Theology’s Subject and Object (Vos)

Geerhardus Vos

Geerhardus Vos’ inaugural address as Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton in 1894 has been helpful to me in so many ways.  It’s something I’ve come back to quite often since I first read it over 10 years ago.  Here’s one paragraph that caught my eye as I was reading it again today:

It will be seen…on a moment’s reflection, that Theology is not merely distinguished from the other sciences by its object, but that it also sustains an altogether unique relation to this object, for which no strict analogy can be found elsewhere. In all the other sciences man is the one who of himself takes the first step in approaching the objective world, in subjecting it to his scrutiny, in compelling it to submit to his experiments—in a word, man is the one who proceeds actively to make nature reveal her facts and her laws. In Theology this relation between the subject and object is reversed. Here it is God who takes the first step to approach man for the purpose of disclosing His nature, nay, who creates man in order that He may have a finite mind able to receive the knowledge of His infinite perfections. In Theology the object, far from being passive, by the act of creation first posits the subject over against itself, and then as the living God proceeds to impart to this subject that to which of itself it would have no access. For “the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God.” Strictly speaking, therefore, we should say that not God in and for Himself, but God in so far as He has revealed Himself, is the object of Theology.

Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 4–5.

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

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The New Logos 8 – My Review

Logos 8 Bible Software

I have been a daily user of Logos Bible Software for over five years.  From day one I’ve been very impressed.  One of the many great things about Logos is the constant free updates to fix bugs and major upgrades to improve the software and features.  I recently was upgraded to Logos 8, and after using it every day for over a month now, I’d like to briefly share my thoughts on it.

One major question about an update is, “What’s new and updated?”  Logos 8 updated and added quite a few aspects and features, including the dashboard, library organization, search speed, customizable guides, and quite a few other things.  

I really like the updated note feature.  In this update, the notes have filters and tags.  For example, if I’m reading a resource like a commentary, I can create a note on a section of the text.  On the note I can write my own comments, add searchable tags, and edit the look of the note.  This note goes in a file and becomes searchable for my later studies.  Also, for each Logos book I have, I can see and search the notes and highlights of the individual book.  It is very similar to how I would highlight and write in a regular book – only the notes and highlights are searchable and automatically indexed!  This new note feature is outstanding.  

The library feature has also been updated.  In Logos 8, my library has a filter so I can more easily search for various resources and books.  For example, when I open my library I can filter out things like tags, author, series, type of resource, and so on.  This means that if I want to just see what commentaries I have, I can filter out everything but commentaries and look through them.

There are some totally new features to Logos, including canvas, workflows, and theology guides.  The canvas is something like a virtual whiteboard where you can write a verse, circle, underline, highlight, and so forth.  I tried the canvas a few times but it was somewhat time-consuming since I was unfamiliar with it.  Also, in my opinion, the canvas needs some updates to make it more intuitive and simple to use.

I also tried the new workflow feature.  The workflow is basically a step-by-step guide to studying a passage.  For example, in an expository sermon workflow, the list includes prayer, reading the passage several times, read the passage in the original, examine literary types, identify important words, examine the historical context, read cross references, etc.  It’s basically a guided outline that includes tips to help study a text.  When one part of the workflow is completed, a checkmark goes next to it so you know where you are in your studies.  While I don’t use the workflow since I have my own similar method of studying the Bible, the workflow would be helpful for those who want to follow a step-by-step Bible study guide.  (Note: the workflow is customizable so you can change the steps.)

One other new feature in Logos 8 is the theology guide.  Like other guides in Logos,  the theology guide helps to study a theological theme.  If you want to study Jesus’ suffering, for example, it gives you a paragraph summary, Bible verses that mention Jesus’ suffering, recommended reading, and the guide lists any references to Jesus’ suffering in the theology books you own.  I do use the guides from time to time, but I also have my own method for studying a biblical theme, word, or concept.  One thing I appreciate about the guides is that just by using them you learn how to study Scripture using Logos.

As with all upgrades, sometimes changes are frustrating since you get used to the older edition or model.  One frustrating thing in the new Logos 8 is that they moved the information button for the Logos resource/book to a place that takes longer to find.  I also don’t like the book cover view in the tabs – the covers are small and you often can’t tell what book the tab contains.  Finally, quite often the search bar does an automatic drop-down which is super annoying.  Hopefully they’ll address these issues in a future [free] update.

Again, there are several other updated and new aspects of Logos 8.  I’ve given just a summary along with my own thoughts.  If you’re like me, whenever there’s a newer phone or computer out, you wonder: “Should I upgrade?”  While everyone will answer differently, I’m glad to be using Logos 8 because I really like the updated note feature.  It has already helped in my sermon preparation and Bible studies.  I feel like I can now better go back to the resources I’ve read and glean from them again.  I also like the updated library organization.  I have quite a few Logos resources, so any help in organizing them is very welcome.  If these upgrades seem worthwhile, and if you’d use the canvas and workflows to some extent, you may want to try the Logos 8 upgrade.  It for sure is a notable upgrade with quite a few improvements.  This upgrade is not just a selling point, it truly is an upgrade!

If you want to see what’s new in Logos 8, go here: https://bit.ly/2S90bss  

If you’re interested in upgrading, readers of our blog can get a 25% discount on upgrades: https://bit.ly/2C2VWLQ –  If you want to purchase a base package of Logos 8, go here for a 10% discount: https://bit.ly/2C2VWLQ

If you want to try the free basic version of Logos software, version 7, go here: https://bit.ly/2TGDqgQ  

Also, please feel free to ask any questions you might have.  I’m not promising I can answer them all, but I’ll do my best!  

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Something Strangely Powerful and Transforming in Love (Shedd)

Sermons to the Spiritual Man
Shedd: Sermons to the Spiritual Man

Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (NASB).  Among other things, this verse teaches the value and benefit of self-control.  Or, as W. G. T. Shedd preached, this is a “certain kind of temper which should be possessed and cherished by the people of God…in a word, Christian moderation.”  In discussing this topic, Shedd noted the source of Christian moderation: love.  Note how he talks about the “power of a new affection” and “something strangely powerful and transforming in love.”

Such a spirit [of moderation] as we have been speaking of must have its root in love. The secret of such an even temper is charity; the “charity that suffereth long and is kind, that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil.” No man can have this large-minded, comprehensive, and unshaken equilibrium, who does not love God supremely and his neighbor as himself.

We have already noticed that the wise pagan thinkers had an idea of some such well-balanced temper and spirit. They were painfully conscious of the passionateness of the human soul, and its inclination to rush into extremes—extremes of physical license, and extremes of intellectual license. But they knew no method of curing the evil, and they never cured it. And there was a good reason. They could not generate holy love in their own hearts, or in the hearts of others. The human heart is carnal, and thereby at enmity with God; it is selfish, and thereby at enmity with man.

So long as this is the character of man, it is impossible for him to be “slow to anger” and to “rule his spirit.” The physical appetite will be constantly breaking over its proper limits, the imagination will be lawless, and the understanding proud and opinionated. But the instant the enmity ceases and the charity begins, the selfish passionateness and license disappear. You cannot rule your impulsive spirit, you cannot curb and control your lawless appetites, by a mere volition. You cannot bring all your mental and physical powers into equilibrium by a dead lift. The means is not adequate to the end.

Nothing but the power of a new affection; nothing but the love of God shed abroad in your heart, and the love of Christ sweetly swaying and constraining you, can permanently and perfectly reduce all the restlessness and recklessness of your nature to order and harmony. And this can do it. There is something strangely powerful and transforming in love. It is not limited in its influence to any one part of the soul, but it penetrates and pervades the whole of it, as quicksilver penetrates the pores of gold. A conception is confined to the understanding; a volition stops with the will; but an affection like heavenly charity diffuses itself through the entire man. Head and heart, reason, will, and imagination, are all modified by it.

The revolutionizing effect of this feeling within the sphere of human relations is well understood. …When this [love] springs up in the soul, all the thoughts, all the purposes, all the passions, and all the faculties of the soul are changed by it. And particularly is its influence seen in rectifying the disorder and lawlessness of the soul. Heavenly charity cannot be resisted. Pride melts away under its warm breath; selfishness disappears under its glowing influence; anger cannot stand before its gentle force. Whatever be the form of sin that offers resistance, it inevitably yields before “love unfeigned; love out of a pure heart.” “Charity never faileth,” says the Apostle Paul

William G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), 29–31.

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

Christians Celebrating the Passover? (Ursinus)

It is a trend in some Christian circles and churches to host and celebrate Jewish feasts or meals that are connected to the Passover.  You don’t have to look too hard online to see what I mean.  I suppose it’s one thing to watch a video or read a book to learn how Jews celebrate the Passover; it’s another thing to actually partake and make these Jewish meals part of church or Christian life.

