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.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Bondage of the Will and the Gospel Call (Part Two)

(The following post was originally published on 1/2/06.)

"[W]e may apply our wills to grace, or turn away from it."
[The Roman Catholic apologist Erasmus, quoted in Oswald Bayer, “Martin Luther,” The Reformation Theologians, Carter Lindberg, ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002).]

The above quote would probably seem completely non-controversial in many 'evangelical' circles of thought. Statements such as the one above abound in churches throughout the land- I myself heard a preacher at a church I was visiting last Sunday make this statement almost word-for-word in a brief sidenote he gave during his sermon- but is the above statement true? I would assert, on the authority of the biblical texts mentioned in my last post, that the quote at the head of this post is false.

The question here is whether the will of every individual human being after the Fall of Man into sin is in bondage to Man's innate evil desires or whether people retain some capacity by which they may freely desire to choose the good that is in Christ. Simply put, is the will of fallen Man naturally in bondage to sin, or do people possess a natural faculty of the mind that may be called 'free-will'?

In defining 'free-will' Erasmus, who is quoted above, wrote:

“[B]y free choice [which is here used interchangeably with the term 'free-will']... we mean a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from them.”[The Roman Catholic apologist Erasmus, quoted in Oswald Bayer, “Martin Luther,” The Reformation Theologians, Carter Lindberg, ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002).]

But please note how the Reformer, Martin Luther, responded to Erasmus' idea of 'free-will':

Luther opposed this thesis as sharply as possible. The turn to salvation, faith, is in no way a human work but rather is God’s work alone, the completion of which- precisely because God is omnipotent- no one can hinder. God is not only willing to keep what he promises, but he is also able to do it. If salvation were not entirely and solely in God’s hands, I would- even if only in the slightest bit- have to have a say in and to cooperate in my salvation. Thus I would, on this single point alone, certainly the Archimedean point, have to fend for myself. Then uncertainty would enter which would destroy the certainty of salvation, and thereby also deny the radical nature of sin. [Oswald Bayer, “Martin Luther,” The Reformation Theologians, Carter Lindberg, ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002).]

Our salvation is, as Charles Spurgeon wrote, All of Grace. As the Word of God also declares:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- not from works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, HCSB)

To the glory of God alone.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Bondage of the Will and the Gospel Call (Part One)


(The following blogpost was orignally published on 12/29/05.) 

Jesus responded, "I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. (John 8:34 HCSB)

By these words, Jesus exposes the true spiritual condition of His Jewish audience as well as the condition of all people after the Fall. Every individual is in slavery to sin,

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 HCSB).

And this slavery is not one of external compulsion, "but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;" (James 1:14-15a NIV). This "evil desire," which leads to temptation and sin, making us all slaves to sin, is present within every person, for God has testified that "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (cf. Genesis 8:21). It is the natural intent of our heart- our desires, or, to say it another way, our will- that is the source of our enslavement to sin as well as our natural alienation from God and our hostility toward Him (cf. Colossians 1:21).

And it is for this reason that we declare so strongly that any system of philosophy that would make the cooperation of our 'free-will' necessary for our release from the bondage of sin is a distortion of the biblical gospel. As Martin Luther taught:

Free will, after the fall, exists in name only…”

For anyone to come to faith in Christ for salvation, God alone by His grace alone must transform his or her will so that he or she will no longer hate the light of the gospel (cf. John 3:20), but instead he or she will come to the Light "so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God" (John 3:21b NASB). For anyone to come to faith in Christ for salvation, God the Father must do a special work in drawing him or her to Jesus His Son, as Jesus Himself declared, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44a HCSB). For you to be saved, God must first "remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26b HCSB)

Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. (II Peter 1:10 HCSB)

Examine your heart in the light of Scripture. Do you "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (cf. Matthew 5:6) or do you "love the world," that is, "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (cf. I John 2:15-16 NASB)? If you are in love with the things of this world system, I beg you to call out to Jesus to save you: you will certainly not be disappointed,

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13 KJV)

And if you have called upon Jesus for salvation, you can be sure that it was God who placed this desire for salvation in your heart,

for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13 NASB)

To the glory of God alone.

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Spurgeon on Matthew 16:28


(The following blogpost was originally published on 12/19/05.) 

The following teaching by Charles Spurgeon concerning Matthew 16:28 was helpful to me in understanding this verse and I hope that you who are reading this post will be blessed as well with the careful examination of God's Word. The remainder of this post is the first half (roughly) of Spurgeon's sermon #594 preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1864. The thoughts that I had while reading this sermon will be interspersed in green.

