Author: Andy Schreiber

The Nine Commandments?

Chantry SabbathThe ten commandments in general are strangely neglected among many professing Christians in our day. Many cannot even so much as name all ten of them (whether in order or not). This is a sad state of affairs, and reflects poorly upon both the teaching ministries of our churches, as well the personal Bible reading habits of many believers.

Having said that, one of the ten commandments in particular suffers perhaps more neglect than all the rest – the fourth commandment. It says,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11, ESV)

It would seem that many in our day have, in fact, forgotten to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” In fact, in some circles you would practically think that we now have only nine (9) commandments instead of ten.

Many would actually say that the fourth commandment simply no longer applies today because it has not been repeated in the New Testament. Charles Ryrie, for example, states that “the New Testament only includes nine of the ten” (Systematic Theology, p.350).

But is that really the case? Is the New Testament actually silent on this particular commandment? No. In his book, Call the Sabbath a DelightWalter Chantry writes,

“If anyone says that the New testament does not teach the fourth commandment, perhaps he should read the Gospels before he pretends to speak for the whole Testament.” (p.52-53)

In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke about it a number of times in the Gospels, even referring to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8, ESV). And not only does he not say anything about abrogating or setting aside the Sabbath commandment, but he went so far as to teach people the right view of the Sabbath, including the truth that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, ESV).

And so God’s command for us to observe a day of holy rest (not inactivity) and worship still applies today. God’s moral law has not changed. And this should not be a surprise to anyone, for as the wording of the commandment itself even tells us, it is based upon God’s work in the very beginning, at creation itself! (In other words, the Sabbath commandment did not begin with the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20, but rather all the way back in the 1st chapter of the book of Genesis!)

For the explicit reason given for remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy is as follows: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11, ESV).

The Sabbath, then, is a creation ordinance. And it is for our good. God “blessed” that day and “made it holy.” That has not changed. As Hebrews 4:9 says, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (ESV).

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The Importance of Singing the Psalms in Worship

Faith-hope-love (Mark Jones)It should go without saying that the content of the songs that we sing in corporate worship must be biblical. In Colossians 3:16 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

And so one of the ways that we are to let the “word of Christ dwell in us richly” is not only by “teaching and admonishing one another,” but also by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”!

Is the Word of Christ found in the songs that we sing in worship? It ought to be. (If not, we are doing each other a great disservice.) And surely one of the best ways to ensure that this is the case is to sing the Psalms. Even if you don’t hold to exclusive Psalmody (I personally do not), there is simply no good reason not to include the singing of Psalms whenever possible.

In his book, Faith. Hope. Love., Mark Jones writes,

“How many churches today regularly sing the Psalms, which are the very words of God? Some complain that so much contemporary worship is too emotional. I would argue that, in some sense, it is not emotional enough. By this I mean that much contemporary worship needs to lay aside the superficial feel-good approach in exchange for the range of emotions expressed in the Psalms that characterize the Christian life (e.g., lament, joy, thanksgiving, duress). What better way to express our love for God than to use the words he has inspired through those who have loved him?” (p.192)

Good point. The Psalms reflect a wide range of experience and emotion -the very same range of experience and emotion that we as believers are subject to in this life. The superficial happy-clappy model of worship simply does not do justice to this, and so in some sense leaves us ill-equipped to worship and serve God in all the seasons of life.

Our worship (even among Presbyterians!) ought to be more emotional, not less! And what better way to accomplish that than to incorporate the singing (not to mention the reading, praying, and preaching!) of the Psalms into our corporate worship on the Lord’s day!

 

The Third Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonOur study through the ten commandments now brings us to the third commandment, which simply says:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? Many people assume that this commandment is primarily about cussing or swearing. The Bible certainly does tell us not to use foul language. For example, in Ephesians 5:4 the Apostle Paul says,

“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (ESV)

But the third commandment deals particularly with the “name of the LORD.” And so while this commandment certainly forbids some kinds of cussing (i.e. the kind that explicitly uses God’s name in it), foul language in general is not the primary concern here.

In his book, The Ten Commandments, Thomas Watson points out no less than twelve (12) different ways that we take the Lord’s name in vain, including such things as speaking irreverently of God’s name; professing God’s name while not living in a way that is consistent with that profession of faith; using God’s name in idle conversation; worshiping Him “with our lips, but not with our hearts” (p.85); hypocrisy; not praying in faith; profaning or abusing God’s Word; swearing by God’s name; and many other things.

Why is the name of the Lord so important? Have you ever thought about that? In the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray that the name of our Father in heaven might be “hallowed” (Matthew 6:9). In other words, the very first request in the Lord’s prayer is that God’s name might be revered and treated as holy. (And yet how many of us actually pray that way and give such a high priority to the glory of God’s name in our prayers?)

A person’s name represents the person, doesn’t it. We commonly speak of knowing someone by name or being on a “first name basis” with someone. Conversely we sometimes speak of ‘dragging someone’s name through the mud,’ which, of course, means speaking ill of someone.

Well, in a similar way, God makes himself known by His name, and so to take his name in vain is to in some way show disrespect or dishonor toward his name (or toward anything by which he makes himself known). That is why the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that this commandments forbids “all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known” (Q.55).

This commandment, then, is ultimately about showing due reverence for God.

And how serious a matter is this? Notice the reason given in the commandment itself – “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” The Shorter Catechism goes on to explain the significance of those words:

Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is a sin, and is wickedness in God’s sight. It is no small thing to show disrespect to God or to his holy name. It is a sin that is worthy of hell.

Thankfully there is “a name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV), even the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 10:43 tells us that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (ESV). No wonder the name of the Lord is so precious to believers in Christ!

Calvin on Free Will

Institutes CalvinDid John Calvin teach that fallen mankind has free will? The answer to that question might be a little more nuanced than one might suppose, and much depends on how one defines the concept of “free will” in the first place.

One thing at least is certain – Calvin was no fan of the term itself. He writes,

“[I]s it not ludicrous to hang so magnificent a title on so petty a thing? A fine freedom it is, when it is said that man is not compelled to serve sin, but is so much its willing slave that his will is held captive by the bonds of sin! I indeed loathe all quarrels about words, for they needlessly trouble the church. However, I think we should avoid using terms which appear rather absurd, particularly when they risk leading us astray.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.47)

Some might indeed speak of “free will” primarily in order to affirm that sinners sin willingly, rather than by compulsion or against their will. But Calvin clearly held that this was not sufficient warrant to label such a thing as being “free.” He even calls such a term “absurd.”

More than that, as he himself states in the above quote, to use such a term runs the risk of “leading us astray” by causing someone to vainly imagine that “he is master both of his own judgment and his will, so that in his own strength he is able to turn one way or another?” (ibid).

Calvin concludes with the following remark:

“So if anyone would choose to use the word with a proper understanding of what it means, I have no further quarrel with him. But because I believe that it cannot be used without serious risk, and that to do away with it would greatly benefit the church, I would not wish to adopt it myself, and my advice, if it were asked, would be to give it up.” (p.49)

Wise advice. If one needs to explain and qualify a term every time it is used in order to avoid confusion and to prevent people from being led astray, perhaps it is best to simply not use the term at all.

Warfield on “the Argument in a Nutshell” for Infant Baptism

Benjamin B. Warfield sums up the argument in favor of infant baptism as follows:

“The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established his Church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His church and as such entitled to its ordinances. Among these ordinances is baptism, which standing in similar place in the New Dispensation to circumcision in the Old, is like it to be given to children.” (The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. IX, p.408)

The first thing that Warfield points out is that “God has established his church in the days of Abraham and put children into it.” And so the starting point and key to understanding his argument is a right understanding of the church and the covenant of grace.

In his book, Christ & Covenant Theology, Cornelius Venema includes an entire chapter dealing with Covenant Theology and the practice in infant baptism. In this chapter, he interacts with Warfield’s treatment of the subject (citing the statement quoted above), providing a brief overview of Covenant theology, and then showing how this view applies to infant baptism. There he writes,

“The Reformed practice of baptizing believers and their children, as Warfield rightly maintained, is largely based upon an understanding of the biblical doctrine of the covenant of grace. In the principal writings of the Reformers of the sixteenth century, and in the great confessional symbols of the Reformed tradition, the one argument for paedobaptism that repeatedly stands out is the covenant argument. Children, like adult believers, are to be baptized because they belong to the covenant community in Christ.” (p.258).

Venema then goes on to flesh out the covenant argument in what he himself calls “a series of steps, moving from the more general and basic elements of covenant theology to its specific implications regarding the proper recipients of Christian baptism” (Ibid).

He points out that one of the most important elements of Reformed covenant theology is that there is “one covenant of grace throughout redemptive history” (p.270), the same in substance, but differing in how it is administered. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:

“This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.” (16.5)

Another way of saying this would be to say that there has always been one way of salvation, whether in the Old Testament or in the New. In Galatians 3:7-9, Paul writes,

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (ESV)

Those who are “of faith” (i.e. those who trust in Christ alone for salvation) “are the sons of Abraham” (v.7).  All of the Old Testament saints were saved by grace through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), just as we are today. Their faith looked forward to the Christ who was yet to come; while our faith looks back to the Christ who has already come.

And God’s covenant with Abraham included even his infant offspring, who were also to receive the sign and seal of that administration of the covenant of grace, that is, the sacrament of circumcision. Genesis 17:9-12 says,

“And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. . . .” (ESV)

When you consider the fact that the sign and seal of the covenant (i.e. circumcision) was explicitly commanded by the Lord to be applied to infants (8-day-old male children!) in the Old Testament, many of the arguments against infant baptism begin to crumble under their own weight. As Calvin puts it, “For what will they [i.e. critics of infant baptism] bring forward to impugn infant baptism that may not be turned back against circumcision?” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.16.9).