In Reformed theology we say that the Old Testament’s “ceremonial laws are now abrogated” in the New Testament era (WCF 19.3).  “We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished, so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians (BCF 25).  There is firm biblical reason for this Reformed position.  Zacharias Ursinus comments:

That the ancient Passover, with all the other types which prefigured the Messiah which was to come, was abolished at the coming of Christ, is evident,

1. From the whole argument of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews respecting the abolishing of the legal shadows in the New Testament. “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.” (Heb. 7:12; 8:13.)

2. From the fulfillment or these legal shadows. “These things were done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken.” “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (John 19:36. 1 Cor. 5:7.)

3. From the substitution of the New Testament; for Christ, when he was about to suffer, and die and sacrifice himself as the true Passover, closed the ordinance relating to the paschal lamb with a solemn feast, and instituted and commanded his Supper to be observed by the church in the place of the old passover. “With desire, I have desired to eat with you this passover, before I suffer.” “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:15, 19.) Christ here commands the supper, not the ancient passover, to be celebrated in remembrance of him. As baptism has, therefore, succeeded circumcision, so the Lord’s supper has succeeded the passover in the New Testament.

It may seem interesting and even spiritual to reenact ancient Jewish feasts and meals, but we need to remember that Hebrews tells us not to go back to the copies and shadows of the old covenant (Heb 8: 5, 13).  As Hebrews makes very clear, you can’t have the old and the new together – the old is fulfilled, the new is here, so don’t go back!  Or, like Paul says in Galatians 4:9-11, a Gentile Christian putting himself under the Jewish ceremonies and laws is the same as going back to their pagan religions!  Commenting on Galatians 4:9, C. K. Barrett said, “To go forward into Judaism is to go backward into heathenism” (see also Douglas Moo and F. F. Bruce on Gal. 4:9).

Since we have Christ, the Passover Lamb, and his final sacrifice, we don’t need to sacrifice animals, have altars, celebrate Jewish ceremonies, feasts, Passovers, and so forth.  Instead, we celebrate the Lord’s death by blessing and sharing bread and wine like he told us to do until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:23ff).

The above quotes are found in Zacharias Ursinus trans. by G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 440.

(This is a re-post from July 2016)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Prayer, Regeneration, and Pelagianism (Owen)

The Works of John Owen (17 vols.)
John Owen, Works (1-17)

On the topic of regeneration, some in Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian circles have taught that God’s grace illuminates the mind and affections and if the person then wills to choose Christ, God’s grace aids the person’s will in repenting and believing.  They say that this is a work of God’s grace and Holy Spirit; some have called it “moral persuasion.”  However, these Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians deny that the Spirit gives new life to a dead heart and infuses strength to the renewed will enabling the sinner to repent, believe, and come to Christ in faith.  

John Owen argued well that this Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian view overthrows “the whole grace of Jesus Christ… to render it useless; for it ascribes unto man the honor of his conversion, his will being the principal cause of it.”

Owen then said that this Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian view contradicts the prayers of the Scriptures and God’s people: 

There was no argument that the ancients more pressed the Pelagians withal than that the grace which they acknowledged did not answer the prayers of the church, or what we are taught in the Scripture to pray for. We are to pray only for what God hath promised, and for the communication of it unto us in that way whereby he will work it and effect it.

Now, he is at a great indifferency in this matter who only prays that God would persuade him or others to believe and to obey, to be converted or to convert himself. The church of God hath always prayed that God would work these things in us; and those who have a real concernment in them do pray continually that God would effectually work them in their hearts. They pray that he would convert them; that he would create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in them; that he would give them faith for Christ’s sake, and increase it in them; and that in all these things he would work in them by the exceeding greatness of his power both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.

And there is not a Pelagian in the world who ever once prayed for grace, or gracious assistance against sin and temptation, with a sense of his want of it, but that his prayers contradicted his profession. To think that by all these petitions, with others innumerable dictated unto us in the Scripture, and which a spiritual sense of our wants will engage into, we desire nothing but only that God would persuade, excite, and stir us up to put forth a power and ability of our own in the performance of what we desire, is contrary unto all Christian experience.

