Servants Bowing Before the Word (Monod)

 Thy Word Is Still Truth  Adolphe Monod was a French preacher in the first half of the 19th century.  After serving as a pastor for some years, he became very ill and could no longer preach.  Yet even on his sick bed he would write sermons and preach sermons to the people who came to visit.  These sermons were later put into book form: Farewell to His Friends and the Church.  I was reading sections of Monod’s work recently and was impressed at how he talked about Scripture.  Here are a few helpful quotes:

“I commend to you, my dear friends, the Word of God as something for constant, in-depth study and meditation.  It will lift us up above everything else.  It will, through Jesus Christ, be the strength of our lives, the joy of our hearts, and our powerful consolation in life and in death.”

“When Scripture proclaims God’s will or the way of salvation or the great doctrines of sin and grace, and of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what it tells us is no less true and no less certain than if heaven were opened above us at this very moment and the voice of God resounded, as it once did at Sinai, saying these same things to us.”

“Oh, how can we surround this book [the Bible] with enough attention and respect?  No doubt Scripture is not the truth that saves us, but it is the road to that truth.  It is not salvation, but it is the book that reveals our salvation, a salvation we would never be able to know without it.  Through Scripture and in proportion to our growth in understanding it, we will also become better acquainted with Jesus, the Savior of our souls.”

“The greatest of all God’s servants are those who bow before that Word.  Saint Paul, David, Luther, Calvin were jealous to humble themselves in the dust before it, and if possible they would have gone still lower.”

These quotes can be found in Thy Word Is Still Truth, chapter 35.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

A Good Theologian or a Bad One? (Sproul)

Knowing Scripture These are some helpful words from R. C. Sproul in his 1977 publication, Knowing Scripture. It was true 40 years ago; it’s still true today:

“Countless times I have heard Christians say, ‘Why do I need to study doctrine or theology when all I need to know is Jesus?’  My immediate reply is this: ‘Who is Jesus?’  As soon as we begin to answer that question, we are involved in doctrine and theology.  No Christian can avoid theology.  Every Christian is a theologian.  Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless.  The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.  A good theologian is one who is instructed by God.”

R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: IVP, 1977), 22.

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

Cage Phase Calvinists (Newton)

Sometimes Calvinists are arrogant jerks.  They learn about predestination, limited atonement, etc., and this leads them to arrogantly think they know it all.  They don’t show much love, patience, or tenderness when talking about the things of God.   This is what has been called the “cage phase” Calvinist because a person like that belongs in a cage to keep him from doing more harm than good.

In his typical winsome and pastoral way, John Newton talked about this many years ago:

“I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principle cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the means of Divine appointment.”

Newton wrote that in 1775, but could it also be said of the present?

This quote is found in Josiah Bull’s biography of Newton, But Now I See, p. 212.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Church Is Greater Than Her Pastors (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 In the era of celebrity pastors and famous preachers who have thousands of “likes” and (sadly) even fans, it’s very important to remember that Christ’s church is greater than her pastors.  Pastors serve for 10, 20, or 30 years; maybe sometimes they even serve 50 or 60 years.  Then they die and someone else takes their place.  The church lives on even when the pastor leaves or goes to be with the Lord.  In a rightly ordered church, everything doesn’t collapse when the pastor leaves or dies.  The church may grieve, but she doesn’t fold or dissolve.  Instead, she prays, calls a new pastor, and together they press on in the faith.  I appreciate how Francis Turretin talked about this in the third volume of his Institutes.

“…Now the church is superior to pastors, not pastors to the church; the church does not belong to the pastors, but the pastors to the church.  ‘All things are yours,’ says Paul, ‘whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22).  Here he rebukes those who gloried in men as heads and for whose sake they raised dissensions and parties among the Corinthians.  He shows that they acted falsely because the church is greater than and superior to all.  Hence pastors are called servants and ministers of the church: ‘We are your servants for Jesus’ sake’ (2 Cor. 4:5).”

Earlier Turretin noted this:

“…The church is not for the sake of the ministry, but the ministry for the sake of the church.

Turretin did say more, but this is a good reminder for pastors (myself included) that we are called to serve the church and humbly minister to her.  The church doesn’t revolve around the pastor.  The church does not exist to serve the pastor.  The pastor is not the church’s lord and ruler.  Jesus is.  The church revolves around him and exists to serve and worship him.  Pastors are merely servants that point the church to Jesus.  Might we even say that pastors are in a way expendable?

