Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers: Sovereign Grace in the Covenant - David J. Engelsma

I have just recently finished reading the book, "The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers: Sovereign Grace in the Covenant" by Prof. David J. Engelsma of the Protestant Reformed Churches. This photograph shows a Duplo wall built by my 16-month old nephew just after Christmas. It reminds me of how important and close to our hearts this issue regarding our children is. In this book, Prof. Engelsma wonderfully and comprehensively accomplishes the following:
  1. A biblical defence and explanation of the position of the Protestant Reformed Churches regarding infant baptism, covenant children and the covenant of God, including their various practical implications.
  2. A biblical repudiation of three false notions regarding these subjects.
  3. A biblical examination of the current controversy regarding justification (including the unopposed propagation of the doctrine of justification by works) in various Reformed churches, tracing the root of the issue to an erroneous doctrine of a conditional covenant (the same as that of Klaas Schilder and the "liberated" Reformed Churches against which the Protestant Reformed Churches had a massive internal struggle) which has now been developed into what Prof. Engelsma calls covenantal universalism.
  4. A biblical refutation of a conditional covenant and defense of the covenantal particularism of the Protestant Reformed Churches, the Reformed Creeds (including the Westminster Standards), and orthodox Reformed theologians of history.
In the first place, Prof. Engelsma puts forward the biblical understanding of the children of believers and infant baptism in contrast with other views which I would probably summarise as "Anti-paedobaptist", "Presumptive Unregeneration", and "Covenantal-Arminian". Prof. Engelsma often refers to key texts for the Protestant Reformed view like Gen 17:7 and Rom 9:6-8. He gladly accepts the charge that this is an "election theology" of the covenant, since this has always been the hallmark of orthodox Reformed theology.

This is that the children of believers are in the covenant of God unconditionally with all the blessings of salvation, even being regenerated usually early in childhood, yet not head-for-head. Not all the children of the flesh are children of the promise. There are Esau's among the Jacob's. Yet it is election that determines the approach towards the rearing of covenant children (which is part of why they all ought to be baptised). I found it especially helpful when Prof. Engelsma likened this approach to how the Reformed minister approaches the congregation (such as Paul in 1Co 1:2, 3). He knows that there are most likely hypocrites among them, but they are still collectively the congregation of the saints. Engelsma rightly applied the parable of the wheat field to this (Mat 13:24-30). He also called attention to the importance of church discipline culminating in excommunication, for those children who eventually grow up to manifest themselves as disobedient, wicked and unbelieving.

The "Anti-paedobaptist" view is simply one that seems to either utterly disregard all the promises of God to our children, or believe that the approach taken in rearing children of believers ought to be based upon some kind of conversion experience later on in the child's life, and that only on this basis are the children allowed to be baptised and included in the church. Against this Prof. Engelsma biblically defends the assertion of the 34th Article of the Belgic Confession where it says that "we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of infants of believers."

The "Presumptive Unregeneration" position is inconsistent in that it a view exactly the same as the one above, but nevertheless insists on the baptism of the infant children of believers. This then negates the significance of baptism, and treats all the children of believers without exception (unless and until there is some conversion experience etc) as "little vipers". Prof. Engelsma identifies this unbiblical and harmful notion with Jonathan Edwards (despite his other valuable work) and the Revivalism of the "Great Awakening", and further defends the biblical approach to covenant children. Here he specifically notes the work of Herman Hoeksema, "Believers and Their Seed" for further reading, and explains the Protestant Reformed position as "promised regeneration" according to election, not "presumptive/presupposed regeneration".

Finally the "Covenantal-Arminian" view is that of a repudiation of any governing of the application of the covenant by election and the affirmation of a decidedly Arminian-style conditional covenant. This is the idea that God promises all the blessings of the covenant to all children of believers head-for-head on the basis that Christ has died for them all without exception, yet the efficacy of this promise relies on the work of the child - faith and obedience. Prof. Engelsma also explains that this idea also considers that this conditional promise of God for all to be grace in itself - even if it is rejected. Here we have all the errors of the supposedly "well-meant offer" and the 1924 synodical decision of the Christian Reformed Church on the "three points of common grace".

At this point David J. Engelsma rejoices in the charge of an "election theology" of the covenant in contrast to the doctrine of a conditional covenant which is in essence (within the sphere of the covenant): universal (losable) election, universal (losable) redemption, universal (resistible) grace, and a denial of limited atonement. This leads into a detailed discussion of the contemporary development of a conditional covenant. Engelsma pinpoints the root of the heresy of justification by works within Reformed churches as the commitment to a conditional covenant. He identifies this as covenantal universalism in which the atonement of Jesus Christ is ineffective and the grace of God is losable and conditional.

Prof. Engelsma comprehensively proves that these heresies are the necessary and logical outworking of a conditional covenant, and that all of this is totally opposed to the plain teaching of Scripture. Especially good is his biblical explanation of Hebrews 10 as opposed to that of the covenant-universalists, and his application of the Protestant Reformed understanding of the covenant to correct the error at its heart and to give a consistent biblical framework for understanding sovereign grace in the covenant according to unconditional election and reprobation.

He again biblically establishes the Protestant Reformed doctrine of the unconditional covenant with the elect only as the only consistent and biblical understanding of the covenant of God with the children of believers, and the only way to counter this new attack against the Gospel of grace, and the only way to remain true to the historical Reformed system of doctrine as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. I was also greatly encouraged to see Prof. Engelsma's courage in comprehensively naming the heretics responsible for propagating these false teachings by name, as the Apostle Paul does in his epistles (1Ti 1:20, 2Ti 2:17-18, 2Ti 4:14-15, etc).

This book presents a solid biblical defense of covenant particularism, its importance especially in light of the current heresies being propagated on the basis of a conditional covenant, and its application for Reformed believers and their children and the manner of their rearing and treatment in the church. There is also a chapter providing a detailed and biblical explanation of the Canons of Dordt, Head 1, Article 17: "No Reason to Doubt", regarding the comfort of godly parents at the death of an infant child on the same basis as the comfort of the church on the death of any of their members and the promise of God.

For all of its many qualities and virtues, this book definitely and unhesitatingly receives my seal of approval:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Blessedness of Children!

Wow! I just did a bit of study on covenant children; check out these passages:

Gen 9:9
Gen 17:7
Acts 2:39
Eze 16:20
Eze 37:25
Eze 39:25
Mal 2:15
Luke 1:15
Luke 10:21-22
Luke 18:15-16
Mat 11:25
Isa 44:3
Isa 49:25
Isa 54:13
Isa 59:21
Jer 1:5
Jer 31:31-34
Jer 32:39
Prv 20:7
Prv 31:28
Eph 1:1
Eph 6:1
Col 1:2
Col 3:20
Rom 9:6-13
1Co 7:14
Psa 22:9-10
Psa 37:25-28
Psa 71:1-24 - finally a psalm of a covenant child.

This really puts the right perspective on the blessedness of having children: Psalm 127:3-5!

- Sam W.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lecture: The Reformation's teaching on the church

In the middle of this grand and outwardly glorious church building in France is Napolean's tomb. This is like the church today, beautifully white-washed on the outside, but at heart just a tomb for idolatrous images and the burnt ashes of the corpse of godless man, all built for the worship of Man.

Friday night's lecture was fantastic. Fewer of our (college) friends could come because of the pressures with exams etc, but we were nevertheless, greatly blessed. We had a friend who came down from Galway (and stayed for the whole weekend!) and we had another friend who has been coming to the Lord's Day meetings over for dinner beforehand who was delighted to learn the Reformed and biblical interpretation of 1 John 2:2.

We arrived early, and I was smitten from about 6 o'clock onwards with a splitting headache which endured throughout the entire lecture. But it was a great joy to meet the saints again (and to get loads of books that I had bought!). When the lecture began (which apparently was longer than usual), it seemed to me, that it was finished almost immediately.

