Thursday, July 20, 2017

a word was not enough

timothy ah koy / unsplash

"Sin is the most serious matter that has ever entered into the whole universe. Let me put it like this. The problem of sin is the greatest problem that even Almighty God has ever had to deal with. 

"Now, creation is a tremendous matter. There was nothing, and God created. There at a certain point the Spirit broods upon the abyss and the chaos, and God said: ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ God brought light into being by the mere word of his power, his mere fiat. And God created everything in the same way—a word was enough, such is the power of God. He speaks and it is done. 

"But when God comes to deal with the problem of man, and man in sin and rebellion, and man in alienation against himself, a word is not enough. 

"God cannot forgive sin just by saying: ‘I forgive.’ If he could, he would have done so. Do you imagine that God would ever have sent his only begotten Son to the cross if he could have forgiven the sin of men in any other way? Would God have abandoned his Son to that, and poured out upon him the vials of his wrath? Would he have allowed his only begotten, dearly beloved Son, to cry out in agony, and to say, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ while he endured the agony and the thirst and the shame? Would he ever have allowed it if there had been any other way? But there was not. A word is enough to create, but a word is not enough to forgive. 

"Before God can forgive any sin to any man, his only begotten Son had to leave the courts of heaven, and come down on earth and take on human nature, and live as a man and be ‘stricken, smitten of God’, upon that cross. And the cross thus proclaims the holiness of God, the heinousness of sin, the terrible problem of sin, the terrible seriousness of man’s rebellion against God."

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "The Cross of Christ Speaks" from The Cross: God's Way of Salvation (Crossway, 1986) 


the mystery of self

shttefan / unsplash

"You...are acquainted with all my ways...behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. ... Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" (Psalm 139:3, 4, 23 ESV) 

"Whoever meditates on the mystery of his own life will quickly realize why only God, the searcher of the secrets of the heart, can pass final judgment. We cannot judge what we have no access to. The self is a swirling conflict of fears, impulses, sentiments, interests, allergies, and foibles. It is a metaphysical given for which there is no easy rational explanation. Now if we cannot unveil the mystery of our own motives and affections, how much less can we unveil the mystery in others? That is, as we look into ourselves, we encounter the mystery of our own, the depths of our own selfhood. As we sing things like 'Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come.' And having recognized the mysteries that dwell in the very depths of our own being, how can we treat other people as if they were empty or superficial beings, without the same kind of mystery?"

~ Edward J. Carnell, at his inauguration as president of Fuller Seminary, 1955.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

grace restores nature

"Joseph the Carpenter", Georges de La Tour 1645.
"Grace restores nature" is summary of Herman Bavinck's view that God's work of redemption does not replace or eliminate the natural order of creation, but rather renews and permeates it.  The redeemed man or woman does not cease to breathe, eat, sleep, work, get married, have families, fulfill their roles, create art, pay taxes, etc. But it is not a mere return -- all things are different, now permeated by grace. 

Here are some excerpts from his essay, "Common Grace", which explains this position, and how it differs from others.  

"When the kingdom has fully come, Christ will hand it over to God the Father. The original order will be restored. But not naturally, as if nothing had ever happened, as if sin had never existed and the revelation of God's grace in Christ had never occurred. Christ gives more than sin stole; grace was made much more to abound. He does not simply restore us to the status integritatis [state of righteousness] of Adam; he makes us, by faith, participants of the non posse peccare [being unable to sin] (1 John 3:9) and of the non posse mori [being unable to die] (John 11:25). Adam does not again receive the place which he lost by sin. The first man was of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. Just as we have born the image of the earthy, so too after the resurrection shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (1 Cor. 15:45-49). A new song will be sung in heaven (Rev. 5:9, 10), but the original order of creation will remain, at least to the extent that all distinctions of nature and grace will once and for all be done away with. Dualism will cease. Grace does not remain outside or above or beside nature but rather permeates and wholly renews it. And thus nature, reborn by grace, will be brought to its highest revelation. That situation will again return in which we serve God freely and happily, without compulsion or fear, simply out of love, and in harmony with our true nature. That is the genuine religio naturalis [natural religion]. In order to restore such religion, faith has for a time become a religio Christiana, Erl√∂sungsreligion [Christian religion, a religion of salvation]. 

"The Christian religion does not, therefore, have the task of creating a new supernatural order of things. It does not intend to institute a totally new, heavenly kingdom such as Rome intends in the church and the Anabaptists undertook at Munster. Christianity does not introduce a single substantial foreign element into the creation. It creates no new cosmos but rather makes the cosmos new. It restores what was corrupted by sin. It atones the guilty and cures what is sick; the wounded it heals. Jesus was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit to bring good tidings to the afflicted, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive and the opening of prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and to comfort those who mourn (Isa. 61:1, 2). He makes the blind to see, the lame to walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached to the poor (Matt. 11:5). Jesus was not a new lawgiver; he was not a statesman, poet, or philosopher. He was Jesus—that is, Savior. But he was that totally and perfectly, not in the narrow Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Anabaptist sense but in the full, deep, and broad Reformed sense of the word. Christ did not come just to restore the religio-ethical life of man and to leave all the rest of life undisturbed, as if the rest of life had not been corrupted by sin and had no need of restoration. No, the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the communion of the Holy Spirit extend even as far as sin has corrupted. Everything that is sinful, guilty, unclean, and full of woe is, as such and for that very reason, the object of the evangel of grace that is to be preached to every creature. ... 

