Election Revealed in Christ Alone

May 22, 2019 in Bible - NT - John, Election, John Calvin, Quotations

“When [Jesus] adds thine they were, and thou gavest them to me [Jn 17:6], He first indicates the eternity of election, and then how we should think of it. Christ declares that the elect always belong to God. God therefore distinguishes them from the reprobate, not by faith, nor by any merit, but by pure grace; for while they are completely alien to Him, He yet regards them as His own in HIs secret counsels. The certainty consists in His committing to the guardianship of HIs Son all whom He has elected, that they may not perish; and it is there that we must turn our eyes if we are to be certain that we are of the number of God’s children. For in itself the predestination of God is hidden; and it is manifested to us in Christ alone.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John: Part Two, Transl. by T.H.L. Parker, p. 139.

The Word and Spirit

May 1, 2019 in Holy Spirit, John Calvin, Quotations, Word of God

“For as soon as the Spirit is severed from Christ’s Word the door is open to all sorts of craziness and impostures.”

John Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John, Part Two (A New Translation, Edited by David W. Torrance & Thomas F. Torrance), p. 121.

The Church is Culpable

November 7, 2018 in Church History, Confession, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Image of God, Judgment, King Jesus, Providence, Quotations, Sin

The English poet William Cowper (1731-1800) reflected on the condition of England in his day in his poem, “Expostulation.” His words condemning the compromise of the Church and her ministers are as true of the American Church in our day as of the English Church in his. The first two lines are golden: “When nations are to perish in their sins, ‘Tis in the church the leprosy begins.” Cowper informs us that the future does not look good for America primarily because things do not look good in the Church. So if we want to see reformation and revival in America, then it must begin with the Church and her ministers returning to God’s Word.

When nations are to perish in their sins,
‘Tis in the church the leprosy begins;
The priest, whose office is with zeal sincere
To watch the fountain, and preserve it clear,
Carelessly nods and sleeps upon the brink,
While others poison what the flock must drink;
Or, waking at the call of lust alone,
Infuses lies and errors of his own:
His unsuspecting sheep believe it pure;
And, tainted by the very means of cure,
Catch from each other a contagious spot,
The foul fore-runner of a general rot.
Then Truth is hushed, that Heresy may preach:
And all is trash, that Reason cannot reach:
Then God’s own image on the soul impressed,
Becomes a mockery, and a standing jest;
And faith, the root whence only can arise
The graces of a life that wins the skies,
Loses at once all value and esteem,
Pronounced by gray-beards a pernicious dream;
Then Ceremony leads her bigots forth,
Prepared to fight for shadows of no worth;
While truths, on which eternal things depend,
Find not, or hardly find, a single friend;
As soldiers watch the signal of command,
They learn to bow, to kneel, to sit, to stand;
Happy to fill Religion’s vacant place
With hollow form, and gesture, and grimace.

To Live Sensibly in the Present Age

August 19, 2018 in Bible - NT - Titus, Depravity, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Quotations, Sanctification

Titus 2:11–12 (NKJV)

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,

 

For the last couple weeks I preached on this text from Titus. Last week we studied Paul’s insistence that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age. I emphasized that the term translated “soberly” is better translated “sensibly.” This morning let us expand on what we learned.

Paul utilzes the word sophronos to summon us, as God’s people, to live in accordance with the way God has made the world. To live sensibly is to live in harmony with the moral and social universe that God has created; it is to do that which is fitting / sensible considering one’s calling and station in life. Paul utilizes this term extensively in his letter to Titus though its use is often obscured by translations. Consider the variety of places in the letter that this term is used:

  • 1:8 – Elders are to be “sober-minded” (sensible)
  • 2:2 – Older men are to be “sober” (sensible)
  • 2:4 – Older women are to “admonish” (make sensible) the younger women.
  • 2:5 – Younger women are “to be discreet” (sensible)
  • 2:6 – Young men are to be “sober-minded” (sensible)
  • 2:12 – Grace of God teaches us to live “soberly” (sensibly)

Clearly this is an important virtue that Paul wants Titus to inculcate in the congregation. He wants all – officers and laity, men and women, old and young – to be sophronos.

Paul’s assumption, therefore, is that there is to be a correspondence between the created world and our attitudes and actions. To live sophronos is to be in one’s right mind, it is to act in the way one ought to act; it is to do that which is right and fitting considering one’s calling and station in life. To live sophronos is to embrace the world as God has made it, it is to take responsibility, to avoid drugs and drunkenness, to delight in generosity, to abhor sexual unfaithfulness.

