Properly dividing Law and Gospel: Part II.1

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In the last post under this theme of Law versus Gospel I showed the importance of the convicting power of the Law. In order for us to trust ourselves to the Gospel in justification we first have to see the disgusting nature of sin in our own lives. The Law acts as the convicting force that brings us to distrust in ourselves and to point us to Christ. While the Law works itself upon our conscience and show us our own iniquity, it will likewise show us the iniquity that exists in the world around us. This too will also bear upon our conscience. This is what will be addressed in these next two blog posts. In his commentary on Habakkuk John Calvin points out the convicting power of the law on the prophet. It also is a great instruction on how we ought to pray towards God. Have you allowed the Law of God to so instruct your heart that you may see your own sin and the corruption of society in order that you may pray to God that he act to glorify His name?

Habakkuk 1:2-3

2 How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and you will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet you do not save.

3 Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises.

 

But he says first, How long, Jehovah, shall I cry, and thou hearest not? How long shall I cry to thee for violence, that is, on account of violence, and thou savest not? We hence, learn, that the Prophet had often prayed God to correct the people for their wickedness, or to contrive some means to prevent so much licentiousness in sinning. It is indeed probable that the Prophet had prayed as long as there was any hope; but when he saw that things were past recovery, he then prayed more earnestly that God would undertake the office of a judge, and chastise the people. For though the Prophet really condoled with those who perished, and was touched, as I have said, with a serious concern or their public safety, he yet preferred the glory of God: when, therefore, he saw that boldness in sin increased through impunity, and that the Jews in a manner mocked God when they found that they could sin without being punished, he could not endure such inbridled wantonness. Besides, the Prophet may have spoken thus, not only as expressing his own feeling, but what he felt in common with all the godly; as though he had undertaken here a public duty, and uttered a complaint common to all the faithful: for it is probable that all the godly, in so disordered a state of things, mourned alike. How long, then, shall I cry?How long, he says, shall I cry on account of violence: that is, When all things are in disorder, when there is now no regard for equity and justice, but men abandon themselves, as it were with loose reins, unto all kinds of wickedness, how long, Lord, wilt thou take no notice? But in these words the Prophet not only expresses his own feelings, but makes this kind of preface, that the Jews might better understand that the time of vengeance was come’ for they were become not only altogether intolerable to God, but also to his servants. God indeed had suspended his judgment, though he had been often solicited to execute it by his Prophet. It hence appears that their wickedness had made such advances that it would be no wonder if they were now severely chastised by the Lord; for they had by their sins not only provoked him against them, but also all the godly and the faithful.

He afterwards adds, How long wilt thou show me iniquity, and make me to see trouble? Here the Prophet briefly relates the cause of his indignation, -that he could not, with out great grief, yea, without anguish of mind, behold such evils prevailing among God’s chosen people; for they who apply this to the Chaldeans, do so strainedly, and without any necessity, and they have not observed the reason which I have stated-that the Prophet does not here teach the Jews, but prepares them for a coming judgment, as they could not but see that they were justly condemned, since they were proved guilty by the cry and complaints made by all the godly.

Now this passage teaches us, that all who really serve and love God, ought, according to the Prophet’s example, to burn with holy indignation whenever they see wickedness reigning without restraint among men, and especially in the Church of God. There is indeed nothing which ought to cause us more grief than to see men raging with profane contempt for God, and no regard had for his law and for divine truth, and all order trodden under foot. When therefore such a confusion appears to us, we must feel roused, if we have in us any spark of religion. If it be objected, that the Prophet exceeded moderation, the obvious answer is this,- that though he freely pours forth his feelings, there was nothing wrong in this before God, at least nothing wrong is imputed to him: for wherefore do we pray, but that each of us may unburden his cares, his griefs, and anxieties, by pouring them into the bosom of God? Since, then, God allows us to deal so familiarly with him, nothing wrong ought to be ascribed to our prayers when we thus freely pour forth our feelings, provided the bridle of obedience keeps us always within due limits, as was the case with the Prophet; for it is certain that he was retained under the influence of real kindness. Jeremiah did indeed pray with unrestrained fervour (Jer. xv. 10): but his case was different from that of our Prophet; for he proceeds not here to an excess, as Jeremiah did when he cursed the day of his birth, and when he expostulated with God for being made a man of contention. But our Prophet undertakes here the defence of justice; for he could not endure the law of God to be made a sport, and men to allow themselves every liberty in sinning.