I was quite gripped throughout the entire lecture, despite the headache, of which I recalled only afterwards and had to take paracetamol. The lecture covered all kinds of issues regarding the church, many of which are again very relevant today. For example, it would probably be abhorrent to some to consider the church to be the company of the predestinate (in fact to mention the words "the predestinate" is anathema to many). And for a while a few years ago, like many in the house-church movement I had also fallen into the grave error of presuming there to be no need for the church institute.

It was very helpful to hear not only the right view proven, but also all the myriad wrong views of papists, (Ana)baptists and fanatics disproven. What struck me was how comprehensive the lecture was. It seemed like every angle was covered; what the wrong views were (and why!) and what the right view is (and why!). There were (and are) so many controversies about the nature of the church etc, but the truth is so powerful. As always I am fascinated by what I learn about the Reformation and utterly astonished by how far the church has departed, and how gracious God has been to me to bring me to a true church.

Afterward there was some interesting questions and answers on the topic of children in the church. First, the Three Forms of Unity are very good on this subject, and also the CPRC kindly distribute many pamphlets to biblically prove the correct view on this, but I've also been reading Prof. Engelsma's "The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers". I was especially impressed by his treatment of Article 17 of Head 1 of the Canons of Dordt in the chapter "No Reason to Doubt", and I highly recommend it!

Almost all the "evan-jelly" church in Limerick while not necessarily baptist by name is (ana)baptist by nature; this false indoctrination and total ignorance of the covenant of God (and its nature) is why it is a big hurdle for people here to get around. I still marvel at how clearly I see the doctrine of covenant children in the Bible now, when once I thought it was a totally foreign concept.

The "evan-jellies" do a good job of inoculating us to the plain truth of the Bible until it is pointed out. This is what shallow preaching does: it causes confusion and ignorance and obscures the truth. I think this is why the foolishness of preaching does more than reading alone ever could. It's like God uses preachers who labour in their studies of God's word to point to the elephant in the room that you were too busy examining the toenail of to see that it was an elephant. How long did it take Luther in his reading to see that “the righteousness of God” is referring to His righteousness which can only be imputed to us by Christ, not a righteous standard that we must attain to of ourselves? But if it had been preached to him, the pieces of the jigsaw would have clicked together in very little time.

It is amazing to hear of all the many issues that were dealt with at the time of the reformation, and yet how ignorant most of us are of them. It is so sad, when there is such a precious wealth of biblical truth to be learnt from when these issues came up in the past, that the churches today seem to be like the proverbial fool returning to their folly (of the papists), like a dog to its vomit (Prv 26:11). If your father built most of a house already before he passed away, would you simply demolish it and start building your own from scratch? That's not only foolish, its obstinate and prideful - all of which I too am abundantly guilty.

In Limerick it seems like most church leaders are utterly blind to this. The lecture was like a bombshell going off making clear just how far the false churches have departed from the truth. God-willing others who received copies on CD of the lecture will see that they need to join a biblical church. I am always greatly encouraged when there is a public lecture, because I know that Christ is the one who builds His church (Matthew 16:18) and that it is by the work of ministers of the Word, especially in the preaching, that we are brought into unity, not to be blown about by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:11-16).

There are certainly many winds of doctrines blowing around here in Limerick, but how can the lies stand against the word of God which is like a fire and a hammer that breaketh the rock into pieces (Jer 23:28-29)? Knowing this, I am courageous to pray and bold to approach the throne of our sovereign and gracious God who does as He pleases among the inhabitants of the earth, for the sake of the Reformed faith in this city, and that He would gather the saints here together so that we would obey 1Co 1:10.

We had some great chats afterwards as well. It was an absolute delight to hear the Reformed minister wholly confute all kinds of silly questions about the "age of reason" and other unbiblical notions, and defend the plain meaning of various passages of Revelation against the divers imaginations about communists, China, Russia, Gog and Magog and years etc. I told my friends about a book "Behold He Cometh!" by Herman Hoeksema (which can be read on-line) that I've been reading through, and how thoroughly sensible and biblical is the interpretation of Revelation it presents without wandering off into any foolish speculations and unscriptural ideas. The only right interpretation is what plainly comes by Sola Scriptura: “Scripture interprets Scripture!”

I think it was about hour after we said that we were going that we actually went, and even then we all spent some time thanking Rev. Stewart for coming down and talking about plans for possibly visiting the CPRC again in January. Exciting stuff! I could probably say a lot more, but I must get more study done - and lots of it.

- Sam W.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Foolish Prideful Imaginations of Man: Evolutionism

This is one of the particularly poignant hurdles against the subject of this prideful man-made imagination of the naturalistic evolution of all things from pond-goo or inorganic molecules.

Heed the graph to the right. On the horizontal axis we have the probability of a positive or negative effect of a mutation to be selected for by natural means. On the vertical axis we have the relative frequencies of these (im)probable mutations. Now, first it must be said that this graph almost certainly wholly underestimates the unlikelihood of an environmental factor to meaningfully select for or against a mutation.

The problems are numerous, first a mutation has to actually correspond to some kind of meaningful phenotype (which is unlikely in the extreme), and then also the environmental factors have to be so fine-tuned as to select specifically for this awesomely minor phenotype difference, and ignore all the other more acute phenotypes which crowd it and vy for its attention. Secondly the environmental factor has to also somehow ignore all the other uninherited factors which constitute the largest part of the realised phenotype, and somehow distinguish between a phenotype ever so slightly (if at all) influenced by an ever so slight mutation, and the full range of phenotypes brought about by the synergism of inherited factors and uniherited factors (there most likely will not be any way to distinguish). For example, it is thought that 99.6% of fitness is not related to inherited factors at all.

But even setting all these insurmountable problems aside (for the sake of our foolish and deceived atheistic naturalists, knowing that is only by the free sovereign grace of God that we ourselves are not so deceived), this graph gives us a gray region in which it is considered that the effect of the mutation is so near neutral, that it is considered to not have any effect at all. First notice that most mutations fall into this bracket, second notice that almost all mutations are deleterious, third notice that some deleterious mutations do emerge on the left, but fourth notice that the positive mutations (which in fact cannot increase information or create new functions anyway) do not come close to escaping the gray band. What does all this tell us (at the very least)?

  1. No mutation can provide new information or new functions, only "fine-tune" (or hugely more likely mess-up) what is already there.
  2. Positive mutations are thoroughly out-weighed by deleterious ones.
  3. Almost all mutations have little or no effect on actual phenotypes (and positive ones even much less so).
  4. Any effect on actual phenotypes is wholly crowded out by all the other factors which influence phenotypes, most not even heritable.
  5. Even if the right environmental factor was present to select for this phenotype it would have next to no correspondence to the mutation.
  6. The environmental factor that would select for a particular phenotype would mostly be entirely crowded out by all the other environmental factors involved.
  7. Natural selection is totally blind and mostly does not select for the best phenotypes, but rather the selection is mostly determined by chance in a natural environment because the difference in phenotypes is usually insignificant anyway.

All this is without even mentioning the vast plethora of other insurmountable hurdles, such as every single step from inorganic chemicals to organic chemicals, organic chemicals to useful biological molecules, useful biological molecules to useful cell components, useful cell components to cells, cells to specialised cells, specialised cells to tissues, tissues to organs, organs to systems, simple systems to complex systems, and the list goes on and on. And in between each of these is hundred more impossibilities or more. Added to this is the innumerable irreducible complexities within even the smallest components of every single living organism on the planet, living systems, cells, molecules, etc.

