Is God unfair to save sinners only through Jesus? – August “Tabletalk”

TT-August-2017The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) has as its theme, “Giving An Answer,” focusing on the Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord based on 1 Peter 3:15.

I read a couple more of the featured articles yesterday before worship services, including James N. Anderson’s “Is There Only One Way of Salvation?” Part of his defense of the gospel of exclusive salvation through Christ alone involves answering the objection that God is unfair not to save sincere followers of other religions.

I appreciated his great answer to this issue (which included the truth that because salvation is by grace alone God is under no obligation to save anyone) and post part of it here, so that you too may have a good defense of salvation in Jesus only.

The unfairness objection also reflects flawed assumptions about who gets to define salvation. Surely, it is up to our Creator – not us – to diagnose our problem and prescribe a remedy for it. The pluralist treats salvation as if it were like a hair treatment: you should be able to choose your color, your style, and so on, all according to your own preferences. Whatever works for you.

But what if salvation is more like a medical treatment for a fatal disease? If there is only one medication that can actually cure the illness, it would be extremely foolish to advocate ‘medical pluralism’ – a have-it-your-way approach to treatment – and it would be bizarre to accuse your doctor of unfairness for prescribing the only remedy that works.

And so Anderson makes the application to salvation from sin:

The point should be obvious: the prescription must fit the diagnosis. If the basic human problem is as the Bible describes it – that we’re sinners standing under the judgment of God, unable even to begin to make an adequate atonement for our sins – then only Christianity presents a solution that adequately addresses the problem. No other religion offers a perfect mediator between God and man who removes the enmity between us and our Creator by bearing the penalty for our sins in our place (Rom.5:6-11; 2 Cor.5:18-21; I Tim.2:5-6) [p.17].

Do we truly believe that? And are we, then, prepared to “give an answer” to those who may ask us about our precious Savior?

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]

Why the Reformation Still Matters: Because of the Theology of the Cross

So God can be  known only by those to whom he gives faith. Salvation is by grace alone. We are used to that idea. But it is the same with our knowledge of God. It is not just our salvation that is by faith alone and grace alone. We do not contribute to our knowledge of God. It is all God’s doing. Our knowledge of God is by grace alone. You do not know God because you were cleverer than other people or have greater spiritual insight or spend more time in contemplation. You know God because he has graciously revealed himself to you in the message of the cross. It is an act of grace. God reveals himself in a hidden way in order to safeguard the graciousness of revelation.

So the cross subverts all human notions of glory. The message we proclaim – the message of Christ crucified – is foolishness and weakness in the sight of the world. This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians. Indeed, in many ways Luther’s theology of the cross feels like an extended meditation of 1 Corinthians 1.

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Chapter 5, “The Theology of the Cross” in Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), p.104.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.

World-Tilting Gospel: God’s Grand Salvation Plan Accomplished by Christ

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsThe truth of God’s saving plan and its culmination in Christ makes us world-tilters because we now know where our rescue comes from. What did mankind contribute to this operation? What was our part?

We contributed:

  • The traitor
  • The corrupt politicians
  • The religious hypocrites
  • The lynch mob
  • The soldiers
  • The whips
  • The thorns
  • The cross
  • The nails
    …and, most especially…
  • The sins under the burden of which Christ groaned, suffered, bled and died

So we know that the world is wrong in looking for deliverance within its own corrupt and deceitful heart. We know that the world is wrong in whistling past the graveyard, kidding itself that sin is not a big issue to God. The world is equally wrong to deny God, or to seek Him within or in nature.

We know that God is transcendent and holy. And we know that He has launched one and only one rescue operation. We know that the plan was laid in eternity. And we know that it was executed by the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that He accomplished what we could not.

But too much of the church is wrong, too. Those parts of the church that sideline Christ’s saving work, His Gospel, this age-spanning rescue plan of God, are terribly wrong. …Eager to be accepted by the world, they offer the world what the world wants on the world’s terms with just a light sprinkling of God-dust.

Given that Christ and His cross are central to God, they must be central to the church of God as well. Given that God pivots everything on the person and work of Christ, the church of Christ should do the same in its preaching, thinking, worship, and practice.

To put it bluntly: If we think we have something better to offer, then we think we know something God doesn’t know.

Taken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 6, “God’s Rescue Operation Executed” (Kindle version), which I read tonight. I simply had to share this end-of-chapter quote with you on this Sunday night.

Are we truly thankful for this world-tilting gospel of our sovereign God?! Let it be plain in all we say and do as those redeemed by the Lamb’s precious blood.

Good Friday Poems 2017

Good Friday-1On this day the Christian church commemorates the death of the Son of God in the place of His sinful people on Calvary’s hill, we give you a couple of poems for your meditation on the wonder of the cross of Jesus Christ (and April is National Poetry month).

The first is from one of my favorites, Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778), an Anglican divine and ardent Calvinist. He is the author of many precious poems, many of which have become well-known musical hymns (“Rock of Ages, etc.).

The following poem is taken from a small collection of his titled Hymns and Poems (Cross Publishing, 1971), the poem itself bearing the title “Refuge in the Righteousness of Christ.” You will readily see why it is appropriate for Good Friday.

    1   From thy supreme tribunal, Lord,
Where justice sits severe,
I to thy mercy seat appeal,
And beg forgiveness there.
      2      Tho’ I have sinned before the throne,
My advocate I see:
Jesus, be thou my Judge, and let
My sentence come from thee.
    3      Lo, weary to thy cross I fly,
There let me shelter find:
Lord, when thou callest thy ransomed home,
O leave me not behind!
     4      I joyfully embrace thy love
To fallen man revealed;
My hope of glory, dearest Lord,
On thee alone I build.
     5      The law was satisfied by him
Who flesh for me was made:
Its penalty he underwent,
Its precepts he obeyed.
    6      Desert and all self-righteousness
I utterly forego;
My robe of everlasting bliss,
My wedding garment thou!
        7      The spotless Savior lived for me,
And died upon the Mount:
Th’ obedience of his life and death
Is placed to my account.
   8      Canst thou forget that awful hour,
That sad, tremendous scene,
When thy dear blood on Calvary
Flowed out at every vein?
       9      No, Savior, no; thy wounds are fresh,
Even now they intercede;
Still, in effect, for guilty man
Incessantly they bleed.
   10      Thine ears of mercy still attend
A contrite sinner’s cries,
A broken heart, that groans for God,
Thou never wilt despise.
     11      O love incomprehensible,
That made thee bleed for me!
The Judge of all hath suffered death
To set his prisoner free!

The second poem is by a fellow church member at Faith PRC, Mrs. Thelma Westra. It is taken from her collection of poems published as Poems of Praise and is titled “On Calvary.”

Come with me to Calvary
To see the Suffering One.
He willingly submits Himself –
Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

His pain and anguish, so intense;
Alone He bears God’s wrath;
Forsaken, though He’s done no wrong,
He walks God’s chosen path.

It is for you and me He hangs
In utmost agony;
Atoning with each drop of blood,
From sin to set us free.

The seal of God’s approval
On the sacrifice thus made
Is the glorious resurrection,
Signaling the debt is paid.

Jesus conquered over death,
The vict’ry is complete;
Eternal life for us He won;
Come, worship at His feet.

The Gospel of “Re-“, Rev. W. Langerak – April 1, 2017 Standard Bearer

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (April 1, 2017) is once again filled with interesting, instructive, and edifying articles, as you will see from the cover image below.

One thing to call attention to is the editorial by Rev. Ken Koole. In “Our Need for Seminary Students: Time to Be Praying” he points out with numbers that do not lie that the PRC is going to be in urgent need of candidates for the ministry in the near future. Especially parents and young men ought to direct themselves to that article, but all of us ought to be praying for the fulfillment of this need.

SB-April1-2017

The article to which I call special attention is the word study by Rev. W. Langerak. The striking title “Re-” tips the reader off that his subject is those words in the Bible that begin with “re-” – and as you will notice, there are many such words in God’s Word.

Pastor Langerak ties these words to the redemption Jesus Christ secured for His people on the cross and His resurrection from the dead that we will celebrate this coming Friday and Sunday, and you will readily see the connection to such words as reconciliation, regeneration, and reward.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Re- – read and rejoice in which God has done through His Son!

The celebration of our redemption and resurrection in Jesus is a good time to remember the wonderful aspect of the gospel indicated by the prefix re- of these two words. Re- basically means “again” and denotes something repeated, returned back, or done intensely. Redemption, therefore, means “to be bought back” and resurrection “to be raised again.” And re- is one of the most common prefixes in Scripture, which shows the rich significance of “again” to the holy gospel. The gospel is the good news of re-.

Our Father has nurtured, raised, and stretched out His hand to rebellious (to war again) children, children who refused (give back as unwanted) to keep His covenant, hear His word, and obey His law, and rejected (to throw back) even His Christ (Dan. 9:9; Ps. 78:10, Hos. 4:6; Isa. 53:3). He came unto His own, but His own received (to take back) Him not (John 1:11). But the stone the builders reject and refuse, God makes the head of the corner (Ps. 118:22).

Through Christ, God gives us, therefore, the ministry of reconciliation (to bring together again)—that while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God by His death and assured salvation by His life (Rom. 5:10, Ps. 118:22). Although sheep going astray, we are returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls and received back into His favor (L.D. 4; 1Pet. 2:25).

