All That I Ought To Be (Grimke)

Meditations on Preaching In July 1928, on the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the gospel ministry, Francis Grimke wrote some reflections about his ministry.  At 78 years old, Grimke noted that he no longer had the mental or physical strength that he formerly had.  And as he looked back at his ministry, he readily confessed that God gave him the strength to do work of a pastor.

Here’s another reflection Grimke noted after fifty years in the ministry.  I really appreciate this:

What effect have these fifty years had upon myself, upon my personal development? What have I to show in character development – in intellectual, moral, and spiritual growth? Am I any farther on in the upward path, in the attainment of the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ? No one knows better than I do how far I am below the noble ideal of what a Christian ought to be; and no one can more sincerely deplore it than I do. And yet, imperfect as I know myself to be at the end of these fifty years, I can truthfully say, it is not the result of indifference: it is not because I have not desired, have not tried to be a better man, a more worthy representative of the religion which I profess, and which I have sought to induce others to accept and practice. I am fully aware of the fact that I am not now, and never have been all that I ought to be.  All that I ought to be, however, I do most earnestly desire to be. Fortunately, it is not in our own righteousness, that we are to stand at last, but in the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone.

Francis James Grimke, Meditations on Preaching, p. 40.

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

“Satan Blocked Our Way” (1 Thess. 2:18b)

 In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Paul wrote that Satan hindered the missionary team from going back to visit the new church plant in Thessalonica: For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way (NIV).  There are a few things we could discuss and note about this verse, but it is important to realize that one of Satan’s evil strategies is to keep Christians apart and prevent Christian teaching from happening.  He hates Christian fellowship and he hates it when Truth is taught and preached. There’s much application here!  Below are three different commentaries that I found helpful in thinking about this verse and topic:

Note, Satan is a constant enemy to the work of God and does all he can to obstruct it.  [Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2340.]

He [Paul] tells the Thessalonians that he tried to return on more than one occasion but that he and the apostolic team could not reach their goal because Satan stopped us. So great was their effort that only Satanic opposition could explain why they did not return! Stopped is a term that comes from the military. In order to stop the advance of enemy armies, soldiers would tear up and destroy the road to hinder their passage. Warfare imagery is embedded in the metaphor, Satan himself being their adversary. The battle was over the souls of the Thessalonian believers whom Satan tempted to commit the sin of apostasy (3:5 and comments; 1 Pet. 5:8). One of his tactics was to bar the way so the apostles could not return to the church. In spite of the opposition, they did manage to send Timothy back (3:1), and the church itself continued on in faith and love (3:5, 6). Sometime later Paul was able to return to Macedonia and Thessalonica (Acts 19:21–22; 20:1–6; 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 1:16; 2:13; 7:5; 1 Tim. 1:3). God responded to their fervent prayers (1 Thess. 3:10–11). In this spiritual warfare, Satan is hardly an omnipotent adversary. But he is a real adversary. [Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 152.]

…Would to God that this sentiment were deeply impressed upon the minds of all pious persons: that Satan is continually contriving, by every means, in what way he may hinder or obstruct the edification of the Church! We would assuredly be more careful to resist him; we would take more care to maintain sound doctrine, of which that enemy strives so keenly to deprive us.  [John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 263.]

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

“Boasting” in 1 Thessalonians 2:19

 1 Thessalonians is an ancient letter from the missionary team of Paul, Silas, and Timothy to the newly planted church in Thessalonica.  The missionary team and the church plant had a deep bond of Christian love.  Paul and his team wanted so badly to get back to the church plant to be with the brothers and sisters there.  And the missionary team was, in a biblical way, proud of these new Christians.  For example, in 2:19 the missionary team asks the church plant a rhetorical question – and answers it themselves: “For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? For you are our glory and joy!” (NET). 

What does it mean that the Thessalonian church plant is the missionary team’s boast and glory?  Aren’t we to only boast in the Lord and in the cross of Christ?  I appreciate how F.F. Bruce explained this:

And how did glorying in his converts relate to Paul’s resolve not “to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14)? His glorying in his converts, as he saw the grace of God manifested in them, was but a phase of his paramount glorying in the cross. They were the fruit of the preaching of the cross: Christ crucified was demonstrated afresh by their faith to be the power and wisdom of God.

F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, vol. 45, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1982), 58.

