Monday, 31 December 2012

Praying Properly (2)

The true incentive of prayer - the faithfulness of God (1 Kgs 3:6, 7a, 8).  When we begin our prayer, we must do as Solomon did - start not with our request, but with God's past faithfulness, with what He has done.  No better place to start.  Indeed, there's no other place to start.  What an incentive is here to speak to this great giving God.  Whilst we know in our heads God's liberality when it comes to blessing His children, we still come to Him as if He were an unwilling Father who is reluctant to give to His asking children.  But He is faithful - look at His track record.  His covenant faithlessness was experienced by Solomon's forefathers in ancient days.  He promised that Abraham's seed would be as great as the sand on the seashore, and Solomon now declares that God has kept His promise and has done just that!  Whatever promise the LORD has made, he has kept.

Tell me if you know of a greater incentive to prayer than this fact.  Solomon began with God's faithfulness, His dependability, His fidelity.  So must we.  Praise Him for His faithfulness.  This gives us confidence in prayer.

Why pray?  Because the One to Whom we pray is utterly faithful.  We can trust Him completely and in every situation.  Begin here.  Let me give you another little incentive to pray.  Just this week, my wife came under another strange Satanic attack.  He tormented her all afternoon, and refused to relent.  That is, until about tea-time when she experienced a lifting of her burden, and the rest of the evening was great.  Why did this happen?  Because someone had been praying for her at that moment.  It may have been a Christian friend in Northern Ireland, or England in far away places like India or Panama.  Someone unknown to us had uplifted her in prayer, and God answered.

Why did He do that?  Because that's the kind of God He is; and that's the kind of God and Father we have.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Trusting In The Lord

The other morning in our devotions, we read these marvellous words: “To trust in God is not a gamble, it’s a sure thing.”  We have proved this numerous times in the past, but definitely during the past four months.  As Hebrews tells us, “He who promised is faithful” (10:23).  When our Lord makes a promise to His children, one thing is sure – they can bank on it totally and absolutely.  After all, it is the Lord Who makes such a promise.  But look at what follows – the Maker of the promise is faithful

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is faithful.  We can rely totally upon Him.  He is as good as His Word.  We can stake our all, nay, our eternity, upon what He says by way of promise.  Our God is dependable in all things.  Oh, trust Him to see you through. As the old Gospel hymn puts it, “He is willing to aid you, He will carry you through.”  It assures us, “Ask the Saviour to help you...”  Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  What a question?  And written in words of one syllable so all can understand and ask Him.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Praying Properly (1)

When it comes to 'prayer,' the Old Testament has much to teach us. 1 Kings 3 may be described as a manual of prayer, or a 'how to' prayer book.  "At Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”" (v.5).  God is telling King Solomon to ask Him for something.  In fact  the verb 'ask' occurs eight times in verses.5, 10, 11, 13.  The LORD was satisfied with Solomon's request, so we can learn from these verses what true prayer is.  Dr Dale Ralph Davis gives us some needed help in this matter.

The true incentive to prayer - the generosity of God (vvs. 5b, 13, 14).  Our God is generous in His dealings with us.  He wants to give and give and give again.  "If you ask anything in My Name, I will give it to you," promised Jesus.  God was so pleased with what Solomon asked that He made him a open-ended promise to give whatever he asked.  It is to this same lavish and generous God that we, as Christian believers, come to when we pray.  When the minister says, 'Let us pray,' he is not just issuing religious words; he is calling the people of God to talk to the King.  And we are called to speak to Him because His generosity knows no limits.  He is 'the giving God.'  God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (v.5).

And He's saying exactly the same to you and to me this very day.  Come with your mouth filled with requests and let your requests be made known unto God.  Pray without ceasing  says Paul.  Why?  Because the God to Whom you pray is anxious to give to you whatever you ask in Christ's Name.  So keep on praying.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Lloyd-Jones - His Life, Work and Significance

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

His Life
David MartynLloyd-Jones was born on 20th December 1899 in Cardiff, Wales, the middle son of Henry and Magdalene Lloyd-Jones, Harold and Vincent being the other siblings.  His father was a small but reasonably successful businessman in Llangeitho, Cardiganshire.

Wales had known the outpouring of God’s Spirit in earlier times under the ministries of men like Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris, William Williams, Christmas Evans, Evan Roberts, and not least John Jones of Talsarn.  At the close of the nineteenth century and after great visitations of God, Wales was a dark spiritual wilderness, despite the many churches and chapels that lay scattered around the country.  The Lloyd-Jones family belonged to the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church in Llangeitho.  This denomination had grown cold during Martyn’s boyhood and adolescence, and much of the life of the revivals of 1904/5 had become a faint memory.

The Calvinistic Methodist Church which the Lloyd-Jones family was connected to can trace its beginnings to the mid-1700s, a time when the Christian churches in Britain were divided into two main groupings – the Arminians under John Wesley (17??-17??) were the Methodists, and the Calvinists under George Whitefield were the Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists.  Both these groups faced their own particular problems.  The Methodists emphasised the free will of men and ignored the need for depraved men to be sovereignly regenerated by the effectual call of God.  The Calvinists were also facing challenges; while they emphasised the sovereignty of God in salvation, they degenerated into hyper-Calvinism in which there was no longer any Gospel for a lost mankind. 

They denied the free offer of salvation to all men through Christ the Saviour of the world, and with that they sidelined the need for evangelism and missions. 

The young Martyn had a fairly uneventful boyhood up to January 1910.  On a winter’s night everything would change for the whole family, and not least for young Martyn.  In the early hours, a fire broke out which nearly cost the lives of the three boys who were sleeping upstairs.  The family was spared, but most of their possessions were lost, a loss from which Henry never fully recovered. 

The three boys joined as members of the church at Llangeitho in 1914 at the encouragement of their minister.  However, while they enjoyed the debate on religious matters, each was more committed to his career than to his professed faith; this was a common thing in their day.

The family moved to London in 1914 where his father set up a milk delivery business.  Martyn shared in the rounds of the business.  With the family, they attached themselves to the Charing Cross Chapel (now Orange Street Congregational Chapel) and Martyn attended there throughout his young adulthood and student days in the capital.  He continued his education and commenced his training to be a medical doctor at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London (known affectionately as Barts).  By the age of 26 he had gained his MD degree and the MRCP.  From these facts, it is clear that, as a young doctor, he was well up the Harley Street career ladder.  He obviously has a lucrative career in medicine before him.

The Charing Cross Chapel where the Lloyd-Jones family attended was no different from the other congregations in the connexion.  But what stood in its favour was the fact the Welsh Calvinistic Methodism sought to take a mid-way between high Calvinism and Arminianism.  They held tenaciously to the doctrines of grace but unlike their English counterparts, they did not believe that being Calvinistic meant ignoring the heart and emotions.  For them, it was a “whole Gospel for a whole man.”  Holding to correct doctrines apart from what Whitefield called a “felt Christ” was wrong and potentially spiritually dangerous.  They saw a need for a return to Bible preaching rather than preaching of doctrinal statements, catechisms and confessions.  They also emphasised the need for spiritual revival. 

DML-J has begun to feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit in his life and in the fullness of time realised he was a lost sinner who needed Christ as his Saviour.  While he enjoyed the religious debates he had with other Sunday School scholars, Martyn had another debate going on which only he knew about, a debate that was raging within his own heart.  He was becoming concerned about his own spiritual condition.  He had thought all along he was a Christian because he was a church member, but he knew he was not.  Only later did he come to see his need of Christ and His salvation.  He knew that he needed to hear the Gospel being preached clearly, and he also knew that this was not what he was receiving in his church.  In fact, his minister preached on the assumption that all were Christians, which was a common reality in many Presbyterian churches of that era, and sadly also of today.  But while reading for himself, the truth of God’s love for the world dawned upon him, and he came to see that Christ died for all men, and therefore for him, and he entrusted himself to the Saviour of the world, whom he was later to preach with great effectiveness.

It was this Welsh religious history that played a crucial role in the development of Martyn’s life and ministry.  He married Bethan Philips in 1927, also a trainee medical doctor, and who became a Christian under her husband’s faithful preaching in Sandfields.  Afterwards the young newly-weds moved to Port Talbot in South Wales, where Dr Lloyd-Jones was installed as minister of the Forward Movement of the Presbyterian Church of Wales at Sandfields, Aberavon. 

His Work
Although he had preached a few times before realising that he was being called by God into the Christian ministry, DML-J had ministered in Sandfields while working with Sir Thomas Horder at Barts.  After one of these visits, the congregation decided that they wanted to call him as their minister, which they did.  He accepted the call of the congregation as the call of God, and went back to his beloved Wales in 1927 to commence what was to be an eleven year ministry of careful biblical expository preaching.  As well as being aware of the call of God on his life, DML-J was so impressed with the conditions of the poor in London among whom he had worked as a physician; hence, Aberavon was a logical choice as his sphere of ministry.  This town had a population of about 5,000 people who lived in sordid, squalid and overcrowded conditions; or as someone put it, Aberavon was a place for the bookie, the prostitute and the publican.  Here his convictions about the Gospel would be tested to the limit.  On being asked whether or not he knew if he could preach, he candidly admitted that he did not know; but he did know what needed to be preached – the Gospel of redeeming grace to a lost world.
In the church in Sandfields, his approach was so different to that of other ministers who came straight out of a liberal theological college with a corresponding liberal theological education.  DML-J knew what he believed, and he declared that message uncompromisingly and with authority.  His message can be distilled to this: he preached Christ and Him crucified, determining with Paul not to know anything among them but this.  Some church members did not like this message, and left.  But they were replaced gradually with those who were drawn by God’s Spirit and gripped by the truth, and these were mainly the working class in South Wales.  They were converted to Christ under the Doctor’s authoritative biblical preaching.  He did not have emotionally charged appeals after his sermons, but allowed the Lord to do His own saving work in their hearts.  But God used this young man with the clear message of God’s love for mankind and His justice and righteousness, and God brought one hard case after another to the Cross and to saving faith in Christ alone.
The stir this preacher caused is difficult for those who do not sit under that kind of ministry to understand.  Given that he had not been theologically trained in the recognised way, DML-J was a man who got his message from the Bible.  He saw as his role to preach the Bible verse by verse and passage by passage.   As his preaching ability became more widely known, many demands were made for him to preach outside his own congregation and in many different places. 
On 28th November 1935, he was invited to preach in the Royal Albert Hall in London to an assembly of Christians.  He dealt with the problems he saw with many of the forms of evangelism that were being used in the church, comparing and contrasting them with the Biblical model.  In the congregation that evening was Dr G. Campbell Morgan (then 72), minister of Westminster Chapel, London.  Having heard of DML-J, and having listened to him on that evening, he wanted, in 1938, to have him as his colleague and successor in Westminster Chapel.  But this was not so easy because overtures had been made to him to become Principal of Bala Theological College in North Wales.  The call to stay in Wales and also to head up the training of future ministers of the Presbyterian Church in Wales was strong.  Eventually, the call to London prevailed, and the family transferred to London in April 1939 and he worked alongside Dr Morgan from September 1938, thus providing him with the respite he needed at that time.  Dr Morgan died in 1945 and DML-J was sole pastor of that great London congregation. 
DML-J’s work became critical to the resurgence of Reformed theology in the United Kingdom (UK).  His sermon series were soon demanded in print, and his expository sermons on the Sermon of the Mount were published, and these expositions stand today as classical sermons which set the pattern for what truly expository preaching is. 