We now, then, see that the Prophet can be justly excused, though he expostulates here with God, for God does not condemn this freedom in our prayers; but, on the contrary, the end of praying is, that every one of us pour forth, as it is said in the Psalms, his heart before God. As, then, we communicate our cares and sorrows to God, it is no wonder that the Prophet, according to the manner of men, says, Why dost thou show me iniquity, and make me to see trouble? Trouble is to be taken here in an active sense, and the verb תַּבִּ֔יט  tabith, has a transitive meaning. Some render it, Why dost thou look on trouble? as though the Prophet indignantly bore the connivance of God. But the context necessarily requires that this verb should be taken in a transitve sense. “Why dost thou show me iniquity?” and then, “and makest me to look on violence?” He says afterwards, in the third place, in my sight is violence. But I have said, that the word trouble is to be taken actively; for the prophet means not that he was worn out with weariness, but that wicked men were troublesome to the good and the innocent, as it is usually the case when a freedom in sinning prevails.

And why, he says, are violence and plunder in my sight? and there is he who excites, &c.? The verb יִשָּֽׂא, nusha, means not here to undertake, as some render it; but, on the contrary, to raise. Therefore the translation which I have stated is the most suitable-And why is there one who excites strife and contention?

But the Prophet here accuses them only of sins against the second table of the law: he speaks not of the superstitions of people, and of the corrupted worship of God; but he briefly says, that they had no regard for what was just and right: for the stronger any one was, the more he distressed the helpless and the innocent. It was then for this reason that he mentioned iniquity, trouble, plunder, violence, contention, strife. In short, the Prophet here deplores, that there was now no equity and no brotherly kindness among the people, but that robberies, rapines, and tyrannical violence prevailed everywhere.

Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries: VolumeXV. Grand Rapids: Baker. Print. 2009.

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Word over Culture

It has been a while since I last posted and wanted to get back to doing it. So without too much discussion here is an excerpt from the book The Christian Faith by Michael Horton on the importance of God’s word being our authority.

There is no such thing as culture, reason, tradition, or experience in the abstract. There are only cultures, reasoners, traditions, and people who experience reality. We cannot help but come to Scripture with these resources, but they are not neutral. We come either as covenant servants or as would-be masters. To the extent that we are able, we must make our tacit assumptions explicit. This is in part what it is intended in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This can only be done if we acknowledge a normative authority standing above our tacit assumptions and recognized convictions drawn from our cultural conditioning.

No more than reason, experience, or tradition is culture itself to be viewed as inherently opposed to faith. Rather, it is our sinful condition that causes us to use these gifts as weapons against the sovereign God who gave them. God speaks providentially in his common grace through reason, experience, tradition, and culture, but he has only spoken miraculously and redemptively in his Word (Heb 1:1). To say that culture, reason, tradition, and experience are subordinate to Scripture is simply to assert that human beings are subordinate to God. A dialogue with culture may yield important formal agreements on universal human rights, stewardship of creation, and other dictates of the moral law inscribed on the human conscience. However, no more than reason, experience, or tradition does culture possess any inherent possibilities of discovering God’s saving grace. On this point, Barth was correct to warn against turning culture into a source of gracious revelation alongside the Word of God.

Descartes and Locke thought we should dispenses with all external authorities, presuppositions, and inherited assumptions in order to arrive at incorrigible truths. However, this is a pretense-as impossible as it is unhelpful. Therefore, the popular assumption that people become Christians (or anything else) simply as an individual act of immediate intuition, unbiased investigation of the facts, or inner experience is more evidently modern than biblical. In the covenant of grace, God promises, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your offspring after you” (Ge 17:7).

God’s mighty acts, celebrated in the great feasts and defined in the doctrines and commands of Torah, are to be “on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Dt 6:6-7). From circumcision to burial, each Israelite was shaped by the covenant. It was their environment, not simply a set of doctrines and ethical norms to which they yielded formal assent. It was not something that they knew about as detached observers, but a form of life that they indwelled, from which they interpreted all of reality. Israel’s creed-the Shema (Dt 6:4-5)- was the summary of a whole network of narratives, practices, and texts they had absorbed into their bloodstream.

In its New Testament administration, this covenant of grace followed the same course. The narrative generates the doctrines and practices, evoking thanksgiving that then fuels discipleship. All of this is done in community. Even outsiders become insiders by hearing the same gospel, being baptized along with their household (Ac 16:15, 31-34), sharing in the Supper, being catechized in the same doctrine, and being shaped by a common fellowship of saints in local and broader assemblies. The covenant is the “form of life” or cultural-linguistic context that shapes Christian faith, practice, experience, witness, and service in the world. Yet even this ecclesial culture is corrupted by our sinful prejudices, errors, and practices. The covenant community itself remains simultaneously justified and sinful and must therefore always be transformed through the renewal of its mind of Scripture (Ro 12:2). This Word always stands above the world and church because it is the voice of the Father; it alone is able to save us from lords that cannot liberate because its content is Christ; it always establishes its own relevance and creates its own form of life because its perlocutionary effect is produced within us by the Spirit.

