Calvinism’s “Solas” – Prof.B.Gritters, April 15, 2015 “Standard Bearer”

SB-April15-2015In the latest issue of The Standard Bearer (April 15, 2015) Prof.Barry Gritters adds another installment to his series on “What It Means to Be Reformed”, a series begun in the February 15, 2015 issue. This new article lays out “Calvinism’s Solas – the great Latin mottos of the Reformation: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone – to be treated in a later editorial), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and soli Deo gloria (to God alone glory).

If you are not familiar with these expressions, or have forgotten why they are important – especially the sola (only or alone) part – then this is a good place to be reminded. For our purposes in this post, we take you to the end of Prof.Gritters’ explanation and defense of these solas. Here he shows why Calvinism’s solas end where they do – with all glory given to God alone.

Soli Deo Gloria

     So that we may always say, “To God alone be the glory!”

     To put these four solas together is not difficult:  Christ alone saves through faith alone for the sake of grace alone, in order that all glory may be given to God alone!  If any of salvation—even the tiniest bit—comes from outside of Christ, or if Christ comes to man through any other instrument than His free gift of faith, or on account of any merit in man, then the glory of that tiniest bit of salvation goes to man and not to God.  Against that “gross blasphemy” Reformed believers fight with all their might.

       Canons [of Dordt] I:7 teaches gracious salvation, beginning in salvation’s source—sovereign election:  “for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of His glorious grace….”  The fathers in this ecumenical synod were looking at Scripture’s call to give all glory, in all things, to God and to God alone.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings…in Christ…according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:3-6).  And the book of Romans does nothing if it does not teach that everything revolves around God’s glory.  The heart of the reprobate’s sin is a refusal to give glory to God (1:23).  Sin is a coming “short of the glory of God” (3:23).  Paul teaches that if Abraham’s justification were by works, he would be able to glory in himself (4:2); but Abraham “was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (4:20).   Paul’s conclusion of the doctrinal section of the epistle, where all the doctrines of sovereign grace are taught is, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever.  Amen.” (11:36).  And Paul’s own Spirit-inspired exclamation point of the epistle, his very last words before the final “Amen,” are:  “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever” (16:27).

     No one else saves but Christ!  Nothing but grace and faith explain our salvation in Christ!  For none but God may receive the glory!

This is exclusive, for false teachings must be excluded.  This is antithetical, for truth must be defended over against the lie.  This is distinctive, for biblical truth must be known and confessed clearly, sharply, distinctly.  There may be no doubt as to Who is worthy of praise.  All of it.  This is Reformed.

For more on this issue, visit this news item on the PRC website. To start receiving the “SB”, visit the subscription page on the RFPA website.

The Weight of Shame: April “Tabletalk” – Burk Parsons

The Weight of Shame by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-April 2015On this first Monday of April we are able to introduce a new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ fine devotional magazine. The April issue has a simple and rare theme: “Shame.”

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue with the above-linked article. He has an excellent summary of the place shame has in the Christian’s life and how the gospel of the cross answers to our need. Here is the opening part of his introduction:

Shame—we all feel it, or at least we should. We are all sinful, and our sin brings shame. Although shame has all but disappeared from our culture’s vocabulary and is largely ignored by many in the church, it exists nonetheless and must be recognized and reckoned with.

If we are honest with ourselves, and more importantly, honest with God, we cannot help but admit that we feel shame as a result of our sin. Whether we sin in private or in public—and whether we perhaps even pretend not to have it—shame is undeniably real. We feel shame because God in His grace created all human beings with the capacity to feel shame as a consequence of their sin. John Calvin wrote, “Only those who have learned well to be earnestly dissatisfied with themselves, and to be confounded with shame at their wretchedness truly understand the Christian gospel.” If we have never truly felt the shame of our sin, we have never truly repented of our sin. For it is only when we recognize what wretches we are that we are able to sing “Amazing Grace” and know what a sweet sound it truly is.