No, not in a million years would even one of these hurdles be overcome (and most not even by carefully-guided and designed processes). Not in a billion. Its time evolutionists faced up to harsh realities of physics, chemistry and mathematics. And then take a look at the fossil record too - distinct species, not intermediates are found. And then turn around and look at everything sensible biology and genetics has discovered to date and see that it has flown in the face of this fantasy of evolution.

Everything in the true science of biology teaches us about the awesome wonder of creation and the glory of the incomprehensible transcendent Creator. But all we ever learn here can only ever condemn us for our sinfulness in not giving the praise that our Creator deserves. The Gospel of Jesus Christ alone is what tells us of how we may be redeemed from our sins and the punishment we deserve.

- Sam W.

Thanks to CMI for this article:
For a full list of references see the above article.
Any questions or objections can be addressed to CMI but have probably already been answered or refuted by them.
See a previous post for more on why this issue is important for me and for all Bible-believing Christians.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Visiting the CPRC!

The weekend before last, my friends and I visited the church that is currently working with the fellowship I attend to plant a church in my area. I have never been so thoroughly convinced of the truth of the Belgic Confession when it says that the true and false churches may be easily distinguished! You might get the occasional poisoned scrap in one and a drop of gone-off milk, but in the true church the sheep actually get fed with pure healthy milk by the gallon and strengthened by bucketloads of good solid food!

It was an amazing weekend. Along with the other saints, I met a man, Francesco, again (he remembered me from the very first public lecture by this church that I had been to (17th August 2007)!), and we had some great and encouraging discussions. He was also able to recommend about half the bookstore, so my friends and I got a lot of books, and we've all been doing a lot of reading.

We've had to, because first, we had to be utterly convinced from Scripture that the CPRC's dogmatics were correct. There were various things that we had big questions about to begin with, as the minister can testify to. We gave him some pretty thorough grillings (and that was after we had read loads on the website)! Infant baptism and covenant children and mode of baptism, the nature of the Lord's supper, brethren-style church "order", some aspects of charismaticism, the regulative principle, exclusive psalmody, KJV and other Bible versions, observance of the Lord's Day/Christian sabbath, the use of creeds, the Three Forms of Unity (3FU), etc. There was a lot! But all these issues seem so clear to me now! And I could very easily prove every one from Scripture, because not only did I have to have these proven to me before I would accept them, but secondly, I have now had to prove them to others and defend the teaching of the CPRC as the 3FU tell me biblically that I should.

Thirdly, I have had to read loads, because the more I understand these things, the more I love and adore these great truths and all the teaching of the CPRC, and so have felt compelled to read more, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of those around me here, and so that I would be further conformed to the image of Christ and always be ready to give an answer for the hope that I have! It really encouraged me to hear also about how God brought Francesco into contact with the CPRC and out of such falsehood.

Many of our college friends have not taken very well however to our stance on many issues. At the heart of which, of course, as always, is Calvinism and most particularly, the five points thereof. The lie that man is involved in salvation is always where the heart of the battle rages. It is because salvation is the centrepiece of God's glory, and to say that man is in anyway responsible is the very pinnacle of human pride. But God will not share His glory with another, so may we never give an inch to the falsehoods that abound in this country.

I look forward to more such well fed weekends, and I cannot contain my excitement about this work here where I live. Our fellowship has begun to have morning meetings as well now. May God graciously allow this to continue, and build His church, and may we be thankful always, rejoicing in what He has done for us.

- Sam W.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Direction for Blog

I've decided that the kind of posts I've been writing here on this blog have not always been entirely appropriate. For example, if I am commenting on theological issues, it should really be under more supervision for something so public as a blog. I am pretty sure that apart from my earliest posts (in which I was starved of biblical teaching, and still attending what I later saw to be a false church), my more recent posts have not contained anything which is going beyond the teaching of my church and I have been careful to prove meticulously what I say from the Bible. But it was coming close in some areas to presumptuously assuming the role of teaching, while not having been appointed a teacher, which is a very dangerous place to be in.

The reason these particular issues were in my heart was due to the false doctrines with which some of my friends seem to be affected. In future I hope to perhaps address these by maybe posting links to various appropriate articles from my church's website and writing a short review/recommendation, and direct my blog more towards news of what's been happening with Limerick Reformed Fellowship, and some of the various adventures the Lord brings me through, and of course poetry and praises for those rare occasions (rare only because every detail is to the praise of God and our observation and understanding is sorely limited and pitiful) in which we catch a bright and clear glimpse of God working out all things for the good of His people and His glory.

The reason I always mention those two together (the good of His people and His glory) is because the greatest and only delight of His people (though not in their flesh yet) is His glory. In Him glorifying Himself, He is working for the highest good of His people. And in working for thehighest good of His people, He is glorifying Himself. The two are inextricably linked and it is impossible to mention the one without also having mentioned the other anyway. In the blog, I hope to continue to draw attention to this, and to evangelize for the Church, while being careful to usurp no other office than what God has given to me: that of "believer".
"Eternal life is this, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [He] has sent." - John 17:3.
- Samuel W.

Calvinists notice embedded visual patterns quicker than Atheists

I commented on this article from New Scientist with what I could see to be the only reasonable response:

Calvinistic Attention To Detail

Tue Nov 25 13:55:19 GMT 2008 by Samuel Watterson

The interpretation of the findings seems rather skewed, like many "findings" of modern science, such as those reported in this popular magazine. I would suggest that the findings more likely suggest that in general Calvinists, due to their religion have developed a keener attention to detail. Atheists don't have this because they have all learnt, without exception, that the closer they pay attention to detail, the more insurmountable challenges they find against their viewpoint, such as the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellar motor, which is of course why the Bible calls them fools. Calvinists, on the other hand have a religion which is built upon keen attention to detail; historically no other religion so highly regards the importance of every word of the Bible, because it was this attention to detail that led Luther to conclude that the Bible was self-authenticating and self-interpreting, and to conclude that most fundamentally, the Roman Catholic institution had got the Gospel totally wrong. It was the same attention to detail that led Calvin to develop these views and logically connect the details of the Bible to expound right doctrine. It is the same attention to detail which Calvinist pastors use before every sermon to ensure that they speak only what the Bible teaches, and the same that every Calvinist member of these churches use to judge what they hear against the Bible. Without this attention to detail, they cannot be called Calvinists with respect to the tradition of the Reformers. Attention to detail is (at least in part) an acquired trait, one which is developed with constant practice. The right conclusion here would seem to be that those most practiced in attending to detail would be the best at it, in general, which as I've put forward, would seem to be the Calvinists.

The reason I see for this attention to detail being a decidedly Christian characteristic is because I believe that God's sovereignty in all things is such that every most minuscule detail of this world is entirely and independantly governed and controlled in every way by God's eternal providence for His saints and for His own glory.

In short, if God is attentive to details, then us Christians should be too. And the antithesis tells us that the ungodly are not attentive to details. If the scientists had simply read the Bible, they wouldn't need to have conducted the experiment...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I just wanna be a sheep!

"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep... But ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." - John 10:11, 26-28.
By linking the previous two posts together, we can begin to understand why it is that only Christ's sheep hear His voice and follow Him. Central to a correct understanding of this is, I believe, that Christ gave His life for the sheep, with the necessary inference that He did not give His life for those who are not His sheep. This is the reason that He gives the Pharisees for their lack of belief. So we see this; that the result of Christ giving His life for His sheep is that they believe.

We found previously from 1 Corinthians 2, how it was necessary for receiving the spiritual things of God, such as the Gospel, that one has a spiritual mind. This prerequisite for belief is therefore having a spiritual mind. We concluded that this spiritual mind (which is life and peace), rather than a carnal mind was a result of having received the Spirit of God. This is the rebirth, or regeneration, which we learn occurs when, by the Spirit's work alone we hear Christ preaching to us (Lazarus, come forth!), and by the Spirit's work alone we believe.
"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" - John 11:25-26.
Romans 6 to 8 teach us not only that the power of regeneration (the mortification of the old nature, and the quickening of the new) is the power of the Spirit of Christ, but also, since it is the Spirit of Christ, it is the power of being united in the death and resurrection of Christ. We are told that it is by union in Christ's death and resurrection that this regeneration occurs by the Spirit of Christ. But how are we (or were we) united in Christ's death and resurrection, and how is it that some are undeservedly regenerated by the Spirit and others deservedly are not?

