Quarterly (!?!?) Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Calvin)

The Letters of John Calvin (4 vols.) I’m one of those Presbyterian pastors who believes that celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be done frequently.  In the church I served before, we celebrated Holy Communion once per month.  In the church I serve now, we celebrate it weekly.  To be honest, I’ve never heard anyone who is accustomed to celebrating the Lord’s Supper frequently say, “We should celebrate it less frequently; it’s becoming too ordinary.”  In fact, the opposite is true.  I have heard someone who was ill for around a month say when he made it back to church that he really missed taking the Lord’s Supper!

Each Lord’s Day here we hear a brief explanation of the Lord’s Supper from a different angle.  One Sunday we’ll hear about how Christ was our substitute as he died on the cross for us.  Another Sunday we’ll focus on how his blood cleanses us from all sin.  The next we’ll hear that although Christ is in heaven, we feed on him by the power of the Holy Spirit through the faith he’s given to us.  At a different time we’ll hear the fact that God loves us so much that he gave his only Son to die and save us.  And so on.  It’s a gospel celebration each Lord’s Day; the sacrament echoes the preaching of the Word!

I recently ran across a paragraph of Calvin’s where he talked about this very subject (I mentioned this letter yesterday).  The authorities made the decision to celebrate the Supper quarterly (four times per year).  Calvin, since he was no maverick, submitted to the authority even though he was much more in favor of  frequent use of the Lord’s Supper.  Don’t miss the last sentence of the quote!

In one thing we differ, but the difference is not an innovation. We celebrate the Lord’s supper four times a year, and you thrice. Now would to God, messeigneurs [lords], that both you and we had a more frequent use of it. For we see in the Acts of the Apostles by Saint Luke that in the primitive church they communicated much oftener. And that custom continued in the ancient church during a long space of time, till the abomination of the mass was devised by Satan, and was the cause why people communicated but once or twice a year. Wherefore we must confess that it is a defect in us not to follow the example of the Apostles. 

Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 162–163.

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

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The Sum and Substance of the Gospel (Bavinck)

 One reason I always enjoy reading Herman Bavinck is because his discussions are so clearly based on Scripture.  I especially like those parts where he explains a doctrine by using his own sort of paraphrase of verses along with the Scripture references.  For example, this week I’m studying Christ’s ascension in sermon preparation.  So I turned to volume 3 of Bavinck’s Dogmatics where there is a good section summarizing the biblical and theological aspects of Christ’s resurrection and ascension; I’ve put it below.  I like it for further study but also because it’s quite devotional and edifying to read!

Bavinck wrote that the sum and substance of the Gospel isall about the Messiah, the Christ…

…who died and rose again. The cross was an immense offense—also for the disciples (Matt. 26:31). But for them that offense was removed by the resurrection. Then they perceived that Jesus had to die and did die in accordance with the counsel of the Father (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:28), and that by his resurrection God had made him a cornerstone (4:11; 1 Peter 2:6), Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), a Leader and a Savior (5:31), the Lord of all (10:36), the Lord of glory (James 2:1), in order by him to give repentance, forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 10:43; 1 Peter 1:3ff., 21), outside of whom there is no salvation (Acts 4:12).

Now taken up into heaven, he remains there until he comes again for judgment (1:11; 3:21), for he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead (10:42; 17:31), and then all things will be restored of which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets of old (3:21).

Similarly Paul teaches that Christ, though he was the Son of God even before his incarnation (Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15), was designated Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Then he received a spiritual, glorified body (1 Cor. 15:45; Phil. 3:21), became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:17), the firstborn of the dead (Col. 1:18), who from then on lives to God forever (Rom. 6:10). Precisely because of his deep humiliation, God highly exalted him, giving him the name that is above every other name, that is, the name “Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11), granting him dominion over the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9), and subjecting all things under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25, 27). As such he is the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), seated at God’s right hand (Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 2:8), in whom the fullness of the deity dwells bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9), who is the head of the church, prays for it, and fills it with all the fullness of God (Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:23; 3:19; 4:16).

The Letter to the Hebrews further adds to this profile the unique idea that Christ, the Son, who with the Father was the Creator of all things, was also appointed “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2; 2:8) by the Father and designated eternal high priest (5:6; 7:17). But for a short time, in order to attain this destiny, he had to become lower than the angels (2:7, 9), assume our flesh and blood (2:14), become like us in all respects except sin (2:17; 4:15), and learn obedience from the things he suffered (5:8). But thereby he also sanctified, that is, perfected himself (2:10; 5:9; 7:28), and was designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (5:10). This, accordingly, is the sum of the things of which the Letter to the Hebrews says that we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (1:13; 8:1; 10:12). He who is the liturgist of the heavenly sanctuary (8:2), a high priest, therefore, who is at the same time the king whose throne is established forever (1:8), who is crowned with honor and glory (2:9), subjects all things under him (2:8), and is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercession for them (5:9; 7:25; 10:14).

The Apocalypse, finally, loves to picture Christ as the Lamb who purchased us and washed us by his blood (5:9; 7:14) but also as the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who with the Father sits on the throne, has power and honor and glory, even the keys of Hades and death (1:18; 3:21; 5:12–13; 19:16). Clothed with such power, he rules and protects his church (2:1, 18; etc.) and will one day triumph over all his enemies (19:12f.).

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 423–424.

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

The Power of the Gospel (Hodge)

Select Sermons of Charles Hodge On November 20, 1842 Charles Hodge gave a chapel message to the students at Princeton Seminary.  It was on Romans 1:15, where Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… (NASB).  In this chapel message Hodge did an excellent job highlighting the power of the gospel.  Here’s one excerpt worth reading:

…the Gospel is adapted to secure the salvation of men because it, in the first place, reveals a righteousness suited to their necessities. This is the reason which the apostle himself assigns. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation because therein is revealed the righteousness of God. It is plain from other passages in his epistles that by “righteousness of God,” he means a righteousness which is from God, which he gives, and which is available at his tribunal. It is opposed to our own righteousness and declared to be his gift. The Gospel therefore is effectual to salvation because it makes known, offers, and confers a righteousness which secures our justification and reconciliation with God. This is the grand source of its power without which all their excellencies would be of no avail.

If it left us still under the curse of the law, if it disclosed no method by which we can obtain the forgiveness of sins, it could not be effectual to the salvation of sinners. Its disclosures of the infinite holiness and justice of God; of the spirituality and extent of his law; of the necessity of perfect obedience in order to justify the nation, would but drive us to despair. But revealing as it does a method by which God can be just and yet justify the ungodly, it is exactly suited to our necessities. The righteousness which it presents is absolutely perfect, it meets and answers all the demands of the law; it, fully satisfies the justice of God; it satisfies the demands of conscience, it satisfies all the interests of the moral government of God. And instead of endangering the welfare of holy beings, it in the highest degree exalts their blessedness by its display of the manifold grace and wisdom of God.

It is with unspeakable delight that the sinner sensible of his guilt acquiesces in a plan of salvation which thus honours God; which thus sustains the divine law, and which, while it humbles and saves himself, ministers to the blessedness of all holy beings. He sees that there is now no reason why the believing sinner should be punished. All the ends of punishment are answered far more effectually by the atoning righteousness of Christ than they could ever have been by his own perdition. Being justified by faith he has peace with God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather that has risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.’ ‘There is no condemnation to him that is in Christ Jesus.’ To such a man they [the ends of punishment] can be a rational source of disquiet. [But] God has forgiven him, his Saviour ever lives to intercede for him, and by that intercession to secure him from all fatal evil and the enjoyment of all necessary good.

Charles Hodge, “Not Ashamed,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Death of Christ for Us (Turretin)

 Francis Turretin (d. 1687) did a very good job of summarizing Scripture’s account of Christ’s atonement as satisfying the justice of God.  In his section called “The Necessity of the Satisfaction,” he wrote the following (I’ve edited it slightly):

Sin, which renders us guilty, binds us over to punishment as hated of God. It [sin] may be viewed 1) as a debt which we are bound to pay to divine justice, in which sense the law is called “a hand-writing,” (Col 2:14) 2) as a principle of enmity, whereby we hate God and he becomes our enemy: 3) as a crime against the government of the universe by which, before God, the supreme governor and judge, we become deserving of everlasting death and malediction.

Whence, sinners are expressly called 1) “debtors,” (Matt. 6:12); 2) “enemies to God,” both actively and passively, (Col. 1:21); 3) “and guilty before God,” (Rom. 3:19.) We, therefore, infer that three things were necessary in order to our redemption; the payment of the debt contracted by sin, the appeasing of the divine wrath, and the expiation of guilt.

[Therefore] the nature of the satisfaction to be made may be easily perceived: the payment of the debt, the appeasing of the divine wrath (by reconciling us with him) and the expiation of guilt (by the endurance of punishment).

Francis Turretin, Institutes, II, pages 418-419.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Gospel and Daily Humility (Bridges)

 I enjoyed Jerry Bridges’ book, The Blessing of Humility.  It’s a readable discussion of humility based on the Beatitudes.  Chapter ten of this book is called, “The Humility and the Gospel.”  Below are four main points Bridges makes in this chapter.  I’ve summarized them for the sake of space.  The question is this: How does the good news of the gospel help keep us humble every day?