There are five other featured articles on this theme, and they are laid out this way:

  • “Why We Feel Shame” – Jeremy Pierre
  • “What Shame Does” – James Coffield
  • “Our Shameless World” – Andrew D. Davis
  • “Tackling Shame” – W.Duncan Rankin
  • “Comfort My People” – Michael Lawrence

You may also wish to check out the interview feature in this issue – it is with Rosaria Butterfield, well-known converted lesbian and now a Reformed Presbyterian pastor’s wife. Her’s is quite an amazing story and testimony to the grace of God in Christ. I plan to reference this later, but you may read the interview here: “An Unlikely Convert.”

For now, here is also an excerpt from the first featured article – the one linked in the list above, by Dr. Jeremy Pierre – also a good read!

Now wait a second. Did I just say that shame is healthy? Yes, but note this very carefully: shame is a healthy part, but not a healthy end of the Christian experience. Shame is not the final conclusion we make about ourselves. It is a painful awareness that keeps us from resting contentedly in our fallen state. It drives us to seek defense from the accusations, a refuge from the threat of judgment, some shred of grace from a merciful Judge.

And only by being pushed will we find that there’s more than a shred of grace. There are reams of it. Reams of white linen to clothe naked people.

This is the Christian gospel, one that Christians proclaim to themselves over and over as they live under the daily burden of being reminded of the remaining darkness within. In this way, God reverses Satan’s use of shame. Satan wants our shame to drive us away from God and into the bushes. God wants our shame to drive us to Himself for clothing.

Premillennialism, Revelation 20, and the Great Tribulation – D.J. Engelsma

Also in the March 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer,under the rubric “Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass”, Prof. (emeritus, PRC Seminary) David J. Engelsma delves deeper into the errors of premillennialism by taking on its explanation of Revelation 20, a key passage for a proper understanding of the doctrine of the last things (eschatology) and the believer’s hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Among the serious errors that Engelsma addresses in this article is the error of teaching that the NT church (Christians) will avoid the “great tribulation” (trial of persecution) at the end of this age. Properly showing how dangerous this is to the life and hope of the believer, Engelsma makes these comments – comments that ought to alert us to our true hope of the one coming of Christafter the tribulation – indeed, to deliver His own out of the midst of this fierce battle with its great personal cost.

Let every Reformed, indeed Protestant, reader take note that premillennialism has the coming great tribulation fall upon the Jews.  We Christians will be exempt, for we, of course, are supposed to be in the air somewhere or other while the tribulation rages.  All Christians will have been raptured before Antichrist rampages on the stage of world history.

…This exemption of the church and the Christian from the persecution of Antichrist is an outstanding sin of premillennial doctrine.  The sin is eminently practical.  Premillennialism does not prepare God’s people for the looming threat of persecution for Christ’s sake at the hands of the antichristian world-power.  In this respect, premillennialism is one with postmillennialism.  Both of the millennial errors assure the church of the 21st century that she has nothing to fear, or prepare for, with regard to suffering the great tribulation.  Premil-lennialism tells the church that she will be raptured prior to Antichrist’s raging in the world, and that the object of his hatred will be the Jews.  Postmillennialism preaches to the church that, whoever the Antichrist was and whenever he carried out his antichristian work, Antichrist and his fulminations are safely in the past.

     Exempting the church from the persecution by Antichrist helps explain the popularity of the two millennial errors.  Humans shrink from persecution, especially from that persecution about which our Lord said, “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21).

     Nevertheless, this is altogether the wrong attitude of Reformed Christians with regard to the coming persecution.  The believer should regard it an unspeakably great privilege to be counted worthy by the Savior to confess that Jesus is Lord in the face of the greatest attack on God and His Anointed in all history, and to seal this confession with his suffering and even with his blood.  And the divine reward for this spiritual battle against the beast and this faithfulness to Jesus will be correspondingly great.  This reward is described in Revelation 20:4-6:  resurrection in the soul at the moment of death into the life and glory of heaven, where they reign with Christ.

