The Self-Evidencing Power of the Bible (Cunningham)

 Thy Word Is Still Truth William Cunningham (d. 1861) was a Scottish pastor and also a professor of theology and church history.  Some of his lectures were published after he died, including a series of lectures on the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Here’s a short section from “Lecture XXII” which was a commentary on WCF 1.5.  These comments make me think of Psalm 119, which constantly tells us that the Word is effective for helping us walk God’s way and avoid sin:

“…Certain it is, from the experience of all in every age who have made the attempt, that the more men study the Bible with diligence and humility, and with prayer for the divine blessing and guidance, the more clearly will they see through it all the traces of God’s presence and agency, the more fully will they experience its self-evidencing power, and the more thoroughly will they be persuaded by what they see and feel, as well as by submission to the authority of God clearly revealing this truth by his apostle, that it is all given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness.”

“Believers are liable to be assailed by temptations to error as well as to sin, and they are not always exempted from occasional temptations even to the fatal error of infidelity.  And they are commonly enabled to resist these temptations, and to hold fast their profession, through the Spirit opening up to them more fully, and impressing upon them more deeply, what they may have previously seen of the self-evidencing power of the Bible, and what they may have formerly noticed of the efficacy of its doctrines and statements upon themselves, in changing their natures, in enlightening their understandings, in sanctifying their hearts, and in regulating their conduct. Thus they are persuaded that the Bible could not possibly have been a cunningly devised fable, that it must have come from God, and that it is only by cleaving to it as a light unto their feet, and a lamp unto their path, that they can be guided in the way everlasting.”

William Cunningham, “Lecture XXII” in Thy Word is Still Truth, p. 520.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

When The Rebellious Will Is Renewed… (Murray)

I always enjoy reading John Murray’s sermons.  I recently read a brief sermon Murray gave on John 6:37, where Jesus said, “All those that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (NIV).  Here’s a helpful section in which Murray talks about the Father’s donation (gift) to the Son (…”those that the Father gives me…”):

“We are sometimes amazed at the conversion of certain people.  They seem to be the most unlikely people to be savingly affected by the gospel, the most unlikely candidates for discipleship.  In the first century when the early church began to feel the full brunt of opposition to the gospel, there was one man who breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.  This man went to the high priest and asked of him letters to Damascus that, if he found any of this way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”

“In that day people might well have said: ‘If anyone is to be one to the faith of the gospel, it is not Saul of Tarsus.’  And the enemies of the gospel might well have said: ‘If there is anyone on whom we can rely for persecution of the church, it is Saul of Tarsus.’  For this man verily thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”

“But, behold, it was Saul of Tarsus who was converted.  And the history of the church of Christ is marked by similar surprises for the people of God and the enemies of the gospel.  Why have such people become partakers of saving grace and trophies of redemption?  Why have they become the called of Jesus Christ?  The text gives the answer.  God the Father has drawn them and donated them to his Son.”

“Think of it.  When a sinner comes to Christ in the commitment of faith, when the rebellious will is renewed and tears of penitence begin to flow, it is because a mysterious transaction has been taking place between the persons of the Godhead.  The Father has been making a presentation, a donation to his own Son.  Perish the thought that coming to Christ finds its explanation in the sovereign determinations of the human will.  It finds its explanation in the sovereign will of God the Father.”

“When a sinner comes to Christ, this event is the reflex of effectual donation of that person by the Father to the Son.  And if any person has that child-like faith in Christ whereby Christ is made wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, whereby he is made precious as all in all, be assured that God the Father took delight in you and took delight in causing raptures of joy to spring up in the breast of his own Son.  The Father presented you to Christ in the effectual donation of his grace.  And take no credit or glory to yourself.”

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 3, page 206.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Calvinism Has No Use for Such Drivel (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2 Some have said that the Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian view of God, evil, election, salvation, and damnation is more kind and loving than the Calvinist view.  If you’ve heard that, it’s completely false.  I usually like to keep posts shorter than this, but Herman Bavinck’s full section on the topic is worth reading.  After spending quite some time discussing the Scripture texts that talk about reprobation, God rejecting and hardening some people, using Pharoah to show his power, and displaying his absolute sovereignty in and through evil, Bavinck applies this truth:

These numerous strong pronouncements of Scripture are daily confirmed in the history of humankind. The defenders of reprobation, accordingly, have always appealed to these appalling facts, of which history is full. Present in this world there is so much that is irrational, so much undeserved suffering, so many inexplicable disasters, such unequal and incomprehensible apportionment of good and bad fortune, such a heartbreaking contrast between joy and sorrow, that any thinking person has to choose between interpreting it—as pessimism does—in terms of the blind will of some misbegotten deity, or on the basis of Scripture believingly trusting in the absolute, sovereign, and yet—however incomprehensible—wise and holy will of him who will some day cause the full light of heaven to shine on those riddles of our existence.

