What’s an Exile to Do? Trust in Your God, Stand Firm in His Grace

Posted by R. Fowler White

With this post we come to the end of our series on the Apostle Peter’s first letter, his survival manual for Christian exiles. His letter is as relevant now as it was in the 1st century because, in the ebb and flow of God’s providence, we Christians find ourselves increasingly pushed to the margins of public life, relegated to social-cultural, if not geographical exile. There’s little doubt that we who confess the historic Christian faith are increasingly viewed as terribly outdated by some and as simply insufferable by others. In that light, we ought to know how Peter would have us live life in this world. His closing message to us in 5:10-14 is as fundamental as it gets: mistreated by the world, embattled by indwelling sin, and threatened by the devil, trust in your invincible God (5:10-11) and stand firm in His grace (5:11-14). We should take a closer look at each of these closing exhortations.

First, continuing his theme of humility under God’s mighty hand (5:6-7), Peter urges us to keep trusting God, casting all our anxieties on Him, because He truly cares for us. Trials, even from the devil, are His “provide-ence” for us, meant to purify us, not damage us. Those whom our God calls to glory He brings through suffering. Our destination is not in the valley of the shadow of death. With Him, we walk through that valley, yes, suffering along the way but only for a little while. You see, our suffering is not eternal. It won’t last forever. Only glory is eternal; only glory is forever. Though we’re broken and hurt, stumbling, the God of all grace … will Himself restore us, putting all that was out of order in order, repairing whatever is damaged. He will Himself confirm us, placing us in a firm and fixed position, causing us to stay the course and remain constant in our faith. He will Himself strengthen us, making us courageous to endure all suffering without stumbling beyond recovery. He will Himself establish us, fortifying us to withstand whatever assaults may come. Peter knew this promise in his own life, for after the ordeal of his infamous threefold denial Christ had restored him, so that he reemerged as that first apostle, that rock of foundation, fixed and solid. No wonder Peter is moved to a doxology: to Him be dominion forever and ever! The promise that Peter had lived applies to us, his fellow exiles, as we make our way through this world. The God of all grace permits our suffering but overrules it to purify us. The God of all grace allows the devil to rage, but his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure! The God of all grace is the Divine Warrior, not only gracious but also omnipotent. The power to accomplish His will is forever His. He will ultimately triumph over evil. What a promise this is from our God! How can we not trust in our invincible God and join Peter in his doxology?

Second and last, Peter exhorts us to stand firm in God’s grace (5:12-14). Here is Peter’s letter in one phrase. Through Silvanus (aka Silas), Peter’s courier, this letter would be circulated among the churches of the Roman provinces in Asia Minor as an exhortation and declaration to them of God’s true grace. As an apostle of Christ, he has laid out the doctrinal and moral truths we need as exiles. He has told us what God has graciously done for us in Christ. Based on Christ’s work, we’re commanded to live holy lives in keeping with that grace. And so, Peter exhorts us one final time to stand firm in grace, to resist all temptations to apostasy. Remember: despite suffering and trial, we’ve been born again to a living hope. We must live therefore in the holiness of that hope. Jesus, having Himself conquered all evil through His suffering, has called us to follow in His steps through suffering into glory. All who do so will be vindicated with Him. Stand firm, then; stand fast in the knowledge of His grace. As we do, we take courage from her who is in Babylon, that is, from our fellow exiles in the church-at-large throughout the known world (in Peter’s time, the Greco-Roman world). Peter may even be referring to the church in ancient Rome, the center of the then world empire and regime as ancient Babylon once was. But here’s Peter’s point: we’re not alone as we stand at the margins. While standing there, we do so firmly, taking courage from others, like John Mark, Peter’s son in the faith (5:13). Peter had known Mark from the earliest days of Jesus and His Church. This same Mark had traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their 1st missionary journey (Acts 13-14). Though Mark had turned back when they got to Asia Minor (Acts 14:24-28) and Paul had rejected him as a co-worker for the next journey, his relationship with Paul had later been restored for ministry together. Having learned of this reunion, Peter had seen the grace of restoration at work. We should see it too and be sure to take encouragement from it. Lastly, while standing firm, we should take courage from each other (5:14a). As we exchange the legendary “holy kiss”—here called the kiss of love, Peter’s point is not a kiss itself, but any outward expression of communion with and affection among us saints as we share in the love and peace of Christ. Fittingly, in that communion of love, we find peace in our God (5:14b). As Peter’s readers, marginalized or worse, we know ourselves to be under some stress, even in distress. How timely it is, then, to hear a benediction of peace from the Apostle who would have us persevere to the end.

