Saturday, 1 December 2012

Ministers Who Are Friends With ‘the enemies of the truth.'

Oh, pity the ministers, and there are not a few of them, who are friends with ‘the enemies of the truth.’  Those who keep in with those whom they know to be in the wrong – colleagues, elders, church members, church leaders, other faiths, etc – have compromised themselves thereby. They keep in with those who can make life difficult for them, possibly even have them removed from the ministry, or from life. These ‘turkeys’ keep in with the ‘enemies of the truth’ because their motivation and mission is self-preservation at all costs.

Calvin could not be more different.  He counsels the five young ministerial students of Lyons who were facing death for the faith in terms not unlike these:

‘But you, my young brother ministers, you are not pursuing your own ideas however lofty they might be. You are pursuing the truths of eternity, the truths of salvation, the truths of God’s glory in the world. Your calling is not a ‘trivial pursuit.’  You are on the most exalted mission and highest calling that any man can receive. You are ministers of the Gospel, no more and no less. That’s who and what you are!  And these ‘enemies of the truth’ are doing this to men Whom God has personally chosen, called, saved and set apart for the Gospel.’ 

And because Calvin is raising the position of the five very high, he is also saying that he would not be in the shoes of the ‘enemies of the truth’ for all the tea in China. They are trifling with things and people they know not of, and with the God Who is Almighty, just, holy and altogether righteous. They know not what they do, or its consequences.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Clarity of Scripture

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture teaches that what the Scripture text means can be clear to the ordinary unschooled reader, and that God uses the Bible’s text to communicate His will to him.  In the Bible, the Person and Word of God are inextricably connected.  That implies that what is true of the character of God is also true of the character of the Word of God.  This has serious implications because to deny the clarity of Scripture is to deny God’s ability to communicate clearly.  When resort is made to human compositions, it is not a big step to saying that God Scripture is not sufficient, is not clear, and therefore does not possess the same authority as do the human theological compositions. However, by affirming that the Bible’s message is inherently understandable, the doctrine of perspicuity rightly acknowledges that the Spirit of God has revealed divine truth propositionally and in a way that is readily understood.

In fact, the witness of the Church throughout the ages is that ordinary Christian people, who come to it in faith and humility, and in dependence upon divine grace, will be able to understand what the Bible teaches in all important matters of faith and life, even if they face particular difficulties occasionally.  Conversely, Scripture is a deep well that has kept scholars and theologians busy for millennia.  It is clear in all matters essential for life in this world and for admission into the next.  Where difficulty is experienced in understanding Scripture, the reason lies in man’s sinful nature, not in any lack of clarity in Scripture.  When the ordinary means of interpretation are used to gain access to the meaning of a passage, that meaning becomes clear.  Even an unsaved sinner is able to grasp the plain teaching of Scripture at an external level.  

The Baptist, The Saviour, and the Salvation

Before the immaculate conception of our Lord Jesus Christ, there was a miraculous birth — of a man who would prepare the way for our coming King.  His name was John, son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, who became the Baptiser.  

John was the forerunner of the Saviour, the one sent to prepare the way for Him.  It was he who said, "He (Christ) must increase but I must decrease" (Jn.3:30).  John was happy to play the one instrument in any orchestra that no else wants to play - second fiddle.  John was honoured to be chosen and called by God to fulfil this critically important role.  His self-effacing attitude reminds me of the Holy Spirit Whose role was to point people to Christ.  He paved the way for the world's Saviour.

In the run-up to Christmas, what are you doing to prepare the way for Christ to come and be born in some else's heart?  Is your life drawing attention to Christ, or to yourself?  Are you prepared to be a nobody so long as Christ was all in all?  

What are putting before the Saviour?  For if you are putting anything before the Saviour, you are not preparing the way for Him.  Is it yourself, your family, your house, your job, your religion, your church?  And if you are not preparing the way for the world's Saviour, then you have no role in Christ's Kingdom.

Make up your mind today to be a 'preparer' of the way for the Redeemer of the world to come.  Make sure you are placing no obstacles in the way to His coming.  For when He comes and is born in any sinner's heart, that's what Christmas is all about.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Calvin, Predestination and Salvation.

Hans Boersma views Calvin’s understanding of God’s work of redemption in Christ as a whole, and sees as proof of this the important place Calvin assigns to predestination.[1]  This raises the question, Why, if Calvin assigns an important place to the doctrine of predestination, is it not dealt with in his Institutes until the fourth book?  Clearly for Calvin there are many more important doctrines about which to be taught and concerned.  Boersma sees predestination as “the demonstration of God’s free mercy” and election is “the source of free mercy.”  Truly, He is “the prima causa of salvation.”[2]  And that is a demonstration of sheer unmerited grace.

How, then, does this salvation become the possession of the sinner?  Francois Wendel answers this by affirming that the locus of Calvin’s thought is to be found in faith,[3] not in either election or predestination. Calvin writes,

Wherefore men are being fantastic or fanatical if they look for their salvation or the salvation of others in the labyrinth of predestination instead of keeping to the way of faith which is offered them ... To each one, his faith is a sufficient witness of the eternal predestination of God...[4]

Iain H Murray criticises DML-J for not directing his hearers "with sufficient clarity to faith in Christ as the God-appointed means of relief." (Biography, Vol.1, p191).

