Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sanctification: By God's Grace and Our Works?

I don't mean to quibble (or maybe I do...) but distinctions are important. Dane C. Ortlund, in his review of Barbara Duguid's book Extravagant Grace, concludes that "Duguid refutes the idea that sanctification is partly up to us; rather, it is 100% up to God (pp. 139–40)." And then he writes, "But it seems to me that it is better to say sanctification is 100% up to God and also 100% up to us in light of the way the Bible speaks of sanctification (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:12–13; Col 1:29). As Jonathan Edwards said, in sanctification “God does all, and we do all.”" - a formulation I find less than helpful as concerns sanctification. I think I get the point he's making - believers shouldn't take their Christ-secured salvation for granted and they are indeed called to real obedience to God's moral law. But I don't think we should define sanctification that way and I don't think the Westminster Standards do.
WSC Q. 35. What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
How much more are we enabled? 100%?  We still sin. Does that mean we're not doing our 100%? What does it mean to not be doing our 100%? If I drop the ball on my 100% (only  50% or 75%), does that put in jeopardy my sanctification? In other words, is God's 100% not enough when it comes to sanctification? Or put another way, is sanctification-wrought partly my works of law-obedience?
WCF 13.2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
How about simply that we are called to continual and thankful obedience and it is God who sanctifies? As Paul writes, "But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace."

As to the three Scripture passages that Dane Ortlund references, are they really referring to sanctification? I don't know... Should references to laboring, obedience, effort, etc. automatically be read in the context of "our 100%" in the so-called God/believer equation of sanctification? Maybe those particular verses are just talking about Paul's tireless efforts for the sake of the gospel, Paul admonishing the Philippians to not look down on each other - to take seriously their calling to love the brethren, and again Paul speaking of his laboring hard for the gospel and yet not boasting in his own work but God's. 

This seems to be where a particular sanctification template determines how certain verses are interpreted (e.g. Rom. 2:13 as referring to believers' final justification). 

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Secret of Contentment - Christ

Are we content with the fact that we do not and never will in this life measure up to the standard of even one command of God's holy law? In one sense, hopefully, Yes… and yet in another, certainly No! It's not that we don’t fervently wish that we could truly and faithfully obey, even as we - now born of the Spirit - under grace and not under law, with our own insufficient and inconsistent means (the remnant of sin hanging on our back) work to that end… but it is by trusting alone in Christ, that we who are still sinners can now understand ourselves to be at peace with God through Him who is our Savior - who died for us, who by his blood has justified us - and who has given us a new heart and the seed of willingness, by the his Spirit, to now walk in faith unto (towards) obedience of that holy law. Yet(!) we do so with much limitation and imperfection. And so, looking not to ourselves for the evidence of our salvation, we look "to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”

Let’s not kid ourselves as to our present capabilities and any so-called inherent goodness of our works before God’s judgment seat. Rather we should rightly tremble... and in faith look with full assurance to the heavenly throne of grace, the throne to which Christ our Mediator implores us to approach. We have no other sure avenue of salvation and in Him indeed we do have the very ground of contentment for this life and the life to come.


[a revision of an earlier post]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Covenant of Works and the Westminster Confession of Faith (3)

I've been reading and and really appreciating Dr. John Fesko's new book, The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights. As the title indicates, Dr. Fesko sets out, and I'll say succeeds, to set the Westminster Standards in the context of their times - culturally, politically, and theologically. Too often we import unawares our own modern debates and doctrinal concerns back into the divines' words, failing to grasp the concerns and issues surrounding the Assembly during that period of history. The focus in this current post isn't to review the book, but to look at a few quotes from the Covenant and Creation chapter which touch on the relationship between the Covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant. As is today, this was a much debated topic in the 17th century. And by 1640 there were several variations and nuances being employed by theologians in order to Scripturally grapple with it.

In chapter five Covenant and Creation, after recounting the theological/historical development of Covenant theology up to the time of the Westminster Assembly and then reviewing the teaching of WCF chapter 7: Of God's Covenant With Man, Dr. Fesko begins to look at the first two sections of Chapter 19: Of The Law Of God which states:
1. God gave to Adam a Law, as a Covenant of Works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
2. This Law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousnesse; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten Commandments, and written in two Tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.
On p. 145-146, Fesko writes:
The Confession then proceeds to situate the moral law in subsequent redemptive history: "This Law," referring to the law given to Adam "as a Covenant of Works," "after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousnesse, and, as such was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten Commandments, and written in two Tables" (19.2). The divines also acknowledge that "this Law," that which was delivered to Adam and subsequently to Israel, is "commonly called Moral" (19.3).
Was there an unified view taught in the Assembly as to how the Covenant of works relates to the Mosaic covenant? The short answer is no. Yet there were different views that had developed since the 16th century which were taught by various orthodox reformed theologians.  The confession doesn't endorse any one in particular. In fact the only view highlighted in the confession is the only one rejected outright by the divines (19.5), that of Tobias Crisp who taught that the Moral law had been swept away with the Mosaic covenant and was no longer binding on New Testament believers (p. 158). Among the views held by the divines were ones that taught that the Covenant of works was "revealed" or "annexed" in some manner to the Mosaic covenant.

On p. 150:
[Jeremiah] Burroughs contends that the administration of the Law, the Mosaic covenant, had different elements "annexed" to the covenant that New Testament believers no longer live under. He makes this point clearer as he propounds the nature of the Mosaic covenant:
"The Law that was first given unto Adam and written in his heart, afterwards even obliterated, then it was transcribed by the same hand in tables of stone and given unto them chifly to shew them their misery, and their need of Christ; to be a preparation for Christs coming into the world; and with this one addition beyond what we have in the new Testament, that there was a temporal covenant annexed unto it, that concern'd their living prosperously in the Land of Canaan, (& so far we are delivered even from the Law as it was given by Moses, that is, from the connexion of the Covenant that was added unto the delivering of the Law) concerning their happy and comfortable condition in the Land of Canaan upon the keeping of their Law."
On pp. 151-152:
George Walker (1581-1651), one of the Westminster divines, held this view: "For the first part of the Covenant which God made with Israel at Horeb, was nothing else but a renewing of the old Covenant of works which God made with Adam in Paradise." But Walker also believed that there was a second part of the Mosaic covenant, which was more obscurely given in the Levitical laws, the tabernacle, and the ark, which were types of Christ. This dimension of the Mosaic covenant was more clearly set forth in the Deuteronomic version of the covenant and "was nothing else but a renewing of the Covenant of grace which he [God] had before made with their Fathers, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Other theologians of the period, such as Peter Bulkeley (1583-1659), made distinctions similar to Walker's. Bulkeley believed that the "Covenant of workes was then revealed and made knowne to the children of Israel, as being before almost obliterated and blotted out of mans heart, and therefore God renewed the knowledge of the Covenant of worke to them." Key to Bulkeley's statement is that the covenant of works was revealed, not that it was readministered. He also employs the wide-narrow distinction vis-a-vis the covenants of works and of grace as they both relate to the Mosaic covenant: "The Law is to be considered two wayes: First, absolutely, and by it selfe, as containing a covenant of works; Secondly, dependently, and with respect to the covenant of grace.
Yet others such as Samuel Rutherford opposed such views of the Mosaic covenant described as subservient. "One of the reasons Rutherford argued against this view was that he believed the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works; he based his argument upon a number of different texts from Scripture. On such text was Deuteronomy 30:6 and the promise of a circumcised heart" (p.152). Yet as noted by Dr. Fesko there were distinctions expressed by other theologians of that time that didn't preclude the Mosaic covenant from being considered part of the Covenant of Grace. "But as did Bulkeley and Walker, Blake also acknowledges the broad-narrow distinction when dealing with the Mosaic covenant:"
There are those phrases in Moses, which are ordinarily quoted, as holding out a covenant of Works, and in a rigid interpretation are no other; yet in a qualified sense, in a Gospel-sense, and according to Scripture-use of the phrase, they hold out a covenant of Grace, and the termes and conditions of it. (p. 152)
Given how the issue of the Covenant of works and its relationship to the Mosaic covenant is being hotly debated again today I can't help but think that these words of Anthony Burgess, cited by Fesko, are meant to apply to our time as well: "I do not find in any point of Divinity, learned men so confused and perplexed (being like Abrahams Ram, hung in a bush of friars and brambles by the head) as here" (p.153).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Covenant of Works and the Westminster Confession of Faith (2)


A Commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith With Scripture Proofs by A.A. Hodge