  1. For one thing, it frees us up to be honest with ourselves about our sin.  We can face our sin squarely when we know that it is forgiven.  Even when a particular sin is vile in our eyes – not to mention God’s eyes – we can call it what it is, and thank God for his forgiveness.

  2. The second way the gospel helps us live a life of humility is to show us another person’s sin in light of our own.  To paraphrase and even enlarge on the words of one of the Puritans, the proud person is so busy judging the sins of other people that he or she has no time to see the sins of his or her own heart.  Meanwhile, the humble person is so busy dealing with his or her own sins that he or she has no time to judge the sins  of others.

  3. A third way the gospel helps us walk in humility is that it helps us practice meekness and mercy.  We can only truly appreciate the gospel when we see it through the lens of our sin.  And as we do that, we can forgive the sins of others because we have been forgiven so much.

  4. Fourth, the gospel motivates us to want to live in purity of heart – that is, to have as our supreme goal in life to live no longer for ourselves but Him who redeemed us to be a people for his own possession. …I find myself often praying over a few phrases from the old hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” ‘Take all my guilt away / O let me from this day / Be wholly Thine!’

In summary, I would say that it is impossible to truly walk in humility without to some degree appropriating the truth of the gospel every day.

Jerry Bridges, The Blessing of Humility, p. 86-88.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

The Sanctity of the Moral Law (or: Constrained to Come to Calvary) (Murray)

Murray vol 1 In 1935, at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, John Murray gave an address called, “The Sanctity of the Moral Law.”  (“Sanctity” in this context means holiness or sacredness.)  In this address Murray  talked about the moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  Murray’s lecture is a very helpful discussion of the moral law and its importance for Christians.  I appreciate how he ended this address:

“As we recognize the awful sanctity that surrounds the law, we shall certainly be crushed with a sense of our own hell-deserving guilt and hopeless inability.  We shall certainly be constrained to cry out, ‘Woe is me for I am undone.’  ‘Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I have not the understanding of a man’ (Is. 6:5; Prov. 30:2).  But in that condition there falls upon our ears and into our hearts the sweet news of the gospel, the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer and Lord.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:13).  We shall be constrained to come to Calvary.

But when we come to Calvary for the expiation of our guilt and the remission of our sin, it is not to diminish our esteem of that law nor relax our sense of its awful sanctity and binding authority.  Oh no!  …When we are possessed by the sense of the authority and sanctity of the moral law, we must come to Calvary if any true and living hope is to be engendered within us.  But when we rise from our prostration before the Cross, it is not to find the moral law abrogated, but to find it by the grace of God wrought into the very fiber of the new life in Christ Jesus.

If the Cross of Christ does not fulfill in us the passion of righteousness, we have misinterpreted the whole scheme of divine redemption.  ‘For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3).  Is it that the moral law might cease to bind and regulate?  Oh no! But ‘that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’

John Murray, Collected Writings vol. 1, p. 203-204.

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

The Law/Gospel Distinction (Olevianus)

An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism The Reformers understood the difference between the law and the gospel.  It wasn’t just Luther who made this important distinction.  For one example, here’s how Caspar Olevianus (d. 1587) explained it (as quoted by Otto Thelemann):

“With reference to the relation between the law and the Gospel, Olevianus says:

“The law is a principle which God has implanted in nature, and has repeated and renewed in the commandments, in which He presents to us as in a handwriting what we are bound to do and what to leave undone, viz., a perfect inner and outer obedience; and He promises eternal life on the condition that we keep the law of God perfectly all our life. But on the other hand, eternal damnation is threatened if we do not keep it, but transgress it in one or more points. Deut. 27:26. After the law has once been transgressed, there is no promise that our sin will be forgiven through its help, i.e., through the works of the law, but the sentence of condemnation follows immediately. But the Gospel, or the glad tidings, is a truth concerning which the wisest men have known nothing by nature. It has been revealed from heaven. In it God does not make a demand of us, but He offers and gives to us the righteousness which the law demands of us, viz., the perfect obedience of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, whereby all our sins and condemnation with which the law threatens us, are pardoned and blotted out. Rom. 5, Gal. 3. God gives us in the Gospel the forgiveness of sins, not under the condition that we keep the law, but as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. Although we have never kept the law, and even now cannot keep it perfectly, He has nevertheless forgiven us our sins and offers eternal life. John 1:17, Rom. 8:3, 4, Gal. 3:12–15.”

 Thelemann, O. (1896). An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism. (M. Peters, Trans.) (pp. 61–62). Reading, PA: James I. Good, D. D, Publisher.

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