So, what’s an exile to do when pushed to the margins of public life, relegated to social-cultural, if not geographical exile? Trust in our invincible God, and stand firm in His grace. The hatred of the world, the fleshly desires at war with our souls, the roar of that diabolical lion—all threaten to undo us. Did we in our own strength confide, we know our striving would be losing. But we’re assured of even more: the right man [is] on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Christ, it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle. So, again, what’re we exiles to do? We’re to listen to His benediction: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27). We’re to read again—and again as needed—the words of His Apostle: Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:8b-9).

Christ the Holy Son: Better Than Moses and the Levites (Heb 3–10)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Having put before us the contrasts between Jesus the Son and the prophets in Heb 1:1-3 and the angels in Heb 1:4-14 and 2:5-18, the writer of Hebrews continues to increase our esteem for Christ by turning in chs. 3–10 to the contrast between the Son and Moses and the Levitical priests. Beginning in 3:1-6, we’re told that Jesus is the faithful Son over God’s house and the builder thereof; Moses is a faithful servant in God’s house. To understand better the different roles of Jesus and Moses relative to God’s house, it helps us to consider the house’s two forms. One of those forms appeared in Exod 20–23, where God required “the house of Jacob” (Exod 19:3) to be holy as He is holy (Exod 19:6; Lev 19:2) so as to become His holy nation of priests (Exod 19:4-6). A second form of God’s house came into view in Exod 25–31 and 35–40, where the earthly tabernacle was built after the pattern of God’s holy residence in heaven (Exod 25:40; Heb 8:5) according to His word and by His Spirit. In fact, the tabernacle stood as a shadow and type of what the house of Israel was required to be, namely the living and holy house built when God’s Spirit effectually applied His word to His people. Noticeably, what these two forms of God’s house have in common is the holiness required of them, and to understand how they were sanctified is to gain an even more reverent esteem for Christ. So let’s look further at how God’s house was sanctified.

As summarized in 9:11-28, the sanctification of God’s house in its two forms was accomplished through the priesthoods of Moses and the Levites and of Christ. Under God’s servants Moses and the Levites, God’s house was sanctified when Moses inaugurated the first covenant, cleansing the earthly tabernacle and the worshipers with the blood of calves and goats for his own sins and for those of the worshipers. Once inaugurated by Moses, the Levitical priests kept the tabernacle and the worshipers cleansed by continually offering sacrifices for their own sins and for those of the people. Similarly, under God’s Son Jesus, God’s house was sanctified when He inaugurated the second covenant, cleansing the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers with His own blood, not for His own sins but solely for those of the worshipers. The sacrifice by which Christ established the holiness of the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers is the same sacrifice by which He maintains that holiness. He offered His sacrifice for sins once for all time (10:10, 12), forever perfecting those worshipers He sanctified (10:14) and now always ministering for them in heaven (7:25; 12:22, 24). As Hebrews presents them, then, both priesthoods followed the same liturgy necessary to sanctify God’s house in both its forms. Even so, the two priesthoods were markedly different when it came to fulfilling God’s command to emulate His holiness.

