Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Here's wising my readers a very happy and blessed Christmas. I'm not sure what John Owen would have thought about the observance of Christmas, but in this meditation he brings us face to face with the glorious mystery of the incarnation:
But had we the tongue of men and angels, we were not able in any just measure to express the glory of this condescension; for it is the most ineffable effect of the divine wisdom of the Father and of the love of the Son, — the highest evidence of the care of God towards mankind. What can be equal unto it? what can be like it? It is the glory of Christian religion, and the animating soul of all evangelical truth. This carrieth the mystery of the wisdom of God above the reason or understanding of men and angels, to be the object of faith and admiration only. A mystery it is that becomes the greatness of God, with his infinite distance from the whole creation, — which renders it unbecoming him that all his ways and works should be comprehensible by any of his creatures, Job xi. 7–9; Rom. xi. 33–36.
He who was eternally in the form of God, — that is, was essentially so, God by nature, equally participant of the same divine nature with God the Father; “God over all, blessed for ever;” who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth, — he takes on him the nature of man, takes it to be his own, whereby he was no less truly a man in time than he was truly God from eternity. And to increase the wonder of this mystery, because it was necessary unto the end he designed, he so humbled himself in this assumption of our nature, as to make himself of no reputation in this world, — yea, unto that degree, that he said of himself that he was a worm, and no man, in comparison of them who were of any esteem.
We speak of these things in a poor, low, broken manner, — we teach them as they are revealed in the Scripture, — we labour by faith to adhere unto them as revealed; but when we come into a steady, direct view and consideration of the thing itself, our minds fail, our hearts tremble, and we can find no rest but in a holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend. Here we are at a loss, and know that we shall be so whilst we are in this world; but all the ineffable fruits and benefits of this truth are communicated unto them that do believe. (From The Glory of Christ, Works Volume 1, p. 330 - here).
Monday, December 21, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Here is an official summary of the 4,700 word document,
Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.
We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
1.the sanctity of human life
2.the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3.the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defence, and to commit ourselves to honouring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The main body of the Manhattan Declaration is taken up with developing the three key points listed above; the sanctity of life, the unique dignity of heterosexual marriage and freedom of religion. It cannot be doubted that these are some of the most pressing moral and social issues facing Christians today. The culture may be increasingly hostile to what we have to say on these matters, but it is for us as Evangelical Christians to bear witness to biblical principles in public life.
The declaration garnered a fair bit of coverage in the American media, both secular and Christian. In the UK, The Guardian somewhat predictably dismissed the document as a “declaration of hypocrisy” as it makes no mention of the Iraq war, while the Christian Concern for our Nation website asks hopefully, “The Manhattan Declaration: An historic call to Christian Truths. Is the UK next?”
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defence of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
For Evangelicals involved in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement such as Chuck Colson, this approach is not at all problematic. ECT proceeds on the basis that, Evangelicals and Roman Catholics as those who "accept Christ as Lord and Saviour are brothers and sisters in Christ." (Reaffirmed in the most recent ECT joint-statement on Mary). However, so long as Evangelical Protestants hold that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone in accordance with the witness of Scripture alone, we have to say that the Roman Catholic Church does not preach the biblical gospel of salvation. The same goes for Orthodoxy.
Al Mohler has written to explain that his signature on the Manhattan Declaration does not involve acceptance of the ECT position. For him the declaration is all about the three key issues mentioned above and entails no subversion of confessional integrity. But as already pointed out, the document seems to imply that all signatories are Christians who proclaim the same gospel. Listen here for a revealing interview with Ligon Duncan, where he explains why although an opponent of ECT, he signed the declaration, HT Dan Phillips.
If the Manhattan Declaration had simply stated that as representatives of the Judeo-Christian tradition, leading members of Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Evangelical groupings had spoken out on some of the key moral issues of the day, there would be no problem. Indeed the declaration is a welcome clarion call for Christians not bend the knee to Caesar if the State should demand that we compromise our beliefs and values. Jesus Christ is Lord and it is to him we owe our ultimate allegiance. But regrettably, in the Manhattan Declaration co-belligerence appears to have trumped gospel faithfulness.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
If Carswell gives attention to the theological context of the gospel, Vaughn Roberts has a slightly different tack in his Missing the Point? Finding Our Place in the Turning Points of History, Authentic, 41pp. The Christian message does not come to us in the form of a set of abstract truths about God, ourselves, and salvation in Christ. The gospel is the culmination of the unfolding story of biblical revelation. Unless people have an understanding of the Bible's basic plot-line, the claims of Jesus will make little sense. Robert's approach is all the more necessary given the widespread ignorance of the Bible in our society. This user-friendly title takes the reader through some of the big 'turning points' in Bible history; creation, the fall, God's promise to Abraham, the Exodus, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. With all this in mind, Roberts not only invites his readers to believe in Jesus and be saved, he also makes it clear that being a Christian involves serving the Lord in the context of church life. The booklet comes in an attractive format and manages to sketch out the Bible's main plot-line without leaving the reader overburdened with detail. An ideal evangelistic tool for helping the non-Christian get to grips with the greatest story ever told.
