The Prayers of J. Calvin (22)

JCalvin1On this Sunday night we continue our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in 2015 – last on July 12), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Tonight we post a brief section from his twenty-first lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 5:16-24, which includes Calvin’s commentary on 22: “Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?”

Here is part of his application of this passage to the church in his day and to us:

God shows here why he had said that the people were foolish and without understanding. It was indeed a monstrous stupidity, not to fear at the presence of God, since even inanimate elements obey his bidding: and he takes the sea especially as an example; for there is nothing more terrific than a tempestuous sea. It appears as if it would overwhelm thee whole world, when its waves swell with so much violence. No one can in this sense do otherwise than tremble. But the sea itself, which makes the stoutest to tremble, quietly obeys God; for however furious may be its tossings, they are yet under restraint.

…We now see the scope of the Prophet’s words: He shews that the Jews were monsters, and unworthy not only to be counted men, but even to be classed with brute animals; for there was more sense and understanding in the tempestuous and raging sea than in men, who seemed endued with reason and understanding. This is the design of the comparison (p.294-95).

At the end of his lecture is this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou daily invitest us to thyself with so much kindness and benevolence, and since thy word continually sounds in our ears, – O grant, that we may not become deaf through the depravity of our flesh, but be attentive to hear the doctrine of salvation, and become so teachable and obedient, that we may be willing to be turned wherever thou pleasest, and to be guided in the way thou pointest out to us, until we shall at length reach that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us in heaven by Jesus Christ our Lord. -Amen (p.299).

Doctrine and the Necessity of Creeds – May “Tabletalk”

TT May 2015Yesterday before worship services I read two more articles in this month’s Tabletalk, which has the theme of “Doctrine for All of Life.”

The first is by Robert Rothwell, an associate editor of Tabletalk. His article is “Where Did I Go Wrong?”, and addresses the importance of Christians standing with the church of all ages when it comes to embracing sound doctrine.

This is how he opens his treatment of this subject:

It’s a thrilling episode—Martin Luther, standing before the Diet of Worms, the only faithful Christian in his day, proclaiming his God-given right to read the Bible however he saw fit: “Unless I am convinced by my self-determined understanding of Scripture, I will not recant. Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Obviously, I’ve embellished the account. No historically informed Protestant would say outright that Luther was the only faithful believer in His day. Neither would an informed Protestant confess that Luther’s protest came from his private reading of Scripture apart from the work of his theological forefathers and contemporaries.

Yet I fear that the way many people tell Luther’s story betrays an implicit belief that the German Reformer was a mad individualist for whom the supreme arbiter of truth was his own opinion and who sought to turn the church into a collection of like-minded individuals with no theological authority over its members. But while Luther’s work was driven in large measure by his quest for a personal assurance of salvation, he was not a radical individualist. Luther certainly didn’t endorse the belief that we should have “no creed but the Bible” or that the work of studying and formulating doctrine is left up to the individual.

And later he adds this:

God never meant for us to study doctrine as isolated individuals. The study and formulation of doctrine is first and foremost a communal doctrine. After all, the Lord revealed Himself to a corporate body. The Bible is not written just to me personally but to all the saints of God. Thus, God designed us to plumb the depths of His revelation together as individual congregations and larger church assemblies. There should be no such thing as autonomous doctrinal study, but we should examine doctrine in concert with our forebears and contemporaries. We should read their works, check our reading of Scripture against theirs, and doubt our conclusions if no one else has reached them. In this, the reformers are our model. Though they affirmed the Bible as the sole infallible source of doctrine, they understood the proper role of God’s corporate people in knowing His truth. They charged that the medieval church had abandoned the best of its earlier thinking, but did not say that we should cast off all who studied Scripture before us.