Scripture teaching, then, can be understood as it stands without the necessity of delving into the forbidden fruit of God’s secret counsel, and thus complicating the entire hermeneutical exercise and restricting understanding of Scripture to the theologically trained and initiated.[5]  If Scripture is clear only to theological professionals, then, by definition, it is not clear at all.

[1]    Boersma, Hans, Evangelical Quarterly 64.4 (1992), 333-355.
[2]    Ibid.
[3]    F. Wendel, Calvin, (1963), 270.
[4]    Ibid.
[5]    Calvin is less than complimentary towards those who “draw the line between speculations arising from 
        an impious curiosity and legitimate knowledge of the doctrine of predestination,” p.270.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

DML-J - Biblical Theologian

DML-J was pre-eminently a biblical theologian rather than a systematic theologian, like his mentor, John Calvin.[1]  In the 1952-1955 years of his Westminster ministry, he delivered his Friday night lectures on the great doctrines of the Bible, but, as stated in the preface to his book which emerged from his lectures on biblical doctrine, he came to the conclusion that it is better  to learn and to teach Christian doctrine “as a part of the regular exposition”[2] of the text of Scripture, hence his change of methodology to one in which he worked his way systematically through the text of Paul’s letter to the Romans which commenced in 1955 and continued until his enforced retirement due to ill-health in 1968, when he reached Rom.14:17.  This decision also explains the sermonic form of these Romans messages.[3] 

DML-J’s theology is fundamentally and essentially evangelistic.  It is Gospel-centred and Gospel-focused.  His evangelistic preaching is drawn out of the Gospel as revealed in the Old and New Testaments.  Like his mentor, John Calvin, DML-J held as axiomatic the truth of Deut.29:29,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
In this verse, God’s single will is revealed in a dualistic manner; his hidden will is inaccessible to fallen human minds, inscrutable to human thought processes, and embedded deeply within the eternal divine purpose.  His revealed will, on the other hand, is that which is made known in the Gospel, can be accessed by men, declares God’s revealed will for mankind (including the salvation of the human race), and makes salvation certain to everyone who repents of his sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour. 

[1]    Peterson, 1999:10.
[2]    God the Father, Preface.
[3]    Ibid.

Monday, 26 November 2012

On His Majesty's Secret Service

You will have noticed James Bond (007) themes coming through these posts, and I've done so for the very good reason that film titles were suggestive of Gospel ideas that could be used  to present Christ and His goodnews to a lost world.
This title is no different.  There are three ways of looking at this none: (i) we could concentrate on God's secret mission in the world where those He will save may not know it yet, but God is working out His eternal purposes in their lives and circumstances. (ii) There are Christians who see themselves as being involved in this secret mission in the world, yet tend to be 'silent witnesses' to Christ. (iii)  Believers are an integral part of God secret mission in the world, a privilege that we do not fully realise. So let me make a start.

His Majesty, the Lord Jesus Christ, owns this world; He made it ex nihilo (out of nothing), and He sustains it by His powerful Word.  He cares for it in every aspect of its being, and cares about what sinful people are doing in it.  Sometimes He shows Himself but more often He works silently and not noticed by the vast majority of people.  He is engaged in His secret service.  Providentially He is working constantly, unnoticed, unobserved, mysteriously.  As you read this, you may not believe it, but it is nonetheless true.  Have you ever thought about the strange   Things that have happened, maybe even happened to you, have left you wondering what is going on.  That is God working out His secret purpose.  And if He is doing that outside of you, then He may well be doing a similar work in your heart.  He is drawing you to Himself by the invisible cords of His grace.  He speaks to you through the things that happen and also by His Spirit.  He loves you and is working to bring you to Christ.

Are you a Christian?  Then you are involved in this secret service of King Jesus.  He has you as His fellow-workers in the world, working to bring in His Kingdom.  His work is done through His Word, the Gospel.  He has placed you in your particular place to be His witness; that is, to speak of Christ as and when you have opportunity.  Being a 'silent witness' is to be no real witness at all.  "Go for and tell..." Jim Seddan's missionary hymn demands.  Are you telling what the Lord has done for your soul (Ps.66:16).  Be a vocal witness to God's saving grace in Christ.  For through your vocal witness, others will hear of our wonderful Saviour.

As a Christian, you are integral to God's work of mission in the world.  That is not to say that He cannot work without means, but He usually does.  Perhaps you think you are just a church member and that the responsibility for outreach is the minister or the elders.  True, but you too have been called to be a witness to Christ.  You're attitude ought to be, "I'll speak for I cannot keep silent," as one hymn-writer puts it.  Speak out for Jesus while it is still the daytime for night-time comes when no man can speak.  There is an urgency about His Majesty's Secret Service.  Darkness is coming, and for some it is already here.

Speak up for Jesus, or shut up!