Paul’s words remind us, therefore, that God’s law, His righteous requirements, are not simply dictates from on high that force us to act in a certain way. It is not as though we are square pegs that God is endeavoring to force into the round hole of His law. “You will fit!” No! It is that we are round pegs that were designed to fit perfectly into that round hole. However, because of the machinations of the Evil One and our own sinful rebellion, we are marred pegs and we no longer perfectly fit into the hole. But, glory be to God, the grace of God has been poured out to restore us to our original design. God’s law expresses the pattern according to which we were originally designed and Jesus exemplifies that pattern in His own life.

C.S. Lewis well expresses the idea behind sophronos in his essay, “Men Without Chests.” Sophronos “is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know [this] can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within [an objective universe] I recognize this as a defect in myself—just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind.”

What this means, therefore, is that we are called to be students of God’s creative design and to conform ourselves – our attitudes, our actions, our longing, our loves, and our hates – to the objective reality of the created order. Reminded of this, let us confess that we have often been lazy, failing to study as we ought, and that we have not lived sensibly as we ought. We will confess our sins privately and then corporately using the printed confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Preach the Word: Rebuke, Take Two!

September 3, 2017 in Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, John Calvin, Meditations, Preaching, Quotations

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

For the last few weeks, we have been meditating on Paul’s charge to Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” A couple weeks ago, we began looking at the series of imperatives that Paul gives to explain his charge. Paul writes, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Since you were not all at Family Camp last weekend, I would like to repeat a few things that I said last week about what it means to “rebuke.”

The Greek word behind “rebuke” is epitimao. To rebuke is to deliver a sharp warning that one’s attitude or action is in clear opposition to God’s will and word. In the Greek OT, epitimao is typically reserved for God’s word of power, command, and control. God’s “rebuke” shakes the heavens, splits the Red Sea, stills the storm, overthrows the wicked, and judges apostates. In the NT, the word is used in similar contexts. Jesus “rebuked” the wind and waves and they became still. Peter “rebuked” Jesus saying that He would by no means die. Jesus, in turn, “rebuked” Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Mk 8:33) Jesus “rebuked” James and John, the sons of thunder, when they asked to call fire down on a Samaritan village, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Lk 9:55). A rebuke, therefore, is a short, verbal thrashing. It is a divine wake-up call. Job “rebukes” his wife, “Shall we receive good from the Lord and not evil?”

What this means, therefore, is that the minister of the Gospel – and, by extension, every Christian – must be prepared to speak bluntly about attitudes and actions that are opposed to the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ. In gardening, there are times when the ground is soft and the weeds can be pulled by hand; there are other times when the ground is like iron and the weeds are so strong that pulling them up by hand isn’t possible and you have to grab the spade and the hoe. Likewise, in life. The Word of God has been given to address the whole gamut of life situations – times when we need comfort, times when we need counsel, times when we need exhortation, times when we need instruction, times when we need rebuke. There are times when we need someone to speak bluntly to us, “Stop that! Wake up! Get to work! Cease your despair!” We need a verbal kick in the pants.

It is imperative, therefore, that we ground ourselves in the Word of God so that we know when a rebuke is needed. I have been reading various biographies of John Calvin this summer. In one of them, Calvin had this to say about the Word of God:
By it [God’s ministers] confidently dare all things, compel all the strength, glory, and sublimity of the world to submit to its majesty and to obey it, rule over all things from the highest to the lowest, build up the house of Christ, overturn the kingdom of Satan, feed the sheep, destroy the wolves, exhort and instruct the teachable, rebuke, reprove, and refute the rebellious and stubborn, loose, bind, and finally, hurl thunderbolts – but doing all things in the Word of God.

So reminded that there are times when we need to give or receive a word of rebuke, let us acknowledge that we are often too timid to give it and too stubborn to receive it. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why shouldn’t you get rebaptized?

July 31, 2017 in Baptism, Ecclesiology, John Calvin, Quotations, Sacraments, Word of God

There are actually many answers to this question – but consider the following from John Calvin:

“Our opponents ask us what faith we had for many years after our baptism, in order to show that our baptism was in vain, since baptism is not sanctified to us except by the word of promise received in faith. We answer that although we were blind and unbelieving for a long time and did not embrace the promise which had been given us in baptism, yet the promise itself, since it was from God, always remained steady, firm, and true. If all men were false and liars, still God continues to be true; if all men were lost, still Christ remains a Savior. We confess, therefore, that when we totally neglected the promise offered to us in baptism, without which baptism is nothing, we received no benefit at all from baptism… Yet we believe that the promise itself never expired…. By baptism God promises the forgiveness of sins and will certainly fulfill the promise to all believers; that promise was offered to us in baptism; let us, therefore, embrace it by faith.”