New Edition of “In the Beginning God” – Homer C. Hoeksema

In the Beg God - HCH - 2015The Reformed Free Publishing Association has just released a fresh edition of Homer C. Hoeksema’s (1923-1989) In the Beginning God (c.1966; 2nd ed., 2015). The book was the fruit of three timely lectures Prof. H.C. Hoeksema delivered in the old First PRC (Grand Rapids, MI) in the winter and spring of 1966.

The timeliness and importance of this book is noted in the publisher’s description:

The 1960s were years of challenges to the infallibility and inspiration of scripture. These attacks were precipitated by the increasingly popular theory of evolution, which was making inroads into Reformed churches and schools. In contradiction to this creeping heresy and in unequivocal defense of the doctrine of scripture, the Reformed Free Publishing Association published In the Beginning God.

Since then the conflict between creation and evolution as the explanation of the origin of the world has intensified, and the doctrine of scripture is increasingly compromised, even in historically Reformed churches and schools.

God’s people must be knowledgeable regarding the doctrines of scripture and of creation so that they are able staunchly to defend these truths. To this end the Reformed Free Publishing Association is pleased to republish this explanation and defense of these timeless truths.

With the timely reissue of this work we heartily concur, recommending this book to our PRC members but also to the broader Christian and Reformed community. Given the bolder and wider attacks against Scripture, and particularly against the opening chapters of God’s Book, especially now in the most conservative Evangelical and Reformed churches and institutions of higher education, the message of this significant work is important to digest and heed.

And the starting point for any serious discussion of and defense of the origin of the world is indeed where “HCH” placed it – the infallibility of holy Scripture. Listen to these words in his opening chapter:

The scriptures as we have them are the written record of the word of God. This is a great wonder. From among all books and all writings you can single out the scriptures and say about them, ‘This book is the word of God himself.’

…This is important practically with respect to inspiration, infallibility, and the various problems and questions that arise in connection with these truths. I fear that we are sometimes inclined to forget this. When we do forget, we are inclined to take a rationalistic approach and attempt to meet the opponent of the scriptures and of infallibility on his rationalistic ground. When we cannot succeed in overcoming his apparently well-reasoned arguments, we weaken and begin to have doubts concerning inspiration and infallibility, and we become inclined to compromise.

Hence we must remember that the Bible and its inspiration and its infallibility are strictly matters of faith. This means that the truth of infallibility is a spiritual matter: not a matter of the head, but a matter of the heart. The unbeliever cannot recognize the Bible as the inspired and infallible word of God. That is a matter of the heart, a matter of faith. We stand on holy ground when we talk about scripture, and we ought to be deeply aware of this. Faith does not start with the question, is the Bible the word of God? Faith starts with the proposition that the Bible is the word of God.

…The Bible as the word of God in its divinely inspired and infallible character towers far above any human, sinful efforts to contradict the Bible, and it towers above any merely human efforts to defend it. The truth of the Bible depends on neither. It depends on God. God’s word and its truth are not dependent on our understanding, but our understanding is dependent on the word of God (9-11).

Heaven Tourism Books Pulled from Nearly 200 Christian Bookstores – ChristianityToday.com

Heaven Tourism Books Pulled from Nearly 200 Christian Booksto… | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com.

90-minutes-in-heaven-9780800759490Here is a healthy development in the world of Christian books: removing from shelves and stores books purporting to relate one’s experiences of going to heaven – a wildly popular form of writing, publishing, and reading these days. And part of the reason for doing so is also good – the sufficiency of Scripture to tell us about the afterlife.

“CT” carries this story from Baptist Press in this week’s summary of Christian news (“Gleanings”). I post the first part of the story here; find all of it at the “CT” link above.

NASHVILLE (BP) — LifeWay Christian Resources has stopped selling all “experiential testimonies about heaven” following consideration of a 2014 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife.”

