Notable Quotes

Calvin on Why We Should not Avoid the Subject of Election

Calvin

What are we to make of the doctrine of election? Despite the fact that it is clearly taught in Scripture (and repeatedly so, I might add!), many sincere, well-meaning, Bible-believing people in the church today seem to be of the opinion that it is a doctrine (oops, that word is also on the ever-expanding list of things to be avoided in the preaching and teaching of the church) better left unsaid.  After all, many people find it to be confusing or even downright offensive.

If it is so sure to confuse some people or offend others, shouldn’t we just avoid the subject altogether? No doubt that is the approach taken by many today.  In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin gives us some helpful advice on the subject:

For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know. Therefore we must guard against depriving believers of anything disclosed about predestination in Scripture, lest we seem either wickedly to defraud them of the blessing of their God or to accuse and scoff at the Holy Spirit for having published what it is in any way profitable to suppress. (Vol.2, p.924)

Only a couple pages later, he writes:

Whoever, then, heaps odium upon the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if he had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the church. (Vol.2, p.926)

In other words,to avoid the subject is to cast aspersions upon God Himself for including the subject (and, frankly, for doing it so often!) in His Word. To ignore or downplay the doctrine of election when it is prevalent in the text is to accuse God Himself of either including something in His Word that is unnecessary (as if He intentionally gave us something we do not need), or (worse yet) even downright harmful to His people.

So let us not deprive God’s people of something that He gave us for our good; and (even more importantly), let us not insult our heavenly Father as if He would give His children a stone when they ask for bread (Matthew 7:9).

 

The Glorious Certainty of the Gospel

Machen

What is the relationship between the grace of God in the gospel and assurance? Why is the doctrine of justification by faith alone so important? J. Gresham Machen writes,

Such is the glorious certainty of the gospel. The salvation of the Christian is certain because it depends altogether upon God; if it depended in slightest measure upon us, the certainty of it would be gone. Hence appears the vital importance of the great Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone;  that doctrine is at the very centre of Christianity. It means that acceptance with God is not something that we earn; it is not something that is subject to the wretched uncertainties of human endeavor; but it is a free gift of God. (What Is Faith?, p.200-201)

That is just one more reason why the doctrine of justification by faith alone is so important. It is not just a matter for ivory tower theologians or fodder for theological debate – far from it!  It makes all the difference in the world to each and every believer in Christ. Why? Because it is the only real way to true certainty and assurance in the Christian life.

Justification by faith alone presents us with a choice between the “glorious certainty of the gospel” (i.e. knowing without a shadow of a doubt that you have been fully forgiven and accepted by a holy God) or the wretched uncertainties of human endeavor.”

If our salvation depends upon our works in even the slightest degree, all certainty and assurance are cast aside. But if salvation is a free gift of God (which is ultimately what justification by faith alone entails), then & only then can the believer truly have the peace and assurance that comes with believing the gospel of Christ.

Almost God?

Machen

Some wise words from J.Gresham Machen on the subject of the deity of Christ:

“[T]he church hurled anathemas at those who held that Christ, though great, was less than God. But those anathemas were beneficent and right. That difference of opinion was no mere trifle; there is no such thing as “almost God.” The thought is blasphemy; the next thing less than the infinite is infinitely less.” (J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, p.116)

For anyone (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example) to claim that Jesus is “a god” (but not fully God) or that He is “almost God” is utter nonsense.  As Machen astutely points out, there is no such thing as “almost God” or almost infinite.  It is not only nonsense, but blasphemy as well. Jesus is either God or He is something far less that that. There really is no middle ground.

 

Spurgeon on Atheism

charles-spurgeon

“He who looks up to the firmament and then writes himself down an atheist, brands himself at the same moment as an idiot or a liar.”

These are the words of Charles Spurgeon in commenting on Psalm 19:1, which says,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (ESV)

Creation itself, especially the heavens and the firmament (the vastness of space with the sun, moon, and stars) – basically the things that are above and beyond us – says something. In the words of Psalm 19:1 it declares something – the glory of God!

The verses that follow (Psalm 19:2-6) make it clear to us the this declaration of the glory of God is abundant (“day unto day pours out speech” – v.3), universal in its reach (“Their voice goes out through all the earth – v.4), and it requires no translator, as it has no language barrier (“There is no speech, nor are their words, whose voice is not heard” – v.3). The declaration or testimony of creation is loud and clear to all who see it.  And that testimony is not to its own glory, but to that of its Creator, God.

