ upon believers, yet they are not communicated to them in one and the same day and manner; but differently and divers, as their respective natures do require.

These four illustrious benefits (TKP - namely, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, a la 1 Cor. 1:30) are conveyed from Christ to us in three different ways and methods; his righteousness is made ours by imputation: his wisdom and sanctification by renovation: his redemption by our glorification." (p. 24, Volume 1, Works of John Flavel)
Warning shot across the bow to the Romanist and legalist... the various saving benefits of Christ are NOT one and the same, and are NOT delivered in the same way. Justification and Sanctification are NOT identical, nor are they applied to believers in the same way - they require different methods of application quite simply because they are different benefits. He continues:
"I know the communication of Christ's righteousness to us by imputations is not only denied, but scoffed at by Papists*; who own no righteousness, but what is (at least) confounded with that which is inherent in us; and for imputative (blasphemously stiled by them putative righteousness, they flatly deny it, and look upon it as a most absurd doctrine, every where endeavouring to load it with these and such like absurdities, That if God imputes Christ's righteousness to the believer, and accepts what Christ has performed for him, as if he had performed it himself; then we may be accounted as righteous as Christ. Then we may be the redeemers of the world. False and groundless consequences; as if a man should say, my debt
is paid by my surety, therefore I am as rich as he.

* a phantom sprung of Luther's brain - Stapleton"

(p. 24, Volume 1,Works of John Flavel)
Don't we hear this objection today, or those like it? If Christ's active obedience - if His righteousness in life - is imputed to us, are we not then encouraging licentiousness? Are we not denying God His right to expect us to obey the Law? Are we then not making ourselves out to be worthy as Christ? I do hear on today the statement made by FV sympathizers that the purpose of Christ's obedience was only to qualify Him as the sacrificial lamb, and therefore that His obedience cannot be imputed to us. (how far off is this from the objection Flavel just attributed to his opponents?) Rather, as the statement I quoted from Colquhoun yesterday argues, this flatly fails when it is considered that all men are bound to obey God perfectly, and that perfect record of obedient living must be ours. Christ obeyed FOR HIS ELECT.

I love the addition of the scoffing comment that Flavel footnotes by Stapleton - imputation of Christ's righteousness is apparently a "phantom sprung of Luther's brain". I guess I'm a Lutheran. (and that accusation is also levied against those who argue for a right appreciation of the Law-Gospel distinction that is a hallmark of classic Reformation orthodoxy)

Of this imputed righteousness, Flavel goes on to comment:
"it is inhesively in him, communicatively it becomes ours, by imputation, the sin of the first Adam becomes ours, and the same way the righteousness of the second Adam becomes ours, Rom. 5: 17. This way the Redeemer became sin for us, and this way we are made the righteousness of God in him, 2 Cor. 5: 21. This way Abraham the father of believers was justified, therefore this way all believers, the children of Abraham, must be justified also, Rom. 4: 22, 23. And thus is Christ's righteousness made ours.

But in conveying, and communicating his wisdom and sanctification, he takes another method, for this is not imputed, but really imparted to us by the illuminating and regenerating work of the Spirit: these are graces really inherent in us: our righteousness comes from Christ as a surety but our holiness comes from him as a quickening head, sending vital influences unto all his
members.

Now these gracious habits being subjected and seated in the souls of poor imperfect creatures, whose corruptions abide and work in the very same faculties where grace has its residence; it cannot be, that our sanctification should be so perfect and complete, as our justification is, which inheres only in Christ. See Gal. 5: 17. Thus are righteousness and sanctification communicated and made ours..." (p. 25, Volume 1,Works of John Flavel)
We've got to understand these things rightly... justification is the declaration of God that we are just before Him- purely declarative, purely an attribution of righteousness that comes ONLY (and CAN come ONLY) by imputation. That righteousness with which we are imputed must be perfect, for that is what God requires - not the righteousness of man, of "genuine" obedience, or of "sincere attempts", but pure, spotless righteousness of the Lamb of God! Because this is the righteousness God requires, it cannot come but by gracious imputation of it - by a pure act of granting it to us, and declaring it upon us by the Holy judge of all.

Sanctification has no part to play in our being declared righteous - it is wholly different, having a wholly different method of application and a wholly different purpose. Flavel speaks to this clearly when he argues that the holiness of sanctification is brought forth in us indeed, but is imperfect, because we are sinful creatures still, and imperfect in our very being. Nevertheless, sanctification is a real grace communicated to believers by the working of the Holy Spirit in us. Progressively we learn the ways of the Lord, and progressively our sin gives way to more righteousness and conformity to the Son of God... this is a progressive work that is not complete this side of Heaven... and again, as such, it cannot be the basis for any declaration of righteousness by God. This must be understood - or we confuse and destroy the message of the Gospel and the message of Christ's work for us and in us.

Monday, August 23, 2010

0 Two-fold Grace in Christ from Colquhoun

If you can pronounce the author's name, you're in a small minority :)

Yesterday afternoon, looking for something to read in between my perusings of The Marrow of Modern Divinity and Caryl's Exposition of Job, I picked up a book entitled Sermons on Important Doctrines by John Colquhoun (1748-1827), a pastor of the Scottish Secession church, and one upon which the writings of the Marrow brethren had enormous impact. Several of his works, like this one, have been republished in the past few years by Don Kistler, to whom I give hearty thanks for this and other evidences of his service and love for the church. His new publishing effort is Northampton Press.

Colquhoun is also the author of a very important work, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, that I intend to acquire and blog about in the near future.

In the first sermon from this volume, Colquhoun writes about the nature of Christ as the Incarnate Word, preaching from John 1:14. I appreciated his remarks concerning the identity of Christ as "Word of God", because, as he wrote,
"As it is by Him that God declares His thoughts or will to His people, so it is by Him that they express their thoughts and desires to God. The Man Christ Jesus is the only Mediator between God and men. It is by Him, therefore, that believers offer the sacrifice of praise and thanks to God continually. He spoke for His people in the council of peace, and covenanted to pay the price of their redemption. He speaks for them in His intercession, and presents their prayers and performances accepteable to His eternal Father." (p. 3, Sermons on Important Doctrines)
Normally the use of the term "Word of God" to describe Christ I think of exclusively in terms of His meditating God's presence to us... but Colquhoun ties it also to Christ's mediation of our desires, praises and prayers to God. Keenly insightful, I think, and helpful as we consider Christ as truly the mediator between us and our Heavenly Father. He spoke for us and speaks for us today - He covenanted for us - covenanted to stand in our place, firmly, and without fail, when prior to time the pactum salutis was enacted. There is no failure in Him - and no failure in His atonement for us, those of us united to Him.

This theme of redemption comes up again (as also union, but I'll blog on that tomorrow) several pages later into the text of Colquhoun's sermon, as he presents reasons for Christ to have come in the flesh. His second point concerns Christ's necessity of being made "under the law" in order to redeem us. Colquhoun writes,
"He engaged to become a Surety for those who were, in the everlasting covenant, given to Him; and, as sustaining that character, to pay their debt of perfect obedience for life by obeying the precepts of the law as a covenant of works in their stead, and their debt of complete satisfaction for sin by enduring for them the full execution of the condemning sentence of the law." (p. 14, Sermons on Important Doctrines )
Here, the twofold work of Christ - the two-fold grace of God in Christ's life and death are held forth as precious elements of the Gospel! Christ indeed covenanted with the Father that His full and spotless righteousness would be ours, those whom the Father had given Him, and that we would be acceptable before God - having the perfect righteousness of obedience and having given perfect satisfaction for our sins. This is simply double imputation... but precious to God's people.

Colquhoun goes on further to elaborate:
"The disobedience of those who are naturally obliged to obedience could not be compensated but by the obedience of Him who was not naturally nor originally obliged to obey." (p. 15, Sermons on Important Doctrines)
This is one of the Federal Vision hallmarks - that Christ's active obedience cannot be transmitted to us, because He needed to obey for Himself, and could henceforth not be said to obey for the elect in their place. Yet Christ is said by Paul to be "made under the law" at the right time, so that He might become subject to that which he, as God-Man, was not naturally nor originally subject to. His obedience was FOR us, as the Surety. Colquhoun continues:
"But because what the Son of God engaged to do in the room of His elect could not have been obedience had he not been under the law and bound to obey it, He therefore assumed the human nature so that as man He might be capable of yielding obedience, which as God only He could not be. On account of the dignity to which His human nature was advanced, in consequence of its union with the divine nature in His person, He was under no obligation to obey for Himself because His human nature never existed by itself, but, from the moment of its assumption, subsisted always in His divine person; notwithstanding, as He was hereby capable of obedience, He became bound to obey as a Surety for the elect. Besides, as in the character of Surety for them, He had engaged to bear the execution of the curse of the Law for the satisfaction of divine justice, He becames man so that the sword of justice might have an opportunity of smiting Him." (p. 15, Sermons on Important Doctrines)
Christ both obeyed and died for His elect... for both were necessary for our salvation. I appreciate the keen insight Colquhoun evidences here, and the applicability to today's controversies. When Christ's identity as standing in our room both under obligation of obedience and necessity of satisfaction for sin is missed... all manner of dangerous error can (and does) arise, as indeed it is. Colquhoun's exposition is both precious encouragement and necessary prophylactic against error.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

0 Marrow Theology: A Helpful Word from Thomas Boston on the Covenant of Grace

In The Marrow of Modern Divinity, I happened upon a paragraph that I had missed, I think, but which makes an important point concerning the covenant of grace. The Westminster Larger Catechism clearly notes in question 31 that the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ and His elect in Him as His seed:
Question 31: With whom was the covenant of grace made?
Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.
This did not keep the Westminster Divines from asserting that many are visibly in the covenant of grace - part of the covenant community - though they are really and truly under the covenant of works. They certainly participate in the visible activities of the church, but merely by profession and other visible signs. They are not in a true sense united to Christ, though they may have taken on the trappings of that union by being baptized. This was the case among Abraham's descendants, who were under the covenant of grace visibly and by profession, just as it is today. The sign of circumcision was given to his immediate descendants for those who identified themselves with the covenant community and their children... the sign of baptism is rightly practiced within the church for all those who are members of its visible expression - but is no guarantor of salvific blessings, nor of one's union with Christ. (contrary to what is proclaimed among Federal Vision advocates)

Now, back to The Marrow of Modern Divinity, where Edward Fisher writes, with Nomista, the legalist, speaking of the people in Moses's day to whom the Law had been delivered as a republished covenant of works:
"Nomista - But, by your favour, sir, you know that these people were the posterity of Abraham, and therefore under that covenant of grace which God made with their father; and therefore I do not think that they were delivered to them as the covenant of works; for you know the Lord never delivers the covenant of works to any that are under the covenant of grace.

Evangelista - Indeed it is true, the Lord did manifest so much love to the body of this nation, that all the natural seed of Abraham were externally, and by profession, under the covenant of grace made with their father Abraham; though, it is to be feared, many of them were still under the covenant of works made with their father Adam." (p. 80, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Nomista is perplexed, regarding the delivery of the Law to the Israelites - whom he rightly characterizes as being children of Abraham in the physical sense - but he seems confused regarding their identity as partakers of the covenant of grace. Evangelista rightly corrects, noting, however, that their identity as Abraham's posterity places them within the sphere of the covenant of grace in an outward sense. Thomas Boston then inserts this note for the purpose of clarification:
"The strength of the objection in the preceding paragraph lies here, namely, that at this rate, the same persons, at one and the same time, were both under the covenant of works, and under the covenant of grace, which is absurd. Am. The unbelieving Israelites were under the covenant of grace made with their father Abraham externally and by profession, in respect of their visible church state; but under the covenant of works made with their father Adam internally and really, in respect of the state of their souls before the Lord. Herein there is no absurdity; for to this day many in the visible church are thus, in these different respects, under both covenants. Farther, as to believers among them, they were internally and really, as well as externally, under the covenant of grace; and only externally under the covenant of works, and that, not as a covenant co-ordinate with, but subordinate and subservient unto, the covenant of grace: and in this there is no more inconsistency than in the former." (p. 76, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
This is, I believe, very helpful. We who confess the Westminster Standards as a proper and true summary of Biblical truth will recognize the clear distinction between the visible and invisible church - the visible and invisible manifestations of the covenant of grace. This distinction MUST be kept clear if we are to properly understand the saving work of Christ, and union with Him! Today the waters are VERY muddied, unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

3 Some questions RE the proposed "Poll Tax" in the PCA

Poll taxes in federal elections were outlawed in the US with the passage by the states of the 24th Amendment to the constitution. Poll taxes in history, as was the case in the south in the 1950's and into the 1960's, been used to keep particular voices (in the case of the south at this time, the African-American population, mostly) out of the electoral booth. The amendment guaranteed free access to all qualified voters, recognizing an important core principle that carries over the political/ecclesiastical divide.

I'm not saying that proponents of the "voting access fee" proposed to support financing denominational activities of the Administrative Committee of the PCA are guilty of exactly the same thing as the southern states who instituted poll taxes were, nor am I imputing any nefarious motives to them. However, the effect may very well be the same, and the priniciple of the tax being proposed is, in my view, indefensible. Wes White has made important contributions to the discussion of this awful proposal at his blog, Johannes Weslianus.

Some questions for those interested in supporting this "fee" (which, again, seems to me little more than a "poll tax", since it is a fee that must be paid if a church's Session is to have a voice at GA):

  1. Do PCA teaching elders who are without a call have the right to vote at GA, currently? If so, what will happen to them if this passes the presbyteries? If they are denied the vote entirely because they are without a call (but are currently able to vote) isnt' this terribly problematic??
  2. Does this change not make GA, rather than an assembly of the denomination's presbyters, into an assembly of the representatives of approved congregations?
  3. Do RE's "ride the TE's coat-tails" under this scheme? That is, are any number of RE's allowed to go to GA from a given church as long as the church pays the bills?
  4. Assuming the answer to the previous question is "yes", will it not be the case that GA will be increasingly driven(if it isn't already) huge, wealthier churches, who clearly can afford the price being levied more so than smaller, poorer congregations (not under the "poverty line", whatever that is set at)? If the RE's of a congregation are allowed to go as long as the church pays the piper, won't the commissioner population at GA become more concentrated among these larger, wealthier congregations than is already the case?
  5. As Wes has asked in his most recent post, how can such a tax be understood as "voluntary contributions" in the sense of BCO 25.8? Certainly this tax is not "mandatory" for churches if they wish to remain in the PCA... but it IS mandatory if they are to be given the God-given voice appropriate to them at the highest church court there is! Hence it cannot possibly within reason be understood as anything but a coerced payment.
It seems to me that, already, small churches are squeezed out of the operations of the General Assembly by the exorbitant cost of GA registration, and the fact that GA is held at very expensive sites annually. Now, with this tax being levied on individual congregations in order for them to have a voice at GA, I fear the situation getting much worse. The notion of a tax on churches (which clearly violates the BCO as anyone who can read it can understand) in order for them to be able to have a voice at GA is despicable.

For those in the PCA, this is a critical transition.... if this tax passes, I cannot see the outcome being good. Thoughts? Discussion? Does anyone care?

0 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things

From my reading today, from Psalm 107:
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble (Ps. 107:1-2)
We are reminded, as God's redeemed ones, to give thanks for the LORD is good - and his steadfast love endures. In reading this today I was struck by the expansive love of God for His elect, wherein he redeems them from all sorts of trouble... trouble we ourselves get into because of our own sin, or trouble brought about for God's own purposes to call His elect to Himself.

The common theme in all these kinds of people - mentioned in stanzas Ps. 107:4-9, Ps. 107:10-16, Ps. 107:17-22 and Ps. 107:23-32 - is that in the midst of their troubles, they were brought to a point at which
"they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress." (Ps. 107:6, also Ps. 107:13,19,28)
Upon their delivery, then, the Psalmist then calls upon such people to
"thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!" (Ps. 107:8, also Ps. 107:15,21,31)
In the close of this Psalm, after seeing several examples of redemption and the consequent thanksgiving from His people, we have this exhortation, which is good for all of us who have been redeemed by God from our distress to hear:
"Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD." (Ps. 107:43)
If you would be wise, the Psalmist says, attend to what I have said. It is a point of wisdom to recall, to attend to, the redemptive work of the Lord - for in it, we offer him due honor and worship, and find the root of true wisdom - the fear of Jehovah God, God Almighty, who created the world, and has redeemed (and is redeeming) His own from their distress through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, August 13, 2010

1 Today's Preaching (HT: Chris Gordon)

Chris Gordon, a friend and my brother's pastor, posted the following at his blog, The Gordian Knot. Both the blog in general, and this note in particular, are well worth your read.

Consider a typical sermon today:

1. Introduction--catchy, relevant joke to woo in the audience, maybe a movie review (3-5 minutes)
2. Story #1--"let me tell you a story about", possible video...(4-5 minutes)

3. Bible Verse--forced example out of context to be "applicational" to the pastor's theme (5-7 minutes)

4. Story #2 (Personal)--here the pastor makes himself one of the people, non-threatening and connecting (4-5 minutes)

5. Conclusion--some generic call to "live out" the gospel (3-4 minutes).

Sadly, most Christians today are completely ignorant about what constitutes faithful, biblical communication of divine truth. Perkins reminds us of the simple (and obviously the most neglected) responsibility of the gospel preacher:

Ministers are angels, in the very institution of their calling. Therefore, they must preach God's word as God's word, and deliver it is they received it--for angels, embassadors, and messengers carry not their own message, but the message of their Lords and masters who sent them, and ministers carry the message of the Lord of hosts. Therefore they are bound to deliver it as the Lord's, and not their own.

William Perkins, The Workes: Duties & Dignities of the Ministry, Vol. III (John Legatt: London, 1618) 430.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

0 Covenant Radio Broadcast: J. V. Fesko on "The Rule of Love" and "Where Wisdom is Found"

On Thursday, August 12, Bill and I have invited J. V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California to talk with us on Covenant Radio concerning two small works he has published recently: Where Wisdom is Found - Christ in Ecclesiastes, published in 2010, and The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled and Applied, published in 2009 - both of these by Reformation Heritage Books.

Both of these books have their origin in sermon series preached by Dr. Fesko, and are designed for use by study groups for working through the Ten Commandments (The Rule of Love) and Ecclesiastes (Where Wisdom is Found). They are both excellent and offer a Christ-centered view on both these parts of Scripture that will provide both edification for the individual Christian and much thought-provoking material for discussion by church groups. I would highly recommend both of them for such uses. We're very much looking forward to having Dr. Fesko with us, and hope you'll grab the podcast when it's made available after recording.

We're also very much looking forward to having Dr. Fesko on Covenant Radio at a later date to discuss an important upcoming work of his, to be released in October by RHB, entitled Word, Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism. Once the details for that program have been worked out, we'll let you know of our plans for that upcoming broadcast. Again, visit Covenant Radio's website for podcast subscription details.




Tuesday, August 10, 2010

0 At Least the Rastafarians say "I and I"

I won't forget my freshman year of college, learning a little about Rastafarian culture in my Intro to Sociology class - and one of the things we talked about while listening to Bob Marley and The Wailers was the use of "I and I" among Rastafarians to take the place of "we" in conversation. The primary importance of this usage is to emphasize the oneness of their community - that they share a great deal as fellow creatures under God. I'm not endorsing any element at all of their religious beliefs - but I am lamenting, as I recall this phrase, how little we even bother in the church to say "we".

I came upon this thought after listening this morning to one of the recent White Horse Inn broadcasts entitled "The Spirituality of Emerging Adults", in which the WHI guys interviewed the author of "Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults", Dr. Christian Smith of the University of Notre Dame. Part of what struck me in that broadcast was the fact (and this is nothing new at all, but somehow the impact upon me was heavy this morning) that in the American evangelical church, the individual has been raised to terrifying heights in terms of his ability to discern for himself what is true, good and just. No longer is the language "we confess" or "we believe" admissible in much of American churchianity. What "works for you" works for you, and what "works for me" works for me - and any differences or distinctions between those are a) not to be subject of judgment or critique, and b) completely arbitrary and irrelevant when it comes to our standing before God.

