Concerning Sin Against the Holy Spirit (Ursinus)

The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism Zacharius Ursinus, the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, wrote a helpful explanation of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31).  The title of one part of this section is called “Certain Rules to be observed in relation to the Sin against the Holy Ghost.”  Here they are:

1. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not found in every wicked person; but only in those who have been enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and who have been fully convinced of the truth, as Saul, Judas, etc.

2. Every sin which is against the Holy Ghost is reigning sin, and a sin against conscience, but not the reverse [e.g. sin that does not reign in a person and sin that is not against the conscience – spl]. For it may occur that some one may, either ignorantly, or even knowingly and willingly, hold certain errors, or violate some of the commandments of God, from weakness, or torture, or from fear of danger, and yet not purposely and maliciously impugn the truth, or totally fall from holiness, and continue in sensuality and a contempt of all that is sacred; but he may return unto God and repent of his sin. These forms of sin differ, therefore, as genus and species.

3. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not committed by the elect, or those who are truly converted. They can never perish; for Christ safely preserves and saves them. “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hands. (John 10:28. Also, 2 Tim. 2:19. 1 Pet. 1:5. 1 John 5:15.) Hence those who sin against the Holy Ghost were never truly converted and called. They went out from us, because they were not of us.

4. No one should decide hastily or rashly concerning the sin against the Holy Ghost; yea, judgment should in no case be passed upon any one, unless it be a posteriori, for the reason that we do not know what is in the heart of man. 

 Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 47). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.

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

Advertisements

Modalism and Modern Worship (Horton)

 One of the many blessings of a liturgy shaped by biblical truths and phrases is that it gets in you.  If a liturgy is full of biblical truth, it teaches the truth.  Both kids and adults learn good theology from a good liturgy.  On the other hand, if a liturgy doesn’t closely follow Scripture or biblical truths, the opposite happens: people absorb not-so-good theology or even unbiblical theology that is very man-centered.  And, of course, every church has a liturgy!  The only question is: how biblical is it?  Michael Horton explains one aspect of liturgy in the following section of his 2017 publication, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.

It is in the public service – the weekly gathering of the communion of saints – where this [Trinitarian] faith is won or lost.  Whatever is received, done, or said there shapes our personal relationship with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.  In the fourth century Basil of Caesarea revised the liturgy then in widespread use to more intentionally inculcate a full Trinitarianism, calling pastors ‘to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism.’  One example was Basil’s introduction of what we know as the Gloria Patri: ‘Glory be to the Father, and do the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,’ which stirred no small controversy among those who denied the appropriateness of worshiping the Spirit.  It is not only a creedal rule that the Holy Spirit is to be ‘worshiped and glorified’ together with the Father and the Son; these liturgies lead us to invoke the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

However, in many churches today prayers and songs have been stripped of Trinitarian references that had in earlier generations been woven into the warp and woof of worship.  Not surprisingly, the result is often extemporaneous prayers that reflect our default setting of modalism.  Even in doctrinally orthodox circles, one hears prayers that are confusing, as if the persons of the Trinity were interchangeable – perhaps even the same person.  At least it seems that the person being addressed shifts back and forth without any specification.  Sometimes the Father is thanked for coming into the world to save us, for dying for our sins, for indwelling us, or as the one who will return again.  Very frequently, prayers conclude with ‘in your name, amen.’  In whose name?  Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father in the name of Christ: it is not the Father or the Spirit but the Son who is our mediator.

Some contemporary praise choruses reflect and reinforce this confusion of the persons, with praises directed to the Father for specific acts of the Son or to the Son for specific acts that the Scripture attributes to the Spirit, and so forth.  For example. in the popular chorus, ‘You Alone,’ believers are led to pray as if they were Arians: ‘You alone are Father / and You alone are good / You alone are Savior / and You alone are God.’

[However], worship songs are intended not merely to facilitate personal expression of one’s feelings, but to sing the truth deeply into our hearts: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ Paul exhorts, ‘teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col 3:16)….

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p. 23-24.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Tongues Now Passed Away (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume VII I enjoy reading Augustine’s various writings.  Even though I don’t always agree with him, his insight is helpful, his writing is stimulating, and he was gifted to explain the truth in a captivating way.  This morning when I was reading his comments on 1 John 3:23-24 I was struck by how Augustine spoke about the work and gift of the Holy Spirit in history.  He basically says that at first, the Spirit gifted God’s people to speak in tongues (Acts 2 for example).  However, Augustine notes, that time is passed and now the evidence of the Spirit’s work is in our love for one another.  Here are his comments:

In the earliest times, “the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues,” which they had not learned, “as the Spirit gave them utterance” [Acts 2:4].  These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.

In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when we laid the hand on these infants [new believers], did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so wrong-minded as to say, ‘These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times?’

If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not now given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother, the Spirit of God dwelleth in him.  …Question thine heart. If love of thy brethren be there, set thy mind at rest. There cannot be love without the Spirit of God: since Paul cries, “The love of God is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.”

 Augustine of Hippo, “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 497–498.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christ Still Teaches (Murray)

  In the first few sentences of Acts, Luke said that in his former book (which we now call the Gospel of Luke), he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach… (Acts 1:1 NIV).  One thing this means is that the book we now call Acts (Luke’s second book) is a record of what Jesus continued to do and teach even though he had ascended into heaven.  As John Murray wrote, Jesus “is ever active in the exercise of his prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices.”