I also appreciate Calvin’s comments on this:

When he [Paul] calls them his hope and the crown of his glory, we must not understand this as meaning that he gloried in anyone but God alone, but because we are allowed to glory in all God’s favors [blessings], in their own place, in such a manner that he is always our object of aim…. We must, however, infer from this, that Christ’s ministers will, on the last day, according as they have individually promoted his kingdom, be partakers of glory and triumph. Let them therefore now learn to rejoice and glory in nothing but the prosperous issue of their labors, when they see that the glory of Christ is promoted by their instrumentality.

John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 263–264.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justifying Faith: Receiving Christ (Owen)

When the Westminster Confession explains justifying faith, it uses the term “receiving.”  Here’s chapter XI.2: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification…” (emphasis mine).  The Heidelberg Catechism also uses this word in answer 30: “For either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior must have in him all that is necessary to their salvation” (emphasis mine).  Are there biblical reasons to use the phrase “receiving Christ” when talking about faith?  Yes, for sure!  Here’s how John Owen nicely explained it:

That faith whereby we are justified is most frequently in the New Testament expressed by receiving…  First, That it is so expressed with respect unto the whole object of faith, or unto all that does any way concur unto our justification; for we are said to receive Christ himself: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” John 1:12; “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Col. 2:6.  In opposition hereunto unbelief is expressed by not receiving of him, John 1:11, 3:11, 12:48, 14:17.

And it is a receiving of Christ as he is “The Lord our Righteousness,” as of God he is made righteousness unto us. And as no grace, no duty, can have any co-operation with faith herein — this reception of Christ not belonging unto their nature, nor comprised in their exercise — so it excludes any other righteousness from our justification but that of Christ alone; for we are “justified by faith.”

Faith alone receiveth Christ; and what it receives is the cause of our justification, whereon we become the sons of God. So we “receive the atonement” made by the blood of Christ, Rom. 5:11; for “God hath set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” And this receiving of the atonement includes the soul’s approbation of the way of salvation by the blood of Christ, and the appropriation of the atonement made thereby unto our own souls. For thereby also we receive the forgiveness of sins: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins …… by faith that is in me,” Acts 26:18. In receiving Christ we receive the atonement; and in the atonement we receive the forgiveness of sins. But, moreover, the grace of God, and righteousness itself, as the efficient and material cause of our justification, are received also; even the “abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness,” Rom. 5:17.

So that faith, with respect unto all the causes of justification, is expressed by “receiving;” for it also receiveth the promise, the instrumental cause on the part of God thereof, Acts 2:41; Heb. 9:15.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 291–292.

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

The Law, the Heart, and the Conscience (Stott)

 Romans 2:14-15 is a very important part of Scripture that talks about the requirement of God’s law and what it has to do with our hearts and consciences.  Here’s how Paul said it: “For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them…” (NET).  I appreciate John Stott’s comments on these verses:

How then are we to explain this paradoxical phenomenon, that although they do not have the law, they yet appear to know it? Paul’s answer is that they are a law for themselves, not in the popular—albeit mistaken—sense that they can frame their own laws, but in the sense that their own human being is their law. This is because God created them self-conscious moral persons, and they show by their behavior that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts (15a). So then, although they do not have the law in their hands, they do have its requirements in their hearts, because God has written them there. This surely cannot be a reference to God’s new-covenant promise to put his law in his people’s minds and write it on their hearts, as Barth, Charles Cranfield and other commentators have suggested, since the whole context is one of judgment, not salvation. Paul is referring not to regeneration but to creation, to the fact that ‘the work of the law’ (literally), its ‘requirements’ (NIV), its ‘effect’ (NEB, JBP), its ‘business’, has been written on the hearts of all human beings by their Maker. That God has written his law on our hearts by creation means that we have some knowledge of it; when he writes his law on our hearts in the new creation he also gives us a love for it and the power to obey it.

In addition, their consciences are bearing witness, especially by a negative, disapproving voice when they have done wrong, and so are their thoughts in a kind of interior dialogue, now accusing, now even defending them (15b), as if in a lawcourt in which the prosecution and the defence develop their respective cases. It seems that Paul is envisaging a debate in which three parties are involved: our hearts (on which the requirements of the law have been written), our consciences (prodding and reproving us), and our thoughts (usually accusing us, but sometimes even excusing us).