The acceptance or rejection of a decree of reprobation, therefore, should not be explained in terms of a person’s capacity for love and compassion. The difference between Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin or Castellio, Gomarus and Arminius is not that the latter were that much more gentle, loving, and tender-hearted than the former. On the contrary, it arises from the fact that the former accepted Scripture in its entirety, also including this doctrine; that they were and always wanted to be theistic and recognize the will and hand of the Lord also in these disturbing facts of life; that they were not afraid to look reality in the eye even when it was appalling.

Pelagianism scatters flowers over graves, turns death into an angel, regards sin as mere weakness, lectures on the uses of adversity, and considers this the best possible world. Calvinism has no use for such drivel. It refuses to be hoodwinked. It tolerates no such delusion, takes full account of the seriousness of life, champions the rights of the Lord of lords, and humbly bows in adoration before the inexplicable sovereign will of God Almighty. As a result it proves to be fundamentally more merciful than Pelagianism. How deeply Calvin felt the gravity of what he said is evident from his use of the expression “dreadful decree.” Totally without warrant, this expression has been held against him. In fact, it is to his credit, not to his discredit. The decree, as Calvin’s teaching, is not dreadful, but dreadful indeed is the reality that is the revelation of that decree of God, a reality that comes through both in Scripture and in history. To all thinking humans, whether they are followers of Pelagius or Augustine, that reality remains completely the same. It is not something that can in any way be undone by illusory notions of it.

Now, in the context of this dreadful reality, far from coming up with a solution, Calvinism comforts us by saying that in everything that happens, it recognizes the will and hand of an almighty God, who is also a merciful Father. While Calvinism does not offer a solution, it invites us humans to rest in him who lives in unapproachable light, whose judgments are unsearchable, and whose paths are beyond tracing out. There lay Calvin’s comfort: “The Lord to whom my conscience is subject will be my witness that the daily meditation on his judgments leaves me so speechless that no curiosity tempts me to know anything more, no sneaking suspicion concerning his incomparable justice creeps over me, and in short, no desire to complain seduces me.” And in that peaceful state of mind he awaited the day when he would see [God] face to face and be shown the solution of these riddles.

Well said.  Agreed.

The quotes are from Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 394–395.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Forgiveness and the Grinding Halt of Vengeance (Volf)

Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace is a very thoughtful and interesting book on identity, reconciliation, oppression, justice, and so forth.  I don’t agree with everything Volf says, but I am enjoying the book.  This morning I ran across his section on forgiveness, which was very helpful.  Here are a few quotes worth noting:

“Instead of wanting to forgive, we instinctively seek revenge.  An evil deed will not be owned for long; it demands instant repayment in kind.  The trouble with revenge, however, is that it enslaves us.”

Volf continues by talking about “the endless turning of the spiral of vengeance.”  That is, vengeance leads to violence, which leads to revenge, which leads to violence, and so forth.  Furthermore, vengeance spirals because we can’t undo what we’ve done.  If a person could undo something, “revenge would not be necessary.  The undoing, if there were a will for it, would suffice.  But our actions are irreversible…and so the urge for vengeance seems irrepressible.”

Volf then explains that forgiveness is the only way out of this spiral of revenge and violence:

“Forgiveness breaks the power of the remembered past and transcends the claims of the affirmed justice and so makes the spiral of vengeance grind to a halt.”

Of course, forgiveness has everything to do with the cross.

“The climate of pervasive oppression in which [Jesus] preached was suffused with the desire for revenge.  The principle, ‘If anyone hits you, hit back!  If anyone takes your coat, burn down his house!’ seemed the only way to survive….  Lamech’s kind of revenge, which returns seventy-seven blows for every one received, seemed, paradoxically, the only way to root out injustice (Gen. 4:23-24).  Turning Lamech’s logic on its head, however, Jesus demanded his followers not simply to forego revenge, but to forgive as many times as Lamech sought to avenge himself (Mt. 18:21).  The injustice of oppression must be fought with the creative ‘injustice’ of forgiveness, not with the aping injustice of revenge.  Hanging on the cross where he was sent by an unjust judge, Jesus became the ultimate example of his own teaching.  He prayed, ‘Father, forgive them…’ (Lk 23:24).

And here’s where it trickles down into our own lives and situations:

“Only those who are forgiven and who are willing to forgive will be capable of relentlessly pursuing justice without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice….”