An Awful Premonition

Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. –Matthew 16:28

I confess that I have frequently read this verse with only a vague sense of its poignancy and have passed over it rapidly because I have not understood it clearly. Although I am well acquainted with the usual interpretations, none of them has ever really satisfied me. This text seems to arouse the reader’s surprise without suggesting a simple, obvious meaning. Bible commentators have thus invented explanations and offered suggestions that are widely divergent, but all are equally obscure and improbable.

I greatly appreciate Spurgeon's candor here in relating his struggles to understand this text as well as the confession that he gives that he has not, in the past, carefully examined the verse as he ought. This is encouraging in that we see that even a man of God as gifted as Spurgeon did not automatically have an adequate understanding of every passage. Spurgeon's words here are also convicting in that we see that in order to have an adequate knowledge of Scripture, we must apply ourselves to diligent study: in other words, we have to work to understand the Word.

Lately, however, in reading a volume of sermons by Bishop Horsley, I have met with an altogether new view of this passage, which I firmly believe to be the correct one. Though I do not suppose I will be able to convince all of you of this interpretation, yet I will do my best to elicit from our text the terrible charge that I believe the Savior has left here on record.

At this point I would like to encourage everyone to prayerfully examine Spurgeon's exegesis of this text. Spurgeon's explanation of Matthew 16:28 will most likely be significantly different from any previous material you may have studied on this verse, and we are often prone to favor the position we have become accustomed to rather than to allow our thoughts on a given subject to be challenged by sound reasoning from the Scripture.

With His own cross in mind, Jesus had just admonished his disciples to steadfastness and appealed to them to take up their crosses and follow him at any sacrifice, which he followed with a portrayal of the inestimable value of the soul and the horror of a soul being lost. (See Matthew 16:24-26.) The full force of that doom was (and is) impossible to comprehend until he “shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels” (Matthew 16:27). Then he stopped, looked on some of the company, and said something like this: “Certain people are standing here who will never taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Now, what did he mean by this? Obviously, it was either a marvelous promise to some who were disciples indeed, or else it was a portent of woe to others who would die in their sins. How do the popular interpretations of our learned commentators view this statement of our Lord?

The first of the "popular interpretations" mentioned by Spurgeon below is the one that I have read and had come to accept. You may also currently hold to this interpretation, but please weigh carefully Spurgeon's argument against this understanding of the verse under examination.

Some say it refers to the Transfiguration. It certainly is remarkable that the account of the Transfiguration immediately follows this verse both in Mark and in Luke, as well as in this record of Matthew. However, can you for a moment convince yourself to believe that Christ was describing his Transfiguration when he spoke of “the Son of man coming in his kingdom”? Can you see any connection between the Transfiguration and the preceding verse that says,

For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27)

We grant you that Christ was in his glory upon Mount Tabor, but he did not there “reward every man according to his works,” nor is it fair to call that a “coming” of the Son of Man at all. He did not “come” on Mount Tabor, for he was on the earth already; and it is a misuse of language to construe that into an advent. Besides, where would be the occasion for such a solemn prefix— “Verily I say unto you”? Does it not raise expectation merely to cause disappointment, if he intended no more than this—“There be some standing here who shall see me transfigured”? That scene took place six days afterwards. The next verse tells you so,

And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart. (Matthew 17:1)

Why, the majesty of the prediction which carries our thoughts forward to "the last things" in the world's history, makes us shrink from accepting an immediate fulfillment of it all. I cannot imagine, therefore, that the transfiguration is in the slightest degree referred to here; and I do not think that anyone would have thought of such a thing unless he had been perplexed and utterly nonpiussed for an explanation.

And again—though it seems almost incredible—Dr. Gill endorses this view, and moreover says, that it also refers to the descent of the Holy Ghost, At this I am staggered. How any man can find an analogy with Pentecost in the connection here I cannot think. Pentecost took place six months after this event, and why Jesus Christ should say, "Verily I say unto you there be some standing here who will live six months," I really cannot comprehend. It seems to me that my Master did not waste people's time by talking such platitudes.

Who that reads this passage can think it has any reference to the descent of the Holy Ghost—

For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27)

Did Christ come at Pentecost in the glory of his Father? Was there then any company of angels? Did he then reward every man according to his works? Scarcely can the descent of the Holy Spirit, or the appearance of cloven tongues, like as of fire (Acts 2:3), be called the coming of the Son of Man in the glory of his Father with his angels, [to give] every man according to his works, without a gross misuse of our mother tongue, or a strange violation of symbolic imagery.

Both these constructions, however, which I now mention, have now been given up as unsatisfactory by those modern students who have thought most carefully upon the subject. The third still holds its ground, and is currently received, though I believe it to he quite as far from the truth as the others.

The third interpretation that Spurgeon wishes to refute is especially relevant to us today with the current popularity of "partial preterism." Partial preterism is the view that nearly all of the prophesies of the Bible- save for the bodily return of Christ and the final resurrection- have been fulfilled in the past (from our point of view), specifically in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem and in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. Though partial preterists have some very compelling arguments, they tend to see all references to the future found in the New Testament as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, even when this interpretation is not supported by the text.

