Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Below are quotes from John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. The outline is my own, based on Murray's flow of thought; in a few cases, the quotes have been slightly re-arranged from the order in which they occur in Murray's chapter:

I. The Need for Justification
John Murray

A. God's Wrath: "[W]e are all wrong with [God] because we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God[, earning] God's wrath (Rom 1:18): this is our situation and it is our relation to God; [therefore,] how can we be right with him?"

B. The Question Raised: "[H]ow can sinful man become just with God?... Justification is the answer and justification is the act of God's free grace. (Rom 8:33)

II. The Definition of Justification

A. Justification is NOT to be Confused with Regeneration, Sanctification, or Glorification: "Justification does not mean to make righteous, or good, or holy, or upright. It is perfectly true that in the application of redemption God makes people holy and upright. He renews them after his own image. He begins to do this in regeneration and he carries it on in the work of sanctification. He will perfect it in glorification. But justification does not refer to this renewing and sanctifying grace of God."

B. According to the Common Use of the Term, "Justification" Does NOT Mean "To Make Righteous": "When we justify a person we do not make that person good or upright. When a judge justifies an accused person he does not make that person an upright person. He simply declares that in his judgment the person is not guilty of the accusation but is upright in terms of the law relevant to the case. In a word, justification is simply a declaration or pronouncement respecting the relation of the person to the law which he, the judge, is required to administer."

C. According to the Biblical Use of the Term, "Justification" Does NOT Mean "To Make Righteous":

1. As seen in the activity of righteous judges under the Mosaic Law: "[In the OT Law-as seen in passages like Deut 25:1] it was not the function of judges to make people righteous. The meaning is simply and only that the judges were to give a just judgment..."

2. As seen in the contrast between justification and condemnation: "Justification is contrasted with condemnation (cf. Deut 25:1; Prov 17:15; Rom 8:33-34). Condemn never means to make wicked, and so justify cannot mean to make good or upright" [emphasis added].

D. JUSTIFICATION IS FORENSIC: "It has to do with a judgment given, declared, or pronounced;"

III. Justification Based Upon Imputation

A. The Difference Between Human and Divine Justification: "Man must condemn the wicked, and he may justify only the righteous... God justifies the ungodly" [emphases in original].

B. Divine Justification a "Constitutive Act": "Justification is therefore a constitutive act whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account and we are accordingly accepted as righteous in God's sight."

C. The Ground of Justification, NOT Our Own Works: "Justification is not by the righteousness of performance on our part; it is not of works (Rom 3:20; 4:2; 10:3-4; Gal 2:16; 3:11; 5:4; Phil 3:9)."

D. The Ground of Justification, An Alien Righteousness:

1. The righteousness of God: "It is by the righteousness of God that we are justified (Rom 1:17; 3:21-22; 10:3; Phil 3:9)."

2. The obedience of Christ: "The obedience of Christ must therefore be regarded as the ground of justification: it is the righteousness which God not only takes into account but reckons to our account when he justifies the ungodly"[emphases in original]... "The righteousness of justification is the righteousness and obedience of Christ (Rom 5:17-19)."

IV. Justification Is By Faith Alone

A. PROOFS: "We are justified by faith, or through faith, or upon faith (cf. Rom 1:17; 3:22, 25-28, 30; 4:3,5,16, 24; 5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:8-9; 5:4-5; Phil 3:9)."

B. Faith, the Instrument by Which We Are Justified: "[F]aith is an indispensable instrumentality in connection with justification."

C. Faith, The Prerequisite to Justification: "We are justified by faith and faith is the prerequisite... God justifies those who believe in Jesus and upon the event of faith."

D. Faith Takes Hold of Christ and His Righteousness: "[F]aith... receives and rests upon another, in this case Christ and his righteousness."

E. Faith and Works Antithetical: "Faith stands in antithesis to works; there can be no amalgam of these two (cf. Gal 5:4)."

V. The Old Objection: 'Justification by Faith Alone Leads to License'

A. Justifying Faith Works Itself Out Through Love: "Faith works itself out through love (cf. Gal 5:6)."

B. Justifying Faith Does Works: "And faith without works is dead" (cf. James 2:17-20).

C. Justifying Faith Is Living Faith: "It is living faith that justifies and living faith unites to Christ both in virtue of his death and in the power of his resurrection. No one has entrusted himself to Christ for the deliverance from the guilt of sin who has not also entrusted himself to him for the deliverance from the power of sin" (Rom 6:1-2).


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"Justification Without Works"

The following are select quotes from Benjamin Keach's The Marrow of True Justification, a small book consisting of two sermons from Keach on Romans 4:5

The necessity of preaching justification:

"Other subjects a minister may preach upon, and that unto the profit and advantage of the people; but this he must preach-this he cannot omit-if he would truly preach the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Justification and the Covenant of Grace:

"Was it not the exaltation of the glory of God in all His attributes and blessed perfections, which was the result of that glorious counsel-held above between the Father and the Son, before the world began-in the bringing in and establishing of the Covenant of Grace?"

"[T]hat which Christ did and suffered, He did and suffered as a common person: as a head, surety, and representative for all the elect;"

The definition of justification:

"Justification is an absolute act of God's most sovereign grace, whereby He imputes the complete and perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to a believing sinner (though ungodly in himself), absolving him from all his sins, and accepting him as righteous in Christ."

"Justification is the acceptance of a sinner with God as righteous, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to him."

Justification is by faith alone:

"[B]elieving sinners are made partakers of Christ's righteousness, and the benefits of it: and that by faith alone, as that by which we wholly fly to Him for righteousness, trusting in the promise of life for his sake and merits."

Justification is on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ:

"[B]y Christ's righteousness imputed, he that believes is perfectly justified, and is freed from the curse of the Law, and accepted, and accounted righteous in the sight of God, and hereby hath a certain title to eternal life."

Our works have NO part of the basis for our justification:

"[A]ll works done by the creature are utterly excluded in point of justification in the sight of God."

"Good works done [even] by saints and godly persons cannot justify them in God's sight."

"[S]ince all boasting is excluded [from justification], all works are excluded."

"[E]very man before he is justified is like an evil tree,  and therefore can bring forth no good fruit, no good works; wherefore all works, 'tis evident, before faith and justification, are utterly excluded [as the basis for our justification]."

"[T]he doctrine that mixes any works of righteousness done by the creature with faith or the free grace of God-in point of justification-gives the Scripture the lie; therefore, that doctrine is false, and to be rejected."

"[A]ll works done by the creature are utterly excluded in point of justification..."

"Grace and works (let works be of what sort they will) are directly contrary, the one to the other. (See Rom 11:6)."

"There is no mixing of works and free grace together, but one of these does and will destroy the nature of the other; and as it holds true in election, so in justification: if justification was partly of grace, and partly of works done by the creature, or from foreseen holiness and sincere obedience done by us, then grace is no more grace, or works no more works."

Law and gospel:

"[The terms of the Law and the terms of the gospel] differ not only in degree, but in their whole nature."

"[T]he Apostle proves that the justice of God requires a perfect or sinless righteousness in point of justification, and also he proves that all have sinned."

"[T]he Law of God is but as a transcript, or written impression of that holiness and purity that is in His own nature, and serves to show us what a righteousness we must be found in, if we are ever justified in His sight."

"[Righteousness] must be fulfilled by us in our own persons, or by our Surety for us, and imputed to us."

"The [Moral] Law did not only proceed from the will of God, doubtless, as an act of His sovereign will and prerogative [i.e., as a Positive Law], but as an act proceeding from His infinite justice and holiness." [Therefore, God cannot lessen the demands of the Moral Law without contradicting His holy character.]

"[W]e are still under obedience to the Moral Law, the substance of which is to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. By the 'Law' is meant 'that rule of life God hath given,' whether as written in the heart, or given by Moses,"

"[N]o man, because a sinner, can be justified by his own works righteousness, or obedience; but all men are sinners,"

"God is just as well as gracious (Rom 3:26). He cannot suffer any wrong to be done to His holy Law."

"[W]hat we could not do in keeping perfectly the Law, He sent His Son in our nature, as our surety and representative, to do it for us."

"[B]y faith we get or attain to a perfect righteousness; even such a righteousness as the Law requires, by being interested in the complete and perfect righteousness and obedience of Christ to the Moral Law, in whom every type and shadow of the Ceremonial Law, and in whom each promise and prophecy is fulfilled also:"

Gospel call:

"Remember, sinners, you are guilty and must be justified in a way of righteousness as well as pardoned in a way of sovereign mercy,"

"[A]ll we have is of God's free grace."

"Sirs, there is no way in order to peace of conscience for us, but to do as Paul did, i.e., renounce all our inherent righteousness and obedience, and fly to the doctrine of justification by the grace of God, through the complete righteousness of Jesus Christ received by faith only."


Monday, March 02, 2015

"The Extent of the Atonement"

Below are quotes from John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied:
John Murray

"[S]ince all benefits and blessings are in the realm of Christ's dominion, and since this dominion rests upon His finished work of atonement, the benefits innumerable that are enjoyed by all men indiscriminately are related to the death of Christ and may be said to accrue from it in one way or another."

"Christ[, however,] did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to Himself a people." [Murray cites Rev 5:9; Heb 9:12; Tit 2:14.]

"The doctrine of the atonement must be radically revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish as well as those who are the heirs of eternal life."

"All for whom Christ died also died in Christ. All who died in Christ rose again with Christ." [Murray cites Rom 6:4-5; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Col 3:3.]

"[T]hose for whom Christ died are those and those only who die to sin and live to righteousness."

"[T]he death of Christ in its specific character as atonement was for those and those only who are in due time partakers of that new life of which Christ's resurrection is the pledge and pattern."


Monday, February 23, 2015

"We are the circumcision"

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— (Phil 2:3 ESV)

Already in the ministry of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, YHWH had challenged His people to consider that the ceremony of circumcision was insufficient to earn His favor. The LORD was looking for people who did not just have part of their flesh cut off, but who had their hearts circumcised: purified from fleshly lusts (Jer 4:4; 9:25-26). The heart circumcision that the LORD required was not something that could be achieved by human will or works: the change that sinners desperately need can only be achieved by the Spirit of God, taking out the heart of stone, giving the heart of flesh (Eze 36:26), writing His holy moral law on the heart of His people (Jer 31:33). True, inward circumcision is a blessing of the New Covenant, as God re-constitutes His people on the basis of the completed work of Christ.

In explaining what it really means to be a “Jew”–not in the sense of mere ethnic or biological identity, but in the sense of being a member of God’s covenant people–the Apostle Paul writes the following:

For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart: by the Spirit, not the letter. His praise is not from men but from God. (Rom 2:28-29 HCSB)

There was a time when Gentiles-on the whole-were kept outside of this definition of “Jew,” when Gentiles were separated from God’s covenant promises by the Law, which included circumcision, as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:11-12,

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (ESV)

One of the functions of the Law was to keep Israel separate from the Gentiles, to preserve the covenant line that would culminate in Christ. With the coming of Christ into history, upon the completion of His work, salvation has been made available to all. The New Covenant promises are for the whole world. The dividing wall of separation between Jew and Gentile has been removed. As the Apostle goes on to explain:

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:13-22 ESV)

True, spiritual circumcision unites Jew and Gentile because it unites all believers to the work of Christ, as Paul explains in Colossians 2:11-14,

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (ESV)

Circumcision was a symbol indicating the obligation to obey the entire Law from the heart (Gal 5:3). Another function of the Law was to demonstrate that we all fall short of God’s requirements, to display the need we have for a Savior. United to Christ by faith, we have been circumcised with Him, we have died with Him, we have been raised with him. Therefore our debt–our condemnation under the Law–has been erased.

According to Philippians 2:3, “we”–that is, the Apostle Paul, the Philippian Christians, and (by direct implication) all who have true faith in Christ–“are the circumcision.” Paul further defines the character of true disciples of our Lord with the phrases “worship by the Spirit of God” and “glory in Christ Jesus;” these are two facets of the same truth about Christian character: that, by faith, we are consistently pointing to the glory of God alone. Christian character is negatively defined as putting “no confidence in the flesh.” Our flesh–our own will and works–are entirely powerless to restore us to a right relationship with God. As Jesus declares: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63 NASB)

Dear reader, please consider: have you trusted in Christ? Is your life characterized by worshipping in the Spirit? Have you ever come to the place where you can honestly say, “I place NO confidence in the flesh, but only in Christ alone”? Or are you still, on some level, seeking to please God through your own will and works? Please, I beg you, consider these matters and trust in Christ today!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"The Israel of God"

The following is an excerpt from and article by Brian J. Vickers, "Who is the 'Israel of God' (Galatians 6:16)?" Eusebeia (2006): 8-9. In the article, Vickers argues that-in the context of the epistle-"Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 refers to all believers in Christ: both Jewish and Gentile. The following  paragraph situates the Apostle's use of this term in Galatians with other NT language for believers.

Though the phrase "Israel of God" only appears in Galatians 6:16, there are texts in which language
Brian J. Vickers
reserved in the Old Testament for Israel alone is applied without hesitation to all who believe in Jesus: whether Jew or Gentile. For example, Peter, quoting Exodus 19:5-6, calls his readers (who undoubtedly included Gentiles, see 1 Peter 4:3) "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people (1 Peter 2:9; cf. 2:5)." Here Peter unreservedly uses covenant language once reserved for Israel alone and applies it to all who believe in Jesus. References to God's election of believers (e.g. Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:10) are reminiscent of Old Testament texts that speak of God's election of Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:6-7; 14:2). Finally, the all-inclusive designation of believers as the "children of God" (e.g. Romans 8:14; 1 John) finds counterpart in Hosea 11:1, "out of Egypt I called my son," a clear metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel (as well as a clear Messianic text).


Friday, February 13, 2015

Humiliation and Faith

This past Lord’s Day, my pastor (Mitch Chase) celebrated his birthday with a full day of preaching and teaching. In the morning service, Mitch preached from Matthew 15:21-28. In his sermon, he helpfully and rightly pointed out that Jesus’ seemingly harsh and even racist words—in calling the Canaanite woman and her daughter “dogs”—were adapted to the expectations of His hearers. These words would have provided a background, so that His subsequent commendation of this Gentile woman's faith would have been an even more stark challenge to His hearers.

Reflecting more on this passage, I’m also struck by the humility of the Canaanite woman. When Jesus answered her plea by basically calling her a dog and directly implying that she was unworthy of His help, she did not react as we might imagine she would. She might have responded, “You can’t talk to me that way!” She might have said, “Who are you calling ‘dog’ you wandering Jew?” She might have stormed off in a huff, feeling offended.

Instead, she did not argue. If the Lord decided to call her a “dog” on this occasion—for whatever reason—she was ready to accept it. She simply renews her request for her daughter. If the Lord declares her unworthy for “bread,” she is willing to accept “crumbs.”

The Lord answered her request and commended her faith. This passage—along with others, such as the parable of the Pharisee and the publican—present a crucial truth concerning faith. It is faith alone that justifies. But the faith that justifies is more than mere mental assent to a set of propositions. Faith is rather a casting of oneself wholly upon the Lord, despairing of one’s own attempts at righteousness. True faith exalts Christ above all. True faith comes only through humiliation. The Canaanite woman began her address to Jesus with a plea for mercy. “Mercy” implies that she already considered herself guilty, under just judgment. Her interaction with Christ showed that she was not giving lip-service to humility, but that she was truly humiliated before Him.

Please ask yourself, dear reader, if you have ever come to the place of the Canaanite woman. Have you ever seen yourself as guilty and in need of mercy? Have you ever cried out to Christ for salvation? If not, I pray that today would be the day that you truly place your faith in Him.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

"All Israel:" An Additional Witness

Re-reading through some sections from Continuity and Discontinuity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988) earlier this evening, I came across the following quote from Marten H. Woudstra. Woudstra was closely associated with the production of the original New International Version of the Bible. For this reason, if you Google Woudstra’s name, you will find numerous attacks against him by KJV-only advocates, who charge him with theological liberalism [and worse], but–doing further research into his life (through on-line articles from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society [Woudstra was a president of ETS]), I believe that there is no reason to give credence to these attacks. [Also: all of the contributors to Crossway’s Continuity and Discontinuity seem to have been theological conservatives.]
            At the time that he wrote “Israel and the Church: A Case for Continuity” for Continuity and Discontinuity, Woudstra taught at Calvin Theological Seminary. Woudstra interpreted “all Israel” Romans 11:26 in the same manner as the theologian for which his school was named. Woudstra wrote:

The quote from Isaiah 59 which follows in Rom 11:26 refers to a deliverer who shall come out of Zion. He it is who takes away Israel’s sin. This deliverer has already come when Paul writes these words. The taking away of sins has been accomplished by Christ, and this for both Gentiles and Jews. As the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in and “until” this time is finished, so, in this manner, “all Israel” will be saved. In this manner the twofold OT emphasis upon particularism and universalism will have merged. There will be one body of the redeemed, Christ’s flock, known to him by name and distinguished from those who are not his sheep. This body of Christ will exclude those who are not truly Christ’s own; yet it will also call all men to repentance. The saving of “all Israel” is still going on, for the fullness of the Gentiles is also still being brought in. But at all events some of the Jews who are now hardened in part will be grafted into the one olive tree. They will not form a separate program or a separate entity next to the church.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"All Israel"

Studying through Romans a few years ago, I came to the following conclusion concerning Romans 11:26a (“and in this way all Israel will be saved”); namely, that “in this way” is referring to the entire proceeding outline of redemptive history among Jews and Gentiles (wherein a “partial hardening” comes upon [ethnic] Israel, Gentiles are “grafted in” to the covenant line, and–once “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”– Jews–having been provoked to holy jealousy by God’s work among the Gentiles–trust in Christ and are grafted in again). Therefore “all Israel” refers to believing Jews and Gentiles (to use the Apostle’s analogy: both the wild and natural branches grafted into the one olive tree). I was surprised to find that basically nobody agrees with my interpretation of the text. Not G.K. Beale, not Dr. Tom Schreiner (under who I was privileged to study Romans), not John Murray: all of these scholars–and many more!–take “all Israel” as referring to ethnic Israelites. Taking this view, however, they have to explain that “all” does not mean “all” but only all the elect ethnic Israelites. Which–in this case–may make one wonder why the Apostle bothered to write “all” at all! On my view, all is needed in the text because it qualifies “Israel,” so that the reader is meant to understand that “in this way” all of God’s chosen people–from Jews to Gentiles and finally to Jews again–will be saved.
Obviously, it’s rather disconcerting to find yourself virtually alone in an understanding of the text. And to find myself in disagreement with so many trusted teachers certainly made me re-examine the Scripture. But–looking at the passage again and again–I became convinced that I was viewing the argument in Romans correctly. Also–it turns out–I’m not quite alone in my interpretation of Romans 11:26a. See there is this one guy
In his Romans Commentary, regarding Romans 11:26a, John Calvin writes: 

Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, — “When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.” This interpretation seems to me the most suitable, because Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Galatians 6:16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles; and he sets the people, thus collected from their dispersion, in opposition to the carnal children of Abraham, who had departed from his faith.

This is precisely how I had come to see the text! So, when it comes to Romans 11:26a, I am a Calvinist. (I have no idea how Arminius interpreted this text.)


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jeffrey D. Johnson: "the church does not replace Israel"

In the following selection from The Kingdom of God: A Baptist Expression of Biblical and Covenant Theology, Jeffrey D. Johnson explains why Reformed Theology-at least in its Reformed Baptist expression-should not be considered "replacement theology."

It is not as if God changed His mind about who were to receive the promised inheritance. From the beginning, the inheritance was reserved only for a select few who had been chosen by God. To illustrate this, Paul turned to the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac, who were both the natural-born, circumcised grandchildren of Abraham. Yet according to Paul, the inheritance was not intended for all of Abraham’s physical seed. Rather, it was intended only for those whom God had chosen beforehand:

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:9-13).

What made Jacob different from Esau was not his birthright or his works, but divine election. Prior to the birth of these twin boys, there was a prophecy that proclaimed, “The older shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). This prophecy proved that God is the One who determines who will receive the inheritance.
In the same way, prior to the gospel breaking through to the Gentiles, there was an Old Testament prophecy that predicted this event: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (Rom 9:25; cf. Hos 2:23). “And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God’” (Hos 1:10). In addition, Paul went on to explain that the Old Testament made it clear that only a small number of the physical seed of Abraham would be saved: “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved’” (Rom 9:27). Thus, the first reason why the majority of physical Israel were rejecting the kingdom was that the promises were exclusively given to God’s elect people, who consisted of Abraham’s spiritual seed.


[As seen in Romans 15], the church does not replace Israel. Rather, believing Gentiles are grafted into the same tree with believing Jews. That is, Gentiles do not enjoy a different inheritance but share in the same inheritance that was promised to Abraham and his seed. As Paul specifically indicates later in the chapter, “the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings” (Rom 15:27).

A couple of qualifications that I would add to the above:
  • Johnson writes, "the promises were exclusively given to God’s elect people, who consisted of Abraham’s spiritual seed." I would say that the promises are primarily secured by God's elect Man, Jesus Christ, who was fully qualified as the fulfillment of Abraham's seed in both the physical and spiritual sense. These promises, first enjoyed by the elect from Abraham's physical seed [for the most part], were expanded through Christ to all the elect: Abraham's spiritual seed from both Jews and Gentiles. I believe-based on some other passages in his book-that Johnson would agree with this.
  • Johnson writes of "a select few." I believe, based on passages like Daniel 2:35, Matthew 13:32, and Revelation 7:9 that-in the final analysis-the group of the elect will not be few, but innumerable, demonstrating the richness of God's grace in Christ.


Monday, January 12, 2015

John Owen: "The house of Israel and the house of Judah"

The following selection is from John Owen’s Exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13, as found in Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ [I’ve made some slight changes to the formatting]. This section is focused on Hebrews 8:8, which contains a quote from Jeremiah 31:31, “Finding fault with them He says, ‘Behold, the days come,’ says the LORD, ‘And I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’” Following the [admittedly lengthy] quote from Owen, I’ll give a few personal thoughts. 

The Persons with Whom this Covenant [i.e. the New Covenant] Were Made

The persons with whom this covenant is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Long before the giving of this promise, that people were divided into two parts. The one of them, in way of distinction from the other, retained the name of Israel. These were the ten tribes, which fell off from the house of David, under the conduct of Ephraim; by reason of which fact they are often also in the Prophets called by that name. The other, consisting of the tribe properly so called, with that of Benjamin and the greater part of Levi; took the name of Judah; and with them both the promise and the church remained in a peculiar manner. But although they all originally sprang from Abraham, who received the promise and sign of circumcision for them all, and because they were all equally in their forefather brought into the bond of the old covenant, they are here mentioned distinctly, that none of the seed of Abraham might be excluded from the tender of the covenant. To the whole seed of Abraham according to the flesh it was that the terms and grace of this covenant were first to be offered. So Peter tells them, in his first sermon, that “the promise was to them and their children” who were then present, that is, the house of Judah; and “to all who were afar off,” that is, the house of Israel in their dispersions (Acts 2:39). So again he expresses the order of the dispensation of this covenant with respect to the promise made to Abraham, Acts 3:25-26:

“You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed will all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.’ To you first, God–having raised his Son Jesus–sent him to bless you” (namely, in the preaching of the gospel).

So our apostle, in his sermon spoken to them, affirmed that “it was necessary that the word should be first spoken to them” (Acts 13:46). And this was all the privilege that was now left to them; for the partition-wall was now broken down, and all obstacles against the Gentiles taken out of the way. To that end this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered in two ways: [1.] as that people who were the whole entire posterity of Abraham; [2.] as they were typical, spiritually symbolic of the whole church of God. Because of this fact alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given to the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them.

            In the first sense, God made this covenant with them [i.e. ethnic Israelites], and this on various accounts:

1.     Because he in through whom alone it was to be established and made effectual was to be brought forth among them of the seed of Abraham, as the apostle Peter plainly declares (Acts 3:25).
2.     Because all things that belonged to the ratification of it were to be transacted among them.
3.     Because, in the outward dispensation of it, the terms and grace of it were first in the counsel of God to be tendered to them.
4.     Because by them, by the ministry of men of their posterity, the dispensation of it was to be carried to all nations, as they were to be blessed in the seed of Abraham, which was done by the apostles and other disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. So the law of the Redeemer went forth from Zion. By this means “the covenant was affirmed with many” of them “for one week” before the calling of the Gentiles (Dan 9:27). And because these things belonged equally to them all, mention is made distinctly of “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” For the house of Judah was, at the time of the giving of the promise, in the sole possession of all the privileges of the old covenant; Israel having cut off themselves by their revolt from the house of David (being cast out also, for their sins, among the heathen). But God, to declare that the covenant he designed had no respect to those carnal privileges which were then in possession of Judah alone, but only to the promise made to Abraham, he equals all his seed with respect to the mercy of the covenant.

In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of two (namely, Jews and Gentiles) with whom the covenant is really made and established, and to whom the grace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made will as really have the law of God written in their hearts–and their sins pardoned–according to the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing to his name.

John Owen
The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it to them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue of it, and in whose hearts the law of God is written, which are the express promises of it. And it was with respect to those of this sort among that people that the covenant was promised to be made with them. (See Romans 9:27-33; 11:7.) But in respect of the outward dispensation of the covenant, it is extended beyond the effectual communication of the grace of it. And in respect to that did the privilege of the carnal seed of Abraham lie.
Those who are first and most advanced as to outward privileges are oftentimes last and least advantaged by the grace and mercy of them. Thus was it with these two houses of Israel and Judah. They had the privilege and pre-eminence above all nations of the world as to the first tender and all the benefits of the outward dispensation of the covenant; yet, “though the number of them was as the sand of the sea, a remnant only was saved.” They came behind the nations of the world as to the grace of it; and this by reason of their unbelief, and the abuse of the privileges granted to them. Let not those, therefore, who now enjoy the greatest privileges be high-minded, but fear.

I believe that the above exposition is true to Scripture and is pure gold. However, I believe that it could be improved in one important respect. Owen writes of “Israel and Judah” referring to ethnic Israelites and to “the whole church of elect believers.” In his discussion of ethnic Israelites, he mentions Christ in passing as the seed of Abraham. I believe that it would be far better to devote an entire paragraph [another “sense” in which “Israel and Judah” is intended] to discussing Christ as the unique fulfillment of “Israel and Judah” before transitioning from ethnic Israel to “the whole church of elect believers.”

In passing, I should note Owen’s use of Acts 2:39. In another setting, I’ve cited that verse as a proof for Gentile inclusion into covenant promises. A Dispensationalist brother challenged me on this, noting that Peter’s mention of “those who were afar off” could not refer to Gentiles, since Peter was later surprised by Gentile inclusion into the Church, as recorded in Acts 10-11. Though I argued the point at the time–and still believe that this verse is part of a thematic trend in Acts, pointing toward greater inclusion in the covenant promises–Owen’s understanding of the text [that Acts 2:39 is primarily expressing “the order of the dispensation” of the covenant promises: with ethnic Israelites–even those scattered abroad–being the first beneficiaries] is certainly correct.