Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: John MacArthur's Five Arguments Against Infant Baptism

Most baptist arguments are both commonly used, and very poor. They rely on people's ignorance of the Reformed position. John MacArthur's arguments here are representative, and taken from this article:

I've tried to be succinct in my criticism, while providing effective refutations of these very common baptist arguments. John MacArthur's points are listed briefly as headings, and my answers are below. Thanks to a Lutheran (with whom I have strong disagreement), Charles Wiese for directing me to this article. Some of his arguments are also repeated here.

A Short Note on the Anabaptists

I have pointed out where possible the connection with the philosophies and the heritage of the Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation. This was a group which became infamous for being violent revolutionaries, hyper-spirituality, and even trying to set up a millenial kingdom of God on earth. An extreme example would be the city of Muenster which was taken in an Anabaptist rebellion. Jan Mattys, a self-styled prophet, called it “New Jerusalem.” His successor, John of Leiden, became notorious for polygamy and abuse of communism, before the city was captured and the rebels tortured and executed gruesomely. They were sometimes called the Radical Reformation, but not all the Anabaptists were as radical as this. Nevertheless, they formed a third separate group in distinction from the Reformers and the Romanists at the Reformation. They rejected Rome, and yet also claimed that the Reformers didn't go far enough. Today, this threefold distinction is still clearly seen, and readers must consider with which group they must be identified, to be in communion with the true church of the past.

Their commonly held views included refusing to submit to civil government in favour of setting up an alternative theocracy via rebellion (or alternatively, strict pacifism), refusing to take oaths, communion of goods, denial of personal property, direct revelations via prophecy, a future millenial kingdom, and of course, re-baptising converts to their religion. They did this because they judged the baptism of other churches as false and worthless. For these reasons, they were greatly persecuted as a dangerous, violent, and divisive sect. Many Baptists today deny their connection with these more radical groups, but really it is the theological heritage of their position, and their philosophy is closer, especially among Pentecostals (who are almost without exception Baptists), than they would like to admit.

Introduction: Infant Baptism Was Introduced in the Fourth Century

This was the same claim made by the Anabaptists. It's wrong. Today, many baptist groups are still trying to rewrite history to support their position, even trying to paint a rosier picture of the Anabaptist movement. Actually the historical defence is so painfully absent for the Anabaptist position that many resorted to a theology of restorationism. In contrast to successionism (the idea that there were always those who denied infant baptism), this view is that the gates of hell did actually prevail against the church for many years until God restored the church through the super-spiritual Anabaptists. This is much like the Mormon view of church history invented by Joseph Smith who claimed to be an apostle. MacArthur later concedes further to say that infant baptism "started appearing in the second and third century." While this view of church history could be effectively shown as totally false, the authority is Holy Scripture, not differing views of history.

1. Infant Baptism Is Not in Scripture

The Lord's Supper being administered to women is not in Scripture either, yet we all practice this. This shows that it is indeed legitimate to study scriptural principles by which it can be deduced. The baptists cannot fault us for doing this to prove infant baptism. We do not need to give baptists one single verse that proves it. This is a wrong view of Scripture and logic. This kind of argument, which downplays the use of deduction by “good and necessary consequence,” was the same philosophy of the Anabaptists. The baptist confession that is closest to the Reformed faith, is the London Baptist Confession of 1689 (LBCF) which is mostly the same as the Westminster Confession (WCF) of the Presbyterians. In WCF 1:6, the authority of that which “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” is asserted. This statement is absent from the LBCF!

a. The Reformers Didn't Jettison Infant Baptism out of Fear of Persecution

Baptists claim the Reformers didn't go far enough because they were afraid of Rome. Unless they can answer the following question, they need to drop this argument. Why would they compromise on this issue, when justification by faith alone was already more than enough to have them burnt?

b. Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, and Luke 18:16 Only Mean That God Has a Special Care for Children.

Luke says specifically that infants were carried by their parents, and that Christ blessed them. If Christ blesses someone, and all authority on heaven and earth belongs to him, surely they cannot be cursed, and are therefore saved. He also told his disciples, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” If these infants brought to Christ are actually citizens of the kingdom of heaven, how can we refuse them baptism? One cannot be a citizen of this spiritual kingdom and not be a member of the church. Therefore citizenship in the kingdom, just as much as membership in the church, is symbolised in baptism.

What does "a special care for children" even mean? If anything, Baptist theology teaches that God has a special care for adults. Besides, if all children were equally precious to God, how does he explain the slaughter of the Canaanite men, women, and children, the slaughter of the Amalekites, or the dashing of Babylon's little ones against the rocks in Psalm 137?

c. All members of the households that were baptised all believed first.

Yet before Paul even met the Philippian jailor's household, he told him, "Believe and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Surely this meant that if he believed, his household would also be saved? We know it did not necessarily mean that there will be no reprobates in his house, as Rom. 9:6-8 explains. Scripture simply doesn't say that they all believed first in any of the examples of household baptisms. Nor does it ever say there were no infants. This is unlikely notion is forced on into the text by baptists. Admittedly it doesn't say explicitly that there were, which is why we would prefer to use stronger arguments. Even so, the only examples of specific baptisms in which households were not also baptised, are Christ, the eunuch who was a eunuch, and Paul who was single.

2. Infant Baptism Is Not New Testament Baptism.

This would mean that all Reformed and Presbyterian churches are full of people who have never been baptised. This position is not simply baptist, it is Anabaptist, because it means we all need to be re-baptised.

a. Baptise Means Immerse.

What about I Cor. 10:1-2? Who was immersed at the Red Sea, the children of Israel (which definitely included infants!), or wicked Pharoah and his armies? What would “immersed unto Moses” even mean? Many more examples could be given which demonstrate a use of “baptise” which cannot mean “immerse.” Consider also why the translators went to the trouble of inventing a new English word “baptise,” if using the word immerse would have been sufficient. We hold that to baptise something indicates a change being made to something by means of contact with something else. Most generally the idea of washing seems to be intended, as being a very basic change from dirty to clean by use of water. The word has also been used to describe dyeing clothes a different colour, a person becoming drunk with wine, or in the example above, the children of Israel all taught under the ministry of Moses.

b. Baptism Is a Picture of Union With Christ in His Death, Burial and Resurrection.

How does submerging symbolise Christ's death of being nailed to the cross? How does full immersion symbolise Christ's burial in a tomb above ground by a stone rolled in front of the cave? How does emersion (lifted out of the water) symbolise Christ's resurrection? The picture ought fit the reality. And if baptism means immersion, how can emersion be part of the symbolism and their practice? And even if it was meant to symbolise modern burial practices, why use water instead of soil, dirt, and earth? In the baptist picture, there's no logical basis for using water. Their error comes from thinking that Romans 6 is speaking about the sacrament. It's not. Even so, it doesn't speak about immersion. It's speaking about the further implications of the reality of being united to Christ which it calls baptism in Christ, and describes as being “planted.” If it was speaking about the mode of the sacrament, then planting would be appropriate picture.

Baptism is union with Christ; spiritual baptism, not water baptism. There is no water in Romans 6. Water baptism pictures spiritual baptism; the washing of regeneration which saves us (I Peter 3:20-21; Titus 3:5). By this we are united to Christ, and therefore united also in His life, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and even with His session at the right hand of God in heaven (Eph. 2:6). Since it symbolises spiritual washing from sin, water used for washing is most appropriate. And since Scripture speaks of this reality never as immersion, but as being sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and having the Holy Spirit poured on us, then sprinkling or pouring are the most appropriate methods.

c. Infants Can't Have Faith.

Instead of considering Scripture, the baptists resort to rationalism, scoffing at the very idea of infants having faith. Yet Scripture even speaks of infants not only having faith, but exercising it! Consider John the Baptist who leaps for joy in the presence of Christ (Luke 1:15, 41, 44), Jeremiah who was sanctified before birth (Jer. 1:5), David who was made to hope when a suckling (Psalm 22:9), or even Christ. These are not unique examples; God is indeed praised by babes and sucklings (Psalm 8:2), and Christ refers to this in order to rebuke the Pharisees for complaining at the praise of young children (Matt. 21:16).

3. Infant Baptism Is Not a Replacement for Circumcision.

In contrast, Colossians 2:11-12 identifies baptism with circumcision.

a. Circumcision Was Just a Sign of Ethnic Identity.

Romans 4:11 calls circumcision a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith. Isn't this also what the sign of baptism is? Yet, John MacArthur claims that circumcision has nothing to do with symbolising salvation. He is a dispensationalist who believes (like many Anabaptist did), in a future millenial kingdom, specifically for the ethnic Jews. If it does mean ethnic identity in addition, this means the circumcised are to be counted as the children of Abraham. In fact, one cannot be counted as a child of Abraham without the sign of the covenant. Remember that this is an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:7-11). We see in the New Testament that Abraham is called the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11-14). Gentile Christians are called true Jews (Rom. 2:27-28), and children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7).

This is explained to mean that through faith, not through the law, we are the recipients of all the promises and blessings of God in Christ, Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:8-29). The gospel of the justification of the heathen was preached to Abraham when he was told that all nations would be blessed through him. It is through faith in the promise that we receive the inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed, because the covenant of God is everlasting and unconditional, and therefore cannot be disannulled. This is because the covenant is with Christ, the promised seed of Abraham, who is also the only Mediator of the covenant, and we, with Abraham and all who believe, are in Him. Notice also, that this means we are the proper recipients of the inheritance promised to Abraham, described to him as the land of Canaan to given as an “everlasting possession.” Romans 4:13 explains that this meant that Abraham, with us, would be heir of the world. Since baptism signifies then that we are Christians through faith, that is, the true children of Abraham, it has exactly the same meaning and function as circumcision did. And if circumcision could legitimately be applied to children (indeed it had to be!), then baptism can be too. In fact, when one considers that it is the sign of the covenant with us and our children, it must be!

b. People Believe Infant Baptism Saves Them

Many have wrong superstitions about the Lord's Supper too. The consistent Reformed view is that just like the preaching, the sacraments are only of benefit to the elect through faith.

c. Presumptive Regeneration and the Federal Vision Are Wrong.

MacArthur is right to condemn this false doctrines. Nevertheless, God does promise to save our children, not head-for-head, but according to the election of grace (Rom. 9:6-8). Therefore, just as Scripture teaches, we believe in the promised salvation of our children (and therefore promised regeneration, not presumed), even though we also believe and bear in mind that there may be reprobate children of the flesh too. And we believe this not because we have baptised our children, but we baptise them because of this covenant promise of God. The promise of salvation is given just as much to adult believers as to their children (Acts 2:39), though we know that there may be reprobates among the children of the flesh, just as much as there may be hypocrites among the adults. The promise is to the elect, whom God draws unto Himself.

Yet, we cannot differentiate between the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:29). In time the reprobate may manifest themselves by their wickedness, and be put under discipline and eventually excommunicated, yet others remain hidden hypocrites, and still others who are elect may be excommunicated and later brought to repentance (I Cor. 5:1-8; II Cor. 2:6-8). This doesn't make us lazy in bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), but rather gives us confidence that it's not all in vain!

4. Infant Baptism Destroys the Nature of the Church.

Another old Anabaptist belief was the idea of a pure church with only regenerate membership. This also shows that they really exclude in every sense their children from the church and kingdom of Christ, since they deny that an infant can be regenerate. But Christ said, "of such is the kingdom of God," and, "Forbid them not to come unto me" (Mark 10:14). He was not simply referring to the infants who were not even able to come of themselves, but to the parents who had to carry the babes in their arms! This false belief about the church also means that Reformed and Presbyterian churches are not true churches at all.

Their inconsistency is that baptised adults can be unregenerate, hypocrites, and apostatise, just as much as those who were baptised as infants. Their idea of the reality of a regenerate church is never a reality. In a great house, there are vessels present for different purposes; some noble, others ignoble (II Tim. 2:18-20). There are always tares among the wheat. While the Reformed recognise that God has a purpose with hidden tares in the church, the baptists try to root out the tares and in doing so root out the wheat (Matt. 13:29, 38). The Reformed recognise that the goal of church discipline is not to rigorously try to root out all the reprobate, but to seek the holiness of each member. The baptist will point out that Christ said that “the field is the world,” as if this meant that the tares in the world are not also present in the church. Since the wheat is also in the world, we cannot imagine that Christ meant that there are no tares in the church. This would completely overturn his presentation of the tares being mixed among the wheat, and the difficulty in discerning the difference between the two until harvest time. The church most certainly is in the world (but not of the world; John 17:11, 14-16), and therefore the tares sown in the world will be found in the church also. This is the reality in baptist churches too. If Christ commands the very angels not to try to uproot the tares before the final judgment, in case they uproot the wheat, how much more should the baptists heed this command?

Historically the Anabaptists have been guilty of world-flight, thinking that the key to holiness lies in a physical, even geographical separation of the church from the world. Even if it were possible to flee the reprobate entirely, we still bring the wicked world with us in our old sinful nature. Instead God has a purpose with close contact of the elect and reprobate, even placing reprobate children, like Esau, in covenant homes, amidst elect children. God wills for them to be hardened in the church, and for the elect to be tested by them for their sanctification. We could deduce many more reasons also.

5. Infant Baptism Is Not Consistent With Reformed Soteriology

This claim is very short-sighted. Doesn't the sprinkling of water on a helpless baby who does nothing far better illustrate that God is the one alone who saves us by the sprinkling of the blood and Spirit of Christ, entirely of grace, according to His unconditional election, before we have done any works whatsoever? Since the Reformed believe in infant salvation, it would be totally inappropriate if we did not baptise infants. The baptist complains that not all the babies are saved. Yet Isaac was commanded to circumcise reprobate Esau even though he would not be saved, as a sign of God's everlasting covenant with us and our elect children. Not all baptised adults are saved either. Does this nullify the symbolism of baptism, and its benefit to the elect through faith? And how can the claim be made that God has a special care for children when the claim is also made that they are not regenerate, not members of the church, and cannot have faith!

While the baptism of infants illustrates the sovereignty of God in salvation, as well as the covenant of God maintained from generation to generation, the baptist practice does not correctly symbolise the work of regeneration, or God's sovereignty in it, and certainly doesn't show anything about God's covenant with us and our children. The focus in immersion is entirely on the person going under and coming up, doing all the action, while the water does nothing. It is actually re-baptism that nullifies what baptism is supposed to signify. I grant that from their faulty perspective, this is not what they think they are doing, but if infant baptism is valid (as we have seen), then they are actually re-baptising.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who does God love?

I wrote this rather long reply to an old friend who was asking me about the love of God. But I thought perhaps other people might find it helpful too.

Dear X,

I'll mention my stand first of all, and then try to explain it to you afterwards. The question is one that I was forced to consider a lot, especially by a close Christian friend who challenged my previous position about it. In the end, I could see how my position didn't really fit Scripture and contradicted itself, but it was still some time before I was not too stubborn to admit that.

I believe that God has loved everlastingly the ungodly and undeserving, the wicked, and depraved. This is the main idea in one of the key passages in Scripture that speaks about the love of God; "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 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. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Rom. 5:5-10).

But I don't believe that this means all the ungodly, because then all would certainly be saved (and we know that this is not the case). As the passage above teaches, those who have been justified by His blood, are certainly saved from wrath through Christ. The passage ties various things together inseparably.

One, God's love is tied to the atoning death of Christ, so that Christ's death is the expression and action of God's love.

Two, justification (that is, being legally accounted righteous in the sight of God) is tied to Christ's atoning death. We are justified by His blood. This is because Christ bore the punishment for our sins, and therefore our sins cannot be held against any longer, and so those for whom Christ died can only be righteous in God's sight since their sins have been paid for.

Three, justification is tied to eternal salvation. Those for whom Christ died, are justified, and therefore saved from wrath. This is because God cannot and will not have any wrath towards those who are legally righteous, whose sins have been paid for by Christ.

Four, reconciliation is also tied to Christ's death. It is by the death of Christ that we who were once enemies against God, become friends of Him. So not only are we accounted righteous before God by Christ's death, but we are also brought into a sweet fellowship of love with God who loved us.

Five, this reconciliation is also tied to eternal life. Because Christ has reconciled us by His death, how much more then are we who are reconciled saved eternally by Him who lives eternally for us.

So then all whom God loves, Christ died for, and all whom Christ died for, are justified, and reconciled, and all these are also saved eternally. Therefore, not only are all those for whom Christ died saved eternally from wrath, but all those whom God loves are saved eternally from wrath. And this stands to reason because God's love is incompatible with wrath. He cannot have any wrath towards those whom He loves, otherwise, what kind of love would that be? And where would the comfort of that love be?

But there is even another inseparable connection made in this passage, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. So, if God loves us, He sheds abroad that love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. In other words, He causes those whom He loves to know that He loves us, by His Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We know that God's Spirit does not dwell in anyone except those who come to faith in Jesus Christ who are saved eternally, and therefore we know also from this that God does not love every single person. But those whom He does love have unspeakably glorious consolation and comfort in His love from His Spirit.

As Romans 8:9 says, "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." Which means also that if we have the Spirit, we have great comfort knowing that we belong to Christ who will certainly "quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." (v. 11). There is a marvellous and sweet inner work of the Holy Spirit which changes our hearts, so that as God loves us, our stony hearts are melted and love Him too. As I John 4:19 says, "We love Him, because He first loved us." And this too means that those who do not love God, it is not because we are better than they are, for we are as wicked and undeserving as all humanity, but it is that God determined to love us, and withheld this precious love from others, according to His inscrutable purpose.

He says, "I was found of them that sought me not. I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me." (Rom. 10:20). As such I believe God's love is entirely gracious, and when I say entirely gracious, I mean that we do nothing that causes God to love us more or less, and that all our love for Him is a result of His love for us. So, that His infinite, unchangeable, unconditional, and Almighty love for us, is the only thing that makes us different in anyway to those who will receive what we all deserve in hell. The difference is not our success and their failure, then it is not grace, but merit by which we make ourselves more acceptable in the sight of God than others, as if we made ourselves different and prompted God to save us on account of this difference.

But I'm not saying that we don't have to do our part. It's just that if salvation is entirely gracious, and if God's love is truly what Scripture says it is, then our part is not left up to us, but God causes us to do our part. His love stirs us up, and changes us from the inside out, so that we begin to love Him in return.

I could refer to many more Scriptures which prove that God's love never ever fails to save, such as Romans 8 (and I could explain those passages which seem to suggest otherwise which used to trouble me when I first studied this), but if you take time to look closely at the short passage in Romans 5 that I have quoted, and simply understand what it is saying exactly, then you'll see that it can mean nothing else other than what I have explained here, and then the rest of the Bible, and all those passages from beginning to end which bear on this subject will fit together perfectly.

I chose to refer to this passage because it is one of the simplest and clearest, while at the same being one of the most beautiful and comforting, as it also shows why this issue is important - because to say God loves everyone, ends up with a love of God that in the end cannot comfort us, if we think that even though God loves us we could still go to hell. Scripture is far more assuring and comforting than that - to whosoever believes.

But if I was to pick the very shortest, and most unmistakeable passage on this subject (and there are so many), I would quote, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau have I hated."

Many have tried to explain away the plain meaning of this, and I've probably heard all the arguments by now (most of which I imagined myself in my own stubborn refusal to see what Scripture teaches about this), but I'm sure you know, love is incompatible with hatred, and hatred is incompatible with love. If there was any hatred in God's love, then there is no comfort in such love, and we may as well not call it love. Therefore, if God hated Esau, as Scripture here says, He did not also love Him in some sense, otherwise His love is meaningless and comfortless.

But I didn't refer you to this passage first, because I want you to know why this is so important. This verse proves what I've said, but it doesn't show you the unspeakable comfort of it, and the reason that I would even die for this truth about God's Almighty love, for me, you, and all who believe in Christ, according to His gracious choice. So, that I can say, the only reason I am not going to hell is because of God's love for me. This one thing is therefore enough for me to know, that God loves me, therefore I am saved eternally from hell, the devil, the wicked world, and all my sin and enmity towards God.

I know that these things are difficult to understand and to accept, but we must trust God's wisdom and goodness, and believe what He has revealed to us, no matter what. As Abraham said to God, hearing about the coming judgment on Sodom, and fearing for His nephew Lot, who had ended up there on account of his own covetousness, he pleads with God and says, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Such was the faith of Abraham, and such is our faith also. Even though Scripture contains things difficult to understand, and God's thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, we remember that God is always good and just, even if we don't understand His purposes, and why He saves some and not others. But Scripture doesn't leave us completely without explanation. But to hear this, we need to first of all be utterly convinced that God would be no less loving, or just, or good if we went to hell as we deserve. When we understand that, then we have begun to know what the grace of God really is.

Your friend,


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Children of Believers are Holy

"Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy [I Cor. 7:14], not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy." - Canons (I) A17.

Inquirer: "Is this passage saying that children of the elect are also automatically elect or just that Godly parents will raise their children in such a way as that they also believe?"

Dear Inquirer,

In answer to your question, the verse we are considering is I Cor. 7:14. You asked whether this speaks of the children of the elect being "automatically elect" or just that godly parents raise their children so that they believe. What is the correct interpretation here?

I'll quote the verse:

"For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." - 1Co 7:14.

The immediate context is where Paul is answering some of the questions posed to him by a young predominantly Gentile church in Corinth, which was notorious even among the heathen for its rampant and particularly debauched and depraved fornication (they even coined the term, "to Corinthianize," meaning to fornicate). The situation was that some believers in the Corinthian church had been converted from heathendom, while their spouses had not been converted and remained unbelieving.

They had received the essential instruction not to have fellowship with unbelievers because they would be corrupted by such ungodly fellowship (which Paul refers to in I Cor. 5:9, and reiterates throughout that same chapter concerning their failure to discipline and excommunicate a man who was fornicating with his step-mother, and which he also reiterates in I Cor. 10:20; 15:33, and in the second letter to them; II Cor. 6:14-18). They already knew of his warnings not to have fellowship with unbelievers, and so it was natural for them, in godly concern, to ask him concerning their marriages with unbelievers, since ordinarily a marriage involves the greatest measure of fellowship (obviously the implication first of all, was that they should only marry in Lord--as Paul clarifies in verse 39--but here Paul considers the case of those who have been converted while their spouse has not been).

Their concern is that in this close fellowship of marriage, that they will be corrupted by their spouse, and they wonder if it is the will of God for them to divorce their unbelieving spouse. This was especially urgent because it was not a case that the Lord Jesus specifically addressed in his earthly ministry (or at least it is not recorded for us in the Gospels). Firstly, Paul reiterates Christ's command concerning divorce ("unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord" - v. 10), even though He did not specifically refer to this situation. This is helpful, because it teaches us to simply obey Christ, no matter how much we imagine our own situation to be a "special case". They must not leave their spouse, and if they do (for whatever reason, whether sinfully, or on account of fornication which is the only lawful ground for divorce), they must nevertheless remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse (v. 10, 11). Remarriage is forbidden because marriage is an unbreakable life-long bond. Even after divorce (whether lawful or not), it is only if the spouse dies that they are free to marry again--otherwise they are committing adultery, according to what Christ has clearly taught as recorded in the Gospels.

Secondly, he treats their specific situation. He teaches them not to divorce their unbelieving spouses (v.12, 13). And he gives to them comfort to assay their fears in this situation based upon authoritative apostolic doctrine, which he proves based upon what they know about their children (v.14). This is what we need to examine in more detail.

Thirdly, he explains to them what their calling is if the unbelieving spouse is not content to dwell with them, but deserts them (v. 15). In this case, they may allow their spouse to leave. They are not required to go after them according to the requirements of their marriage, e.g., the responsibility to dwell with their spouse and give them "due benevolence" (v. 3, 5; Gen. 2:24; I Pet. 3:7; etc). According to Paul's apostolic authority, the deserted believer "is not under bondage in such cases". He does not say that the deserted believer "is not bound" any longer to their spouse, but rather that they are not "under bondage" (these are completely different words and concepts in the Greek). Bondage refers to slavery, not the unbreakable life-long union of marriage. It refers to the terrible hardship that they would have if they had to go after such an ungodly spouse. Instead, "God hath called [them] to peace". He does not even suggest in any sense that the marriage bond is broken, but merely that they may in a good peaceful conscience allow the unbeliever to depart. And he certainly does not suggest anything either about remarriage. The command of the Lord that he just mentioned is very plain here: "if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband". There cannot be remarriage while the spouse is still living--not only because marriage is a life-long bond, but also because this would destroy any possibility of reconciliation. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:14-16), and allows it only on the ground of fornication--but even in this remarriage is absolutely forbidden and clearly repeatedly declared to be adultery (Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 7:2, 3).

Finally, he gives them hope concerning their unbelieving spouse, that they don't know whether or not God may yet save them, and even use their witness in bringing their spouse to conversion (v. 16; I Pet. 3:1, 2).

But what exactly is the comfort for those who must dwell with unbelievers who are enemies of God and His Christ? Will believers not be utterly corrupted and destroyed by such a close relationship with such profane and ungodly people? Paul answers no, "for the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband". This doesn't mean that they are saved, because they are nevertheless "unbelieving," and this is also why the term "sanctified" is not qualified as "sanctified in Christ", as Paul addresses the Corinthian church at the beginning of the letter (I Cor. 1:2). In fact, this verse is the only place in the entire New Testament that this particular form of the Greek word translated here "sanctified" is used: ηγιασται. From the context, and considering that the husband or wife are nevertheless "unbelieving" we must understand it not to refer them being personally holy by union with Jesus Christ as if they have received the Holy Spirit and are also cleansed by His blood. Rather it can only refer to them being set apart in such a way that the believing spouse is not corrupted by their wickedness in the marriage, this is the sense in which they are "sanctified", on account of, and for the sake of, the believing spouse. Therefore the believer need not be concerned, because God sanctifies their unbelieving spouse, for their sakes to keep them from their uncleanness (even though He does not save them). Needless to say, every other instance of the forms of the Greek word upon which this word is based, always refers to true spiritual holiness, in devotion to God in Christ, washed in His blood and filled by His Spirit. Only because here it qualifies them as "unbelieving" (and later adds the question "what knowest thou, o wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?") can we conclude (and we must conclude), that it does not refer to this true holiness with respect to God.

But in order that this doctrine may be of great comfort to those in such situations, Paul grounds it and proves it to them based upon something even more incontrovertible and obvious: "else were your children unclean; but now are they holy."

Their children are holy. This is a word that is frequently used in the New Testament, and when used in reference to people, it always only refers to them being actually saved, washed in Christ's blood and Spirit. It is a true inner holiness, according to which the heart (and thereby the whole person) is consecrated unto God in loving fellowship with Him and in truly willing obedience. Along with this, it is also a true spiritual separation from the world and the devil, and every corruption. God makes His people holy, and therefore calls us "saints", which means "holy [ones]". In the same sense therefore that all God's graciously elect people are holy, the children referred to in this verse are "holy". It is very important that we first understand exactly and are entirely convinced about what this holiness is, before I answer your specific questions. In this verse, he is not merely saying "your children are elect," or "your children will be saved," or "your children belong to Christ." He is saying that they are being saved right now, they are "holy", they have been born again (are regenerate) since they have the Holy Spirit without which they cannot be holy, they are united with Christ the Holy One, they are now in holy fellowship with the Holy God, they are no longer unclean, but seperate from the world, they have been effectually called out of darkness into this holy light, and are necessarily members of Christ's holy church and His holy covenant, along with all His saints (i.e., His "holy ones").

But I hear your objection, and where your question is coming from. What about those children of believers who grow up and manifest themselves to be wicked unbelievers, hypocrites, and thoroughly reprobate, self-condemned, and are in the end damned to hell, to which dreadful end they were appointed? We need to be careful not to misunderstand Paul's language here. When he addresses the Corinthian church at the beginning of the letter, as "sanctified in Christ Jesus" and "saints," he was not denying there were no doubt hypocrites in their congregation. In fact he says as much in I Cor. 11:17-19, and urges them to purge out the old leaven of wicked unconverted members in chapter 5. Likewise when he refers to the children as "holy," he is not saying that every single child is necessarily holy. It is understood that there will no doubt be some exceptions, some reprobates among the children of God--just as there are tares in a wheat field. But we still call it a wheat field, and say that it is a field of wheat, and that we are growing wheat in that field, and this is the purpose of the field. If asked specifically, we certainly admit that there may be some tares in there among the wheat, but we view the field according to the wheat, not according to the tares, and we treat the field according to the wheat, not according to the possible presence of tares. And the tares and the wheat must grow up together and first bear fruit before any can be uprooted. This is the principle taught in the parable of the wheat field as Christ is explaining the kingdom of God. Since Christ is teaching the parable in order to explain the kingdom of God, He is speaking primarily about the church, and it is therefore entirely proper that the same principle applies to children in the church. This priniciple is also spoken of in II Tim. 2:19-21, explaining to a young pastor how it can be that those who seem to have been faithful members of the church can so suddenly manifest themselves to be rotten heretics and wolves seeking to destroy the church.

And this is not simply inference (though that would be enough, even if slightly less clear immediately), rather it is the clear and specific teaching of Scripture especially in Romans 9. Here the apostle Paul meets this very question head on, and explains it most fully. After explaining the glorious Gospel truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone without works, and salvation for totally depraved sinners entirely by the sovereign grace of God by which He works all things for the good of His beloved elect (Rom. 8:28ff), Paul turns to answer some objections. What about the Jews? If what you're saying is true, that salvation is by grace alone and Christ has fully accomplished our redemption by Himself in His atoning substitutionary death on the cross paying for all our sins, how is it that so many Jews who were first of all promised this salvation in father Abraham, do not believe in Christ, and remain unconverted? He answers that his heart is heavy for them, and that he could even wish if it were possible, that he could be cut off from Christ (that is damned eternally), for their sakes, that they might be received in Christ. But he knows this is impossible. And he begins his answer, not by saying that God's promise has failed, or that salvation does not rely solely upon God's promise, but upon their free will or other works, or by denying the Old Testament which records the promises made to them, or by saying that the promises made to the Jews were merely earthly and carnal rather than spiritual; but rather, he asserts the Old Testament and all the things given to them, including the promises, and proclaims that it is not that God's word to them has failed.

This leads us to be all the more flabbergasted! How so, Paul? Can't you see the direct contradiction here?! But he answers:

"Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." - Rom 9:6-8.

And he goes on to give concrete examples, of Isaac, and especially of Jacob and Esau (v. 9-13). According to God's sovereign election, He does maintain His covenant with us and our children, and truly saves our children, but he does not save every single one, because there are those who are merely children of the flesh, who are merely "of Israel", and not truly "Israel". Not every single child of believing parents is actually in the everlasting unconditional covenant of grace which was first declared in Paradise (Gen. 3:15), and revealed again to Noah (Gen. 9:8-9), and also to Abraham (Gen. 17:7), and which God has confirmed by Jesus Christ. Abraham is especially important, because he is considered the father of the Jewish people, and the New Testament explains that he is the father of the faithful, and it was especially to him, that God revealed His promise to save the Gentiles in Christ. The New Testament is very clear about this (Gal. 3:6-9). So the promises made to Abraham are exactly the promises made to every one who believes in Jesus Christ who is united to Him by true faith, that living spiritual bond worked in us by the Spirit of God. And God promises, "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." - Gen. 17:7.

So, as it was with the children of true believers in the Old Testament, so it is in the New Testament. God's covenant is with us and our seed "in their generations for an everlasting covenant." And it consists in this, "to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee". He is our God, and the God of our children in their generations. As Paul also teaches in Rom. 11:16, "For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches." This is why Abraham was required to administer the sign of circumcision, and why Moses was nearly killed by God for not giving the sign of the covenant to his child. And this is why the children of believers are baptised, not because we believe that God saves every single child, but because we believe in His covenant of grace with us and our children according to election.

And this is why it was so obvious to the Corinthians that their children were not unclean, but holy--because baptism is a sign and seal of our cleansing from sin by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. The whole idea of baptism is seen in that it involves water, and therefore it symbolises washing, not physical washing, but spiritual (I Pet. 3:21). Not that their children were made holy by the outward sign of baptism (which the reprobate and hypocrites also receive, yet only to their condemnation), but rather, they were baptised because they were already holy. They must receive the sign which corresponds to the reality which they have already received. Our children are not made holy by receiving baptism; they receive baptism because they are holy, as this verse (I Cor. 7:14) tells us most plainly and clearly. They do not become members of Christ's church and covenant by baptism, rather, they receive baptism because they are already members. That there may be reprobate among them according to the purpose of God makes no difference, in as much as it makes no difference that there may be hypocrites among adult who profess faith. Esau had to be circumcised, even though his parents were told he was reprobate, and even the apostles themselves occasionally baptised hypocrites, such as Simon Magus. Again, we treat the wheat field according to the wheat, not according to the possible presence of tares. In that the Corinthians knew that their children were baptised according to God's gracious covenant and were holy not by nature (since we are all born by nature totally depraved and dead in trespasses and sins, cf. Eph. 2:1-5; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:7-8), but by virtue of His everlasting unconditional covenant with us and our children in Christ; they knew that their children were not unclean but holy, and therefore their spouse was certainly sanctified to them in the sense that they would not be corrupted by this close fellowship with an unbeliever, in as much as their children were not polluted either.

The other alternative interpretation which you offer for this text is quite impossible. A totally depraved sinner cannot be brought to faith in Christ simply by the faithful nurture and instruction of parents. Regeneration is a sovereign work of God's grace (John 3:3-8). God uses such faithful nurture and instruction of parents for the good of His children (and casts away children in the way of the unfaithfulness of parents; Hos. 4:6), but such instruction cannot be of any value to one who is unregenerate. In fact, that God promises to use the faithful instruction of parents for the good of His children is further proof to us that in general, our children are regenerate from infancy (apart from the possible exception of those who are perhaps regenerated much later in life, but even then there is no proof that they were not regenerate at all earlier, and of course in particular the exception of those reprobate who remain unregenerate). If you think it is impossible that a child can be regenerate from infancy, then consider that how early an age David had faith (which is the infallible fruit of regeneration): "thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts." - Psa 22:9. And even more strongly, consider John the Baptist who leaped for joy in his mother's womb when she was in the presence of Christ (Luke 1:41), of whom it says "he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). Therefore we need not worry if our feeble minds can't comprehend the mysterious and effectual work of God's grace in a baby who is still in her mother's womb, since God's ways are infinitely higher than our ways, and He has given us clear examples in His word of this gracious work.

And so it is when we understand God's everlasting covenant of grace, and therefore the real holiness of our children (with the exception of some reprobate children), we understand why the Canons of Dordt say that godly parents have no reason to doubt the salvation of their children who die in infancy. Indeed we ought not to doubt their salvation, as much as we ought not to doubt the salvation of any member of the church, and perhaps even more so, since such infants have given us no reason to doubt their salvation, whereas we can more easily see the sins of our fellow church members (though even then, and even when they are under discipline, we ought to give them the judgment of charity). And further, the Bible gives no example of any child of a believer who died in infancy who was reprobate, but the pattern with reprobate children in the Bible is always that God allows them to grow up and manifest their wickedness and develop in it (e.g., Cain, or Esau). So, we perhaps have even more confidence in the salvation of the children of godly parents whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy, than the many adult members in the church who perhaps boldly and loudly profess their faith. But we ought not to doubt the salvation of any member.

In Christ,


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Who will argue with Owen about the atonement?

Few doctrines could be more important to the Christian than those concerning the cross of our Saviour. And since we know that it is only by Christ's work on the cross that we can be saved, it is especially important for us to consider the question asked by John Owen below in "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ." We must know the answer; did Christ die for:

  1. all the sins of all men,
  2. all the sins of some men, or
  3. some sins of all men.

Let's sit at Owen's feet for a while to hear him bring the Scriptures to bear on this issue:

"Nay, but in dying for us Christ did not only aim at our good, but also directly died in our stead. The punishment due to our sin and the chastisement of our peace was upon him; which that it was the pains of hell, in their nature and being, in their weight and pressure, though not in tendence and continuance (it being impossible that he should be contained by death), who can deny and not be injurious to the justice of God, which will inevitably inflict those pains to eternity upon sinners? It is true, indeed, there is a relaxation of the law in respect of the persons suffering, God admitting of commutation; as in the old law, when in their sacrifices the life of the beast was accepted (in respect to the carnla part of the ordinances) for the life of the man. This is fully revealed, and we believe it; but for any change of the punishment, in respect of the nature of it, where is the least intimation of any alteration? We conclude, then, this second act of God, in laying the punishment on him for us, with that of the prophet, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned each to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," (Isa. 53:6): and add thereunto this observation, that it seems strange to me that Christ should undergo the pains of hell in their stead who lay in the pains of hell before he underwent those pains, and shall continue in them to eternity; for their worm dieth not, neither is their fire quenched." To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists: - God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: "If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?" (Ps. 130:3; cf. Jas. 2:10). We might all go cast all that we have "to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty," (Isa. 2:20, 21). If the second, that is it that we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, "Because of their unbelief; they will not believe." But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins [Hence, they cannot be saved, SW]. Let them choose which part they will."

We can see that to understand who the intended objects were, we must understand the nature of the atonement. And the nature of this work of Christ will forever elude us if we do not always hold God's perfect justice before our eyes, by which we stand either condemned, or justified, if it is that Christ has satisfied God's justice on our behalf. If justified, then certainly glorified (Rom. 8:30-34), and since not all are glorified, not all are justified, and Christ died only for those who are saved: the elect.

Sam W.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Singing like a Pharisee

The Pharisees did not simply follow God's commandments at all. They were hypocrites; shiny on the outside, rotten on the inside. To them the law was not spiritual, and their hearts were far from the Law-Giver.

They added to this wicked hypocrisy by not only making up new commandments not found in God's Word, but also condemning others for not keeping those things in order to puff themselves up. And the worst of all, which was no doubt the root of their pride and hypocrisy, was that they taught that righteousness was obtained by means of keeping the law. But only those who have graciously been given the perfect righteousness of Christ are justified in God's sight. The just shall live by faith in Christ's righteousness, not their own.

In contrast, those who believe that they have obtained righteousness by means of their own will, naturally will produce the proud fruit of hypocrisy, rather than the humble fruit of sincerity. Because they believe that their own will makes the difference between them and another, it is natural for them to puff themselves up against others, and insist on burdensome commandments to trip others up, so that they are considered better. So, they love the praise of men rather than the praise of God, because being unjustified, they have not experienced the praise of God in their consciences as righteous in Christ alone, which testimony makes the praise of men worthless and undesirable.

If you want an example of Pharisaic worship today, look no further than the Roman liturgy, or the charismatics (which are actually worse). Some charismatics even think that a person who does not raise his hands and shake and babble and do whatever other ridiculous fad, is totally unspiritual, and probably not even a Christian, or at least a far less spiritual Christian. And woe betide the church which refuses to sing their super-spiritual hymns and choruses!

After all, they say, isn't God always doing a "new thing", and bringing "new revelations", and "new waves" and "movements of the Spirit" (a spirit of confusion and pride, you understand, not the Holy Spirit of God who brings the righteous fruit of self-control, patience, and love which covers a multitude of sins, and by which we humble ourselves and bear with the failings and weaknesses of our brethren). And "sing a new song" they insist means that we must sing their sensational, carnal, and emotive doggerel, while discarding and abolishing the inspired Psalms as deadweight. So, they puff themselves up against those who are content with singing the songs actually inspired by God, the 150 Psalms. It is after all, one of the Psalms speaking of itself (not some other song) which says, "sing a new song".

Who here is the Pharisee? He who sings the songs which God has given to His church, or he who condemns us for refusing to sing songs which have not been appointed by God for worship? And since God is the only one worthy to determine how He must be worshipped, we must not worship in any way other than what He has commanded, and so we ignore the unscriptural commandments of the Pharisaic charismatics, and maintain that their worship is vain because it is not what God has required. By means of their pride, they lay aside the good things which God has commanded. And is this not Pharisaism?

"Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." - Matt. 15:6b-9.
"For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men...Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition" - Mark 7:8,13.

Finally, consider the objection to only singing Psalms, which tries to compare our Scriptural practice to the wickedness, pride, and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, because we don't condemn the singing of all other songs outside the worship service as inherently sinful. To bring other songs before God as worship would be sinful - unless one meant in the sense that we must worship God with everything we think, say or do, and with all the gifts and talents that have been given to us. But is it not plain that there are a great many songs and many other activities that are not sinful to sing or do most of the time, but would be completely inappropriate for the worship service? I may fix teeth all week as a dentist, but I won't do it in the worship service. Similarly a poet, or a musician, or a singer may do a great many lawful things during the week, which would be inappropriate for the worship service. Is it is not placing an unnecessary and even grievous burden on such people to restrict their singing to only the Psalms all the time outside the worship service?

Now, the reason I've written a short article on the subject was to answer these objections, because they were laid against the Scriptural practice and teachings of my church, and they were made publicly, and I felt it would be worthwhile and helpful to defend our practice and teaching, because it is Scriptural, and I want others to see that, and grow in understanding, and for God to be worshipped rightly and given the praise and honour He deserves from His people, and I want to see the errors which oppose this thrown down and exposed, and His people blessed in singing the 150 Psalms in worship, and not burdened with the traditions of men, and the proud craftiness of Pharisaic philosophies.

But I can't help wondering what one hopes to achieve with these objections, if one is not really bothered after all with whether or not we sing the Psalms. Is it all just an academic exercise, or is there a genuine care about how God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth? And for those who treated the issues of God's commandments as mere academia, Christ had words too: "Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers." - Luke 11:46.

Of course, God's law is not burdensome (I John 5:3; James 1:25), but men try to present it as such when they do not desire to keep it, or wish to excuse themselves. There is no fault with God's commandments, the fault is with us whose hearts are sinful and rebel against God's authority in His Word.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Acceptable Worship in Christ Alone

The only thing acceptable in God's sight is what proceeds from Him alone. God is holy, and the highest good and only source of all goodness. The human heart is always filled with pride, and all kinds of malice, idolatry, wickedness, and envy. There is such evil in the human heart by nature that we cannot fathom it. Nothing good can possibly come from the heart of those fallen in Adam. And though the life of Jesus Christ is present in every Christian, there is only a small beginning, and the totally depraved, vile, and abominable sinful nature remains.

It is entirely evident to me now, as despite myself God has graciously taught me by His glorious law of light and liberty, more of how deceitfully wicked we really are at heart, that for a man to get the insane notion into his head that he can write a song that is worthy to be brought into the presence of Holy God in the congregation of the saints as pure, true, and spiritual worship to the Holy One, is nothing but rotten, foul, and stinking pride of the worst sort - spiritual pride.

David, and the others inspired writers of the Psalms were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to pen the 150 Psalms, and God has not added to them, nor ever will, because His Word is sufficient, and perfect. Some say that this is a lack of diversity and is unworthy of the God who created millions of species of insect, but He eternally decreed 66 books of the Bible, and every word of it, and all the history recorded therein, all the commandments, who should write them, all the prophecy, and the lives of all those mentioned in the Bible, and of those who penned the books. And He decreed 150 Psalms to be perfectly inspired by His Spirit, to proclaim the praises of the redemption of His elect church by the promised Messiah, for His glory and honour. And He is worthy, not of the lame and blemished to be brought to Him (Mal. 1:6-14), but only for that which is perfect, as He is perfect, to be offered as praise before Him.

First of all, this tells us that Christian worship can only ever be acceptable, by being sanctified in Jesus Christ. The beloved Son of God covers the filthy rags of our pathetic worship to make it acceptable in the sight of God. He atoned for all the impurity, weakness, and carnality of our worship. But does such grace give us license to be proud before the Holy One, and lift up our hearts as if we were acceptable of ourselves? That is what we say (whether we realise it or not) to God, when we offer up the ridiculous writings of mere men as worship. Even the holy Psalms become filthy rags as we try to offer them as worship, so how much more the products of proud hymn-writers, no matter how much derived (or distorted) from Scripture (which God did not appoint to be sung, but to be preached). Such hymns may indeed be edifying, and helpful in their place, but that place is not in worship. It is not a matter of greater and lesser, but of appointed for worship, and not at all.

Shall we sin that grace may increase? By no means. Rather we must, in holy reverence granted by the Spirit of God, repent of our spiritual pride, and seek to worship with what God Himself has given approval, and to do so in spirit and in truth more and more as He causes us to grow by the powerful preaching of the Gospel. Considering our depravity, it is utter foolishness to expect that our own carnal imaginations and reasoning about what God desires in worship should ever be anything other than completely wrong and even abominable in His sight. Instead, we must humbly seek His wisdom, and ask of God in His Word revealed to us, how we ought to worship, just as we must learn from Him how we must pray. Naturally, all our own ideas about spiritual things are nonsense, and worse than folly; even directly opposed to what is godly and righteous.

Furthermore, since Christian worship can only be acceptable in Jesus Christ, knowing that there is one Mediator between God and man, and that He is the only way to the Father, we should know that anything not appointed as worship in His Word is as vain and idolatrous as seeking God outside of Christ. Again, it is idolatry to worship God according to our own ideas about what is acceptable. The Lord Jesus alone appoints how we must worship, just as He alone directs and governs all things in His church. And the church that refuses to submit to His rule, is not His bride, but a whore with which the world commits fornication. To offer anything other than the Psalms of Holy Scripture as worship is nothing less than disobedience to Christ, and seeking to have fellowship with God apart from the Mediator, Jesus Christ, by whom we were given the Psalms.

The starting principle of the godly is that he humbles himself before God, and forsakes his own thoughts, and inquires carefully of God how it is that He must be worshipped. Those who come to the Scriptures with this Christian attitude of humility, and this question, cannot escape the conclusion that there is nothing else apart from the Psalms of Scripture that God ever appoints for us to sing in worship to Him. And so all other notions and objections, no matter how persuasive must be utterly rejected as deceitful and devious lies and temptations of the devil who always seeks to corrupt the worship of God, and whose greatest ally in the church is the sinful heart of man, with all its proud natural reasoning.

"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So they that are in the flesh cannot please God." - Rom. 8:7-8. 

The most blind argument that can ever be made against singing the Psalms only, is that it is proud. The idolatry of offering worship that has not been appointed by God is proud. And it is natural that a church which loses the doctrine of the depravity of man, and the holiness of God, and of Christ the Mediator, and in short where Christ is no longer heard in its preaching, and the sacraments are carelessly profaned, and there is no spiritual discipline to remove the leaven of adulterers (for example), that such a lump becomes more and more leavened, so that the worship too is utterly corrupted, in that proud man-made worship is proudly offered, and the sincerity, holiness, purity, richness, and worthiness of the Psalms are no longer heard at all. The voice of the Bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, are no longer heard in such false churches. Where you hear the voice of the Bridegroom however, there you will also hear the voice of His bride, singing joyfully to her Saviour, with the words given to her by God Himself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: "Whosoever Will"

In this book, the author expounds the glorious truth that "every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." The subject is introduced by means of the words of hymn, which like many such hymns, is technically orthodox, yet usually sung and explained to promote heretical ideas.

In explaining the biblical way to understand, "whosoever will may come," the author first asks to whom is it that the willing may come. The ultimate answer given is God. And the author develops the significance of this answer by speaking about who the true God is in relation to sinful man. The undeniable conclusion for the reader who believes the plain teaching of Scripture is that God Himself must make man willing to come to Him through Christ. The author continually brings the reader back to consider the motivations and desires of the heart behind all our willing and doing, which especially demonstrates the impotence of the sinner, and begging hawkers of a false impotent Christ.

Hoeksema continues on this theme by presenting in great detail and majesty the identity of Christ as the Rest-giver, the Fountain of Living Waters, the Bread of Life, the Liberator, the Light and the Resurrection. In all of these, and especially in the last, it is seen incontrovertibly that the sinner cannot even will to bring himself to this Christ of the Scriptures, but rather Christ is the one who powerfully works in the sinner to bring him to life and make him willing.

