The Exegetical Basis for Total Depravity and Total Inability (Murray)

Epistle to the Romans One aspect of the doctrines of grace is the insistence that man, by nature, is unable and unwilling to come to Jesus in repentance and faith. Apart from saving grace, a sinner is corrupt in every part of his being and morally incapable of doing good in God’s sight.  Although he isn’t as wicked as he could be, he is dead in sin and his will is in bondage to sin.  Of course, the Reformers taught these things, as did other in history before them.  But is there a biblical basis for these teachings?  Yes.  For one of several examples, consider Romans 8:7-8, which says, “…The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (NASB).

Here are some of John Murray’s helpful comments on these verses:

“Verse 7 gives the reason why the mind of the flesh is death [v.6].  It is ‘enmity against God.’  …It defines the mind of the flesh, the mind characterizing those who are ‘after the flesh’ and ‘in the flesh’, as one that is conditioned and governed by ‘enmity’, enmity of which God is the object.  Enmity towards God is the actuating principle and governing propension of the mind of the flesh.”

“…The last clause, ‘neither indeed can it be’, points to the impossibility that resides in the mind of the flesh and means nothing less than it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are ‘in the flesh’ to have any disposition of obedience with respect to the law of God.”

“…The apostle…expressly states what is to the effect that it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are in the flesh to do anything that elicits the divine approval and good pleasure.  Here we have nothing less than the doctrine of the total inability of the natural man, that is to say, total inability to be well-pleasing to God or to do what is well-pleasing in his sight.”

“…In the whole passage we have the biblical basis for the doctrines of total depravity and total inability.  It should be recognized, therefore, that resistance to these doctrines must come to terms not simply with the present-day proponents of these doctrines but with the apostle himself.  ‘Enmity against God’ is nothing other than total depravity and ‘cannot please God’ nothing less than total inability.”

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 286-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 45015

 

 

Good That I Was Afflicted? (Newton)

Sometimes during a hard and heavy trial there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Just when you think the trial may be going away like a storm passing, just when you think the sun might finally be coming out, another dark cloud blows in and the trial is back – sometimes with a vengeance.  That’s when you think, “What’s it all worth?”  That’s when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  That’s when tears come at random during the day.  That’s when you can sort of understand why people might want to just give up and die.

God’s promises speak to this.  Although they don’t take the storm of trial away, they do provide shelter during the storm of trial.  God’s promises don’t always immediately show us the light at the end of the tunnel, but they do give us a firm reminder that there is a Light at the end of it!  God’s promises give us reason to get up and go on with life by his grace and strength.  John Newton talked about this well in a letter he wrote to a Christian friend facing a hard trial.  These words are for all Christians facing affliction:

“Many are the trials and exercises we must expect to meet within our progress; but this one consideration outweighs them all: the Lord is on our side.  And if he be for us, none can be against us to harm us.  In all these things we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us. Afflictions, though not in themselves joyous, but grevious, yet, when sanctified, are among our choice mercies.  In due time they shall yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness, and even at present they shall surely be attended with seasonable and sufficient supports.”

“One great desire of the believer is to understand the great word of God more and more; and one principal means by which we advance in this knowledge is the improvement we are enabled to make of our daily trials.  The promises are generally made to an afflicted state, and we could not taste their sweetness, nor experience their truth, if we were not sometimes brought into the circumstances to which they relate.  It is said, ‘I will be with them in trouble’; but how could we know what a mercy is contained in these words unless trouble was sometimes our lot?  It is said to be the believer’s privilege to glory in tribulation.  But we never could know that this is possible unless we had tribulation to glory in.”

“However, this is a matter of joy and glory indeed, to find peace and comfort within when things are disagreeable and troublesome without.  Then we are enabled to set our seal that God is true, then we learn how happy it is to have a refuge that cannot be taken from us, a support that is able to bear all the weight we can lay upon it, a spring of joy that cannot be stopped by any outward events.”

“A great part of the little we know of our God – his faithfulness, compassion, his readiness to hear and answer our prayers, his wisdom in delivering and providing when all our contrivances fail, and his goodness in overruling everything to our soul’s good – I say, much of what we know of these things we learned in our trials, and have therefore reason to say, ‘It was good for us to be afflicted’ (Ps. 119:71).”

And, as the Lord has brought us safe through thus far, we have good ground to trust him to the end.  We know not what is before us.  Perhaps we may meet greater difficulties by and by than we have ever yet seen.  But if we keep in mind who has delivered us from the lion and the bear, we may face the Philistine also without terror.  God will be with us, and strengthen us with strength in our souls.  It is our wisdom to keep close to him, that, when the evil day comes, we may have confidence before him in all our troubles.”

John Newton, Works Volume 6, p. 35-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Is Predestination Central in Calvinism?

