Predestination Must Be Preached (Augustine)

Scripture teaches predestination.  For two examples, consider Ephesians 1 and Romans 9.  In these chapters, Paul says that before the foundation of the world, God chose a certain number of people to salvation in Christ.  He did this not based on man’s merits or choice, but his own mercy and sovereign will.  Election is therefore unconditional; it’s not conditional upon a person’s choice, will, or works.  In the early 5th century Augustine echoed Scripture’s teaching on this point as did others later in church history.  The Reformers also taught this truth in the 16th century and the doctrine of unconditional election is found in the Reformed Confessions.

In fact, the Reformed Confessions say that this truth of election must be taught and preached:  Here’s article 14 of the 1st point of doctrine in the Canons of Dort:

“As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God was declared by the prophets, by Christ himself, and by the apostles, and is clearly revealed in the Scriptures both of the Old and the New Testament, so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God, for which it was peculiarly designed….”

Augustine said the same thing around 1,200 years before the Canons of Dort were written:

Wherefore, if both the apostles and the teachers of the Church who succeeded them and imitated them did both these things—that is, both truly preached the grace of God which is not given according to our merits, and inculcated by wholesome precepts a pious obedience—what is it which these people of our time think themselves rightly bound by the invincible force of truth to say, “Even if what is said of the predestination of God’s benefits be true, yet it must not be preached to the people”?

It must absolutely be preached, so that he who has ears to hear, may hear. And who has them if he has not received them from Him who says, “I will give them a heart to know me, and ears to hear”? Assuredly, he who has not received may reject; while, yet, he who receives may take and drink, may drink and live. For as piety must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God may be rightly worshipped; modesty must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, no illicit act may be perpetrated by his fleshly nature; charity must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God and his neighbours may be loved—so also must be preached such a predestination of God’s benefits that he who has ears to hear may glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 546–547.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Preaching the Law with Love (Bridges)

A friend and I were recently discussing several parts of Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry. One section I have marked and underlined quite a bit has to do on how a preacher should rebuke with love.  This also has to do with preaching the law: it should be done with love.

“The spirit of love must deeply imbue the language of reproof.  We must ‘exhort,’ but ‘with all longsuffering’ (2 Tim. 4:2); bearing with the frowardness that will often resist the most affectionate pleading.  Meekness, gentleness, and patience must stamp our instruction of the opponents of the Gospel.  We must wound their consciences as sinners, not their feelings as men; carefully avoiding unnecessary excitement of enmity; and showing the faithfulness that lays open their sins, to be the ‘wounds of a friend’ (Prov. 27:6), the chastening to be that of a father (2 Cor. 2:4).”

“The recollection of our former state (not to speak of our present sympathy with them as their fellow-sinners) will give a considerate tenderness to our reproof, which without weakening its application, will powerfully soften the heart to receive it: so that it falls, ‘as a wise reprover upon an obedient ear’ (Prov 25:12).  Indeed it is when we most deeply feel our own sinfulness, that we speak most closely and powerfully to the consciences of our people.”

Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, p. 335.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

“The Preacher Who Takes Up Vos’ Biblical Theology…” (Clowney)

Preaching and Biblical Theology Over the past 15+ years I’ve come to a pretty strong conviction that an understanding of redemptive history is of utmost importance in the pulpit ministry.  Preaching that has no understanding of redemptive history is preaching that lacks.  There are nuances to this discussion of course.  I’m not an advocate of hyper redemptive-historical preaching.  And I believe there is a time and place in the pulpit for topical and doctrinal sermons as well as solid application.  Basically, my view is that the pulpit ministry should have a firm and balanced grasp of systematic theology and biblical theology, both of which should be generally evident in the preaching.  I like how Edmund Clowney spoke about this in his very good book, Preaching and Biblical Theology.

“There is…no opposition between biblical theology and systematic or dogmatic theology, though the two are distinct.  Systematic theology must draw from the results of biblical theology, and biblical theology must be aware of the broad perspectives of systematics. …The development of systematics is strictly thematic or topical.  …The development of biblical theology is redemptive-historical.”

Later Clowney mentioned Geerhardus Vos; I’ve always liked these paragraphs:

“The preacher who takes up Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ for the first time enters a rich new world, a world which lifts up his heart because he is a preacher.  Biblical theology, truly conceived, is a labor of worship.  Beside Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ should be set his little book of sermons, ‘Grace and Glory.’  There we hear a scholar preaching to theological students (the sermons were delivered in Princeton Seminary), but with a burning tenderness and awesome realism that springs from the grace and glory of God’s revelation, the historical actualization of his eternal counsel of redemption.”

Clowney then talked about the text and the pulpit.

“An old Dutch preacher has sagely observed that the pulpit must not drive us to the text, but rather the text must drive us to the pulpit.  In biblical theology that scriptural dynamic impels the preacher’s heart with unimagined strength.”

Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, p. 18-19.

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

The Impossibility of Preaching Jesus Without A Creed (Vos)

A church without a creed is a church to avoid.  Why?  Because a big part of the Christian’s faith includes knowledge of biblical doctrine, factual truth-statements to which faith clings.  Geerhardus Vos said it quite well:

“Faith presupposes knowledge, because it needs a mental complex, person or thing, to be occupied about.  Therefore, the whole modern idea of preaching Jesus, but preaching Him without a creed, is not only theologically, not merely Scripturally, but psychologically impossible in itself.  In fact knowledge is so interwoven with faith that the question arises, whether it be sufficient to call it a prerequisite, and not rather an ingredient of faith.”

“The very names by means of which Jesus would have to be presented to people are the nuclei of creed and doctrine.  If it were possible to eliminate this, the message would turn to pure magic, but even the magic requires some name-sound and cannot be wholly described as preaching without a creed. …To be sure, mere knowledge is not equivalent to full-orbed faith, it must develop into trust, before it is entitled to that name.”

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 389.

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

The Pastorate: More Than The Pulpit (Bridges)

The pulpit is only part of a pastor’s ministry.  Of course, it is a major and central part of the ministry, but the pulpit is not the only part.  A pastor also has pastoral work to do; this too is an essential part of his ministry.  I appreciate how Charles Bridges explained this.  It’s also convicting for me, and a good reminder for myself:

“Let us not think that all our work is done in the study and in the pulpit.  Preaching …derives much of its power from connection with the pastoral work; and its too frequent disjunction from it is a main cause of our inefficiency.”

In other words, a major cause of a minister’s inefficiency is a separation of the pulpit and day-to-day pastoring/shepherding.  Bridges continues,

“The Pastor and the Preacher combine to form the completeness of the sacred office, as expounded in our Ordination services and in Scriptural illustrations.”

As a rightly called and ordained minister, my goal then (with God’s help) is not just to be a good preacher, but to be a good pastor as well. As he goes on to explain, Bridges notes the biblical pattern for this balance and he gives some positive effects of the joining of the pulpit and the pastoral work.

One positive effect is how the joining of the pulpit and pastoral work preserves the church from schism and builds up Christian unity.  When the pulpit and the pastoral work are both flourishing, it will help keep a congregation united.

Another blessing from a balanced preaching and pastoral ministry is gaining the confidence and love of the flock:

A pulpit ministration may command attention and respect; but except the preacher convert himself into a Pastor, descending from the pulpit to the cottage, and in Christian simplicity ‘becoming all things to all people,’ there will be nothing that fastens on the affections – no ‘bands of love.’  The people cannot love an unknown and untried friend, and confidence without love is an anomaly. …We must constantly aim at nearer contact, and closer interest with them; winning their hearts as the way to win their souls….”

These are helpful notes for pastors!  It’s a good reminder for us to pray for this kind of balanced ministry, that we would be good preachers and good pastors.  This will bring God much glory and bring much good to his people.