"The will to come to Him, therefore, must be motivated by the desire to come to God, the longing for rest, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, a yearning after true freedom, love of the light, and the earnest desire to be delivered from death and to be quickened unto a new life."

This marvel of how God makes the sinner willing and draws him to Christ is explored with simplicity, clarity and precision. Man coming to Christ is shown to be an entirely spiritual act, consisting of "contrition, recognition, aspiration, and appropriation." These four are shown to necessary rely upon the monergistic work of God in drawing the sinner; conviction, illumination, allurement, and sealing. These meaningful terms are biblical explained, always in such a way that these truths are applied to the believing reader, both to comfort, and exhort.

Three important subjects in connection with this are dealt with in the concluding chapters. The author shows that the preaching of the true Gospel by faithful ordained ministers is the means which God uses to draw His elect. Particular emphasis is placed on the need for God's people to hear the word of God in the preaching, because the word of man has no power. Next, the common objection that the doctrine of God's sovereignty in salvation leaves no room for man's responsibility is shown to be the same objection laid against Paul in Romans 9, and not only erroneous, but proud and ungodly.

Finally as Hoeksema speaks of the need to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, the importance of the ministry of the Word and of membership in the true church is underscored. This teaching about the church is sorely needed. This excellent book is easy to read, written in an engaging style, and deals very helpfully with very important doctrines.

Available from the RFPA bookstore.

Grace in Christ Alone

"We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." - 1 John 5:19. The world does not lie in 'common grace', but in 'wickedness'.

Grace for sinners can only be found in Christ. And therefore, it is only ever particular to those who are elect in Him. Grace is only ever Almighty, because it is an attribute of God, and therefore all who receive the grace of God are certainly saved, as surely as God is God.

If the reprobate receive grace, from whence does this grace proceed? God Himself can only be righteously gracious to sinners because Christ has clothed us in His own spotless righteousness and atoned for our unrighteousness by His substitutionary atonement on the cross. And if Christ died as our fully atoning substitute, how can it be that His cross could do anything less than fully save all those for whom He died, and so how could His cross be extended to any other than the elect alone? The proponents of common grace end up therefore with only two alternatives; to say that there is grace for sinners outside Christ and God is unrighteous, or to say that there is some sort of universal atonement, and in so doing, they fall into the Arminian error, and are in great danger of making the cross of Christ of none effect.

Instead of such nonsense, hear Christ's words in the 69th Psalm:
"They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap.
Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake.
Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them.
Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.
For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.
Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous."

This teaches that the good gifts which the wicked recieve are given in God's wrath and hatred, not in His love or favour. At least twelve times the NT applies the words of this Psalm to Christ (John 19:28; 15:25; 7:5; 2:17; II Cor. 6:2; John 19:29; Matt. 27:34; 27:48; Mark 15:23; 15:36; Luke 23:36; Matt. 23:38) and there are many more implicit references too. In Romans 11:9, the Holy Spirit also says that the inspired human writer was David, and quotes the Psalm to prove that God's attitude towards the reprobate wicked is not one of love or favour, but of hatred, especially in that David righteously prayed for their table (i.e. the good gifts, such as food and drink and earthly companionship at the table) to be a trap, a snare, a stumblingblock, and a recompense to them.

Now consider the example of the quails given in the wilderness, about which Psalm 106:15 says; "And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul."

He gave them the good gift of quails, but it was given in His furious anger, and brought them only destruction. So it is with all the good things the wicked receive. It is not that when we see the rich of this world that we should conclude that they have received more common grace or blessing from God (in this, the doctrine of "common grace" is as reprehensible as the "prosperity gospel"). In Psalm 73, Asaph was troubled by this when he said;
"Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children."

We must learn from Asaph also to go into the sanctuary of God, to humble ourselves and see their end;
"When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee."

Let us put brutish thinking away, as Psalm 92:6-7 also instruct; "A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this. When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:" Here we see that the purpose of God in giving prosperity to the wicked is to harden them in their wickedness, "that they shall be destroyed for ever".

Psalm 37 gives us the same warnings. It is not the blessing of God upon the house of the wicked, but rather, it is His curse (Prov. 3:33). Only the righteous in Christ know the blessing and grace of God. And this blessing and grace is not without effect, because it is God's blessing, and God's grace, and therefore we are saved to the uttermost.

I'll add yet another argument - if good gifts are supposed to be given in God's grace and blessing, and from an attitude of favour, surely the greatest good gift is for us to hear the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. Yet God knows and indeed has appointed beforehand who will believe it and who will reject it. And regardless God brings this Gospel to many who will not believe, knowing that in the way of their rejection, it will bring them greater condemnation on the day of judgment. If God sends this greatest good gift to those who will not believe it in order to bring them into greater condemnation, how can we deny this regarding all the lesser good gifts like food and drink? All these things can only bring greater condemnation because the reprobate employ them in the service of sin, and are unthankful. If He did not will to bring them into greater condemnation, surely He would not preach to them this Gospel! Yet Christ thanks His Father for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom to babes while hiding them from the wise and prudent, though the Gospel is preached openly to both:

Matthew 11:20-27
"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him."

It seemed good in God's sight, and Christ says "Even so." And we ought agree also with Christ. And if this truth still remains hidden from you also, I will assent with God, "Even so."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"The Generation of the Upright Shall Be Blessed"

"Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in His commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon the earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed." - Psalm 112:1-2.

How wrong is Baptist theology? :|

I'm not sure I could put it in a nutshell for you, but let me try an illustration... Do you know exactly what the covenant is?

Even though the covenant of God is a theme which runs through all of Scripture, Baptist theology seriously misunderstands it. If I used the phrase "the church in the Old Testament", would you know what I mean, or consider it an incorrect term?

It is true that the Bible speaks of "covenants", but it also speaks of the covenant of God, which He calls "my covenant" and "the everlasting covenant". It consists most fundamentally in this: "I will be your God, and you will be my people." The church in its strictest sense is the people of God, that is, those and only those included in this covenant of God, who truly believe in the promised Messiah who came 2000 years ago. But of course, there is also the visible church in the world, and we all know that in any wheat field there are weeds which do not belong.

But the people of God existed in the world before Christ came too. And this is why Stephen calls the children of Israel (Acts 7), "the church in the wilderness". Because there is only one everlasting covenant of God, and only one promised Messiah (Greek: Christ) by which it is established, there can only be one people of God from the beginning of history to the end of the world. This is why for example, Paul speaks about a true Jew being one who is one inwardly, not outwardly (Rom. 2:28-29), and that they which are of faith are the children of Abraham (Gal. 3), and why he speaks of the Gentiles being made fellow-citizens who were once strangers (Eph. 2:11-3:6). And since there can only be one God, one Christ, one covenant, and one people of God, then all the promises of the covenant are one in Christ, as it also says in II Cor. 1:20, and likewise in Gal. 3 where it explains that the promises given to Abraham and his seed were to Christ, and all who are united to Him by a true faith (which we know is worked in us by Holy Spirit according the grace of God alone).

But what did the promise of God to Abraham consist of? Not a merely earthly land of Canaan (that was nothing but a picture), but that he and his descendents in their generations would inherit the world (Gen. 17:7; Rom. 4:13), and this is why, for example Eph. 1 and Col. 1 and many other places also speak about the inheritance of the saints. The point is, that everywhere in Scripture that we see a promise of God, we know that it is for those who are one in Christ. And the promise quoted in the Psalm above, just like the promise given to Abraham, is that the children of believers will be blessed, although obviously not every single one of the children (since there are children of the promise and children of the flesh as Romans 9 explains, and the example of Jacob and Esau illustrates - and I recommend you read and study Romans 9 very carefully because it is THE key chapter on this subject, and for various reasons, probably the most avoided chapter in the Bible today).

Since our children have always been included in the church and the people of God throughout all history (and this was signified by the sign of the covenant, circumcision given to the male children - which Rom. 4 says was a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith, even though many who were outwardly circumcised were not truly inwardly circumcised), and since there is nothing in the New Testament which would even hint that this has been changed (except that the sign of the covenant has been changed to baptism, for various important reasons because Christ has now come, which is administered to all those who are part of the church, whether they join from outside or are born inside), but rather, many re-iterations of it, such as the particular mention of children by Peter in Acts 2:39 and almost all baptisms recorded in the New Testament were entire households being baptised (except for, obviously Paul who was single, and the Ethiopian eunuch, who was in fact, a eunuch).

I could go on, but the issue that Reformed theology has against Baptist theology is that it Baptists think that a credible profession of faith is a necessary condition for baptism. They point to examples of converts in the book of Acts - but these are converts. Of course it is true for converts to the faith from outside the church, like Gentiles from heathendom, just as much as it was a requirement for them to be circumcised in the Old Testament too. But as regards children born in the church and the people of God, they cannot prove that this is a prerequisite, and it certainly was not in the Old Testament - rather Abraham (and by extension, all believers) was commanded to give the sign of the covenant to his household, because God saves His people in the line of generations. Because He ordinarily saves families as families, not as individuals. You can perhaps see this even in your own family. It is not that children brought up in a Christian home are "more likely to believe", because after all, we are all born equally depraved and at enmity with God, such that unless God changes our hearts by His grace we only reject Him with scorn.

Baptists will often say, "Give me one example of an infant being baptised in the New Testament!" But this is a backwards approach to Scripture. It has already been proven that the children of believers are included in the covenant of God, and the people of God (the church), and therefore must receive the sign of the covenant. The burden of proof is on the Baptist to show from the New Testament where it is taught that children are no longer included in the church of God, and ought not receive the sign of the covenant.

Of course, there is at least one undeniable example of infants being baptised recorded in the New Testament, I Cor. 10:1-2. All the children of Israel were "baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea". And who would dare claim that there were no infants present among the children of Israel when they passed through the Red Sea? And the point of the verse is this: many of those who were baptised were not saved, but became idolaters and were destroyed - therefore take heed lest you fall and flee idolatry (for there are always wicked weeds in the wheat field of God, as I said earlier). Trust in Christ alone, not in baptism or any other thing, and in Christ alone you have full confidence that you are righteous in the sight of God, and will be preserved to the end, and conformed to the image of Christ to the glory of God.

Sam W.

P.S. I should say that since the essence of the covenant is "I will be your God, and you will be my people", it is most fundamentally a loving relationship of fellowship and a bond of friendship with God. Marriage is also described as a covenant, and although we talk about "marriage vows", the vows themselves are not the marriage, the marriage is a bond of fellowship and love, and the joyous relationship within that bond. It is the same idea with the covenant of God, and that is why marriage is called the mystery of Christ and the church (Eph. 5).

And I should also refer you to a comprehensive supply of resources on the subject, because although it is not complicated, when coming from a Baptist background, with Baptist thinking, it can seem difficult to figure out.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Still the best after 400 years

As it happens to be the 400th anniversary of the KJV, I suppose it would be appropriate to explain some of my thoughts on what is perhaps going to be a controversial anniversary. I use the KJV, because it's the version I read and study, and that my church uses, and that English-speaking churches whose heritage is found in the Reformation have used for the last 400 years. There are certainly deeper underlying reasons, which are far more significant.

First of all, I'm not a "KJV-Only-ist" in the sense that I don't believe it is as good as it could be, or entirely perfect, or on par with the text in the original languages (I say this for theological reasons, and because I know a little, but enough generally about the grammatical differences between languages, not because I know anything specifically about Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic). Also because I'm not against other versions in principle if they are faithful translations of the true Scriptures, but the problem with almost all the recent versions which have been released in the number of years is:

1) The biblical and Reformed doctrine of the Preservation of Scripture. They are based upon a couple of manuscripts which differ vastly from the overwhelming majority of other manuscripts, (which the Reformers deliberately rejected as corrupt). One bunch was preserved in a library in the Vatican, and the other lost in a waste-basket in a city that was notorious for the propagation of heresy. If God's word is preserved for the sake of His people, then how could these manuscripts which dwelt in obscurity away from God's people for so long, really be God's word? Especially when they contradict the other manuscripts in so many places?

So, the text which has been preserved and received by God's people throughout the ages is what we should receive, just as Christ received the Scriptures of His day, trusting that God had preserved them. It is not insignificant that the modern-day Arian heretics, who inappropriately call themselves "Jehovah's Witnesses," are strong proponents of these deviant manuscripts.

2) The biblical and Reformed doctrine of the plenary (full) and verbal (each word) Inspiration of Scripture. The more recent translations are mostly based upon a "dynamic equivalence" philosophy of translation. This means that the translators interpret what they think the original meaning of the phrases and sentences were, and then they paraphrase this perceived meaning in a different language. So, then we are not reading God's words, but the words of the interpretation of the translators.

Now the translators of the KJV, were a very godly bunch of men, at the height of the strength of the Reformation, of the calibre (both intellectually, and in understanding of the original languages, and spiritually) that can hardly be found anywhere in these present dark days. But what of, for example, the translators of the NIV? At least one was a lesbian (Dr. Virginia Mollenkott). But also, the translation philosophy used by the KJV translators was "formal equivalence", which means that with as little interpretation as possible, and as little paraphrasing as possible (only enough to retain the original sense taking into account the differences in grammatical structure and word order in different languages), they translated the words of the Bible, and when they had to insert extra words to give the original sense, they put these extra words in italics to show that they were not present in the original (the more recent translations add words willy-nilly with no indications whatsoever). The result was "Biblical English".

It was a peculiar style even then, as much as it is now, being so similar in structure and style to the original Greek and Hebrew phraseology - yet it remains easily understood (if you doubt this, read it, and consider how many foreign mission fields have successfully used the KJV when English was not even the first language). Not only that but they compensated for certain deficiencies and ambiguities in the English language which were not problems in the original languages - such as the use of "thou" and "thee" for "you, singular" and "you" and "ye" for "you, plural". There has not yet been a translation anywhere near as good as the KJV for these reasons, in terms of its precision and accuracy. And it's all because the translators feared God, and took seriously His warnings not to add or take away from His word, and that every word of the Bible is God's word and may not be trifled with.

You may examine these two simple claims yourselves, and make your own judgments.

Sam W.

P.S. More reading materials on this subject can be found here:

The most significant issue (regarding which texts are valid), is not controversial for the Old Testament (the Masoretic text), but concerns the Greek New Testament. This article from the Trinitarian Bible Society deals with this subject comprehensively, and definitively:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: Contending for the Faith

No other book that I have read has been more helpful in my understanding the present condition of the church world today.

Each chapter of the book treats a separate heretic/heresy in church history, from the very early church all the way up to recent times. It is written in a very easy to read style, despite the complexity of some of the heresies discussed (since every heresy tends to be quite complicated in comparison to the simple truth). Reading it was like sitting with a father, being patiently told the long story of the family's history. Colourful stories and characters are painted in each chapter, which helps not with the flow and enjoyment of the reading, but also in understanding how the heretics, and their heresies developed.

Only the chapter on the Marrow men controversy became a little difficult to follow, but with good reason considering the difficulty of the issues involved. When men attempt the impossible in trying to find common ground between the truth and the lie, it always ends up with confusion. Simple overall principles like this, teaching about the character of heresies, and those who propagate them, were smoothly drawn out of the many examples.

Each chapter, a little story in itself, like every good story, contains important lessons to be learnt. Occasionally the lesson was longer than the story - but always very rewarding. The lessons contain enlightening analyses of the heresies, and bring the light of God's word to bear on each issue. Especially helpful was the distinctively Reformed protrayal of the issues involved. The truth was set very clearly in opposition to what was false or distorted, and the real character and root of the error became clear. Because of this, the book shows the reader where the same errors are found today, and how best to correct them and guard against their reccurance.

The wealth of the specific biblical subjects dealt with throughout this book is truly astounding. People in the confused church world today need to absorb the lessons in a book like this, to know the history of the church, and how God has led her and preserved her, and caused her to confess Him more and more clearly and fully throughout the ages. It is a terrible shame when we don't learn the lessons of history, and of incalculable help to us when we do.

I wish all the professing Christians that I know near where I live would read this book and see things as clearly as they are presented in it. It's available from our own Limerick Reformed Bookstore for the Republic of Ireland, and from the CPRC Bookstore for the UK and the rest of Europe, and from the RFPA  for America and the rest of the world.

Sam W.