Will you carefully read the chapter through at your leisure, and see if you can find anything about the siege of Jerusalem in it? Yet this is the interpretation that finds favor at the present time. Some persons were standing there who would be alive when Jerusalem should be destroyed by the Romans!! Nothing surely could be more foreign to the entire scope of our Lord's discourse, or the narrative of the evangelists. There is not the slightest shadow of a reference to the siege of Jerusalem. It is the coming of the Son of Man which is here spoken of, in the glory of his Father with his angels, to reward men according to their works. Whenever Jesus spoke of the siege of Jerusalem and of its coming, he was wont to say,

Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled;” (Matthew 24:34)

But he never singled out some few persons and said to them, “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till the city of Jerusalem is besieged and destroyed.”

If a child were to read this passage I know what he would think it meant: he would suppose Jesus Christ was to come, and there were some standing there who should not taste of death until really and literally he did come. This, I believe, is the plain meaning.

"Well," says one, “I am surprised; do you think, then, that this refers to the apostle John?” No; by no means. The fable passed current, you know, that John was to live till Christ came again. But John himself repudiated it. For at the end of his gospel, he says,

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (John 21:23, emphasis added)

This, you see, was putting a suppositions case, and in no sense the language of prediction.

Having examined the interpretations that he believes are contrary to the meaning of the text, Spurgeon now moves on to present his positive argument for what he believes the text is intended to indicate.

Now, dear brethren, if you are so far convinced of the unreasonableness of each of these efforts to solve the difficulty by feigning a sense, I shall hope to have your minds in readiness for that explanation which appears to me to harmonize with every requirement. I believe the “coming” here spoken of, is the coming of the Son of God to judgment at the last great and terrible assize, when he shall judge the righteous, and separate the wicked from among them.

The next question is—“Of whom were the words spoken?” Are we warranted in supposing that our Lord intended this sentence as a gracious promise, or a kindly expectation that he would kindle in the breast of his disciples? I trow not. To me it appears to have no reference whatever to any man who ever had grace in his soul: such language is far more applicable to the ungodly than the wicked. It may well have been aimed directly at those followers who should apostatize from the faith, grasp at the world, shrink at the cross, endeavor to save their lives, but really lose them, and barter their souls.

Now, carefully weigh Spurgeon's exposition of the use of the phrase "taste of death."

At the glorious appearing of Christ there are some who will taste death, but will they be the righteous? Surely, my dear friends, when Christ comes, the righteous will not die; they will be caught up with the Lord in the air. His coming will be the signal for the resurrection of all his saints.

But mark you, at the time of his coming, the men who have been without God, and without Christ, will begin for the first time to “taste of death.” They passed the first stage of dissolution when the soul quitted the body, but they have never known the “taste of death.” Till then, they will not have known its tremendous bitterness and its awful horror. They will never drink of the wormwood and the gall, so as really to “taste of death,” till the Lord shall come. This tasting of death here may he explained, and I believe it is to be explained, by a reference to the second death, which men will not taste of till the Lord comes.

And what a dreadful sentence that was, when the Savior said—perhaps singling out Judas as he spoke—“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, who shall never know what that dreadful word ‘death’ means, till the Lord shall come. You think that if you save your lives, you escape from death. Ah! you do not know what death means. The demise of the body is but a prelude to the perdition of the soul. The grave is but the porch of death; you will never understand the meaning of that terrible word till the Lord comes.”

This can have no reference to the saints, because in the eighth chapter of John, and the fifty-first verse, you find this passage—

Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.” (John 8:51-52)

No righteous man, therefore, can ever “taste of death.” He will fall into that deep oblivious sleep in which the body sees corruption; but that is another and a very different thing from the bitter cup referred to as tasting of death. When the Holy Ghost wanted an expression to set forth that which was the equivalent for the divine wrath, what expression was used?—“Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man” (cf. Hebrews 2:9).
The expression “to taste of death,” means the reception of that true and essential death, which kills both the body and the soul in hell for ever. The Savior said then, as he might say, I fear, if he stood in this pulpit to-night—

Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

If this be the meaning, and I hold that it is in keeping with the context, it explains the verse, sets forth the reason why Christ bespoke breathless attention with the word “verily,” answers both the grammar and the rhetoric, and is not by any argument that I have ever heard of to be moved—if this be so, what thrilling denunciations are contained in my text. O, may the Holy Spirit deeply affect our hearts, and cause our souls to thrill with its solemnity!

