High-minded Self-sufficiency (Kuyper)

 Here’s another great excerpt from Abraham Kuyper’s devotional, To Be Near Unto God:

High-minded self-sufficiency is the canker which gnaws at the root of all religion. It is the futile dream of a little, insignificant world, of which self is the great center, whose mind understands everything, whose will controls everything, whose money can buy everything, and whose power carries everything before it. This makes self a miniature god in a little temple. In this sinful isolation one is, of necessity, icy cold, frozen away from the living God and unfit to dwell under the shadow of his wings.

If in all honesty we can say: Such is not my case, because I feel my dependence, my lack of strength and my utter helplessness, then that we might have fellowship with God, we must unlearn our sinful leaning on people. We need not necessarily cut ourselves loose from every one. Far from it. The faith of another strengthens ours. The courage of another shames us out of cowardice. The example set by another can double our strength. We are disposed to society both in matters of life and belief. But we must give up all sinful dependence upon others. Dependence that takes a man for more than an instrument appointed of God for our help, as long as he allows it, is sinful. We must not build on man, in order when human help fails to turn to the Divine. Our help must always be from God, whether power to save springs from ourselves or comes to us from without. Even in this way, that when at length all human help fails, nothing is lost. For the unchangeable God always remains the same.

 Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 78–79). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

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


The Three-fold Use of the Law (Berkhof)

Systematic Theology For quite some time Reformed theologians have, following various texts and nuances in Scripture, said there is a three-fold use of God’s moral law.  Here’s how Louis Berkhof explained it:

It is customary in theology to distinguish a three-fold use of the law.

1. The three defined. We distinguish:

a. A usus politicus or civilis. The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.

b. A usus elenchticus or pedagogicus. In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.

c. A usus didacticus or normativus. This is the so-called tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.

 Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic Theology (pp. 614–615). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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

Hodge on the Mosaic Covenant

 When he brought them out of Egypt, Yahweh made a covenant with his people from Mt. Sinai.  It is often called the Mosaic or Sinaitic covenant.  The details and terms of this covenant are found in various parts of Exodus and Numbers and also in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (and other parts of Scripture).  I appreciate how Charles Hodge talks about the Mosaic covenant as it relates to the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.  He first mentions that the Mosaic covenant had much to do with the covenant of grace:

We have the direct authority of the New Testament for believing that the covenant of grace, or plan of salvation, thus underlay the whole of the institutions of the Mosaic period, and that their principal design was to teach through types and symbols what is now taught in explicit terms in the gospel. Moses, we are told (Heb. 3:5), was faithful as a servant to testify concerning the things which were to be spoken after.

That’s a very common view in Reformed theology, that the covenant of grace underlies the Mosaic covenant.  I certainly agree with Hodge.  But what about the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant?  Here’s Hodge again:

Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect, it was a legal covenant. It said, “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favor; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. …If he [a man] will not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace, he is of necessity under the law.

In a very helpful following section, Hodge goes on to mention several different ways the NT talks about the Mosaic economy. I’ll post that at some other point.  For now, I wanted to share Hodge’s balanced explanation of what the Mosaic economy had to do with the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

The entire section is found in Charles Hodge, (1997). Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 375). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002


The Old Covenant Has Come to an End (Owen)

The Works of John Owen (17 vols.) Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant is “obsolete”: “When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (NASB).  In this context, the Old Covenant had to do with the priesthood, sacrifices, and Moses’ law (broadly speaking).  The Old Covenant was the covenant God made with Israel after he rescued them from Egypt (Heb. 8:9).

Based on Hebrews 8 and other texts such as Ephesians 2:15-16 and Acts 11:2-10, Reformed theology teaches that the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant have been “abrogated” (WCF 19.3).  Furthermore, Reformed theology also says that Israel’s judicial laws in the Old Covenant have “expired together with the state of that people” (WCF 19.4).  This abrogation and expiration is due to the fact that the Messiah has come and enacted a new and better covenant, as Hebrews says so clearly.

