Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do you really understand the Bible?

Charles Spurgeon wrote, "The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology.  It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, is a master of divinity.  I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture, are based upon the fundamental errors with regard to the covenant of law and of grace."

Today there is a lack of teaching on the covenant by both mainline and evangelical churches.  Which is why we often find ourselves strangers among our own people. 

With that in mind I recently found this chart that illustrates and helps to show what God has/is doing in the redemptive history of Scripture and the present/future outworking of that redemption by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I hope this will help you in your search to understand Scripture and if you have any questions feel free to send me a message.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Necessity of Spiritual Growth

That is is natural for a believer to grow - a truth which is to be impressed upon your heart - is evident for the following reasons:

First, God promises that He will cause His regenerated to grow.  "Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God" (Psa. 92:13); "I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon" (Hosea 14:5-6); "Ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall" (Mal. 4:2). God's promises are in truth, and He whohas declared them will also perform them. Let the godly person remind the Lord of this.

Secondly, it is the very nature of spiritual life to grow. Wherever the principle of this life is to be found, it can be no different for it must grow. "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18); "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" (Job 17:9). This refers to the children of God, who are compared to palm and cedar trees (Psa. 92:12). As natural as it is for children and trees to grow, so natural is growth for the regenerated children of God.

Thirdly, the growth of His children is the goal and objective God has in view by administering the means of grace to them. "And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints...that we henceforth be no more children...but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head" (Eph. 4:11-15). This is also to be observed in 1 Peter 2:2: "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." God will reach His goal and His word will not return to Him void; thus God's children will grow in grace.

Fourthly, it is a duty to which God's children are continually exhorted, and their activity is to consist in a striving for growth. That it is their duty is to be observed in the following passages: "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18); "He that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Rev. 22:11). The nature of this activity is expressed as follows: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after" (Phil. 3:12). If it were not necessary for believers to grow the exhortations to that end would be in vain.

Fifthly, this is also conveyed by the difference in believers in regard to their condition and the measure of grace.  In the church there are children, young men, and fathers. "I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father" (1 John 2:13). It is in graceas it is in nature: first a child, then a young man, and after that a father. All this proves it to be a certainty that it is neither the mere duty nor that it would be merely a good thing for the godly to grow, but it is their nature. Thus, those who do not manifest any growth are not believers. Hereby, the unconverted ought immediately to be convinced that as yet it is not well with them.  Furthermore, this can, first of all, be of comfort to God's children regarding the grace they possess, and they can already in the beginning be stirred up to strive for spiritual growth.

- Wilhelmus a Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, Vol. IV, 139-141.

Friday, September 7, 2012

If the last words of dying men interest you

"You have been used to take notice of the sayings of dying men. This is mine: that a life spent in the service of God, and communion with Him, is the most comfortable and pleasant life that anyone can live in this world." - Matthew Henry

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scripture is necessary for the being of the Church.

"Scripture, like revelation, is an organic whole that has gradually come into being; the mature plant was already enclosed in the seed, the fruit was present in the germ. Revelation and Scripture both kept pace with the state of the church, and vice versa. For that reason one can never draw conclusions for the present based on conditions prevailing in the church in the past. Granted, the church before Moses was without Scripture, and before the completion of revelation the church was never in possession of the whole Bible. But this does not prove anything for the dispensation of the church in which we now live, one in which revelation has ceased and Scripture is complete. For this dispensation Scripture is not only useful and good but also decidedly necessary for the being (esse) of the church."

Herman Bavinck
Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1, 471.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is a Reformed Church?

Click HERE for a nice little summary in the review of a book that I have yet to read. The book is by Malcolm Watts. The review is by Richard Barcellos.

What is a Reformed Church? is probably one of the most frequent questions I get asked (after the limited atonement ones) and this review provides a nice synopsis which I am sure is even better elucidated by the book.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Significance of Screws and Bolts

From Thomas Witherow's - "The Apostolic Church: Which Is It?" where he discusses the different forms of church government, whether the Bible actually lays out a proper form, and if it does - which is it? Many would argue that this type of conversation doesn't matter - which is why I always enjoy Witherow's opening remarks to this type of argument. Needless to say he rightly disagrees and these few paragraphs could help to restructure much of what you might think is, or is not important.

"It is very common for professing Christians to draw a distinction between essentials and non-essentials in religion, and to infer that, if any fact or doctrine rightly belongs to the latter class, it must be a matter of very little import­ance, and may in practice be safely set at naught. The great bulk of men take their opinions on trust; they will not undergo the toil of thinking, searching, and reasoning about anything, and one of the most usual expedients adopted to save them the trouble of inquiry, and to turn aside the force of any disagreeable fact, is to meet it by saying, ” The matter is not essential to salvation; therefore we need give ourselves little concern on the subject.”

If the distinction here specified is safe, the inference drawn from it is certainly dangerous. To say that, because a fact of Divine revelation is not essential to salvation, it must of necessity be unimportant, and may or may not be received by us, is to assert a principle, the application of which would make havoc of our Christianity. For, what are the truths essential to salvation? Are they not these: That there is a God; that all men are sinners; that the Son of God died upon the cross to make atonement for the guilty; and that whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved? There is good reason for believing that not a few souls arc now in happiness, who in life knew little more than these—the first principles of the oracles of God—the very alphabet of the Christian system; and if so, no other Divine truths can be counted absolutely essential to salvation. But if all the other truths of revelation are unimportant, because they happen to be non-essentials, it follows that the Word of God itself is in the main unimportant; for by far the greatest portion of it is occupied with matters, the knowledge of which, in the case supposed, is not absolutely indispensable to the everlasting happiness of men. Nor does it alter the case, if we regard the number of fundamental truths to be much greater. Let a man once persuade himself that importance attaches only to what he is pleased to call essentials, what­ever their number, and he will, no doubt, shorten his creed and cut away the foundation of many controversies; but he will practically set aside all except a very small part of the Scriptures. If such a principle does not mutilate the Bible, it stigmatizes much of it as trivial. Revelation is all gold for preciousness and purity, but the very touch of such a principle would transmute the most of it into dross.

Though every statement in the Scripture cannot be regarded as absolutely essential to salvation, yet everything there is essential to some other wise and important end, else it would not find a place in the good Word of God. Human wisdom may be baffled in attempting to specify the design of every truth that forms a component part of Divine revelation, but eternity will show us that no portion of it is useless, All Scripture is profitable. A fact written therein may not be essential to human salvation, and yet it may be highly conducive to some other great and gracious purpose in the economy of God—it may be necessary for our personal comfort, for our guidance in life, or for our growth in holiness, and most certainly it is essential to the completeness of the system of Divine truth. The law of the Lord is perfect. Strike out of the Bible the truth that seems the most insignificant of all, and the law of the Lord would not be perfect any more. In architecture, the pinning that fills a crevice in the wall occupies a subordinate position, in comparison with the quoin; but the builder lets us know that the one has an important purpose to serve as well as the other, and does its part to promote the stability and completeness of the house. In shipbuilding, the screws and bolts that gird the ship together are insignificant, as compared with the beams of oak and masts of pine, but they contribute their full share to the safety of the vessel and the security of the passenger. So in the Christian system, every fact, great or small, that God has been pleased to insert in the Bible is, by its very position, invested with importance, answers its end, and, though perhaps justly considered as non-essential to salva­tion, does not deserve to be accounted as worthless.

Every Divine truth is important, though it may be that all Divine truths are not of equal importance. The simplest statement of the Bible is a matter of more concern to an immortal being than the most sublime sentiment of mere human genius. The one carries with it what the other cannot show—the stamp of the approval of God. The one comes to us from heaven, the other savors of the earth. The one has for us a special interest, as forming a con­stituent portion of that Word which is a message from God to each individual man; the other is the production of a mind merely human, to which we and all our interests were alike unknown. Any truth merely human should weigh with us light as a feather in comparison with the most insignificant of the truths of God. The faith of a Christian should strive to reach and grasp everything that God has honored with a place in that Word, the design of which is to be a light to our feet as we thread our-way through this dark world. Besides, this, unlike every other book, is not doomed to perish. Heaven and earth may pass away, but the words of Christ shall not pass away. The seal of eternity is stamped on every verse of the Bible. This fact is enough of itself to make every line of it important."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Epic Fail??

So, I haven't been posting on the Institutes - but I have been reading it. What's the deal?

Well, a lot has been going on, all good, and I will try to get some information about that up soon. But until then just know that blogging the Institutes was one too many things for me to do this year. And hopefully I can share why before too long.

Lots of stuff in the works. Preparing to make a big move. This little blog will have to serve as an outlet of a different type for a while.

Keep the faith!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Institutes, 1.4.1-4.4

Man has been implanted with an understanding of who (not what) God is. We have the capacity, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to perceive the world around us and further develop an understanding of who God is by the characteristics and attributes displayed in His creation. But without special revelation from the Holy Spirit of the redemptive knowledge of God, what He has done in Christ, this knowledge is “either smothered or corrupted, partly by ignorance, partly by malice.”