The second article I read is this one by Dr. David W. Hall, titled “Why Creeds and Confessions?” You would do well to read his contribution as well. Here are a few paragraphs to get you  started:

As Christians, we must embrace a mature biblical norm of confessing our faith. Let me offer briefly five reasons why a written confession is helpful:

First, written confessions represent maturity. A confessional communion is more than fly-by-night. It is relatively easy to produce a personal statement of faith or a position paper on a narrow subject. However, only those confessions that are tested by many generations endure. Just as yesterday’s pop music hardly inspires anymore, so a transient confession is slightly embarrassing. But classic creeds, produced by seasoned Christians, stand the test of time. a confession is a mature, proven set of beliefs. Wouldn’t you rather be guided by such a statement than by an ill-defined set of beliefs or an immature statement of faith?

Second, written confessions keep believers from having to reinvent the wheel. Creeds and confessions can put the student at the head of the class in a hurry. If one need not formulate every bit of doctrine himself, that is, if he is humble enough to listen quickly to other saints (James 1:19), he can spare himself considerable time and countless dead ends. He will avoid paths that are “useless to further reconnoiter,” as theologian Abraham Kuyper recognized.

The Elect Deceived? Yes! and How to Safeguard Against It – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonFortunately,’ we may say to ourselves, ‘the elect are in no danger. For Jesus’ words [Matt.24:24] imply that we are incapable of falling prey to Satanic deception.’ But to read the text in this way is to miss the point, for two reasons:

It fails to take account of the evidence of history. Christians have been, and are, capable of being deceived. Have none of the elect been deceived in recent years into supporting ‘ministries’ that have proved so tragically different in reality from what they professed to be? Sadly, we are more easily addicted to the spectacular (‘signs and wonders’) than to the substantial, to novelty (‘false prophets’) than to wholesome orthodoxy. If we think Christians cannot be deceived, the deception has already begun.

It misunderstands the nature of the impossibility. Jesus did not say the elect were incapable of being deceived. We are all only too capable of it. Nevertheless, we are given this assurance: God will protect and preserve His people. Like Simon Peter, they will be shielded by the prayers of Christ and the power of God (Luke 22:31-32). This is accomplished through the activity of faith (1 Peter 1:5).

And so Ferguson continues by showing us how to avoid such deception:

But how can we guard ourselves against spiritual deception?

By developing sensitivity, we become aware of Satan’s strategies in our lives (2 Cor.2:11).

Have you learned what they are?

By developing self-knowledge, we recognize how weak we are. Since nothing good dwells in our flesh (Rom.7:18), we need constantly to depend on the Lord.

Do you?

By developing an appetite for God’s Word, we are ‘trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’ (Heb.5:14 ESV), and we grow in discernment.

Is that true of you today?

Taken from Chapter 42 of Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone (Kindle ed.).

PCUSA Makes Marriage a ‘Unique Commitment’ – ChristianityToday.com

PCUSA Makes Marriage a ‘Unique Commitment’ | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com.

marriagepic-1Christianity Today’s latest “Gleanings” feature (March 18, 2015) carried this note of further apostasy from the teaching of God’s Word about marriage on the part of the mainline Presbyterian church in this country.

Below is the first part of that story; for the full news item, visit the “CT” link above. The report includes a map showing how the various states have voted to this point (Michigan has not yet decided.)

May the Lord call out of this apostate denomination those who are truly His and who desire to be faithful to His Word and the true Presbyterian heritage (Rev.18:4).

The Presbyterian Church (USA) will now define marriage as a “unique commitment between two people,” rather than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman as an act of Christian discipleship.

Last June, the PC(USA) general assembly voted to change the language in its Book of Order, the denomination’s governing constitution. Following the vote, a majority of the PC(USA)’s 171 presbyteries also had to approve the measure for it to go into effect. On Tuesday, this number (86) was reached.

The conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) criticized the denomination’s shift.

“In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, PLC president, in a statement. “Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost.”

Genesis 2-3, Adam and Eve, and John H. Walton: An Explosive New Book

So they are back in the news (yet again): Adam and Eve and all that — GetReligion.