When tradition and culture are given authoritative roles alongside Scripture, the church and the world are not able to be judged or redeemed by the voice of a stranger. In fact, the church easily becomes indistinguishable from the world instead of a witness to Christ in the power of the Spirit. The church cannot serve two masters. While God’s general revelation may be evident in culture, it is only his special revelation that creates the church and keeps it from its constant tendency to be reabsorbed into this passing evil age. Because of God’s common grace, no culture is entirely devoid of any sense of truth, justice, and beauty. Because of our common curse, no time, place, cultural movement, or civilization is capable of restoring paradise. There is indeed general revelation, which allows us to work with our unbelieving neighbors toward greater justice, charity, stewardship, and beauty in the world, but we must never forget that, apart from the gospel, this general revelation is always distorted by our ungodly hearts. Therefore, every natural theology will always evolve into a form of idolatry. The church is thus not a facilitator of a conversation between the gospel and culture, as if they were two sources of a single revelation. Rather, it is that part of the world that lives-if it will live at all-by hearing God’s announcement and binding address.

 

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2011. Print. Pages 202-204.

William Wordsworth- London, 1802

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Today we live in a time of much turmoil. It is a time of ideological warfare often with its end in physical warfare. With ideological warfare comes moral revolution often with its end in physical revolution.

This is apparent in the middle east where battles are raging continuously. For instance, the idea of the long lost caliphate returning to Islam to declare an official Jihad is one of enormous implications. This, if you are not aware, is one of the greatest revolutions to hit the world. Not since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World Warr I has there been an established Caliph with the ability to declare a holy war on the unbelieving. This has great significance since it is an important step in the Eschatology (study of last things) for the Muslim people. This ideological revolution has led to one of the greatest military and political revolutions the Middle East has seen since what was called the “Arab Spring.” This has led directly to physical war with the surrounding states of Syria and Iraq. Most importantly, it shows the reality of the situation to the American people. We cannot pull out of the Middle East since much of this revolution falls at our feet because the radical elements were not fully stamped out. This means military presence and inevitably interaction in the Middle East again.

You have the very religiously fueled rise in world wide prominence and strength of Russia with Vladimir Putin at the helm. Not only is this a political issue! Putin has been not only a political leader but a religious one as well. This is seen in the resurgence of the Orthodox Church’s presence and impact on the nation. They have been one of the few vocal nations to resist another cultural revolution having a big impact in America. Alongside this ideological revolution, but not necessarily as a result of it, comes the military pressure on neighboring states to “come back to Russia.” In fact, Putin is using the same excuse that Hitler used when he sought to obtain both Austria and Poland. Flying groups of planes in military maneuvers over neighboring states is highly destabilizing to the world. We stand, as many have said, on the brink of what may be a Third World War.

This brings us to the moral (and ideological) revolution seen most recently in the acceptance of Same Sex marriage as a constitutional right. This pronunciation comes as the result of accepting homosexuality as a civil right. Because it is a persons inherent right to be homosexual, they have all the “rights” according to their sexual proclivity that a race or sex is given. This ideological revolution has lead invariably to persecution of Christians in a country were their first right granted to a people is religious freedom. No longer can Christians operate based on their own morality in the public sphere. This is leading toward physical persecution. Not only has this caused strife here in America, but it has had political results as well. Foreign policy is often being under the direct influence of the homosexual revolution. Whether or not a country is “pro-Gay” or “anti-gay” will determine whether we assist them.

Lastly, the technological revolution has been affecting every aspect of life and every revolution. ISIS has an entire section dedicated towards social media and military propaganda. Putin has been very affective in fueling a “macho-man” image amongst his people and a need to go back to the glory days of Russia on the world stage. The homosexual revolution has been directly impacted by the support of media and Hollywood in promoting their agenda.

We live in a world of much turmoil and revolution, which harks back to an earlier day where much the same thing was happening. This takes us to the year 1802. Europe, and Britain was still reeling from the Seven Years War, which had devastated Europe and made them very war weary. More recently The United States had been in existence as a country for almost three decades having gone to war with Britain. Imagine the political atmosphere in a country that had recently seen that happen! Not only had they watched their own colonies secede, but they were watching the terror in France after the rise of the Jacobins during the French Revolution in what is now known as the “Reign of Terror.” And most recently, Napoleon Bonaparde led a successful Coup taking full control of the government. He returned power and prestige back to the Catholic church which had undergone great persecution at the hands of the Jacobins. But here was a great military leader heading up a “peoples army” which had never been seen before and would greatly affect his dominance in Europe.

This revolution had an even greater impact on Europe than did the American Revolution. So much so that the Tsar of Russia, Alexander I began extending more rights to their citizens as a reaction to it. Earlier in the 18th century Peter the Third had virtually demolished serfdom, which was slavery under the Feudal system.

It is easy to say that on the dawn of this new century it was the era of revolution. This revolution was greatly influenced by the technology of the day much as it is in today’s world. The printing press had only grown in popularity since the 1600’s so that by the 19th century it was an integral part of how society operated. Just breaking onto the scene was the locomotive promising a greater form of transportation of goods and ideas. In fact, railways had begun to appear in Great Britian.

It is in this context that a young poet who has witnessed the revolution, both ideologically and politically, in France returns to his home in England; William Wordsworth. Great momentous things were happening in France and on returning Wordsworth wrote “London, 1802.” England, however, was mired in controversy and war having lost much prominence on the world stage as a result of the American Revolution. Many point to this poem as an example of his conservatism and nationalism coming through. While it can be argued that there is a revolutionary edge to what he is saying, his complaints are moral rather than political.

England was behind the times culturally and morally. In this poem William Wordsworth, with great affection for his country and people, cries out for a return to what once was. “Altar, Sword, and Pen” have been affected by decline. In other words where has our religion, military might, and culture gone? Where has chivalry gone to? Where is our virtue? All these things the poet laments as having been lost in England and he turns to the one whom he thinks most exemplifies them, the great English poet John Milton. As with many of the Romantic Poets Wordsworth values his poetic appeal but more so praises his religious zeal and his ability to affect his countrymen. In a day where William Wordsworth witnesses great moral decline he calls out to a poet, instead of a revolutionary or military commander. This is an interesting notion, but one which is easier to understand now. While commanders affect the worlds battlefields, and while politicians affect the worlds politics, it is a poet who is most able to affect both mind and heart through great words of passion and zeal. It is the poet that speaks through ideas, which in the case of the French Revolution, was seen to have great impact worldwide.

I have spent many words setting the context for this poem because I think that we may benefit greatly by understanding it was written in a time much like our own. A time of great political and moral upheaval, and maybe we will in turn call for a great poet to arise to influence the shifting sands of religion, war, and culture.

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:

England hath need of thee: she is a fen

Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,

Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,

Have forfeited their ancient English dower

Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;

Oh! raise us up, return to us again;

And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:

Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:

Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,

So didst thou travel on life’s common way,

In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart

The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

The Importance of Theology

It has been a while since my last post because i have been taking a break from school and the craziness of life with three kids! However, I have been reading more again and with it comes more great passages from great authors. I want to get back to the series I was doing on the difference between Law and Gospel, but first here is an excellent excerpt from an author who has influenced me greatly. This section is addressing the importance of doctrine in the life of a believer especially as it is related to teaching in the community of the church. The author is Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California and host of the radio show The White Horse Inn. This is taken from his Systematic Theology textbook.

E. Putting It All Together: God’s New Role For Us In His Play

This movement back and forth between the narrative drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship is evident throughout the New Testament epistles. It is also apparent in the Psalms—the hymnal of the Bible, where often we discover the dramatic account of God’s mighty acts despite human sin, provoking the psalmist to grateful praise and then to the response of faith and obedience. This does not mean we always move in a straight line from drama to discipleship. Sometimes something that happens in our experience opens us up to a truth we had never really understood, and sometimes our practice shapes and misshapes our doctrinal convictions. Often, a half-learned doctrine or half-remembered episode in the redemptive drama becomes more fully realized in prayer and praise, especially in moments of crisis or delightful wonder. The traffic moves in all directions, back and forth, in between these coordinates, so that our faith is anchored in the work of the triune God is reaching out to our neighbors in love.

