New Evidence of Your Depravity? (Packer)

 Many of us know the words of Paul in Romans 8 quite well, including verses 33-34: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us” (NET).  J.I. Packer said that in these words Paul gives us a “reminder of God’s sovereignty in judgment.”  This is comforting for the Christian, and a source of solid assurance:

‘It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?’  If it is God, Maker and Judge of all, who passes the justifying sentence – that is, who declares that you have been set right with His law and with Himself, and are not now liable to death for your sins, but are accepted in Christ — and if God has passed this sentence in full view of all your shortcomings, justifying you on the explicit basis and understanding that you were not righteous, but ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5), then nobody can ever challenge the verdict, not even ‘the accuser of the brethren’ himself.  Nobody can alter God’s decision over his head – there is only one Judge! – and nobody can produce new evidence of your depravity that will make God changed his mind.  For God justified you with (so to speak) His eyes open.  He knew the worst about you at the time when He accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which He passed then was, and is, final.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 248.

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

“How I Wish Them To Be Saved” (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.) Jesus left an example for his followers in how to act when suffering for doing good.  This is what Peter talks about in 1 Peter 2:21-23.  To say it in another way, when we suffer for following Christ in obedience to God, we should act in a Christ-like way through it all, following his example.  Calvin has a great paragraph on this in his commentary on 1 Peter 2:23.  I especially like the part below that I’ve emphasized in bold:

It may however be asked, How did Christ commit his cause to the Father; for if he required vengeance from him, this he himself says is not lawful for us; for he bids us to do good to those who injure us, to pray for those who speak evil of us. (Matt. 5:44.) To this my reply is, that it appears evident from the gospel-history, that Christ did thus refer his judgment to God, and yet did not demand vengeance to be taken on his enemies, but that, on the contrary, he prayed for them, “Father,” he said, “forgive them.” (Luke 23:34.) And doubtless the feelings of our flesh are far from being in unison with the judgment of God. That any one then may commit his cause to him who judgeth righteously, it is necessary that he should first lay a check on himself, so that he may not ask anything inconsistent with the righteous judgment of God. For they who indulge themselves in looking for vengeance, concede not to God his office of a judge, but in a manner wish him to be an executioner. He then who is so calm in his spirit as to wish his adversaries to become his friends, and endeavors to bring them to the right way, rightly commits to God his own cause, and his prayer is, “Thou, O Lord, knowest my heart, how I wish them to be saved who seek to destroy me: were they converted, I should congratulate them; but if they continue obstinate in their wickedness, for I know that thou watchest over my safety, I commit my cause to thee”. This meekness was manifested by Christ; it is then the rule to be observed by us.

 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 91–92.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Afflictions, God’s Sovereignty, and Our Foundation (Powlison)

Good and Angry: Letting Go of Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness In chapter 17 of Good & Angry, David Powlison talks about being angry at God. Obviously it’s sinful to be angry at God and blame him of wrongdoing.  Powlison’s discussion of this topic is a good one; it’s worth reading for sure!  I especially appreciated the following paragraphs:

When the Bible portrays and discusses suffering, God always embeds the hardships we experience as a subset of his larger purposes.  These may not be at all obvious in the moment. But in the long run, all tears will be wiped away and we will live in a world with only love, joy, and peace.  Meanwhile, people may seriously let us down. Abusers heinously betray trust, and if hell has gradations, the atrocities they commit merit the deepest pit.  That’s to cite the worst case scenarios.  Many people who are angry at God have suffered more routine hardships: disappointment in love, financial disaster, a life threatening illness, death of a loved one.

Afflictions are hard. Sufferings hurt. People who are angry at God typically suffer the exact same kinds of pain (and enjoy many of the same blessings) as people who love God! Groaning about our sufferings (to God, in faith and hope) is heartily warranted. But God has never promised freedom from tears, mourning, crying, and pain — or from the evils that causes them – until the great day when life and joy triumph forever over death and misery.  

It is curious how people who don’t believe that God sovereignty rules all things become embittered hyper-Calvinists when they face sufferings and say, God could have changed things for me and he didn’t. He had the power, and he didn’t use it. It’s his fault. To actually believe that God rules for his glory and our welfare is to gain an unshakable foundation for trust and hope, in the midst of hellish torments, as well as amid the milder pains and disappointments.  

David Powlison, Good & Angry, p. 226-227.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

We Honor the Governing Authorities (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.) The apostle Peter tells Christians that we must “honor” and “submit to” governing authorities like kings, presidents, governors, and other similar rulers (1 Pet. 2:13-14, 17).  Peter doesn’t say we should honor and submit to some governing authorities, but to all of them (1 Peter 2:13a).  One thing this means is that Christians should be law-abiding citizens.  It also means we should not slander those in authority, call them names, disrespect and rant about them on social media, or dishonor them in other ways (even if everyone else is doing it!).  In fact, Jesus’ call to love our neighbors includes those who rule over us.

Peter wrote those words about governing authorities when Nero was the head of the Roman state.  Therefore, we can’t say that Peter would’ve used other words if the government of his day was anti-Christian.  This is one reason why the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them” (WCF 23.4).  Here’s how Calvin said it in his comments on 1 Peter 2:13-14:

It may, however, be objected here and said, that kings and magistrates often abuse their power, and exercise tyrannical cruelty rather than justice. Such were almost all the magistrates, when this Epistle was written. To this I answer, that tyrants and those like them, do not produce such effects by their abuse, but that the ordinance of God ever remains in force, as the institution of marriage is not subverted though the wife and the husband were to act in a way not becoming them. However, therefore, men may go astray, yet the end fixed by God cannot be changed.

Were any one again to object and say, that we ought not to obey princes who, as far as they can, pervert the holy ordinance of God, and thus become savage wild beasts, while magistrates ought to bear the image of God. My reply is this, that government established by God ought to be so highly valued by us, as to honor even tyrants when in power. There is yet another reply still more evident — that there has never been a tyranny, (nor can one be imagined,) however cruel and unbridled, in which some portion of equity has not appeared; and further, some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy.

 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 82–83.

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

A Money Saving Way to Grow a Logos 8 Library

Logos8starter.png I realize that not all of our readers are interested in Bible software.  Certainly you can study Scripture very well without computer software!  In fact, sometimes Bible study is better without screens because usually distractions come with screens.  However, for some Christians, Bible software is a good tool that helps with in-depth Bible study and research.  When I was in seminary and in the first part of my ministry I used BibleWorks.  But around seven years ago I stopped using BibleWorks and started using Logos Bible Software.  I’ve written reviews of Logos here before, so I won’t go into it again, but let me say: I really like Logos and it has helped me become a better student of Scripture in many ways.

If you’re like me, you look at Logos and notice that some of the base packages are pretty expensive!  Yes, there’s no getting around it: the Silver, Gold, Platinum, etc. packages cost a bunch.  However, there is a less expensive way to build a good Logos library: do it a little at a time over time and watch for deals.

For example, you could get Logos 8 “Fundamentals” for $99.99.  With this package you get the basics: a few Bibles (ESV, CSB, etc.), a few dictionaries, a few commentaries, a few Greek/English and Hebrew/English interlinears, and so forth.  (You can see a complete list here.) Then, sign up for Logos emails and a few times a month you’ll see discounted resources and even free resources.  For example, I often get the free book of the month and then another one with it for less than $5.  I’ve obtained helpful commentaries and also good books by guys like Calvin, Packer, Carson, and so on.  Over time, and without great expense, your library grows.  There’s also a “Sale” page on the Logos website you can check from time to time.  Finally, some Logos resources are pretty inexpensive or even free.  Just go to the “Store” page on the Logos website and sort by price – low to high.  (Side note: if you are on Reformed Reader’s Twitter feed or Facebook feed I do post Logos discounts/sales there.)

For another example, you could get Logos 8 Reformed Starter Base Package for $294 or the regular Logos 8 Starter Base Package for $294 and build on one of these packages in a way mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Of course, there are more expensive Base Packages, but you don’t necessarily have to get the most expensive one.  You can do a slow build and save money that way.

Finally, Logos customer service is quite good.  You can work out payment plans or even tweak some Base Packages and resources to do a sort of custom build package.  And, as I’ve noted before, the Logos team constantly adds new resources and features and also works out the bugs and kinks.

Please let me know if you have questions about Logos. While I don’t work for Logos, I am a Blog Partner who really likes this software and I use it for hours each day in my studies.  It’s been a blessing for me and it has helped my Christian ministry.  I like to think of it as a good Christian tool that is worth the investment.