One of the most heated and significant debates taking place in the church at present is that centering on the historicity and authority of Genesis 1-3 in the light of the ever-dogmatic claims of evolutionary science and the unceasing pressures of its professing Christian adherents. That debate includes, of course, the reality and accuracy of the account of the creation and of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

One professing Christian professor/teacher after another continues to fall for these evolutionary claims and to cave in to these pressures, which means that they tinker and tamper with the sacred Scriptures in its early chapters. And this is happening at even the most historically conservative Evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries.

Lost World of Genesis 1 - JWaltonMore recently John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL (and formerly of Moody Bible Institute), has “progressed” from a traditional Christian understanding of Gen.1-3 to a view that makes room for an evolutionary understanding of the origins of the world and man.

Richard Ostling carried this report of a new book by Walton set to be released by InterVarsity Press this month which, in his words, has the nature of “an incendiary device about to explode.” This will be a book to watch, as well as to read and critique carefully, from the Bible and the historic creeds of the church. I plan to ask for a review copy, so if any of you are interested, let me know.

Here is the opening paragraph’s of Ostling’s story; to read the rest, visit the link above.

On the religion beat, the news often consists of new books about old texts with old stories, and the oldest old story of them all is the Genesis portrayal of Adam and Eve. Their status as the first humans and parents of the entire human race is a big biblical deal, especially for evangelical Protestants.

Since no evangelical school outranks Wheaton College (Illinois) in prestige and influence, journalists should get ready for an incendiary device about to explode in March.

A book by Wheaton Old Testament Professor John H. Walton will upend many traditional – or certainly “evangelical” – ideas about Adam and Eve. Moreover, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate” comes from the certifiably evangelical InterVarsity Press. Click here for the online press kit (.pdf).

The author’s views have been evolving (so to speak) since 1998, when he decided Genesis, like other ancient writings, offers a “functional” rather than biological depiction of God’s creation process. He explained this in “The Lost World of Genesis One” (2009, also from InterVarsity), and a more scholarly version, “Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology” (2011, Eisenbrauns). He then depicted an historical but “archetypal” Adam in “Four Views on the Historical Adam” (2013, Zondervan).

“Our Name is Reformed” – Prof.B.Gritters

SB-Feb15-2015Such is the wording of a line taken from the February 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer. Specifically, this brief sentence is pulled from Prof. Barry Gritters’ editorial, in which he begins he series on “What It Means to Be Reformed.”

He does so in connection with the ninetieth anniversary of the forming of the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1925. This initial article is introductory, and part of that introduction includes explaining the name “Reformed” in this denomination’s name.

Here is a glimpse into what Prof. Gritters includes in his explanation of what it means to be “Reformed”:

For us, to be Reformed is to be biblical. It is simply to be Christian. Identifying as Reformed is not an attempt to be something other than what Christ calls His church to be. But since hundreds of groups, unfaithful to Jesus Christ and His Scripture, call themselves Christian, it is necessary to distinguish ourselves from them by our name.

…In the past, when a distinctive confession of faith was valued, churches understood the need for a distinctive name – a kind of flag they hoisted on their ship.  Thus Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Methodists, and all the other church groups were plainly identified in their faith and life by their name. Our name is Reformed.

Holding convictions and announcing them in a name is not smug arrogance. It is not sectarianism. Holding convictions about faith and life and announcing them in a name is a desire to be faithful to God and His Word, and transparent to those who may want to join our churches. It’s also a recognition that the ecclesiastical landscape is strewn with churches that are not true churches any longer, because in their history they lost a conviction that Christ is truth, lost the boldness to broadcast their faith, lost a sense of who they were historically, and lost the realization that churches are destroyed under the judgment of God for lack of knowledge. …Here the point needs to be made that convictions and transparency about those convictions are vital.

Not to hold convictions and publicize them in a name may well indicate the sentiment that one form of Christianity is as good as any other. And that’s one step away from becoming a false church.