The fact that Jesus continued to teach after his ascension is of paramount importance for the authority of Christ in the teaching of the apostles and in the books of the New Testament.  Prior to his ascension Christ’s teaching was directly by word of mouth.  But afterwards he taught by a different mode.  He taught by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers.  The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus’ ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh.  How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus’ spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture.  The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension.

We are reminded of Jesus’ word to the disciples: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:12, 13).  It is from his own lips the certification of Luke’s statement in our text (Acts 1:1-2).  The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus’ own speaking.  ‘I have yet many things to say to you.’  But he says these things through the Holy Spirit and thus there is the seal of both divine persons, the Son and the Spirit.

So we don’t need a red-letter Bible, nor do we need to put Jesus’ spoken words on a higher level than the Spirit-inspired words of Paul (or the other human authors of the New Testament)!  Murray ends the paragraph like this:

Let us prize with the ardor of our soul what Jesus continues to do, and teach.  He is the living, acting, and teaching Lord.

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 1, pages 41-41.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Proving the Deity of the Holy Spirit

Vos Some cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, deny the historic Christian – and biblical – doctrine of the Trinity.  For example, they deny the deity of the Holy Spirit.  In light of this denial, the question is, “How do you prove the deity of the Holy Spirit?”  Geerhardus Vos gives excellent biblical answers:

1) He bears divine names.  Acts 5:3, 9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; and 1 John 4:13.

2) Divine attributes are ascribed to him. a) Eternity: Gen. 1:2, b) Omnipresence: Ps. 139:7-8; 1 Cor. 3:16), c) Omniscience: 1 Cor. 2:10; John 16:13; 2 Pet. 1:21, d) Omnipotence: Luke 1:35.

3) Divine works are attributed to him: a) Creation: Gen. 1:2, Ps. 33:6, b) Preserving and governing: Ps. 104:30, c) Miracles: Mt. 12:28; 1 Cor 12:4, Luke 1:35, d) Forgiveness of sins and regeneration: 1 Cor. 6:11; John 3:5, e) Governing the church: Acts 13:2; 15:28; 20:28, f) Foretelling future events: John 16:13, g) Illumination and sanctification: Eph. 1:17-18; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2, h) Resurrection from the dead: Rom. 8:11.

4) Divine honor is given to him (Mt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:15; Rev. 1:6, 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

5) One can sin against the Holy Spirit and then, in fact, commit the most severe, unforgivable sin (Mk. 3:29).

Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 1, p. 73-74.  (Note: I’ve slightly edited the format of the above quote for the purposes of this blog.)

shane lems

The Work of the Holy Spirit in Regeneration

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied  John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied is an outstanding biblical explanation of Christ’s work for us and in us.  I like this section where Murray talks about regeneration from John 3 – specifically 3:8: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (NIV).

“…We are instructed by our Lord that for entrance into the kingdom of God we are wholly dependent upon the action of the Holy Spirit, an action of the Holy Spirit which is compared to that action on the part of our parents by which we were born into the world.  We are as dependent upon the Holy Spirit as we are upon the action of our parents in connection with our natural birth.  We were not begotten by our father because we decided to be.  And we were not born of our mother because we decided to be.  We were simply begotten and were born.  We did not decide to be born.”

“This is the simple but too frequently overlooked truth which our Lord here teaches us.  We do not have spiritual perception of the kingdom of God nor do we enter into it because we willed to or decided to.  If this privilege is ours it is because the Holy Spirit willed it and here all rests upon the Holy Spirit’s decision and action.  He begets or bears when and where he pleases.”

“Is this not the burden of [John 3] verse 8?  Jesus there compares the action of the Spirit to the action of the wind.  The wind blows – this serves to illustrate the factuality, the certainty, the effect of the Spirit’s action.  The wind blows where it wills – this enforces the sovereignty of the Spirit’s action.  The wind is not at our beck and call; neither is the regenerative operation of the Spirit.  ‘Thou canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth’ – the Spirit’s work is mysterious.  All points up the sovereignty, efficacy, and inscrutability of the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 123.

shane lems

Luther on Preaching Comfort

Product Details Martin Luther preached these beautiful words in 1532.  They are based on John 15:26-16:4, specifically Jesus’ words, “He [the Holy Spirit, the Comforter] will bear witness of me.”

“If the conscience is to be comforted, it can only be comforted by the preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection – this alone comforts.  In contrast, all other preaching of law, good works, holy living, whether commanded by God or men, is incapable of comforting a person in times of need and death; instead it leaves him uncertain and in despair, frightened and tormented.  If we consider God without Christ, we find no comfort but only righteous wrath and displeasure.  But whoever preaches Christ proclaims and brings true comfort, so that it will be impossible for hearts not to be joyous and of good cheer.”

“…No one in need of comfort, therefore, should wait until the Holy Spirit in all his majesty speaks to him personally from heaven.  For the Holy Spirit carries out his witness, publicly in the sermon.  This is where you must seek and await him, til the word which you hear with your ears witnesses inwardly of Christ in your heart.  But such inward witness does not come about until the external, spoken witness of the Word is heard which tells us that Christ became man, was crucified, died, and rose again for our sakes.”

These quotes are from pages 148-149 of Luther’s Sermons (the Baker edition), volume 6.

shane lems