That is why John Murray writes the following:

“If infants are excluded now, it cannot be too strongly emphasised [sic] that this change implies a complete reversal of the earlier divinely instituted practice. So we must ask: do we find any hint or intimation of such reversal in either the Old or the New Testament? More pointedly, does the New Testament revoke or does it provide any intimation of revoking so expressly authorised [sic] a principle as that of the inclusion of infants in the covenant and their participation in the covenant sign and seal?” (Christian Baptism, p.49)

Do we find any hint of such a reversal? No, we do not. And so Murray concludes by saying,

“In the absence of such evidence of repeal we conclude that the administering of the sign and seal of the covenant to the infant seed of believers is still in operation and has perpetual divine warrant. In other words, the command to administer the sign to infants has not been revoked: therefore it is still in force.” (Christian Baptism, p.50)

In other words, the burden of proof actually rests upon those who reject infant baptism, not on those who affirm it. There would actually need to be an explicit prohibition in Scripture forbidding us from baptizing infants, rather than an explicit command telling us to do so.

Calvin on Infant Baptism

Calvin's InstitutesIn Calvin’s somewhat lengthy treatment of the sacrament of baptism in His Institutes of the Christian Religion, he devotes nearly 2/3 of that space (around 35 pages or so in the McNeill edition, translated by Ford Lewis Battles) to the subject of infant baptism.

One of the many arguments that John Calvin makes in support of the practice of infant baptism is based upon the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:14, where our Lord says,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (ESV)

At first glance this statement does not appear to have much of anything to do with baptism at all. And yet, as Calvin goes on to say, “For we must not lightly pass over the fact that Christ commands that the infants be presented to him, adding the reason, ‘for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven'” (4.16.7). When one takes the time to consider Christ’s words in this passage regarding infants, it becomes clear that they really do have something to say about the basis for infant baptism.

Calvin goes on to explain:

“And thereupon he attests his will by his act when, embracing them, he commends them with his prayer and blessing to his father. If it is right for infants to be brought to Christ, why not also to be received into baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, why is the sign denied them which, so to speak, opens to them a door into the church, that, adopted into it, they may be enrolled among the heirs of the kingdom of heaven?” (Ibid.)

Christ not only received these little ones, taking them up in His arms and blessing them (Mark 10:16), but, as if that were not enough, goes as far as to say that to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven! And, as Calvin points out, if the kingdom belongs to them, how then can the “sign” or mark of that kingdom rightly be denied them?

Not only is the practice of infant baptism (also known as paedobaptism) the majority practice in the Christian church throughout the world, but it has been such ever since the apostolic age, and so throughout the history of the church. Simply put, it clearly has both the majority of the church as well as the majesty of history on its side. These considerations, while certainly not primary, must not lightly be set aside.

Add to that the undeniable fact that the sign of the covenant was explicitly commanded by the Lord to be applied to infants in the Old Testament (i.e. circumcision), and many of the arguments against infant baptism begin to crumble under their own weight. As Calvin puts it, “For what will they [i.e. critics of infant baptism] bring forward to impugn infant baptism that may not be turned back against circumcision?” (Institutes, 4.16.9).

 

Good News of Great Joy

Every Christmas we are reminded of the message that the angel of the Lord proclaimed to a group of lowly shepherds who were out in the field watching over their flock at night (v.8). In Luke 2:10-12 it is written,

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (ESV)

What was so “good” about this news? What was so joyful about the announcement of this baby’s birth?

First, the good news of Christmas is that the baby who was born that day was the “Savior” (v.11). And this Savior was not just born, but born “unto you” (v.11). In other words, He was born for our sakes. It is the same language that is found in the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 9:6-7, where we read:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (King James Version, emphasis mine)

Second, the birth of Jesus was not only the birth of the Savior, but also the birth of One who was and is “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). As God spoke through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the child who was born “unto us,” and the son who was given “unto us” was none other than “the Lord,” the “mighty God.”

Only someone who is truly God and truly man in one person could accomplish our redemption from sin. Our debt of sin is infinite because every sin is committed against an infinitely holy God. And yet only someone who is also truly a man could die in the place of men. It is only in the person of Jesus Christ that such a Savior is to be found! As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5,

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (ESV)

And so the manger of Christmas presupposes the cross of Good Friday. The purpose of the incarnation was that Jesus might die to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and rise from the dead on the third day for their justification (Romans 4:25).

Do you know the true joy of Christmas? It is only by faith in Jesus that the fear of judgment is replaced by the “great joy” of salvation from sin, and eternal life in Him.