Good Works in Assurance and Perseverance

Posted by Bob Mattes

In comments late in this discussion, Federal Visionists are seen to confuse the doctrines of assurance and perseverance. Specifically, in discussing the doctrine of the perseverance (or preferably, preservation) of the saints, they introduced 2 Peter 1:10 as evidence that human works play a part in our preservation.

At issue is the difference between these two constructs eloquently delineated by Anne Ivy:

IOW, it’s not “those who persevere to the end will be saved”, but rather “those who are saved will persevere to the end.”

Big, big difference.

How right she is. The first phrase “those who persevere to the end will be saved” implies that we somehow contribute to our perseverance. Yet a Federal Visionist replied:

You are claiming that your calling and election are already sure, so there is a real conflict of doctrine here between you and Dort, not to mention the Lord. This is one of the things the FV is drawing your attention to – that you have to make your calling and election sure, not presume that that is the case already.

2Pet. 1:10: Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble

I assume that there’s some level of “covenantal faithfulness”, a continuing Federal Vision theme, embedded in that comment. Let’s put this verse in context. 2 Peter 2:8-11 says:

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (ESV)

What are these verses about? Two things primarily: sanctification and assurance. Verses 8 and 9 clearly sum up the reasons for our display of the fruit of the Spirit listed in the preceding verses–that they are evidence of our sanctification. So Calvin says in his comments on verse 9:

This he also confirms by adding this reason, because such have forgotten that through the benefit of Christ they had been cleansed from sin, and yet this is the beginning of our Christianity. It then follows, that those who do not strive for a pure and holy life, do not understand even the first rudiments of faith.

But Peter takes this for granted, that they who were still rolling in the filth of the flesh had forgotten their own purgation. For the blood of Christ has not become a washing bath to us, that it may be fouled by our filth. He, therefore, calls them old sins, by which he means, that our life ought to be otherwise formed, because we have been cleansed from our sins; not that any one can be pure from every sin while he lives in this world, or that the cleansing we obtain through Christ consists of pardon only, but that we ought to differ from the unbelieving, as God has separated us for himself. Though, then, we daily sin, and God daily forgives us, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins, yet sin ought not to rule in us, but the sanctification of the Spirit ought to prevail in us; for so Paul teaches us in1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you; but ye are washed,” etc. [my bold]

Thus Calvin confirms that the fruit of the Spirit are simply the evidence of our faith and ongoing sanctification in cooperation with the Spirit. It is in that light in which verse 10 appears. The Westminster Annotations comment on verse 10 says:

brethren] By regeneration and adoption, and union with Christ by faith, we are made the children of God, and brethren spiritually, Phil 4:1….Here it is used in the fourth sense for fellow Christians.

Thus the Divines and other Reformers saw 2 Peter as being written to those elected from before the foundation of the world, members of the invisible church, as Peter clearly says at the beginning of the letter:

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

That is an important distinction to keep in mind relative for this letter as we move on to the annotators further comments on 2 Peter 1:10:

to make your calling and election sure] To get good grounds to assure you that ye were elected before the world, and are called out of the world. For it is sure enough in itself, by God’s decree and immutability, 2 Tim 2.19. Mal. 3.6. John 6.40. and 13.1. Rom. 11.29.
for if you do these things] Continuance then is well doing, is the way to get and keep assurance of salvation.
ye shall never fall] Jude verse 4. Our life is likened to a race, 1 Cor.9.24. we must take heed lest we fall, and come short of the prize set before us. The children of God may fall into some sins by weakness; but never so as to lose the goal. verse 11. [my bold]

Clearly the Reformers saw these verses as models both for sanctification and assurance. None of the Federal Vision’s “morbid introspection” is necessary for assurance. Also embedded in the annotators last sentence is the glorious truth that assurance unto perseverance is solely by the grace of God. Our good works performed in cooperation with the Holy Spirit are evidence, not the cause, of our assurance of election and unto perseverance.

Driving yet another nail into the Federal Vision coffin, Calvin says about verse 10:

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence. He draws this conclusion, that it is one proof that we have been really elected, and not in vain called by the Lord, if a good conscience and integrity of life correspond with our profession of faith. And he infers, that there ought to be more labor and diligence, because he had said before, that faith ought not to be barren.

Some copies have, “by good works;” but these words make no change in the sense, for they are to be understood though not expressed.

He mentions calling first, though the last in order. The reason is, because election is of greater weight or importance; and it is a right arrangement of a sentence to subjoin what preponderates. The meaning then is, labor that you may have it really proved that you have not been called nor elected in vain. At the same time he speaks here of calling as the effect and evidence of election. If any one prefers to regard the two words as meaning the same thing, I do not object; for the Scripture sometimes merges the difference which exists between two terms. I have, however, stated what seems to me more probable. [my bold]

And what about Federal Vision’s “covenantal faithfulness”?

