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

Giving the Text the Benefit of the Doubt (Blomberg)

After a cursory reading of two texts that seemingly contradict each other, many New Testament critics simply say the Bible has errors.  Their logic usually goes like this: “Mark said one thing, Matthew said another.  Both can’t be right.  Therefore, the Bible has errors and you’re foolish to trust it.”

But it’s not that simple.  Different authors use different methods and different words to write about the same thing.  Some NT authors spoke more generally, some more precisely, but it doesn’t mean they erred or contradicted one another.  Craig Blomberg wrote on this quite well in his essay, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism.” In this essay, Blomberg goes through a handful of seemingly contradictory NT texts and reasonably explains how they might be harmonized.  At the end of the article, he basically says that even if his explanations are wrong, the point is that there are plausible solutions to seeming contradictions:

“…When one has examined a large number of the apparent contradictions in Scripture and time and again discovered plausible solutions – at times even more than one plausible solution – it is only natural to reach a point where one gives the text the benefit of the doubt on the rare occasions of confronting seemingly more intractable problems.  These are the kinds of replies that are important to give a professor who asks a student, whether Bart Ehrman or anyone else, ‘Why not just admit that Mark [or any other scriptural author] made an error?’

I very much agree.  I’ve had it in my own experience when I thought two texts seemed to be contradictory.  I didn’t know what to think, so I studied the texts and read other authors’ comments on them.  Indeed, I found various reasonable explanations for the seeming contradictions.  I’m at the point now that when I see something in the Bible that seems to be contradictory, I believe the weakness is in my own mind and reasoning, and I give the text the benefit of the doubt.  And, of course, I believe that “the Lord’s word is flawless” (Psalm 18:30 NIV).  My mind, however, is not!

The above article and quote by Craig Blomberg are found in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

Keeping Your Assurance

A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election If you’re assured of your salvation in Christ; if you know you’re a child of God by grace, how can you stay strong in that assurance and knowledge? Or how can you grow in assurance?  Christopher Love (d. 1651) gave some biblical answers to these questions in a sermon on 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (NIV).  I’ve edited some of them and posted them below:

  1. Keep close to God in the duty of prayer.  Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (John 16:24).  Jesus’ words imply that if you keep close to God in the duty of prayer, your spirits shall be complete and full.
  2. Keep close to God in the duty of reading the Word often.  By often reading the Word, you will often meet with promises and supports for your comforts.  That is the reason men lessen in comforts, because they  do not frequently read the Word; you cannot read a Chapter, but you will find there a prop for faith, and a prop for assurance. Keeping constant to the Word, that is the way to keep your assurance.  “These things have I written to you that believe, that you might know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). These things have I written, not only that you have life, but that you might know it. By reading the writings of John, John tells them they might better know they shall live for ever, and everlastingly be saved. Keep close to God in reading his written Word, and this will be of great use because there are promises scattered throughout the veins of Scripture. There is almost no Scripture you can read where there isn’t a promise or support for your faith one way or other.
  3. Keep close to God in constant and conscientious hearing of his Word.  This is a great means to get assurance. …Live under the ministry of the Word, and that ministry will give much assurance of your salvation!

In summary, if you want to grow in assurance of salvation, pray for it, read the Word often, and regularly listen to it preached!

The above (edited) quotes are found on pages 191-193 of Christopher Love, A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election, (Morgan, PA:  Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998).

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

Lifeless Doctrine? (Murray)

I appreciate these words of John Murray in his sermon on 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (NASB).

“In a perfect world all we would need is truth and right.  For, then there would be no antithesis.  But the Scripture is not for a perfect world, not for a world of ideals, but for the world that is, steeped in the iniquity of error and wrong.  Scripture is corrective because it is redemptive.  Untruth is to be corrected by truth and wrong by right.”

“Doctrine concerns the whole wide range of thought respecting God, the world, man, man’s paramount interests, his destiny.  If doctrine is to us cold, dead, and lifeless, then there are only two alternatives.  Either our doctrine is not of Scripture or we ourselves are cold and lifeless.

We do nothing properly without thought and we think nothing aright except as we think the truth of him who is the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God.  Lack of interest in biblical doctrine is lack of interest in God and his will for us.  And this is godlessness.”

John Murray, “Holy Scripture” in The Collected Writings of John Murray, volume 3, page 260.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Scripture’s Clarity

A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture in a Confused World (New Studies in Biblical Theology)The perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture is a very important teaching of Scripture itself.  One helpful resource on this topic is Mark Thompson’s A Clear and Present Word.  I appreciated this paragraph:

“The clarity of Scripture can be affirmed on the basis of Scripture’s own teaching.  The biblical text can be approached with confidence by the believer who seeks to know God and his purposes.  God has been good to us in giving us the Scripture that we have.  Here, in this cradle as Luther would put it, you will find the Christ.  What is more, God has given us resources to help us as we read: his Spirit who has never abandoned his word, the fuller context of the whole Bible, and a fellowship of readers not only in our own time but stretching back to the time when these words were first written.  The struggle between light and darkness remains the context of all our reading of Scripture in the last days.  Yet the confidence of the apostle Peter continues to be echoed at the beginning of this third millennium: ‘we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’ (2 Pet. 1:19).

Mark Thompson, p. 110.

Shane Lems

God’s Word in the Straw’s Mouth

Product Details Martin Luther constantly talked about the power of God’s Word.  This theme came up in his famous hymn that we’ve all heard: “That Word above all earthly powers…one little Word shall fell him.”  Here’s part of a sermon Luther gave on Luke 11:14-28; in it he talked about God’s powerful Word.  Look for Luther’s excellent straw illustration/analogy:

“…We should never speak in a derogatory or careless way about God’s Word….  True it is that the preached Word is but an ordinary Word and the people who preach it are but ordinary people.  But when it emanates from Christ’s command to preach it and is coupled with faith, then it possesses the kind of power that can make the devil flee.  God has set his almighty power in a very lowly instrument and a very fragile vessel.  Against Satan we human beings are but straw, so that were he able to unleash his power against us he would demolish us in a flash.  So what does God do?  He kindles a little flame against this arrogant, mighty spirit, that is, he puts his Word in the straw’s mouth, and that selfsame word is a heavenly fire which, wherever it goes, scorches the devil, so that he doesn’t know where to run.”

“That is indeed an almighty power, as St. Paul calls it in Romans 1:16, able to save those who believe on it.  It has the power and might of God and is able to bring people out of sin to righteousness, from death to life, from hell to heaven, out of the devil’s kingdom into the kingdom of God, to save them.  Surely there is no more wonderful, mighty power than that of the Word, which empowers the poor straw with such potency that it can drive Satan away and free those who believe it from sin and death, and bring them righteousness and everlasting life.”

-From a sermon Luther preached on the Third Sunday in Lent, 1534; found in Luther’s Sermons, volume 5, pages 342-3.

shane lems