A Covenant Freely Given

Pierre Marcel on the glory of the covenant of grace. All italics are his.

It is a covenant of grace, that is to say, freely given. It does not depend upon any human condition, it is not a gift in exchange for some service, it does not answer to any fulfillment of law on the part of man. God Himself, in the person of His Son, provides the surety of the covenant, whereby all our obligations are met at the same time as the demands of the divine justice.

Again, it is a covenant of grace, a free covenant, because God by His grace, rendered efficacious by the working of the Holy Spirit, makes man capable of living in conformity with the requirements prescribed by the terms of the covenant. The covenant of grace has its origin in the grace of God, it is put into execution by the grace of God, and it is experienced in the life of sinners through the grace of God. From beginning to end it is pure grace for the sinner. It is God who descends to man and raises him to Himself. It is God who disannuls the covenant of sinful man with Satan and with death (Is. xxviii. 18), who places enmity between man and Satan, who destroys death, and who, taking man for His possession, promises him victory over every adverse power. It is the work of God, only His Work, and all His work. Man cannot lay claim to any personal glory: all the glory emanates from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Second Helvetic Confession: Of Idols and Images

broken-jesusThere are two issues addressed in chapter IV of The Second Helvetic Confession: whether or not Christ should be pictured in an image and whether or not we should put up images of the saints. The first issue continues to be of interest in the Reformed world. The second issue is one of the reasons Protestants are not Catholics. Despite claims to the contrary Catholics and Orthodox continue to use images, relics, etc. in a way that is unbiblical. Here is what the confession says about these two issues.  Continue reading

Porn is Barren

barren-land

A good reminder from Pastor Douglas Wilson in his book Father Hunger.  Too many men want sex without children. Obviously this applies to porn, but it also applies to purposely barren marriages.

One of the things that should be most obvious to a man about the women involved in pornography is that such images, however appealing a man may find them, are images that can present him with no children. They are barren. They flaunt their breasts, but they will never nurse the children of those who gawk with them. The men who pursue such women are men who want such barrenness; they find it a selling point. Another way of saying this is that they don’t want to be fathers. They want the privileges of sexual release (after a fashion) but without the responsibilities that God’s wisdom necessarily attached to these pleasures.

Love & Obedience in John’s Writings

Gospel of John.jpg

The relationship between love and obedience has a checkered history in the life of God’s people. On one side are those curmudgeons who furrow their brow and yell “Obedience.” On the other side are those soft men who whimper, “All we need is love.” In between are most Christians who spend their days bouncing between love and obedience. They ask questions like, am I really loving God? Am I obeying enough? Am I being a legalist? In this post I want to show how John weaves together love and obedience. This post will not answer all questions, but I hope it will clarify the relationship between love and obedience. At the end I will draw some conclusions from these texts.

This post is focused on passages in John’s gospel and his three letters where he uses the word “command/commandments,” which is ἐντολή in the Greek.

We begin with the obedience of our Lord. Jesus obeyed the commands of the Father because he loved the Father.  In John 10:17-18 Jesus says that he lays down his life according to the Father’s command (charge in the ESV). Because he lays down his life the Father loves him.  In John 12:44-50 Jesus says he speaks whatever the Father commands him to speak. He also says that the Father’s command is “everlasting life.” Finally in John 15:10, Jesus says that he has kept the commandments of the Father and therefore he abides in the Father’s love. Continue reading

Calvin, Baptism, and Election

 john-calvin-1
Here is quote by Calvin, which lays out nicely his view of the sacraments. In this section he is refuting Pighius, a Roman Catholic theologian.  I am quoting from Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. I have added paragraph breaks. Brackets and bold are mine. Everything else was in the book.

Paul represents (Romans 2:29) circumcision as of letter and spirit. We must think similarly of baptism. Some carry in their bodies the mere sign, but are far from possessing the reality. For Peter also, teaching that salvation follows our baptism, immediately adds as though in correction that the mere external washing of the flesh is not enough unless there is added also the answer of a good conscience (I Peter 3:21).