So anyone who looks up at the firmament (or sky) and then still calls himself an atheist is (to use Spurgeon’s phrase) branding himself as an idiot or a liar. We all know better, regardless of what we profess to believe (or disbelieve). That is how abundant and clear the testimony of creation is to the glory of its Creator. To use Paul’s words in Romans 1:20, it renders atheists (of both the philosophical and practical variety) “without excuse.”

The Most Important Organization in the World

RYM

Ever take a look at your life and wish that you could be involved in something big? Something really important? That you  have helped to make a real difference?  Ronald Reagan once said,

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. The Marines don’t have that problem.

The Marines might not have that problem, but neither does anyone who is a member of the Christian church – no matter how small, unimpressive, or insignificant that church may be when viewed by the world’s standards.

People often speak of “megachurches” (usually meaning that they are very, very large), as if they are somehow much more important than those much smaller churches (micro-churches?). But here’s the thing – every true Christian church (which is defined simply as a church where the Scriptures are truly taught/the gospel is truly preached, the sacraments  of baptism & the Lord’s Supper are rightly administered, and church discipline is faithfully exercised) is a mega-church.  Why? Because that is where you will really find the Lord Jesus Christ at work. The church is what the Lord Jesus Christ Himself promised to build and defend. That is where Jesus truly changes lives, families, communities, and the world.

In his book, Renewing Your Mind (which is all about the Apostles’ Creed), R.C. Sproul writes,

The church is the most important organization in the world. It is the target of every demonic, hostile attack in the universe. Jesus personally guaranteed that the gates of hell will never prevail against the church. He made no guarantee that the gates of hell would not be unleashed against it, however. (p.184)

Do you want to be a part of something big? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are a member of a local church, then you already are a part of something big!  You are a part of the most important organization in the world! Yes, even that small, unimpressive, all-too-ordinary one down the street.

So join in the worship, work, and witness of the family of God! It doesn’t get any bigger than that!

The Urgency of the Gospel

Hourglass

Many of us are tempted to procrastinate when it comes to dealing with certain problems in our daily lives.  We often procrastinate knowing full well that ignoring problems and hoping that they will go away often just serves to make them even worse. Who among us can honestly say that we haven’t been there and done that a time or two?

But when it comes to eternity, procrastination can be devastating. The time that we each have in this life to settle where, how, and with whom we will spend eternity is really quite limited. Time flies, as the saying goes.  It is with good reason that the Psalmist writes,

So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, ESV)

In asking the Lord to teach us to number our days” (emphasis mine) the Psalmist shows us that numbering our days does not come naturally to us. We always seem to assume that tomorrow is somehow guaranteed to us. It is not, at least not in this life.

In his commentary in the book of Acts, Derek Thomas writes,

“Souls are lost by reason of procrastination. Awakened consciences that fail to make good their resolve to find peace with God discover that before they realize it, they have fallen even deeper into the mire of sin. Thinking that they can turn to God “at any time,” they discover that they are unable to do so.” (p.673)

He is speaking there of the example of the Roman Governor Felix in Acts chapter 24. Felix was very familiar with Christianity. In v.22 Luke writes that Felix had “a rather accurate knowledge of the Way.” Not only had he heard the gospel explained to him on numerous occasions (v.26), but he had heard it from no less  a preacher than the Apostle Paul himself!  Paul spoke to him about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (v.25). Paul did not beat around the bush.

What did Felix do with that knowledge? What was his response to the gospel of Christ? He procrastinated; he simply put it off.  As far as we know, he never repented & turned to Christ by faith.  While he was “alarmed” (v.25) by Paul’s mention of the judgment to come, he wasn’t “alarmed” enough to actually turn from his sin and turn to Christ by faith. Rather, he turned from hearing the gospel at all, telling Paul, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (v.26).

In other words, not now – maybe later.  He just assumed that he could put it off until later. He assumed that he would always have an “opportunity” (v.26) to hear the gospel and believe later, whenever he got around to it. How many today are of a very similar mindset?

Maybe that even describes you?

It is not without reason that the Scripture says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV).  As  the writer of Hebrews (quoting Psalm 95) warns us, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8, ESV). Did you catch that? To “hear his voice” in the gospel of Christ and to reject it or put it off is to harden your heart. In other words, procrastination is not a neutral posture. Indecision about Jesus Christ is itself a decision, and it has consequences.

As the example of Felix serves to demonstrate, hearing the gospel is not enough. Hearing it numerous times is not enough. Being familiar with the faith is not enough. Even being alarmed at the thought of the judgment to come is not enough if it does not lead to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, turn to Him by faith while there is yet time.  Today, if you hear His voice in the gospel, do not harden your heart by indecision and procrastination. Come to Him and have life that is abundant (John 10:10) and eternal (John 17:3). As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21,

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Don’t just fear the coming judgment –be delivered from it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Be reconciled to God in Him!

A 3-Word Summary of the Gospel

Packer

If you were to attempt to summarize the gospel in as few words as possible, how would you do it?  How would you boil it down to its most basic essence? How many words would you need?

J.I. Packer says that he can name that tune in just three (3) notes. In his book, Knowing God, Packer offers a three-word summary of the central message of the New Testament:

“[W]ere I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” (p.214)

Adoption through propitiation. In Christ believers are not only justified and accounted righteous in the sight of God, but also adopted into the family of God (!). And how is that made possible? Through Christ’s work of propitiation, whereby He took the wrath of God that we deserve for our sins upon Himself on the Cross.

Sinners are made children of God because of the death of the Son of God on their behalf! What an amazing truth!  That is the amazing grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

The Heart of the Gospel

Heart of Gospel

In his classic book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer includes a chapter entitled “The Heart of the Gospel.”  And what is that chapter all about? Propitiation.

Propitiation (according to Packer) is the heart of the gospel; it is central to the gospel. And yet that word is strangely absent from the vocabulary of far too many believers.  Worse yet, it is often absent in the preaching and teaching of the church.  No doubt the former is largely the result of the latter.

Concerning the vital doctrine of propitiation, Packer writes,

Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity? In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God, the taking of human form by the Son, the meaning of the cross, Christ’s heavenly intercession, the way of salvation – all are to explained in terms of it, . . .and any explanation from which the thought of propitiation is missing will be incomplete, and indeed actually misleading, by New Testament standards. (p.181)

He even goes so far as to say that “a gospel without propitiation at its heart is another gospel than that which Paul preached” (p.182).

What, then, is propitiation?  What does the word mean? The New Bible Dictionary (Third Edition, IVP, 1996) defines it as “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift” (p.975). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Book House, 1984) offers a better definition of the biblical use of this word as “The turning away of wrath by an offering” (p.888).

The Biblical use of the word expresses the idea that on the Cross Jesus Christ took the wrath of God for the sins of His people upon Himself – that God’s wrath for our sin was poured out upon Him in our place. It is the same idea expressed (even if the word itself is absent) in Isaiah 53:5 where Isaiah says that upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” 

Perhaps the key use of the Word in the New Testament is found in Romans chapter 3, where Paul writes,

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25a, ESV, emphasis mine)

God put forth his own Son “as a propitiation by His blood.” The death of Jesus Christ turned away the wrath of God from His people.  We who were “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) are redeemed, forgiven, reconciled and even adopted as children of God in Jesus Christ because of His death in our place, taking the wrath of God for our sins upon Himself!

No wonder Packer holds this great truth to be central to the Christian faith! It really is at the heart of the gospel. The gospel just isn’t the gospel without the truth of propitiation.

Berkhof on the Outward and Ordinary Means of Grace

Berkhof

How does God normally work in the lives of sinners?  How does Christ communicate to His people the benefits of redemption?  How does the Holy Spirit usually cause believers to grow in grace?

In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof writes,

Fallen man receives all the blessings of salvation out of the eternal fountain of the grace of God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ and through the operation of the Holy Spirit. While the Spirit can and does in some respects operate immediately on the soul of the sinner, He has seen fit to bind Himself largely to the use of certain means in the communication of divine grace. The term “means of grace” is not found in the Bible, but is nevertheless a proper designation of the means that are indicated in the Bible. (p.604)

What are those “means of grace” that the Holy Spirit “has seen fit to bind Himself largely to” in the communication of the divine grace to sinners?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks and answers that question in  the following way:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

If you think about it, that makes the public worship of the church on the Lord’s day very important, even central to God’s plan for working in the lives of sinners.  Yet that is a concept that seems downright foreign to many in the church today.

The “Word” (as explained in the very next question in the catechism – Q.89) refers to “the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word.” Private reading and meditation on the Word is good and necessary, but it is no substitute for the preaching of the Word. (And, no, listening to sermons online really isn’t quite the same thing.) The sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are not private ordinances, but are by definition a part of the public worship of the church.  And prayer? While we certainly would not downplay the importance of personal, private prayer (see Matthew 6:5-6), the kind of prayer spoken of as a means of grace is primarily corporate prayer in public worship.  This is what is being referred to in Acts 2:42 where Luke writes,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

When Luke says “the prayers,” this is not just a reference to prayer in general, but specifically to prayer in public worship.  Indeed everything mentioned in Acts 2:42 (i.e. the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread [i.e. the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper], and the prayers) is corporate in nature – it is describing the church gathered together, not individual believers in private.

All of this has some very important implications for how we view public and private worship:

  1. If you want to grow in grace as a Christian, you must not neglect the public, corporate worship of the church on the Lord’s day.  Private devotions (reading & studying the Bible privately, spending time in prayer, etc.) are certainly good and commendable, but they are not sufficient. They were never intended to be sufficient (much less primary), for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.  Christianity is most certainly personal, but it is never intended to be private.
  2. Our churches simply must emphasize and rely upon the means of grace (the preaching of the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer) if we truly want to see God at work in and through us.  The outward and ordinary means of grace may not be very flashy; they may not be exciting; they may not be very impressive in the eyes of the world (or in the eyes of worldly Christians for that matter!); in short, they may seem rather, well, ordinary.  But they are God’s ordained means of growing His people in grace and building His church.
  3. If you are a member or regular attender of a church where the means of grace are neglected, downplayed, or even absent from public worship, you should not expect to grow in grace there. Without the means of grace, all the bells and whistles in the world are just so much noise (even if well-orchestrated noise).
  4. Small groups, growth groups, community groups – whatever you call them – can be a good thing.  They can serve a vital purpose, especially in larger churches.  But small groups are not more important to the growth of believers than public worship on the Lord’s day.  Small groups are helpful, but they are not where the “real work” of ministry and growth happens.  This truth is contrary to much of what passes for conventional wisdom in the church today.

So we dare not neglect the outward and ordinary means of grace.  And that means that we must not neglect the public, corporate worship of the church on the Lord’s day.  It may not seem like much – it may seem all too ordinary, but where you find the Word, Sacraments, and corporate prayer – that is where you will find God to be at work in the lives of sinners, bringing life from the dead, leading sinners to saving faith in the Savior, and building them up in the grace of Jesus Christ.

See you on Sunday!

Sex & Money

Sex & Money

Sex & money.  Both are pretty important parts of our lives.  Both are good things, given by God, and loaded with tremendous potential for good in our lives.  And both are also fraught with dangerous consequences if abused or misused.

Both are spoken of clearly in Scripture.  Both are spoken of often in Scripture (especially money). But both are seldom spoken of by many pastors and other church leaders.  Paul David Tripp writes,

We seem to approach both areas [sex and money] with a timidity, reserve, and embarrassment that does not make personal, cultural, or biblical sense. Pastors are often hesitant to teach and preach about money issues as if somehow this topic is outside the boundaries of what they’ve been called by God to do. And if they’re cautious in talking about money, they’re even more so when it comes to the topic of sex. Meanwhile, in both areas the world around us never seems to stop talking. (Sex & Money, p.17)

If we as believers are not properly equipped with a biblical view of sex and money, we will be ill-equipped for living in a world that seems to be utterly consumed by them.  And if we are not thinking about these things biblically, there is little doubt that we will be influenced by the world’s faulty view of these things instead.  And so (to use Paul’s words from Romans 12:2), we should not be surprised if more and more professing Christians are conformed to this world in these areas, rather than being transformed by the renewal of our minds.

So what are we to do? We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).  We must, by God’s grace, conform (or renew) our thinking on these subjects to the Word and will of God, not to the pattern of this evil age.

For that to happen, pastors and teachers in the church must be committed to teaching the biblical view of sex and money.  While we certainly should not be fixated on these subjects in an unhealthy or unbalanced way, we must speak about them wherever, whenever, and however the Scriptures do so.  To do less than that is not only to fail to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) to the people of God, but then also to fail to be innocent of the blood of all men (Acts 20:26).