Now a question arises, Whether the stability of our calling and election depends on good works, for if it be so, it follows that it depends on us. But the whole Scripture teaches us, first, that God’s election is founded on his eternal purpose; and secondly, that calling begins and is completed through his gratuitous goodness. The Sophists, in order to transfer what is peculiar to God’s grace to ourselves, usually pervert this evidence. But their evasions may be easily refuted. For if any one thinks that calling is rendered sure by men, there is nothing absurd in that; we may however, go still farther, that every one confirms his calling by leading a holy and pious life. But it is very foolish to infer from this what the Sophists contend for; for this is a proof not taken from the cause, but on the contrary from the sign or the effect. Moreover, this does not prevent election from being gratuitous, nor does it shew that it is in our own hand or power to confirm election. For the matter stands thus, — God effectually calls whom he has preordained to life in his secret counsel before the foundation of the world; and he also carries on the perpetual course of calling through grace alone. But as he has chosen us, and calls us for this end, that we may be pure and spotless in his presence; purity of life is not improperly called the evidence and proof of election, by which the faithful may not only testify to others that they are the children of God, but also confirm themselves in this confidence, in such a manner, however, that they fix their solid foundation on something else.

Calvin could hardly be clearer that the perseverance of the saints relies on God’s grace alone. Again, our good works merely serve as evidence of our lively faith and hence provide us with confidence in and assurance of our election unto eternal life.

What about 2 Peter 1:11? According to the Westminster Annotations:

an entrance] A large passage into the Kingdom of glory in the life to come.
abundantly] John 10.10. If ye be full of good works, ye shall have abundant reward, 1 Cor. 9.9. and 15.58. 2 John verse 8.

Consistent with the rest of Scripture, we see here that our good works decide our reward, not our “final justification”, the latter being another Federal Vision theme.

Note, also, that the reprobate in the visible church are no where in view in this passage. The reprobate in the visible church have no assurance of salvation whatsoever, at any time or in any way. We’ve argued elsewhere on this site that baptism can only contribute to the assurance for the elect, the reprobate have no assurance from their baptism. Quite the contrary, it will be an instrument in their condemnation for trampling on the blood of Christ (Hebrews 6:4; 10:29).

I think that to offer the reprobate pew sitters any assurance, as Federal Visionists do with their mythical “objective covenant”, represents a massive pastoral failure on their part. As Scripture and the Westminster Standards clearly state, assurance of election can only ever belong to those elected to eternal life from before the foundation of the world. All others should be on their knees trembling, not feeling comfortable in pews and at pot lucks.

So, 2 Peter 1:10 clearly supports the orthodox Reformed statement that “those who are saved will persevere to the end” and not the other way around; not “in some sense” but absolutely. Our good works provide us with assurance of our election, but are excluded as a player in either our justification on the one end or our perseverance on the other. And that because our perseverance depends solely on God’s infinite grace and faithfulness, not by our “covenantal faithfulness” or anything else that we do or do not do. Anything else is not Good News.

Posted by Bob Mattes

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“Wer Singt Mit Mir”

Posted by Dr. Jeff Hutchinson

Church historian Mark Noll writes in his recent article for Christianity Today, “Praise the Lord” (found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/006/9.14.html):

An old German proverb runs: “Wer spricht mit mir ist mein Mitmensch; wer singt mit mir ist mein Bruder” (the one who speaks with me is my fellow human; the one who sings with me is my brother)….Believers who together sang the same hymns in the same way came to experience very strong ties with each other and even stronger rooting in Christianity….(But) as much as hymn singing has always been one of the most effective builders of Christian community, it has also always been one of the strongest dividers of Christian communities.

The one who sings with me is my brother.  Now, this is just a German proverb (not to be confused with the divinely inspired sort), but it does speak to a deep truth.  The one who is troubled by the hymns that sing of the gospel is, well, troubled.

One of Bob’s recent posts here at Green Bagginses reminded me of these unfortunate words from the Anglican scholar N. T. Wright, part of his lecture at the August 2003 Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference.  Wright says that Paul “looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work.  ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ as his royal appearing?  Is it not you?  For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f [sic]; cp. Phil. 2.15f)  I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a quick rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.’ “

Well, I’m not sure that if N. T. Wright were to “say such a thing” in conversation with me that I would bring a “quick rebuke,” but I might see if he’d let me encourage him in the gospel.  Then maybe he would want to sing “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” with me, in praise and thanksgiving to the Triune God.  My great-grandfather (the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the 1920’s) would be thrilled to see such brotherly unity across the Anglican-Presbyterian divide.

Posted by Jeff Hutchinson

Assurance

Chapter 13 was reviewed here (just for DW’s convenience, as he has not replied to that one just yet). Some other posts of mine on assurance can be found here. This post is a review of chapter 14 of “Reformed” Is Not Enough, by Douglas Wilson.

