Weekend Roundup

Law-Lite leads to Gospel-Lite leads to a watered-down Faith in the very potent mercy of God in Christ – What we hear preached makes a huge difference in our view of God’s salvation.

What Does It Mean to Abide In Christ – Sinclair Ferguson lists 4 aspects of abiding in Christ in this excerpt from In Christ Alone, which, through the 31st of August can be downloaded for free here.

Would We Know a Revival If We Say One? – J. I. Packer reflects on his longing to see a revival.

There is Nothing Common About Grace – Grace is a provision for men who are so fallen that they cannot lift the ax of justice; so corrupt that they cannot change their own natures; so adverse to God that they cannot turn to Him; so blind that they cannot see Him; so deaf that they cannot hear Him; and so dead that He Himself must open their graves.

Astronomy Images – I love images of the heavens as, for me, they remind me of the grandeur, magnitude, and shear intelligence of God.  In this set, images 1, 5, and 7 are my favorites.

 

One of Jonathan Edwards’ Last Prayers

Lucy Edwards, one of Jonathan’s children was with him as he lay dying of a fever he contracted from a small-pox inoculation shortly before.  She heard him say:

As to my children, you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father who will never fail you.

Do we as fathers live a life that would induce our children to seek The Heavenly Father who will not fail them like we do? 

Inseparably Loved

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39 NASB

All the elect will be kept secure by God, even in the face of mounting persecution and even martyrdom.  Such painful ordeals will be only the means by which they enter into glory.  But Christ will never remove His saving love from them.  John MacArthur writes, “Only the true believer perseveres, not because he is strong in himself but because he has the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.  His perseverance does not keep his salvation safe but probes that his salvation is safe.  Those who fail to persevere not only demonstrate their lack of courage but, much more important, their lack of genuine faith.  God will keep and protect even the most fearful person who truly belongs to Him.  On the other hand, even the bravest of those who are merely professing Christians will invariably fall away when the cost of being identified with Christ becomes too great.  Only true Christians are overcomers because only true Christians have the divine help of Christ’s own Spirit.”

Ordo Salutis

ordosalutis-sbsOne of the most dramatic moments in my life for the shaping of my theology took place in a seminary classroom. One of my professors went to the blackboard and wrote these words in bold letters: “Regeneration Precedes Faith.”

These words were a shock to my system. I had entered seminary believing that the key work of man to effect rebirth was faith. I thought that we first had to believe in Christ in order to be born again. I use the words in order here for a reason. I was thinking in terms of steps that must be taken in a certain sequence. I had put faith at the beginning. The order looked something like this:

“Faith – rebirth -justification.”

I hadn’t thought that matter through very carefully. Nor had I listened carefully to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. I assumed that even though I was a sinner, a person born of the flesh and living in the flesh, I still had a little island of righteousness, a tiny deposit of spiritual power left within my soul to enable me to respond to the Gospel on my own. Perhaps I had been confused by the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Rome, and many other branches of Christendom, had taught that regeneration is gracious; it cannot happen apart from the help of God.

No man has the power to raise himself from spiritual death. Divine assistance is necessary. This grace, according to Rome, comes in the form of what is called prevenient grace. “Prevenient” means that which comes from something else. Rome adds to this prevenient grace the requirement that we must “cooperate with it and assent to it” before it can take hold in our hearts.

This concept of cooperation is at best a half-truth. Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised. The issue, however, goes deeper. The question still remains: “Do I cooperate with God’s grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after?” Another way of asking this question is to ask if regeneration is monergistic or synergistic. Is it operative or cooperative? Is it effectual or dependent? Some of these words are theological terms that require further explanation.

A monergistic work is a work produced singly, by one person. The prefix mono means one. The word erg refers to a unit of work. Words like energy are built upon this root. A synergistic work is one that involves cooperation between two or more persons or things. The prefix syn means “together with.” I labor this distinction for a reason. The debate between Rome and Luther hung on this single point. At issue was this: Is regeneration a monergistic work of God or a synergistic work that requires cooperation between man and God? When my professor wrote “Regeneration precedes faith” on the blackboard, he was clearly siding with the monergistic answer. After a person is regenerated, that person cooperates by exercising faith and trust. But the first step is the work of God and of God alone.

The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.

When I began to wrestle with the Professor’s argument, I was surprised to learn that his strange-sounding teaching was not novel. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield — even the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas taught this doctrine. Thomas Aquinas is the Doctor Angelicus of the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries his theological teaching was accepted as official dogma by most Catholics. So he was the last person I expected to hold such a view of regeneration. Yet Aquinas insisted that regenerating grace is operative grace, not cooperative grace. Aquinas spoke of prevenient grace, but he spoke of a grace that comes before faith, which is regeneration.