Typically, periods of reformation in both individuals and the church corporately arise from rediscovering this sweeping pattern from biblical drama to doctrine to doxology to discipleship. Periods of decline usually work their way in reverse. First, we begin to question the reliability of the narrative. How can we find our own stories in the unfolding drama of God’s miraculous intervention in history for sinners when our world seems to be governed by nothing more than natural or humanly devised processes and causes? The doctrines may be true, but their historical narrative becomes questionable. Second, the doctrines come under criticism as people recognize that the doctrines depend on the narrative. No one believes that Jesus rose from the dead because of any universal law of nature, reason, or morality. It is not a deliverance of universal religious experience. Therefore, if Christ was not actually raised bodily on the third day, then there is no basis for speculating about a “doctrine of resurrection.” Third, worship loses its rationale. We may still express our inner experience or piety (at least for a while), but eventually this leads to burnout because it is self-referential. Our hearts are stirred byu truth, not by vacuous exercises. Finally, we become disciples more of the culture than of Christ. Instead of being transformed by the renewing of our minds, we become conformed to the pattern of our non-Christian neighbors (Ro 12:1-2). In a last gasp for religious authenticity, the church tries to defend Judeo-Christian morality (discipleship), but it is a desperate attempt. The battle has already been lost at the earlier stages. Without the creeds, the deeds surrender to vague moralism.

The alternative to this growth in the knowledge and grace of Christ is not pious experience or good works but gradual assimilation to the powers of this passing evil age. The biblical drama plots our character “in Adam” by our natural birth in this present evil age. Nevertheless, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1Pe 1:3-5). Once strangers to God’s promises, we are no rewritten into God’ script. We should never lose our astonishment at the good news that in Christ even Gentiles can hear the divine playwright declare,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1Pe 2:9-10)

The key markers in this plot are not premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity but before and after Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Because Christ has been raised as the firstfruits of the new creation, we are living in “these last days” (2Ti 3:1; Heb 1:2; Jas 5:3; cf. 1Pe 1:5) before “the last day” when Jesus returns in glory and judgment (Jn 6:40; 12:48). The Spirit creates the church at the intersection of “this age” and “the age to come” (Mt 12:32; 24:3; 1 Co 2:6; Gal 1:4). It is therefore this unfolding drama that orients us as new characters who know where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

Nobody has to be taught the world’s story; we are born with it, as fallen children of Adam. However, we have to be taught out of it by persistent pastors and teachers who know that we prefer by nature to think differently of God and ourselves than the Scriptures require. “But understand this,” Paul warned Timothy, “that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2Ti 3:1-5). It is the constant renewing of the mind by God’s Word that reorients us away from this fading age with its aimless plot, its “empty words” (Eph 5:6) and “philosophy and empty deceit” (Col 2:8), toward the everlasting inheritance in Christ.

This happens first of all in the regular gathering of God’s people—the casting call that transfers us from death to life through preaching and sacrament. We cannot take this new identity for granted, however. We must be renewed in this inheritance constantly, since our default setting is always the script that governs the idolatries of this present age. Furthermore, just as we were created by God as inherently covenantal creatures—in relationship with God and each other, and redemption restores this extroverted identity—theology is done best in community and conversation rather than in lonely isolation. Theology is always done for and by the church. Therefore, I have included discussion questions at the end of each chapter in the hope that they will encourage fruitful and lively interaction on the matters that concern us all.

(Pages 25-27)

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2011. Print

Properly Dividing Law and Gospel: Part I

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Historically, the biggest problem with the church has been over the issue of Law and Gospel. I will go into the history of this in more depth in later posts, but for now I will mention the earliest instance of this controversy. It was the first council the church ever had. No I am not speaking of Nicea, but of Jerusalem. Acts 15 records the first meeting of the church leaders to discuss the first controversy: that of the Judiazers. They were arguing that Gentiles were bound to the Law just as they were. They were tying the salvation of the gentiles to their obedience to the Law. This is later condemned in the strongest terms by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. What exactly were they doing? Confusing the Law and the Gospel. Confusing that which saves us with that which condemns us. It is still a problem the church faces with increasing frequency, which is why I have taken it upon myself to address it on this blog through various authors.

In this introductory post I will start with a writing from James White; scholar, author, apologist, and Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries. In his book on Justification, he begins by addressing the necessity of considering the issue of sin and how it affects the doctrine of Justification. In this section of the book he also addresses the purpose of the Law by citing a wonderful piece of writing by James Buchanan. In a day and age where we want to speak more of the Grace and love of God than His wrath, Dr. White (with the help of Buchanan) expertly reminds us why discussion of sin (and therefore, the Law) is so necessary.