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 86–87.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Incomplete Sin of the Amorites? (Gen. 15:16)

 I was studying 1 Thessalonians 2:16 this morning where Paul says this about those Jewish opponents of the Messiah and the gospel: “…they always fill up the measure of their sins” (NASB).  There is a lot going on in the context of this phrase; too much to summarize here!  However, the phrase itself is probably an allusion to Genesis 15:16, where Yahweh tells Abram that “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (NASB).  One reason we can say that Paul might be alluding to Genesis 15:16 is that in the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek word for “complete” (ἀναπληρόω) is the same word as “fill up” in 1 Thes. 2:16.  If Paul is indeed alluding to Genesis 15:16 in 1 Thes. 2:16 it’s quite a heavy statement – putting the NT Jewish opponents of the gospel in the same category as the Amorites, who were Canaanite enemies of Israel in the OT!

But back to the phrase in Genesis 15:16: “…the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”  What does this figure of speech mean? Here are two helpful descriptions of it:

The last clause of the verse [v. 16] explains why God was not giving them [Abram’s offspring] the land right away: the wickedness of the Amorites has not “reached its full measure” (v. 16b). “Amorites” fluctuates in meaning either designating the whole of Canaan’s populations (v. 16; Amos 2:10) or one of many diverse groups inhabiting the land (v. 21; see vol. 1a, pp. 446, 456). The prophecy implies that the returning Hebrews will be instrumental in God dealing with the sin of the Amorites. The reference to the “fourth generation” may be a double entendre; the notion of a completed exile converges with the idea of the Amorites’ complete moral decay. The extent of Amorite depravity is condemned in Mosaic legislation (Lev 18:24–25; 20:22–24; Deut 18:12; cf. 1 Kgs 14:24; 21:26; 2 Kgs 21:11) and illustrated by the violence and sensuality of their religious myths (e.g., Baal cycle from Ugarit). By delaying his judgment against the Amorites, the Lord expresses forbearance toward the nations. Retribution against their sins only at “its full measure” attests that judgment is neither capricious nor unwarranted (cf. 18:20–25). Nevertheless, divine temperance toward their iniquity reaches an appropriate point of intolerance. [K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 175.]

Here’s an excerpt from the UBS Translator’s Handbook on Genesis:

For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete: this clause suggests a reason for God’s action against the Amorites that is not explained in detail but must be stated explicitly in translation to make it clear. The sense is that the Amorites are evil, but their sin has not yet reached the point where God has decided to drive them out of the land. The nature of the wickedness of the Canaanites is described in Lev 18; see particularly verses 24–28. tev provides a model that places God’s action at the beginning and end, “because I will not drive out the Amorites until they become so wicked that they must be punished.” Various translations use different expressions to convey the idea of iniquity becoming *complete; for example, “because the bad behavior of the Amorite people who live here now has not reached its full mark yet” and “This will happen when the Amorite people who live here now have become really bad; when they become really bad, I will punish them and I will bring back.…”  [William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 344.]

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

Trusting God’s Justice When We Can’t Trace It (Augustine)

 In book 20, chapter 2 of City of God, Augustine discusses the difficult reality that sometimes the wicked prosper (Ps. 73:3) while the righteous suffer (cf. Job).  Here are Augustine’s comments on this reality and how it corresponds to God’s justice, which we as his people should trust.

…For not only are the good sometimes unfortunate and the wicked fortunate—a seeming injustice—but, as often as not, bad luck befalls bad men and good luck good men. The whole arrangement makes God’s judgments all the more inscrutable and His ways unsearchable.

Accordingly, even though we cannot understand what kind of divine judgment can positively or even permissively will such inequalities—since God is omnipotent, all-wise, all-just, and in no way weak, rash, or unfair—it is still good for our souls to learn to attach no importance to the good or ill fortune which we see visited without distinction upon the good and the bad. We learn, too, to seek the good things that are meant for the good, and to avoid at all costs the evil things that are fit for the bad.

When, however, we come to that judgment of God the proper name of which is ‘judgment day’ or ‘the day of the Lord,’ we shall see that all His judgments are perfectly just: those reserved for that occasion, all those that He had made from the beginning, and those, too, He is to make between now and then. Then, too, it will be shown plainly how just is that divine decree which makes practically all of God’s judgments lie beyond the present understanding of men’s mind, even though devout men may know by faith that God’s hidden judgments are most surely just.

 Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan, vol. 24, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 252–253.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015