From Chapter 7:
The analysis of a covenant always gives the following elements: (a) Its parties. (b) Its promise. (c) Its conditions. (d) Its penalty. As to its parties, our Standards teach - In the first covenant that concerned mankind God dealt with Adam as the representative of all his descendants. The parties, therefore, are God and Adam, the latter representing the human race. That Adam did so act as the representative of his descendants, in such a sense that they were equally interested with himself in all the merit or the demerit, the reward or the penalty, attaching to his action during the period of probation, has already been proved to be the doctrine both of our Standards and of Scripture. (Ch. 6., ss. 3, 4.) As to the further nature of this covenant, our Standards teach-The promise of it was life, the condition of it perfect obedience, and the penalty of it death. (L. Cat., q. 20; S. Cat., q. 12.) 
This covenant is variously styled, from one or other of these several elements. Thus, it is called the "covenant of works," because perfect obedience was its condition, and to distinguish it from the covenant of grace, which rests our salvation on a different basis altogether. It is also called the "covenant of life," because life was promised on condition of the obedience. It is also called a "legal covenant," because it demanded the literal fulfillment of the claims of the moral law as the condition of God's favor. This covenant was also in its essence a covenant of grace, in that it graciously promised life in the society of God as the freely-granted reward of an obedience already unconditionally due. Nevertheless it was a covenant of works and of law with respect to its demands and conditions. 
(1) That the promise of the covenant was life is proved-(a) From the nature of the penalty, which is recorded in terms. If disobedience was linked to death, obedience must have been linked to life. (b) It is taught expressly in many passages of Scripture. Paul says, Rom. 10:5, "Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which does those things shall live by them." (Matt. 19:16,17; Gal. 3:12; Lev. 18:5; Neh. 9:29. 
That the life promised was not mere continuance of existence is plain-(a) From the fact that the death threatened was not the mere extinction of existence. Adam experienced that death the very day he ate the forbidden fruit. The death threatened was exclusion from the communion of God. The life promised, therefore, must consist in the divine fellowship and the excellence and happiness thence resulting. (b) From the fact that mere existence was not in jeopardy. It is the character, not the fact, of continued existence which God suspended upon obedience. (c) Because the terms "life" and "death" are used in the Scriptures constantly to define two opposite spiritual conditions, which depend upon the relation of the soul to God. (John 5:24; 6:4; Rom. 6:23; 11:15; Eph. 2:1-3; 5:14; Rev. 3:1.) 
(2) That the condition of the covenant was perfect obedience is plain from the fact-(a) That the divine law can demand no less. It is of the essence of all that is right that it is obligatory. James says, that "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in onepoint, he is guilty of all." James 2:10; Gal. 3:10; Deut. 27:26. (b) That the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, relating to a thing indifferent in itself, was plainly designed to be a naked test of obedience, absolute and without limit. 
(3) That the penalty of this covenant was death is distinctly stated: "In the day thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die." Gen. 3:17. This denoted a most lamentable state of existence, physical and moral, and not the cessation of existence or the dissolution of the union between soul and body, because-(a) It took effect in our first parents hundreds of years before the dissolution of that union. (b) Because the Scriptures constantly describe the moral and spiritual condition into which their descendants are born, and from which they are delivered by Christ, as a state of death. (Rev. 3:1; Eph. 2:1-5; 5:14; John 5:24.) This death is a condition of increasing sin and misery, resulting from excision from the only source of life. It involves the entire person, soul and body, and continues as long as the cause continues.
From Chapter 19: 
These sections teach the following propositions: - 1. That God, as the supreme moral Governor of the universe, introduced the human race into existence as an order of moral creatures, under inalienable and perpetual subjection to an all-perfect moral law, which in all the elements thereof binds man's' conscience andrequires perfect obedience. 2. That God, as the Guardian of the human race, entered into a special covenant with Adam, as the natural head of the race, constituting him also the federal head of all mankind, and requiring from him, during a period of probation, perfect obedience to thelaw above named, promising to him and to his descendants in him confirmation in holiness and eternal felicity as the reward of obedience, and threatening both his wrath and curse as the punishment of disobedience. 3. This law after the fall, and the introduction of the dispensation of salvation through the messiah, while it ceased to offer salvation on the ground of obedience, nevertheless continued to be the revealed expression of God's will, binding all human consciences as the rule of life. 4. That this moral law has for our instruction been summarily comprehended, as to its general principles, in their application to the main relations men sustain to God and to each other, in the Ten Commandments, " which were delivered by the voice of God uponMount Sinai, and written by him in two tables of stone; and are recorded in the 20th chapter of Exodus. The first four commandments containing our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man." L. Cat., q. 98...

(2.) The Ten Commandments teach love to God and to man; and on these, the Savior said, hang all the Law and the Prophets. Matt. xxii. 37 -- 40. (3.) Christ said, that if a man keep this law he shall live. Luke x.-25-28...