What thoughts it stirs up! Compared with the doom which will be inflicted upon the ungodly at the coming of Christ, the death of nature 'is nothing. We go farther: compared with the doom of the wicked at the coming of Christ, even the torments of souls in a separate state are scarcely anything. The startling question then comes up. Are there any sitting or standing here who will have to taste of death when the Lord comes?

I urge every reader of this post to carefully re-read and prayerfully consider the last question given above.

SDG

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Word of God Veiled to Sinful Man (Isaiah 53:1)


(The following blogpost was originally published on 12/17/05.)

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (NASB)

Introduction

Sunday after Sunday people all over the world meet in churches, and they hear messages preached concerning the Bible. This book- the Bible- is consistently the single best-selling book in the world every year. And so it is amazing how many people are ignorant of the basic content of this book: both in terms of the details of what events are recorded in the Bible and also of the main idea of the Bible. This general lack of biblical knowledge in our society as been made painfully obvious to me as I am currently employed as a Reading teacher at a junior high school. Several of the selections that we read in class- from Beowulf to Shakespeare to Edgar Allen Poe- contain biblical allusions, and I am always a bit surprised at how few of my students have any knowledge of even the most fundamental Bible stories to which our selections refer. And what really bothers me is that it is not only my students whose parents fail to bring them to church meetings who cannot identify common Bible names and events: even students who profess to attend church regularly are often as clueless in this area as the others. The other day, for example, we were reading a short section of the epic poem Beowulf because my students needed to be instructed on identifying the characteristics of epic poetry. As I was giving my class background knowledge on the basic outline of Beowulf, I mentioned that the monster Grendel, who is Beowulf's enemy, is portrayed as being a descendent of Cain. At this point I introduced the Bible story of Cain and Abel into the discussion so that my students would understand why being a descendent of Cain would be considered a bad thing. I had planned to spend only a couple of minutes on this point, but I found, to my dismay, that there were hardly any of my students who were sufficiently familiar with this bit of Bible history. (It's little wonder then, I guess, that my students treat each other so poorly, as I'm not sure how parents teach their children not to kill each other without referring to the story of Cain and Abel.)

But even more distressing than peoples' lack of knowledge about foundational points of Bible history is the widespread ignorance concerning the central theme of the Bible. It is odd to think that in a society where so many homes have Bibles in them that so few people can, when asked, articulate what the main idea of the great book is. And those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord must be ready and able to articulate the Truth of the Bible. As the Apostle Paul commands:

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (II Tim. 4:2 NKJV)

As we desire to obey this command and speak to others about the Bible- the record of God’s Word- we are hindered by many obstacles. Some of these obstacles are internal- we often lack wisdom in how to present God’s Word and we lack boldness in speaking His Word when we know that we ought to. And so we are instructed to pray for wisdom in the book of James, which says:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

We are also instructed by the example of the Apostle Paul who implored the Ephesian church to pray for him, so that he would proclaim God’s Word boldly (cf. Eph. 6:19-20 NKJV).

But in addition to these internal obstacles against the proclamation of God’s Word, we must also understand that those to whom we must proclaim the Word also present obstacles to our effective communication of the Truth. The fact that most people willfully reject God’s Word and cling to a form of sinful skepticism is the focus of Isaiah 53:1, and it is this fact- and the remedy to peoples’ rejection of the Truth- that I wish to explore in this post.

Exposition

To begin with, let’s take a look at the basic structure and content of this verse. Isaiah 53:1 presents two rhetorical questions given by the prophet Isaiah to emphasize the fact that the vast majority of the race of Israel has rejected the Word of God. In Isaiah 53 the prophet is lamenting the manifestation of the prophecy God had given him at his commission, for God had said to him,

"Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.' Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed." (Is. 6:9-10)

This command to Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry is a judgment against Israel. So the primary thrust of this text is Isaiah’s lament over the reception of his message (or, rather, the lack of reception that his message receives), but this verse also gives us a brief glimpse of the content of the Prophet’s message. For the phrase, “the arm of the LORD” in the second question is given as a parallel to the term, “our message” in the first question. And this phrase “the arm of the LORD” is used in the Old Testament to speak of the power of God: as clearly demonstrated in verses such as Deuteronomy 26:8,

So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. (NKJV)

So the message of Isaiah was about the “arm”- or “power”- of God. And this is to be our message as well: the power of God– particularly, the power of God living in Christ Jesus. As it is written:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel [that is, the “Good News”] of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Rom. 1:16 NKJV, emphasis added)

Our message is a message of faith in Jesus Christ: that He alone has the power to save us from God’s holy wrath against sin.