The above section and quotes are found in Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace, pp 119-123.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

Election and Sovereign Grace (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 1: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1 In Ephesians 1 and Romans 9-11 Paul teaches what has been called unconditional election.  That is, the reason God has chosen some for salvation in Christ but not others is found in him and in his sovereign will.  Election is not based on man’s choice or faith, but on God’s sovereign good pleasure (eudokia; Eph 1:5b).  Thomas Boston explained this aspect of God’s sovereign grace in election quite well (I’ve edited the quote slightly to make it more readable):

Behold here the freedom and glory of sovereign grace, which is the sole cause why God did not leave all mankind to perish in the state of sin and misery…. He was no more obliged to the one than the other. Why did he choose any of the fallen race of men to grace and glory? It was his mere good pleasure to select some, and pass by others. He could have been without them all, without any blemish either on his happiness or justice; but out of his mere good pleasure he set his love on a select number, in whom he will display the invincible efficacy of his sovereign grace, and thereby bring them to the fruition of glory.

This proceeds from his absolute sovereignty. …If he had pleased, he might have made all the objects of his love; and if he had pleased he might have chosen none, but have suffered Adam and all his numerous offspring to sink eternally into the pit of perdition. It was in his supreme power to have left all mankind under the rack of his justice; and, by the same right of dominion, he may pick out some men from the common mass, and lay aside others to bear the punishment of their crimes. There is no cause in the creature but all in God. It must be resolved into his sovereign will.

So it is said in Romans 9:15 & 16 where God speaks to Moses, ‘I will have mercy, on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.’ And yet God did not will without wisdom. He did not choose hand over head and act by mere will without reason and understanding. An infinite wisdom is far from such a kind of procedure. But the reason of God’s proceedings is inscrutable to us, unless we could understand God as well as he understands himself. The rays of his infinite wisdom are too bright and dazzling for our weak and shallow capacities. The apostle acknowledges not only a wisdom in his proceeding, but riches and a treasure of wisdom; and not only that, but a depth and vastness of these riches of wisdom; but was wholly incapable to give a scheme and inventory of it. Hence he cries out in Romans 11:33, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’ Let us humbly adore the divine sovereignty. We should cast ourselves down at God’s feet, with a full resignation of ourselves to his sovereign pleasure.

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 1 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 311–312.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Arminianism and the Stage Coach Guard (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)Here’s a helpful illustration on the perseverance of the saints by Augustus Toplady:

Arminianism represents God’s Spirit, as if he acted like the guard of a stage-coach, who sees the passengers safe out of town for a few miles; and then, making his bow, turns back, and leaves them to pursue the rest of the journey by themselves. But divine grace does not thus deal by God’s travellers. It accompanies them to their journey’s end, and without fail. So that the meanest pilgrim to Zion may shout, with David, in full certainty of faith, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all my days, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. Therefore, for preserving grace, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory,” for thy loving mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.

After God has led his people through the wilderness of life, and brought them to the edge of that river which lies between them and the heavenly Canaan, will he suspend his care of them, in that time of deepest need? No, blessed be his name! On the contrary, he always – safely, and, generally, comfortably – escorts them over to the other side; to that good land which is very far off, to that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 186.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Infallibility of Experts (!?) and Euthanasia (Machen)

The following paragraph is from a radio address that J. G. Machen gave in 1937.  It is highly relevant even in 2017:

“…We have seen in the newspapers recently a good deal of discussion about ‘mercy-killing’ or ‘euthanasia’. Certain physicians say very frankly that they think hopeless invalids, who never by any chance can be of use either to themselves or to anyone else, ought to be put painlessly out of the way.  Are they right?

Well, I dare say a fairly plausible case might be made out for them on the basis of utilitarian ethics.

I am not quite sure – let me say in passing – that even on that basis it is a good cause.  This is a very dangerous business – this business of letting experts determine exactly what people ‘never will be missed.’  For my part, I do not believe in the infallibility of the experts, and I think the tyranny of experts is the worst and most dangerous tyranny that ever was devised.

But, you see, that does not touch the real point.  The real point is that the the modern advocates of euthanasia are arguing the thing out on an entirely different basis from the basis on which the Christian argues it. They are arguing the question on the basis of what is useful – what produces happiness and avoids pain for the human race. The Christian argues it on the basis of a definite divine command. “Thou shalt not kill” settles the matter for the Christian. From the Christian point of view the physician who engages in a mercy-killing is just a murderer. It may also turn out that his mercy-killing is not really merciful in the long run. But that is not the point. The real point is that be it never so merciful, it is murder, and murder is sin.”

“No Christian can hold that morality is just the accumulated self-interest of the race, and that sin is merely conduct opposed to such self-interest.”

J. G. Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 176-177.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI