Friday, June 17, 2022
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Over an elongated Bank Holiday weekend a grateful nation paused to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. I well remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations way back in 1977. We had street parties, people merrily waved Union Jack flags and wore red, white and blue plastic hats. Much fun was had by all. Little did we think when we sang, ‘Long live our gracious Queen’, that Her Majesty would live to see her 96th birthday and reign over us for 70 years (so far).
The Queen’s reign has been so long that she seems like a living embodiment of modern British history. She has seen 14 inhabitants of 10 Downing Street, from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson. Even the oldest of us has lived most of our lives under her rule. We don’t like to think that one day Her Majesty’s reign will end, but end it will. Prince Charles sitting in for the Monarch at the recent State Opening of Parliament was a little glimpse of what’s to come. His time on the throne is bound to be short lived compared to that of his mother.
The Queen makes no secret of the fact that her dedicated service to the nation is inspired by her faith in a King far greater than even her royal personage. That King is Jesus. The Bible styles him, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’. Death will not deprive him of his crown. In fact, it was by dying on the cross for our sins and being raised from the dead that he was enthroned as the world’s true Lord and King. His kingdom of love will never end.
In her message to the Commonwealth in 2011, Her Majesty the Queen, said: “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”
* For the June edition of various local parish magazines
Monday, May 23, 2022
The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, in the person of the Son, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure, having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, to the end that being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of mediator and surety; which office He took not upon himself, but was thereunto called by His Father; who also put all power and judgement in His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.
The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given unto Him. (8:5)
It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man (8:1)
This office of mediator between God and man is proper only to Christ, who is the prophet, priest, and king of the church of God; and may not be either in whole, or any part thereof, transferred from Him to any other. (8:9)
This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare [not possible to sin]. If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning. Systematic Theology: The Complete Three Volumes, Kindle Edition, location 20205.
Of course, Hodge makes it clear that Jesus did not in fact sin, but he goes on to say,
Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with his people. (Systematic Theology, location 20205-20212).
But later the Princeton divine states,
All Christ’s acts and sufferings in the execution of his mediatorial work were, therefore, the acts and sufferings of a divine person. (Systematic Theology, location 20232).
All Christ’s acts, sufferings [and any possible sins committed] in the execution of his mediatorial work were, therefore, the acts, sufferings [and sins] of a divine person.
You see the problem?
Friday, May 20, 2022
Could Jesus have sinned? Yes - but wonderfully he didn’t & now gloriously he can’t: ‘When Hebrews tells us he can sympathize with us as our High Priest, we have to trust that Jesus actually experienced temptation.’— John Stevens (@_JohnStevens) May 13, 2022
Contrary to what John Stevens said in his tweet, I believe that Jesus was impeccable. Not only was he without sin, it was impossible for
him to sin. Yet I also insist that Christ was not impervious to temptation. He 'suffered, when tempted' (Hebrews 2:18), experiencing the full force of Satan's attacks. How can both those points be true?
1. The incarnate Son was a divine person with a human nature
At the incarnation the Son of God took a human nature into union with himself. That personal union is unbreakable. For Jesus to have sinned his human nature would have needed to be able to detach itself from the person of the Son, for the Son as God cannot be party to sin.
The human nature of Jesus cannot act independently of the Son, for it is his human nature. Speaking abstractly, Christ's human nature is impersonal. It his no personhood of its own. But speaking concretely of the incarnate Christ, his human nature was in-personal. It existed in union with the person of the Son from the moment of its conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb. With that in mind we do not say that the human nature of the Son died for our sins, but that the Son of God died for us in the mode of his human nature.
That is why Christ cannot sin according to either nature; divine or human. The two natures are united in the person of the Son. To say otherwise and suggest that the human nature could act independently smacks of Nestorianism, the idea that the incarnate Son was an alliance of two persons, divine and human, rather than a divine person with a human nature.
Donald Macleod cites W. G. T. Shedd to this end, saying, 'When the Logos goes into union with a human nature, so as to constitute a single person with it, he becomes responsible for all that this person does through the instrumentality of this nature... Should Jesus Christ sin, the incarnate God would sin.' (The Person of Christ, IVP, 1988, p. 230). Similarly, Oliver Crisp spells out the logical implication of holding that while Christ was sinless, he could have sinned, 'In short, if Christ really could have sinned - but did not - then he must have been able to choose to sin as the God-Man. (God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology, T&T Clark, 2009, p. 134).
2. The Father promised the incarnate Son the help of the Holy Spirit
Jesus was conceived in the virgin's womb by the power of the Spirit so that the nature he assumed might be fully human and yet without sin, Luke 1:35. Also, the Father promised his Son the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to enable him to accomplish the work of redemption, Isaiah 42:1, 61:1, Luke 3:21-22. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to live in obedience to the Father's will, that he might offer himself without blemish to God, Heb 9:13-14.
It is inconceivable that Jesus could have sinned, as that would have constituted a massive failure in the work of the Spirit of God whom Christ received without measure from the Father. Not only the indissoluble union of Son to his human nature, but also the inseparable operations of the Trinity stand against the idea that Jesus could have sinned.
3. What the Son could not do as God he could do as man, but not sin
The incarnate Son did many things that God in himself could not do. That is the point of the incarnation. For human beings to be saved it was necessary for the Son to become man to suffer and die in our place. It fully consistent with God's character for the Son to become man to redeem us by his blood. Indeed, the cross is the great revelation of God's justice and love, Romans 3:25-26, 5:8. But it would have been inconsistent with God's character had Jesus sinned. God is love, but he also light and in him there is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5. Again, Donald Macleod this time in his own words,
We may link the subject 'God' with many predicates. The Son of God may suffer, be tempted, may be ignorant and may even die. But we cannot link God with the predicate 'sin'. God cannot in any situation or for any purpose commit a transgression of his own will. He absolutely cannot be guilty of lawlessness. (The Person of Christ, p. 230).
If the quintessence of being human is found in heaven and consists., among other things, in freedom from the possibility of sinning, it follows that impeccability itself does not undermine the humanity of Christ in his state of incarnate weakness prior to the resurrection. (Systematic Theology, Crossway, 2019, p. 525)
5. The incarnate Son was impeccable, but not impervious to temptation
The incarnate Son was impeccable from the moment of his conception. But that does not mean he was impervious to temptation, Luke 4:1-13, Hebrews 2:18. Adam was so made that it was possible for him not to sin, but he did sin. For Jesus it was not possible to sin, but that does not mean his temptations were like water off a duck's back. We do not find him resisting the devil by saying, 'You must be joking, I'm the Son of God and therefore impeccable, don't you know?'
Jesus 'suffered when tempted' (Hebrews 2:18), combatting the evil one by wielding the sword of the Spirit (Matthew 4:4). While Satan sought to tempt Christ by appealing to his unique divine identity, 'if you are the Son of God...' (Matthew 4:3, 5), Jesus responded as one who had 'taken the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men' saying, 'Man shall not live by bread alone...', (Matthew 4:4). The incarnate Son 'learned obedience through what he suffered' (Hebrews 5:8) in the arena of temptation. Satan did did his worst, but 'full of the Holy Spirit' (Luke 4:1), and in humble dependence on the Father, Jesus vanquished the foe. As Hebrews insists, in Jesus our great High Priest we have 'one who was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin'. (Hebrews 4:15). Kevin Vanhoozer reflects,
There is no necessary contradiction between Jesus being "open" to temptation and the certainty of never sinning. The temptation was no sham, for it is precisely because Jesus resisted temptation that he could "feel" its full force. He was impeccable yet subject to real temptation in the way that an invincible army is subject to real attack. (Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 432.
Could Jesus have sinned? No, but 'because he has himself suffered when tempted, he is able help those who are tempted.' (Hebrews 2:18).
Monday, May 09, 2022
1. God made a covenant of life with Adam, whom he appointed federal head of all humanity. This was a covenant of works, under which if Adam obeyed the Lord he and all in him would live for ever and enter God's Sabbath rest. If Adam disobeyed, he and all in him would die under God's judgement. (Gen 2-3, Rom 5:12-21, 2LBC 7:1).
2. God made a covenant of grace with his elect people, who were chosen in Christ for salvation before the foundation of the world and redeemed by his blood in the fullness of time. The covenant of grace is made effective by the power of the Spirit, (Ephesians 1:3-14).
3. The Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants were not administrations of the covenant of grace. They were 'covenants of promise' (Ephesians 2:12) in which the covenant of grace was progressively revealed 'until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament' (2LBC 7:3).
4. The old covenant (the collective name for the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants) was not a republication of the covenant of works. The law 'was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made'. (Galatians 3:19). The law also served as a rule of life for Israel, setting out their covenant obligations to the Lord. In her idolatrous disobedience Israel broke the covenant and brought upon herself its terrible curses, Leviticus 26:14-39. Unlike the covenant of works with Adam, for Israel there was a way back to God from the dark paths of sin, Leviticus 26:40-45. The Lord's deliverance of his people from captivity was typical of the greater exodus accomplished by the redeeming work of Christ (Jeremiah 23:7-8, Luke 9:31, Colossians 1:12-14).
5. Abraham was the federal head of the Abrahamic covenant in whom blessing was received (Genesis 12:2-3, 17:1-8). Moses was the mediator of the Sinai covenant (Exodus 20:18-21, 33:12-17), of which David and his royal line served as federal heads. As went the king, so went the people for good or ill, (1 Kings 9:4-9).
6. While the old covenant foreshadowed the covenant of grace, it was only in the new covenant that the covenant of grace was fully enacted. (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 8, 9:15-22). Christ is both mediator and federal head of the new covenant, (1 Timothy 2:5-6, Romans 5:12-21).
7. During the Old Testament period people were saved by faith in the Christ who was yet to appear as mediator of a new and better covenant. (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15). Under the new covenant people are saved by faith in Christ who has come and accomplished the work of our redemption (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8).