I appreciate John Owen’s explanation of Hebrews 8:13.  He noted that some 1st Century Christians believed that the Old Covenant was still in force.  Owen then said that the author of Hebrews “knew that this persuasion was destructive to the faith of the gospel, and would, if pertinaciously adhered unto, prove ruinous to their own souls.”  Therefore the author of Hebrews gives many reasons and examples how and why the Old Covenant is no longer in force.

Owen wrote that God, in his providence, broke in upon and weakened the administration of the Old Covenant by showing that it was “decaying”:

Immediately after the giving of this promise [Jer 31:31 – Heb 8:8ff], the Babylonian captivity gave a total intercision and interruption unto the whole administration of it [the Old Covenant] for seventy years. This, having never before fallen out from the making of it on mount Sinai, was an evident token of its approaching period, and that God would have the church to live without it.

In other words, during the Babylonian captivity the Old Covenant was interrupted.  This showed Israel that it wasn’t going to last forever.  Or we could say that the Old Covenant had built-in limitations and a built-in time limit.  Here’s Owen again:

Upon the return of the people from their captivity, neither the temple, nor the worship of it, nor any of the administrations of the covenant, nor the priesthood, were ever restored unto their pristine beauty and glory. And whereas the people in general were much distressed at the apprehension of its decay, God comforts them, not with any intimation that things under that covenant should ever be brought into a better condition, but only with an expectation of His coming amongst them who would put an utter end unto all the administrations of it, Hag. 2:6–9. And from that time forward it were easy to trace the whole process of it, and to manifest how it continually declined towards its end.

Owen then wrote that no institution of God will ever decay or perish “unless it be disannuled by God himself. Length of time will not consume divine institutions; nor can the sins of man abate their force.  He only that sets them up can take them down.”  Owen ends with this wonderful statement:

All the glorious institutions of the law were at best but as stars in the firmament of the church, and therefore were all to disappear at the rising of the Sun of Righteousness.

You can find these quotes and the entire commentary on Hebrews 8:13 in John Owen, (1854). An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 23, p. 175). Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Rome: Sola Ecclesia or Sola Scriptura? (Kruger)

7C391526-D6D2-4506-A1CD-0FBC96E36A2F (This is a re-blog from March, 2013)

A short while ago I posted some helpful and critical comments about Rome’s view of Scripture by Michael Kruger (in Canon Revisited). Here is part two of that post. The quote is a bit longer than my usual ones, but it is well worth the time.

“…The most fundamental concern [is] whether the Roman Catholic model, in some sense, makes the Scripture subordinate to the church. The answer to that question is revealed when we ask another question: How does the Roman Catholic Church establish its own infallible authority? If the Roman Catholic church believes that infallible authorities (like the Scriptures) require external authentication, then to what authority does the church turn to establish the grounds for its own infallible authority? Here is where the Roman Catholic model runs into some difficulties. There are three options for how to answer this question.”

“(1) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by (and derived from) the Scriptures. But this proves to be rather vicious circular reasoning. If the Scriptures cannot be known and authenticated without the authority of the church, then you cannot establish the authority of the church on the basis of the Scriptures. You cannot have it both ways. Moreover, on an exegetical level, one would be hard-pressed to find much scriptural support for an infallible church….”

“(2) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by external evidence from the history of the church: the origins of the church, the character of the church, the progress of the church, and so forth. However, these are not infallible grounds by which the church’s infallibility could be established. In addition, the history of the Roman Church is not a pure one – the abuses, corruption, documented papal errors, and the like do not naturally lead one to conclude that the church is infallible regarding ‘faith and morals.’”

“(3) It seems that the only option left to the Catholic model is to declare that the church’s authority is self-authenticating and needs no external authority to validate it. Or, more bluntly put, we ought to believe in the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church because it says so.”