 

One of the greatest works on the doctrine of justification came from the pen of the British divine James Buchanan. It first appeared in 1867 and has withstood the test of time since then as a classic volume on the subject. As with every other man of God who has addressed this central topic, Buchanan intimately knew the necessity of spiritual preparation for the proper understanding of justification. His words deserve to be heard once again:

“The best preparation for the study of this doctrine is—neither great intellectual ability, nor much scholastic learning,–but a conscience impressed with a sense of our actual condition as sinners in the sight of God. A deep conviction of sin is the one thing needful in such an inquiry,–a conviction of the fact of sin, as an awful reality in our own personal experience,–of the powder of sin, as an inveterate evil cleaving to us continually, and having its roots deep in the innermost recesses of our hearts,–and of the guilt of sin, past as well as present, as an offense against God, which, once committed, can never cease to be true of us individually, and which, however He may be pleased to deal with it, has deserved His wrath and righteous condemnation. Without some such conviction of sin, we may speculate on this, as on any other, part of divine truth, and bring all the resources of our intellect and learning to bear upon it, but can have no suitable sense of our actual danger, and no serious desire for deliverance from it. To study the subject with advantage, we must have a heartfelt interest in it, as one that bears directly on the salvation of our own souls; and this interest can only be felt in proportion as we realize our guilt, and misery, and danger, as transgressors of God’s Law. The Law is still, as it was to the Jewish Church, “a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith”; and the Law must be applied to the conscience, so as to quicken and arouse it, before we can feel our need of salvation, or make any serious effort to attain it. It is the convinced, and not the careless, sinner, who alone will lay to heart, with some sense of its real meaning and momentous importance, the solemn question—“How shall a man be just with God?”

But more than this. As, without some heartfelt conviction of sin, we could have no feeling of personal interest in the doctrine of Justification, such as is necessary to command our serious attention in the study of it, so we should be scarcely capable of understanding, in their full scriptural meaning, the terms in which it is proposed to us, or the testimonies by which alone it can be established. The doctrine of Salvation, which is taught by the Gospel, presupposes the doctrine of Sin, which is taught by the Law; and the two together constitute the sum and substance of God’s revealed truth. They are distinct, and even different, from each other; but they are so related that, while there may be some knowledge of sin without any knowledge of salvation, there can be no knowledge of salvation without some knowledge of sin. As this is true of the general doctrine of Salvation, which includes deliverance from the power, as well as from the punishment, of sin, so it is equally true of each of its constituent parts,–the only difference, that, in the once case, we must have some knowledge of sin, in its legal aspect, as guilt already incurred, in the other, of sin, in its spiritual aspect, as an inveterate inherent depravity.”

The fact that the above quote from Buchanan is lengthy must not interfere with the tremendous importance of the truth he pronounces, for it is central to the entire thesis of this work. Justification will only hold the place it deserves in the heart of believers when it is placed at the head of the list of divine truths both because we are convinced by the weight of Scripture that it rightly holds this position and when this conviction is joined by the personal, intimate, spiritual knowledge of the sinfulness of sin and the tremendous blessing of free and gracious justification. Without the scriptural testimony we are left with nothing but subjective desires that lack any meaningful answer; without the conviction of sin we are left with cold, doctrinal orthodoxy that leaves the heart untouched and apathetic.

 

Hopefully, this has been both uplifting, and poignant in showing the importance of properly distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Both have distinct and unique purposes and contributions in our salvation. Understanding the difference may also mean the difference between salvation and damnation.

White, James R. A Comprehensive Study: The God Who Justifies, The Doctrine of Justification. Minneapolis: Bethany House. 2001. Print.

Martyrdom Part 4

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Here is the final part of the story of the martyrs Felicity and Perpetua, those bold Christians who were forced to pay the ultimate price to pay witness to Christ the savior. I was inspired to write this because of the story of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, the woman who was sentenced to death for denying the Muslim faith. In case you did not know, she was finally released (may God have the glory) and is now safe from that threat. (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/meriam-yahia-ibrahim-ishags-release-and-safe-arrival-is-a-diplomatic-triumph-for-italy-9627211.html)

However, there is now more Christians being martyred for professing Christ than at any time before. With Isis on the loose, you can imagine the suffering of Christians in Iraq and Syria. We must always be in prayer for these saints, that they may keep the faith and have God’s grace in time of suffering. Here is the conclusion of a couple of early martyrs.

 

Chapter V

 