"The church may indeed desire that the government of the land be directed by Christian principles and profit from the revelation of God's grace, for state and society have also been damaged by sin and need God's word to guide and direct, but here too grace does not nullify nature. Home, society, and state may well be reborn by the Spirit of Christ, but they exist and live by virtue of God's ordering of nature; they possess alongside the church their own independence. Christ came not to do away with the world and the various spheres of life but to restore and preserve them. 

"Ultimately the same holds for the relation of the Christian religion to the arts and sciences. These were first developed in the line of Cain. Like man, they are born and conceived in sin, but they are not of themselves sinful or unclean. They can be sanctified by the word and Spirit of Christ. The gospel is also a word of health and blessing in these powerful aspects of culture. The art, science, or scholarship that scorns the gospel thereby does itself the gravest damage and robs itself of the richest blessings. The art that turns its back on Christ and his cross loses the ideal and destroys itself in realism. And the science that does not acknowledge the word of God ends in agnosticism and is left viewing the origin, being, and destiny of things as insoluble riddles.

"But here too re-creation is something different than creation. The arts and sciences have their principium not in the special grace of regeneration and conversion but in the natural gifts and talents that God in his common grace has also given to nonbelievers. Therefore Christian theologians of all times have also profited from pagan art and learning and have insisted upon a classical education for every man of learning, including the theologian. They were not blind to the dangers of such an education, and desired that it take place under Christian leadership. But they nevertheless maintained the right and independence of the arts and sciences, requiring only that they be sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. Scripture itself, they maintained, gave them freedom to this end. For Moses was reared in all the wisdom of Egypt, the children of Israel decorated the house of the Lord with the gold and silver of Egypt, Solomon used the services of Hiram to build the temple, Daniel was trained in the science of the Chaldeans, and the wise men from the East laid their gifts at the feet of the baby in Bethlehem."

~ Herman Bavinck, in "Herman Bavinck’s ‘Common Grace.’” Translated by R. C. Van Leeuwen. Calvin Theological Journal 24, no. 1 (1989): 35–65.

This and other works by Herman Bavinck available at The Bavinck Institute.





Saturday, July 1, 2017

boasting in the cross

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  (Galatians 6:14 ESV)

Here are some highlights from The Cross: God's Way of Salvation (Crossway, 1986), a series of messages by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached in 1963 at Westminster Chapel in London. 

"The whole of the New Testament is proclaiming the blood of Christ, the death of Christ upon the cross, on Calvary. It is the heart and centre of the Christian evangel, the good news of salvation."

"He [Paul] preached the cross because it is the cross that really does this thing that sets us free, and gives us our salvation. This is absolutely vital."

"Nothing is more necessary than that we should be perfectly clear about our authority, and there are only two ultimate authorities: the Bible, or anything else you like. There is no other choice...  Everybody bases his opinion either upon this book or else not upon it."

"There is no more subtle test of our understanding than our attitude to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

"[M]an’s ultimate sin is intellectual pride. And this preaching of the cross is an offence to man’s mind, because it cuts across all his preconceived notions and ideas and prejudices."

"We are not saved by thought, or by understanding. We are not saved, if you like, by philosophy. ... Man believes that he has the capacity in himself to comprehend all truth."

"You see, the very presence of the Son of God in this world is an utter, absolute condemnation of us, every one of us. It is because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that he ever came, and especially why he had to go to the cross. And this is a source of offence. He tells us that we are failures, that we are sinners."

"He says that we are all equally failures.  'You tell us that the man who has striven to live a good life and has tried to be religious and to say his prayers, you say that he is in the same position as a man who has never prayed, has never been near a place of worship, and has lived only for sin and evil, and vice and lust, you say they are in the same lost condition?’ That is precisely what the cross of Christ says."

"The cross is an offence to the pride of the natural man, because it says that not only are we all sinners, not only are we all equally sinners, but it tells us that we are all equally helpless."

"The Christian not only glories in the cross, he glories in the cross alone. He glories in nothing else. Hear Isaac Watts putting it: 'Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast Save in the death of Christ my God.' There is an exclusiveness about it, which means that to the Christian this is the chiefest thing in history, the most important event that has ever taken place. It means that to him there is nothing which comes anywhere near it in significance. It means that he rests everything upon this, that this means all to him, that he is what he is because of this. He glories in it."

"The test of the Christian is that he glories in it, he exults in it, he boasts of it. It is everything to him, without it he has nothing. He owes all to this, this cross is the centre of his universe in every respect. That is what is meant by boasting."


This sermon was originally entitled "The Offense of the Cross" and can be heard or downloaded in MP3 here.