December “Tabletalk”: Christology in Context – S.Nichols

TT - Dec 2014As we noted here last Monday, the December issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional) is fittingly (for the season) centered on the doctrine of Christ. The theme is “Who Do You Say That I Am?: The Person and Work of Christ.”

Yesterday I read the second feature article on this subject, “Christology in Context”, by Dr.Stephen J. Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College and a Ligonier teaching fellow.

He takes us on a brief journey through the first four centuries of church history to show the ecclesiastical setting in which the Christological controversies took place. Revealing the errors of Docetism and Arianism (among others), Nichols reminds us of the great care the church took under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures to set forth the truth concerning the Person and natures of Christ at Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451).

If you have forgotten this part of your church history, this is a great article to review it and be reminded again of the importance of careful definition in theology. As in the vital importance of one vowel – “i” – in the Greek! Find out why by reading the article linked above. For now, here is a brief excerpt from it:

The bishops at Nicea concluded that homoousios alone measured up to the standard of biblical teaching. The Nicene Creed declares that Jesus is “very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

This creed is not uncovering new ground. Rather, it summarizes the massive swath of biblical material regarding the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews begins by declaring, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). Paul says rather directly that in Jesus “dwells the whole fullness of deity bodily” (Col. 2:9).

The Nicene Creed is a prime example of systematic theology at its best. Systematic theology seeks to organize and summarize, not add or detract from, the biblical teaching. Systematic theologians then teach this doctrine to the church. These bishops in the early churches were systematic theologians. The creed the bishops constructed at Nicea was their gift to the church.

At the center of church life is worship. And at the center of our worship is Christ. Every Christian should be asking, Whom do I worship? Who is this Christ at the center of my worship? The Nicene Creed gives us a biblically rich and true answer.

Premillennialism: Why a Reformed Critique?

StandardBearerIn the November 1, 2014 issue of The Standard Bearer professor emeritus (PRC Seminary) David J.Engelsma began a new series on premillennialism in connection with his rubric “Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass.” In pointing out the absurdity of dispensational premillennialism Engelsma raises the question whether it deserves serious attention from the Reformed camp. “…A Reformed teacher might be tempted to limit his critique to the bare statement that premillennialism is un-Reformed and ridiculous, or to ignore premillennialism altogether” (p.59).

But he goes on to show why we ought to consider it and critique it carefully, both biblically and confessionally. I give you here his first three reasons why Reformed Christians ought to and why, therefore, he intends to continue a lengthy series on this significant error.

First, premillennialism is a theological explanation of the thousand-year period of Revelation 20. A thorough study of the millennium, therefore, ought also to take premillennialism into account.

Second, by contrasting his amillennial belief with the premillennial error the Reformed Christian will better and more clearly understand the truth he confesses.

Third, even though premillennialism is un-Reformed from stem to stern and is not the internal threat to the doctrine of the last things for Reformed Christians that postmillennialism is, premillennialism is prevalent and popular in Christian circles. Likely, a majority of Christian churches today proclaim the gospel of premillennialism and entertain themselves of a Sunday evening by producing and studying elaborate premillennial charts. Multitudes of professing Christians believe, support, and witness to the premillennial gospel, making their ‘blessed hope’ (Titus 2:13) the rapture of themselves out of the world and its history at any moment.

Always Abusing Semper Reformanda – R. Scott Clark

Always Abusing Semper Reformanda by R. Scott Clark | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

Nov 2014 TTThe third featured article in the November Tabletalk is penned by Dr.R.Scott Clark, professor at Westminster Seminary in California. His article treats the various ways in which the motto semper reformanda has been abused in the history of the church. Especially does he single out the proponents of the Federal Vision movement (as in covenant theology).

This is another helpful article on what this slogan “really means.” I quote today from the end of his article, but encourage you to read it all at the Ligonier link above.