  1. The above were the more eminent visions of the blessed martyrs Saturus and Perpetua themselves, which they themselves committed to writing. But God called Secundulus, while he was yet in the prison, by an earlier exit from the world, not without favor, so as to give a respite to the beasts. Nevertheless, even if his soul did not acknowledge cause for thankfulness, assuredly his flesh did.
  2. But respecting Felicitas (for to her also the Lord’s favor approached in the same way), when she had already gone eight months with child (for she had been pregnant when she was apprehended), as the day of the exhibition was drawing near, she was in great grief lest on account of her pregnancy she should be delayed—because pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished—and lest she should shed her sacred and guiltless blood among some who had been wicked subsequently. Moreover, also, her fellow martyrs were painfully saddened lest they should leave so excellent a friend, and as it were companion, alone in the path of the same hope. Therefore, joining together their united cry, they poured forth their prayer to the Lord three days before the exhibition. Immediately after their prayer her pains came upon her, and when, with the difficulty natural to an eight months’ delivery, in the labor of bringing forth she was sorrowing, some one of the servants of the Cataractarii said to her, “You who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice?” And she replied, “Now it is I that suffer what I suffer; but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I also am about to suffer for Him.” Thus she brought forth a little girl, which a certain sister brought up as her daughter.
  3. Since then the Holy Spirit permitted, and by permitting willed, that the proceedings of that exhibition should be committed to writing, although we are unworthy to complete the description of so great a glory; yet we obey as it were the command of the most blessed Perpetua, nay her sacred trust, and add one more testimony concerning her constancy and her loftiness of mind. While they were treated with more severity by the tribune, because, from the intimations of certain deceitful men, he feared lest they should be withdrawn form the prison by some sort of magic incantations, Perpetua answered to his face, and said, “Why do you not at least permit us to be refreshed, being as we are objectionable to the most noble Caesar, and having to fight on his birthday? Or is it not your glory if we are brought forward fatter on that occasion?” The tribune shuddered and blushed, and commanded that they should be kept with more humanity, so that permission was given to their brethren and others to go in and be refreshed with them; even the keeper of the prison trusting them now himself.
  4. Moreover, on the day before, when in that last meal, which they call the free meal, they were partaking as far as they could, not of a free supper, but of an agape; with the same firmness they were uttering such words as these to the people, denouncing against them the judgment of the Lord, bearing witness to the felicity of their passion, laughing at the curiosity of the people who came together; while Saturus said, “Tomorrow is not enough for you, for you to behold with pleasure that which you hate. Friends today, enemies tomorrow. Yet note our faces diligently, that you may recognize them on that day of judgment.” Thus all departed thence astonished, and from these things many believed.

 

Chapter VI

 

  1. The day of their victory shone forth, and they proceeded from the prison into amphitheatre, as if to an assembly, joyous and of brilliant countenances; if perchance shrinking, it was with joy, and not with fear. Perpetua followed with placid look, and with step and gait as a matron of Christ, beloved of God; casting down the luster of her eyes from the gaze of all. Moreover, Felicitas, rejoicing that she had safely brought forth, so that she might fight with the wild beasts; from the blood and from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after childbirth with a second baptism. And when they were brought to the gate, and were constrained to put on the clothing—the men, that of the priests of Saturn, and the women, that of those who were consecrated to Ceres—that nobleminded woman resisted even to the end with constancy. For she said, “We have come thus far of our own accord, for this reason, that our liberty might not be restrained. For this reason we have yielded our minds, that we might not do any such thing as this: we have agreed on this with you.” Injustice acknowledged the justice; the tribune yielded to their being brought as simply as they were. Perpetua sang psalms, already treading under foot the head of the Egyptian; Revocatus, and Saturninus, and Saturus uttered threatenings against the gazing people about this martyrdom. When they came within sight of Hilarianus, by gesture and not, they began to say to Hilarianus, “You judge us,” say they, “but God will judge you.” At this the people, exasperated, demanded that hey should be tormented with scourges as they passed along the rank of the venatores. And they indeed rejoiced that they should have incurred any one of their Lord’s passions.
  2. But He who had said, “Ask, and you shall receive” (John 16:24), gave to them when they asked, that death which each one had wished for. For when at any time they had been discoursing among themselves about their wish in respect of their martyrdom, Saturninus indeed had professed that he wished that he might be thrown to all the beasts; doubtless that he might wear a more glorious crown. Therefore in the beginning of the exhibition he and Revocatus made trial of the leopard, and moreover upon the scaffold they were harassed by the bear. Saturus, however, held nothing in greater abomination than a bear; but he imagined that he would be put an end to with one bite of a leopard. Therefore, when a wild boar was supplied, it was the huntsman rather who had supplied that boar who was gored by that same beast, and died the day after the shows. Saturus only was drawn out; and when he had been bound on the floor near to a bear, the bear would not come forth from his den. And so Saturus for the second time is recalled unhurt.
  3. Moreover, for the young women the devil prepared a very fierce cow, provided especially for that purpose contrary to custom, rivaling their sex also in that of the beasts. And so, stripped and clothed with nets, they were led forth. The poulace shuddered as they saw one young woman of delicate frame, and another with breasts still dropping from her recent childbirth. So, being recalled, they are unbound. Perpetua is the first led in. She was tossed, and fell on her loins; and when she saw her tunic torn from her side, she drew it over her as a veil for her middle, rather mindful of her modesty than her suffering. Then she was called for again, and bound up her disreveled hair; for it was not becoming for a martyr to suffer with disheveled hair, lest she should appear to be mourning in her glory. So she rose up; and when she saw Felicitas crushed, she approached and gaver her her hand, and lifted her up. And both of them stood together; and the brutality of the populace being appeased, they were recalled to the Sanavivarian gate. Then Perpetua was received by a certain one who was still a catechumen, Rusticus by name, who kept close to her; and she, as if aroused from sleep, so deeply had she been in the Spirit and in an ecstasy, began to look round her, and to say to the amazement of all, “I cannot tell when we are to be led out to that cow.” And when she heard what had already happened, she did not believe it until she had perceived certain sings of injury in her body and in her dress, and had recognized the catechumen. Afterwards causing that catechumen and the brother to approach, she addressed them, saying, “Stand fast in the faith, and love one another, all of you, and be not offended at my sufferings.”
  4. The name Saturus at the other entrance exhorted the soldier Pudens, saying, “Assuredly here I am, as I have promised and foretold, for up to this moment I have felt no beast. And now believe with your whole heart. Lo, I am going forth to that beast, and I shall be destroyed with one bite of the leopard.” And immediately at the conclusion of the exhibition he was thrown to the leopard; and with one bite of his he was bathed with such a quantity of blood, that the people shouted out to him as he was returning, the testimony of his second baptism, “Saved and washed, saved and washed.” Manifestly he was assuredly saved who had been glorified in such a spectacle. Then to the soldier Pudens he said, “Farewell, and be mindful of my faith; and let not these things disturb, but confirm you.” And at the same time he asked for a little ring from his finger, and returned it to him bathed in his wound, leaving to him an inherited token and the memory of his blood. And then lifeless he is cast down with the rest, to be slaughtered in the usual place. And when the populace called for them into the midst, that as the sword penetrated into their body they might make their eyes partners in the murder, they rose up of their own accord, and transferred themselves whither the people wished; but they first kissed one another, that they might consummate their martyrdom with the kiss of peace. The rest indeed, immovable and in silence, received the sword-thrust; much more Saturus, who also had first ascended the ladder, and first gave up his spirit, for he also was waiting for Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might taste some pain, being pierced between the ribs, cried out loudly, and she herself placed the wavering right hand of the youthful gladiator to her throat. Possibly such a woman could not have been slain unless she herself had willed it, because she was feared by the impure spirit.

O most brave and blessed martyrs! O truly called and chosen unto the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! Whom whoever magnifies, and honors, and adores, assuredly ought to read these examples for the edification of the Church, not less than the ancient ones, so that new virtues also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit is always operating even until now, and God the Father Omnipotent, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, whose is the glory and infinite power forever and ever. Amen.

 

Coakley, John W. and Andrea Sterk. Readings in World Christian History Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453. New York: Orbis. 2011. Print.

The High Priesthood of Christ

It has been a little while, and while I want to finish off the last series that I have (sadly and with much guilt) have not finished, I wanted to break back into the blogging world with book from the bible that I have been spending much time in. The book of Hebrews is by far my favorite book, if you can have a favorite, and I have taken some key verses and put them together to hopefully make clear the major argument and ideas the author is getting at. May this bless you as it has blessed me. While reading through this I suggest you listen to this version of Nearer, My God to Thee.

In these last days He has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (1:2-3). Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (2:14-15) Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (2:17) Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. (3:1) Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. (3:6) In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. (5:7) And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation (5:9)

When God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself (6:13) In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. (6:17-18) This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (6:19-20) On the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (7:18-19)

Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing but He, on the other had, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (7:22-28)

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. (8:1-2) For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,

Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,

When I will effect a new covenant

With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;

Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers

On the day when I took them by the hand

To lead them out of the land of Egypt;

For they did not continue in My covenant,

And I did not care for them, says the Lord.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel

After those days, says the Lord:

I will put My laws into their minds,

And I will write them upon their hearts.

And I will be their God,

And they shall be My people.

And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,

And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’

For all shall know Me,

From the least to the greatest of them.

For I will be merciful to their iniquities,

And I will remember their sins no more.” (8:7-12)

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience (9:8-9) But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (9:11-15)

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (9:23-28)

By this will (of God) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God (10:10-12) For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (10:14)

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (10:19-23)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfect of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:1-2)

You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (12:22-24)

We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. (13:10-12) Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (13:20-21)

May you also experience this amazing grace bestowed upon us in such amazing ways. May you cry out to Him who is faithful, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.