Wilson’s chapter on assurance has many fine things in it. I especially appreciate the fact that he didn’t just say, “Look to your baptism for assurance.” The following are the main characteristics of someone who is assured of their salvation: he is holding fast to Jesus Christ, he has the gift of the Holy Spirit, he loves his brothers, is humble in mind, delights in the means of grace, understands spiritual things, is obedient, and is chastened for disobedience. These are the “bullet points” of the chapter. A few other comments of his require some comment. He defines “morbid introspection” as something which “holds up the mirror of self and spews forth doubts” (p. 125). This is contrasted with true self-examination, which “holds up the mirror of the Word and asks honest questions” (ibid.). Questions have answers, whereas doubts exclude answers (pp. 125-126). I believe that this contrast is intended to help people avoid wallowing in themselves, which I think Wilson would argue (and I would agree with him) is one of the main problems of modern “evangelicalism,” especially as it is a function of the Enlightenment (or, as my brother is fond of saying, the Endarkenment) synergizing with Christianity.

A few points of criticism are necessary, however. One of them involves a somewhat ambiguous statement of Wilson’s: “Objective assurance is never found through trying to peer into the secret counsels of God, or into the murky recesses of one’s own heart” (p. 130). Now, with regard to the first part of that sentence, ambiguity exists: does “peer(ing) into the secret counsels of God” imply trying to see into the Book of Life to see if one’s name is in fact written there? Or does it mean that we should not use the doctrine of decretal election as part of our assurance? Nowhere in this chapter does Wilson argue that the doctrine of election plays any part in our assurance. Without answering the direction of ambiguity, I will say this: the doctrine of decretal election provides assurance for the doubting Christian (although it provides no assurance for the backslidden Christian). Election says that nothing can take the believer out of God’s hand. Now, election is not the only thing that provides assurance. The things that Wilson has listed contribute, as do all the means of grace (some of which Wilson listed, though not all). Assurance, in other words, is the result of many, many things working together in the believer’s life.

The second point of question that I have concerns this statement: “And so a Christian searching for biblical assurance should take these passages of Scripture, see how they are all fulfilled in the font and Table, and then rest in his salvation” (p. 130). Surely we do not want to say that all the promises that Wilson listed in Scripture passages quoted are fulfilled only in the font and Table. Of course, they are primarily fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in Whom all promises are yes and amen. Wilson does say in this context that the Word always accompanies Sacrament. That helps, but does not quite fully alleviate the limitation Wilson has put on those promises. Secondly, even in the Sacraments, the promises are fulfilled when one has the thing signified by the font and Table, not primarily when one receives the sign. They can and often do happen at the same time (especially at the Table). But they do not have to occur at the same time.

I think Wilson and I would both agree that our primary means of assurance is looking to Jesus Christ. At least, I would hope we would agree on that. The differences can be chalked up to a difference in our views of how Christ is appropriated. I don’t know if Wilson would deny that election is a source of assurance. Maybe he just forgot to mention it. A lot depends on how the ambiguity mentioned above on the “secret counsels” statement is resolved.

Assurance, Apostasy, and Areas of Alternate Assertions

The last three sections of the document have to do with assurance of salvation, the nature of apostasy, and the nature of the intramural disagreements.

The first section is not objectionable in what it affirms. There is one thing that it leaves out, however, and that is the place of election in assurance. If one is generous, one can read into “the Word” the promises of election as feeding into assurance. I have hopes that they meant to include that, in which case, if they did, I have no problem at all with this section. (I especially appreciate the fact that they do not make assurance dependent on baptism alone. I agree that baptism is a means of assurance. Many things feed into assurance.) I believe that assurance of salvation is the main reason why we are told about election in Scripture. Assurance is most certainly dependent on our walk with the Lord, as the WCF 18.1 clearly states (“endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him”). Notice how careful the statement is. Those who truly believe in Jesus, love Him in sincerity, and endeavor to walk a godly life may be certainly assured. The three conditions are necessary but not sufficient conditions. As it says in section 2, it is really the Holy Spirit that testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. That is the sufficient condition of assurance. We also agree with the FV statement when it says that those who live in open rebellion against God may have no assurance that they are saved. Assurance does not belong to those people.

The section on apostasy is much more problematic. Now, it is important to note that they use the term “Christian” of someone who is baptized, not of someone who is decretally elect. We do use the term this way when we say that a certain percentage of the world is “Christian.” Usually those figures that we use are quite a bit higher than we would allow if we were talking about just the decretally elect. Nevertheless, the statement does not make it easy here to distinguish among the various uses of the term. One gets the distinct impression that that use is the only use they want to use. But in evangelicalism, surely the more common use of the term is of someone who is born again.

The real problem (the above paragraph is only a small quibble about a term) is with what is ascribed to the apostate before he apostatizes. They say that such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life, that they fall from real grace, and that the connection to Christ is not merely external. Let’s break this down, claim by claim.

Such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life. Almost certainly they have their interpretation of John 15 in view here, especially as they use the branch metaphor in this very paragraph. So, whatever the NECM has, he has life. Chapter 14 of John is usually ignored in FV discussions of John 15. There is not only no mention of apostasy in John 14, but the life that Jesus speaks of is clearly eternal life (look at verses 3, 4, 6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19-20 (!), 27). Therefore, the non-fruit-bearing branches do not have the kind of life that Jesus speaks of in verse 14. They have an external connection only (contra the FV statement). Particularly, they have the “cut off” kind of life. They are already as good as dead. Plainly, verse 1 of John 15 is speaking of the visible church, not of the invisible church. It is only in that sense that Jesus speaks of the branches being “in me.” FV advocates really front-end load that phrase. They want to read covenantal life into that phrase. But if Christ is talking about true life, then the FV understanding is Arminian, even if they affirm decretal election. You cannot have a little bit of salvation. You cannot be a geep or a shoat. You are either a sheep or a goat. Period. There is no mutation or tertium quids. What is the difference between a fruit-bearing branch and a non-fruit-bearing branch? It is that they do not sustain the same relationship to the vine. The non-fruit-bearing branch is a sucker, a parasite. He is only externally related to the vine. The fruit-bearing branch sustains an ordo salutis relationship to Christ, and the other does not. The FV stresses that these branches are not stuck onto the vine by scotch tape. No, they are not. But the vine is not salvation, either. It is the visible church. It is not covenantal salvation, either. These branches never bear any fruit. I think I have dealt with the external thing as well.

No one can fall from saving grace. You cannot simply say that apostates fall from real grace, without defining what that grace is from which they have fallen. This is the same kind of ambiguity that has plagued FV teaching from the start. What kind of grace is it? Is it common grace, special grace, or a tertium quid? I suspect they would call it covenantal grace. That’s a big help. What does it do? Does it save or not? Wilkins says yes in his article in the Federal Vision. It just doesn’t save permanently. This is still Arminian, and it doesn’t matter in the least that he affirms decretal election also. To say that anyone has temporary saving grace and then loses it is Arminian. Leave decretal election out of the picture for a moment. Let’s just talk about those who will fall away. If you define what they fall away from as real salvific benefits, then it is an Arminian scheme, however much it may be juxtaposed with a more Calvinistic scheme. Affirming Calvinism in one spot isn’t enough. It has to be thorough-going. I suspect that there is division in the ranks of FV here, although Wilson was willing to put his name on this horribly ambiguous statement.

I will briefly note the areas of intramural disagreement. They are important, and this section is helpful in some ways. The first area is the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. The question I would like for us to debate on this is whether one can hold to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ without holding to the idea that Christ has merited eternal life for us. In other words, what is the relationship of the idea of Christ’s merit to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience? I have found no FV proponents who are comfortable with the idea that Christ merited eternal life for us. Wilson was reluctant in his admission that we could possibly use the term “merit” to describe Christ’s righteousness. He certainly viewed other terms as better qualifiers. So this raises the question as to whether any FV proponent holds to the IAOC. The regeneration question has certainly not been high on the radar screens of the critics. The renewal liturgy needs a whole lot more attention from the critics. They mentioned that the FV agrees on whether there should be a covenantal renewal liturgy, but they disagree on how high it should be. Tim Wilder has pointed out in several comments the importance of the liturgy for the FV. I believe he thinks that it is the key to understanding the movement. Here is another question for our readers, then: does the covenant renewal liturgy fall foul of the Regulative Principle? I am curious as to who in the FV robustly affirms the unique merit of Christ as the answer to our demerit? I thought all the FV guys hated Kline’s guts. Some clarification here would be helpful.

Why is the Federal Vision Heresy?- part 2

The issue I wish to address here is the issue of assurance. Rome, in the person of Cardinal Bellarmine said of the Reformation that its foremost error was the error of assurance, that the Reformers said that we can know whether we are saved. In many ways, the Reformation was about assurance. That was the “cash value” of the Reformation. Look at the formal principle of sole Scriptura. How can we know whether we are saved? The Bible tells us what is necessary for salvation. If we have that, then we can hav assurance. Look also at the material principle of the Reformation. If we are justified, and therefore have now no condemnation (Rom 8:1), then we can have rock solid assurance, because our assurance is based on Christ. The WCF says that we can have certain assurance of our faith (WCF 18.1). That whole chapter, by the way, is worth quoting: “1. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes, and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God, and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. 2. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. 3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness. 4. Tru believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.

Further statements of assurance can be found in WCF 3.8 (election is a ground of assurance), and in LC 80 (the presence of true faith and the endeavor to walk in all good conscience before God). Nowhere is baptism explicity said to be a ground of assurance.

Contrast this with what Steve Wilkins says (I just keep on picking on him, don’t I!): “It makes our standing before God and that of our children plain, and yet it prevents presumption….We belong to Christ. Baptism is the infallible sign and seal of this…And in regard to our assurance, we are pointed away from ourselves and what we think we perceive to be true of us inwardly, which no one can know, and pointed to Christ, the only ground of our assurance.” Wilkins (as I showed before) equates baptism with covenant membership with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Wilkins further denies that there is any inward possibility of assurance. Everything must be outward. But the WCF explicitly says “the inward evidence of those graces” as a ground of our assurance. The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. How would we know that except by looking inward? The word “morbid introspectionism” is bandied about quite a bit as one of the very chiefest of all dangers which we should avoid. And if we look to ourselves, we will have problems, since we are weak. However, to look inside ourselves in order to see God’s working there is explicitly commanded by the Scripture just quoted, and approved by the WCF. I think it revealing that nowhere does the WCF mention assurance in connection with baptism.