Whether this phenomenon of the individual's ultimacy as judge of truth has arisen because of the Enlightenment or because of the influence of the 1960's cultural shifts is not of much importance... what is important, though, is that we recognize that this fundamentally impacts the challenge that we face when discussing the Gospel. Unfortunately because this shift has taken place, many have kowtowed to it (unwittingly) by making personal testimony and "what God has done for me" central in their discussion of their faith with others. We have lost the impetus to keep returning to the historic fact and declarative nature of the good news, and turned "gospel-telling" into a personal "show and tell". Rather than stand for the historicity of the cross and of what God has done to redeem His people in history, we stand on a lot "safer" ground - our own personal lives. It's a lot easier and less risky to share with people what "God did for me" than to stake one's reputation on the unpopular belief that God, in showing His grace toward men, and His wrath toward sin, sent His Son to atone for the sins of His People, and to redeem them to Himself. When we put forth "our testimony", we are giving people things they cannot refute and won't even try to refute... we are talking about ourselves, rather than Another. We are saying things that ultimately carry no Authority, and demand no response.... contrary to what we do when we present simply the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"We believe"... something we ought to be willing to say, yet something which grates against our natural tendency to want to stand alone and on our own merits. "We believe" says that there is something bigger than me - a truth and a community to which I am accountable. Today this is nearly anathematized - even in the church. Why do the Rastafarians get it, but garden-variety Christians seem so opposed to it?

Monday, August 09, 2010

0 Caryl on Job: Worship and Fearing God

In Joseph Caryl's comments on Job 1:1-2 in his mammoth Exposition on Job, the author has some insightful and interesting remarks concerning the phrase "one that feared God". His words are sobering if taken seriously when we think about modern worship practice in the church.
"The fear of God is taken two ways. Either for that natural and inward worship of God, and so the fear of God is a holy filial affection, awing the whole man to obey the whole will of God; That is fear as it is an affection. Or the fear of God is put for the external or instituted worship of God. So that a man fearing God is as much as this: a man worshipping God according to His own Will, or according to His mind and direction. Now when as Job is said to be a man fearing God, you must take it both ways; He had that holy affection of fear with which we must worship God, (as we are taught, Heb. 12:28. Let us have grace whereby we may serve God with reverence and godly fear; and serve the Lord with fear and rejoice before Him with trembling, Ps. 2. Fear is that affection with which we must worship and serve God.)

And Job likewise did perform that worship to God which He required, that is called fear, and the exercising of it fearing God. Fearing God is worshipping God. As you may see clearly by two texts of Scripture compared together. In the fourth of Matthew, verse 10, Christ saith to the Devil, It is written thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only thou shalt serve; Compare this with Deut. 6:13, and there you shall have it thus expressed, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; That which in the one place is worship, in the other is fear." (p 27, vol. 1, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
I wonder what would happen to modern worship practice if we replaced "worship" with "fear", and understood the deep connection between the verbs? The tone of so much modern "worship" is SO far away from the concept of a holy fear of God that I shouldn't be surprised if someone would face immediate ostracism who suggested that fearing God was incumbent upon His people and that we should therefore worship Him with an attitude that is consistent with that fear. Yet this is what Scripture clearly calls us to in many, many places - to worship God in Holy fear. Where has fear gone in the average evangelical church?

When worship is described as "healthy and vibrant", it seems to me what is being described is an activity characterized primarily by happiness and joy. But these emotions are hardly the only ones fit for the presence of God in worship... and they certainly are improper if they are not always joined with a Holy awe, reverence and fear of the Most High God. I doubt most contemporary music fits the bill in this way - and most people whose key criterion in worship is that it be "vibrant" probably wouldn't want to worship in a church that had a "Lament Band" alongside their "Praise Band". Given that many of the psalms are just that - laments for the people of God - I would argue that a church that has a Praise band that plays only upbeat "vibrant" praise music is missing the boat bigtime. (for those more familiar with the range of contemporary worship music than I am, is there anything in the modern repertoire that comes anywhere near the lamentful songs of Ps. 80, 83, 85, or others of this kind???)

I don't say this in a snide manner, but in a sorrowful one. Yes, indeed, praise is fit for God - but that is hardly the only proper context for worship song, just as 'happiness and joy' are hardly the only proper emotions for His worshipers to have as they worship Him.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

0 Caryl on Job: A Plaine and Upright Man

I'm endeavoring to pick up right where I left off with the reposted article from January - namely, the section in which our author describes Job's character according to the description given in Job 1:1. Here, again, is our verse:
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1 ESV)

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. (Job 1:1 KJV)
First, Job is characterized as perfect, or blameless - which Caryl explains as "sound", "upright" or "plaine". Caryl, in explaining the sense of this word, goes to several examples of men in the Old Testament also characterized by the same Hebrew word rendered here 'perfect': Jacob and Noah in particular. It is also the same word God used in speaking to Abraham, when he said, in Genesis 17:2, "Walk before me and be perfect." It is a word connoting soundness or integrity of heart and plainness in dealing with God.

Secondly, he is described as upright - which Caryl is careful to distinguish. He writes,
"The former word which was rendered perfect, in other Texts is rendered upright; But when we have both the expressions together as here, we must distinguish the sense. It is not a tautology. Then, the former being taken for inward soundness, plainness and sincerity; This latter (to be upright) may be taken for outward justice, righteousness and equity, respecting all his dealings in the world. He was a perfect man, that is, he was plain-hearted, and he was plain-dealing too, which is the meaning of, He was upright. So the one refers to the integrity of his spirit, the other to the honesty of his ways, His heart was plain, and his dealings were square. This he expresseth fully in the 29th and 31st chapters of this Book, which are, as it were, a comment upon this word upright." (p. 26, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
This is a full orbed honesty - both in terms of heart and intention, and in terms of dealings with others. Both are to be things we strive for as followers of Christ. In Christ only are we truly free to walk in such a way, I should think - the freedom we know in Christ, and in Christ only, is necessary if we are truly to be so plain as Job is said to be. Warts and all is how we are to walk before others and before God - for He knows us as we are, and to pretend otherwise is to walk in a way that is NOT plain, nor is it one of integrity. If we truly grasp the radical nature of God's gracious acceptance of us in Christ, for Christ's sake and through His atoning work for us - this will be something we can readily do. As it is, of course, we often have but a tenuous grasp on the reality of God's grace... and seek to 'save face' because we fail to recognize our acceptance in God's house despite our warts.

0 Repost: Caryl on Job - The Character of an Upright Man

Here's the third of my reposted articles on Caryl's Exposition of Job, originally posted January 3, 2010.

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I was struck by a brief paragraph in Caryl's Exposition of Job, in which he is commenting on the first verse of the book:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1 ESV)

In the older translations, "blameless" was rendered "perfect". Caryl explains:
"Job himself professed, (Job 9:20) If I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse; he acknowledges, (Job 7:20) I have sinned. The perfection here spoken of is not an absolute, a legal perfection.

For the clearing of the word, we may consider there is a twofold perfection ascribed to the saints in this life. A perfection of justification, and a perfection of sanctification.

