Sad and Sweet

August 7th, 2011

Great theological writing often takes on some of the pregnancy of expression that characterizes Scripture itself, where each thought can be unfolded and deductions drawn from it, so that it is seen that a very great deal of truth was compressed into quite a compact form. James Durham illustrates that in this paragraph from the 22nd of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53: it is not just that there are 72 sermons on the twelve verses that take up the chapter, but that in this paragraph there are many points contained that could be set out at large.

It is hard to tell whether the subject of this verse, and almost of this whole chapter, is more sad or more sweet. It is indeed a sad subject to read and hear of the great sufferings of our blessed Lord Jesus and of the despiteful usage that he met with, and to see such a speat of malice spewed and spit out on that glorious face; so that, when he is bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, we do even then account him plagued, smitten of God, and afflicted, and in a manner look upon it as well bestowed. Yet it is a most sweet subject, if we either consider the love it comes from, or the comfortable effects that follow it; that has been the rise, the cause, and the occasion of much singing to man here below, and is the cause and occasion of so much singing among the redeemed that are this day before the throne of God. And as the grace of God has overcome the malice of men, so we are persuaded this cause of rejoicing has a sweetness in it beyond the sadness, though often we mar our own spiritual mirth, and know not how to dance when he pipes unto us.

Carelessly Stabbing Hearts

July 25th, 2011

Thomas Manton, in his sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:13, has a profitable word for ministers, and all believers who speak to others, to be cautious in how the threatenings of God’s word are presented to His people:

How careful we should be to support the hearts of God’s people, when we speak of his terrible judgments on the wicked. This was the practice of the apostles everywhere; as when the author to the Hebrews had spoken of the dreadful state of apostates, ‘whose end is to be burned:’ Heb. vi. 9, ‘But we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak;’ he did not condemn them all as apostates, nor would discourage them by that terrible threatening. So again, after another terrible passage: Heb. x. 39, ‘But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.’ Once more, when another apostle had spoken of the sin unto death, which is not to be prayed for, he presently addeth, 1 John v. 19, 19, ‘Whosoever is born of God, sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.’ Zuinglius saith, Bone Christiane, haec nihil ad te, &c.—Good Christian, this is not thy portion, when he had flashed the terrors of the Lord in the face of sinners. The reasons of this are partly with respect to the saints, who, sometimes out of weakness and infirmity, and sometimes out of tenderness of conscience, are apt to be startled, electorum corda semper ad se sollicite pudeant (Gregor.) We deserve such dreadful judgments, and therefore fear them; partly, with respect to ourselves, that we may rightly divide the word of truth: 2 Tim. Ii. 15, ‘Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’ Give every one his portion; make not their hearts sad whom God would not make sad, and, therefore, they are much to blame who, in reproving sinners, stab a saint at the heart, and take the doctrine but for a colour to make a perverse application. The apostle here useth more tenderness: ‘God shall send them strong delusion. But we are bound always to give thanks for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord; because the Lord hath from beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’

Doing Christ a Favor

July 18th, 2011

James Durham, Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, speaking of that phrase in Isaiah 53:11, He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied has this to say:

There is here a sweet word of consolation to poor souls, that fain would have sin taken away and are afraid to presume. Our Lord will never be angry, that you make use of his sufferings for your own good; nay, he accounts it a satisfaction to him, that you improve them; that, when you find yourselves arrested for sin, you put it on his score, and draw a bill on him to pay your debt; that, when you find yourselves under them, which, to you, looks like the dominion of sin, you look to his cross for virtue to crucify, kill and subdue it. If therefore (as I have often said), you would do him a favor or pleasure, make use of him. Be assured, that the more weight you lay on him, you do him the greater pleasure; and this is all the amends that he seeks for all the wrongs you have done to him, and all the satisfaction that he seeks for all the good turns he has done to you, that you come to him, thus to make use of him. And it is good reason, even all the reason in the world, that he get this amends made to him, and this satisfaction granted to him.

The return we make to Christ for his work on our behalf, is to make use of it. It is not presumption, as the weak in conscience sometimes think, to stake a claim to the advocacy of Christ: on the contrary, refusal to use him is the ultimate insult to his grace. Would you please Christ? Then trust him alone for all your salvation and take each qualm of conscience and pang of guilt about your sin to him to deal with.