The Mosaic institute may be viewed in three different aspects: - (1.) As a national and political covenant, whereby, under his theocratic government, the Israelites became the people of Jehovah and he became their King, and in which the Church and the State are identical. (2.) In another aspect it was a legal covenant, because the moral law, obedience to which was the condition of life in the Adamic covenant, was now prominently set forth in the Ten Commandments and made the basis of the new covenant of God with his people. Even the ceremonial system, in its merely literal and apart from its ceremonial aspect, was a rule of works; for cursed was he that confirmed not all the words of the law to do them. Deut.. xxvii. 26.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Covenant of Works and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1)


The Reformed Faith – 1845 Edition [commentary of the WCF] by William Shaw

From Chapter 7:
I. That God entered into a covenant with Adam in his state of innocence, appears from Gen. ii.
16,17: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." Here, indeed, there is no express mention of a covenant; but we find all the essential requisites of a proper covenant. In this transaction there are two parties; the Lord God on the one hand, and man on the other. There is a condition expressly stated, in the positive precept respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God was pleased to make the test of man’s obedience. There is a penalty subjoined: "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." There is also a promise, not distinctly expressed, but implied in the threatening; for, if death was to be the consequence of disobedience, it clearly follows that life was to be the reward of obedience. That a promise of life was annexed to man’s obedience, may also be inferred from the description which Moses gives of the righteousness of the law: "The man that doeth these things shall live by them," - Rom. x. 5; from our Lord’s answer to the young man who inquired what he should do to inherit eternal life: "It thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,"—Matt. xix. 17; and from the declaration of the apostle, that "the commandment was ordained to life."—Rom. vii. to. We are, therefore, warranted to call the transaction between God and Adam a covenant. We may even allege, for the use of this term, the language of Scripture. In Hos. vi. 7 (margin), we read, "They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant." This necessarily implies that a covenant was made with Adam, and that he violated it.
From Chapter 19:
That this covenant was made with the first man, not as a single person, but as the federal representative of all his natural posterity, has been formerly shown. The law, as invested with a covenant form, is called, by the Apostle Paul, "The law of works" (Rom. iii. 27); that is, the law as a covenant of works. In this form, the law is to be viewed as not only prescribing duty, but as promising life as the reward of obedience, and denouncing death as the punishment of transgression. This law "which was ordained to life," is now become "weak through the flesh," or through the corruption of our fallen nature. It prescribes terms which we are incapable of performing; and instead of being encouraged to seek life by our own obedience to the law as a covenant, we are required to renounce all hopes of salvation in that way, and to seek it by faith in Christ. But all men are naturally under the law as a broken covenant, obnoxious to its penalty, and bound to yield obedience to its commands. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but also for all his posterity, when he violated it, he left them all under it as a broken covenant. Most miserable, therefore is the condition of all men by nature; for "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse."—Gal. iii…
It may be remarked, that the law of the ten commandments was promulgated to Israel from Sinai in the form of a covenant of works. Not that it was the design of God to renew a covenant of works with Israel, or to put them upon seeking life by their own obedience to the law; but the law was published to them as a covenant of works, to show them that without a perfect righteousness, answering to all the demands of the law, they could not be justified before God; and that, finding themselves wholly destitute of that righteousness, they might be excited to take hold of the covenant of grace, in which a perfect righteousness for their justification is graciously provided. The Sinai transaction was a mixed dispensation. In it the covenant of grace was published, as appears from these words in the preface standing before the commandments: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage;" and from the promulgation of the ceremonial law at the same time. But the moral law, as a covenant of works, was also displayed, to convince the Israelites of their sinfulness and misery, to teach them the necessity of an atonement, and lead them to embrace by faith the blessed Mediator, the Seed promised to Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The law, therefore, was published at Sinai as a covenant of works, in subservience to the covenant of grace. And the law is still published in subservience to the gospel, as "a schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ, that they may be justified by faith."—Gal. iii. 24.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Is The Gospel?

Dr. Michael Horton explains what the true gospel message is...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Moses, the Law, and the Covenant of Works...

Some thoughts on the Mosaic covenant, the law as a covenant of works, and the Westminster Confession of Faith...
CHAPTER 19
Of the Law of God
1. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
2. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man. 
CHAPTER 7
Of God's Covenant with Man
2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
3. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,
My thoughts:
[WCF 7] - It can be fairly said that upon the fall, the only thing that changed concerning the law was that man was no longer capable of keeping it as a covenant of works? The law as a covenant of works didn't end or change. Rather innocent man had changed and, as a sinner unable to obey, was brought under the curse of that law/covenant of works. In other words, the law/covenant remained in effect.

