Election and Evangelism (Bucer)

Concerning the True Care of Souls Bucer, Martin cover image Some people say that the doctrine of election is a hindrance to evangelism.  I do admit that a hyper-calvinist view of election is a hindrance to evangelism.  However, a historic Reformed, biblical view of election does not get in the way of evangelism at all.  Martin Bucer (d. 1551) put it quite well when he was explaining the evangelistic side of the pastoral ministry:

…Sadly, however, not all are chosen by God and there are many who despise the salvation which the Lord offers them: this is shown in the parable quoted above [from Luke 14], where none of those who had been invited would get a taste of the Lord’s banquet.  But it is not the Lord’s will to reveal to us the secrets of his election; rather he commands us to go out into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature.  He says: ‘into all the world’ and ‘to every creature.’  The fact that all people have been made by God and are God’s creatures should therefore be reason enough to go to them, seeking with the utmost faithfulness to bring them to eternal life.

That is why the Lord has expressed it in general terms: ‘to every creature.’  He does not want to be invited to his banquet only those who show themselves to be citizens and inhabitants of his city, but he tells his servant: ‘Go out into the streets and alleys and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’  And again: ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in.’  From this the Lord teaches us that his ministers are simply to endeavor to lead to his church and to the perfect fellowship of his salvation all those who wish to come, no matter how wretched and corrupted they may be – indeed, not only to lead but urge and compel them.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, p. 77

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

Death Swallowed Up (Young/Cyril)

Isaiah 25:7-8 is an awesome prophetic promise: “On this mountain he [Yahweh] will destroy the burial shroud, the shroud over all the peoples, the sheet covering all the nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove his people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken (CSB)”.

E. J. Young (d. 1968) wrote some great comments on these verses:

Isaiah uses the definite article with death to stress the fact that it is well known that death bas been a terror to mankind.  Hitherto, death itself had swallowed up all else.  As in Genesis 2:17 so here, the word ‘death’ includes all the evils which attend it.  When death is swallowed up, so also are all the miseries that it brings.  Furthermore, death is to be swallowed up forever; it will never again reappear. Paul’s interpretation is entirely true to the Old Testament: ‘death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:45b).  The book of Revelation brings out the meaning clearly: ‘there shall be no more death’ (Rev. 221:4b).  [Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 2 p. 196]

Here’s how Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444 AD) similarly reflected on Isaiah’s prophecy:

Death overcame our forefather Adam on account of his transgression and like a fierce wild animal it pounced on him and carried him off amid lamentation and loud wailing. Men wept and grieved because death ruled over all the earth. But all this came to an end with Christ. Striking down death, he rose up on the third day and became the way by which human nature would rid itself of corruption. He became the firstborn of the dead, and the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. [ACCS, Vol. X]

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

Refusal to Swerve from the Truth (Huss)

 In the last months of his life, while he was in prison charged with heresy, John Huss faced many false accusations.  Many people thought that he should just recant of these accusations even though they were false – this way he could live on and not die as a martyr.  But Huss was a man of truth and firm Christian conviction.  Here’s how Martin Pope and Herbert Workman explained it (using some of Huss’ own words):

[Huss] could not acknowledge that he recanted heresies which he had always stoutly disclaimed, and which the Council had attributed to him along with doctrines to which he confessed. ‘Serene Prince,’ said Hus to Sigismund, ‘I do not want to cling to any error, and I am perfectly willing to submit to the determination of the Council. But I may not offend God and my conscience by saying that I hold heresies that I have never held.’

For Hus truth was supreme: ‘I have said that I would not for a chapel full of gold recede from the truth.’ ‘I know,’ he had written in 1412, ‘that the truth stands and is mighty forever, and abides eternally, with whom there is no respect of persons.’

Throughout his letters his chief anxiety is ‘lest liars should say that I have slipped back from the truth I preached.’ Few scenes in history are more touching or ennobling than the fidelity with which Hus refused to swerve from absolute truth even to save his life. He realized that it was better that he should burn than confess that he had ever held doctrines which his soul abhorred, as, for instance, the monstrous article alleged against him by a nameless doctor ‘that he had stated that he was the fourth person in the Trinity!’ (Doc. 318). To Sigismund and worldlings of that ilk recantation of such a charge seemed a bagatelle [trivial matter]; the falser the charge the easier to recant. But Hus thought otherwise…. 

The Letters of Huss, ed. Martin Pope and Herbert Workman, section LIX.

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

The Law Is Not a Remedy for Sin

 (This is a re-post from October 2010)

You cannot fully understand Martin Luther’s work unless you understand his distinction between the theologian of the cross and the theologian of glory.  This distinction is also important for us today especially when some are leaving the biblical truths of the Reformation for the traditions of Rome.  I myself will not and cannot go to Rome because I believe the five solas are eminently biblical and also because I believe Luther was right in declaring that Rome taught a theology of glory in opposition to the theology of the cross.

Interested in this discussion?  You should be.  And you should get this outstanding book, On Being A Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde.  The book is sort of a commentary on Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.  Though it is only around 100 pages long, it is one of the most profound discussions of the cross and salvation you’ll ever read.  The book will not only lead you away from Rome’s theology of glory, but it will also lead you away from yourself (your own righteousness, good works, and fig leaves) and lead you away from the things of this world.  It will lead you to the cross, and the cross alone.

I’ve blogged on this book before, so I won’t go into all the details.  But I do want to give an example of the contents of the book.  Here’s a small sample.

“The cross is the death of sin and the sinner.  The cross does the ‘bottoming out.’  The cross is the ‘intervention.’  The addict/sinner is not coddled by false optimism but is put to death so that a new life can begin.  The theologian of the cross ‘says what a thing is.’  The theologian of the cross preaches to convict of sin.  The addict is not deceived by theological marshmallows but is told the truth so that he might learn at last to confess, to say, ‘I am an addict,’ ‘I am an alcoholic,’ and never to stop saying it.  Theologically and more universally all must learn to say, ‘I am a sinner,’ and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true.”

“It is commonplace among evangelical Christians to believe that we can’t perfectly fulfill the law, but we often try to because we assume that if we only could we would do it.  Some believe that we must try to do something at least, and then, it is assumed, Christ will make up for our ‘shortcomings.’  But here is the bombshell: doing the law does not advance the cause of righteousness one whit.  It only makes matters worse.”

“The law is not a remedy for sin.  It does not cure sin but rather makes it worse.”

“Thesis 25.  He is not righteous who works much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

“Thesis 26. The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.

I could go on and on.  Again, trust me when I say that you need to get (and read!) this book if you haven’t yet: Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross.

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

The Defeat of the “Strong Man” (Arnold)

Powers of Darkness: Principalities & Powers in Paul's Letters by [Arnold, Clinton E.] When Jesus was answering the Pharisees’ diabolical accusation that he cast out demons “by the ruler of demons” (ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων) he gave an illustration:  “…No one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house” (NET).  That is a powerful illustration of Jesus’ power over the kingdom of darkness.  Here’s how Clinton Arnold nicely explains it:

From the context of Jesus’ words it is clear ‘the strong man’ is a reference to Satan, and his ‘house’ corresponds to his kingdom.  ‘Possessions’ [or property] are Satan’s greatest value and are not things, but people. Satan holds unbelieving humanity in bondage.  Christ has come to engage this ‘strong man’ and plunder his house; that is to release the captives in Satan’s kingdom.

This passage thus becomes a very important testimony to Jesus’ mission.  It provides additional clarification to the nature of the atonement. Jesus came not only to deal with the problem of sin in the world but also to deal with God’s prime supernatural opponent – Satan himself!

Jesus’ many exorcisms clearly demonstrate his power over the evil one.  They also provide numerous examples of Jesus’ ability to ‘bind’ Satan and ‘rob his house.’  In Mark’s account of the Gerasene demoniac, a man plagued with perhaps thousands of demons, it is highly significant to note that ‘no one could bind him’ (Mk. 5:1-20, esp. v. 3).  With only the concise command, ‘come out of the man, you unclean spirit,’ Jesus freed this man from horrific demonic influence.

The exorcisms, however, were not adequate by themselves to deal in any decisive way with the devil and his powers; that is, to ‘tie him up.’  They can only foreshadow an event of much greater importance.  Early Christian tradition uniformly looks to the cross/resurrection event as the point of fundamental significance in Christ’s conflict with the powers (Jn. 12:31-33; Acts 2:34-35, [etc., etc.]).  It was through this event that Satan and his hosts were dealt the fatal blow that spelled their final doom.  The strong man was defeated.

Clinton Arnold, The Powers of Darkness, p. 79-80.

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

No More Tears, No More Reproach (Smith)

 I’ve been enjoying Gary Smith’s Isaiah commentary in the “New American Commentary” series.  I haven’t read it all, but so far so good!  This morning when studying Isaiah 25 I was looking at verse 8, which says this: “…he [Yahweh] will swallow up death forever.The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.The Lord has spoken” (NIV).

Here’s Smith’s helpful commentary:

…When God rules over his kingdom, death will have no power over people in this new world.

As if that were not enough, God also promises the removal of all tears. This includes tears shed when people die, but certainly also tears of oppression, sickness, pain, disappointment, loneliness, rejection, military defeat, financial trouble, and other kinds of loss. All these experiences will be obsolete in God’s kingdom.

Finally, God’s removal of the reproach of “his people” (ʿammî 25:8b) should not be interpreted as a specific reference to removing Israel’s reproach of the exile, for at this point all people (ʿam, “people,” is used in 25:3, 6, 7, 8) in God’s kingdom are his people. When people are reproached they are objects of derision, mockery, shame, and humiliation by others. These evil actions will not be experienced any longer. If the enemies of God are defeated, there will no longer be people to give a reproach, and there will be no sinful people who will deserve to be reproached. This paragraph ends (25:8b) with the affirmation that God has declared that this is what will happen; thus, one can know that all these statements are true.

Gary Smith, Isaiah, (The New American Commentary), Isaiah 25:8.

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

A Most Important Question (Machen)

What is Faith? Machen, J. Gresham cover image What is saving faith?  This is one of the most important questions we can ask and have answered!  I like how J. Gresham Machen addressed the question:

A more “practical” question could hardly be conceived. The preacher says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved.” But how can a man possibly act on that suggestion, unless he knows what it is to believe. It was at that point that the “doctrinal” preaching of a former generation was far more practical than the “practical” preaching of the present day. I shall never forget the pastor of the church in which I grew up. He was a good preacher in many ways, but his most marked characteristic was the plainness and definiteness with which he told the people what a man should do to be saved. The preachers of the present time allude to the importance of becoming a Christian, but they seldom seem to make the matter the subject of express exposition; they leave the people with a vague impression to the effect that being a Christian is a good thing, but this impression is difficult to translate into action because definite directions are absent. These preachers speak about faith, but they do not tell what faith is.

It is to help in some small way to supply this lack that the present little book (called What is Faith?) has been written. If the way of salvation is faith, it does seem to be highly important to tell people who want to be saved just what faith means. If a preacher cannot do that, he can hardly be a true evangelist.

In seven brief chapters, Machen goes on to give a solid, biblical answer to the important question.  Here are the chapter titles: Faith in God, Faith in Christ, Faith Born of Need, Faith and the Gospel, Faith and Salvation, Faith and Works, and finally, Faith and Hope.  If you’ve not read this book, I very much recommend it.  What is Faith? is not too long or difficult, and it is full of gospel truth and comfort.  For those of you who need a hand to lead you again to Jesus, this book will do that.

The above quote is found in the introduction of Machen’s, What is Faith?

(This post is a re-blog from November 2015)

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