If you like the sound of these two titles, the good people at 10ofthose.com have a special offer for Exiled Preacher readers. You can get them for £2.50 per booklet or 10 for £25 or 100 for £125 (all prices include postage within the UK). Quote 'Exiled' when e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, December 11, 2009
2. Puritan attitudes to Rome
3. AV 1611
4. Preaching for repentance
5. The 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference
6. Andrew Bonar (born 1810)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Garry Williams - Director of the John Owen Centre
Monday, December 07, 2009
Calvin as commentator and theologian
1859 - A Year of Grace
I shall be taking my trusty notebook and pen and hope to post a report on the blog.
Friday, December 04, 2009
God’s giving is costly, disproportionate and extravagant: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). It cost the Father to give his Son to be despised and rejected by men, and ultimately to be made sin for us on the cross. All he demands from us by way of response is faith — and that itself is a gift he bestows as part and parcel of our salvation (Ephesians 2:8). Is this not totally disproportionate? God gives us his one and only beloved Son. In return, we give him our trust and he lavishes upon us the extravagant blessing of everlasting life. What can we say but, ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ (2 Corinthians 9:15). Clearly we cannot match the infinite and unrestrained generosity of the giving God. But Jesus said, ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:8).
Thursday, December 03, 2009
"I'm amazed at the amount of time people spend on the internet. I'm not against technology, but all tools should be used to their best advantage. We should be spending our time on things that have staying power, instead of on the latest thought of the latest blogger—and then moving on quickly to the next blogger. That makes us more superficial, not more thoughtful." (From World Magazine article on Packer, Patriarch).
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Paul David Tripp, Shepherd Press, 2009, 223 pages
The author uses the idea of a broken-down house to illustrate what it means to live for the Lord in a fallen world. The world has gone bad because of sin. Nothing is as it should be. Everything from the environment to personal relationships have been affected by the devastating effects of the fall. But that does not mean that the believer should fatalistically write off the 'broken-down house' of this world. God has called us to be part of his renovation work by living productively in a world gone bad.
Doing this requires a healthy dose of biblical realism. We have to come realise that we cannot change other people, let alone the world in our own strength. To think otherwise is a recipe for the frustration and bitter disappointment that so often seems to mar our relationships. Believers need to come to terms with their limits and rest in the sovereign power of God. We need to live in the light of eternity and learn what it means to actively wait upon the Lord. He alone is able to restore the broken-down house and transform those who live in it.
But that does not mean that we can do nothing. Fuelled by love for the Lord and empowered by grace we must reject passivity and involve ourselves fully in God’s redemptive community, the church. We have been saved to serve and having a ministry mentality will affect every aspect of our lives. Understanding this and living it out will transform our relationships within the family, church and society.
In the final chapter, Tripp urges his readers to examine their legacy. Can the people closest to us see that we are living for eternity with an eye for God’s glory, or are our goals altogether more earthly? Such questions force us to think about what really makes us tick. And that isn't a bad thing.
This well written book is full of telling illustrations and is characterised by pastoral honesty and sound biblical teaching. The believer is challenged to live faithfully and fruitfully in a fallen world that God is busy restoring. Read, reflect and act.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
1. Predestination is conditional on God foreknowing who would believe.
2. Christ died for all, although only believers will be saved.
3. Human beings are sinners and cannot believe apart from the grace of God.
4. Saving grace may be resisted.
5. The doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints needs further investigation.
There was much heated discussion over the Remonstrant Articles. It was perceived that the proposed five points constituted a direct threat to the Calvinistic basis of the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1618 a Synod was convened in Dordtrecht to decide whether the position of the Remonstrants was in accordance with the Word of God and the Reformed Confessions. At stake was nothing less than the glory of God in the salvation of lost sinners by free and sovereign grace alone.
Although occasioned by theological controversy in Holland, the Synod had an international flavour with delegates from Reformed Churches in Great Britain, Germany and Switzerland meeting alongside their Dutch brethren. Simon Episcopus and a group of his supporters were invited to represent the Arminian agitants.
From the deliberations of the Synod of Dort emerged what are popularly called the “Five Points of Calvinism”, usually set out under the mnemonic TULIP. These points do not represent a complete account of Calvinistic theology. They were simply intended to be a blow by blow rebuttal of the five point Remonstrance. The original order of the points has to be reworked for TULIP to fit.
On the face of it, the Arminians agreed with the orthodox Calvinists that all human beings are sinners and that we are saved by grace. But they redefined grace to mean that God gives all people the ability to be saved if they so wished. We must cooperate with the grace of God and decide to accept his offer of salvation. Thus man is only partially depraved by sin. He is able to exercise a choice to believe and be saved. The Synod of Dort rightly smelled a rat. According to Scripture, man in sin is totally depraved. That does not mean that we are all as bad as could be, but that every human faculty has been radically affected by sin. The mind is incapable of receiving God’s truth (Romans 8:7), the heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), the will is enslaved by sin (John 8:34). Scripture teaches that man in his fallen state is not damaged, but dead (Ephesians 2:1-4). There is no possibility that a sinner in such a state could ever choose to be saved (Jeremiah 13:23). We don’t need “grace” that will simply facilitate our choice to believe but a gracious act of God that will bring us back from the dead.