There is much truth in the slogan the church reformed, always reforming, but it was never intended to become a license for corrupting the Reformed faith. We should understand and use it as a reminder of our proclivity to wander from that theology, piety, and practice taught in Scripture and confessed by the church. Certainly, our confessions are reformable. We Protestants are bound to God’s Word as the charter and objective rule of Christian faith and practice. Should someone discover an error in our theology, piety, or practice, we are bound by our own confessions and church orders to hear an argument from God’s Word. Should that argument prevail, we must change our understanding or our practice. But we should not, under cover of this late-seventeenth-century slogan, subvert what Scripture teaches for a continuing, never-ending Reformation that leads us away from the heart and soul of what we confess.Ÿ

Election of Grace – Augustine

SB-Oct15-2014-AugustineThe above title heads one of the articles found in the new Reformation issue of The Standard Bearer (October 15, 2014), a Reformed semi-monthly magazine published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. This special issue is devoted to the church father Augustine, and includes a treatment of “Augustine’s Doctrine of Predestination” (the sub-title) by Rev.William Langerak, pastor of SE PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

I pull a snippet from his fine article, so that you may have a taste of why Augustine too has been called the “theologian of grace”.

In other words, although they (the semi-Pelgians -cjt) championed grace in salvation, it was defective—merited, dispensable, subsequent, common, and resistible grace. Sound familiar?

Against this, Augustine champions grace as free, antecedent, particular, irresistible, and efficacious. Importantly, he doesn’t do this merely by arguing the nature of grace directly. Rather, he grounds grace in predestination. Why? He believed their errors regarding grace were because “they are in darkness…concerning predestination” (Predestination, 2, 498). This darkness was partly that they limited predestination to foreknowledge, and charged Augustine’s teaching was fatalism, rendered God unjust, abolished free-will, and was contrary to sound doctrine. Besides, preaching it would drive men into indifference or despair (Introductory Essay, lxiv). They also claimed predestination contradicted the “will of God to save all men” and the death of Christ for all. Sound familiar?

Augustine, of course, refutes them, especially with copious quotes from Scripture. He dismisses the cavil of fatalism by appeal to the determinative will of God and demolishing the underlying premise of free will. “The human will does not attain grace by freedom, but rather attains freedom by grace” (On Rebuke, 17, 478). Against a “will of God to save all men,” he explains this is impossible because “man’s will cannot withstand the will of God;” also “all” in 1Tim. 2:4 may be understood as “all the predestinated …because every kind of men is among them,” (On Rebuke, 44-45, 489).

Augustine also defends preaching predestination. To oppose it was to oppose the preaching of Christ and apostles; saying it rendered useless exhortations and rebuke, was to indict Scripture (Perseverance, 34, 538). It didn’t hinder progress or perseverance of faith, but rather promoted them (Perseverance, 36, 540). “Although…we say obedience is the gift of God, we exhort men to it” (Perseverance, 37, 540). “Predestination must be preached, that God’s true grace…may be maintained with insuperable defense” (Perseverance, 54, 548).

Strikingly, Augustine rarely argues predestination for its own sake, or even because its biblical. His basic, underlying, purpose is always to teach predestination because grace is dependent upon it—if grace is divorced from election, grace is no longer grace. Augustine knew this from experience, for it was his error at one time. “I thought…faith whereby we believe on God is…in us from ourselves… and to consent when the gospel was preached to us…was our own doing…[because] I had not as yet found what is the nature of the election of grace” (Predestination, 7, 500). So he argues vigorously that “God’s grace…is given according to the good pleasure of His will…The grace of God, which both begins a man’s faith and…enables it to persevere unto the end…is given according to His own most secret…righteous, wise, and beneficent will” (Perseverance, 33, 538). “This is the predestination of the saints—nothing else, to wit, the foreknowledge and the preparation of God’s kindnesses” (Perseverance, 35, 539).

 

For information on how to receive this issue or to subscribe, visit the Standard Bearer website.  Or you may visit this news item about it on the PRC website.

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