These giants of Christian history derived their view from Holy Scripture. The key phrase in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is this: “…even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have you been saved)” (Eph. 2:5). Here Paul locates the time when regeneration occurs. It takes place ‘when we were dead.’ With one thunderbolt of apostolic revelation all attempts to give the initiative in regeneration to man are smashed. Again, dead men do not cooperate with grace. Unless regeneration takes place first, there is no possibility of faith.

This says nothing different from what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again first, he cannot possibly see or enter the kingdom of God. If we believe that faith precedes regeneration, then we set our thinking and therefore ourselves in direct opposition not only to giants of Christian history but also to the teaching of Paul and of our Lord Himself.

This blog post has been adapted from R.C. Sproul’s book, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit.

Surrounded by Insanity

This weekend I listened to Tim Conway teach from Hebrews 11:6 which reads as follows: 

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

While my wife and I listened to the sermon, I commented that the very first sermon I ever preached over 30 years ago was from this passage.  I look back on that now and cannot believe how badly I mangled the text.  Isn’t God gracious? 

I’ve heard it said over the years that the 3 laws of real estate are “Location, Location, Location.”  If you get the right location, you end up with a valuable piece of real estate.  Similar, but much more important, are what I call the 3 laws of the Bible, “Context, Context, Context!”  My mangling of the text 30 years ago was mainly due to the fact that I took the text out of the context it is in.  Now, my sermon didn’t go down the road of what is called the “Prosperity Gospel” that was so prevalent in the early 1980’s, because even then, I knew something was wrong with that, but it was not what it should have been.

Look back in verse 4 and you will read that:

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.”

Men have been giving offerings since the fall in the garden.  Some have been accepted of God, most have not and the question is why.  Let’s go back to Genesis 4 where we read:

Cain-AbleSo it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
  Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” So the LORD said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.
  Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

According to this narrative, Cain and Able brought their offerings “at the appointed time:  Abel brought ‘fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock’, for he was a shepherd, and Cain, who was an agriculturist, brought ‘some of the fruits of the soil’.  While each offering was appropriate to their respective vocations, the biblical text states that ‘The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor’”.[1]   John Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis 4 says:  “God is said to have respect unto the man to whom he vouchsafes his favor. We must, however, notice the order here observed by Moses; for he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offerer; by which he signifies, that God will regard no works with favor except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him. And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart. Whence also it happens, that he not only rejects but abhors the sacrifices of the wicked, however splendid they may appear in the eyes of men. For if he, who is polluted in his soul, by his mere touch contaminates, with his own impurities, things otherwise pure and clean, how can that but be impure which proceeds from himself?” So what was it that caused God to look on in favor of Able and disfavor of Cain?  While I have heard time and again that the reason was because Cain didn’t bring an animal sacrifice, scripture does not explicitly state that.  If we turn back to Hebrews 11 and look at the context, I think we could come to a different conclusion.

Hebrews 11:6b states: “for he who comes to God must believe that He is.”  According to F. F. Bruce, “Belief in the invisible spiritual order involves, first and foremost, belief in him who is ‘King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God’ (1 Tim 1:17); and belief in God carries with it necessarily belief in his word.  It is not belief in the existence of a God that is meant, but belief in the existence of the God who once declared his will to the fathers through the prophets and in these last days has spoken in his Son.” Basically, we have to have a correct view of God.  This is where Cain failed.  He, just like many today, invented God in his own image, which is why his offering was rejected.

What is amazing is that Cain had a discourse with God.  He actually talked with God.  But Cain did not believe what God had revealed Himself to be.  Paul makes this same indictment in Romans 1:18-31.  God’s wrath is revealed to man because men suppress the truth of God’s righteousness.  God’s righteousness is evident because God made it evident!  But because man refuses to see God as He is, Paul says 3 times that “God gave them over.” 

Abraham SacrificeIn Hebrews 11:8, we start reading about Abraham and his faith.  Think about it for a moment; God told Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son who was to be the heir of Abraham that would be a blessing to the nations, and sacrifice him.  The next day, according to Genesis 22:3, Abraham set off to obey the command of the Lord.  As Abraham and Isaac walked alone up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked where the offering was and Abraham said, by faith, “God will provide for Himself the lamb.”  Abraham, even with all his faults and sins, had a proper perspective of who God is and that God is faithful to what He had revealed about himself.  Even to the point of believing that God would resurrect Isaac if need be to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

I say all of this to say that our perspective of God needs to be faithful and true to what God has revealed about Himself in His Word.  If we major on just one attribute to the detriment of all that are revealed in Scripture, we will have a flawed view of God.  There are those that say God is a God of love, and He is.  But love requires justice.  There are those who say that God is a God of blessings, and again, He is.  But He is also a God who is ruthless in His desire to be glorified and honored and He will strip everything away if that is what needs to be done so that one might acknowledge Him properly. Nebuchadnezzar, learned this by spending 7 years living like a beast of the field only to finally acknowledge and bless the “Most High” (Dan 4:34-35).