There’s much more to Reformed theology than the doctrines of grace (TULIP).  Similarly, there’s more to the doctrines of grace than predestination.  This needs to be said and repeated since some say that the central dogma of Calvinism is predestination, that predestination is at the core of the doctrines of grace.  Michael Horton gave some helpful points to refute this error:

  1. Calvin was not the first Calvinist.  The standard medieval view affirmed unconditional election and reprobation and held that Christ’s redemptive work at the cross is ‘sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect alone.’  …On even the most controversial aspects of predestination, Calvin’s view can scarcely be distinguished from that of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine, and Gregory of Rimini.  …In fact, some of Luther’s strong comments in ‘The Bondage of the Will’ make Calvin moderate by comparison.
  2. Calvin was not the only shaper of the Reformed tradition.  Although his formative influence is justly recognized, he regarded himself as a student of Luther.  The Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer also left a decisive imprint on Calvin, as on a whole generation, including Archbishop Thomas Cramner.  …Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, Jan Laski, Girolamo Zanchi, and Peter Martyr Vermigli were also among the many contemporaries of Calvin who shaped Reformed teaching, not to mention the following generations of leaders who refined and consolidated the gains of the sixteenth century.
  3. It is interesting that John Calvin never identified predestination or election as a central dogma.  He spoke of the doctrine of justification as ‘the primary article of the Christian religion,’ ‘the main hinge on which religion turns,’ the principal article of the whole doctrine of salvation and the foundation of all religion.’  Obviously he considered predestination an important doctrine.  But he was not only unoriginal in his formulation; he did not raise it to the level of a central dogma.  As B.B. Warfield has pointed out, Calvin’s emphasis on God’s fatherly love and benevolence in Christ is more pervasive than his emphasis on God’s sovereign power and authority.

“None of this is to diminish the obvious importance of election in Reformed theology, but it does serve to dissuade us from regarding it as a central dogma or as a uniquely Calvinistic tenent. …The truth is, there isn’t a central dogma in Calvinism, although it is certainly God-centered – and, more specifically, Christ-centered, since it is only in the Son that God’s saving purposes and action in history are most clearly revealed. …With Melanchthon and Bullinger leading the way, covenant theology emerged as the very warp and woof of Reformed theology.  Even this is not a central dogma, however, but more like the architectural framework.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, pp 28-30.

Shane Lems

Motives at Work in Sexual Sin (Powlison)

Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by [Powlison, David] Last week I mentioned David Powlison’s forthcoming book, Making All Things New.  Today I want to highlight part of it that is quite helpful in thinking of the nuts and bolts of sexual sin, whether it be adultery, pornography, homosexuality, or lust (and so on).  Below are various motives at work in sexual sin, which I’ve edited for length.  These motives are helpful for those who are fighting lust and other sexual sins:

  1. Angry desires for revenge.  Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger.  I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries.  They had a big fight, and the man angrily went out and hired a prostitute.  In retaliatory anger, the women went out and seduced her husband’s best friend.  The erotic pleasure wasn’t necessarily the driving force; anger was.  Though it’s rarely that dramatic, anger frequently plays a role in immorality.  A teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents.  A man cruises down the internet after he and his wife exchange words….
  2. Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, or valued through romantic attention.  Consider the situation of a lonely and unattractive teenage girl who doesn’t necessarily enjoy sex.  Why does she sleep around?  It’s not because she longs for erotic pleasure.  She sleeps around in order to feed her consuming desire to have someone care for her romantically and pay attention to her.  It makes her feel loved.  She is enslaved by the desire to get attention and affirmation.  This is an extreme case, perhaps, but many people become sexually active at a young age because they feel pressure to be acceptable, they don’t want to be rejected, and they desire attention.  Sexual behavior can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual cravings.
  3. Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase.  Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response.  The flirt, the tease, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires.  Deeper evil desires are at work than just sex – the thrill and rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another.
  4. Anxious desire for money to meet basic survival needs.  Sex makes lots of money for lots of people.  The desire for money is greater than the desire for sex in this case.  One difficult example is the case of a single mother who was in desperate need of money.  Her sleazy landlord offered her free rent in return for sexual favors.  (Thankfully, this woman refused and her church family ended up helping her financially.)
  5. Distorted messianic desire to help another person.  Sometimes people play the rescuer-savior and they sleep with someone because they feel sorry for that person’s loneliness, rejection, and abandonment.  It is a sexual sin, but it is fueled by a warped desire to be helpful, admired, and to “save” a person.
  6. Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life.  Sexual sin often serves as an escape valve for other problems.  Consider a man who faces extreme pressures in the workplace.  He and his team pull a few all nighters to get an important project done.  They make it and he goes home completely exhausted.  But he finds no relief in having the project done.  So he revels in pornography and forgets his troubles.  Lust is at work, but there’s more to it.  He is looking for rest, and he sinfully finds it in erotic pleasure.
  7. Indifference, cynicism, ‘Who cares?’, ‘What’s the use?‘.  A single student – a Christian – once confessed that she slept with a co-worker.  She was working late and was tired after a long shift.  She had no accountability that night and was somewhat attracted to her co-worker.  He invited her over, and with a “what does it matter?” attitude, she accepted and sinned by sleeping with him.  This is the sin of acedia – sloth, giving up, spiritual laziness, not caring, saying ‘whatever.”

There are, of course, other reasons why people fall into sexual sins.  The point Powlison was making is that “sexual sin is symptomatic.  It expresses that deeper war for the heart’s loyalty.  We’ve looked at a handful of different ways the deeper war operates.  There are other dynamics, too!  But I hope this primes the pump so you learn to recognize more of what’s going on inside when red-letter sins make an appearance.”

The above-edited quotes are found in  David Powlison, Making All Things New, p. 80-87.

Shane Lems

Self-Absorbed in Worship? (Boice)

 We’ve all heard the contemporary praise song that says “I will” more than a few times.   Phrases like “I will celebrate,” “I will sing to God,” “I will praise God,” are sung and repeated many times in the same song.   Here are James Montgomery Boice’s comments on such a song:

The chorus seems to be praising God – it claims to be praising him – but that is the one thing it does not actually do.  As [Marva] Dawn points out, ‘The verbs say ‘I will,’ but in this song I don’t, because although God is mentioned as the recipient of my praise and signing, the song never says a single thing about or to God.

What is the song about then? If we look at it carefully, the answer is clear.  With all the repeats, ‘I’ is the subject twenty-eight times.  Not God, but ‘I’ myself,  And not even myself along with other members of the covenant community, just ‘I’.  ‘With that kind of focus,’ says Dawn, ‘we might suppose that all the “hallelujahs” are praising how good I am…at celebrating and singing.’  What is this but narcissism, an absorption with ourselves which is only a pitiful, sad characteristic of our culture?  If we are self-absorbed in our worship services, as we seem to be, it can only mean that we are worldly in our worship, and not spiritual as we ignorantly suppose.

The praise songs of the Psalter do not fall into this trap, which is one reason why they are such good models for our worship and why they should be used in worship more often than they are.  Think of just the last five psalms, as an example.  They are a kind of praise climax to the Psalter, showing us what it means to praise God….

J. M. Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, p. 181.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Comfort on the Deathbed (Or: A Pastor’s Most Important Resource)

Simon Goulart was a Reformed theologian and pastor from France who served in Geneva in the middle of the 16th century.  His preaching and teaching were solidly biblical, clearly doctrinal, and very applicable.  One example of this is his biblical comfort he gave to Christians on their deathbed.  Scott Manetsch gives a good summary of Goulart’s pastoral care:

As Christians approach death, Goulart recognizes, they are frequently tempted to doubt God’s promised salvation and despair of their future hope.  In this spiritual drama, Satan is especially active.  Goulart’s discourse ‘Remedies Against Satan’s Temptations in our Final Hour’ enumerates the stinging accusations and doubts that Satan launches against God’s children as they struggle on their deathbeds.  The voice of Satan accuses: ‘You are a miserable sinner, worthy of damnation.’  ‘Your sins are too great to be forgiven.’  ‘How do you know that the promise of the gospel pertains to you?’  ‘Are you certain that your repentance and faith are genuine?’  ‘How do you know that you are among God’s elect?’  In response to each of these attacks, Goulart provides the faithful Christian a ready answer, drawn from the pages of Scripture.

For example, when Satan questions the believer’s election, the Christian responds: ‘All true believers are sheep of Jesus Christ, elected in him to eternal life.  Psalm 23 says that ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’  And Psalm 100 says ‘Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.’  So too, Jesus Christ says in John 10, ‘My sheep hear my voice.’  I have heard this voice and heeded it.  Thus, I am one of the sheep of this Great Shepherd, who has given his life to bring me into his sheepfold, having rescued me from your jaws, O roaring lion.’

Clearly, Goulart believed that God’s Word was to serve as the pastor’s most important resource in caring for Christians on their deathbeds.  Scripture is like a ‘pharmacy’ for wounded souls, he asserted.  It offers a ‘secure harbor for agitated consciences.’

The above quotes were taken from Scott Matnetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p 297-298.

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

Only Six Verses That Mention Homosexuality? (Powlison)

Here’s a paragraph I appreciated from David Powlison’s forthcoming book, Making All Things New.

“I’ve heard arguments against the biblical sexual ethic that say, ‘There are only six Bible verses that mention homosexuality,’ and then proponents wiggle the definition of homosexuality to exclude modern forms.  This is mere trivializing of Scripture.  Narrowing Scripture’s relevance to a verse count or the specific form of ancient practices neither establishes nor disestablishes right and wrong regarding sexual acts.  God teaches us by identifying the main principle, giving us representative examples, and then expecting us to put in the effort to understand the ‘things like these’ (Gal. 5:21) that are also obviously wrong” (p.38).

David Powlison, Making All Things New, forthcoming.

Shane Lems