LifeWay told Baptist Press about its decision to halt sales of heaven visitation resources today (March 24) in response to an inquiry about the book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, which is being made into a movie slated for release this fall. The book recounts Piper’s supposed experience of heaven following a severe auto accident and has sold 6.5 million copies in 46 languages.

…Though LifeWay “was not mentioned in the SBC resolution affirming the sufficiency of biblical revelation and affirming the truth about heaven and hell,” King told BP in an interview, “the resolution was approved overwhelmingly and was considered during our process.”

The resolution, adopted by messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June, warned Christians not to allow “the numerous books and movies purporting to explain or describe the afterlife experience” to “become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife.”

…The resolution affirmed “the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell.”

Why Inerrancy is Essential – Michael Kruger

Why It’s Essential by Michael Kruger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - March 2015Yesterday before worship services I finished reading through my March Tabletalk, including the final articles on this month’s theme, “Inerrancy and the Doctrine of Scripture.”

The first of these final articles is by Dr. Michael Kruger (professor of NT at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC) and titled “Why It’s [Inerrancy] Essential.” One of the things he does in his article is answer various objections that have been raised in the Christian academic world against the doctrine of inerrancy. I find this form of apologetics to be most helpful, and include here for  your benefit one such objection that he answers (for the full article, follow the Ligonier link above).

3. Inerrancy is not taught by the Bible itself. Some have suggested that there is no exegetical argument for inerrancy, but only a theological one based on the fact that God is a God of truth and cannot lie. Who are we (so the argument goes) to determine what kind of book God could or could not inspire? But again, this argument proves to be a straw man.

First, there is nothing inappropriate about theological arguments—some doctrines flow naturally from other doctrines that we already believe. For instance, many of our beliefs about the Trinity are not based on simple proof-texting, but are pieced together from a variety of theological considerations (for example, God is one, yet Jesus is God). If we believe the Bible is the very Word of God—that is, when Scripture speaks, God speaks—then it follows that the contents of the Bible are truthful. One need only consider Jesus’ own view of the Old Testament. Time and again, Jesus appeals to Old Testament passages and always receives it as truth, never correcting it, criticizing it, or pointing out inconsistencies. Indeed, He not only refrained from correcting the Scriptures, but He also affirmed the Scriptures “cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and that “[God’s] Word is truth” (John 17:17). It is unthinkable that Jesus would ever have read an Old Testament passage and declared, “Well, this passage is simply wrong.”

A second beneficial article I read on this subject is that which immediately follows Krugers in the magazine, “Just Me and My Bible?” by Rev.Terry Johnson (pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA). In this interesting article Johnson shows that the Reformed faith too has a healthy regard for the church’s tradition (contra Rome, but understood properly), most prominently in her creedal heritage, when it comes to understanding the Bible.

I also leave you with a portion of his article, encouraging you to read the rest at the link above (at his title).

Bible study is meant to take place in an ecclesiastical context, one that stretches back to the Apostles. We read Scripture in light of what properly ordained pastor teach, but also in light of what the creeds and councils, the confessions and theologians—of the catholic (universal) and Reformed tradition—have taught. Too many contemporary Christians barely hide their contempt for “traditional ways of doing things.” By way of contrast, Paul urges the Corinthians to “maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2; see 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). He urges them to maintain not merely the “message,” the “good news,” the “teaching,” the “instruction,” or the “commandment,” but the “tradition.” In the immediate context, Paul is talking about the infallible Apostolic tradition that we know today as the New Testament. Still, there is a secondary application—those who have gone before us could err and have erred, but it is wise for us to give the benefit of the doubt to the great men and women of God who interpreted the Bible before us.