Disabled by sin and death (5:1-3; 7:23, 28; 9:7; 10:11), the Levites were not and could not be holy as God is holy. Nor could they make anyone else holy and perfect (7:18-19): their ceaseless sacrifices could neither take away sins nor cleanse the inner man (9:9-10, 13; 10:1-4). Granted these realities, however, the Levites and the worshipers they represented could and should have learned of the good things to come (3:5; 10:1). Though many continued to boast in the Levites, the remnant who shared Abraham’s faith knew of those good things. Through God’s promises, prophecies, ordinances, shadows, and types, they, like Isaiah, looked heavenward to the priest better than any son of Levi and found in Him the blessings of His sanctifying (cleansing) work (Isa 6:7). They, like Moses and David, also looked forward to the priest from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:8-12) and the order of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20; Ps 110:4). According to Hebrews, Jesus, the eternal Son incarnate, became that priest. Having through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14) demonstrated in His life and in His death the holiness that God required, Jesus proved to be holy even as God is holy (4:15; 5:7; 7:26; 9:14; cf. 2 Cor 5:21). Sinless and immortal, He is powerful to sanctify the people He represents, cleansing their hearts and transforming them into a living tabernacle-house (e.g., Deut 6:6; Ps 37:31; 40:8; 119:11; Isa 51:7), a holy nation of priests on whose hearts God’s law is written (e.g., Mal 3:1-4). He is, in a phrase, both sanctified and the sanctifier of all who believe (Heb 2:11; 13:12), as Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah did.

The message of Hebrews is clear: though pressures from our opponents may tempt us to deemphasize or conceal, or even reject and deny, the distinctives of our historic Christian faith, let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess (10:23), since in Jesus the Son, the Holy One, we have so great a priest over the house of God (10:21).

Christ the Victorious Son: Better than the Angels (Heb 2:1-18)

Posted by R. Fowler White

As we’ve emphasized in part 1 and part 2 of our series, the author of Hebrews teaches that our perseverance is traceable, in part, to a deepening appreciation for the eminence of Christ our high priest. In this post, we come to 2:1-18, where the author finishes what he started in 1:4-14. Having told us that Christ the God-man is exalted over the angels, he warns us: since we know that punishment was inescapable for neglecting God’s previous message through the angels at Mt Sinai (2:2), we dare not turn a deaf ear to God’s final message through the Superior who is over those angels (2:3 with 1:4)! To impress us further with the gravity of this warning, the author amplifies the contrast between the Son and the angels even more.

In 1:4-14 the writer’s accent fell on the Son’s historical glorification and His eternal deity, but in 2:5-18 his accent shifts to the Son’s historical humanity and humiliation. In 1:4-14, the theme is the Son’s supremacy to angels by rank and being, pivoting off of Ps 110:1 in 1:3 and 1:13. In 2:5-18 the theme of supremacy reappears, but now the emphasis is on His supremacy to angels by conquest as promised in Ps 110. Quoting Ps 8:4-6 to focus our thinking, it is clear in 2:8b-18 that the glory of the conquest promised in Ps 110:1 will belong not to the angels, but to man. More than that, the man qualified to conquer will not be just any man: according to Ps 8:2, God’s design is for the weak to conquer the strong. To see the force of this argument, we need to backtrack to Gen 3, where man was overcome by God’s enemy—a former cherub angel, at that—and was given with his seed over to sin, death, and defeat. In Gen 3:15, when God announced His future victory over the serpent and his seed, He reasserted His original design to have the weak conquer the strong. Specifically, God appointed death—the death of the woman’s one upright Seed—as the way to new life. Though ostensibly weak in death, that Seed would conquer the strong. Until the arrival of that upright Seed, however, God effectively took away from man the task of keeping the garden secure and pure and transferred it to the cherubim angels (Gen 3:24). As a result, man was, for a little while, subjected to the angels (Heb 2:7a; cf. 2:9).