8. The old covenant was with Abraham and his offspring, which is why all males descended from the patriarch were circumcised. But not all who belonged to Israel through descent from Abraham and circumcision believed and were saved (Romans 9:6, 27). Only a godly remnant knew 'circumcision of the heart' of which circumcision in the flesh was a sign (Deuteronomy 30:6, Romans 2:28-29).
9. As the historical enactment of the covenant of grace the new covenant is between God and the elect in Christ. The law is written on the hearts all new covenant people of God by the Spirit of Christ (Jeremiah 31:33, 2 Corinthians 3:3). All who believe in Jesus belong to the Israel of God, whether Jew or Gentile. Baptism is the sign that believers have been savingly united to Christ by the Spirit. (Galatians 3:27-29, 6:16). That is why according to the New Testament baptism invariably follows repentance and faith, and is linked to church membership. (Acts 2:38-39, 41-42).
10. As federal head of the new covenant, Jesus takes us not back to the beginning, but to the end of the road that Adam had to walk. (Herman Bavinck). In fact, we receive more in Christ than we ever would have had in Adam. For the riches of God's grace and the depths of his glory are fully revealed only in Jesus, the last Adam, Romans 5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:42-49, Ephesians 1:7-10, Colossians 1:27.
Wednesday, May 04, 2022
Sunday, May 01, 2022
No, this is not an autobiographical article. It was prompted by reading a thoughtful piece in the Sunday Times the other week, Jeremy Clarkson on growing old and his fear of death. He's 'only' 62, which is older than me, but not exactly what you might call geriatric. That’s not how it seems for Clarkson, though. He is definitely feeling his age. And then some. The writer laments the effects of the passing of time. Knees need replacing and ears boosting with hearing aids. Eyes grow dim and you can’t remember where you put your spectacles. ‘We are all dead men walking’, he laments. Faced with increasing weakness of body and mind, the writer is not cheered with the hope that at death he will be going to a better place, “I know I’m going to be in a hole where I shall rot. And I shall be there for ever”. More a case of growing old grumpily than gracefully.
Jeremy Clarkson has had a hugely successful career as a TV presenter, journalist and author. Millions tuned in to watch him, Richard Hammond and James May on BBC’s Top Gear, before the team made the move to Grand Tour on Amazon Prime. The presenter’s Clarkson’s Farm was also a big hit, with Season 2 in the offing. Most weeks Clarkson has not one, but two columns in the Sunday Times. Yet his movingly honest reflections on the ravages of time put me in mind of a sobering passage in the Bible's book of Ecclesiastes. With unblinking realism the author reviews his many life achievements and concludes, “I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Clarkson is grappling with the fact that death deprives us of our achievements and stops us fulfilling our dreams. But is nothing left when we reach the autumn of our days than to rage against the dying of the light? The Christian faith puts a different perspective on things. Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” The believer’s inner life is being rejuvenated by the power of God’s grace, even as their bodies are wearing out with age. The Christian has hope in the face of death, that although their bodies will rot in a hole, their spirits will be present with the Lord in heaven. Beyond that, we look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. By the grace of God it is possible to grow old gracefully, with hearts full of hope rather than despair.
*For the May edition of various local parish magazines
Monday, April 04, 2022
To turn out after all
Just a porcelain God
That shatters when it falls
Friday, April 01, 2022
Friday, March 25, 2022
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones would often say that the truth of God’s word should be presented to the mind in order to inflame the heart and move the will to action. In speaking like that the preacher was using the language of ‘faculty psychology’. The ‘faculties’ of the soul describe its intertwining functions and powers, such as the mind, the affections and the will. That does not mean the soul is composed of various bits and pieces. Most proponents of faculty psychology believed that the human soul is a simple entity that cannot be divided into discrete parts as can the body.
Early Christian thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo drew upon the views of Plato and Aristotle when formulating their doctrine of human nature. Reformers John Calvin and Peter Martyr Vermigli followed in their wake. The old Greek philosophers knew nothing of original sin or the resurrection of the body, however, so their ideas had to be modified in the light of biblical teaching.
The focus of Helm's study is on the ‘faculty psychology’ of Puritan writers. He cites the views of numerous Puritans on the relationship between body and soul, the faculties of the soul and moral agency. The teaching of familiar figures such as John Owen and John Flavel is discussed, as well as less well known writers like William Pemble. The book demands careful reading, as each author quoted had a slightly different perspective on the matters under consideration. Helm’s discussion of the conscience in Puritan writings is especially illuminating.
John Locke critiqued traditional faculty psychology, preferring to emphasise the actions of the undivided self over and against differentiated powers of mind, heart and will. Helm provides evidence of Locke’s influence on Jonathan Edwards’s work, The Religious Affections. But Locke’s objections did not spell the end of faculty psychology. The insights of our Puritan forebears continue to cast light on human nature as created by God, affected by sin and redeemed by grace.
Paul Helm blogs at Helm's Deep.
*Reviewed for the April 2022 edition of The Banner of Truth Magazine