Do I think that baptism can play no part in our assurance? No, I don’t think that. However, baptism is not the most rock solid ground of our assurance. It is *one* of the grounds of assurance. and how can it be infallible, as Steve Wilkins says? How in the world can baptism give the assurance about which the WCF is talking, when people apostatize from their baptisms all the time? What assurance is there in that? The FV will probably answer that we can assurance that we are in covenant now. Fair enough. But that is not the same kind of assurance about which the WCF is talking. The assurance there is absolute assurance of eternal salvation. It’s been my pastoral experience that people don’t want to know if they are part of the visible church. That should be rather obviousif they faithfully attend. What they want to know is whether they are going to heaven, however some of us might cringe at that phrase. We’ll phrase it as the assurance that they will be part of the new heavens and the new earth. I have one simple question for the FV: how can anyone have this kind of assurance (of eternal life), if one can lose justification, sanctification, redemption, adoption, etc.? And then I will follow that up with my biggest criticism of the FV: if the FV doesn’t mean the same things by justification, sanctification, redemption, atonement, etc., if they mean by it some form of “covenantal” saving benefit, then why aren’t the FV proponents carefully delineating the difference in every term, every time it’s used? When I use the term “justification,” for instance, I mean the Reformers’ definition of it as found in Scripture. I use it as shorthand. All of Reformed theology uses it as shorthand in some context or other. They mean one thing by it. If the FV means something else, then they should jolly well define the term every time it’s different. Steve Wilkins falls woefully short here, as do many others. Steve Schlissel carefully defines his definition of justification, an shows himself to be a complete Wright-ite in the process. I give him kudos, however, for carefully defining his terms.

To this already long post, I will add one more thought, about systematic theology. I noticed that Todd quoted what he thought was the most important section of the book _Federal Vision_ as one of the later comments on the previous post about Federal Vision. That quote drove a huge wedge between systematic theology and biblical theology. I think that if Richard Gaffin, for instance, were to hold to that wedge, he would have to become a schizophrenic. And yet, I don’t see him doing so. I utterly reject the FV’s separation (bifurcation, really) between ST and BT. ST has a necessary and important place in exegesis, precisely because, ultimately, the Bible is God’s one book, however much diversity there may be among the different human authors. Ultimately, the Bible is one book given to us by God. Therefore ST belongs in exegesis irrevocably.

The Beauty of a Dying Christian

We don’t like to think about death. However, not only should we, but it is healthy that we should. It all depends on how we think about death. Do we shake our fist at God when dying? Or do we see death as the threshold to glory? Here are two utterly contrasting views of death before our eyes. An example of the first: Mark Twain, became morose and weary of life. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; …those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last–the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them–and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,…a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

An example of the second: the dying words of Edward Payson: “The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odours are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere; pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why god should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm.”

Satan’s Work

Thomas Brooks wrote a wonderful book entitled Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The whole is eminently worth our attention. One of Satan’s devices is to suggest to Christians that their graces are not true, but counterfeit. “Satan doth not labour more mightily to persuade hypocrites that their graces are true when they are counterfeit, than he doth to persuade precious souls that their graces are counterfeit, when indeed they are true” (pg. 99). Brooks goes on to define various kinds of grace, reckoning that knowledge of such graces (and reception from God of such grace) is the best remedy against Satan’s device.

“All” and 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Here is the text:

 1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ESV

Arminians will yank this passage out of its context in order to say, “See God desires that all be saved, therefore Jesus’ atonement cannot be limited.” Arminians never seem to acknowledge that Reformed folk might possibly have considered this possibility, and read the passage.

Verse 4 is part of a longer sentence that begins in verse 3. Well, verse 3, in turn begins with “This.” To what does that “this” refer? Well, it refers to the prayers made for all people in verse 1. So we see that the “all” in verse 4, must be the “all” in verse 1. To whom does the “all” in verse 1 refer? Well, it has primary reference to the kings and all who are in high places in verse 2. Paul’s concern here, then, is that God does not restrict salvation to only one social class. Rulers can be saved just as common people can be saved. It is easy, when one is in a particular social class, to look down on all other social classes. This can happen whether one is high up on the social ladder, or lower down. This interpretation is confirmed by verse 5, which goes on to note that there is only one Mediator. Someone lower down does not need someone socially higher up in order to be a Christian. He does not need a fallible human mediator, but a divine-human infallible Mediator.

The other aspect of this passage has to do with the will of God. Traditional Reformed theology has always distinguished between the written revealed will of God in the Bible, which can be disobeyed, and the decretal will of God, which cannot be thwarted. If God desired all to be saved in the decretal sense, then all would be saved. But it is quite possible that we are talking about the revealed will of God, where God does indeed call on all to repent and turn from their ways. God does not take delight in the death of the wicked, though it does serve a noble and laudable purpose in God’s will.

No Need to Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

For several years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared burglars. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he did find a burglar. “Good evening,” said the man of the house. “I am pleased to see you. Come upstairs and meet my wife. She has been waiting 10 years to meet you.” Now that is a story of worry that actually meets its fears. The reality is this: we worry according to these percentages: 40% — things that will never be; 30% — things about the past that can’t be changed ;12% — things about criticism by others; 10% — about health, which gets worse with worry; 8% — about real problems that will be faced. 8% about real problems that will be faced! Someone has said, “Worry is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster and belief in defeat…worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles. A dense fog that covers a seven-city-block area one hundred feet deep is composed of less than one glass of water divided into sixty thousand million drops. Not much is there but it can cripple an entire city. When I don’t have anything to worry about, I begin to worry about that.” And George Muller once said, “The beginning of worry is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of worry.” Someone else said this, “Worry is fear’s extravagance. It extracts interest on trouble before it comes due. It constantly drains the energy God gives us to face daily problems and to fulfill our many responsibilities. It is therefore a sinful waste. A woman who had lived long enough to have learned some important truths about life remarked, ‘I’ve had a lot of trouble — most of which never happened!’ She had worried about many things that had never occurred, and had come to see the total futility of her anxieties.” Faith and worry are opposites. Jesus tells us here in our passage that there is no need to worry. He does not simply give us a command “Don’t worry,” though He certainly does say that. But He gives us a reason why there is no need to worry. That reason is that we have a heavenly Father who looks out for us. This passage is not supposed to beat us up and say, “If you worry, then you are a heretic, and not one of God’s children.” No, this passage says, “Come to the gentle Father, who knows your needs, and have Him take on your burdens.” It is because you have a loving Heavenly Father that you have no need to worry.

Jesus starts out by saying that there are three areas in which it is typical for us to worry: food, drink, and clothing. But Jesus then immediately gives us something to think about: is food and drink really all that necessary? Remember, Jesus went forty days without food. And His response to Satan’s temptation to make bread was this: Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. So you see, even bread and water are not quite so necessary as we sometimes think they are. If God wanted to do so, He could utter the word, and we could survive for months without food or water. God’s Word is even more important than food.

But also, Jesus says that our lives and our bodies are more important than what we put into them or on them. The idea here is that if God the Father has given us our lives and our bodies, then won’t He give us also the things that life and body need? This kind of argument is very similar to how Paul argues in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” If God gave us the Son Jesus Christ, then surely all the rest of what we need will follow. God protects His investments. He doesn’t invest the blood of His Son in people, and then let them go to the dogs. So also, if God has given us life and limb, then God will take care of our life and limb.

Jesus gives us a very simple illustration. The birds of the air don’t even begin to worry about their existence. They don’t even gather like humans do, and yet God feeds them. Now, Jesus is not saying that the birds don’t work. And He is certainly not telling us not to work. Rather, He is telling us not to worry. After all, sparrows work extremely hard. As do Dutch farmers. But sparrows do not worry. Do we worry? We are of much more value than the birds, Jesus says. And yet, the Father feeds them. How much more will the Father feed us?

But you might object and say that there are many people out there who are starving, including many Christians. That might be true. What is the solution? The solution is to share our wealth with the world. Implied in Jesus’ words here is a command for us to share our wealth with those who do not have. And yet, how often we worry about money. We worry whether we will have enough money to last us through retirement. We worry about whether this drought will force us into bankruptcy. We worry about inheritance issues. But are we not far richer than the vast majority of the world? What are our worries compared with those who live on less than a dollar a day? How can worry about money, when we know that we are far richer than the vast majority of the world’s population? It really ought to shame us. If we worry about money, then what we are really saying is that other people don’t matter: their concerns are nothing to us. We are saying that the things we only think we need are actually things we need. “I just have to have that new car.” “I just have to have that new equipment.” “I just have to have this status symbol that everyone else has.” How shameful of us to be thinking that way when so many people are starving for bread! How many of us, honestly, don’t know from whence our next meal is going to come? Many of us probably have thirty or forty meals stored away in our houses right now. And if not, then we could easily make thirty or forty meals on what we might have in raw form somewhere else. There is no need to worry, because God the Father takes care of us, and better than we deserve.

Verse 27 tells us that worry is useless. We often get fooled into thinking that if we worry, then we are taking life seriously enough. So then we think that we can extend our life by worrying. In fact, studies have shown that people who worry live shorter life-spans than those who do not worry. Worry is physically damaging, producing ulcers and many other disabilities.

In the following verses, Jesus gives us another illustration of the truth, this time involving clothing. The lilies of the field had a very transient beauty. It was here today, gone tomorrow. And where it went was into peoples’ ovens to start fires. They made good fuel to start a fire up quickly. And yet, look at their beauty! Admire it! God has spent such lavish beauty on these frail flowers, and yet we think that if we don’t get that new dress or pair of boots, then we have nothing to wear!

