Archive for February, 2013

A bright and pure flame

Posted: February 28, 2013 by doulos tou Theou in Christianity, Discipleship, Reformed Theology

“How excellent is that inner goodness and true religion that comes from this sight of the beauty of Christ! Here you have the most wonderful experiences of saints and angels in heaven. Here you have the best experience of Jesus Christ Himself. Even though we are mere creatures, it is a sort of participation in God’s own beauty. ‘Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.’ (2 Pet 1:4) ‘God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.’ (Heb 12:10) Because of the power of this divine working, there is a mutual indwelling of God and His people. ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.’ (1 John 4:16)

“This special relationship has to make the person involved as happy and as blessed as any creature in existence. This is a special gift of God, which he gives only to his special favorites. Gold, silver, diamonds, and earthly kingdoms are given by God to people who the Bible calls dogs and pigs. But this great gift of beholding Christ’s beauty, is the special blessing of God to His dearest children. Flesh and blood cannot give this gift: only God can bestow it. This was the special gift which Christ died to obtain for his elect. It is the highest token of his everlasting love, the best fruit of his labours, and the most precious purchase of his blood.

by this gift, more than anything else, the saints shine as lights in the world. This gift, more than anything else, is their comfort. It is impossible that the soul who possesses this gift should ever perish. This is the gift of eternal life. It is eternal life begun: those who have it can never die. It is the dawning of the light of glory. It comes from heaven, it has a heavenly quality, and it will take its bearer to heaven. Those who have this gift may wander in the wilderness or be tossed by waves on the ocean, but they will arrive in heaven at last. There the heavenly spark will be made perfect and increased. In heaven the souls of the saints will be transformed into a bright and pure flame, and they will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Amen.”

– Jonathan Edwards, “How to Know if You Are a Real Christian”

 

HT:JaredWilson

a section from an article by Kevin Vanhoozer:

The problem with this question is its incorrect (and typically unstated) assumption that ‘literal truth’ is always literalistic – a matter of referring to history or to the ‘facts’ of nature. It is just such a faulty assumption – that the Bible always states facts – that leads certain wellmeaning defenders of inerrancy desperately to harmonize what appear to be factual or chronological discrepancies in the Gospels. In the final analysis, what was new about the Princetonians’ view of Scripture was not their understanding of the Bible’s truthfulness but rather their particular view of language and interpretation, in which the meaning of the biblical text was the fact – historical or doctrinal – to which it referred. Their proof-texting was more a product of their view of language and interpretation than of their doctrine of Scripture.

What if the intent of the evangelists was not to narrate history with chronological precision? What if the evangelists sometimes intended to communicate only the content of Jesus’ teaching rather than his very words? Before extending the Bible’s truth to include history or astronomy, or restricting to matters of salvation for that matter, we must first ask, ‘What kind of literature is this?’ The question of meaning should precede the question of truth. We must first determine what kind of claim is being made before we can rule on its truthfulness. The point of biblical apocalyptic is quite distinct from the point of Jesus’ parables, from that of the Gospels themselves, or of Old Testament wisdom. We must, therefore, say that the literal sense of Scripture is its literary sense: the sense the author intended to convey in and through a particular literary form. Inerrancy means that every sentence, when interpreted correctly (i.e. in accordance with its literary genre and its literary sense), is wholly reliable.

The older term to express biblical authority – infallibility – remains useful. Infallibility means that Scripture never fails in its purpose. The Bible makes good on all its claims, including its truth claims. God’s Word never leads astray. It is important to recall that language may be used for many different purposes, and not to state facts only.

read the whole piece here

George Herbert

Posted: February 27, 2013 by doulos tou Theou in Anglican Communion, Christianity

from the Desiring God blog:

The Anglican Church designates February 27 as the Feast Day in commemoration of the pastor and poet George Herbert. So I am glad to wave again my little flag of love for Herbert’s poetry.

For depth of biblical insight, penetration of the human psyche, candor with his own wrestling soul, plundering of human language, surprising turns of phrase, technically unique versification, and musical much-making of the gospel, his poetry is unsurpassed.

  • For the most thorough and helpful (and expensive) critical edition, see Helen Wilcox, The English Poems of George Herbert (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Jim Scott Orrick gives us one poem a week with his helpful comments in A Year with George Herbert (Wipf & Stock, 2011).
  • The Complete Poems and the short book he wrote on the Country Parson are in the Penguin Classics Edition, George Herbert: The Complete Poems(Penguin Book, 1991).
  • And all his English poems are available free online.

Be encouraged today by Herbert that there is an Elixir — the devotion to do all for the glory of God — that turns all to gold, even the simplest daily task.

Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for Thee.

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass, On it may stay his eye,
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake;
Nothing can be so mean
Which with this tincture (for Thy sake)
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.


Watch or listen to John Piper’s biographical message on George Herbert.

Does the Bible Teach Prevenient Grace?

Posted: February 27, 2013 by doulos tou Theou in Christian Theology, Christianity

 

 

As the name suggests, prevenient grace is grace that “comes before” something. It is normally defined as a work that God does for everybody. He gives all people enough grace to respond to Jesus. That is, it is enough grace to make it possible for people to choose Christ. Those who cooperate with and assent to this grace are “elect.” Those who refuse to cooperate with this grace are lost. The strength of this view is that it recognizes that fallen man’s spiritual condition is severe enough that it requires God’s grace to save him. The weakness of the position may be seen in two ways. If this prevenient grace is merely external to man, then it fails in the same manner that the medicine and the life preserver analogies fail. What good is prevenient grace if offered outwardly to spiritually dead creatures?

On the other hand, if prevenient grace refers to something that God does within the heart of fallen man, then we must ask why it is not always effectual. Why is it that some fallen creatures choose to cooperate with prevenient grace and others choose not to? Doesn’t everyone get the same amount?

Think of it this way, in personal terms. If you are a Christian you are surely aware of other people who are not Christians. Why is it that you have chosen Christ and they have not? Why did you say yes to prevenient grace while they said no? Was it because you were more righteous than they were? If so, then indeed you have something in which to boast. Was that greater righteousness something you achieved on your own or was it the gift of God? If it was something you achieved, then at the bottom line your salvation depends on your own righteousness. If the righteousness was a gift, then why didn’t God give the same gift to everybody?

Perhaps it wasn’t because you were more righteous. Perhaps it was because you are more intelligent. Why are you more intelligent? Because you study more (which really means you are more righteous)? Or are you more intelligent because God gave you a gift of intelligence he withheld from others?

To be sure, most Christians who hold to the prevenient grace view would shrink from such answers. They see the implied arrogance in them. Rather they are more likely to say, “No, I chose Christ because I recognized my desperate need for him.” That certainly sounds more humble. But I must press the question. Why did you recognize your desperate need for Christ while your neighbor didn’t? Was it because you were more righteous than your neighbor, or more intelligent?

The question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others don’t. How we answer that will reveal how gracious we believe our salvation really is. The $64,000 question is, “Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?”

We conclude that our salvation is of the Lord. He is the One who regenerates us. Those whom he regenerates come to Christ. Without regeneration no one will ever come to Christ. With regeneration no one will ever reject him. God’s saving grace effects what he intends to effect by it.

– R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God

 

HT:JohnSamson

Call of the Gospel

Posted: February 27, 2013 by doulos tou Theou in Christian Theology, Christianity, Reformed Theology

“So, then, what is this effectual, internal call that we are speaking about? Well, the most we can say about it is — and this must of necessity be true in the light of these scriptures — that it is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is immediate, it is spiritual, it is supernatural, miraculous. And what it does is to make a new mode of spiritual activity possible within us. Without this operation we are incapable of any true spiritual activity but as the result of this operation of the Holy Spirit upon us, we are rendered capable, for the first time, of spiritual activity and that is how this call now becomes effectual, that is what enables us to receive it.

“Now this is very important and I want to emphasise the immediacy, the direct action. You see, what happens when the call comes to men and women effectually is not simply that the moral influence of the truth is exercised upon them. Some people have thought that; they have said that the gospel is preached and that the truth has a kind of general moral effect upon people. For instance, to take a human theme, a capable orator, a man wanting to persuade men and women to vote at an election for a given party, can put the case so well that he can exercise a moral influence upon his listeners. But it is not that. It is an operation of the Spirit upon the men and women themselves, in the depths. It is not merely that the Holy Spirit heightens our natural faculties and powers, it is more than that. It is the Spirit acting upon the soul from within and producing within us a new principle of spiritual action.

“Now it must be that; it cannot be less than that. Because these things, says Paul, are all spiritual. And that is why the natural man does not understand them; and that is why, as I have often reminded you, we should never be surprised, or to the slightest extent disappointed or put out, when somebody brings us the argument that ‘Christianity cannot be right because look at this great man and he doesn’t believe it!’ How often have you heard that argument! Someone says, ‘You know, I cannot believe this, because if Christianity were true, it could not be possible that all these philosophers and scientists and all these great statesmen and other men do not believe it.’