This tradition is the interpretive or exegetical heritage of those who hold to the Reformed faith. I am to read my Bible not in isolation, but in consultation with that heritage, its teachers (both alive and deceased), and its implications for theology, ecclesiology, ethics, worship, and family life. What did our ecclesiastical ancestors say about a given passage of Scripture? What was their consensus on a given doctrinal theme? A given church practice? Humility demands that we go beyond “just me and my Bible” as we seek to be faithful in our generation.

A Spiritually Thriving Christian – J.Owen

The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen  -     By: Ryan M. McGraw<br />
This weekend I started to do some reading in a new title I had received for review from Reformation Heritage Books. The book, edited and introduced by Ryan M McGraw, is a small (in size and length – 150 pgs.) paperback titled The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen, part of their series “Profiles in Reformed Spirituality”.

The work, which purposes to introduce the reader to the theology of Puritan John Owen (1616-1683), consists mainly of brief selections (41 in all) from Owen’s writings, tying together the main themes of his theology: the Trinity (communion with God) and public worship (piety).

As I read through some of these brief chapters, I was struck by this one, “A Spiritually Thriving Christian”, taken from Owen’s The Nature and Causes of Apostasy. Keep that broader title in mind as Owen describes how important the church’s means of grace are for the spiritual health and growth of the believer. I believe you will find his thoughts a fitting cap to our Lord’s day in God’s house of fellowship and worship.

Again, there is not anything in the whole course of our obedience wherein the continual exercise of faith and spiritual wisdom, with diligence and watchfulness, is more indispensably required than it is to the due use and improvement of gospel privileges and ordinances, for there is no other part of our duty whereon our giving glory to God and the eternal concern of our own souls more eminently depend.

And he is a spiritually thriving Christian who knows how duly to improve gospel institutions of worship and does so accordingly, for they are the only ordinary outward means whereby the Lord Christ communicates of His grace to us and whereby we immediately return love, praise, thanks, and obedience to Him, in which spiritual intercourse the actings of our spiritual life principally do consist, and whereon, by consequence, its growth depends. It is therefore certain that our growth or decay in holiness, our steadfastness in or apostasy from profession, are greatly influenced by the use or abuse of these privileges (81).

“And so He (Christ, the Son of God) died.” – Rev. H.Hoeksema

After describing all that death is and what it signifies, Rev. Herman Hoeksema applies it to Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died on the cross at Calvary:

And so He died.

O, yes, it was necessary that He, too, should die the physical death. He might not simply suffer the agonies of death on the cross, in order then to be revived or glorified in the sight of the enemies. He must bear the wrath of God to the end. The sentence of God in physical death is that the sinner has absolutely forfeited every right to his existence in the world. This sentence must be executed upon Christ also. God takes away His whole earthly house. His very name perishes. His body, too, collapses, and He gives up the ghost. Also upon Him the sentence is pronounced that He is unworthy to exist on the earth.

Only, as the Head of His people, He agrees with the sentence of God with all His heart. He makes of death an act. His life He lays down even as God takes it. His spirit He commends to God, His body He delivers over into the place of corruption. His name and position He freely offers up to the righteousness of God. And in delivering up His soul unto death He confesses: ‘Thou, Father, art just and righteous, when Thou judgest that the sinner has no right to be, should be utterly destroyed from the earth, and should sink into everlasting desolation. Take my life, my name, my all. Freely I offer it in love to Thee. For even now it is my meat to do Thy will!’

…Only His death, the death of the Son of God Himself in human nature, could be so deep, so precious in the sight of God, that by His obedience many could be made righteous. Only when the death of the cross is the death of the Son of God can we have the assurance that our sins are blotted out for ever, and that in Christ we have the righteousness of God by faith.

Triple Knowledge-10vols-2015Taken from Rev.Herman Hoeksema’s explanation of Lord’s Day XVI (16), Q&As 40-44, of the Heidelberg Catechism, as found in The Death of the Son of God (Vol.3 of “The Triple Knowledge”; originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1946 and now being reprinted by the RFPA), p.247-250.