[WCF 19] - The moral law given to Adam was given as a covenant of works (LC 93). Upon the fall there is nothing that indicates, either in Scripture or the confession, that the law ceased to still embody the covenant of works. And there isn't anything, is there, that indicates that with the advent of the covenant of grace (protoevangelium and Abraham) that the covenant of works ended? And it was THIS law in section 2 (referring to the law as a covenant of works defined in section 1) that God delivered on Mt. Sinai and yet, though no man could fulfill it, all were and are still obliged to obey it as a perfect rule of righteousness as originally given in the garden.

Now whether one argues that God delivered the law as a rule of righteousness or that he delivered it both as a rule of righteousness and a covenant of works for pedagogical and typological reasons, it seems fair to affirm that the law after the fall was still connected to the covenant of works (LC 93) and as such was present in the Mosaic covenant.
Q. 93. What is the moral law?
A. The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul, and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.
Isn't that why, when we speak of our justification, we say that we are imputed with Christ's obedience to the law's demand/requirement for perfect obedience? It rightly can be said that we have fulfilled the covenant of works in Christ. Before the law as a covenant of works His obedience is counted as ours.

Section 2 of chapter 19 is also reinforcing the truth that God's moral law remained in force after the fall under Moses and for the New Testament church - yet for believers not as a covenant of works. This point was especially important for the Divines to emphasize given their concerns of antinomian influences in England at that time, which concerns hung over the Westminster Assembly deliberations. Also playing into the Divines' concern was the interpretation of some more radical groups who advocated that with the coming of Christ that obedience to the moral law as a rule of righteosness was no longer binding for believers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Here, Do Nothing Nor Render Anything To God...

Evangelista: No, indeed; none of Christ's are to have anything to do with the covenant of works, but Christ only. For although in the making of the covenant of works at first, God was one party, and man another, yet, in making it the second time, God was on both sides: God, simply considered in his essence, was the party opposed to man; and God, the second person, having taken upon him to be incarnate, and to work man's redemption, was on man's side, and takes part with man, that he may reconcile him to God, by bearing man's sins, and satisfying God's justice for them. And Christ paid God till he said he had enough; he was fully satisfied, fully contented, (Matt 3:17), "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Yea, God the Father was well pleased, and fully satisfied from all eternity, by virtue of that covenant that was made betwixt them. And thereupon all Christ's people were given to him in their election. (Eph 1:4) "Thine they were," says Christ, "and thou gavest them me," (John 17:6)... 
So that all the covenant that believers are to have regard to, for life and salvation, is the free and gracious covenant that is betwixt Christ [or God in Christ] and them. And in this covenant there is not any condition or law to be performed on man's part, by himself; no, there is no more for him to do, but only to know and believe that Christ hath done all for him...

I beseech you to be persuaded that here you are to work nothing, here you are to do nothing, here you are to render nothing unto God, but only to receive the treasure, which is Jesus Christ, and apprehend him in your heart by faith, although you be never so great a sinner; and so shall you obtain forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal happiness; not as an agent but as a patient, not by doing, but by receiving. Nothing here comes betwixt but faith only, apprehending Christ in the promise. This, then, is perfect righteousness, to hear nothing, to know nothing, to do nothing of the law of works; but only to know and believe that Jesus Christ is now gone to the Father, and sitteth at his right hand, not as a judge, but is made unto you of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption."
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

In a word, from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Jesus, Jeannie C. Riley, and the Harper Valley PTA

The following post is by long-time friend and brother in Christ, Danny O'Daniels. It was written with a specific church situation in mind and yet touches upon an issue related to church leadership and churches in general. Having been edified by this essay I wanted to share it with the readers of TWR. Thank you Danny for graciously consenting to having it published here!

Jesus, Jeannie C. Riley, and the Harper Valley PTA
by Daniel O'Daniels

I work as a welder. I have been doing production welding for over 30 years. One of the byproducts of working in weld shops is I have been forced to acquire an appreciation for country music. In the late 60's a
country song came out that was so powerful that it crossed over into mainstream radio. It was made into a movie and television show and nearly 50 years later is still played today on country stations 2 or 3 times a week. That song is "Harper Valley PTA" by Jeannie C. Riley. In it she sings the story of a widow who is being harassed by a hypocritical community and how she goes to the PTA meeting and exposes their own sins and the hypocrisy of them judging her for wearing mini skirts, drinking, and running wild with men. This song really struck a nerve in late 60's America.