The first of these, in a strict sense, is a complete perfection: the saints are complete in Christ, they are perfectly justified, there is not any sin left uncovered, not any guilt left unwashed in the blood of Christ, not the least spot but is taken away. His garment is large enough to cover all our nakedness and deformities. In this respect, they may be called perfect, they are perfectly justified, By one offering Christ has perfected forever them that are sanctified. (Heb. 10.14) (pp. 24-25, Exposition of Job, vol. 1)
Two things about this remark that I think are critical: that the perfection one might speak of - the blamelessness one might describe of a believer - is alien to them. It cannot be absolutely held by the individual, for as Paul writes to the Romans, ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is nobody of whom it may be said, in an absolute sense, "he is perfect". None, that is, except Christ. Those who are in Christ, however, are justified - perfectly complete - perfectly without sin and perfectly righteous, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to them. In this sense, Job, and Abraham before him, and all those who are Abraham's true children, are perfect.This is not a perfection that can be taken away, nor is it one that can be lost in any way. Justification is a declaration of the verdict of the last day, given to us in time and space prior to that day - it is a declaration of righteousness that is ours as we walk and live and breathe on this earth, though we sin, though we fall short daily in our walk with Christ. It is a complete and total absolution, granted through the blood of Christ, by grace, through the Word of God who declares all His children "just". None who are in Christ by faith (and that as the gift of God, Eph. 2:8-10) will ever fall - and none will receive a verdict on the last day different than that that they possess now. This is much convoluted today, and much disputed.... but justification is irrevocable.

Now, after discussing a little the perfection of sanctification, Caryl comes to the paragraph that hit me more directly tonight:
"Or thus, we may say that the perfection here spoken of is the perfection of sincereity. Job was sincere, he was sound at the heart. He did not act a part, or personate Religion, but was a religious person. He was not gilded, but gold. So the word is interpreted. Some render it "Job was a simple man" (not as simple is put for weak and foolish, but as simple is put for plain hearted; one that is not, as the Apostle James phrases it, a double-minded man). Job was a simple-minded man, or a single-minded man, one that had not a heart and a heart. He was not compound, speaking one thing and meaning another, he meant what he spoke, and he would speak his mind. ... So that to be a perfect man, is to be a plain man, one whose heart you may know by his tongue, and read the man's spirit in his actions. Some are such jugglers that you can see little of their spirits in their lives, you can learn little of their minds by their words; Jacob was a plain man, and so was Job; some translate it, "a sound man". It is the same expression that is given of Noah... he was sound, upright-hearted, or perfect with God, Gen. 6:9." (p. 25, Exposition of Job, vol. 1)
One of the things that strikes me in this is the following. If one is secure in his Lord, knowing his salvation is secure - knowing that all that matters is accomplished for him and promised to him, one should be able and willing to fear God rather than man - and to simply be who he is. Dissembling and false pretenses are SO common in society - there is such pressure to conform here, and to play a role there, so that everyone is pleased with you. Why are we such suckers for this kind of pressure? Why is it so easy to fail at this (at least I hope I'm not the only one who does!)? What causes the resolve to simply be who we are... to admit failure, and ask for forgiveness - to walk plainly as those bought by Christ's blood, and knowing Him to be the Way, Truth and Life? We fail, I think, because we forget who we are in Christ.... and that all is in His hands, that though the whole world forsake us, we are still rich in Him and secure in God's family. We fail because we fail to trust in the fulfillment of all things in Christ. We fail because we like to operate on the level of sight rather than the level of faith.

I think one of the reasons this particular passage struck me was that I had read together with this Mark chapter 9, wherein the man whose child suffered demonic convulsions admitted to Christ - was a plain man - that he failed in his trust: "I believe! Help my unbelief!" This is exactly it. The man openly admitted before Christ and the others that his belief was wavering - that he needed Christ's aid, even there, and not just for his boy. Let us all learn to be more like that plain man in all things, for that is the character of an upright man.

0 Repost: Caryl on Job - The Central Lessons of Job

Here's a second reposted article on Joseph Caryl's Exposition of Job, from Dec. 29, 2009:

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In the introductory chapter of Joseph Caryl's Exposition of Job, the author outlines the basic questions answered by the book of Job, and then specifies seven central teachings of the book. The two questions that he argues Job deals with are summarized by Caryl in the following words:
"The main and principal subject of this book is contained (and I may give it to you) in one verse of the 34th Psalm: Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of all. (Ps. 34:19)

Concerning this subject there are two great questions handled and disputed fully and clearly in this book. The first is this, whether it is consistent with the justice and goodness of God to afflict a righteous and sincere person, to strip him naked, to take away all his outward comforts. Or, whether it is consistent with the justice and goodness of God, that it should go ill with those who are good, and that it should go well with those that are evil. This is one great debate, the main question throughout the book. And then secondly, here is another great dispute in reference to the former. Namely, whether we may judge of the righteousness, or unrighteousness, of the sincereity or hypocrisy of any person, by the outward dealings and present dispensations of God towards him. That is a second question here debated." (p. 6, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
As Caryl notes, the "friends" of Job answer the first question negatively and the second positively... and Job maintains, throughout, the opposite answers. In the answering of these questions, and the discussions and debates between Job and his friends, and then later the dialog between Job and the Lord Himself, we find that we may learn several important lessons, according to our expositor. These, briefly, are:
  1. How to handle a cross. When in conflict or affliction, terror or strife, Job teaches us how we are to, with patience and confidence, maintain our composure and dedication to the Lord God by whose decree all situations and circumstances come to pass.
  2. All afflictions are ordered by God's providential hand.
  3. God is sovereign over all things, to the minutest detail. He has power over us, our possessions, our lives, and we must therefore submit to Him in all things.
  4. God afflicts for His purposes only, to accomplish His ends - and sometimes such afflictions are not merely for the purposes of temporal punishment.
  5. Our best conditions - the best of our circumstances must always be taken as uncertain and not in any sense guaranteed. We therefore must learn to hold things lightly and yield all to God's wise counsels.
  6. True faith is invincible. Faith, according to Ephesians 2:8-10, is the gift of God - and is irrevocable. The faith of the elect will stand trial in the evil day.
  7. God NEVER forsakes His own. The elect shall, as noted by Christ in His Good Shepherd discourse, and His High Priestly prayer, never be lost but always retained in the strong hand of God. God is EVER faithful.
  8. God's judgments are ALWAYS just, though they be many times completely secret from us. The fact that we cannot understand God's judgments at times does not imply that He is unreasonable, capricious or otherwise inconsistent with His nature as God. We must be content with the judgments of God and always praise Him for His glorious wisdom and might and right to rule over all. (Adapted from pp. 11-13, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
These are valuable lessons, and if I learn but one of them better than I know them today, I will be glad for the efforts to work my way through Caryl's work. I hope my sharing thoughts and reflections on Caryl's Exposition are edifying and thought-provoking to you. Do feel free, as always, to let me know what you think and what Caryl's thoughts bring forth in your mind as you read this blog series. Blessings to you and yours as 2010 dawns in a few days.

0 Repost: Caryl on Job - The Word of God and Its Fruit

In addition to restarting my blogging through The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, with notes by Thomas Boston, I'm also restarting my slow journey through Joseph Caryl's massive work on Job. Here's the first of my previous posts from December 26 of last year. Two more reposts will follow, and then I'll start afresh with another later on today.

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I've decided as 2009 winds to a close to begin a study of Joseph Caryl's Exposition of Job, a mammoth 12-volume commentary recently republished in a very well done facsimile of the 17th century original printing (1644-1666) jointly by Dust and Ashes Publications and Reformation Heritage Books.

I have no fantasies about finishing the work in 2010, although stranger things have happened. What I do want to do, however, is work through it as the Lord sees fit, and blog my thoughts and reflections here as I make my way through this highly regarded work. There are some who find Puritan expositions such as this one cumbersome and exorbitantly verbose - but I honestly believe those who have such an opinion of THIS particular work haven't read it. I can sympathize to some extent with those who might take such a view of John Owen's work on Hebrews (which I've decided I shall be tackling next after this major reading project) but again I'd have to question there whether such criticism is worthy of an audience. In the case of Caryl's work, there is certainly an abundance of words - but they are merely, as Spurgeon wrote, evidence of a "full" exposition, and not one in which words are wasted or ill-spent. Caryl has made his exposition of Job a vehicle for teaching many of the great doctrines of our faith - and so I very much look forward to reading this work and recording my thoughts here. It is a masterpiece - perhaps not of brevity and concise commentary - but of Puritan exposition and teaching. (Note: Given that this is a 17th century facsimile, it is written in very old language. I will very lightly update Caryl's words - though when he quotes Scripture I will leave it alone, unless to make the tiniest of spelling changes to help the reader)

In the first chapter, Caryl makes an important point, one which ought to be kept in mind whenever one approaches the Holy Word of God, but perhaps particularly when one is brought to a more difficult book such as Job. He writes,
"That which God speaks concerning the whole work of Creation, we may speak concerning the whole book of Scripture, It is very good. Solomon observes thatwheresoever the wisdom of God spake, it spoke of excellent things. (Prov. 8:6) And David, to quicken our endeavours and excite our diligence to the study of the word, prefers it in worth above thousands of gold and silver, and in sweetness above the honey and the honeycomb. And when he ceases to compare, he begins to admire,Wonderful are thy testimonies. And well may that be called Wonderful, which proceeds from the God of all Wonders. All Scripture is given by divine inspiration, (2 Tim. 3:16) or by inspiration from God; and I need not show you the excellency of any part, when I have but pointed at such an statement concerning the whole.

And therefore the whole Scripture, (whether we respect the majesty of the Author, the height or purity of the matter, the depth or perspicuity of the style, the dignity or variety of occurrences; whether we consider the art of compiling, or the strength of argument) disdains the very mention of comparison, with any other human author whatsoever. So, too, are comparisons within - e.g. book with book, chapter with chapter - dangerous. There is not in this great volume of holy counsel any book or chapter, verse or section, of greater power or authority than any other... we may fully match all Scripture together, and say, all must be received with the same devotion and affection." (pp. 3-4, Vol. 1, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
With this said, Caryl points his hearers to the fruit he hopes his exposition of (and indeed their study of) this and all Scripture will bring to them:
"Let me beseech you in the name of Christ, to take care for the carrying on of this work a degree further: I mean to translate the sense of Scripture into your lives, and to expound the Word of God by your works, Interpret it by your feet, and teach it by your fingers; (Prov. 6:13) as Solomon speaks in a different sense). That is, let your working and your walkings be Scripture explications... And therefore let the words of Christ by these verbal explications dwell richly in your understandings in all wisdom; and by a practical application, let it be held forth plentifully in your lives in all holiness. Add commentary to commentary, and exposition to exposition: add the comment of works to this comment of words, and an exposition by your lives to this exposition by our labors." (pp. 2-3, Vol. 1, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
Should this not be on our hearts and minds as we study Scripture in general? Shall it be mere learning - or shall it produce the fruit of righteousness and devotion to God in us? I know I fall woefully short in this - and thanks be to God that the glorious Gospel is indeed true... that Christ has died, is risen, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father - and that I am now righteous in Him. With that, these words from Caryl are a strong exhortation - and convicting indeed as I seek to glorify my Father in Heaven through a life lived in thanksgiving for what He has done.

May the Word of God dwell richly indeed in us - the body of Christ - that God might be glorified on Earth as He is in Heaven.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

0 Marrow Theology: The Covenant of Works and of Grace, and the Covenant Heads, Adam and Christ

As I read again first chapters of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, I come again to the following thought (bold as it may be). Please forgive the length of this post, also - but this is so incredibly important to understand that I'm taking the risk of going on at length.

If one misunderstands the relationship between Adam and Christ, then it is certain that he will horribly foul up the relationship between God and His elect people in covenant. Put slightly differently, the right understanding of God's covenant of grace, and of Christ's saving work requires one to properly understand the roles of Adam and Christ with respect to the people with whom they stand in union, and with respect to the primordial covenant of works. As Boston argues in his notes, Christ must be seen as standing in the sinner's room regarding the covenant of works (to use common Puritan verbiage) to redeem them from the condemnation the sinner faces due to his place as a son of Adam. In short: messing up the covenant of works messes up the covenant of grace.

Fisher begins his discussion of the gospel by laying out its character as the declaration of an accomplished work of God's sovereign grace:
"The law of faith is as much as to say the covenant of grace, or the Gospel, which signifies good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings; that is to say, that God, to whose eternal knowledge all things are present, and nothing past or to come, foreseeing man's fall, before all time purposed, and in time promised, and in the fulness of time performed,f the sending of his Son Jesus Christ into the world, to help and deliver fallen mankind." (p. 63, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
The gospel is not, per se, an "offer" (as is commonly misconstrued) but rather it is news of God's work in Christ, securing eternally His elect people. It is the cry of the advance messenger, declaring the good news of victory to a people in battle. The gospel MUST be seen in this light, and continually promoted among God's people as the certain and secure solution that God has given for the sin of His people - the salvation of His elect. When the gospel becomes something less than news, something different than a sovereign proclamation of a work accomplished, then the effect is the same as twisting justification into something other than the declarative act of our Sovereign, Almighty God. People run naturally to justify themselves and save themselves through something they do (whether that be works in the purest and grossest sense, or even 'acts of faith').
"before there could be reconciliation made, there must be two things effected; (1.) A satisfaction of God's justice. (2.) A reparation of man's nature: which two things, must needs be effected by such a middle and common person that had both zeal towards God, that he might be satisfied ; and compassion towards man, that he might be repaired : such a person, as having man's guilt and punishment translated on him, might satisfy the justice of God, and as having a fulness of God's Spirit and holiness in him, might sanctify and repair the nature of man. And this could be none other but Jesus Christ, one of the Three Persons of the blessed Trinity ; therefore He, by his Father's ordination, his own voluntary offering, and the Holy Spirit's sanctification, was fitted for the business." (p. 64, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
At this juncture, Thomas Boston adds the following clarifying note, which is critical:
"As man lay in ruins, by the fall guilty and unclean, there stood in the way of his salvation, by mercy designed, 1. The justice of God, which could not admit the guilty creature; and, 2. The holiness of God, which could not admit the unclean and unholy creature to communion with him. Therefore, in the contrivance of his salvation, it was necessary that provision should be made for the satisfaction of God's justice, by payment of the double debt mentioned above ; namely, the debt of punishment, and the debt of perfect obedience." (p. 66, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Again... if we do not understand that perfect obedience was required by covenant, and that all humanity was dashed in Adam's sin, and stood in broken covenant because of Adam's disobedience a la Romans 5, then we cannot properly understand Christ's salvation properly at all. We do not, therefore, understand that not only is satisfaction of the penalty required (a penalty given in covenant terms in the Garden, no less!) but so is perfect obedience. It is precisely this double act that is required, and this double act that is denied by some in Reformed circles today, and is a cause of much confusion.