We find the answer to these two question in one place: the eternal decree of election and reprobation. This is the fountain of our salvation, the basis by which we are eternally united with Christ, and so united in His death and resurrection. This is union is the basis by which Christ is our representative and substitute, so that not only did He fully pay for all our sins, but that we are now clothed in His righteousness, partakers of Him and all His benefits in the unbreakable covenant relationship of love with the Father, sealed in His blood. And being elect in Christ, we are thereby also united with the Spirit of Christ.

Now we see that it is by being united in Christ from before the foundation of the world by election, that the Spirit worked regeneration in our hearts when the Gospel was preached to us, and not in the hearts of the wicked reprobate. The others had no union with the Spirit of Christ by election, and therefore no union with Christ in His death and resurrection, and therefore Christ did not pay for their sins, and so they will be condemned deservedly for their wickedness.

Therefore, though this union is manifest in the course of history by faith, and by this faith we are consciously in union by the Spirit with Christ (because by faith, the Word dwells in us, who is God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the revelation of the Father to us), it is an eternal union by the fountain of election. And this should greatly humble us who believe by the Spirit, and spur us on with confidence to love and good deeds to bring thanksgiving to God, as we remember that our salvation is entirely undeserved and eternal, sealed by the blood of the Lamb before the foundations of the world in the book of life, though we see its manifestation in the course of history:
"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship [the beast], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." - Revelation 13:8.
I hope you will correct me if this does not seem entirely accurate.

Love in Christ,

- Samuel W.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Do "all men" and "world" really mean "every single person"?

"Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." - Romans 5:18.

"For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved." - John 3:17.

There are some who say that Christ died for every single person. These people point to verses which use the terms "all men" or "world", like 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Timothy 4:10, John 3:16, John 4:42 etc. This issue I have with this position is that it tears down what Christ actually did by His death and resurrection. If Christ died for every single person and some of those people are not saved, then what Christ did wasn't enough to save every person for whom He died. And worse, then the reason that some are saved and some are not is not the grace of God, but something of themselves.

If the difference is not of God but of man, then it is not of grace but of works.

This was the central point of the controversy at the time of the Reformation. There were many faults in the church at that time, but it came down to this one crucial issue: are we saved by grace alone, or do we contribute something of ourselves to our salvation. To put this another way, is Christ our complete Saviour, or are we and Christ both half-Saviours. Is salvation the work of God alone, or is it the work of God and man. Is salvation by unconditional grace alone of God, or is it by merit conditional upon something of man. The Bible presents only two options, grace or works (it cannot be both):

"And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." - Romans 11:6.

A universal atonement means one of two things:
  1. Every single person is saved (Universalism).
  2. The atonement is conditional.

Every single person is not saved, so that leaves us with a conditional atonement. A conditional atonement means one of two things:
  1. If the condition is supplied by God, then salvation is by grace but the extent of the atonement is in conflict with the extent of His intention (Amyraldianism), but God is supposedly one and all wise.
  2. If the condition is supplied by man, then salvation is by works and not by grace (Romanism and Arminianism), but man supposedly has no grounds for boasting.

The Apostle Paul summarizes our conclusion from this in the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone:

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:8-10.

In summary a universal atonement denies the efficacy of the atonement, the total depravity of man, salvation by grace alone, and that all glory belongs to God alone. It also tears down the theological basis for the perseverance of the saints (yet many try to retain that, at the same time as introducing the concept of "carnal Christians" along with their Semi-pelagianism). We can clearly see now that the doctrine of universal atonement is a vile heresy. It is insidious also, because it often comes under the guise of being "more loving" and "more inclusive" and "less offensive". It makes people feel better to think that Christ died for every single person and really wants to save every single person. But all the while it makes a wretched mockery of Christ's sacrifice, and God's sovereignty and His all-powerful love and man's depravity. To such blasphemies the Spirit loudly declares:

"What shall we say then to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" - Romans 8:31-35a.
"But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." - Romans 5:8-9.

But aren't the verses of the many "gainsayers" compelling? "For God so loved the world!" "Who will have all men to be saved!" "He is the propitiation for ours sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

Yet these verses actually condemn their position. If God loved every single person, every person would be saved, for isn't that the greatest expression of love? Surely God would not leave those He loved to their own sinful depraved wills, only enslaved to the sinful nature! If God would have every single person to be saved, then what power is greater than His that it might stop Him from saving them? Surely not our feeble resistance! If He had been the propitiation for all of every single person's sins, then how could He send any to hell? Surely He is not unjust to punish twice for one offence? If He is the Saviour of every single person, then how could some not be saved? Surely if some are not saved, He could not be called their Saviour!

Their argument is entirely based on their erroneous, alien and unjustifiable interpretation of the words "all men" and "world". Firstly "all men" quite often just means a general "all" which is only defined by the context, such as all fish, all sheep, all stars, all angels, all reprobate or all elect. Here the context defines what all refers to. For example:

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." - 2 Peter 3:9.

Peter has just spoken about God's word keeping into store the heavens and the earth reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, and about the false teachers of whom Jude 4 says that they "were of old ordained to this condemnation". Clearly he not teaching that God is not willing that they should perish and come to repentance. They were ordained by God to condemnation, and the heavens and the earth are being reserved unto fire against the day of their perdition! The plain meaning of this verse (and the only meaning that makes any sense in the context) is that the "any" that God desires not to perish and the "all" that He desires to come to repentance are the "us" that Peter refers to. Verse 1:1 explains, that Peter is speaking of the elect of God, the Church of Christ who will obtain like precious faith.

The phrase "all men" is best demonstrated in Romans 5:18 where Paul uses it to mean two different things in one verse. First he says that judgment came upon "all men" unto condemnation by the offense of one. There is no confusion here. The "one" refers to Adam (clear from the context) and the "all men" refers to every single person (clear from the context). This teaches us that by Adam's offense, judgment came upon every single person unto condemnation. This is what Ephesians 2:3 means when it says that we were by nature children of wrath. Every single person was born with a sinful nature and therefore justly under the condemnation of God.

Secondly he says that the free gift came upon "all men" unto justification of life by the righteousness of one. There can be no confusion here either. The "one" refers to Christ, the only Righteous One. The phrase "unto justification of life" means that just as the judgment was unto condemnation by the offense of Adam, the free gift was unto justification of life by the righteousness of Christ. Just as every person on whom the judgment came was under condemnation, now every person on whom the free gift came is under justification unto life. In this context "all men" can only mean those who are justified unto life, and all those whom the free gift came upon. If some are not justified unto life (which must be the case since not all are saved), then the free gift only came upon some and all of those on whom the free gift came are justified unto life.

In this one verse then, we find that in the first part "all men" probably refers to "every single person" and in the second part it can only refer to all upon whom the free gift came or all men of the elect. In other words, all men who Jesus Christ justified by His blood. The context must always determine what such a vague term as "all men" really means. In 1 Timothy 2:4 it means the same as in verse 1, all kinds of people, that is ranks and classes etc. Certainly we are not to pray for every single person, for example: not the dead and not those referred to in 1 John 5:16. 1 Timothy 4:10 of course explains itself: Christ is the Saviour of all kinds of people, that is in particular, those who believe, not those who do not believe. He cannot be the Saviour of those whom He does not save, and all those whom He saves will believe; He is only the Saviour of those who believe. To try to make these verses mean anything different is blatant Scripture-wresting.

What of the word "world"? This word simply means kosmos as in, the universe, the entire creation, space-time-matter continuum. It can refer to many different things depending on context: the world of the wicked reprobate (John 17:9 where Christ does not pray for the "world"), the evil world-system of the ungodly (1 John 2:15 where we are told not to love the "world" or anything in it), the world of the elect of every tribe, tongue and nation (John 3:16-17 where Christ declares God's love for the "world" and His Father's intention that He should not condemn the "world" but save it, while teaching the Jewish Nicodemus that salvation was for whosoever believeth, and 1 John 2:2 where it tells of who Christ's propitiation is for, and those propitiated for can no longer come under God's wrath).

In Noah's day, God both saved a "world" and destroyed a "world". He preserved the godly world with the Ark through baptism, and destroyed the ungodly world with the Flood by immersion. Afterwards He revealed His cosmic covenant of grace with the world of the elect, and reminds us of it every time we see the rainbow. Of course not all Noah's family were elect believers, Canaan was cursed, just as today in the church there are some who are wicked hypocrites. So today we know that there will be a new heavens and a new earth along with the New Jerusalem.

Those who claim that "world" means every single person have a completely untenable interpretation. It is not correct, and cannot be correct. To take that interpretation leads to the heresy of a universal atonement and wrests the Scriptures violently. Now, I boldly claim that there is not a hint anywhere in the Bible that Christ's atonement was universal or that some of those for whom He atoned with His blood would be condemned. Such would be to call the blood of Christ an unholy thing and to trample it underfoot.

There is just one final objection that is made (yet again Scripture interprets Scripture, so this cannot be an honest objection when so many passages speak so clearly about the efficacy of the atonement): that is a few verses like 2 Peter 2:1 and even Hebrew 10:29. Even a cursory glance at a few cross-references explain these without a doubt. 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of false teachers "denying the Lord who bought them". This is explained in verse 20 of the same chapter (if its meaning was not already apparent) they had "escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ", that is, these people were in the church institute (not the church organic). Outwardly they were in the church (the called ones, apart from the world), but inwardly they were not. They were hypocrites (Jude 1:4 says that they "crept in unawares"), without saving faith, only a surface knowledge. They knew all about the Saviour, and could recite the creeds in church etc, but they didn't know the Saviour and their hearts were far from Him.

They were bought in the same sense as the wicked hypocrites in Israel were bought from slavery in Egypt (Jude 5). They were bought out of the pollutions of the world into the church, but as the unbelievers with uncircumcised hearts in Israel died in the desert, the hypocrites in the church will also be condemned on the day of judgment. They were not of course truly ransomed by the blood of Jesus, because then they would be saved. They appeared to be bought with Christ's blood from a human perspective, but not in God's eyes.

Likewise Hebrews 10:29 carries the same idea, to the human perspective, they were in the church and had been baptised, and therefore seemed sanctified with the blood of Jesus (set apart as holy like the children of believers in 1 Co 7:14), but in God's eyes they were wicked hypocrites, still polluted by the stains of their sins. Just as not all the children of believers are elect, not all those in the church are elect and not all those baptised are elect. These reprobate covenant-violaters had received the outward sign of being sanctified with the blood of Jesus, by being outwardly baptised, but they were not inwardly baptised. Jude calls them blemishes in our feasts of charity (Jude 12). These verses use strong language to highight the depth of the hypocrisy and profaning of the covenant which these apostates are. To suggest that these verses teach that there are some who Jesus died for that are not saved would be to try to overturn all of Scripture and of course rob the believer of assurance and introduce the heresy of salvation by works again.

May we not err regarding the atonement, that we might say with Paul:

"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." - Galatians 6:14.

Thanks to AiG for the pic!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who is speaking in Romans 7:14-25?

"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." - Romans 7:18

We may rightly wonder in amazement at Paul's bold statements in this passage. Many have even said that he is describing someone else. The views may be split into five different ideas:
  1. An unregenerate man
  2. A Christian without the Spirit
  3. A regenerate Jew without the Spirit
  4. A man in the process of being regenerated
  5. A Christian
What are we to make of these things? What is God teaching us here? Again, the first rule for understanding God's word is that the Scripture came from God (2 Peter 1:19-21) and therefore if our understanding of it is to be from God, we may only interpret Scripture with Scripture (1 Co 2:12-16). Here we find our first indication that option 1. cannot be correct. Romans 7:16 says "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good." Romans 7:22 also says "For I delight in the law after the inward man:" and verse 25 says "... So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God".

Since Paul began this discourse stating "For we know that the law is spiritual", it is clear according to 1 Co 2:14, this man cannot be unregenerate because he delights in the spiritual law. To be unregenerate is to be unspiritual and natural. In 1 Co 2:12-13, we are told that only because we have been given the Spirit do we understand spiritual things. An unregenerate man is carnal and cannot even receive spiritual things. Romans 8:6-7 explain this to us also: "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

In Romans 7, the person described serves the law of God with his mind, and so certainly cannot be carnally minded (Romans 8:6-7). But what of verse 14? Doesn't this say "I am carnal, sold under sin"? Yes it does. But does this mean that this man is carnally minded? Not necessarily. In verse 18 he gives the clause that it is specifically in his flesh that there dwelleth no good thing. Verses 16, 22, and 25 prove beyond doubt that though this man claims to be carnal, he is not carnally minded. He is spiritually minded because he serves the law of God with his mind and delights in the (spiritual) law after the inward man. Again he gives a qualifying clause, the "inward" man. So we see in Romans 7:14-25, a contrast being levelled between being spiritually minded and yet carnal, in that he serves the law of sin with the flesh. His mind is spiritual, but his flesh is carnal. This at the very least means that this man is not completely unregenerate, because that would be to also have a carnal mind.

The next option is a false idea (popular in many charismatic/pentecostal circles) that someone could be a Christian and yet not have the Spirit. Romans 8:9 clearly says in refutation of this idea (along with a plethora of other Scriptural proofs): "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Someone who does not have the Spirit is not a Christian.

Option 3. is a bit more complex (probably quite popular in certain dispensationalist circles which teach more than one way of salvation), but this too is refuted abundantly in Scripture. No matter if a man is a Jew or Gentile, in the Old Testament or New Testament, he cannot be regenerate without the Spirit. Titus 3:4-7 explains that we are saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit. 1 Co 6:11 also explains that we are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God. Jesus also tells us in John 3:3-8 that "except a man be born again (regenerate), he cannot see the kingdom of God" and unless he is born of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, and "that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. As the wind blows where it pleases, so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

These and many other Scriptural proofs show that it is impossible for someone to even see the kingdom of God (let alone enter in) without having been born of the Spirit. A man cannot be regenerate without the Spirit, whether in the Old or New Testament. Some say the Spirit did not come until Pentecost but this is not true, the special outward manifestations of the Spirit which were signs associated with the apostolic ministry did not come until Pentecost. Psalm 51:11 gives us the example of David who had the Holy Spirit.

There is no way to be saved unless a man is regenerate, and if a man is regenerate, then he has the Holy Spirit. This is because we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, and the only way in which we can have this faith (to see the kingdom, to receive the things of the Spirit - the Gospel which is spiritual) is if the Spirit of God is given to us (that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God - 1 Co 2:9-16 makes this abundantly clear). So then salvation is, and has always been a sovereign act of God's grace (which He is free to give to whom He will, and free to withhold from whom He will - Romans 9:11-23), not prompted by anything of ourselves, for none of us are any better than the rest. And since we know that many in the Old Testament had faith (Hebrews 11), then we know many were saved, and we know that each one of them was regenerated and was given the Spirit.