My brother and I were the only kids in our school raised by a single mom in the 60's and I always appreciated the way that song stood up powerfully for the single mom and socked it to the hypocrites. It was at the time a shocking indictment of mainstream America. What does this all have to do with Jesus? Well, 2000 years ago he appeared on the scene of 1st century Palestine and in the Sermon on the Mount shocked the religious world with his own indictment of their religious hypocrisy. What I would like to explore is: has the song "Harper Valley PTA" and its influence on culture colored our view of Jesus and what he is saying in the Sermon on the Mount?

Lately, I have been disturbed by messages on the Sermon on the Mount that seem to sound more like "Harper Valley PTA" than careful biblical exegesis. And yet they really resonate with the crowd. People clap at the end of those sermons and I find myself clapping along with them. Just like Jeannie, the preacher is socking it to the hypocrites and the people love it. The message can be summed up as something like this, “Don't judge, period. If you have lust in your heart you have already committed adultery. Come on guys, you all have done it so who are you to judge? If you are angry with your brother you are guilty of murder so who are you to judge?" The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John's gospel is usually thrown in for good measure. Let him who is without sin throw the first stone. A dig at churches that practice church discipline is usually thrown in at this point equating church discipline with the worst forms of abuse and legalism and of being inconsistent with the gospel of grace. Is this what Jesus is really saying? Is the lesson to be taken that we are all still sinners and we have no right to be concerned with sin in the church?

Dan Allender in his excellent book Bold Love has examined this subject with careful thought. ( pg.201-202.)
Our first warning is not to judge unless we are willing to be measured by the same criterion... A second warning is to take the log out of our eye before we take the speck out of our brother's eye. Jesus is not implying that we are to be so "judgment free" that we are not to notice our brother's inability to see. We are to reflect, assess, and develop a strategy on how to remove the speck in our brothers eye. The implication is that we have judged his sight to be blocked, assessed the nature of the block, and figured out how to get it out. There is nothing wrong with being burdened and furious about a spouse's sin, but only if the huge log is being plucked from our own eye. The priority is always to look first in yourself. You will not stand before God required to deal with any life but your own. Therefore let judgment begin first with the house of God... A second trap is to assume we cannot love another until our log is gone. This person says, "I can't really deal with your speck because my log is so big." Indeed, if this were the case, no one would ever be rightly involved with another' s sin. We are called to restore one another and to pluck the sinner from the fire through tenderness and strength ( Galatians 6:1, Jude 2:23.) We must live with the ongoing work of removing our log, first and foremost, without neglecting the work of removing specks in the eyes of those whom we are privileged to love.
In other words, we are not to judge with hypocritical or self-righteous judgment. To be sure, there are insights to be gleaned by comparing and contrasting the Lord's teachings with such an important landmark in popular culture. The song is blasting those in established positions of power who pick on the weaker widow for not conforming to outward community standards, while not being at all concerned with her real welfare or with those standards in their own lives .They aren't humbly looking to themselves lest they be tempted and thus removing the log, or judging themselves first. They are not approaching her in tenderness and strength to address sin, and likewise, her response, though both wickedly clever and bold, lacks love. Tenderness and strength is exactly what Jesus communicates to the woman caught in adultery and to the hypocrites of his society. Like Jeannie, Jesus stands up to those in power with strength on behalf of the woman. Yet the difference is that Mrs. Johnson of the song justifies her sin on the basis that they are all sinners, while Jesus sends the hypocrites away and forgives the repentant woman with the warning to go and sin no more. She goes away saved, but the woman in Harper Valley, by justifying her sin, goes away empowered in a way, but not forgiven.

The Bible teaches clearly that the church's business is not to judge those outside the church but inside (1 Corinthians 5:12). To judge, not with self-righteousness or hypocrisy, but by speaking the truth in love. Let's pretend for a moment that the woman in the song was a Christian. According to Jesus's teaching in Matthew 18:15-19, she is to be approached at first by just one loving Christian who has looked at his or her life first. He is to have dealt with any logs in his own eye as best he could, prayed about the best way to approach her, and then in faith go to her with the goal of finding out what is really going on. Perhaps the accusations were false. Perhaps they are true and she is repentant. Then he gets the joy of restoring her as a priest of the
most high God. Maybe the charges are true and yet she totally denies them. Nobody said this was to be easy. If the accusations are true and she is hard of heart and refuses to deal with a wild lifestyle of drugs and sexual immorality that truly is unhealthy for her daughter, then others from the church should get involved. Yet they should do so never in an abusive way, never in pride or self-righteousness or without first looking to themselves but always with the goal of restoration. Jesus and Paul both made it clear that all of this is to be done in a spirit of gentleness, with great understanding and patience. But if the person after the repeated pleading of the church refuses to repent, then the scriptures teach there needs to be discipline for the sake of that person and the upholding of righteousness. The church, by severing fellowship for a time, does so with the hope that it will cause that person to wake up and repent. I have actually seen this carried out effectively several times.