Yea, for a man to lie praying with [persistence], earnestness, and fervency, for that which is in his own power, and can never be effected but by his own power, is… ridiculous; and they do but mock God who pray unto him to do that for them which they can do for themselves, and which God cannot do for them but only when and as they do it themselves. Suppose a man to have a power in himself to believe and repent; suppose these to be such acts of his will as God doth not, indeed cannot, by his grace work in him, but only persuade him thereunto, and show him sufficient reason why he should so do,—to what purpose should this man, or with what congruity could he, pray that God would give him faith and repentance?

 John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 312–313.

In other words, it isn’t biblical for us to pray that God would persuade someone to believe.  It’s not biblical for us to beg to God that someone would convert himself.  In fact, it’s even contrary to experience!  As Owen said, it’s mocking God to pray for him to do what man can do for himself.

This entire discussion is found in volume 3 of Owen’s Works, pages 311-313.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Law Says, the Gospel Says (Hamilton)

Charles Bridges, “The Christian Ministry”

In his 19th century book, The Christian Ministry, Charles Bridges takes some time to explain the necessity of preaching the law and the gospel rightly.  He talks clearly about a law/gospel distinction as well as the third use of the law (the law as a guide of gratitude).  At one point, he quotes Scottish reformer, Patrick Hamilton (d. 1528), who wrote Loci Communes Theogogici (also known as “Patrick’s Places”).  Here are a few excerpts from Hamilton on the law/gospel distinction.

The Law shows us,
Our sin.
Our condemnation,
Is the word of ire.
Is the word of despair.
Is the word of displeasure.

The Gospel shows us,
A remedy for it.
Our redemption,
Is the word of grace.
Is the word of comfort.
Is the word of peace.

The Law says,
Pay thy debt.
Thou art a sinner desperate.
And thou shalt die.

The Gospel says,
Christ hath paid it.
Thy sins are forgiven thee.
Be of good comfort, thou shalt be saved.

The Law says,
Make amends for thy sin.
The Father of Heaven is angry with thee.
Where is thy righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction?
Thou art bound and obliged unto me, to the devil, and to hell.

The Gospel says,
Christ hath made it for thee.
Christ hath pacified him with his blood.
Christ is thy righteousness, thy goodness, and satisfaction.
Christ hath delivered thee from them all.

– Patrick Hamilton –

NOTE: This is a re-post from July, 2014

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

Don’t Forget about Satan! (Kuyper)

Abraham Kuyper, “To Be Near Unto God”

For various reasons, sometimes Christians forget that Satan and his demonic horde really exist.  We know the stories in the Gospels where Jesus sent the demons running, but we sometimes forget the fact that Satan really prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet 5:8).  We know that the NT epistles tell us to watch out for Satan’s schemes and attacks, but it’s not always on our minds (Eph 6:11, 2 Cor 2:11, etc.).  No doubt Satan loves it when Christians forget about him and his demonic ways.  I appreciate how Abraham Kuyper put it:

It should be carefully observed, that like a thief, Satan is most pleased when his presence and his work are not noticed. In circles where his existence is denied or ridiculed, his hands are altogether free to murder souls according to his liking. But that he can be so strangely forgotten by those who are more inclined to believe the Gospel, offers him the finest chances to poison souls. We may be sure that in all this denial and in all this forgetting of the actual existence of Satan, a trick of Satan himself operates. When the mighty spirit of Christ moved the waves of the sea of life in Palestine, Satan did not succeed with this for a moment, and Jesus compelled him to show himself. But now he succeeds in keeping himself in hiding, and unseen and unnoticed, from the ambush, to inwork his character, and consequently with better effect.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near unto God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co., 1918), 553.

Satan is crafty in his evil and even disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4).  This isn’t to say that Satan is behind every door and every bad thing that happens, but it is to say he’s real, he’s on the prowl, and he’s trying his demonic best to wreck the peace and purity of the Church and the life of the Christian. Be on your guard, brother or sister!

Thankfully, Christ is on the throne and not even Satan and the hordes of hell can separate us from our Lord (John 10:28).  Satanic attacks may be real and fierce, but just as Jesus prayed for Peter, he’s praying for his people today, that their faith will not fail (Lk 22:32).  In Christ, and clothed with the armor of God, we can do all things through his strength – including resisting the devil or fleeing from him (depending on the circumstance).  The victory belongs to the Lord – and those who are in Him!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015