Our fourth option is perhaps the most contrived. This presents an idea totally alien to Scripture (probably popular with the postmodern existentialist relativistic emerging-churchians). Either a man is regenerate or he is not. Someone is either born of the Spirit or they are not. A person either has the Spirit or they do not. One cannot have half the Spirit. Either a person is saved or they are not. There is no state between unregenerate and regenerate ever mentioned in the Bible.

This brings us to our last option, which has most likely been proven already. We have seen that this man is spiritually minded and not carnally minded though in his flesh, he is carnal. Romans 8:5-10 explains how this is. First, "they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." Here the word "mind" tells us that those who are unregenerate only mind the things of the flesh, whereas those born of the Spirit (regenerate) mind the things of the Spirit. This is what we also saw in 1 Co 2:9-16. The next verse confirms this by telling us that "to be carnally minded is death: but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." This is also what we are told in Ephesians 2:1-10. Once we were dead, and now we have been quickened (made alive/regenerated) by the Spirit.

Those that are in the flesh in the sense of being carnally minded (verses 7-8), we are told cannot please God. This is why we cannot possibly prompt God in anyway to regenerate us. In fact the first time we even have an honest desire to be born again (because such would please God) is our first indication that we most likely have been born again. Without this regeneration, we cannot please God. Now then, this Romans 7 man is spiritually minded, and therefore he must be regenerate and therefore must have the Spirit and therefore must be Christ's. Verse 9-10 tell us that if Christ is in us, then "the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." This is exactly how it is for the Romans 7 man, his mind is alive and spiritual, but his flesh is carnal, yet dead because he is in Christ. This is why he tells us in Romans 7:17, 20 that it is no longer he who sins but the sin dwelling in his flesh. In verse 24 he confirms this, "who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Yet Romans 8:11-13 gives the calm assurance of the power of the Spirit of God in the Christian life. Christ has quickened us by His death and resurrection, so that we delight in His law after the inward man, and though no good thing dwells in our flesh, Christ has delivered us so that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus (Romans 7:25-8:1). But does this mean we are free to sin? No! Does it mean we can only sin? No! We are told that Christ "shall also quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you". There is indeed no good thing in our flesh, and so we are told "through the Spirit... mortify the deeds of the body" so that we do not live after the flesh (because we are not debtors to the flesh - v.12), but after the Spirit.

Here we have the three things which we need to know to live out our lives for God's glory and enjoy Him forever:

  1. How deep our sins and miseries are
  2. How we are delivered from these through Christ alone
  3. How we may express our gratitude to God for such deliverance

Praise God!

Finally this passage teaches us that indeed there is no good thing dwelling in our flesh. Even being born again, we, of ourselves, are incapable of serving the law of God in our flesh, but of ourselves our flesh can only serve the law of sin, though our regenerated hearts hate what we do. What we accomplish, we do not recognise, and what we want to do, we do not practice, instead what we hate, we habitually do. Of ourselves in our flesh, this is all we can do. Praise God for His Spirit which quickens our mortal bodies so that we can walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh. This is why all our obedience, even though we are now regenerate, is nothing from ourselves, but all of God, to whom be the glory in the lives of His saints and in all things, both now and forevermore. Amen!

Of course, I finish by saying that, again the most obvious explanation of this passage is the one which presents itself first, that Paul is genuinely talking about himself in the present, from the simple fact that he continues his use of "I" and speaks in the present tense. There is no Scriptural evidence anywhere to use some special method of interpretation on this passage.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Glory to God alone for the lives of the saints!

I walk among a blind people,
The world, eyes shut, wonders.
My God has made the universe
The trees and the flowers,
The heavens, stars and planets all
With the fields, bogs and plains,
The mountains, hills, rocks and rivers,
Were form'd by God's good plans.

I gaze across the vast oceans,
Seeing the horizon,
This planet too great for my mind,
Amaz'd by our own sun.
The dawn takes my breath all away
The mist terrifies me,
The quaking earth throws me to ground,
In awe and fear to be.

The clouds billow and thunders roll
The sky flashes with light,
God makes His voice, His anger known;
Boasters all flee in fright.
Fear, all you men who boast, the Lord
Who alone is worthy
Who alone works obedience,
In the saints and in me.

You fools who boast in deeds and will,
Sacrifice and service,
Hear what the prophets spoke of old,
And wander not amiss.
The Lord delights not in these, but
A humble, contrite heart,
Such pleases Him who has no need,
Whose love does not depart.

As by the disobedience,
of one man all were sin,
So by the full obedience
of one man, redemption.
With one sacrifice was God pleas'd,
His Son and none beside.
And all His saints do nothing good,
And should not have such pride.

We love because He lov'd us first.
No good thing dwells in us,
Except His Spir't who works alone
Obedience in us.
Apart from this we only sin,
And nothing add do we,
That Scripture be prov'd when it says
All glory to Him be!

As God alone work'd to create,
That none else may glory,
So He alone work'd salvation,
To set His people free.
Now all you boasters in man's will
Who makes you to differ?
Does not the mighty Lord alone,
Set you from another?

Let him who boasts, make this his boast,
That he does know the Lord.
Without pride, let him who glories,
Glory alone in God.
God, I confess, open'd my eyes,
And freely forgave me,
And though God's this reveal'd to me,
I'm better not than thee.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why am I a young-earth creationist?

First of all, I believe in the biblical and reformational principle of Sola Scriptura (2 Timothy 3:13-4:4, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Peter 1:16-2:3, Psalm 19:7-12, Acts 20:20, 27).

I do not find the idea of long ages or evolution in the Bible, and instead I find clear refutations of them in the plain matter of fact account at the beginning of a book about history (Matthew 1:1, Genesis 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, 37:2, 1 Timothy 1:4, 4:7, 6:3-4, 6:20, 2 Timothy 4:4, Titus 1:14, 2 Peter 1:16, Titus 3:9, Matthew 22:29-32, Mark 7:9-13, 12:24-27, Luke 16:27-31, 24:27, 44-46, John 5:45-47, etc) of a six-day, miraculous finished creation, timed according to evening and morning of the 24 hour rotations of the earth (Genesis 1:1-2:4), which is then used as a model for our six-day working week and sabbath (rest, Exodus 20:8-11), which then is placed perfectly at the beginning of meticulous chrono-genealogies by the ages of the ancients and their ages at the birth of their sons (Genesis 5, 11, 1 Chronicles 1-9, Luke 3:23-38) and the subsequent and direct chronologies of events dated by years of kings etc (see Genesis - 2Kings - Nehemiah / 1Chronicles - Nehemiah), and in the matter-of-fact account of one man and one woman being created from which this unbroken line of descendants arises, and more specifically, the descendant/seed: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now see that all creatures were created in these specifically 24hr days (Genesis 1:20-2:1), to multiply according to their own kind (Genesis 1:21-22, 24-25, 2:19-20). Notice, first, created as separate kinds, as kinds of fish, kinds of beasts, and kinds of birds etc, and second, that they reproduce according to their own kind. Granted, there is variation within these kinds (not the human definition of species, mind you) due to the various pressures of environment and degeneration and degradation due to the curse and bondage to decay which came as a result of man (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 8:20-22, Isaiah 24:1-6), but God's decrees are more immovable than the universe.

Then couple that with the all theological arguments based on these simple historic facts, that by the sin of one man, Adam, all men, being his descendants, were born in sin, that death and suffering came about as a result of this Fall, and that also by the obedience of one man, the Lord Jesus, many will be saved (Romans 5:12-6:2, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-50), and that all peoples all over the earth are one blood (Acts 17:23-26, Genesis 3:20, 9:19), that Christ is then therefore our kinsman-redeemer (Hebrews 2:14-17, Leviticus 25:25), that women should not teach or be in authority over man because Adam was formed first and Eve was deceived (1 Timothy 2:11-14, Genesis 2:21-23, 3:4-17), and I could go on.