We need to understand that Christ undertook, as the children's catechism we use with our younger girls goes, "To keep the whole law for his people, and to suffer the punishment due to their sins". We stand, as human beings, condemned under the law, and needed rescue - from our guilt and our pollution, which involves a two-fold mercy that God alone in Christ provides His people, as Boston noted.

This salvation, we need to recognize, is one brought forth in eternity past by the covenanting together of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, in what historically has been designated the Covenant of Redemption. Salvation is not a "plan B" brought about by God, but designed from all eternity as the means by which God would be most glorified. Fisher draws our attention to this covenant as follows:
"Whereupon there was a special covenant, or mutual agreement made between God and Christ, as is expressed, Isa. liii. 1 0, that if Christ would make himself a sacrifice for sin, then he should "see his seed, he should prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper by him." So in Psalm Ixxxix. 19, the mercies of this covenant between God and Christ, under the type of God's covenant with David, are set forth : " Thou speakest in vision to thy holy One, and saidst, I have laid help upon One that is mighty :" or, as the Chaldee expounds it, "One mighty in the law." As if God had said concerning his elect, I know that these will break, and never be able to satisfy me ; but thou art a mighty and substantial person, able to pay me, therefore I will look for my debt of thee." (p. 64, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Christ did obey - and did satisfy (as it were, actively and passively) all the requirements of the Law for His elect. He covenanted with His Father to take our punishment, and to obey for us, that we might be imputed with His spotless righteousness. Fisher continues:
"As Pareus well observes, God did, as it were, say to Christ, What they owe me I require all at thy hands. Then said Christ, "Lo I come to do thy will ! in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God! yea thy law is in my heart," Psalm xl. 7, 8. Thus Christ assented, and from everlasting struck hands with God, to put upon him man's person, and to take upon him his name, and to enter in his stead in obeying his Father, and to do all for man that he should require, and to yield in man's flesh the price of the satisfaction of the just judgment of God, and, in the same flesh, to suffer the punishment that man had deserved ; and this he undertook under the penalty that lay upon man to have undergone." (p. 64-65, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
In order to satisfy for His people - Christ willingly (and here is the catch for some) enters into the terms of the covenant of Works for us, in order to bring us safely home.

Boston notes here:
"The Son of God consented to put himself in man's stead, in obeying his Father, and so to do all for man that his Father sliould require, that satisfaction sliould be made : farther, he consented in man's nature, to satisfy and suffer the deserved punishment, that the same nature that sinned might satisfy ; and yet farther, he undertook to bear the very same penalty that lay upon man, by virtue of the covenant of works, to have undergone; so making himsilf a j)roper surety for them, who, as the author observes, must pay the sum of money that the debtor oweth." (p. 66, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
If we miss this point, I don't see how we can rightly understand the Covenant of Grace! The Covenant of Grace, in which we are united to Christ as our Head, and as the Second Adam, requires that we already stand condemned under the Covenant of Works - which ALL HUMANITY stand condemned under at conception. The Covenant of Grace envisions broken man - condemned, guilty and polluted - at the outset, and from that condemnation we must be rescued. This requires Christ to undertake the Law with perfect, spotless obedience as condition for Him to perform the work of redeeming His people. I honestly cannot understand why some find this so objectionable - and don't quite understand how the Covenant of Grace works in any other way. Romans 5:12-21 clearly portrays Christ as the second Adam - as one standing in Adam's place to take his role as a new Head of God's people. As such, He must satisfy what Adam did not.... must he not?

Anyway, enough of my spouting. Let's let Fisher finish things off with his comments (and those of Boston), which are so beautifully put as to stand on their own as an excellent summary of Christ's atoning work for us:
"And thus did our Lord Jesus Christ enter into the same covenant of works that Adam did to deliver believers from it : he was contented to be under all that commanding, revenging authority, which that covenant had over them, to free them from the penalty of it ; and in that respect, Adam is said to be a type of Christ, as you have it, Rom. v. 14, "Who was the type of him that was to come." To which purpose, the titles which the apostle gives these two, Christ and Adam, are exceeding observable : he calls Adam the "first man," and Christ our Lord the "second man," 1 Cor. xv. 47; speaking of them as if there never had been any more men in the world besides these two ; thereby making them head and root of all mankind, they having, as it were, the rest of the sons of men included in them. The first man is called the "earthy man ;" the second man, Christ, is called the "Lord from heaven," I Cor. xv. 47. The earthy man had all the sons of men born into the world included in him, and is so called, in confortnity unto them, the "first man:"--the second Man, Christ, is called the "Lord from heaven," who had all the elect included in him, who are said to be the "first born," and to have their "names written in heaven," Heb. xii. 23, and therefore are appositely called "heavenly men;" so that these two, in God's account, stood for all the rest. And thus you see, that the Lord, willing to show mercy to the fallen creature, and withal to maintain the authority of his law, took such a course as might best manifest his clemency and severity. Christ entered into covenant, and became surety for man, and so became liable to man's engagements : for he that answers as a surety must pay the same sum of money that the debtor oweth.