Some will say, "Where on earth is one to begin? We all sin. We all have issues. What sin is bad enough to demand intervention?" All I can say is that Paul knew. They knew in the first century. We have to look to the Lord and to his Word. We must seek God for discernment. Paul said in Galatians 6:1 if anyone is caught in a trespass you who are spiritual are to restore him. To me that means we don't need to be on the hunt for these situations. But if your brother is caught in sin you need to be willing to help him. If a person is destroying his life or their family, the church, or the testimony of the church in the community, then that is surely a sign that intervention is needed. Is it easy? No. It is a task for the spiritually mature. Will you always get to sleep at a decent hour or not make mistakes and doubt yourself? Probably not, but you will be truly loving and caring for your flock. In 1 Peter 5 the apostle writes about the privilege of being a shepherd of God's flock, of coshepherding with Christ and knowing Christ in that way. Elsewhere in scripture we read about elders having to give an account for their ministry among the flock, and of the crown of glory they will receive from the Chief Shepherd. These are reasons enough. Sadly and ironically, churches today seem to have noninvolvement as one of their primary goals. They don't seem willing to risk practicing what is clearly taught in the Bible for the sake of the spiritual health of their flock. I don't know what the reasons are, whether they be financial or what. But I know God's Word has not changed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Gospel Mourning...

"Yet if you but consider the Lord's ways towards you, and your ways towards him, you will mourn with a gospel-mourning, reasoning with yourself after this manner: Was I under the law of works by nature, and so, for every transgression against any of the ten commandments, made liable to everlasting damnation? and am I now, through the free mercy and love of God in Christ, brought under the law of Christ, and so subject to no other penalty for my transgressions, but fatherly and loving chastisements, which tend to the purging out of that sinful corruption that is in me? Oh what a loving Father is this! Oh what a gracious Saviour is this! Oh what a wretched man am I, to transgress the laws of such a good God, as he hath been to me!  
"Oh the due consideration of this will even, as it were, melt your heart, and cause your eyes to drop with the tears of godly sorrow! yea, the due consideration of these things will cause you to "loathe yourself in your own sight for your transgressions", (Eze 36:31), yea, not only to loathe yourself for them, but also to leave them, saying with Ephraim, "What have I to do any more with idols?" (Hosea 14:8) and to "cast them away as menstruous cloth, saying unto them, Get ye hence," (Isa 30:22). And truly you will desire nothing more, than that you might so live, as that you might never sin against the Lord any more. And this is that "goodness of God which," as the apostle says, "leadeth to repentance"; yea, this is that goodness of God which will lead you to a free obedience. So that if you do but apply the goodness of God in Christ to your soul, in any good measure, then will you answerably yield obedience to the law of Christ, not only without having respect either to what the law of works either promiseth or threateneth; but also without having respect to what the law of Christ either promiseth or threateneth; you will do that which the Lord commandeth, only because he commandeth it, and to the end that you may please him" -
- Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Exhortation To the Justified in Christ...

Exhortation. 2. To justified persons. This privilege calls you to several duties.
1. Love the Lord, and love him much, for much is forgiven you. This may be oil to that holy flame, and therefore love will continue in heaven for ever.

2. Be of a forgiving disposition, Eph. 4.ult. 'Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you.' The same Saviour that brought in remission of sins, binds us to love our enemies. And the bitter revengeful spirit against those we think have wronged us, is a sad sign that our own sin is unforgiven of God, Matt. 4.12. 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.' They who have found what a dreadful weight sin unpardoned is, and have at length got it removed, will thereby be helped to forgive.

3. Walk humbly. Ye are justified, but it is by the righteousness of another. Ye are pardoned, but it was procured to you by the satisfaction of a Saviour. Your debt is paid, your discharge is got up; but thanks to free grace, not to you, for it.

4. Bear your troubles and crosses in a world patiently.—Your life that was forfeited by sin is safe by grace; therefore take thankfully any troubles you meet with. For why should a living man complain, especially one that deserved to die, and yet is adjudged to life?