Also the treatment of these historical records by the biblical writers and the Lord Jesus who said, "From the beginning, God made them male and female." (Matthew 19:3-9, Genesis 2:21-24, Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:16-17, Romans 7:2-4). And so the basis for condemning all forms of homosexuality, bestiality, fornication, concupiscence, lust, adultery, divorce (though sufferable on account of fornication whereby the marriage is already defiled), remarriage (while the spouse is still alive) as perversions is laid down steadfast in the foundation of solid historical fact and again I could go on.

But this picture captures part of this issue very well for those who would confront God's word with the irreverent babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge (1 Timothy 6:20). Those who willingly deny the global Flood (2 Peter 3:1-7) look at the massive layers of sediment, filled with fossils depicting suffering, death and disease and blindly assert that these fossils are millions of years old. But when did the Fall happen? Before or after these "millions of years"? Is God unjust? When viewed in the light of Scripture this "long ages" or "deep time" view is nonsense and not only absent from, but entirely contradictory to, God's word.

In the light of God's word we look at these massive sediment layers, filled with gruesome fossils, and we see it as a terrifying testament to the wickedness of man and the righteous judgment of God, who looked upon the earth and saw that the thoughts of the hearts of men were only evil continually from birth (Genesis 6:5, 11-13). And so first in the garden of Eden, man and woman were cast out and condemned to die for their sin, and all of creation was cursed by their sin because they had dominion over it, and yet even in this God was abundantly merciful and gracious who caused Abel to present a pleasing sacrifice (Genesis 3:21-4:5) because its blood pointed towards the glory of the Son of God who poured out His blood to ransom a people from the curse from every tongue, tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9). And yet the seed of the serpent was and has always been in enmity against those to whom God sovereignly chooses to be gracious to (Genesis 3:14-15, Romans 8:28-39).

The curse was upon the earth and the wickedness of man waxed worse and worse as it does yet today until violence covered the whole earth and God in His righteous fury sent a Flood to destroy every living thing on the face of the earth except for those entirely undeserving ones whom He had graciously saved in the Ark covered by what pointed to the atoning sacrifice of Christ (Genesis 6:11-22, 7:16-24). And the LORD set up the rainbow in the cloud as sign of His everlasting unconditional covenant which He establishes for His people for the praise of His glorious grace (8:20-9:17).

So, we look at the layers of sediment and the fossils and we see brief time in which the devastating Flood happened upon the earth which laid up these massive sediments full of these creatures buried so rapidly that they became fossils, and we remember too that this earth is also currently being reserved for utter destruction with fire on the Last Day (2 Peter 3:5-15). Not "millions of years". Not evolution. The Creation, the Fall, the Curse, the Flood, the Ark, the Rainbow, the Covenant, the Redemption, the Christ.

As the rainbow is a sign of the covenant to His children, the ominous layers of sediment and fossils are a sign of the past and the coming judgment to the children of the devil. And yet, we who believe by the grace of God understand these things, yet they who have not received the love of the truth do not (2 Thessalonians 2:8-15, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11), lest they should repent and be healed (Matthew 13:10-17, John 8:42-47, Isaiah 29:10-20, Isaiah 44:1-25, Mark 4:10-13). All glory be to God who works wonders in the heavens and upon the earth, and is righteous and just and good and merciful and gracious in all His works and all His eternal decrees, whose love to His people, and whose hatred toward the wicked will endure forever (Psalm 9:1-20).

Thanks to Creation Ministries International for the picture!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What does "grace alone" mean?

Grace is not simply a vehicle which we must avail of, or a means by which we must save ourselves – this is the Romish doctrine. Grace is the might and power that saves us. The Gospel is not merely the means or vehicle of salvation, it is the power. Christ's work on the cross is not merely a means but it is the power alone which saves us. Faith in response to hearing the Gospel is a means, but the means and power of it all cross of our Lord alone. This is what I mean when I say grace alone.

The Arminian turns the cross into simply a means, whereby our decision or faith is the power, when they deny that their decision or faith comes from the power of the cross alone. When they say grace alone, they mean grace is a necessary means or vehicle, but they deny that it is also the power by which we avail of the means. Grace alone is both the only power and means, because it produces the vehicle of faith in us.

Rome teaches that we receive grace by doing all kinds of things (works, prayers, communion, confession, baptism), Arminians teach that we receive grace by a decision (by our own mighty, sovereign and unconditional “free will”), but the Gospel teaches us that we respond in faith to the hearing of the Gospel because we have received grace (election and regeneration bought by the cross, so that the Justifier is just), and that we do good works because we have received grace and that we are built up in faith by the preaching of the word and communion and baptism because we have received grace.

Rome teaches that we are justified by faith and works, Arminians teach that we are justified by faith which we receive (at least in part) from our own “free will”. The Gospel tells us that we are justified by faith alone without works. What is meant by this? That our justification is by grace alone. Yet, Rome and the Arminian both agree – justification is indeed by grace alone, they cry! But from where does this grace proceed? Initially, both Rome and the Arminian will say from Christ's sacrifice on the cross alone! But when questioned further about how this grace is received, finally Rome says from our own faith and works.

The Arminians are more subtle and say from faith alone! But as to where this faith is from, they may even say faith is a gift but concede that they receive it (at least in part) because of their own “free will”. And when asked where the outcome of the decision of their “free will” came from, they go no further and quietly and subtly admit that it is of themselves. When asked about those who are not saved, they will say it is because they chose to reject God's free offer of salvation and the gift of faith which they could have received if they had only been a little less hard-hearted.

In short, that despite God's eternal and ardent love for them, He could not convince them to accept His love and the free offer of salvation which the Arminian hastens to add is by grace alone and by faith alone and in Christ alone. And they imagine God to be weeping in heaven for all the people which He will be throwing into hell after having done everything He could for them. Or they say that God is not weeping and that at a certain point (perhaps the time of their death – which incidentally is determined by the Sovereign God), God decides to stop loving them and starts hating them instead and so does not weep to throw them into hell.

But what do I mean when I say grace alone and faith alone and Christ alone. I mean this:

“God forbid, that I should boast except in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ!” Galatians 6:14.

According to the Gospel where does justification proceed from, and where does faith proceed from? Indeed justification is receiving grace – the grace of justification. And this justification is received by faith alone without works. And that's the key – without works. True faith is that which has no confidence in the flesh and declares that absolutely nothing but Christ's death and resurrection accomplished the entirety of our salvation. Here's the problem with the Romish and Arminian doctrine – they add something which somehow proceeded only from themselves to the means by which they are saved. With Rome it can be indulgences, prayers, works, all kinds of things, with the Arminian it is more subtle – a tiny little decision only. But the problem is that the Arminian says the decision is (at least in some tiny small part) of their own “free will”. This is mostly clearly protrayed when they will not answer the question the Apostle Paul asks:

“What maketh thee to differ?” 1 Corinthians 4:7.

The Gospel tells us that only the grace of God makes us different to those who are not saved. And that it is Christ alone who has saved us by His death and resurrection. If there are those who are not saved it is because Christ did not die for them. If we are saved because Christ alone has saved us, they are not saved because Christ has not saved them.

“What do you have that you did not receive, and if you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” - 1 Corinthians 4:7.

In the Arminian denial that the decision of their “free willl” was not of themselves but received, they therefore boast. Therefore their confidence is in the flesh. They believe they are saved because of something they did not receive (the decision of their “free will”). What is something they did not receive? It is not grace, it is not a gift. But what does Scripture tell us? That faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Only those who hear the preaching of the Gospel will believe. And why do some who hear the Gospel not believe? Why do some love the truth and some do not? The Arminian says “Because of my choice to accept the free offer of blood poured out for me, and because of their rejection of the blood poured out for them.” The problem is that it isn't whether Christ's sacrifice was acceptable to them but whether it is acceptable to God – the very same who made the sacrifice – it is the only sacrifice He is pleased with! And therefore the Gospel says, “Only because of infinite power of the precious blood of the Saviour poured out to redeem His people. The only way there could be some not saved is because the blood was not poured out for them.” And Scripture testifies abundantly:

“... because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Whereunto he called you by our Gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 2.