After the ravages of war, in 1947, the congregation grew quickly and the balconies were opened.  From 1948 until 1968 when the Doctor retired as minister of Westminster Chapel, the congregation averaged 1,500 in the mornings and 2,000 at the evening services.  He died and went to be with his Lord on 1st March 1981, entirely appropriate for a Welshman since this was St David’s Day.

His Significance
Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has been rightly described as the most influential preacher in twentieth century Britain, if not the world.  His preaching gifts were unequalled, therefore the influence he exerted on preachers across many denominations and none, together with the legacy that he left in his printed and now digitally re-mastered sermons is incalculable.  His books are listed in the Bibliography, and currently there are about 1,600 sermons available for download, covering his main sermon and lecturing series.  His 53 years of ministry have left an indelible mark on British and international evangelicalism. 

Amongst the extra-church involvements of DML-J can be accounted his setting up the Banner of Truth Trust, the Evangelical Library, The Westminster Fellowship, Tyndale House, The InterVarsity Fellowship, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, etc. 

While DML-J, who was capable of thinking independently but without disparaging the contribution of earlier generations of God’s servants, applied his mind to understanding and preaching the Gospel, he was not swayed by everything he read.  Instead, his practice was to weigh everything against the clear teaching of Scripture, on the hand, and by the teaching of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, on the other.  His practice was to use the Robert Murray McCheyne Bible reading scheme where, if followed, one would read the entire Bible once a year, and the New Testament and Psalms twice.  His knowledge of Scripture was proverbial, and this he used to assess everything he read. 

But as is usually the case when his theology is examined, he created as much controversy after his life as he did while he was still ministering.  Controversy was stirred because of his views on ecclesiology, Pentecostalism, and his understanding of the sealing/baptism/filling of the Spirit.

However, his theology of one aspect of soteriology is now causing some controversy, specifically his understanding of the universality of the Gospel.  Since the Gospel is to be preached to every creature, does that mean that what is offered in the Gospel is for all men equally?  Has God revealed His will to save all men on condition of faith, or did He send Christ to save only His elect?  What DML-J actually preached, as discovered in his published sermons, stands in clear contrast to what some reformed theologians and preachers held to be the authentic Christian message. 

Interpreting Scripture

With regard to the biblical understanding of what the death and passion of Christ were about, while interpreting the Scriptural data is a necessity, it is how it is interpreted by some theologians that causes the difficulties.

Some years ago, I came across a most enlightening section in one of New Testament scholar, Prof. J. Gresham Machen’s books (1881-1937), in which he seeks to set out the issue facing the Christian church in the 1930s, which he sees as the mis-interpretation of the biblical data to suit the purposes of a deviant agenda.  Machen writes:

Formerly when men had brought to their attention perfectly plain documents like the Apostles’ Creed or the Westminster Confession or the New Testament, they either adopted them or else denied them.  Now they no longer deny, but merely ‘interpret.’  Every generation, it is said, must interpret the Bible or the creed in its own way.  But I sometimes wonder just how far this business of interpretation will go.  I am, let me say, in a company of modern men.  They begin to test my intelligence.  And first they test me on the subject of mathematics.  ‘What does six times nine make?’  I am asked.  I breathe a sigh of relief; many questions might place me very low in the scale of intelligence, but that question I think I can answer.  I raise my hand hopefully.  ‘I know that one,’ I say.  ‘Six nines are fifty-four.’  But my complacency is short-lived.  My modern examiner puts on a grave look.  ‘Where have you been living?’ he says.  ‘ “Six nines are fifty-four” – that is the old answer to the question.’  In my ignorance I am somewhat surprised.  ‘Why,’ I say, ‘everybody knows that.  That stands in the multiplication table; do you not know the multiplication table?’  ‘Oh, yes,’ says my modern friend, ‘of course I accept the multiplication table.  But then I do not take a static view of the multiplication table; every generation must interpret the multiplication table in its own way.  And so of course I accept the proposition that six nines are fifty-four, but I interpret that to mean that six nines are one hundred and twenty-eight.’  And then the examination gets into the sphere of history.  The examiner asks me where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.  That one, also, I think I know.  ‘The Declaration of Independence,’ I say, ‘was adopted at Philadelphia.’  But again I meet with a swift rebuke.  ‘That is the old answer to the question,’ I am told.  ‘But,’ I say, ‘everyone knows that the Declaration of Independence was adopted at Philadelphia; that stands in all the history books; do you not accept what stands in the history books?’  ‘Oh, yes,’ says my modern friend, ‘we accept everything that stands in the history books – hundred per cent Americans we are.  But then, you see, we have to interpret the history books in our own way. And so of course we accept the proposition that the Declaration of Independence was adopted at Philadelphia, but we interpret that to mean that it was adopted at San Francisco.’  And then finally the examination turns (though still in the sphere of history) to the department of history that concerns the Christian religion.  ‘What do you think happened,’ I am asked, ‘after Jesus was laid in that tomb near Jerusalem about nineteen hundred years ago?’  To that question also I have a very definite answer.  ‘I will tell you what I think happened,’ I say; ‘He was laid in a tomb, and then the third day He arose again from the dead.’  At this point the surprise of my modern friend reaches its height.  The idea of a professor in a theological seminary actually believing that the body of a dead man really emerged from the grave!  ‘Everyone,’ he tells me, ‘has abandoned that answer to the question long ago.’  ‘But,’ I say, ‘my friend, this is very serious; that answer stands in the Apostles’ Creed as well as at the centre of the New Testament; do you not accept the Apostles’ Creed?’  ‘Oh, yes,’ says my modern friend, ‘of course I accept the Apostles’ Creed; do we not say it every Sunday in church? – or, if we do not say it, we sing it – of course I accept the Apostles’ Creed.  But then, do you not see, every generation has a right to interpret it in its own way.  And so now of course we accept the proposition that “the third day He arose again from the dead,” but we interpret that to mean, “The third day He did not rise again from the dead.”’

In view of this modern art of ‘interpretation,’ one may almost wonder whether the lofty human gift of speech has not become entirely useless.  If everything that I say can be ‘interpreted’ to mean its exact opposite, what is the use of saying anything at all?  I do not know when the great revival of religion will come.  But one thing is perfectly clear.  When it does come, the whole elaborate art if ‘interpretation’ will be brushed aside, and there will be a return, as there was at the reformation of the sixteenth century, to plain common sense and common honesty.

Source:  J. G. Machen, God Transcendent, (1949, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh), 45-47.

I considered this to be useful to post on my website, so that readers might have an opportunity to read and think about what Machen wrote all those years ago.  To him, this is the single most important issue facing the Christian church, and it still is today.  I trust you find it as helpful as I did.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Clarity of Scripture

The starting place for  considering how Christians understand the universal terms that the Gospel uses so liberally must be the perspicuity of Scripture.  To be clear, and as the great confessions of faith are at pains to point out, “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.”[1]  This matter is not in dispute.  Nor does perspicuity mean that Scripture is everywhere equally simple, for some parts are difficult of understanding as Peter discovered with some of Paul’s letters.[2]  Further, this doctrine does not imply that church members do not need trained teachers to help them in their understanding of Scripture; were this the case, the New Testament would not identify as God’s gifts to the church those who are pastors and teachers.  Also, the Reformers such as Luther and Calvin wrote commentaries on most biblical books in addition to numerous treatises on different subjects that were germane to the Christian religion. 

What perspicuity is, then, is implied if not expressly taught in the canonical Scriptures.  Fundamentally, it means that for the least educated person on the planet, the Scripture is clear enough to understand and to live by.  In its basic message, the message of salvation, it is understandable to all.[3]  When the normal canons of interpretation are employed, the likelihood of mis-interpretation is greatly reduced. 

In fact, Davis, in alluding to the issue of the plain meaning of Scripture, criticises critical OT scholars for not “reading the text” in its “more natural way,” concluding that by so doing they are evacuating the text of its “sense.”[4]  He also warns against pulling “more data from the backgrounds than from the text.”[5]  When theologians who believe in limited atonement engage in polemics against theologians who hold to universal atonement, we find that the plain or natural meaning of the text is marginalised in favour of philosophical considerations.

Dale, when expounding Christ’s cry of dereliction from the Cross, correctly states his procedure when interpreting Scripture, and follows Calvin closely in this.  He says, “I take the words in their clear and unqualified meaning.”[6]  It is only when these dreadful words are taken in their natural sense that the preceding passage in intelligible.  To take them otherwise is to evacuate them of the pathos.  Scripture must be dealt with faithfully and by following the normal rules of grammar and syntax their true meaning ascertained and a faithful interpretation will result.    

When Scripture was being written under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it was completed by ordinary men using normal means of grammar and syntax.  So, when an interpreter follows properly ‘the laws of language,’ he can know what the Scriptures specifically mean.  That means, further, that an unconverted sinner can understand enough of the message of salvation to bring him, by the Holy Spirit, into a reconciled relationship with God through Christ.  He cannot understand the Scripture spiritually, but he can understand the plain meaning of the text.  It will be this level of understanding which will eventually condemn that sinner because he knew enough to be saved, but chose rather to reject the offered salvation.  Indeed, Hodge affirms[7] that because Scripture has been given either to all men promiscuously or to the body of believers corporately, many of whom were slaves, they were capable of understanding their salvific message, as many in fact did.  Indeed, the perspicuity of Scripture means that the obscurity that any Bible reader may find in some parts of Scripture is not the fault of Scripture but is rather the fault of finite and sinful mankind.