In verse 30, Jesus does give us a rebuke: He tells us that if we doubt God’s provision, it is a sign of lack of faith. “Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Faith looks to God to provide. Faith and worry are opposites, as George Muller pointed out in the quotation I gave earlier: “The beginning of worry is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of worry.”

Jesus gives us a further reason why we should trust in God. Jesus says that the Gentiles pursue all these things. The idea is one of frantic pursuit after food, drink, and clothing. And isn’t that the case? We can see that very clearly in our day and age. Fashion is huge business, as is food and drink. Not just bare essentials, mind you, but luxury. Luxury in food, drink, and clothing, is pursued with a voracious appetite. But our Heavenly Father knows that we need the bare essentials, and so He gives us this test: seek first God kingdom and righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well. Now, this text is often misinterpreted. The text does not give us a mandate to pursue food, drink and clothing after we have pursued the kingdom. It does not say, “First, seek the kingdom, and then seek these other things.” No, the text is saying, “Only seek the kingdom.” Seek the kingdom, if need be, to the exclusion of seeking these other things. God provides the rest. Now, that is an easy thing to say. But it is quite another to put it into practice, isn’t it? Instead, we give our token religious piety to the church, and then pursue frantically after all these other things, just like the pagans do! Really, it is an issue of believing God’s Word: do you actually trust that God will give you what you need? George Muller, who gave that excellent quotation I gave earlier, had an enormous faith, the likes of which have not often been seen in all Christendom. He ran an orphanage on very little money. One day there was literally nothing in the house for the orphans to eat. So he prayed with the children, and thanked God for the food that was on its way to the house, since God knew that the children needed the food. Shortly after that, a milk-man stopped at the door and offered his entire supply, since his horse had got a nail in its foot, and the milk would all go bad unless it was used. God uses poverty and want to test our faith to see if we will really trust Him. Do you trust Him?

The text says to pursue the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Is God’s kingdom really the most important thing in your life? Would you rather have God’s kingdom than food and clothing? Would you rather have righteousness than meat? Jesus puts it just like that. Jesus is not telling us anything that hasn’t been abundantly tested and confirmed in His own life. What happened when Jesus denied Satan’s temptation, preferring God’s righteousness even to food itself? God ministered to Him. That was God’s answer.

Lastly, Jesus tells us, probably with a grin on His face, not to worry about tomorrow. We are to be about the business of today. Now Jesus is not telling us that we should take no precautions for tomorrow. He is not telling us to spend everything today, because today is all there is. He is only telling us not to worry about tomorrow. Worrying about tomorrow will bring too much down on you. In 480 B.C. the outmanned army of Sparta’s King Leonidas held off the Persian troops of Xerxes by fighting them one at a time as they came through a narrow mountain pass. Commenting on this strategy, C.H. Sprugeon said, “Suppose Leonidas and his handful of men had gone out into the wide-open plain and attacked the Persians–why, they would have died at once, even though they might have fought like lions.” Spurgeon continued by saying that Christians stand in the narrow pass of today. If they choose to battle every difficulty at once, they’re sure to suffer defeat. But if they trust God and take their troubles one by one, they will find that their strength is sufficient. Don’t worry about tomorrow, since tomorrow never comes. And most of the things you worry about won’t even happen. The point is that you don’t need to worry, because you have a loving Heavenly Father. I will close with this poem:

Said the robin to the sparrow:

‘I should really like to know

Why these anxious human beings

Rush about and worry so.

Said the sparrow to the robin:

‘Friend, I think that it must be

That they have no heavenly Father,

Such as cares for you and me.

True Repentance

Genesis 42
In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church’s integrity problem is in the mis- conception “that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.” He goes on to say, “It is revival without reformation, without repentance.” How do you know if true repentance has taken place? You can find out by looking at the fruit of repentance: a changed life, a permanently changed life. Charles Hodge said this, “The sure test of the quality of any supposed change of heart will be found in its permanent effects. ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ is as applicable to the right method of judging ourselves as of judging others. Whatever, therefore, may have been our inward experience, whatever joy or sorrow we may have felt, unless we bring forth fruits meet for repentance, our experience will profit us nothing. Repentance is incomplete unless it leads to confession and restitution in cases of injury; unless it causes us to forsake not merely outward sins, which others notice, but those which lie concealed in the heart; unless it makes us choose the service of God and live not for ourselves but for Him. There is no duty which is either more obvious in itself, or more frequently asserted in the Word of God, than that of repentance.” What Joseph is doing in this chapter is finding out if the brothers have truly changed. All his actions are directed towards reconciliation. However, reconciliation cannot happen unless true repentance has taken place on the part of the brothers. In the same way, God wants reconciliation with us. But He will not do it unless He has first enabled repentance to take place in our lives.

It is therefore vital to describe what repentance is, and what it is not. Repentance is not merely a confession of sin. That is required, of course, but it is not the full definition of repentance. Repentance means a complete turn-around in a person’s life. One poor pastor said once that repentance is a complete 360 degree turn around from sin. You can see that math is sometimes important to know! I think 180 degrees would be a much more helpful way of putting it. Well, what does repentance mean for Joseph’s brothers? It means that they will not treat Benjamin the same way they treated Joseph.