For the power of God lives in Christ forever, as the Apostle declares:

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells [notice the present tense] in bodily form. (Col. 2:9 NASB)

And God’s power worked through Jesus during His personal earthly ministry, as demonstrated in His miracles. But even these miracles were not enough to convince the people of Israel to place their faith in Him, as the apostle John records:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, {yet} they were not believing in Him. {This was} to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" (John 12:37-38)

In general, the crowds that came to see Jesus rejected Him and eventually called for His crucifixion. The crowds’ rejection of Jesus was due to an active judgment of God, as John goes on to record:

For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." (John 12:39-40)

These verses clearly tie in the message of the prophet Isaiah to the work of our Lord. The Word of the Lord is the same Word whether it is given through the prophets or through the incarnate Son of God, as the writer of Hebrews declares:

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe. (Heb. 1:1-2 HCSB)

This Word- the Good News of forgiveness of sins through the person and work of Jesus Christ- is regularly rejected. This rejection is both a sin and a result of God’s judgment on sin. The first verse of Isaiah 53 demonstrates this spiritual fact and for this reason Paul refers back to this verse in explaining why the nation of Israel, who had been blessed so long to receive the Word of God, for the most part rejected the Good News of Jesus Christ:

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" (Rom. 10:16)

Though the verses quoted above primarily refer to the rejection of God’s Word by the nation of Israel, it is important to note that no one in their natural state will believe the Word of God, as it is written:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. 3:10-18, HCSB)

And Jesus declares,

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19 KJV)

This state of loving darkness- or sin- rather than the light, who is Christ (cf. John 1:4) and the subsequent rejection of the Word of God, is seen to be a universal condition.

And this is not a state from which people can free themselves, as Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34b HCSB), and, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44a HCSB). If you are reading this blog and you have not come to faith in Christ, then you must come to realize that you are a slave to your love for sin and that no one can free you except God alone. If you fail to comprehend this fact, then you will try to invent some way to be made right with God other than trusting Jesus and “there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12b HCSB)

"But Some Will Believe"

I would like to give a final word to Christians who have been desperately trying to witness– to tell the Good News of who Jesus is and what He has done– and have been rejected by non-Christians to the point of lamenting with the Prophet,

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

The following counsel is from pastor John MacArthur’s book Hard to Believe. In a chapter named “But Some Will Believe,” MacArthur writes:

If you looked at the world and judged God’s power by the responses of men, you would give up trying to share the Word of God. I have gone places and poured out my heart, and nothing happened. But that’s all right, because all that the Father has given to Christ are going to come home. That’s what Jesus said: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (John 6:37).
I’m not responsible for who gets saved, and neither are you. I refuse that responsibility. Then who is responsible? “No man comes to Me,” Jesus said, “except the Father draw him.” God has that responsibility, not us. Therefore, I can look over the multitude and say, as Jesus said, “Most of you won’t believe.” But some will believe, brought to faith through reading the Bible, talking with a friend, or hearing a preacher on the street.

It is our duty then to proclaim the gospel– the message of the power of God– as Isaiah did, regardless how our message is received. Out of loving obedience to our God, we must proclaim His Word at every opportunity. And God will be faithful to use our proclamation of the Word to draw His people to Himself. We know this by faith, even when the results of our proclaiming His Word are not immediately discernible.

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?- The answer is, 'those whom the Father has given to the Son– those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (cf. Rev. 5:9).' For this result, we trust in God and not in our own abilities and not in the results we currently see around us.

For His glory alone.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The "Prevailing Seriousness" of a Soul-Winner

The following is a quote from Spurgeon's great work on evangelism, The Soul Winner, in a chapter called "Qualifications for Soul-Winning- Manward":


I think also that, if we are to be soul-winners, there must be about us a seriousness of manner. Some brethren are serious by nature. There was a gentleman in a railway carriage, some time ago, who overheard a conversation between two of the passengers. One of them said, "Well, now, I think the Church of Rome has great power, and is likely to succeed with the people, because of the evident holiness of her ministers. There is, for instance, Cardinal ________, he is just like a skeleton; through his long fasting and prayers, he has reduced himself almost to skin and bone. Whenever I hear him speak, I feel at once the force of the holiness of the man. Now, look at Spurgeon, he eats and drinks like an ordinary mortal; I would not give a pin to hear him preach." His friend heard him very patiently, and then said quite quietly, "Did it ever strike you that the Cardinal's appearance was to be accounted for by the fact of his liver being out of order? I do not think it is grace that makes him as lean as he is, I believe it is his liver." So, there are some brethren who are naturally of a melancholy disposition, they are always very serious; but in them it is not a sign of grace, it is only an indication that their livers are out of order. They never laugh, they think it would be wicked to do so; but they go about the world increasing the misery of human kind, which is dreadful enough without the addition of their unnecessary portion. Such people evidently imagine that they were predestinated to pour buckets of cold water upon all human mirth and joy. So, dear brethren, if any of you are very serious, you must not always attribute it to grace, for it may be all owing to the state of your liver.
The most of us, however, are far more inclined to that laughter which doeth good like medicine, and we shall need all our cheerfulness, if we are to comfort and lift up those who are cast down; but we shall never bring many souls to Christ, if we are full of that levity which characterises some men. People will say, "It is all a joke; just hear how those young fellows jest about religion, it is one thing to listen to them when they are in the pulpit, but it is quite another matter to listen to them when they are sitting round the supper table." I have heard of a man who was dying, and he sent for the minister to come and see him. When the minister came in, the dying man said to him, "Do you remember a young man walking with you one evening, some years ago, when you were going out to preach?" He said, he did not. "I recollect it very well," replied the other. "Do you not remember preaching at such-and-such a village, from such-and-such a text, and after the service a young man walked home with you?" "Oh, yes, I remember that very well!" "Well, I am the young man who walked home with you that night; I remember your sermon, I shall never forget it." "Thank God for that," said the preacher. "No," answered the dying man, "you will not thank God when you have heard all I have to say. I walked with you to the village, but you did not say much to me on the way there, for you were thinking over your sermon; you deeply impressed me while you were preaching, and I was led to think about giving my heart to Christ. I wanted to speak to you about my soul on the way home; but the moment you got out you cracked a joke, and all the way back you made such fun upon serious subjects, that I could not say anything about what I felt, and it thoroughly disgusted me with religion, and all who professed it, and now I am going to be damned, and my blood will lie at your door, as sure as you are alive:" and so he passed out of the world. One would not like anything of that sort to happen to himself; therefore, take heed, brethren, that you give no occasion for it. There must be a prevailing seriousness about our whole lives, otherwise we cannot hope to lead other men to Christ.

This "prevailing seriousness", is something which all too few Christians give much thought to. There are many examples that could be given in which it is obvious that too much "kidding around" tends to obscure matters that are crucial to peoples' eternal salvation. I have personally heard my more doctrinally sound brothers and sisters make biting jokes about "mega-churches" much more often than I have heard them pray for these congregations. Many times I have heard sarcastic nicknames given to particular "seeker-sensitive" congregations and I have thought, "If the theology of these congregations is really a corruption of the gospel, then we should weep that so many people are being deceived, rather than make jokes that are likely to inflate our own pride."

In conclusion, we all need to remember that there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh" (cf. Ecclesiates 3:4) and that our blessed Savior was also known as "a man of sorrows" (cf. Isaiah 53:3). Though we have much to be joyful about as Christians, the glory of God and the eternal destiny of those around us is no laughing matter.

-To the glory of God alone.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Limited Atonement: Ministry Implications

Particular redemption is the doctrine concerning Christ’s work on the Cross indicating that Jesus died to actually secure salvation, which is certainly applied to a particular people, in contradiction of the view of Unlimited atonement or General redemption, which indicates that Jesus died to make salvation possible for each and every person ever to live. (Particular redemption is commonly referred to in a rather negative form- "Limited atonement"- as one of the 'five points of Calvinism,' which are summary statements of the Canons of the Synod of Dort.)

Recently I was involved in an email discussion about how holding to the doctrine of Particular redemption would actually impact ministry of the Word in the local congregation. Below are some of my thoughts on this subject:
 
First- The doctrine of Particular redemption impacts whether the Cross is exalted as God's sure victory over the alienation and hostility of individuals to Him (as seen in Colossians 1:21-22; see also verses such as Romans 6:6), or whether an additional work is required for this victory to be declared.
 
Second- The doctrine of Particular redemption impacts our understanding of the basis for God's choice of certain individuals to be saved. Namely, does this choice made by God have a specific reference to the Cross (as Scripture teaches in passages such as Revelation 13:8 and 17:8)?
 
Third- Flowing from the points mentioned above, the doctrine of Particular redemption also impacts whether the Cross is exalted as the basis upon which God grants spiritual life to His chosen people (as Scripture teaches in passages such as Romans 8:1-9). In thinking about this point, we should also consider the specific connection Jesus makes between His gospel work and the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 16:7.
 
Fourth- The answer to the question of whether God actually reconciled a particular people to Himself through Christ's work on the Cross or only made a potential reconciliation universally available impacts whether the Cross is exalted as the surety for the ultimate blessing and preservation of God's people (as the Apostle teaches in Romans 8:32; see also Hebrews 9:12).
 
And so we see that the "L," so far from being a dispensable point of ivory tower theology, is actually at the heart of the God-exalting Doctrines of Grace. Through contemplation of the doctrine of Particular redemption, we come to a greater realization of the accomplished, efficacious work of our Lord in offering up the ultimate sacrifice for a particular chosen group of undeserving sinners.

In conclusion, a right understanding of the work of our Lord on the Cross will help to ensure that we maintain a Cross-centered ministry, discipling others to lead (as C.J. Mahaney has so wonderfully written about) Cross-centered lives. Those that believe in an Universal atonement do not consider the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people for whom Christ died to be a necessary consequence of the sacrifice the Lord has made on our behalf. And so, I would assert, the danger in a ministry founded upon this wrong view of the Cross would be that there would be a tendency to "move beyond" the Cross- to focus on other areas of God's work in our lives without specific reference being made to the Cross, rather than knowing, as Paul wrote, nothing "except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2). And I would further assert that we magnify God's glory most when we affirm with Luther that CRUX SOLA EST NOSTRA THEOLOGIA- "the Cross alone is our theology."

[The above blogpost was originally published on 9/7/06.]

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Saturday, September 07, 2013

A Meditation on Hebrews 10:14

For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Introduction

Hebrews 10:14, beginning with the signal word "for" offers a summary of the passage that has come before it. After Hebrews 10:14, the author of this book gives additional proof for the veracity of the conclusion reached in this verse. Therefore, when viewed in context, Hebrews 10:14 is a key verse in understanding the doctrine proclaimed in this portion of Scripture -that is- the superiority of Christ's work as the ultimate High Priest in contrast to the pre-Christian high priests of national Israel.

The Situation BC

Until the time of Christ, the priests of Israel offered sacrifices "year by year" to make atonement for sins. The same sacrifices were repeated again and again, and yet people were never cleansed from their sins by 'em, "otherwise, would they have not ceased to be offered?" But- as sound reason should dictate- "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." For what does the death of a bull have to do with a person's standing before God? If we have all broken God's commandments and are guilty before His holiness, as our own consciences and the Scriptures declare, then how can killing goats make us innocent in His sight? Surely these sacrifices that He commanded were meant to point our attention to something else- something much greater: infinitely greater- than animal sacrifices, something that actually accomplishes the purpose of saving people from their sins.

The Ultimate High Priest

The Good News of the Christian faith is that Jesus is the ultimate High Priest offering the ultimate sacrifice- that of His own body- to bring salvation from sin. Notice how the verse under consideration proclaims this Good News, directly contrasting the work of Jesus with the former, ultimately ineffectual, sacrificial system. The priests used to offer many offerings, but Jesus offered "one offering." The sacrifices that the priests made could never secure a peoples' standing with God, but Jesus "has perfected" His people.

Some False Doctrines Refuted By This Verse

Many current religious systems are proven to be unbiblical by the clear teaching of Hebrews 10:14. Consider the Roman Catholic idea that in the Mass the body of Christ is broken again and again, being "re-presented" for sacrifice. The teaching that by "one offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" annihilates this blasphemy. Or think of the teaching, present in Roman Catholicism and in many religious systems, that those who have been once sanctified can then lose their salvation. The finality of this verse- that, again, Jesus' work on the Cross "has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" utterly destroys this attack on Christian assurance, and gives us confidence in our hope found in Christ alone.

An Additional Consideration

This verse also speaks to issue of who were the intended beneficiaries of Christ's work. For some people would have us imagine that when Jesus died on the Cross, He was hoping (contrary to fact) that every person ever to live would be perfected by His work: that He was providing the potential for everyone to be saved. But this verse declares that there were very specific beneficiaries for whom the death of Jesus actually achieved pefection "for all time." These beneficiaries are named as the "sanctified:" a term meaning the "set apart ones."

Conclusion

Jesus provided a particular sacrifice [His body on the Cross] providing a particular benefit [eternal perfection] to a particular people [those who have been set apart]. Any teaching that tries to add to this sacrifice, to take away from this benefit, or to name different beneficiaries is an unbiblical teaching that obscures the Good News of the work of Jesus Christ.

Glory to God alone

[The above blogpost was originally published on 12/7/05.]

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Extent of the Atonement in Hebrews 9:11-10:18


Introductory Illustration

Imagine, if you will, a situation in which a headlight on your new car blew and you found that the design of the headlight fixture was so unusual that you needed to consult the owner's manual of the car in order to know how to fix it. Flipping through the owner's manual, you find that the headlights are mentioned in several different sections: sections devoted to topics like "Driving Safety" and "Your Car's Electrical System." Now, reading through these sections might tell you many things about your car's headlights. But if there were a section specifically devoted to the topic "Headlights," then it would make the most sense to turn to this section first to find out the answer to the question, "How do I change my headlights?" Relying on other parts of the owner's manual alone, rather than examining the most relevant section, may actually lead you to wrong conclusions about how to change your headlights and cause great frustration to you and to others.

In a similar way, when looking to examine a particular doctrine found in Scripture, we should begin by exploring the section of God's Word that is most relevant to the discussion of the teaching in question and not by trying to draw conclusions from various other Bible passages. So that when asking a specific question regarding the atonement made by Christ on the Cross, we must diligently search the Scriptures for sections that explore this doctrine in depth and form our understanding of Christ's work based on these sections and not on isolated verses. In this post it is my intention to briefly examine one passage dealing specifically with the atonement and to demonstrate how this passage presents teachings that are only consistent with a 'limited' view on the intended extent of the atonement.

The Passage in View

[9:11] But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; [12] and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. [13] For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, [14] how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

[15] For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. [16] For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. [17] For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. [18] Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. [19] For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, [20] saying, "THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU." [21] And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. [22] And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

[23] Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. [24] For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; [25] nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. [26] Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. [27] And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, [28] so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.

[10:1] For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. [2] Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? [3] But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. [4] For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. [5] Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; [6] IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE.

[7] "THEN I SAID, `BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.' " [8] After saying above, "SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them" (which are offered according to the Law), [9] then He said, "BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. [10] By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. [11] Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; [12] but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, [13] waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. [14] For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [15] And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, [16] "THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM," He then says, [17] "AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE." [18] Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. [Hebrews 9:11-10:18 NASB]

The Focus of This Passage

This section of Scripture under consideration, as well as the entirety of God's Word, is focused upon the Person and Work of Jesus: on who He is and what He has done. This is the content of the gospel: the Good News message of the Bible. It is very important to note that what Jesus has done is a crucial part of this Good News, for there are many teachers today who wish to proclaim that the Gospel message is simply that "Jesus is Lord," so that all people who are willing to affirm these three words- whether Protestant, Catholic, or Greek Orthodox- are thought to be co-laborers in the Gospel, no matter how much these belief systems might differ in answering questions about the work of Jesus. But since this Work is deemed so important to the central message of Scripture in passages such as the one presently under consideration, we must strive for a biblical understanding of what Jesus has done. If anyone strays too far from a biblical understanding of the work of Jesus, then they have truly forsaken the gospel message itself.

In the next two sections, it is my intention to briefly summarize what Hebrews 9:11-10:18 has to say about the Person and Work of Jesus.

The Person of Jesus in Hebrews 9:11-10:18

Several descriptions of who Jesus is are found in this passage. Jesus is named:
1. High Priest (9:11)
2. Mediator (9:15)
3. Sacrifice (9:26)
In addition to the three titles listed above, the name for Jesus used throughout this section- "Christ"- tells us another important fact about who Jesus is, for "Christ" means "Messiah" or "Anointed One."

The Work of Jesus in Hebrews 9:11-10:18

Inseparably related to the above discussion of the Person of Jesus is the description of what Jesus has done in accordance with each of the names He is given in this passage. Jesus has:
1. Entered the Most Holy Place, as High Priest (9:11)
2. Obtained the promise of the eternal inheritance, as Mediator (9:15)
3. Been offered to obtain eternal redemption, as Sacrifice (9:12)
According to the name "Christ," Jesus was anointed by God for His supreme work in creation and He perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies concerning the Messiah.

The Limit of Jesus' Work in This Passage

That Jesus is the focus of this passage necessitates that topics other than who He is and what He has done will not be directly expounded upon in the text. So that the answer to the question, "who was Jesus' work intended to benefit- each and every individual in world history or only a certain portion of the total world population as determined by God?"- a question which focuses on the beneficiaries of what Jesus has done rather than on Jesus Himself- can only be obtained from this passage on the atonement by reasonable inferences drawn from specific phrases as defined by their overall context- that is, by letting Scripture interpret Scripture.

The Work of Jesus is exalted in this section of Scripture as obtaining a new and better covenant of eternal redemption. This Work is presented as perfect and finished, not needing any addition or repetition. The limit of Jesus' work can be ascertained through the understanding that this work is declared to accomplish certain effects in the lives of a particular group of individuals. This group of individuals is referred to as "those who have been called" in 9:15. According to this verse, these called ones are those who actually benefit from the redemption and "receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." In 9:28, the "called ones" are mentioned as the "many" whose sins Jesus bore on the Cross. And in verse 10:14 this same group is named as "those who are sanctified"- "sanctified" meaning "set apart"- which group "He has perfected." Notice that the past tense, "has perfected," is used to indicate the certainty that the sanctified ones will be made complete by the power of Jesus' atonement.

The Called. The Many. The Set Apart. These are the collection of individuals for whom Jesus' atonement was intended to benefit with eternal blessings. In being limited to this certain group, the work of Jesus is magnified, bringing Him glory, in that the intention of His Work is demonstrated as having been fulfilled. That those for whose sins Jesus died will also be eternally perfected is a glorious inevitability. That God has set apart certain individuals and called them to Himself, needing no other power than Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross to obtain their perfection, indicates that the atonement is limited to the kind intention of God, who works everything according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

Glory to God alone!

[The blogpost above was originally published on 11/29/05.]

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