Theologians and preachers who give the impression to their people that they cannot understand the Bible without their sermons, lectures, expositions have already set up a Protestant magisterium similar to that created by Roman Catholicism.  Rome’s adherents depend upon the official teaching of the church for them to understand properly the teaching of Scripture.  The role of theologians and preachers is to help their people to love and to study God’s Word for themselves.  They are not the final authority in the interpretation of Scripture, nor are the various confessional formulations (such as, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Savoy Declaration, Baptist Confession of Faith, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, etc) to which they adhere.[8]  DML-J not only stressed the importance of this principle, but demonstrated it in his evangelistic preaching, refusing to allow any human composition, however excellent it might be, to determine or restrict his message. 

Historically, attempts were made to ensure that biblical interpretations cohered with the theological stance described in the Westminster Confession of Faith (and its theological siblings).  In the years immediately following the apostolic era, the church Fathers in a sense ‘denied’ Scripture’s perspicuity by indulging in allegorical interpretations of the OT text.  Augustine following Ambrose took this pathway initially, claiming that it was the allegorical interpretation that freed him to understand catholic faith.  This meant that ‘ordinary’ believers just did not know how to understand the Scripture in keeping with the official position of the church of that time.  Further, they subordinated the Old Testament to the New, and made the latter the key to understanding the former.  There is a sense in which this is a proper approach because revelation is progressive, culminating in the NT, but it in effect negates the theology revealed in the OT.  Thus historic-grammatical canons of biblical interpretation were jettisoned in favour of forms of allegorical interpretation.  The Fathers therefore denied the perspicuity of Scripture by creating sometimes wild interpretations that ordinary people just could not follow or understand.

Later theological developments saw the further denial of the perspicuity of Scripture when the authority to declare what the literal sense of Scripture is rests in the church alone.   Thus, the birth of the Church’s magisterium.  This meant that instead of the literal sense of Scripture being the plain sense, it has become the ‘private property’ of the Spirit endowed Church.  Also, the grammar and syntax of the Bible which are the means by which the intention of the author is expressed, is lost when the plain sense of Scripture is abandoned.  Hence, the elevated place given to the magisteria.

Since, according to this view, God gave to the Roman Church the right to determine what Scripture means, the problem of the perspicuity of Scripture is solved.  Scripture means what the church says that it means.  Or, within Protestantism, Scripture means what the church declares it to mean through her confessional formulations – the Protestant magisterium.  This position differs little from that declared by Rome at the Council of Trent[9] when she said that no one shall seek to interpret the sacred text of Scripture relying on their own skill, in matters of faith and morals, or presume to interpret the text in a way that is contrary to the sense given by the holy mother church.  She alone can give the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

Protestant churches believe differently, at least in theory.  Every Christian has the right to search the Scriptures for himself and come to a conclusion about what they teach on certain important matters of faith and practice.  There are no church officers, class of officers, or Bible expositors to whose interpretation of the Scriptures the people are required to submit as a final authority.  In accordance with the Reformation teaching of the priesthood of believer’s, the perspicuity of Scripture means that every Christian has the right to read and interpret the Bible for himself as guided by the Holy Spirit, so that his faith may rest, not on the teaching of any man or of any Church, but on the testimony of Scripture.  Hodge confirms this when he writes that

there is no body of men who are either qualified, or authorized, to interpret the Scriptures, or to apply their principles to the decision of particular questions, in a sense binding upon the faith of their fellow Christians.[10] 

The obverse of this is that Scripture is the only authoritative voice in the Church of Jesus Christ.  It is “to be interpreted in its own light, and with the gracious help of the Holy Ghost, who is promised to every Christian.”[11]  Christians then are authorised to do this for themselves, and can lean on the expertise and knowledge of more learned and experienced Christians.  However, they have no authority to bind the believer to their particular interpretation of Scripture.  DMLJ enjoyed and utilised this dearly-bought freedom to interpret the Scriptures for himself, and teach others also. 

What of creeds and confessions?  As to form, they bind only those who voluntarily profess or subscribe them.  As to content, “they bind only so far as they affirm what the Bible teaches, and because the Bible does so teach.”[12]  Where they depart in any respect from Scripture, we must follow Scripture and suspend our allegiance to that subordinate standard.  In other words, we follow a man or a confessional document only insofar as they unambiguously follow Scripture.

To summarize, it is freely admitted that everything in Scripture is not alike plain in itself, nor is it alike clear to all who read it; yet those things are set out clearly that are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation.  They are so clearly presented that not only the learned, but the unlearned, as they use they ordinary means of comprehension, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.   What may be unclear in one place may be explained more clearly in another.

The practical lessons from the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture include thankfulness to the gracious God who clearly reveals in the Bible how one’s sins can be forgiven and at the same time righteousness affirmed, how and where to obtain eternal life, and how to live a life that is pleasing to God.  

Clarity of Scripture is denied by every false theology, usually by putting something else between Scripture and the reader.  It may be a priesthood, the teachings of a cult’s founder, an inner light, a critical methodology, a confession of faith, or a postmodern hermeneutic.  These all in their own way deny Scripture’s perspicuity. 

Finally, pastors and preachers may need to be reminded never to give the impression to their people that they cannot understand the Bible without their sermons.  This is timely for the focus of this study because so much of the controversy revolves around whether or not Scripture speaks with a clear voice on what the content of the Gospel actually is.  If it is not clear in its natural meaning concerning the way of reconciliation with God, then it is unclear in what matters most.

The Bible is a precious book, and is able to make people wise unto salvation, is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness—and it is abundantly clear.

It is necessary now to examine, from an exegetical point of view, what the relevant Scriptures actually say and teach, what DML-J and his three mentors have said, and also gain a flavour of what those who hold to a different exegesis believe

[1]    See the Baptist Confession of Faith, London, 1688.  Cf.  the Westminster Confession of Faith, 
        London, 1647. 
[2]    2 Pet.3:16.
[3]    Cf. Hodge, 1879/1972:85.
[4]    Davis,    260, n.18.
[5]    Davis,    264.
[6]    Dale, 1875:61, 62.
[7]    Hodge, 1879/1972:86.
[8]    It must be conceded that those churches that have their distinctive doctrines embodied in confessions of 
        faith state clearly that they are subordinate standards, the supreme standards being the Holy Scriptures. 
        However, fine and true these words are, they are observed more in the breech than in the observance 
        by confessional churches.
[9]    1545-1563.
[10]  Hodge, 1879/1972:86.
[11]  Hodge, 1879/1972:87.
[12]  Ibid.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Synod of Dordt

The Council for the National Synod of the Reformed Church, summoned by the States General of the Netherlands,[1] met in the city of Dordrecht, Holland, between 1618-1619 to respond to and settle the controversy instigated by Arminius.  The Remonstrants sat at the discussion table and participated fully in the proceedings, not as members but as defendants.[2]  This National Assembly of the Dutch Reformed Church had invited voting members of the reformed churches from eight other nations.

This convocation may be considered among the most interesting events of the seventeenth century.  The Synod of Dordt had a class of importance peculiar to itself and was, on the whole, pre-eminent.  Nor was it simply a meeting of chosen divines from one nation; this was a convention of churches from the Calvinistic world, brought together to bear testimony against Arminianism, viewed as a rising and obtrusive error.  The purpose of the Synod was to determine whether the opinions of Arminius could be reconciled with the teaching of the Confession adopted by the Belgic churches.  All the Reformed churches of Europe at that time had a deep interest in this matter because, at bottom, they knew this was and is a Gospel issue.

The Synod convened on 13th November, 1618 and consisted of 39 pastors and 18 ruling elders from the Belgic churches, five professors from the universities of Holland, 19 delegates from the Reformed churches in Germany and Switzerland, and five professors and bishops from Great Britain.  Berkhof adds that there were 18 political delegates to this august assembly.[3]  Dr John Davenant (1572-1641) was one of the five Church of England theological representatives at the Synod.  He had been appointed by King James I, and was arguably the most influential of the English delegates to the Synod.  Davenant's important role at Dordt being recognised, he seems to have sympathised in part with the French theologian Moise Amyraut (1596-1664).  Representatives from Brandenburg and from the French churches were also invited but did not attend.[4]  The Synod was thus constituted of 86 voting members in all.  There were 154 formal sessions and many informal sessions held during the six months duration of the Synod to consider these matters.  The last session at the Synod was held on 9th May, 1619.  This was most representative body of reformed churches that ever met.

The Synod of Dordt examined in great detail the ‘five points’ which the Remonstrants had advanced, and compared that teaching with the testimony of Scripture.  They concluded that these “five points” could not be reconciled with the teaching of Scripture, so unanimously and uncompromisingly rejected them.  The situation arrived at, namely a mere rejection of the Remonstrants’ five propositions, was not deemed to be satisfactory or sufficient, so the Dordt commissioners set forth the true teaching of the Scriptures, of reformation teaching, and of Calvin, regarding those matters which had been contested.  This positive exposition of biblical truth, conjoined with negative propositions which exposed and rejected Arminianism, were set out in clear and precise terms.  When completed, they arrived at what many now know as The Five Points of Calvinism, and were adopted as the official teaching of the churches represented.  These were contested by about two hundred Dutch Arminian clergymen who were then banished for a short time.  When Prince Maurice died in 1625, he was succeeded by his more tolerant brother who restored to the Arminian party the right to build churches and schools in every town in Holland.  The Churches also adopted the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism at this time. 

These were the deliberations of the first ecumenical council, made up of some of the ablest Gospel-focused theologians of the day, thus removing the theological uncertainty that had engulfed the churches of the Netherlands and churches further afield, and threatened the reformed faith.

This controversy was purely theological, but because of the close association of Church and State it became unavoidably entangled in political issues, which shook the whole country. The Reformed Churches in France, Germany, Switzerland, England, and Scotland were deeply interested in this matter, and sided, generally, with the Calvinistic party; the Lutherans, on the other hand,  sympathised to some extent with the Arminian cause.

So right from 1619, the gauntlet was unavoidably thrown down that would ensure the continuation of controversy surrounding this doctrine.  The general level of agreement amongst the representative church bodies, however, promised a potential absence of controversy around such a central Gospel doctrine, but this did not materialise.  Had there been less theological polarisation in the preceding years, this controversy might not have developed and the church spared much hurt and damage.

It is of interest to note that the resultant five points of clarification arrived at by the Dordt Synod had embedded within them a universal understanding of the atonement.  

The relevant portion is article three of the second main head of doctrine, and reads,

This death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

The portion is referenced Heb.9:26, 28; 10:14; and 1 Jn.2:2.

This positive universal atonement statement, referenced 1 Jn.2:2, is denied by the high orthodox, as represented by Stewart,[5] who states, in defiance of the clear universal aspect in Dordt’s understanding of the atonement, that Dordt recognises the particularistic element of the atonement.  If it is true that Dordt only recognises the ‘particular’ element in the atonement, it leaves the sufficiency of Christ’s death to atone for the sins of the whole world quite redundant.  If there was no universal aspect in the atonement, then that phrase is quite inexplicable.  It is then for those who reject this statement by ignoring or denying it to explain in what sense Christ is said to have made an atonement of such infinite value and sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. 
The truth lies easily with each viewpoint, namely, that Christ in His death made atonement that is sufficient for the sins of the whole world but efficient only for the elect.  It is sufficient to save the entire human race, and every repentant sinner who trusts Christ alone will be saved.  This reformation paradigm, contested by some reformed theologians, best fits all the Scriptural data.  It endorses the position that because the fallen human mind is limited in its ability to understand the divine Mind in all its details, God has made known what He wanted men to know.  The atonement is limited in its application – it is applied only to those who believe in Christ; the atonement is unlimited so far as its availability and sufficiency are concerned.   This alone does justice to the Scripture data. 

[1]    Berkhof, L 1969:151.
[2]    Ibid. 152.
[3]    Ibid.
[4]   The two French church representatives were the eirenic Pierre du Moulin of Charenton, and the   
       ‘Huguenot Pope’, du Plessis Mornay.

The Enemy Within.

"Ahab begins by sparing his enemy (1 Kgs 20:31-34) and will end by destroying his people (v.42).  Dr D. R. Davis (p.291) sums up Ahab's reign very well and foretells exactly how it will all pan out.

In the spiritual life, great care has to be taken on a daily basis NOT to allow the enemy to get a foothold in our lives.  If we sow to the flesh we will, from the flesh reap destruction.  There is an inevitability about how we live, for to live is to sow.  The moment we allow the enemy of our souls house-room in our lives, at that moment he begins to control us.  Indeed, the very best place for any enemy to destroy his enemy is from the inside. 

The case of Northern Ireland is a prime example of this principle being worked out.  Our politicians have welcomed the enemy of our country (the IRA) into the very government and legislative centre of our country, and these people (the IRA) are working steadily to dismantle everything we regard as dear to us, not least our link with Great Britain in the United Kingdom.  The enemy is working from the inside, and what is very sad and indeed inexcusable is the fact that most of those who are there are prepared to tolerate this cancer and pretend it does not exist.  No one wants to take decisive action to rid our land of its enemies.  No surgery will be performed to remove the cancer from the government and the land.

Ahab was the political leader of Israel.  Political leaders have an awesome responsibility to do what is right in the eyes of God.  Ahab's policy stands as a clear example and warning of what happens when we depart from God's revealed word.  Leadership is a responsible role.  When leadership goes wrong, the people are destroyed.  Look how many countries are in deepest turmoil because of a failure in leadership.  Spare the enemy and you'll destroy the people.

Church leaders occupy a similar position in principle.  You can always tell when the church has been left without leadership - its members do that which is right in their own eyes.  When the church welcomes the enemies of Christ into leadership, ought we to be surprised when they say publicly that they support same-sex marriages?  When the church elects as leaders/elders those whose language is appalling as well as those who are well-known womanisers, then you know the enemy is at large within her ranks.  Where the church does what it pleases in defiance of the Word of God, and allows the enemies of the Gospel to hold leadership roles in her, the people will be destroyed.  Spare the enemy and you'll destroy the people.

We must learn from this and take the spiritual lesson with utmost seriousness.  The enemy will come to us uninvited, and his presence with us will be unwelcome.  That is how he works.  But never let it be said that we welcomed the enemy into our lives.  That would be spiritual suicide.  It is easier to let him in than it is to drive him out again.  So keep the door of your heart and mind locked to the devil.  Give him 'not an inch.'  Drive him from you by the power of the Spirit of God.  Plead the fact that you are covered by the precious blood of Christ.  Put on the whole armour of God so that you will be able to withstand him when the evil day comes (Eph.6:10-18).  And that 'evil day' that Paul writes about is the day when Satan attacks your soul and mind and body.  Spare the enemy and you'll destroy yourself.

Stand fast, dear friends.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  He's a defeated enemy, and you can remind him of that fact.  And rejoice.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas - The Mass of Christ.

The word Christmas is essentially a Roman Catholic word and has been rejected in the main by Protestants.    This is the day when most protestants become Catholics.

Most people think it means the birth of Christ when in fact it mean the death of Christ.  The word mass means a death sacrifice.

So when we wish each other a 'Merry Christmas,' we are asking that they have an enjoyable 'death sacrifice' of Christ. It is really a making fun of the Saviour's death on Calvary for the sins of the world.  May we even be laughing at the Saviour's blood which was shed for the human race.

The pervasive influence of Romanism on Protestant thinking and practice is difficult to miss.  However, we chose not to see it or believe what you have just read.

So may I wish all my loyal readers a most blessed time as you mark the birth of the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, God's eternal Son.  Worship Him on His official birthday (when He was born we just do not know).  Remember to point to Him as you bear witness to Him and give Him your heart as a gift.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

There Was No Inn

The Christmas story is known and loved by many people.  But there is as much myth as fact surrounding this unique story in the minds of many, and the church has contributed to many of these fallacies.

One of these is the invention of an inn and consequently an innkeeper which the work of the translators contributed to.  Luke wrote about a guest chamber, which was also shared with the family's animals.  Bethlehem was too small to have an inn or hostel.  If there was no inn, then there was no innkeeper.  Yet this myth has been peddled for generations, and is still being promoted today by the church.  I heard on the radio this morning that a Presbyterian minister was to play the part of the (non-existent) innkeeper, thus perpetuating the myth.

However, let's get back to the central point.  The Son of God and Saviour of the world was born in Bethlehem of Judea, born to very poor 'parents,' and in poverty-stricken circumstances.  He came, not just to live but eventually to die as the world's sin-bearer so that we might be saved.  It's sad that poor translation work gets in the way of the truth of the Gospel.

The truth is that the atonement required the incarnation.  For sin to be borne away, the Saviour had to be born; it is this that we remember and celebrate at Christmas.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Divine Suddenness and Divine Sovereignty

"Suddenness is the wrapping paper in which sovereignty sometimes arrives."  So wrote Dr Dale Ralph Davis in his commentary on 1 Kings (p.273).

When trials come to us suddenly, we often respond, "Well, that's all I need now." Plans are altered.  Careers shattered.  Families devastated.  Lives threatened.

Yet for the Christian, God, in His sovereignty, arrives with us in ways that are guaranteed to get our attention. We are made to think, to ponder, to ask questions, even at times to doubt.  But it also drives us on our knees in prayer to the only One Who can hear and help us.

Someone very wisely said, "When trouble drives us to our knees before God, it does more good than harm."  How true.  And how delightful it was to hear **** saying yesterday that she never thought she would ever find herself thanking God for her cancer.  Why is this?  Because it has brought her to a closeness to Christ that she never had before.  She thanks God for working in her in this way, for the spiritual benefits she has received are innumerable.  She spoke of the peace that she enjoys everyday – the peace of God.  For her, peace and joy are linked intimately with Christ and her relationship with Him.  This is as it should be.

It is when we are facing trouble that we get to know God best of all.  "When trouble puts us on our backs, the only way we can look is up."  This has been the indescribable joy that we have experienced over these past months – the joy and delight in being able to come into the presence of the holy and loving God, and to talk to Him.  Looking up to the Lord as our only Helper has been deeply satisfying.  And do you know what it has done for us?  It has created in us an independence of circumstances and people that has given us the greatest freedom we have ever known.  Just think what heaven will be like if we can have a foretaste of it here and now!

God is sovereign, and we cannot understand why He does some things, nay, many things.  We have to "walk by faith not by sight" if we are to make any sense of what happens to us.  Knowing that God knows the end for the beginning is the greatest comfort to us.  When we cannot see where we are going, how good it is to walk with Someone Who does.

You have known the suddenness of divine intrusions into your life.  So have we.  It can change everything.  New priorities are set.  The truly important things get top place.  Everything else is put way down the list.  And God gets top place.

And it is then that God comes into His own and we see things about Him that were there all the time, but we did not stop long enough to see them.  How we impoverish ourselves by not staying long enough in His gracious presence.  How we deprive our lives by only ‘filling up’ for a moment.  To hear **** singing (privately, I must add) those lovely words, “And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story, ‘Saved by grace.’”  Just think what hearing this does to one’s soul.  To hear that deep personal assurance of salvation coming from a believer’s heart, is wonderful.  To know that she knows where she is going when the Lord calls her, is the greatest comfort imaginable.  It is “to be absent from the body but present with the Lord.”

Stop, sit, wait, meditate, think, ruminate, drink it all in.  That's what God is calling His people to do.  To give Him priority in their lives.  And when we do that, God blesses in ways that we could never imagine.

All praise must go to the Lord for his numerous and wonderful answers to your prayers.  Having just had her second chemotherapy last Wednesday, and knowing now what to expect, she is in brilliant form.  The last three days have been really good, with only the most minor of annoyances (and I’m not talking about me!!!).  Her mouth is a bit sore and food tastes different from what it ought to be; but apart from that she is very well.

Now, this cannot be put down to **** or to me or even to you.  But it can and must be put down to the Lord’s graciousness to her in answer to your prayers.  Friends, never doubt that God answers your prayers.  He does.  She dreaded the sickness that often accompanies chemo, and she has not had any.  Yes, she has tablets to take to control sickness, and in answer to your prayers, God has made them very effective.  We prayed that the Lord would send ‘sweetness’ along with the chemo – and He did that too.  And why?  Because that’s just the kind of God He is.