In short, Calvin reminds us, baptism is not primarily my word to God, my promise to God, but God’s promise to me. Baptism is a visible word. It invites me, summons me to believe the One who has promised to cleanse my sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. The “solution”, therefore, to someone who has not believed his baptism thus far is not to get baptized but to repent and to believe and receive the promise symbolized in that baptism.

Make your pastor’s labor light!

May 31, 2017 in Ecclesiology, Quotations, Sanctification, Word of God, Worship

“In preaching the word there is some toil, and this Paul declares when he says, ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.’ (1 Tim. v. 17) Yet it is in your power to make this labor light or heavy; for if you reject our words, or if without actually rejecting them you do not show them forth in your works, our toil will be heavy, because we labor uselessly and in vain: while if ye heed them and give proof of it by your works, we shall not even feel the toil, because the fruit produced by our labor will not suffer the greatness of that labor to appear. So that if you would rouse our zeal, and not quench or weaken it, show us, I beseech you, your fruit, that we may behold the fields waving with corn and being supported by hopes of an abundant crop, and reckoning up your riches, may not be slothful in carrying on this good traffic.” 

John Chrysostom, Sermon on John 2:4.

Proving the Immortality of the Body

April 24, 2017 in Bible - NT - Romans, Easter, Meditations, Quotations, Resurrection
Romans 8:11 (NKJV)
11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
There once was a boy named Jack whose family was very poor. His father had died and he and his mother lived alone on their small farm. But the crops had failed and Jack and his mom had only one choice left: they’d have to sell their cow so they could get enough money to buy food and seed for the next season.
So Jack’s mom sent him to market and Jack, like a good boy, made his way to town. But along the way he met an old man by the side of the road. “Beans, beans, magic beans!” the man cried. Jack was curious. “What do these beans do?” he asked. “Ah, plant these beans,” the man replied, “and they will grow into a huge vine that will rise to a massive height and take you to the giant’s castle where he holds the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Golden eggs! Well that was just the thing for Jack. If he could get those golden eggs then he and his mom would be free of their troubles.
So Jack made the trade – his cow for the old man’s beans. Whistling happily Jack returned home and proudly showed his mom the beans he had obtained in exchange for the cow. But Jack’s mom – as you may recall – was none too pleased with her son. “You foolish boy,” she declared. “Those aren’t magic beans – that old man has fooled you and now we have nothing left either to eat or to plant in the spring!”
Jack was upset that his mom was disappointed with him – for he was a good boy. So what did Jack do? He determined to put those beans to the test. Late that night, when the full moon was shining on their farm, Jack went out and planted the beans, watered them, and then returned to his bed. “Perhaps now my mom will see that these beans really are magic.”
Early the next morning, before his mom was awake, Jack got up, put on his clothes, and ran outside to check on his beans. Normally, of course, this would be pointless – beans don’t grow overnight – but these were magic beans. And there before Jack’s eyes, reaching high up into the sky, was the biggest bean stock Jack had ever seen. It soared up into the clouds, far out of Jack’s sight.
Jack had been right – they were magic beans. And how did he know they were magic? He planted them, he put them to the test.
This is Eastertide, the time of year when we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. So why was Jesus raised from the dead? The early church father Eusebius explained one reason:
Suppose one desired to show us that a vessel could resist the force of fire; how could he better prove the fact than by casting it into the furnace and thence withdrawing it entire and unconsumed? Even so the Word of God, who is the source of life to all, desiring to prove the triumph over death of that body which he had assumed for man’s salvation… pursued a course consistent with this object. …delivering [his body] up to death in proof of its mortal nature, he soon redeemed it from death, to demonstrate the immortality of the body accomplished by His Divine power and the powerlessness of death.
Even as Jack proved his beans were magic by planting them, Jesus demonstrated the immortality of the resurrection body by dying and then rising from the dead. With this key difference: Jack and his beans are a mere fairy tale but Jesus’ death and resurrection really happened; they are historical. They are, in C.S. Lewis’ words, the fairy tale come true.
Brothers and sisters – Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! Death no longer has the final word. The sting of death has been broken; the power of the grave has been shattered. Hades has given up his captives and we can now rejoice in the power of God and face our defeated foe, death, with hope. There is no cause for fear. The Lord Jesus Christ has proven that even as His body was raised glorious from the dead so too the bodies of all those who trust in Him shall be raised from their graves.

And so reminded that our Lord Jesus died and rose again to attest the immortality of the body and to enable us to live without fear of death, let us kneel and confess that we have often been overcome by our fears instead.

Something Marvelous

April 6, 2017 in Christmas, John Calvin, King Jesus, Quotations, Trinity

“Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!” 

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xiii.4.