From birth, without the grace of God, this seed of knowledge “degenerates.” Men are blind to this truth within them and, mixed with pride and obstinacy, fashion their own god, usually in their own image. Knowing that the true God does exist by this seed of knowledge, they still don’t seek to know God as He reveals Himself, but simply design a god of their own liking. In this way, it is not just that they are innocent out of some apparent ignorance, but they are guilty – knowing there is a God but choosing to construct a false one. Others, almost persuaded, do not deny there is a God, or deny there is One True God, but upon a clear presentation simply reject Him.

This degeneration of the first sort leads to false religion. It attempts to place idols into the position of God in worship and service. Although the term “god” is used, their definition does not align with how He has revealed Himself in His Word. Their idol is named god and he is often worshipped in the True God’s Church.

Or men may simply come to worship “god” out of that implanted understanding that this is what they were created to do. But their worship is not acceptable because it is not according to His covenant, and it is not tied to repentance and belief.

These “degenerations” simply contribute to show that man knows that there is a God and that men were created to glorify Him. Even in sin, from their created nature, made in the image of God, they know (whether they acknowledge or not) that they are creatures made to worship.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Institutes, 1.2.1-3.3

So, I’m obviously having a problem prioritizing commenting on Calvin by way of this blog. Have no doubts that I am reading Calvin, I just don’t necessarily always feel like I have something to say. Stick with me. I’ll get this blog verbosity thing figured out.

Knowledge of God is not possible without piety. Piety is “that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefit induces.” So the question in regard to attaining godliness is not “what is God?” We don’t need to speculate on what His physical “makeup” might be, or what God is – we need to know about who He is. The “who” is that He is the Father and Author of salvation, that we can know when Christ the Mediator reconciles Him to us. That we owe everything to Him and that we must establish our complete happiness in Him. Many people acknowledge some idea of “god” but few actually know the One True Living God as He presents Himself in Scripture. We must humble ourselves before Him, pray that He will instruct us, and listen to what He has to say concerning Himself, revere Him, before we can begin to truly know Him. Before this reverence we will only live with a construct of our own speculation.

But it is also true that all men have a general knowledge of God as Creator and Sovereign, although they suppress this truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1). We can see this simply in the fact that men make idols of any and every thing if they do not worship the One True God. We also see that men have a general understanding there is a God in that they can be easily moved to subjection of others by threats of punishments or promise of reward if they will only do what they are told their “god” commands. Men know there is a God. But many do not now know Him and simply live by suppressing the truth and constructing a lie.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Institutes, 1.1.1-1.3

Just as a starting point on the comments, I will be deviating slightly from the order of the reading schedule simply to keep the chapters together a little better. I haven’t looked down the road to see how often this might happen.

As a starting point for Calvin we begin with his statement that is always worth re-reading: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

This already takes my mind back to the fact that Calvin wants to impart the rudiments of the Christian faith to affect godliness in the members of His Church. How are we to arrive at godliness? It will take knowledge of God and of ourselves. Calvin is going to go on to define knowledge but for now we simply need to see that these are interrelated and we cannot come to any true understanding of all the questions people might ask of “why are we here?” or “what is the meaning of life?” until we understand the relation of who God is and who we are.

Contemplating who God is, His holiness and perfection, and who we are – made in the image of God, but fallen – but by election and salvation, chosen to be redeemed to that original image, is the beginning of wisdom. If we do not see ourselves in relation to God and His holiness, we can never truly know ourselves. If we do not see ourselves as depraved sinful creatures that need to be redeemed, we cannot know God. If we cut God out of the equation in trying to know truth, then we cut ever truly knowing ourselves out of the equation – because we can forever only be known as who we are in relation to Him.

Without this understanding we will never truly come to understand this world, what is going on in this world, or what the meaning of life is. We would simply never know truth. And this can be seen in people every day, even those that profess Christ, as they live their lives unconnected to the One who provides that life. There are many that never contemplate their true condition and the majesty of God. Coming to terms with this is the way to truth and wisdom.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.27-31)

In our final entry on Calvin’s prefatory letter to King James we have Calvin refuting alleged insurrection on the part of protestants and beseeching the King to rule justly in these matters.

There was a faction of radical reformers, the catabaptists (Anabaptists to us), that would divorce themselves from earthly rule and were proving troublesome to the King. Calvin discusses how groups such as this were stirred up by Satan, who could sense true reformation coming and would use men associated or within the church to bring about trouble for the “true seed.” For the true seed should not be found causing trouble for the governments of the world, but giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, found to be law-abiding citizen, and praying for their leaders – familial, ecclesial, and civil.

And in the irony of this worldly system, unregenerate men are often raised up within the church to bring trouble upon the true seed, and other unregenerate men then bring trouble upon the unregenerate men that are bringing trouble within the church (along with the true seed). The blind attacking the blind, with those that can see getting caught in the fray - while we walk amongst them commanding them to see. Sometimes it is easier to do what we are commanded if we remember the occasional thump we receive is because we are dealing with the blind. And once we were them.

But lest we get too sympathetic (or is it empathetic? I never quite remember) there are fools out there too. There are those that will say “I’m not under the law, I’m under grace, so cut me some slack on this sin stuff,” or “I see a lot of sin out there, but it’s ok because it just shows more of God’s grace.” Men “creep” into the church and teach all sorts of foolishness because the natural man will love it, and it will keep the foolish, false teacher with a fat head or a fat belly.

In this case in France, it was the perfect time for rebellious men to find some rebellious leaders that would tell them that Christianity was all about taking down the “evil” government. But this isn’t the goal of the true seed. Calvin’s Institutes will the apology for the true seed’s doctrine.

And so Calvin asks the King to check these accusations against the protestants against the truth of the doctrine which will be presented. Also, check to make sure that the right party is being accused when accusations are made. Calvin notes that King Francis opinion is turned against them at this time but believes that his favor can be regained if he will read this confession in a “quiet, composed mood.” I trust that everyone who reads the Institutes in such a manner will be moved, by God’s grace, to find the truth presented herein.

So, we have come to the conclusion of the Prefatory Address to the King of France. End of Week 1. I can tell you now that I had not really prepared myself for the preface. I thought I would just dig in to the Books and hadn’t anticipated blogging on this material. I hope it has been a bit helpful in making connections. I’m still working through whether this is going to be like Cliff’s Notes or my own ramblings. :) Until next week.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.23-27)

In this section Calvin brings two more issues to the attention of the King, custom and the nature of the church. Calvin responds to the Roman Catholic appeal to custom (against this “new teaching” by the reformers) by stating “they accomplish nothing.” Even today there will be those that state “this is the way that we have always done it.” Whatever “it” may be, “it” needs to be able to stand against the test of Scripture, not the test of “tradition.” Conversely, those that find worship boring, always think we need to try something new, or those that think they have some “new word” from God, must hold this up against the teaching of God in His revealed Word. If we do not hold up everything to the test of Scripture, (paraphrasing Calvin) the private vices of the few, or a general agreement to vices by the many, will turn these vices into law (or custom) for the masses. Which will eventually force the few who depend wholly upon God to reformation.

This test of Scripture comes into play in the RCC’s case for the nature of the church. Calvin states for the King the two hinges upon which this controversy turns – that the RCC contends “that the form of the church is always apparent and observable.” Second, the RCC believes that this apparent and observable form must be “in the see of the Roman Church and its hierarchy.” Calvin retorts with the assertion that the mark of a true church is “the pure preaching of God’s Word and the lawful administration of the sacraments.”

Calvin gives examples of his arguments that are helpful and I won’t reiterate. One of the points to take away is that we need to remember that God preserves His Church throughout the ages. Sometimes more visible, sometimes less. And the Church’s appearance is not “contained” in “pomp and circumstance” but in Her simple, humble adherence to the Word of God in pure preaching and properly administering the sacraments (and church discipline, maybe more on that later). God knows His children, Christ knows His Bride, not in an outward show that has some worldly appeal, but in the inward (and normally expressed outward) beauty of humility and obedience to His Word no matter how the world may react.

And if the “church” loses her way and loses her “soul,” begins to believe that she is to be judged by her outward appearance and not her obedience to the Word, and then in turn teaches this to her congregants, she becomes “a deadly butchery of souls, a firebrand, a ruin, and a destruction of the church.”

I wonder if I could find any church today that disregards obedience to the Word in the faith and life of the church so that they might appeal to the world? And while they would never state it explicitly, as a rule they promote this show and appeal as more important than obedience to the Word?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.14-23)

In this section Calvin responds to four particular charges against Reformation doctrine (which is expressed in the Institutes). As the headings indicate these charges are that this doctrine is new, uncertain, lacking miracles as signs, and is opposed to the teachings of the early church fathers.

Of course, we know that the doctrine is not new, but that Reformed doctrine is Christianity “ad fontes” – a return to the sources (yes, Wikipedia is the best I could do). Calvin charges the accusers with doing great wrong to the Word of God, as that is the foundation of what is taught, and it is only new to those who have lived under extra-Biblical teaching conveyed through impious lives. This ignorance of the truth of God’s Word is what leads men to wonder of Its certainty. As men still confront the Doctrines of Grace today we can see the same effects of ignorance and impiety combining to hide the truth of Scripture from the hearts and minds of men.