The above quotes are found in part 5, chapter 1 of Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Learning How to Read Scripture from Jesus

Dennis Johnson has done some excellent work in the areas of Christ-centered preaching and Bible interpretation.  In one of his more recent books, Walking with Jesus through His Word (2015), he takes the time and space to explain how the central story line of Scripture is all about Jesus.  In this book, Johnson basically teaches readers how to find Christ in Scripture by using Scripture itself – specifically Christ’s teaching.  There’s more to it, but that’s a short summary.

One of the first texts Johnson digs into is Luke 24 – the Emmaus road story.  In this story, among other things, we learn that 1) “we need Jesus to open our minds and hearts” and 2) “we need Jesus to open the Scriptures”:

…Here is the first key to our seeing Christ in the entire Bible: We need him to open our minds, to ignite our hearts, to take away the foolishness and sluggishness and unbelief and low expectations with which we approach his holy written Word.  Since we need Jesus to do this for us, one indispensable key to walking with Jesus through the pages of Scriptures is simply this: Pray!  Face the sobering fact that, left to yourself, you will not ‘get’ what God designs to show you of his Son in his Word by your own research and ingenuity.  Pray that as you read the Word, his Spirit will remove the veil of misunderstanding that keeps you from seeing Jesus’ ever-increasing glory (2 Cor. 2:14-18)….

Not only do we need Jesus to open our minds and hearts, but we also need Jesus to open the Scriptures to us.  Luke 24 uses several words to describe the process by which Jesus disclosed the real meaning of Old Testament passages.  We read that he ‘interpreted’ to the two on the road in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (v. 27), and that they recalled how he had ‘opened to us the Scriptures’ (v. 32).  …In this way, Luke quietly shows that we not only need God’s Spirit to give us the grace to repent of our unbelief and spiritual sluggishness, but also need Jesus to teach us how to read the Bible, to show us a sound method of interpreting God’s written word that honors its origin and its authors…, its unity…, its variety…,and its purpose.”

I’ll come back and note more from this helpful book at a later time, God willing.  For now, if you’re looking for a solid Reformed resource on Christ-centered Bible interpretation, I very much recommend this one: Dennis Johnson, Walking with Jesus through His Word (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2015), p.19-20.

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

Truly Successful Preaching (Newton)

Sometimes we think that a successful preacher is one who is well-known, is the pastor of a large church, whose sermons are downloaded by the thousands, whose conferences are always sold out and books are bestsellers.  The truth is, these things don’t necessarily mean a preacher is successful in the biblical sense of the term.  Heretics and unorthodox preachers can have all these things!

What makes for a successful preacher, biblically speaking?  What is truly successful preaching?  Well, it doesn’t depend upon popularity, sermon download numbers, church size, or best-selling books and conferences.  John Newton described it well while discussing the sovereign grace of God in regenerating dead hearts:

“…We may observe the proper use and value of the preaching of the Gospel, which is the great instrument by which the Holy Spirit opens the blind eyes. Like the rod of Moses, it owes all its efficacy to the appointment and promise of God. Ministers cannot be too earnest in the discharge of their office; it behooves them to use all diligence to find out acceptable words, and to proclaim the whole counsel of God. Yet when they have done all, they have done nothing, unless their word is accompanied to the heart by the power and demonstration of the Spirit.”

Without this blessing, an apostle might labor in vain: but it shall be in a measure afforded to all who preach the truth in love, in simplicity, and in all humble dependence upon Him who alone can give success. This in a great measure puts all faithful ministers on a level, notwithstanding any seeming disparity in gifts and abilities. Those who have a lively talent that affects emotions, may engage the ear, and raise the natural passions of their hearers; but they cannot reach the heart. The blessing may be rather expected to attend the humble, than the talented speaker.”

These words – especially the ones I’ve emphasized –  are comforting for us preachers and applicable to everyone who hears the word proclaimed.   Don’t give pastors credit or fame; give it all to God!

John Newton, Works, volume 1 page 286-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015