The Most Blissful State

July 10th, 2011

I think that Topic 20 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology may well contain the most beautiful and moving words about the final state that I have ever read. By themselves they can stand as a complete refutation of the silly theory that academic theologians must necessarily have cool and withered hearts, or can only produce dry and dusty writings. What follows is only a small excerpt from a much longer section.

But in order to understand more fully that most blissful state, we think the three things are to be united here which inseparably cohere with each other in happiness: sight, love, joy. From these effloresces that ineffable glory with which the blessed will shine for ever on account of their fruition of the supreme good. For as that happiness is the full and ultimate perfection of the soul and all its faculties, so it requires the operation of all the powers, every imperfection having been removed (i.e., perfect vision, and from it supreme joy and consolation). Sight contemplates God as the supreme good; love is carried out towards him, and is most closely united with him; and joy enjoys and acquiesces in him. Sight perfects the intellect, love the will, joy the conscience. Sight answers to faith, which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, which will then be changed into sight because we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight, beholding God face to face. Love consummated, by which we will be united with God, will answer to love begun, which sanctifies the heart. Joy answers to hope, which accompanies the fruition of the thing hoped for. Vision begets love. God cannot be seen without being loved; love draws joy after it because he cannot be possessed without filling with joy. Vision is opposed to the banishing of the damned from his face and to the most dense darkness of ignorance in which they lie; love the most furious hatred which they cherish toward him; joy to the dreadful despair and wailing which will arise from the multiplicity and continuity of the torments they will feel.

That God gives Himself to man is a fundamental point of religion. Christian theology has also insisted that God gives Himself undividedly, and not merely to the church as a whole, but particularly to each individual believer. Here are three witnesses asserting that each believer can say, “God is mine” meaning, “God is wholly mine”.

Augustine, Confessions, briefly asserts the point.

O Thou Good omnipotent, who so carest for everyone of us, as if Thou caredst for him only; and so for all, as if they were but one!

Geerhardus Vos, Grace & Glory, demonstrates the point from the prophet Hosea.

In the third place the fruition of Himself granted by God to us is individual. There can be no division to it; each must of necessity receive the whole, if he is to receive it at all. This follows from the nature of the gift itself. If the gift consisted of impersonal values, either material or spiritual, the supply might be quantitatively distributed over many persons. But being, as it is, the personal favor of God, it must be poured as a whole into the receptacle of the human heart. The parable of marriage not only teaches that the covenant relation is a monogamic one, but implies besides that it is a bond binding unitary soul to soul.

And to make the matter firm, Henry P. Liddon (quoted in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 63), gives textual proof and theological proof.
[Of the phrase ‘O God, thou art my God’]

The word represents not a human impression, or desire, or conceit, but an aspect, a truth, a necessity of the divine nature. Man can, indeed, give himself by halves; he can bestow a little of his thought, of his heart, of his endeavour upon his brother man. In other words, man can be imperfect in his acts as he is imperfect and finite in his nature. But when God, the Perfect Being, loves the creature of his hand, he cannot thus divide his love. He must perforce love with the whole directness and strength and intensity of his Being; for He is God, and therefore incapable of partial and imperfect action. He must give Himself to the single soul with as absolute a completeness as if there were no other being besides it, and, on his side, man knows that this gift of himself by God is thus entire; and in no narrow spirit of ambitious egotism, but as grasping and representing the literal fact, he cries “My God.” (…) Therefore we find St. Paul writing to the Galatians as if his own single soul had been redeemed by the sacrifice of Calvary: “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Reborn for the Future

October 17th, 2010

Awake, O man, and recognize the dignity of thy nature. Recollect thou wast made in the image of GOD, which although it was corrupted in Adam, was yet re-fashioned in Christ. Use visible creatures as they should be used, as thou usest earth, sea, sky, air, springs, and rivers: and whatever in them is fair and wondrous, ascribe to the praise and glory of the Maker. Be not subject to that light wherein birds and serpents, beasts and cattle, flies and worms delight. Confine the material light to your bodily senses, and with all your mental powers embrace that “true light which lighteth every man that cometh into this world,” and of which the prophet says, “Come unto Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not blush.” For if we “are a temple of GOD, and the Spirit of GOD dwelleth in” us, what every one of the faithful has in his own heart is more than what he wonders at in heaven. And so, dearly beloved, we do not bid or advise you to despise GOD’s works or to think there is anything opposed to your Faith in what the good GOD has made good, but to use every kind of creature and the whole furniture of this world reasonably and moderately: for as the Apostle says, “the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Hence because we are born for the present and reborn for the future, let us not give ourselves up to temporal goods, but to eternal: and in order that we may behold our hope nearer, let us think on what the Divine Grace has bestowed on our nature on the very occasion when we celebrate the mystery of the LORD ’s birthday. Let us hear the Apostle, saying: “for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in GOD. But when CHRIST, who is your life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory:” who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen.

Leo the Great, On the Feast of the Nativity, VII (Sermon 27)

On Doing God a Favor

October 10th, 2010

Martin Luther (On John 15:16):

Now let the monks and the whole world go ahead and boast of their merits, and let them choose as long as they please. You hear Christ say: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” He refuses to grant that He was chosen by you. All Scripture reproves and condemns any choosing on our part before and without God’s commandment. That is what the Jews did when they instituted their service of God, which they themselves chose and set apart from those ordained and established by God. They captioned it as follows: “This is the chosen service of God. Here we want to find God, reconcile Him, and obtain mercy.” That is how they treated God in everything; they always wanted to take the initiative and to decide upon what should please God. They instituted the use of incense and sacrifice in every vale and on the mountaintops, where there was a green forest or some other attractive spot; and then they boasted that there they had found the true God, who would now have to be gracious to them. Oh, how the prophets wearied themselves rebuking the people because of this abominable vice! Thus we hear Isaiah lament in chapter 66, verse 3: “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations”; and in chapter 1, verse 29, we read: “For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted, and you shall blush for the gardens which you have chosen”; and in chapter 66, verse 3, Isaiah says that he who engages in such self-chosen sacrifices and service of God reminds him of one “who offers swine’s blood; who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog’s neck.” Before God such self-chosen holiness is nothing but sheer murder or blasphemy or a denial of God; for in no circumstances will God consent to it if we presume to prescribe and choose what should please Him. We monks used to choose the things that should procure God’s mercy for us. I thought: “Oh, if I enter a cloister and serve God in cowl and tonsure, He will reward and welcome me!”
Thus the entire papacy is nothing but disobedience to and enmity against God. For they are so mad and so stupid that they simply refuse to let God take the first step of seeking and electing them through His word and offering them all His mercy and His friendship through His Son’s suffering and death. All this they disdain and reject. They want to have the glory and the prerogative that God should exist by our grace and do according to our choosing.
Well, this has been the bone of contention in the world ever since the beginning, and I suppose it will remain that until the end. Cain also wanted God to conform to his pattern; he wanted God to have regard for his own work and offering and not for his brother’s. And the world has consistently followed in his footsteps up to the present hour. This is inevitable, for it cannot refrain from reversing the words of our text and saying in fact: “I do not want to be chosen by God, but I want to anticipate Him and choose Him.” But God can and will never tolerate this; He reverses the order and declares: “You cannot and shall not choose Me, but I must choose you. Things will not go as you plan, but as I will. I will be your Lord and Master; I refuse to be taught by you.”
Throughout Scripture, therefore, God condemned and rejected all such choosing without and contrary to His commandment. St. Paul, too, is a bitter enemy of this vice. In Col. 2:18 he says: “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement”; also verse 23: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement.” Thus he described the monasticism that was to come; it would introduce nothing but the self-chosen service of God, which it would embellish and adorn by saying: “I mean well, and I am doing this out of love for God and in His honor. Therefore this will please Him, and He will be gracious to me.” Of course, God is twice as hostile to such men as He is to the others; for He Himself tells us how He wants to be served, just as He Himself called the people of Israel out of Egypt and gave them the Ten Commandments, which told them what to do and what not to do, lest they themselves devise and specify how they should serve Him.
Therefore Christ says here: “Just forget about all your boasting that you chose Me. Follow Me, and let Me choose you first. Listen to what I say to you, in order that I, not you, may have the glory of having merited this for you by My blood and death.” Thus He told them to be humble, as Christians must be, because they enjoy the high honor and the great glory of being called Christ’s and God’s friends. God wants them to know and never to forget what made them friends. They must always confess that they have not merited or earned this friendship, but that it has been given to them out of the Lord Christ’s pure grace. A friend who takes and demands nothing of us but only gives and presents everything to us deserves to be loved, cherished, and honored. In other instances, the world accepts favors gladly, but is reluctant to do them. Why, then, is this favor not welcomed? Here on earth we are ready to accept favors from everyone; here no one can do too much for us. But because God wants to give us everything good from heaven, we decline to accept it. Here we want to reverse the order and to do the poor Man, our Lord God, a favor – the One from whom we should accept favors. Here people erect buildings, endow and sacrifice abundantly, give and do what should be given and done, just in order that we may praise the service we are rendering to God. On the other hand, when we are asked to give to our neighbor who is in need of our help, and to do good to him, we will not and cannot do or give anything. In brief, we refuse to accept anything from God, and we refuse to give others anything. This is a shameful and accursed plague inflicted on the human race by the devil, who corrupts and contaminates all that is good, true, and holy.

In some ways, Luther comes very close to the regulative principle of worship here, referencing some of the same texts that would be used in subsequent discussions (the example of Cain, Colossians 2). Obviously he doesn’t quite get that far, perhaps because he is thinking so exclusively in terms of the favor of God, whether we receive it freely or acquire it by effort, that he doesn’t stop to apply his own words to the regulation of worship apart from the question of justification.

O Sweet Exchange!

October 3rd, 2010

As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.

The Epistle to Diognetus

The Overthrow of Satan

September 26th, 2010

Whether or not the Seventy actually returned to Jesus before the Feast of Tabernacles, it is convenient to consider in this connection the result of their Mission. It had filled them with the ‘joy’ of assurance; nay, the result had exceeded their expectations, just as their faith had gone beyond the mere letter unto the spirit of His Words. As they reported it to Him, even the demons had been subject to them through His Name. In this they had exceeded the letter of Christ’s commission; but as they made experiment of it, their faith had grown, and they had applied His command to ‘heal the sick’ to the worst of all sufferers, those grievously vexed by demons. And, as always, their faith was not disappointed. Nor could it be otherwise. The great contest had been long decided; it only remained for the faith of the Church to gather the fruits of that victory. The Prince of Light and Life had vanquished the Prince of Darkness and Death. The Prince of this world must be cast out. {St. John 12:31.} In spirit, Christ gazed on ‘Satan fallen as lightning from heaven.’ As one has aptly paraphrased it: ‘While you cast out his subjects, I saw the prince himself fall.’ It has been asked, whether the words of Christ referred to any particular event, such as His Victory in the Temptation. But any such limitation would imply grievous misunderstanding of the whole. So to speak, the fall of Satan is to the bottomless pit; ever going on to the final triumph of Christ. As the Lord beholds him, he is fallen from heaven — from the seat of power and of worship; for, his mastery is broken by the Stronger than he. And he is fallen like lightning, in its rapidity, dazzling splendor, and destructiveness. {Revelation 12:7-12.} Yet as we perceive it, it is only demons cast out in His Name. For still is this fight and sight continued, and to all ages of the present dispensation. Each time the faith of the Church casts out demons — whether as formerly, or as they presently vex men, whether in the lighter combat about possession of the body, or in the sorer fight about possession of the soul — as Christ beholds it, it is ever Satan fallen. For, he sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied.

Alfred Edersheim The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ, including equipping Him for that work, has received considerable attention from Reformed, perhaps particularly from Puritan, theologians. It is a Biblically grounded and theologically significant topic that we would do well to remember and understand. Hugh Martin sets it out briefly:

Whatever therefore is now requisite or suitable in Him that shall be acknowledged as the last Adam, Head of the redeemed of God, First-born among many brethren, standing in the room and at the head of all, that the Holy Spirit shall now work gloriously by His grace in the Man that is Jehovah’s fellow, and redeemer of the sons of men. Far-reaching wisdom, and understanding, and insight into the Father’s eternal counsel with Himself the eternal Son (Isa. 11:2), shall now dwell in His human intellect. Sympathy profound with the Father’s electing love shall now beat true and tender in His human heart. Compassion for the countless perishing ones, and adoring desire for His Father’s glory in their salvation, shall now qualify Him to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18). Patience unmurmuring; perseverance, in the face of hell’s floods of opposition; mercy, in the face of men’s malice and rejection of Him; longings for His cross, and agonies till His baptism of blood be accomplished (Luke 12:50); all these graces, and all others needed in His office, now publicly assumed and entered on, will the Holy Spirit of His baptism unfailingly, and unto the uttermost, operate in Jesus, the Head and Mediator of His Church.

(The Abiding Presence)