The accusation of a lack of miracles only brings the rebuke of Calvin. A proper understanding of Scripture shows that true miracles are an attestation to the truth of the gospel message. Most miracles, or signs and wonders, were in times past when a great increase of truth was being revealed (with the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel). Calvin argues rightly that they need no miracles for they are simply presenting the truth of Scripture as already revealed. So it is a delusion of Satan when men present their own purported or false miracles to attest to some new truth or a truth that cannot be confirmed by Scripture, but only by the “power” that is evident by the one who presents it (charismatic chaos anyone?).

Finally the accusers would attempt to twist the teaching of the early Christian fathers if one will not “buy into” the then present teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. This appeal to authority probably sounded good to the laity at the time because they would have had no access to the documents or ability to refute the claims. But when the educated reformers came to the fore, they could easily dismantle these claims from the “priestcraft” (one of my favorite words).
In the end, all of these charges expect that one would blindly accept the authority of the church regardless of Scripture. Calvin and the other Reformers would have one turn to God Himself and His revelation in Scripture to determine the truth. This demonstrates another reason why the coming of the printing press, the translations of Scripture into the common tongue, and the writing of a work such as the Institutes – into Latin for the scholar and French for the masses, was such an important and blessed time in history.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Institutes, Preface (1.9-14)

In addressing the King of France, King Francis I, we are once again given a reason for the writing of the Institutes – “to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.” Especially for his French countrymen, longing to learn of Christ, but who had barely been taught anything of Him. Appropriate as we begin a study of the Institutes, as we might think much the same of what passes for Christianity in America today, where the list of professing Christians may be long but the true teaching of the doctrines of Scripture is shallow.

Even further, those who professed a doctrine similar to Calvin found themselves under intense persecution at this time. Calvin appeals to King Francis to inquire into this persecution, to understand that as King he is a minister of God to restrain evil, and to examine the Institutes by the analogy of faith – or against Scripture, not against the words of their oppressors. Calvin himself had been forced to flee France after an address by Nicolas Cop, influenced by if not written by Calvin, calling for reform of the Roman Catholic Church and defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Calvin reveals at the end of this section the error of the priests that are behind the persecution of the Protestants. All other errors of the Roman Catholic Church listed are not as destructive as the primary one – that the priests are not concerned with what men believe regarding God and Christ, as long as they submit to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. If the leadership of a church or denomination can be moved by the truth of Scripture to reform their doctrine than there is hope. When blind allegiance to the church is required of the laity, then a persecuted minority is likely to be the result.

Thankfully, we do not have this sort of structured and violent persecution today (at least in America). But is it the case that there is a broad evangelical “church” that has determined that to fight over the particulars of belief concerning God and Christ are unnecessary? And persecution comes when we don’t submit to the most important thing to the postmodern mind - to submit to no authority at all?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Institutes, To the Reader (1.3-8)

And so it begins. For Calvin it begins with a few notes to the reader (1559 edition). Due to the success of the first edition of the Institutes (1536), Calvin was encouraged to improve upon his work throughout later publications. We learn that Calvin was never fully satisfied with the Institutes until the arrangement of the order in this edition.

Throughout his personal trials of sickness and attack from enemies we find Calvin relating his hopes for this work – to bear “some richer fruit for the Church of God than heretofore,” “to spread his Kingdom and to further the public good,” “to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness,” and “to prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading of the divine Word, in order that they may be able both to have easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling.”

With the Institutes Calvin believes that he has “so embraced the sum of religion in all its parts, and in such an order” that if we can learn and digest this work we will be enabled to study Scripture more profitably. To this end, Calvin suggests that IF he ever publishes any “interpretations of Scripture” they will be condensed, because the reader will be able to use his interpretations with his Institutes as their complement. (Click here if you don’t know if Calvin published any “interpretations.”)

From the French Edition of 1560, we also have a few pages on the subject matter of the Institutes, or what benefit Calvin believes we might receive from our study of this work. This benefit is to direct us in what we should look for in Scripture. Those who have not spent much time in the study of Scripture, or who do not have a general idea of the main “themes” of Scripture can profit from those who have studied to direct us in these matters. This is done by providing the reader with “the sum of what God meant to teach us in his Word.” Therefore, Calvin will deal with these “chief and weightiest matters” so we might profit more from our study of Scripture.

Calvin completes this section with his exhortation, that if we want a sum of the Christian doctrine and a way to better benefit from the reading the entirety of Scripture, we should put this work to memory. If we become discouraged because we do not understand all that is there, we should continue in hope that a further passage will explain the former. And to utilize Scripture to examine all that Calvin sets forth.