Where Does Scripture’s Authority Come From? – Keith Mathison

What We’ve Received by Keith Mathison | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - March 2015The above-linked article in this month’s Tabletalk is the third one centered on the theme of the March issue – “Inerrancy and the Doctrine of Scripture.”

Dr.Keith A. Mathison is the author of this article, and in it he treats the authority of Scripture in connection with how we know in the first place what books belong to the Bible (its “canon”). As he shows us the Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura, he refutes Rome’s claim that the church is the body that determines the canon of the Bible and therefore she is the one who gives Scripture its authority. Mathison shows plainly that the Bible carries its own authority because it is the Word of God.

What I appreciated about this article is its solid historical and confessional foundation rooted in the great Reformation. Repeatedly Mathison takes us to the historic Reformed creeds of the Reformation (Westminster Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Second Helvetic Confession, etc.).

This is a lengthy article, but well-worth your reading. I give you a portion of it here, where Mathison gets at the heart of the controversy between the Reformed and Rome. Find the full article at this link (or the one above).

The question at the heart of the debate between Rome and the Protestants regarding the canon and the authority of Scripture may be stated as follows (using Michael Kruger’s terminology): Is the canon of Scripture community determined or is it self-authenticating? According to Rome, the authority of Scripture depends upon the authority of the church. The most fundamental problem with this view, however carefully it may be nuanced and qualified, is that it unavoidably and inevitably places the authority of God beneath the authority of the church. It completely reverses the true state of affairs. If we are to believe in the authority of Scripture, according to Rome, we must assume the authority of the church. But why should we accept the authority of the church? Is it self-authenticating? No, Rome says, and she appeals to Scripture to establish the authority of the church just as she appeals to the church to establish the authority of Scripture. The circular nature of this appeal has been pointed out since the Reformation.

To say that the canon and authority of Scripture is self-authenticating is to say what the Reformed confessions say. It is, to use the words of William Whitaker, to say that “the Scripture is autopistos.” It has “all its authority and credit from itself.” Why? Because it is the Word of the living God, and God does not have to appeal to the church in order to establish His own inherent sovereign authority. God is God. The church is not God.

So, how is it that the church has come to recognize the right books and only the right books? Jesus Himself gives us the answer when He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). As Roger Nicole has pointed out, the best way to describe the way in which we know the canon is “the witness of the Holy Spirit given corporately to God’s people.” Recognition of the canonical books is due to the action of the Holy Spirit’s enabling God’s people to hear His voice.

The Paradox of the Cross – H.Hoeksema

And the expression of this wrath, i.e., the pain and agony, the suffering and misery, the sorrow and anguish of soul, the desolation and darkness, the fear and terror, the death and hell, that becomes the experience of him against whom God directs His wrath, Christ experienced!

That is the explanation, but at the same time the paradox of the cross!

At the moment of His deepest and most perfect obedience, He endures the agonies of the damned!

At the moment when God is most highly pleased with Him, He experiences all the terror of being forsaken of God!

But this is exactly why hell is still a question, an outcry to God for an answer! And that is the reason, too, why, even from the darkness of hell, and in the condition of utter desolation, the obedient Servant can still cry out: ‘My God, My God!’

He, that knew no sin, is made sin!

And that is also the reason, why his question, pressed from His utterly forsaken and agonized soul, has an answer. In the hell of mere sinners there is no question. It is the answer, the final answer, the answer of everlasting wrath. But the suffering Servant of Jehovah, because He is obedient and yet forsaken, has a question: Why me? And it receives an answer presently, an answer to which the Servant responds even at the cross: It is finished!

Triple Knowledge-10vols-2015Taken from Rev.Herman Hoeksema’s explanation of Lord’s Day XV (15), Q&As 37-39, of the Heidelberg Catechism, as found in The Death of the Son of God (Vol.3 of “The Triple Knowledge”; originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1946 and now being reprinted by the RFPA), p.214

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 536 other followers