God is sovereign and He will share his glory with no other.  We who call upon his name must realize this and the implications that come along with it.  We must study the attributes of God!  We must acknowledge that at times the attributes of God are not easy to accept and cause us to chafe.  But, to ignore them is to our peril.  So many times we think ignorance is bliss and sometimes that is true.  But when it comes to eternity, ignorance will lead you straight into hell.  God has revealed himself to man and for man to remain willfully ignorant is insanity, which, by definition, is what most people in this world are.


[1] O’Brien, P. T. The Letter To The Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. 403. Print.

A special thanks goes out to Pastor Kent Harding of Sovereign Grace Reformed Church for graciously proofing this for me!

They Still Speak – Robert M McCheyne

Jehovah Tsidkenu

“The Lord Our Righteousness”
Robert Murray McCheyne

I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.

I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page;
But e’en when they pictured the blood-sprinkled tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.

Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu- ’twas nothing to me.

When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see-
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Savior must be.

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free-
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,”
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;
In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field-
My cable, my anchor, my breastplate and shield!

Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life’s journey my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu my death-song shall be.

November 18, 1834

Fridays with Tozer

God Incomprehensible

AWTozerLord, how great is our dilemma! In Thy Presence silence best becomes us, but love inflames our hearts and constrains us to speak.

Were we to hold our peace the stones would cry out; yet if we speak, what shall we say? Teach us to know that we cannot know, for the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Let faith support us where reason fails, and we shall think because we believe, not in order that we may believe.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The child, the philosopher, and the religionist have all one question: “What is God like?”

This book is an attempt to answer that question. Yet at the outset I must acknowledge that it cannot be answered except to say that God is not like anything; that is, He is not exactly like anything or anybody.

We learn by using what we already know as a bridge over which we pass to the unknown. It is not possible for the mind to crash suddenly past the familiar into the totally  unfamiliar. Even  the  most  vigorous  and  daring  mind  is  unable  to  create something out of nothing by a spontaneous act of imagination. Those strange beings that populate the world of mythology and superstition are not pure creations of fancy. The imagination created them by taking the ordinary inhabitants of earth and air and sea and extending their familiar forms beyond their normal boundaries, or by mixing the forms of two or more so as to produce something new. However beautiful or grotesque these may be, their prototypes can always be identified. They are like something we already know.

The effort of inspired men to express the ineffable has placed a great strain upon both thought and language in the Holy Scriptures. These being often a revelation of a world above nature, and the minds for which they were written being a part of nature, the writers are compelled to use a great many “like” words to make themselves understood.

When the Spirit would acquaint us with something that lies beyond the field of our knowledge, He tells us that this thing is like something we already know, but He is always careful to phrase His description so as to save us from slavish literalism. For example, when the prophet Ezekiel saw heaven opened and beheld visions of God, he found himself looking at that which he had no language to describe. What he was seeing was wholly different from anything he had ever known before, so he fell back upon the language of resemblance. “As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire.”

The nearer he approaches to the burning throne the less sure his words become: “And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it…. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”

Strange as this language is, it still does not create the impression of unreality. One gathers that the whole scene is very real but entirely alien to anything men know on earth. So, in order to convey an idea of what he sees, the prophet must employ such words as “likeness,” “appearance,” “as it were,” and “the likeness of the appearance.” Even the throne becomes “the appearance of a throne” and He that sits upon it, though like a man, is so unlike one that He can be described only as “the likeness of the appearance of a man.”

When the Scripture states that man was made in the image of God, we dare not add to that statement an idea from our own head and make it mean “in the exact image.” To do so is to make man a replica of God, and that is to lose the unicity of God and end with no God at all. It is to break down the wall, infinitely high, that separates That-which-is- God from that-which-is-not-God. To think of creature and Creator as alike in essential being is to rob God of most of His attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature. It  is,  for  instance,  to  rob  Him  of  His  infinitude:  there  cannot  be  two  unlimited substances in the universe. It is to take away His sovereignty: there cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two completely free wills must collide. These attributes, to mention no more, require that there be but one to whom they belong.