“The Roman Catholic Church, then, finds itself in the awkward place of having chided the Reformers for having a self-authenticating authority (sola scriptura), while all the while it has engaged in that very same activity by setting itself up as a self-authenticating authority (sola ecclesia). On the Catholic model, the Scripture’s own claims should be received on their own authority. The Roman Catholic Church, functionally speaking, is committed to sola ecclesia.”

Here’s Kruger’s helpful critique of Rome’s view of the church over the Word.

“…This presents challenges for the Catholic model. Most pertinent is the question of how there can be a canon at all – at least one that can genuinely challenge, correct, and transform the church – if the validation structure for the canon, in effect, already presupposes that the church bears an authority that is even higher? On the Catholic system, then, the canon’s authority is substantially diminished. What authority it does have must be construed as purely derivative – less a rule over the church and more of an arm of the church, not something that determines the church’s identity but something that merely expresses it.”

This sheds some new light on the Reformation phrase, “always reforming according to the Word.” Rome can’t logically say this phrase because it does not believe that the Scriptures alone are the highest authority for faith and life; Rome believes in sola ecclesia, not sola scriptura. One cannot have it both ways.

The above quotes are found in Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 47-48.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Adam, Christ, the Covenant of Works, & Us (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ Paul very clearly taught that Adam was a type of Christ (Rom. 5, 1 Cor 15).  I appreciate in Reformed theology how this is explained using other biblical truths.  Here’s how Herman Bavinck discussed Adam, Christ, the covenant of works, and Christians:

While it is certainly true that as a human and with reference to himself Christ was subject to the law, it must be emphasized that his incarnation and being human occurred not for himself but for us. Christ never was, and may never be regarded as, a private person, an individual alongside and on the same level as other individuals. He was from the very beginning a public person, the second Adam, the guarantor and head of the elect. As Adam sinned for himself and by this act imposed guilt and death on all those he represented, so Christ, by his righteousness and obedience, acquired forgiveness and life for all his own. Even more, as a human being Christ was certainly subject to the law of God as the rule of life; even believers are never exempted from the law in that sense. But Christ related himself to the law in still a very different way, namely, as the law of the covenant of works. Adam was not only obligated to keep the law but was confronted in the covenant of works with that law as the way to eternal life, a life he did not yet possess. But Christ, in virtue of his union with the divine nature, already had this eternal and blessed life. This life he voluntarily relinquished. He submitted himself to the law of the covenant of works as the way to eternal life for himself and his own.

The obedience that Christ accorded to the law, therefore, was totally voluntary. Not his death alone, as Anselm said, but his entire life was an act of self-denial, a self-offering presented by him as head in the place of his own.

 Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2006). Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Vol. 3, p. 379). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Spiritual Impulses, Errors, and Delusions (Edwards)

 Jonathan Edwards was around ten years older than George Whitefield.  Both were involved in the famous revivals of the 1730’s and 40’s.  Edwards and Whitefield did meet and were both interested in promoting revival, so they had common ground.  However, as George Marsden notes, Edwards was somewhat critical of Whitefield.  Below is Marsden’s summary of Edwards’ criticism:

“Never one to put politeness above principle, Edwards had already taken the young man aside and spoken to him privately about the danger of relying on ‘impulses.’  Whitefield and many of his fellow awakeners were following what they took to be direct leadings from God’s Spirit.  They would, after intense prayer about a decision, become convinced that God was directly telling them what they should do.  Edwards believed such ‘impressions’ were often products of the imagination rather than ‘impulses from above.’  He strongly favored prayerful spiritual intensity accompanied by wonderful images of God’s grace, and so forth.  But for Edwards, these ecstatic experiences had to be disciplined by the rational mind, informed by Scripture.  The point was crucial.  If everyone who had intense spiritual experiences could claim special messages from God, there would be no way of checking all sorts of errors and delusions.”

George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, p. 211-212.

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