With the appearance of the Son “in these last days” (1:2), however, the author of Hebrews can announce the arrival of the Seed promised in Gen 3:15 and Ps 8! It is none other than the eternal Son, the Creator God, who condescended to become the man qualified for conquest. In His state of incarnation (2:14), the Son overcame the temptations to sin (2:18). While contending with the indignities of this world, the temptations of the devil, and the infirmities in His flesh, He put His trust in God (2:13a), even unto death, and was thereby perfected (i.e., fully qualified) to become as the champion of salvation for the children whom the Father had given Him (2:13b). For the sake of those children, He defeated the devil, inflicting mortal suffering on him as He Himself endured mortal suffering (2:9, 14). For the sake of those children, He faced down the terrors of death, giving them the hope of resurrection (12:2; 6:18-19; 11:35). Though feeling the weight of God’s wrath, He laid down His life as a propitiation for the sins of His people (2:17). All this He did, bearing the reproach of man’s exile from Eden in being made lower than the angels for a time, so that by grace (2:9) and mercy (2:17) He might qualify man again for the glory (2:10) of life with God.

At the beginning of the ages, God drove man from the earthly sanctuary (Gen 3:23), and the cherubim angels resisted his return (Gen 3:24). Now, at the end of the ages (Heb 1:1), God has restored man, through the incarnate Son, to the heavenly sanctuary, and the angelic hosts assist Him to maintain its security and purity for all who will inherit salvation. Knowing that Jesus is the victorious Son greater than the angels, we dare not turn a deaf ear to God’s final message through Him. No, we hold Him, with ever-increasing faith, in the highest esteem! In our next and last post in this series, we’ll focus on Christ the Holy Son in Heb 3–10.

Christ the God-Man: Better Than the Angels (Heb 1:4-14)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Our esteem for Christ becomes more and more reverent as we receive and rest upon Him alone as He is presented to us in Scripture. In Heb 1:1–2:18, He is presented not only as the Son better than the prophets of old, but also as the Son better than the angels. The angels come before us in Hebrews in two capacities: 1) as heavenly messengers who delivered the old covenant revelation at Mt Sinai (2:2); and 2) as guardians of post-fall access to God’s presence, initially in Eden’s sanctuary (2:7 with Gen 3:24) and later in the most holy place of the old covenant sanctuary (9:5 with Exod 25:18-22). We’ll look in this post at the teaching of Heb 1:4-14.

In 1:4, the writer of Hebrews contrasts the Son and the angels, capturing in that contrast the reason for the Son’s rest at the Father’s right hand. In 1:5-14 the writers accents the fact that the Son is in a new state of exaltation. The point is not that the Son, born as man, has now become God. Rather, the Son, who has always been the exalted God, has now been exalted as man. In fact, the seven OT texts in 1:5-14 with which the writer expands on his statements in 1:4 contain some of the most sublime declarations of the Son’s eternality and deity in all of Scripture. In this context, however, the Son’s supremacy to the angels rests not so much on His eternality and deity, but especially on the new state He has entered and on the new honor He has received. Keeping these things in mind, notice how the author’s citations describe the Son’s exaltation.

First, in 1:5-6 the Son who has taken His seat on high is the One whom the Father had begotten, that is, in this context, begotten as the Firstborn from the dead (cf. Col 1:18; Rev 1:5). Though other texts teach us the Son’s eternal generation and identity as the Firstborn of all creation (e.g., Heb 1:2; see also Col 1:15-17), the preceding and following contexts of 1:5-6 imply that it is most probably His re-emergence into the world at His resurrection from the dead that is in view in 1:5-6. As such, it is in the new, post-resurrection phase of the Son’s messianic role in history that He and the Father are said now to enjoy their unique relationship. Second, in 1:9 the Son who has received the Spirit-oil of gladness from His God and Father is the One who had rendered to Him the perfect obedience that satisfied His law (cf. Acts 2:33-36; Eph 4:7-11). To be sure, we read of the Son’s eternality, deity, and royalty in 1:8. The focus in 1:9, however, is the Son’s new status: He is the servant who in life and in death subjected Himself to God’s law and is now rewarded for His obedience. Finally, in 1:13 we hear echoes and amplifications of 1:3. The Son who gave Himself as the final sacrifice for sins (1:3b) is not only seated in heaven: He now awaits the reward of final victory for His obedience. He who is the immutable Lord and builder of the cosmic house in 1:10-12 is also in 1:13 the One who, after humbling Himself, has already been exalted at His first coming and will again be exalted at His second coming (9:28). Thus, the Son is before us once more, both in His immutability as the eternal God and in His mutability as the once humiliated, now glorified man—who will be glorified yet again!