Thus Scripture, in dealing with the sacraments, customarily speaks  of them in a twofold sense. When dealing with hypocrites who glory in the sign and neglect the reality, in order to prostrate [throw down] their confidence, it separates the reality from the signs, in contrast to their perverse understanding. Thus Paul (I Cor 10:3-13) reminds his readers that it did not profit the ancient people to have been baptized in their passage through the Red Sea and to have with us the same spiritual food in the desert (meaning, that is, that they participated with us in the same external signs of the spiritual gifts).

But addressing the faithful he describes the use of the sacraments as legitimate, efficacious and corresponding to the divine institution. It is here that phrases apply: to have put on Christ, engrafted into His body, buried together with him, who have been baptized in His name (Rom. 6:4, Col 2:12, Gal. 3:27, I Cor. 12:27). From [these passages] Pighius concludes that all sprinkled with the visible element of water are truly regenerated by the Spirit and incorporated into the body of Christ so as to live to God and in His righteousness...

But a little later, as if drawing in his wings, Pighius remarks that many fall away from Christ who had been truly engrafted into His body; for he makes out  that those committed to Christ and received into His faithful care are saved by Him in such a way that their salvation is dependent on their own free will. To many, he says, the protecting grace of Christ is not wanting, but they are wanting in themselves. Certainly the stupidity and ingratitude of those who withdraw themselves from the help of God can never be sufficiently condemned. But it is a quite intolerable insult to Christ to say that the elect are saved by Him, provided they look after themselves. This is to render doubtful the protection of Christ which He affirms is invincible against the devil and all the machinations of hell. Christ promised to give eternal life to all give Him by the Father (John 17:2). He testifies that He is a faithful custodian of them all, so that none perishes except the son of perdition (John 17:12)…

If eternal life is certain to all the elect, if  no one can pluck them from Him, if no violence nor any assault can tear them from Him, if their salvation stands in the invincible power of God, what impudence for Pighius to shake so fixed a certitude. Though Christ casts none out, he says, yet many depart from Him, and those who once were children of God do not continue so. But Pighius is a bad and perverse interpreter, not acknowledging  that whatever is given him by the Father is retained in the hand of Christ, so that it remains safe to the end; for those that fall away, John declares to be not of His flock.

This lengthy quote is worth reading carefully for several reasons. It shows that certain lines from Calvin, such as “yet many depart from Him, and those who once were children of God do not continue so” can be interpreted out of context to mean something they do not mean. This line, by itself, sounds like Calvin believes true Christians can fall away. However, throughout the passage and the book he draws a clear line between the elect and the non-elect while still agreeing that many things are found alike in the reprobate and the children of God. But, however they shine in appearance of righteousness, it is certain they are not possessed of the Spirit of adoption, so that their owners may truly invoke God as Father.” (This quote is two pages after the one above.) While there are some similarities with the elect, those who fall away are never part of the elect in the fullest sense. They are not adopted and God is not their Father. 

This passage also shows that the relationship between election and the sacraments has long been an issue. Pighius argued that the elect were saved at baptism, but the rest was left up to them. They were “regenerated by the Spirit.” They have been truly grafted into Christ’s body, but they must keep themselves there. Calvin says God gives all to his elect, including the promise that Christ is the “faithful custodian of them.” Those given to Christ by the Father are kept by Christ unto the end. There are none lost (John 6:39). 

Calvin gives the classic understanding of how the sacraments are to be understood. There is the sign (baptism/communion/the Word) and there is the reality, Jesus Christ received by faith. Hypocrites need to have the two distinguished so they do not glory in the sign while not having the reality. The faithful need to have the two wedded together so they do not despair, but know that Jesus really feeds them through these signs.

Finally, he makes clear that Christ’s power and glory are at stake in any debate about election. Predestination debates are not primarily about man’s free will, but about the power of Christ to save and redeem. When we say man can and does slip from Christ’s grasp the primary problem is not that we grant man a completely free will, but that we deny the efficacy of Christ’s work.

The First Prayer: Heidelberg Catechism~ Lord’s Day 47

hallowed-be-thy-name

What is our first priority in prayer? When we pray what is the main goal? Jesus helps us answer this question by placing “Hallowed be your name” at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. Here, at the beginning of our fundamental prayer, Christ tells us that the main concern in our prayers should be that God’s name would be hallowed. That God would be worshiped and glorified and praised by our thoughts, words, and lives, as well as all peoples and nations around the world is our first prayer. Jesus will go on to tell us to pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. One author noted that this works backward. As God’s will is done, his kingdom is made manifest, and then his name is hallowed.

I pray for many things. I pray for my children, my church, my physical needs, my leaders, my parents, and my in-laws. But rarely do I focus those prayers towards hallowing God’s name. Usually these prayers are about what God provides us, not what we are supposed to give to God. How would our prayer lives change if our primary concern, our first prayer, was that God’s name, that is his character and works, would be glorified?

Which bring us to this week’s Heidelberg Catechism reading says:

Q: 122. Which is the first petition?

A: “Hallowed be thy name”; that is, grant us, first, rightly to know you, and to sanctify, glorify and praise you, in all thy works, in which thy power, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy and truth, are clearly displayed; and further also, that we may so order and direct our whole lives, our thoughts, words and actions, that thy name may never be blasphemed, but rather honored and praised on our account. 

 If we were to break this down here is what that first petition is asking.

First, that we might rightly know God. We should study God. Theology is a Christian duty. Knowing God is our great aim. In order to treat God as holy we must know who he is, what his character is like, and what pleases him. We cannot hallow his name if we do not know him.

Second that we might sanctify, glorify, and praise God for all his wonderful works and how those works show forth His character.  What God does tells us who God is.  When we read about his wonderful deeds it should direct us back to his wonderful character, which in turn should lead to unceasing praise.

Third, that we should live in such a way that God’s name is honored on our account and not blasphemed. We can curse God with our lives as well as our tongues. Look at that little phrase. “Order and direct our whole lives…” Those words mean we are intentional and deliberate about what we do. We think about how God might be glorified by our actions. If we are considering sin we don’t just look at the consequences. We consider how our sin might blaspheme the Lord’s great name.  We ask, “How can I in the way I talk, think, and act honor the Lord.”

How would our prayer lives change if the glory of God’s name was our priority?  Would our requests change? Yes, I think they would.  Would our attitude change? Yes, that would change as well. Would our lives and the lives of those around us change? Certainly.  In short when we seek God’s glory above all else in prayer we become consumed by the one thing that ultimately matters; that our Father, who has created this world and redeemed us, should be praised and glorified by all men everywhere.

Kevin DeYoung summarizes it this way:

Our Father in heaven, the concern nearest to my heart and the one that shapes all other requests is that Your name would be regarded as holy, that Your fame would be heralded in the earth, that You would be honored among the nations, that Your glory would be magnified for all to see. O Lord, be pleased to cause men everywhere to take pleasure in You, that you might be praised now and forever.

Calvin says this about the first petition:

To summarize: we should wish God to have the honor He deserves; men should never speak or think of him without the highest reverence…His sternness no less than his leniency should lead us to  praise him, seeing that he has engraved marks of his glory upon a manifold diversity of works, and this rightly calls forth praises from every tongue… But the petition is directed also to this end: that all impiety which has besmirched this holy name may perish and be wiped out; that all detractions and mockeries  which dim this hallowing or diminish may be banished; and that in silencing all sacrileges, God may shine forth more and more in his majesty.

How do our prayers need to change so that hallowing God’s name is the priority when we kneel?