“In the light of these things, it is very natural and we can understand it perfectly well. The greatest natural intellect cannot receive this, he is ‘a natural man’. And you need a spiritual faculty to receive the wonderful truth about the two natures in the one Person; the outstanding doctrine about the Trinity; the whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement, and so on. This is spiritual truth and to the natural person it is utter folly, it is foolishness, as Paul says. So when the Holy Spirit does enable us to believe it, it must be something beyond the heightening of our natural faculties. It is not simply that He brings the truth of His great moral suasion to us. No, no. We need some new faculty, some new principle, and that is the very work that He does. He implants within us this new spiritual principle, this principle of spiritual vitality and activity, and it is as the result of this that the general call of the gospel comes to us in an effectual manner.”

– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Effectual Calling and Regeneration”

HT:JaredWilson

“The text says, ‘From the beginning God chose you to be saved;’ but our opponents say, that God chooses people because they are good; that He chooses them on account of the many works which they have done. Now, we ask, in reply to this, what works are those that the ‘chosen’ did that caused God to elect His people? Are they what we commonly call ‘works of law’–works of obedience which the creature can do? If so, we reply to you, if men cannot be justified by the works of the law, it seems to us pretty clear that they cannot be elected by the works of the law; if they cannot be justified by their good works, they cannot be saved by them. Then the teaching of election could not have been formed on good works.

“‘But,’ others say, ‘God elected them on the foresight of their faith.’ Now, God gives faith therefore He could not have elected them on account of faith, which He foresaw. If there were twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a dollar, will anyone say that I determined to give that one a dollar, that I elected him to have the dollar, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense. Likewise, to say that God elected men because He foresaw they would have faith, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. Faith is the gift of God. Every virtue comes from Him. Therefore it cannot have caused Him to elect men, because it is His gift. Election, we are sure, is unconditional, and altogether apart from the virtues which the saints acquire after salvation. What, though a saint should be as holy and devout as Paul, what though he should be as bold as Peter, or as loving as John, yet he would claim nothing from his Maker.

“I never knew a saint from any denomination who thought that God saved him because he foresaw that he would have these virtues and merits. Now, my brethren, the best jewels that the saint ever wears, if they be jewels of his own fashioning, are not pure. There is something of earth mixed with them. The highest grace we ever possess has something of earthliness about it. We feel this when we are most refined, when we are most holy; and our language must always be like Paul’s:

I am the chief of sinners; Jesus died for me.

“Our only hope, our only plea, still hangs on grace, as exhibited in the person of Jesus Christ. And I am sure we must utterly reject and disregard all thought that our graces which are gifts of our Lord, which are planted by His right-hand, could have ever caused His love. And we must forever sing:

What was there in us that could merit esteem, Or give the Creator delight? Nothing was found Father, so we must forever sing, Because it seemed good in your sight.”

– Charles Spurgeon, Election

HT:JaredWilson

Does He do so freely

Posted: February 26, 2013 by doulos tou Theou in Christian Theology, Christianity

The doctrine of “irresistible grace” is easily understood. It is simply the belief that when God chooses to move in the lives of His elect and bring them from spiritual death to spiritual life, no power in heaven or on earth can stop Him from so doing. It is really nothing more than saying that it is God who regenerates sinners, and that freely. The doctrine has nothing to do with the fact that sinners “resist” the common grace of God and the Holy Spirit (they do) or that Christians do not live perfectly in the light of God’s grace. It is simply the confession that when God chooses to raise His people to spiritual life, He does so without the fulfillment of any conditions on the part of the sinner. Just as Christ had the power and authority to raise Lazarus to life without obtaining his “permission” to do so, He is able to raise His elect to spiritual life with just as certain a result.

Objections to irresistible grace are, by and large, actually objections to the previously established truths of the doctrines of grace. Obviously, if God is sovereign and freely and unconditionally elects a people unto salvation, and if man is dead in sin and enslaved to its power, God must be able to free those elect people in time and bring them to faith in Jesus Christ, and that by a grace that does not falter or depend upon human cooperation. Those who disbelieve God’s right to kingship over His creation or the deadness of man in sin and put forward the tradition of man’s autonomous will can hardly confess that God’s grace actually saves without the freewill cooperation of man. From their perspective, the autonomous act of human faith must determine God’s actions. That act of faith becomes the “foreseen” act that controls God’s very decree of predestination, and, of course, that act of faith becomes the “trigger” that results in one being born again.

Neither side in the debate will deny that God is the one who raises men to spiritual life. The question is: Does He do so because men fulfill certain conditions, or does He do so freely, at His own time, and in the lives of those He chooses to bring into relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ? This question is normally framed in the context of the relationship of faith and regeneration. Do we believe to become born again, or must we first be born again before we can exercise true, saving faith? Can the natural man do what is pleasing to God? Can the dead choose to allow themselves to be raised to life? This is the issue at hand.

– Dr. James White, Debating Calvinism

 

HT:JohnSamson