The gospel is that the Lord remembers (takes to mind again) His covenant forever, but remembers our sins no more (Ps. 105:8; Heb. 10:17). Although He be high, He has respect for the lowly (1Pet. 1:17). He regards the crying of His children (Ps. 106:44). He releases the captives from prison and feeds those who cannot recompense (to pay back) Him again (Luke 14:14). The Lord removes our sins, restores our soul, revives and renews our spirit, repairs our broken hearts, and regenerates (to be born again) us by the incorruptible seed of the Word unto a lively hope that always remains in us (1Pet. 1:3, 23; 1John 3:9).

M. Luther on Christ’s Sufferings

Luther-Christ-crucified

4. Fourthly, they meditate on the Passion of Christ aright, who so view Christ that they become terror-stricken in heart at the sight, and their conscience at once sinks in despair. This terror-stricken feeling should spring forth, so that you see the severe wrath and the unchangeable earnestness of God in regard to sin and sinners, in that he was unwilling that his only and dearly beloved Son should set sinners free unless he paid the costly ransom for them as is mentioned in Is 53:8: “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” What happens to the sinner, when the dear child is thus stricken? An earnestness must be present that is inexpressible and unbearable, which a person so immeasurably great goes to meet, and suffers and dies for it; and if you reflect upon it real deeply, that God’s Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, himself suffers, you will indeed be terror-stricken; and the more you reflect the deeper will be the impression.

5. Fifthly, that you deeply believe and never doubt the least, that you are the one who thus martyred Christ. For your sins most surely did it. Thus St. Peter struck and terrified the Jews as with a thunderbolt in Acts 2:36-37, when he spoke to them all in common: “Him have ye crucified,” so that three thousand were terror-stricken the same day and tremblingly cried to the apostles: “O beloved brethren what shall we do?” Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believe it is your work. Do you behold his crown of thorns, believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts, etc.

8. Eighthly, one must skilfully exercise himself in this point, for the benefit of Christ’s sufferings depends almost entirely upon man coming to a true knowledge of himself, and becoming terror-stricken and slain before himself. And where man does not come to this point, the sufferings of Christ have become of no true benefit to him. For the characteristic, natural work of Christ’s sufferings is that they make all men equal and alike, so that as Christ was horribly martyred as to body and soul in our sins, we must also like him be martyred in our consciences by our sins. This does not take place by means of many words, but by means of deep thoughts and a profound realization of our sins. Take an illustration: If an evil-doer were judged because he had slain the child of a prince or king, and you were in safety, and sang and played, as if you were entirely innocent, until one seized you in a horrible manner and convinced you that you had enabled the wicked person to do the act; behold, then you would be in the greatest straits, especially if your conscience also revolted against you. Thus much more anxious you should be, when you consider Christ’s sufferings. For the evil doers, the Jews, although they have now judged and banished God, they have still been the servants of your sins, and you are truly the one who strangled and crucified the Son of God through your sins, as has been said.

9. Ninthly, whoever perceives himself to be so hard and sterile that he is not terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings and led to a knowledge of him, he should fear and tremble. For it cannot be otherwise; you must become like the picture and sufferings of Christ, be it realized in life or in hell; you must at the time of death, if not sooner, fall into terror, tremble, quake and experience all Christ suffered on the cross. It is truly terrible to attend to this on your deathbed; therefore you should pray God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate upon Christ’s Passion. For it is impossible for us profoundly to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ of ourselves, unless God sink them into our hearts. Further, neither this meditation nor any other doctrine is given to you to the end that you should fall fresh upon it of yourself, to accomplish the same; but you are first to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God’s grace and not through your own power. For in this way it happens that those referred to above never treat the sufferings of Christ aright; for they never call upon God to that end, but devise out of their own ability their own way, and treat those sufferings entirely in a human and an unfruitful manner.

Taken from Martin Luther’s sermon “Christ’s Holy Sufferings,” as found on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, where you find the following bibliographic material:

The following sermon is taken from volume II of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans In All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), in a series titled The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The original title of this sermon appears below (preached by Luther approx. 1519-1521). This e-text was scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal; it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction. Original pagination from the Baker edition has been kept intact for purposes of reference.

Goodness and Mercy Meet at the Cross – H. Hoeksema

And remember, in the light of the righteousness of God, all the imaginary goodness and righteousness of mere man are filthy rags (Isa.64:6). What is not of faith is sin (Rom.14:23). Righteousness is to love the Lord God with all one’s heart and mind and soul and strength, always and everywhere, in one’s whole life and with every means. All the rest is transgression of the law and worthy of eternal damnation. Remember also that God does not become angry with the wicked only in some future day of judgment, but he always judges, and he always is filled with holy wrath with regard to those who do iniquity. They are in death and stand in judgment. They lie under condemnation.

Yes, God is truly merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity and full of lovingkindness and truth, but since his mercy cannot be divorced from his righteousness and justice, it is a righteous mercy. God can reveal his mercy only to the righteous. And since no man is righteous in himself, and all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (3:23), God can be merciful to no man on the basis of man’s own goodness and righteousness. God is merciful, indeed, and his mercy endures forever, but his mercy is revealed as a righteous mercy only in the cross of Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord. In Christ’s atoning sacrifice, righteousness and grace, justice and mercy, embrace each other in blessed harmony. Gracious and merciful God is to those who are in Christ Jesus. For them there is no condemnation. Blessed are all who put their trust in him.

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHTaken from Herman Hoeksema’s radio sermon “God is Good” (based on Matthew 19:17), as found in Knowing God & Man (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006), p.42.

What will you do with the crucified Christ? ~ Rev. J. Marcus

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (March 15, 2017) contains, among other edifying articles, an instructive and inspirational meditation by Rev. John Marcus, pastor of First PRC in Edmonton, AB.

SB-March15-2017-cover

Pastor Marcus’ meditation is on John 19:18, “Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”

Below is the ending application of that meditation. As you will see, Rev. Marcus gives us good things to ponder as we reflect on the death of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

God’s word in our text is both a warning and a comfort to everyone who faces the question concerning their response to Christ.

It’s a warning to those who want a Christ and a religion according to which they can pursue their own lusts. Both sinners came face to face with Jesus and with death. They had time enough to repent. We might think to ourselves, “I can always repent when I’m older.” But, the first thief never repented. God gives us the example of this thief as a warning to everyone who pretends they will repent on their death beds.

On the other hand, Jesus in the midst of these two sinners is also an encouragement because it shows that Jesus forgives even the greatest of sinners. Though he had lived a life of violence and wickedness, the second thief found forgiveness at the cross. We must never think to ourselves, “My sins are too many or too great.” That would be to reproach Jesus and imply that His blood was not precious enough. In fact, it cleanses even the foulest of sinners. All who go to Christ and humble themselves before Him – even in the final hour of their lives – He will in no wise cast out.

Jesus Christ suffered the curse of God for all His elect. He suffered to satisfy the justice of a holy and righteous God whose anger burns against sinners.

What will you do with the crucified Christ?

If you are not an SB subscriber and would like to become one, or would like to receive a sample copy of this Reformed magazine, visit the RFPA website (ww.rfpa.org) or the link above.

The Great Fulfillment – M. Lloyd-Jones

come-jesus-guthrie-2008For this third Sunday in December we post an excerpt from a sermon of Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) found in the book Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (ed. Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2008).

The title is “The Great Fulfillment” and is based on Luke 1:54-55 (an excerpt from My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Meditations on the Meaning of Christmas, Crossway, 1988). Here are a few of Lloyd-Jones’ thoughts on this passage:

The incarnation is the supreme example of fulfilled prophecy, the supreme example of God’s faithfulness to his promises. And this is surely most comforting, especially as we consider it in the setting of the world in which we find ourselves.

The great covenant promise concerning redemption was made in its most explicit manner to Abraham. You can find it prior to that, but the definition of it, as it were, the explicit statement of it, is made to Abraham when he is told that in him, in his seed, shall all the world be blessed (Gen.12:3). That is what Mary is referring to when she says, ‘He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy to Abraham, and to his seed for ever’ (Luke 1:54, KJV).

…Mary at once sees the significance of what is happening – the significance of the Son that is to be born out of her womb.

…Mary sees now God is going to fulfill all these promises that he as made – ‘mercy to Abraham, and his seed forever.’ But how is it happening? ‘It happens,’ she said, ‘like this: “He hath holpen his servant Israel,” and that word means to succor, to help, or, perhaps better still, to lift up.

She is referring primarily, of course, to salvation itself, and that is where her statement is so significant. God had made this promise to Abraham concerning salvation, forgiveness, and reconciliation unto himself. We tend to forget that what God said to Abraham was that this salvation that was to come was to be brought about through this descendant of his that was yet to be born into this world.

…Here now, says Mary, is the great anti-type himself. Now God is going to fulfill all this mercy that he had promised…. And this means there is only one way of salvation; it means that all salvation and every aspect of it comes in this one way – in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and him crucified, made an offering for sin.

…Here is the fulfillment of all mercies. There is no forgiveness apart from Jesus Christ and him crucified. There is no true knowledge of God apart from him. There is no blessing apart from him. As the apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 1:20 (KJV): ‘For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” “He hath holpen his servant Israel.”