Jacob Arminius taught that election is rooted on God foreseeing who would believe and be saved. In that sense election is conditional on the sinner’s response to the gospel. However, if human beings are in fact totally depraved and incapable of choosing to be saved, then conditional election is an impossibility. The Cannons of Dort insist that God chose to save certain sinners from condemnation, not because of anything in themselves, but because of his sheer love and free grace (Ephesians 1:4, 2 Timothy 1:9). The elect were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, redeemed by Christ in the fullness of time and are called to saving faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Repentance and faith are the fruit of election, not its cause (Acts 13:48).
Regrettably, the doctrine of predestination has often been a cause of angry discussion and unhelpful speculation in the church. We should guard against such an attitude, “this teaching must be set forth with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner, at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching into the ways of the Most High. This must be done for the glory of God's most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.” (First Main Point of Doctrine, Article 14).
Reflection on unconditional election should cause the believer to cry out, “Why, O Lord such love to me? Glory to God in the highest!”
This is probably the most difficult and controversial of all the “Five Points of Calvinism”. I’m not sure that “limited atonement” is the best way of describing the Reformed view of the cross. “Definite atonement” is probably more appropriate. The Arminians claimed that Christ died for all, although only believers will be saved. However, if Christ died for all, but not all are saved, then his death was limited in its effectiveness. Some for whom he died will nevertheless go to hell if they perish in unbelief.
Arminians seem to have Scripture on their side when they say that Christ died for the “world” or for “all men” (1 Timothy 2:5 & 6, 1 John 2:2). True Calvinists should have no problem with such texts. Christ did die for a world of guilty sinners. He laid down his life for all kinds of human beings. But we should also bear in mind another strand of biblical teaching that reveals that Christ laid down his life for his “sheep” (John 10:11). Sheep who will most certainly be saved (John 10:27-30). Consider also that Jesus gave himself for the “church” (Acts 20:28, Ephesians 5:25-27).
Christ’s atoning death did not make salvation a possibility should anyone choose to be saved. Rather he actually saved us by his blood (Ephesians 1:7). The Canons are careful to point out that Christ’s death was of infinite value because he who died for sinners was the eternal Son of God in the flesh (Second Main Point, Articles 3&4). He died as a substitute, bearing the penalty of sin specifically for those whom the Father had given him in eternity. Those for whom he died will most certainly be saved by the power of the Spirit. With definite atonement we see all three Persons of the godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in a single purpose, to redeem a great multitude that no man can number. The definiteness of the atonement is no bar to the free offer of the gospel,
“Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.” (The Second Main Point of Doctrine, Article 5).
Are you trusting in finished work of Christ to put you right with God?
Again, while TULIP may be a handy aid to memory, “irresistible grace” may not be the best way of putting it; “effective grace” is more accurate. As Stephen pointed out, the offer of grace may certainly be resisted, Acts 7:51. But the Father effectively calls all those whom he has given to Christ for salvation (John 6:37, Romans 8:29).
In the Arminian scheme, saving grace is synergistic. Man must co-operate with God in order to be saved. But this is contradicted by the Bible’s teaching on regeneration or the new birth. This is a monergistic act of divine grace. God alone can breathe new life into those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:4&5). Grace is effective because it is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit by whom sinners are born again (John 3:8).
Effective grace does not mean that God does violence to the human will when he savingly unites a sinner to Christ. Rather, he liberates the enslaved will from the shackles of sin to enable his people freely to repent and believe the gospel. As Jesus said, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7). And only the Spirit of God can give you new life in Christ.
Perseverance of the Saints
Initially the Remonstrants suggested that this doctrine needed further investigation. They did not reject it outright. But by the time of the Synod of Dort their position had hardened. Now they argued that it is possible for a genuine Christian to loose his or her salvation. This not only flies in the face of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions, it is also detrimental to the believer’s assurance. The Canons acknowledged that even the best Christians fall into sin, but God will not allow any of his lovingly chosen, blood-bought people to perish. We are kept by the power of God unto salvation. None can pluck us from the mighty hands of the good shepherd. But the assurance of divine preservation should not induce spiritual carelessness. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. It is the saints, God’s holy people who will persevere to the end. We can be certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
Arminianism represented a serious challenge to the Reformed Churches and the subtle arguments of the Remonstrants had to be met with clear scriptural answers. It is often the case that controversy helps to clarify the teaching of the church. We see this with regard to the Trinity and the Person of Christ at the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. The Synod of Dort delivered the definitive Reformed response to Arminian error (see the complete Canons here). The biblical Calvinism of the Synod offers a coherent and compelling vision of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. To him alone be the glory!
* An edited version of this article was published in November's Evangelical Times.