5. Lastly, Walk tenderly. God pardoning a sinner, dismisseth him as Christ did the penitent adulteress, John 12.11. 'Go, and sin no more.' Let not your broken bones be forgotten, but walk softly all your years. And if ye be pardoned, shew it by your holy and tender walk.
OF JUSTIFICATION by Thomas Boston, Minister of the Gospel at Ettrick, Scotland
excerpted from his Commentary on the Shorter Catechism

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sanctification upon Justification...

  • It seems that part of the confusion is the notion that when we’re talking about our sanctification we shouldn’t be referring to our justification, otherwise… well, otherwise what? Is it not fair to say that our justification, in some sense, is the ground upon which we live and walk the sanctified life? If I am sanctified daily through the work of the Holy Spirit can I any more move beyond the justification secured for me by Christ Jesus on the cross then when I go to the store I can leave the ground of the sidewalk upon which I walk? Not a perfect analogy certainly, but… Every grace of sanctification in the believer's life is logically secured upon the justification wrought for him in the finished work of Christ Jesus.
  • The old hymn reads, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…" I don’t think this is speaking of conversion, but of living the Christian life.
  • There is no work of ours that is sanctified except that the blood of Jesus was shed for us (Heb. 9 and 10). His finished work then is the basis by which our persons as well as our works with their remaining imperfections are cleansed, allowing them (and us) to be acceptable to God by grace through faith in Christ alone.

  • I’ve always found these words of Paul in Romans 7:18 to be intriguing (assuming this is the converted Paul, which I do):
  • "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."
  • I don’t think Paul is saying that he doesn’t offer his members unto righteousness or that he doesn’t make efforts to resist sin and obey God's law. Could it be it's just that he (we) never graduated from needing the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement in order that his every thought, word, and deed be cleansed and made acceptable to God? For none of Paul's good works could attain to the perfection of the Law anymore than ours can, that perfection of the Father in heaven to which he and we are called. He lacked the inherent holiness or "ability to carry it out." So, in our walk of obedience to God as we daily offer ourselves up as servants for righteousness (Rom. 6: 13), and in order that our consciences may be comforted, we must always keep our eyes not only on the law of Christ to guide our obedience but on the good news that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1 ESV)
  • WCF 16: 5. We can not, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God, because of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they can not endure the severity of God’s judgment.
  • 6. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
  • WCF 9:4 underscores my point above -
  • 4. When God converts a sinner and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.
  • Even our good works which we will to do, i.e. our obedience, are imperfect and still touched by the corruption of sin. Yet as new creatures in Christ we can and do will to do good. We can obey. But far from perfectly and not without sin. The ground of acceptance of our good works before God our Father is Jesus Christ our Mediator – His cleansing blood shed for us and perfect obedience imputed to us - not any inherent goodness found in our obedience. (WCF 16:6)
  • Therefore we confess that as believers we should obey. We can choose to obey. But in this life we never can offer an obedience to God that is pure or acceptable in and of itself, i.e. never free from the inherent corruption of our fallen nature. Thus the gospel (justified freely in Christ Jesus by grace through faith alone) is always relevant, even central, to our sanctification.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

And What of Believers' Works?

Our third and last exception relates to the recompense of works we maintaining that it depends not on their own value or merit, but rather on the mere benignity of God. Our opponents, indeed, admit that there is no proportion between the merit of the work and its reward; but they do not attend to what is of primary moment in the matter: that is, that the good works of believers are never so pure as that they can please without pardon. They consider not, I say, that they are always sprinkled with some spots or blemishes, because they never proceed from that pure and perfect love of God which is demanded by the law. Our doctrine, therefore, is that the good works of believers are always devoid of a spotless purity which can stand the inspection of God; nay, that when they are tried by the strict rule of justice, they are, to a certain extent, impure. But, when once God has graciously adopted believers, he not only accepts and loves their persons, but their works also, and condescends to honor them with a reward. In one word, as we said of man, so we may say of works: they are justified not by their own desert, but by the merits of Christ alone; the faults by which they would otherwise displease being covered by the sacrifice of Christ. This consideration is of very great practical importance, both in retaining men in the fear of God, that they may not arrogate to their works that which proceeds from his fatherly kindness; and also in inspiring them with the best consolation, and so preventing them from giving way to despondency, when they reflect on the imperfection or impurity of their works, by reminding them that God, of his paternal indulgence, is pleased to pardon it.
The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543) - John Calvin