“But though He had done many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him. That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” John 12.

“Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” - 1 Peter 2.

So there is no difference between the Arminian doctrine and the Romish doctrine except that one is more subtle than the other. What does “without works” mean? It means without anything that we did not receive. Grace is something received. Works are the opposite: something not received. Grace is a gift of God, works are anything not from God, anything from ourselves. As the Scripture also says:

“And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” - Romans 11:6

Test yourself to see whether you have true faith that is has no confidence in the flesh. Test yourself to see whether you believe in salvation by grace alone without works, or whether you believe in salvation by works. Rome believes that something in how salvation is received is of man (of works). The Arminian also believes that something in how salvation is received is of man (of works). For the Arminian it is a decision from a “free will” of themselves. If it is not of God then it is of man, and if it is not a gift, then it is a work.

Grace is something received. Grace alone is when even the receiving is by grace alone. If we receive something by ourselves (our own “free will”) then we have not received it by grace alone but by ourselves – work. But salvation is either of works or of grace – it is either of God or of man. It cannot be both as the verse above tells us incontrovertibly.

For further study about the necessity of the "receiving" of grace being by grace alone: Acts 18:27, Romans 1:5, Phil 1:29, John 1:12-13, 1 Corinthians 15:10, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:4-11, James 1:16-17, John 3:27, John 15:1-6, etc.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Shepherd

Psalm 23:1
"The Lord's my shepherd, I shall not want."

This precious portion of Scripture speaks of a depth of matter which we could never fathom, and such as we will never, in all eternity. Here are two statements, penned by the sweet psalmist of Israel, David. Here, David wrote as he was carried by the Holy Spirit. David was inspired to write this as the Lord revealed it to him.

As a shepherd himself, when still a boy, he understood what a shepherd was. He understood their role and purpose. He understood the different motivations and the difficulties. He understood the dangers and the commitment and vigilance required. David himself often went after a lion or bear that was endangering the flock, and the Lord delivered the bear and lion into his hands. David knew that a shepherd's role was to look after his sheep. How well a shepherd performs this role is measured by two factors - the shepherd's motivation and ability.

In this verse, David has come to realise that the Lord is his shepherd. To begin with, David has first acknowledged that he is a sheep, not only so, but the Lord's sheep. A sheep who knows the Lord and is known by Him. A sheep who hears His voice and follows. He acknowledges that he is not in control but that God is - therein lies his comfort and ours in this Psalm. The shepherd guides the sheep and keeps the sheep on the right path. The shepherd guards and protects the sheep and makes sure nothing can attack the sheep.

Often the shepherd will have to use forceful measures, the staff and rod to keep the sheep on the right path and away from danger. But this is for their good. Here we see the comfort also, which David recognises - the comfort of discipline keeping him on the right path and away from danger. In this David recognises also that he is stubborn and prone to wander. He delights in this discipline because he dare not imagine where he would be without it.

Secondly, that as David is a sheep, he declares that the Lord is his shepherd. It is one thing to have good friends and family to help look after you and keep you on the right path, but it is entirely another to have the Lord watching over you. As it says, "the Lord who watches over Israel does not slumber nor sleep." Even the best of earthly shepherds must sleep, but not God - God never loses sight of His sheep, they are always before Him and He will not cease to watch them and will not sleep. This is the care of the Lord.

There is no danger ahead, which the Lord has not seen and will not protect His sheep from. Indeed, in His sovereignty, He has ordained these dangers to show His sheep how much the length to which He would go to protect them, and the almighty power of His protection. An earthly shepherd may occasionally come across dangers unforeseen and too great and lose his precious sheep. Not so, with the Lord. "He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth."

Not only does the Lord never tire of watching over His sheep, He also delights to watch over them. Some shepherds may be hired men, working only for money, and for others it may be their livelihood. One cares not for the sheep because he does not need them and is only interested in money, and the other cares for them only because he needs them. God is a shepherd unlike either of the two - He cares for His sheep not because He needs them; He cares for them despite not needing them. God cares for His sheep unconditionally. He needs nothing from them, and yet His care is greater than any other. He needs no reason from them to care for them, He is content to bestow His almighty care on them merely by His sole delight and choice.

How deep and rich is this care that the Lord has for His sheep? Immeasurable. If the Lord is unchangeable and infinite, then so too is His care for His sheep. God is not a man that He should relent. If God has decreed an unconditional promise to be David's shepherd, then He will "hasten His word to perform it." "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." God has not said to David, "I will be your shepherd unless you wander from me." He has said, "I am your shepherd, and when you wander, I will bring you back, I will fight for you, I will not let you go, I will be jealous for you, I will discipline you, I will keep you on the right path, I will speak my word to you, I will cure you of your wanderings." Otherwise, David would have found no comfort and could not have said, "I shall not want."

David has, in this opening statement of this Psalm, in short, realised that God has chosen to be his shepherd. David has realised that he belongs to the sheep-flock of God. He has realised he has found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He has realised that he belongs to the Lord eternally. In response to this revelation, "The Lord is my shepherd", David says, "I shall not want."

"I shall not want."

This should be the response of all who call upon the name of the Lord. All who the Lord has called His own and ransomed by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. If the Lord has bought us with His blood, He will not, cannot, forsake us. If his sheep wander, He will search high and low to bring them back. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. The Lord God Almighty's decree has not failed, the precious blood of Jesus has not failed, the power of the Holy Spirit has not failed. "I will hasten my word to perform it." If Jesus Christ has died and risen again for His sheep, that sovereign unconditional promise of the Lord come to pass, then believe on Christ as one of His sheep and you will say: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Antithesis and the Christian battle

On the subject of being different to the world, as Christians, our lifestyle should be totally different. The world curses and swears, practices fornication and adultery, makes lewd and vulgar jokes, pursues vanities and endless entertainment, but we bless and pray, we practice purity and chastity and fidelity in marriage and honour marriage, we abstain from foolish talk, but build each other up in the truth, we pursue the glory of God and delight and take comfort and rest in Jesus Christ not in worldly attractions.

This is the concept of the antithesis.

1 John 1:5
"God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."

1 John 2:15
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

Romans 12:2
"Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds."

John 17:17
"Sanctify them by the truth, Your word is truth."

1 Peter 1:16
"Be ye holy, as I am holy."

John 3:19-20
"This is the condemnation, that the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved."

Ephesians 5:13
"Whatsoever doth make manifest is light."

Matthew 5:14
"You are the light of the world."

Ephesians 5:11
"Do not take part in the wicked deeds done in darkness, but rather expose them."

By living as "children of light", in following Jesus, we live totally at odds to the world, and like the contrast between light and dark, or placing something beautiful next to something abominably ugly, it shows up the light and the beauty for what it really is, and shows up the dark and the ugly for what it is. God has designed the world in this way and put His Spirit within us so that He would be glorified in this way.

Another aspect of this antithesis is the battle that we face as Christians. It is one totally different to the rest of the world; it is the battle for the truth, because it is the truth that sets us free. The Truth is of course, Jesus Christ our God and King as revealed in Scripture. There are many false "Christs" being preached today that we must oppose if we are to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3). Only the Jesus of Scripture is the Almighty Saviour who died on the cross to take the punishment we deserve so that we would be reconciled to God by His death and saved by His life. This Jesus is who must be preached for the salvation of souls for the glory of God.

Acts 4:12
"For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."