All told, then, the exaltation of the Son our high priest is undeniably connected with His eternality and immutability, but that exaltation is not completely or exclusively explained by those attributes. According to Heb 1:4-14, the esteem we are to have for the Son, particularly in contrast to the angels, will come as we appreciate His role in the history of creation and His role in the history of redemption. In other words, we understand Christ’s priesthood better when we receive and rest upon Him as the Son who is greater than the angels. He is now and forever, in His one Person, God ever-glorious and man at-long-last-glorified. Our next post in this series will focus on Christ the Victorious Son in Heb 2:1-18.

Christ the Eternal Son: Better Than the Prophets (Heb 1:1-3)

Posted by R. Fowler White

The author of Hebrews teaches that our perseverance is traceable, in part, to the depth of our appreciation for the surpassing greatness of Christ our high priest. In other words, receiving and resting upon Christ alone, as He is presented in Scripture, is a means by which the grace of perseverance comes to us His people. Captivated by Christ, we grow in our knowledge of His glory as our high priest and, in turn, our hearts are enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience. In Heb 1:1-3, we’re introduced to our great priest as one who is first and most basically the eternal Son. Though, overall, the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the Son’s priestly office, our esteem for the Son comes first by seeing Him in His relationships with God and others who are part of the history of revelation, creation, and redemption. Each of the descriptions in 1:1-3 carries implications that we’ll consider all too briefly.

The Son in whom God now speaks appears “in these last days,” that is, at the culminating point in the history of special revelation. Placed as He is in this position, we see the Son in relation to those who preceded Him historically, namely, “the prophets”—presumably Moses and the prophets who came after him. Through them God spoke during a long and varied history of special revelation. Yet the Son, we’re told, supersedes them all. The Son is that Prophet whose appearance had been anticipated since Deut 18:15: He is the one who would lead God’s people to spiritual liberty and would mediate a better covenant (Deut 30:6-10; Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:10; 10:16). In other words, the Son is superior to the prophets because He has spoken the final revelation and has accomplished the final redemption!

Moving beyond the Son’s present place in the history of revelation, the author of Hebrews draws our attention to the eternal decree of God (see also 10:7; 13:20; Eph 1:9-10; 3:11; Acts 2:23). According to that eternal purpose, the Son, anointed by the Spirit, was to obey His Father’s will and thereby become the firstborn Heir of all things (cf. Heb 2:10). In other words, here we behold the Son not only as He has come to be in history, but also as He was in the pre-creation situation in relation to God and all created things. As the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, we see that the Son has been a distinct person from the Father but of the same essence as the Father. As the One through whom the Father made the worlds of time and space, we see that the Son was the builder of the visible temple of heaven and earth (1:10 with 3:4): He was before all things, and all things are from Him (cf. 2:10). As He governs all things by His powerful word to their proper goal, we see that all things are to Him. So before we properly consider the Son as priest, we consider Him as someone not only greater than the prophets in the history of revelation, but also as a “before creation and above history” Person equal to God in essence and distinct from the Father, the Alpha and Omega of creation and history.

With the extraordinary portrait of the Son in relation to all things as prelude in 1:1-3a, the writer sets our high priest before us in 1:3b, referring both to His sacrifice and to His post-sacrifice session. The two clauses in 1:3b carry deep and broad theological implications. Suffice it to say that in 1:3b we are already being told that this priest is greater than Levi (Aaron). Particularly by using the wording of Ps 110:1, we read the joyful news that the Son is a priest at rest. No longer standing but rather seated (Heb 10:11-14), the posture of our high priest signals that Zion’s priest has succeeded where Sinai’s priests could only fail. The ramifications of the Son’s work and rest are staggering. He has done the work of offering the sacrifice that cleanses sinners. So, sacrifice is finished; forgiveness is granted! Now the sons of Levi are purified! Now the worshipers that the Levites represented are reconstituted as a holy nation of priests (cf. Mal 3:1-4)! Now the cleansing of the cosmic temple is begun, for earth was the site of His sacrifice, and heaven is now the site of His session!