When we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that-which-is-not- God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed our image out of that which He has made and what He has made is not God. If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.

”The intellect knoweth that it is ignorant of Thee,” said Nicholas of Cusa, “because it knoweth Thou canst not be known, unless the unknowable could be known, and the invisible beheld, and the inaccessible attained.”

”If anyone should set forth any concept by which Thou canst be conceived,” says Nicholas again, “I know that that concept is not a concept of Thee, for every concept is ended in the wall of Paradise…. So too, if any were to tell of the understanding of Thee, wishing to supply a means whereby Thou mightest be understood, this man is yet far from Thee…. forasmuch as Thou art absolute above all the concepts which any man can frame.”

Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.

If all this sounds strange to modern ears, it is only because we have for a full half century  taken  God  for  granted.  The  glory  of  God  has  not  been  revealed  to  this generation of men. The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome, if indeed He is not actually inferior to them in that He is weak and helpless while they at least had power.

If what we conceive God to be He is not, how then shall we think of Him? If He is indeed incomprehensible, as the Creed declares Him to be, and unapproachable, as Paul says He is, how can we Christians satisfy our longing after Him? The hopeful words, “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace,” still stand after the passing of the centuries; but how shall we acquaint ourselves with One who eludes all the strainingefforts of mind and heart? And how shall we be held accountable to know what cannot be known?

”Canst thou by searching find out God?” asks Zophar the Naamathite; “canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?”

”Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son,” said our Lord, “and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The Gospel according to John reveals the helplessness of the human mind before the great Mystery which is God, and Paul in First Corinthians teaches that God can be known only as the Holy Spirit performs in the seeking heart an act of self-disclosure.

The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its Source. How can this be realized?

The answer of the Bible is simply “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Christ and by Christ, God effects complete self-disclosure, although He shows Himself not to reason but to faith and love. Faith is an organ of knowledge, and love an organ of experience. God came to us in the incarnation; in atonement He reconciled us to Himself, and by faith and love we enter and lay hold on Him.

”Verily God is of infinite greatness,” says Christ’s enraptured troubadour, Richard Rolle; “more than we can think; … unknowable by created things; and can never be comprehended by us as He is in Himself. But even here and now, whenever the heart begins to burn with a desire for God, she is made able to receive the uncreated light and, inspired and fulfilled by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, she tastes the joys of heaven. She transcends all visible things and is raised to the sweetness of eternal life….

Herein truly is perfect love; when all the intent of the mind, all the secret working of the heart, is lifted up into the love of God.”’

That God can be known by the soul in tender personal experience while remaining infinitely aloof from the curious eyes of reason constitutes a paradox best described as “Darkness to the intellect But sunshine to the heart.” – Frederick W. Faber

The author of the celebrated little work The Cloud of Unknowing develops this thesis throughout his book. In approaching God, he says, the seeker discovers that the divine Being dwells in obscurity, hidden behind a cloud of unknowing; nevertheless he should not be discouraged but set his will with a naked intent unto God. This cloud is between the seeker and God so that he may never see God clearly by the light of understanding nor feel Him in the emotions. But by the mercy of God faith can break through into His Presence if the seeker but believe the Word and press on.

Michael de Molinos, the Spanish saint, taught the same thing. In his Spiritual Guide he says that God will take the soul by the hand and lead her through the way of pure faith, “and causing the understanding to leave behind all considerations and reasonings He draws her forward…. Thus He causes her by means of a simple and obscure knowledge of faith to aspire only to her Bridegroom upon the wings of love.”

For these and similar teachings Molinos was condemned as a heretic by the Inquisition and sentenced to life imprisonment. He soon died in prison, but the truth he taught cannever die. Speaking of the Christian soul he says: “Let her suppose that all the whole world and the most refined conceptions of the wisest intellects can tell her nothing, and that the goodness and beauty of her Beloved infinitely surpass all their knowledge, being persuaded that all creatures are too rude to inform her and to conduct her to the true knowledge of God…. She ought then to go forward with her love, leaving all her understanding behind. Let her love God as He is in Himself, and not as her imagination says He is, and pictures Him.”

”What is God like?” If by that question we mean “What is God like in Himself?” there is no answer. If we mean “What has God disclosed about Himself that the reverent reason can comprehend?” there is, I believe, an answer both full and satisfying. For while the name of God is secret and His essential nature incomprehensible, He in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself. These we call His attributes.

Sovereign Father, heavenly King,
Thee we now presume to sing;
Glad thine attributes confess,
Glorious all, and numberless.

– Charles Wesley