The above quote and entire discussion about pastors and the church are found on pages 227-8 of Turretin’s Institutes, vol 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Rewards of Heaven (Hodge)

Below is a helpful way to talk about justification through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone and the rewards of heaven promised in Scripture (Mt. 6:4, Mk. 9:41, 1 Cor. 3:14, etc.).  They are not contradictory!  I appreciate the emphasis on grace and Christ’s work:

…Although Protestants deny the merit of good works, and teach that salvation is entirely gratuitous, that the remission of sins, adoption into the family of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are granted to the believer, as well as admission into heaven, solely on the ground of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ; they nevertheless teach that God does reward his people for their works. Having graciously promised for Christ’s sake to overlook the imperfection of their best services, they have the assurance founded on that promise that he who gives to a disciple even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. The Scriptures also teach that the happiness or blessedness of believers in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to their devotion to the service of Christ in this life. Those who love little, do little; and those who do little, enjoy less. What a man sows that shall he also reap. As the rewards of heaven are given on the ground of the merits of Christ, and as He has a right to do what He will with his own, there would be no injustice were the thief saved on the cross as highly exalted as the Apostle Paul. But the general drift of Scripture is in favor of the doctrine that a man shall reap what he sows; that God will reward every one according to, although not on account of his works. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, pages 244-5)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Judged According to Works? (Vos)

The Bible teaches that sinful people cannot earn salvation or contribute to their salvation.  Justification and eternal life are free gifts of God received by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 4:1-8, Gal. 2:15-16, Eph 2:8, etc.).  Or as the Heidelberg Catechism says, the good we do can’t make us right or help make us right with God because he demands entire perfection, but “even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin” (Q 62).   However, doesn’t God promise to reward obedience (Mt. 5:12, 10:41-41, Heb. 11:6, etc.)?  Geerhardus Vos explained this well:

“That being judged “according to works” also applies to believers is apparent from Matthew 25:34–40; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12. However, this is not to be understood in the sense that works provide the basis for the decision whether one has earned or not earned salvation. Works will come into consideration as a manifestation of genuine saving faith. Work in the scriptural sense also means not just an external display but the expression of one’s life that flows out of the depth of the heart. So understood, works are in fact evidences for the presence of faith.

But works occur in yet another sense than as evidences of faith. Scripture also speaks of reward for believers (“their works follow them,” Rev 14:13; Matt 5:12, 16; 6:1; Luke 6:23; Heb 10:34–38). This reward comes as compensation for the cross, as restitution for what was robbed, as recompense for love shown to the servants of the Lord, etc. There will be proportion in this reward (Matt 25:21, 23; Luke 6:38; 19:17, 19; 1 Cor 3:8). It is presented as a reaping that corresponds to what is sown (Gal 6:7–10). Salvation will be perfect for all, but nonetheless not entirely the same for all. This is certain: the difference will not possibly provide any occasion for unhappiness. Accordingly, for believers works are a criterion for the glory to be received. But this is a reward out of grace (Rom 11:35; 1 Cor 4:7; John 3:27). And the bestowing of salvation, as such, will take place solely on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ received by faith.

So it’s not as if we receive initial justification by faith and then final justification by faith plus works.  Not at all.  It’s all of grace.  The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes Scripture well when talking about the rewards of obedience: “This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace” (A 62).  Or, as the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 15:10,

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. NIV

[The above quotes by Vos are found in his Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 293.]

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

With His People in the Wilderness

  When God’s people were in the wilderness, one thing that stands out is how God was always with them.  In his faithfulness and despite their sinful stumbling, God never left his people nor did he forsake them.  I like how Timothy Laniak describes how Yahweh was with his people in the wilderness.  I’ve summarized it below:

  1. Protection (Dt. 23:14).  The first example of protection is how YHWH delivered and protected his people from the Egyptians.  His fiery cloud was a barrier between Israel and Egypt’s army (Ex. 14:19-20).  He threw the Egyptian army into confusion (Ex. 14:24).  God rescued and protected Israel with his ‘strong arm’ (Ex. 3:19, 6:1, etc.).  Joshua and Caleb, the two spies with faith, believed that Yahweh was with Israel to protect them against the enemies and give them victory (Num. 14:7-9).  Balaam is unable to curse Israel because God was with Israel (Num. 23:21).
  2. Provision (Ps. 105:40-41).  God is revealed as a gracious provider of water, bread, and meat during the wilderness years.  Manna was a clear example of God’s provision for his people.  “Spiritual sustenance is the ultimate reality to which the feeding miracles refer: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Dt. 8:3, 32:2, etc.).  YHWH also provided rest for them and ultimately provided them with the Land of Promise (Dt. 8:7-10).
  3. Guidance (Ex. 15:13).  “God’s guidance in the wilderness begins with his redemption of the people from Egypt and continues throughout their journey to the pastures of the Promised Land.”  Several verbs are used to describe this leading: guide (Ps. 23:2), herd (Ps. 78:52), direct (Ex. 13:21), and so forth.  It is clear from the wilderness experience that Yahweh led his people like a good shepherd leads his sheep.

Lanaik gives more detail, to be sure.  But his three biblical points that explain God’s presence with his people in the wilderness are very applicable to our Christian lives today.   In Christ, by his Holy Spirit, our heavenly Father protects us, provides for us, and guides us on our journey to the heavenly Promised Land.  With humble and grateful hearts  “we follow not with fear!”  He has faithfully protected, provided for, and guided his people in the past, and he will continue to do so.  This is one promise we can rely on during those grueling trials in life: “I will be with you” (Dt. 31:23, Josh. 1:5, Is. 43:2, Mt. 28:20).

The three points above that I’ve edited and summarized can be found in their full and original form in Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds After My Own Heart, p. 80-86.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI