Preaching the Law and the Gospel (Witsius)

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain
H. Witsius 

Chapter 17 of Herman Witsius’ “On the Controversies” is all about the manner and order of preaching the law and the gospel.  It’s a helpful chapter!  At the beginning Witsius notes the specific or “stricter” definitions of the law and the gospel:

…It is required [to know], in what manner and order the preaching of the law should accompany that of the gospel. To the determination of which question, we must first know, what is understood by the law, and what by the gospel.

The law here signifies that part of the Divine word which consists in precepts and prohibitions, with the promise of conferring a reward upon them who obey, and a threatening of punishment to the disobedient.

The gospel signifies the doctrine of grace, and of the fullest salvation in Christ Jesus, to be received of elect sinners by faith.

Therefore every prescription of virtues and duties, all exhortations and dissuasions, all reproofs and threatenings also all the promises of a reward in recompense of perfect obedience, belong to the law.

But to the gospel appertains whatever can give a sinner the hope of salvation, namely, the doctrine concerning the person, offices, states, and benefits of Jesus Christ, and all the promises wherein is included the pardon of sins, and the annexed possession of grace and glory, to be obtained by faith in him.

This is the strictest notion of both words, to which we must attend, in the whole of this disputation.

 Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 179–180.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Local Church and Your Spiritual Gifts

ReadMarkLearnRomans

In Romans 12:3-6 the Apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts which God gives his people, Christians who are members of the body of Christ. They are gifts of God, so we can’t brag about them as if we earned them or deserve them. And, of course, we each have different gifts, as Paul explains (12:6). These God-given spiritual gifts are for the benefit of the body. They are not meant to elevate one member over others.

The Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 55) says that “each member should consider it his duty to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 26) says that we have “communion in each other’s gifts and graces.” That is, we share the spiritual gifts God has given us. We don’t keep them to ourselves since they belong to the body as gifts of God. I like how the “Read/Mark/Learn: Romans” study guide said it commenting on 12:4-8:

“…Individual Christians are parts of a greater whole, the church. Paul uses the analogy of the body… to teach humility and interdependence. Just as the body has, and needs, different members with different functions, so the church has, and needs, people with different gifts. Furthermore, these gifts do not belong solely to the individual, but rather to the whole of the church. If we understand that this is our position, we will not think to highly of ourselves. Just as we are to give ourselves fully to God (v. 1), so we are to give ourselves fully to one another.”

“Then, in verses 6-8, Paul lists examples of different kinds of gifts that God gives His people. His focus is not on the nature of the gifts that he mentions – these gifts are just examples. …Instead, his emphasis is on interdependence and our responsibility towards each other. God has given different gifts to different people; so whatever gifts we have, by grace, been given, we should use each one in a manner that is appropriate to the gift, in order to serve the rest of the ‘body.’”

Read/Mark/Learn: Romans, p. 229.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

It Is The Lord Who Sends Afflictions (Chrysostom)

 I ran across this great quote from Chrysostom on God’s sovereignty in affliction.  These are his comments on Job 2:10: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?” (Geneva Bible).  It’s worth reading a few times!

This text means that if we actually experienced only misfortunes, we would still need to bear them. God is Master and Lord. Does he not possess the power to send us anything? Why did God provide us with our goods? He did not do so because we deserved them. God was absolutely free to send us only afflictions. If he has also granted us goods, why do we complain? Notice how [Job] does not speak anywhere about faults or good actions but only says that God has the power to do whatever he wants. Recall your former happiness, and you will have no problem in bearing the present difficulties. It is sufficient, as our consolation, to know that it is the Lord who sends them to us. Let us not speak about justice and injustice.

 Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, eds., Job, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 13.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Thinking Rightly of Ourselves

 Followers of Christ should not be narcissists.  We should keep our eyes on Jesus and not on ourselves.  The Apostle said it like this: “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Rom. 12:3 NLT).  These words are ones we should take to heart as we walk the path of following Christ.  Matthew Henry wrote some good comments on Romans 12:3:

Pride is a sin that is bred in the bone of all of us, and we have therefore each of us need to be cautioned and armed against it.—Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. We must take heed of having too great an opinion of ourselves, or putting too high a valuation upon our own judgments, abilities, persons, performances. We must not be self-conceited, nor esteem too much our own wisdom and other attainments, not think ourselves to be something, Gal. 6:3. There is a high thought of ourselves which we may and must have to think ourselves too good to be the slaves of sin and drudges to this world. But, on the other hand, we should think soberly, that is, we must have a low and modest opinion of ourselves and our own abilities, our gifts and graces, according to what we have received from God, and not otherwise. We must not be confident and hot in matters of doubtful disputation; not stretch ourselves beyond our line; not judge and censure those that differ from us; not desire to make a fair show in the flesh. These and the like are the fruits of a sober opinion of ourselves.

The words will bear yet another sense agreeable enough. Of himself is not in the original; therefore it may be read, That no man be wise above what he ought to be wise, but be wise unto sobriety. We must not exercise ourselves in things too high for us (Ps. 131:1, 2), not intrude into those things which we have not seen (Col. 2:18), those secret things which belong not to us (Deu. 29:29), not covet to be wise above what is written. There is a knowledge that puffs up, which reaches after forbidden fruit. We must take heed of this, and labour after that knowledge which tends to sobriety, to the rectifying of the heart and the reforming of the life. Some understand it of the sobriety which keeps us in our own place and station, from intruding into the gifts and offices of others. See an instance of this sober modest care in the exercise of the greatest spiritual gifts, 2 Co. 10:13–15. To this head refers also that exhortation (v. 16), Be not wise in your own conceits.

It is good to be wise, but it is bad to think ourselves so; for there is more hope of a fool than of him that is wise in his own eyes.

 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2226–2227.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterain Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The NET Bible, Ruth 1:17, and Text Notes

The NET Bible (NET) I’ve mentioned the NET Bible here before including the fact that I use it quite a bit and appreciate it along with other good translations.  I like the NET Bible because the translation is accurate and readable.  I also like it because it has quite a few footnotes to “show the work” of the translation, to give more insight into a translation, or to give alternate translations.  I don’t always agree with every translation and every footnote, but I always appreciate reading them!

For one good example of a footnote, while studying Ruth 1:17 recently, I came across this one (I split up the paragraph to make it easier to read):

Heb “certainly death will separate me and you.” Ruth’s vow has been interpreted two ways:

(1) Not even death will separate her from Naomi—because they will be buried next to one another (e.g., NRSV, NCV; see E. F. Campbell, Ruth [AB], 74–75). However, for the statement to mean, “Not even death will separate me and you,” it would probably need to be introduced by אִם (’im, “if”) or negated by לֹא (lo’, “not”; see F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther [WBC], 83).

(2) Nothing except death will separate her from Naomi (e.g., KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, TEV, NJPS, REB, NLT, GW; see Bush, 83). The particle כִּי introduces the content of the vow, which—if violated—would bring about the curse uttered in the preceding oath (BDB 472 s.v. כִּי 1.c; e.g., Gen 42:16; Num 14:22; 1 Sam 20:3; 26:16; 29:6; 2 Sam 3:35; 1 Kgs 2:23; Isa 49:18). Some suggest that כּי is functioning as an asseverative (“indeed, certainly”) to express what the speaker is determined will happen (Bush, 83; see 1 Sam 14:44; 2 Sam 3:9; 1 Kgs 2:23; 19:2). Here כִּי probably functions in a conditional sense: “if” or “if … except, unless” (BDB 473 s.v. כִּי2.b). So her vow may essentially mean “if anything except death should separate me from you!”

The most likely view is (2): Ruth is swearing that death alone will separate her from Naomi.

The NET Bible is one that you can use to help you in your Bible reading and studies. If you haven’t looked at it, I’d recommend doing so!  For those of you who use Logos, it’s $9.99, notes included.  Enjoy!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Evil and God’s Sovereignty (Blocher)

 Some of the more difficult texts in Scripture include those verses that seem to say God is involved in evil.  For example, in 1 Samuel 16:14 we read, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him” (NET).  Of Eli’s wicked sons we read that they “would not listen to their father, for the LORD had decided to kill them” (1 Sam. 2:25 NET).

What are we to make of these kinds of texts in light of Scripture’s clear teaching that God hates evil, is perfectly and perpetually good, and is too pure to look on sin (cf Prov. 6:16-19; Mk. 10:18; Hab. 1:13, etc.)??  I appreciate how Henri Blocher explained this based on God’s sovereignty, which Scripture also teaches:

The Augustinian and Reformed tradition maintains that in one sense God ‘wills’ evil, he decides that evil shall occur.  Calvin, though he at times uses it, objects to the term permission; he considers it to weak, suggesting a God who is a mere spectator.  In reality, he declares, God goes so far as to move the will of those who do evil.  Many are scandalized at this.  Journet blames Calvin bitterly for speaking of ‘willing.’ He can tolerate only the language of ‘permission.’  Berkouwer criticizes his own tradition on the same points: even Bavinck, he argues, ought not to have stated that God in a certain manner ‘wills’ evil.

We are obliged to refute the accusation: first of all because the audacity of writers of Scripture, such as Paul or Ezekiel, puts the boldest of Calvin’s expressions in the shade; our quotations above [from Scripture] bear that out.  And then why should we argue about words?  ‘Having the authority to prevent, and the power, when God allows it, is that not as good as if he did it?’ (Calvin).  There is little to gain in rejecting the verb ‘to will’ so long as you do not deny divine sovereignty.  Berkouwer is obliged to concede that sin is never committed ‘outside (praeter) the will of God’; is that not the admission of a certain will?  In vain does Journet attempt to pit Calvin against Augustine on this point.  One may as well take one’s position from the stern candor of Scripture: if evil occurs under the rule of God, then his will is involved.

The assurance of the absolute sovereignty of God contributed to ‘the fear of the LORD,’ which is so rare amongst people, even Christians, in our day.  It fostered humble faith, it poured the balm of consolation. Racked with illness, Calvin repeated, ‘You are crushing me, Lord, but I am content that it comes from your hand.’  It [the fear of the Lord] alone can bring peace, beyond that of forgiveness, for having done irreversible wrongs, for even that is in the hand of God, etiam peccata (‘including sins’).  By including that in his plan, he relieves us of the intolerable care of having the final responsibility (cf Gen. 45:8).  He is the First and the Last. Our God reigns.

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross, p. 95-96.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Living for God: The Threefold Norm (Van Mastricht)

Van Mastricht, TPT

The Christian is called to glorify God in all areas of life (1 Cor. 10:31).  We should have the same mind as Paul when he said, “Our purpose is to please God…our goal is to please him” (1 Thes. 2:4; 2 Cor. 5:9 NLT).  Another way to say this is that we live for God.  One question arises: how do we learn what pleases God?  How can we know what it means to live for him?  

Petrus Van Mastricht explained this very well and very succinctly (as he usually did!):

“To [attain] that goal [of living for God] let us entirely direct our actions, according to the right norm, which is… threefold: 1) The Word of God (Ps. 119:17; Gal. 6:16).  2) The life of Christ, because of whom we are called Christians.  Christ personally commends his life to us as an example (Matt. 11:29), and Paul professes that he is pursuing it (1 Cor. 11:1).  By this Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20) and shines in us (2 Cor. 4:10), and also, his life presents the most accurate exemplar for our own.  3) Our own conscience rightly conformed to the Word of God (Acts 24:16) also presents us both with a norm and with a judge subordinate to God.”

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol 1, page 110.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015