And thus have I endeavoured to show you, how we are to conceive of God's eternal purpose in sending of Jesus Christ to help and deliver fallen mankind." (p. 65, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Thomas Boston, in his notes on this passage, sums up Christ's work in regard to the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace in these words. Would that Christians all would understand the glory of God that ensues from an understanding like this!
"Our Lord Jesus Christ became surety for the elect in the second covenant, Heb. viii. 22 ; and in virtue of that suretyship, whereby lie put him self in the room of the principal debtors, he came under the same covenant of works that Adam did; in so far as the fulfilling of that covenant in their stead was the very condition required of him, as the second Adam in the second covenant. Gal. iv. 4, 5, " God sent forth his Son ; made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." Thus Christ put his neck under the yoke of the law as a covenant of works, to redeem them who were under it as such. Hence he is said to be the " end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth," Rom. x. 4 ; namely, the end for consummation, or perfect fulfilling of it by his obedience and death, which presupposeth his coming under it. And thus the law as a covenant of works was magnified and made honourable; and it clearly appears how "by faith we establish the law," Rom. iii. 31. How then is the second covenant a covenant of grace? In respect of Christ, it was most properly and strictly a covenant of works, in that he made a proper, real, and full satisfaction in behalf of the elect ; but in respect of them, it is purely a covenant of richest grace, in as much as God accepted the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them ; provided the surety himself, and gives all to them freely for his sake." (p. 66-67, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
These last words are the kicker. Christ satisfied the terms of the first covenant - requiring perfect obedience, and that the penalty for disobedience be paid. These He undertook as our surety, under the terms of the Covenant of Redemption, made with the Father before time began... and these we benefit from, receiving the glorious inheritance of God, eternal life, immutably Holy in glory after death - an immutable condition and communion that was to be Adam's (and ours) had he obeyed in the first place. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

0 Ridiculous sale at WTS Books on the NICOT series

For the scholar and pastor (and highly engaged layman :)) Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore is running a promotion on the Eerdmans New International Commentary Series that gives you 10% off on every volume purchased, below their already low prices, as long as you buy two or more from the set. The sales details are found at this link, which advertises the release of the NICOT volume on Hosea by J. Andrew Dearman (a volume that comes highly acclaimed).

The link to the whole set at WTSBooks is here.



Sunday, August 01, 2010

0 General Assembly / General Synod Round Table Interview on Covenant Radio, August 20

On one of the upcoming broadcasts of Covenant Radio, set for August 20, 2010, Bill and I will have the privilege of speaking with Wes White, pastor of Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in Spearfish, SD, Dr. Darryl G. Hart, elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), and Dr. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, author, and Associate Pastor at Oceanside United Reformed Church, a member congregation of the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA). The topic of our discussion will be the issues and decisions made at the General Assemblies of the PCA and OPC, and the General Synod of the URCNA from Summer, 2010. We believe this will be a unique opportunity to come together as Confessionally Reformed Christians to discuss the work going on in these denominations that share much in common.

One of the reasons we conceived of this program is related to the guiding aims of Covenant Radio: to help our listeners strengthen their understanding of and apply the foundational principles of the Confessionally-Reformed churches. We aim to help people hear what God's Word teaches us about glorifying God and enjoying Him in our lives. We do this at Covenant Radio through discussion of books, and topics by authors, pastors and seminary professors whose roots are in Confessionally Reformed Christianity - and seek guidance of these men and of our common forefathers in the Reformed faith deriving from both the Continent and the British Isles.

We therefore have a common interest in promoting and supporting the mission and work of our brothers and sisters in the Confessionally Reformed denominations in our country, and we felt that this program would serve well as part of what we seek to accomplish with Covenant Radio. In particular we hope that by discussing the goings-on in these churches at the denominational level, we can help people be more connected to the action of the higher church courts than they might otherwise be, or to let them know a little about things going on within broader Reformed community and outside their immediate denominational connection. We hope you'll join us for this broadcast, which we expect to be an interesting and informative, encouraging and challenging discussion of issues that face us in the church today. Please check us out at www.covenantradio.org, where you will find information about this and other broadcasts of Covenant Radio. Subscription information to the podcast may be found at the website, or by searching at iTunes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

0 Repost: The Marrow Theology - The Error of Monocovenantalism

One of the objections raised in recently in Federal Vision circles is an objection to the nature of the prelapsarian relationship between God and Adam as covenantal - or at least that such a relationship cannot properly described by a covenantal arrangement that differs from that in which we are engaged with God as believers. This leads to all kinds of problems, as was noted in yesterday's reposted article.

It is clear from Scripture that we are conceived condemned. That is, people are conceived covenantally guilty before God, even having done nothing, because of Adam's sin. Adam is the head of all the human race, as Paul makes quite clear in Romans 5 - and the headship is a covenantal headship as is made plain in that passage. We aren't talking mere "organic biology", but covenantal headship. We ALL, the Word says, sinned in Adam. Period. We are held accountable for his sin, and it is every bit as much our OWN sin, as it would have been had we been in his place.

Now if Adam, pre-fall, was in relationship with God under the terms of the same covenant that we are... then what does his breaking of that covenant do? Paul makes clear that we are guilty before God of Adam's sin. If his sin was a failure of faith, then we cannot be justified through faith. We cannot somehow supercede Adam's failure with our own success and sit just before God. We are conceived UNJUST - and therefore in need of a DIFFERENT covenantal arrangement.

The headship of Adam in covenant relationship with God implies, for his posterity, that in whatever the arrangement was, since he failed and broke that covenant, we, too, have broken that covenant. If there is to be a new covenant relationship such that people can be saved and brought into eternal relationship with God, then that new covenant CANNOT have BOTH the same promise and same conditions as the previous covenant. (else how is it new?) That covenant between God and Adam in the garden is done. Gone. Broken for all men who proceeded naturally from Adam, as he, their head failed to uphold its terms.

Monocovenantalism simply FAILS on the face of it. There is no way that Adam faced the same covenantal obligations in the garden, prior to his fall, that believers do today, post-fall. To argue this is to completely misread Genesis 3 and Romans 5 (among other places). To argue this is to destroy the covenant headship of Adam, and to twist the covenant headship of Christ into something unrecognizable.

What's coming next in The Marrow of Modern Divinity is the discussion of the promise of God. In that promise was revealed several important things: Thomas Boston, in the notes presented on page 68 of the version one can purchase here, writes:
"In this promise was revealed, 1. Man's restoration unto the favour of God, and his salvation; not to be effected by man himself, and his own works, but by another. For our first parents, standing condemned for breaking of the covenant of works, are not sent back to it, to essay the mending of the matter, which they had marred before; but a new covenant is purposed,—a Saviour promised as their only hope. 2. That this Saviour was to be incarnate, to become man, "the seed of the women." 3. That he behoved to suffer; his heel, namely his humanity, to be bruised to death. 4. That by his death he should make a full conquest over the devil, and destroy his works, who had now overcome and destroyed mankind; and so recover the captives out of his hand: "he shall bruise thy head, viz: while thou bruisest his heel." This encounter was on the cross: there Christ treading on the serpent, it bruised his heel, but he bruised its head. 5. That he should not be held by death, but Satan's power should be broken irrecoverably: the Saviour being only bruised in the heel, but the serpent in the head. 6. That the saving interest in him, and his salvation, is by faith alone, believing the promise with particular application to one's self, and so receiving him, forasmuch as these things are revealed by way of a simple promise." (p. 68, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
This promise is simple news - the gospel - good news of God's redeeming work, which He accomplished in the sending of His Son for His people. This ancient gospel, the covenant of grace first announced in Genesis 3:15, and subsequently revealed progressively through the history of God's covenant people, by announcements from prophets and priests (and kings), is the next subject of the Marrow.
 

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