How is it, then, that we develop a more reverent esteem for Christ? We do so as we receive and rest upon Him alone as the eternal Son who is greater than the prophets of old. In our next post in this series, we’ll look at Christ the God-man in Heb 1:4-14.

A Difference in Love

John Flavel points out the difference in degree between Christ’s love for us, and our love for him:

Did the love of Christ break through so many impediments to come to thee? Did it make its way through the law, through the wrath of God, through the grave, through thine own unbelief and great unworthiness, to come to thee? O what a love was the love of Christ to thy soul; And is not thy love strong enough to break through the vanities and trifles of this world, which intangle it, to go to Christ? How poor, how low and weak is thy love to Christ then? (Works of Flavel, I, p. 27).

In need of some encouragement?

John Owen has some encouraging words:

But there is no more sacred truth than this, that where Christ is present with believers,-where he is not withdrawn for a season from them, where they live in the view of his glory by faith as it is proposed unto them in the Gospel,-he will give unto them, at his own seasons, such intimations of his love, such supplies of his Spirit, such holy joys and rejoicings, such repose of soul in assurance, as shall refresh their souls, fill them with joy, satisfy them with spiritual delight, and quicken them unto all acts of holy communion with himself (Works of John Owen, volume 1, p. 399).

A Great Book for the Burned-Out Pastor

The author of this book is a pastor in the same Presbytery where I labor. He is the chairman of the shepherding committee in the Presbytery, and this book certainly helps explain why. Clay is a warm, pastoral man with a heart for hurting people. I heartily recommend this book to any pastors who are discouraged and beaten down with the routine or with crises in the ministry. This book is also a good antidote to the almost universal naivete afflicting good-hearted young men as they come out of seminary ready to fix all the world’s problems (if only the stupid world would listen to them!). Heck, I would even recommend it to pastors who are doing just fine, so that they stay that way!

Clay is certainly honest about his own journey, which makes the book all that much more interesting and compelling. The first five chapters are diagnosis, and the last five are solution. The diagnosis section is painful but healing to read. Chapter 3 comes to mind. Here are a few things that zapped me: “It’s as if God has been saying, ‘Clay, let my people go!'” (p. 51). “Yet we often want to press fast-forward on our ministry remote and make people mature faster and our churches grow quicker because we so desperately want these things now” (44). “Constant conflict made me seek comfort anywhere I could find it, especially in a quiet office with a closed door in the safety of reading books” (60). “Resurrection power may heal the hurt, or it may simply give us the strength to endure. Either way, resurrection power meets us in our weakness” (85). “[T]he love inside of our hearts can be padlocked, whereas our anger often has a hair trigger” (89). The book is well-designed to make a pastor feel really, really guilty, and then really, really forgiven in Christ.

I don’t have any quibbles with what he says. There are a few things that I would like to see in, say, a second edition of the book, or a “revised and expanded” edition (or a second book!). Of course, one can’t say everything in one book, and this is Clay’s first book. One question that nagged at me throughout the book was this: how do we pastors get this grace, when we are the ones “dishing it out”? I don’t mean that we are the source of grace, of course. But how do we get the benefit, for instance, of the Lord’s Supper and of the sermon, when we are the ones presenting those things to the congregation? This goes along with a parallel concern: I would like to have seen more emphasis on the means of grace, and how those factor in to relieve the burdened pastor. A second thing I would like to see addressed is the day off. How do we see our roles on Sunday? As work, or as our part in the worship services? And then, what do we do for a day off during the rest of the week? A third thing is coordinated with the last chapter. He has an admirable and biblical emphasis on pursuing unity (unity achieved is a great stress reliever!). What I would like to see is how that relates to the pursuit of truth and purity of the gospel. How do we avoid burnout, for instance, when we are fighting wolves in sheep’s clothing? What about the temptation to avoid conflict about gospel issues for the sake of our own comfort and avoiding burnout? What is the difference between pursuing our own comfort versus avoiding burnout? I would love to see these questions answered, if not by Clay, then by someone building on what Clay has done here.