Here’s the Reformed Reader Logos landing page for more info and a 20% off discount code: Logos Reformed Reader.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Eternal Punishment (Vos)

The Collected Dictionary Articles of Geerhardus Vos When Scripture talks about the eventual fate of the unrepentant, those who never turn to Christ in faith, it is a bleak picture of God’s wrath and punishment.  It’s not a fun thing to talk about, but it is a reality that makes Christians so thankful for Christ and his saving work and the eternal life he gives.  It also is one of many reasons why we share the gospel with those who don’t believe.  One aspect of this topic is the fact that the punishment is eternal.  Here’s how Geerhardus Vos explained it:

The judgment assigns to each individual his eternal destiny, which is absolute in its character either of blessedness or of punishment…. Only two groups are recognized, those of the condemned and of the saved (Matthew 25:33, 14; John 5:29); no intermediate group with as yet undetermined destiny anywhere appears. The degree of guilt is fixed according to the knowledge of the Divine will possessed in life (Matthew 10:15; 11:20–24; Luke 10:12–15; 12:47, 48; John 15:22, 24; Romans 2:12; 2 Peter 2:20–22). The uniform representation is that the judgment has reference to what has been done in the embodied state of this life; nowhere is there any reflection upon the conduct or product of the intermediate state as contributing to the decision (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The state assigned is of endless duration, hence described as aionios, “eternal.” While this adjective etymologically need mean no more than “what extends through a certain aeon or period of time,” yet its eschatological usage correlates it everywhere with the “coming age,” and, this age being endless in duration, every state or destiny connected with it partakes of the same character. It is therefore exegetically impossible to give a relative sense to such phrases as pur aionion, “eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8; 25:41; Jude 1:7), kolasis aionios, “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), olethros aionios, “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), krisis aionios or krima aionion, “eternal judgment” (Mark 3:29; Hebrews 6:2). This is also shown by the figurative representations which unfold the import of the adjective: The “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12), “the never-dying worm” (Mark 9:43–48), “The smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11), “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). The endless duration of the state of punishment is also required by the absolute eternity of its counterpart, zoe aionios, “eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

In support of the doctrine of conditional immortality it has been urged that other terms descriptive of the fate of the condemned, such as apoleia, “perdition,” phthora, “corruption,” olethros, “destruction,” thanatos, “death,” point rather to a cessation of being. This, however, rests on an unscriptural interpretation of these terms, which everywhere in the Old Testament and the New Testament designate a state of existence with an undesirable content, never the pure negation of existence, just as “life” in Scripture describes a positive mode of being, never mere existence as such. Perdition, corruption, destruction, death, are predicated in all such cases of the welfare or the ethical spiritual character of man, without implying the annihilation of his physical existence.

Geerhardus Vos, The Collected Dictionary Articles of Geerhardus Vos (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2013).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

On The Proper Use of Sickness (Pascal)

The Harvard Classics, vol. 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works In a written prayer called “To Ask God the Proper Use of Sickness,” Blaise Pascal (d. 1662) reflected on health and sickness in the Christian life.  More specifically, Pascal confessed that when he was healthy, he didn’t thank God for it and use his health to serve Him.  When he became ill, Pascal prayed that God would use the illness to help strengthen his faith.  While I don’t agree with every aspect of this prayer, parts of it are quite good and edifying.  Here are a few sections I appreciate:

Thou gavest me health to serve thee, and I made a profane use of it. Thou sendest me sickness now to correct me; suffer not that I use it to irritate thee by my impatience. I made a bad use of my health, and thou hast justly punished me for it. Suffer not that I make a bad use of my punishment.

To whom shall I cry, O Lord, to whom shall I have recourse, if not to thee? Nothing that is less than God can fulfil my expectation. It is God himself that I ask and seek; and it is to thee alone, my God, that I address myself to obtain thee, Open my heart, O Lord; enter into the rebellious place which has been occupied by vices. They hold it subject. Enter into it as into the strong man’s house; but first bind the strong and powerful enemy that has possession of it, and then take the treasures which are there. Lord, take my affections, which the world had stolen; take this treasure thyself, or rather retake it, since it belongs to thee as a tribute that I owe thee, since thy image is imprinted in it

…Grant me the favor, Lord, to join thy consolations to my sufferings, that I may suffer like a Christian. …But I ask, Lord, to feel at the same time both the sorrows of nature for my sins, and the consolations of thy spirit through thy grace; for this is the true condition of Christianity. Let me not feel sorrow without consolation; but let me feel sorrow and consolation together, that I may come at last to feel thy consolation without any sorrow.

…Thou alone knowest what is most expedient for me: thou art the sovereign master, do what thou wilt. Give to me, take from me; but conform my will to thine; and grant that in humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence, I may be disposed to receive the orders of thy eternal providence, and that I may adore alike all that comes to me from thee.

Blaise Pascal, The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 369-377.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015