This is a great little book. It doesn’t take long to read (and it is, by and large, well-written). It lays a great foundation for thinking about the ministry in a grace-driven way. It deserves a very wide readership by pastors of all stripes. Tolle lege.

Dr. Ligon Duncan’s Seminar on the Marrow Controversy

In today’s theological climate, antinomianism and the Sonship theology are rife within Reformed circles. The Marrow Controversy therefore has much to teach us about the relationship of grace and law.

Dr. Duncan started by sketching a short history of the Marrow Controversy, emphasizing Boston’s role in recommending the Marrow of Modern Divinity. The book, of course, caused waves in the Scottish Presbyterian church. There had been a professor at Glasgow who had showed affinity for Socinianism and Arminianism. This man was tried by the church and basically given a slap on the wrist. So those heterodox doctrines would find a refuge in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, but the evangelical Calvinism was not found congenial. The Auchterarter Presbytery had a question that they asked candidates about the relationship of coming to Christ and forsaking sin. Understood properly, the question was designed to make clear that a person does not forsake sin in order to come to Christ, but rather comes to Christ in order for sin’s hold on the person to be broken. The General Assembly rebuked the Auchterarter Presbytery for asking the question this way. What would later be called “moderatism” had its beginnings in the General Assembly. Enlightenment thinking took over, to the point where, as one writer puts it, a typical “moderatism” sermon was like a winter day: cold, clear, and brief. The Marrow, on the other hand, was condemned by the General Assembly. The defenders of the Marrow, such as Thomas Boston, and the Erskine brothers appealed the decision, which was rejected. This almost guaranteed that everyone in Scotland would purchase a copy of the book! There’s Scottish contrariness for you.

There are three interpretations of the Marrow controversy. Some argue that it was an internecine dispute of two sides that both held to the Westminster Standards. Those who condemned the Marrow quoted the Westminster standards against the Marrow men, which creates a certain plausibility for this view. This view is wrong in Duncan’s mind, though.

The second view says that the Marrow men represented a revolt against classical Calvinism (this is held by J.B. Torrance). In other words, the Marrow men were trying to liberate the Scottish church from the Westminster Standards. The Marrow men, however, vowed ex animo in strict subscription to the Westminster Standards.

The third view is that the Marrow men were the Westminster theology men. This is the proper view.

Dr. Duncan then shared many of the most important quotations from both Boston and Fisher.

Illness and Assurance

I am currently sitting at my parents’ dining room table, hacking away at a cough that has plagued me for about four weeks. I have had the flu now for a couple of days as well. In addition to this, just about everyone in my family is or has been sick, with my wife being the latest casualty, though most of the children seem now to be getting better. If my thoughts seem a bit delerious to you all today, you will know why. No one is in any danger, though prayers would of course be appreciated. The nature of such prayers should be determined by the following paragraphs.

I got to thinking about illness today, and was cogitating particularly on one of John Piper’s famous dictums: “Don’t waste your cancer.” It is, of course, quite difficult to think of illness as an asset in one’s Christian walk (James, did you HAVE to write that in chapter 1 about considering trials pure, unadulterated joy? There you have it: one of the passages that most strongly confronts my sinful idolatry of comfort). In my misery, I was concentrating on trying to be a good patient, and not being demanding of other people. Today I realized that this was far too low a goal (though it was not a bad one). How can I glorify God through having the flu? Now that is a better question. And it is surely the most important question.

However, there is a fringe benefit that comes along with focusing on God’s glory in the midst of trials: assurance. Surely the unbeliever would never consider seeking God’s glory through illness. If that is so, then it is a great comfort to me when God is working through me in such a way that I seek His glory. It means I am one of His children. Just a thought to brighten your day, especially if you have a sickness right now.

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