We start off the chapter with Jacob finding out that there is grain in Egypt. So, he sends off his brothers, all except Benjamin. Verse 4 seems to indicate to us that Jacob didn’t really trust the brothers. The last time he sent off one of Rachel’s offspring to the brothers, Joseph got killed (at least in his own mind). So, he wasn’t taking any chances with what would surely be a fairly dangerous journey. He keeps Benjamin close by him. That probably had the unwitting effect of arousing the slumbering consciences of the brothers. They would have been reminded of Joseph by Jacob’s actions. They have that on which to ponder as they make their way slowly down to Egypt, the place where they knew that Joseph had been sold as a slave. Never in their wildest dreams did they think that Joseph would be in a position of power. It was in Joseph’s wildest dreams, but not in theirs.

Verse 6 shows us that the brothers cannot thwart the plan of God. Joseph’s dream had been that his brothers’ sheaves of grain (!) would bow down to his, signifying that they themselves would bow down to him. Now they do it quite unwittingly. Their grain being gone, they have to bow down to the seeming Egyptian, and his large store of grain. Probably Joseph didn’t have a lot of time to react. He had to make a decision quickly: how was he going to treat them? Would he forgive and forget? Or would he try for something even deeper: reconciliation through the repentance of the brothers? He knew that he could drop the facade at any time. So he decides to try to find a way to see if they have really changed or not. He accuses them of being spies. Anyone accused of being a spy starts telling their accuser all sorts of interesting things. Joseph noticed that Jacob and Benjamin were not there with the brothers. He wanted to find out if they were still alive. After wearing them down with repeated accusations, Joseph does get them to tell him that Jacob and Benjamin are in fact still alive. Their answers to his accusations are a bit hurried and disjointed, as you might expect from people accused of a crime of which they know they are innocent, though the accusation was quite sudden and unexpected. That combination of factors helps to explain why they almost stutter with protestations of innocence. Joseph has the edge here, because he recognizes them, since they wore beards, and there were 10 of them. They hadn’t changed nearly as much as he had. He was a smooth-shaven, well-dressed, powerful Egyptian, who used an interpreter, and spoke harsh Egyptian. No wonder they didn’t recognize him!

Now, Joseph’s accusations are entirely ridiculous. Who ever heard of a spy ring consisting of ten brothers, all in the same place, with donkeys obviously brought for taking back food? It is not really credible. However, as was said, this accusation had the purpose of keeping them from recognizing him, and telling him what he wanted to know. Calvin has this to say: “it was to be feared lest they, keeping their father out of sight, and wishing to cast a veil over the detestable wickedness which they had committed, should only increase it by a new crime. There lurked, also, a not unreasonable suspicion concerning his brother Benjamin, lest they should attempt something perfidious and cruel against him. It was therefore important that they should be more thoroughly sifted.” And it was important that this happen while the brothers were ignorant of his real identity. Jesus would similarly sift the Jews of His day. He spoke in parables in order to sift them, to see if they would repent or not. Candlish says this, “In this respect he fitly represents a greater than himself, one raised to a higher glory, for a wider purpose of grace. Jesus is “exalted, a prince and a Savior, to give repentance unto Israel, and the remission of sins;” -not the remission of sins only- but repentance and the remission of sins together. Joseph could have no difficulty about giving his brothers remission of sins; he has forgiven them long ago in his heart, and right gladly would he assure them of that at once. But, acting under divine guidance, he must so deal with them as to force upon them a deep and salutary exercise of soul, which in the end is to be blessed for their more complete peace, -their more thorough unity and prosperity,- in the day when the full joy of reconciliation is to be experienced.”

Joseph gives them a taste of their own medicine by putting them in prison for three days. This has at least two purposes: one is to give himself some time to think about how he will pursue this reconciliation. The other purpose is to make the brothers aware that this is exactly what they did to Joseph. In the book The Horse and His Boy, Aslan, the Christ figure, gives the main character five scratches, to help the main character know what someone else had gone through. Aslan’s comment was this, “It was necessary that you should feel what this other person felt.” Joseph does exactly this, and the result is exactly that for which he had hoped. The brothers are thinking only about Joseph. We said earlier that their consciences had already been awakened. Now, their consciences are in full force. They all agree that it was because of their treatment of Joseph that they were going through this trial.

Now, Joseph had required that one of the brothers go back and get Benjamin. Otherwise, he would not believe their story. In verse 20, Joseph tells them that their words will be verified only if they bring back Benjamin. Joseph knows that they will have to come back, since there is at least five more years of famine left. So, the brothers in prison are surely discussing which one of them will have to go back to tell Jacob that the youngest brother will have to go back if all the brothers are to survive. Reuben does not want to do it. That is the reason for his self-justifying comment here in verse 22. However, Reuben’s comment is not so compelling. Reuben actually recommended that they throw Joseph into the pit. He is here claiming credit for his god intentions, though his good intentions were not strong enough to overturn the other brothers’ bad intentions. However, it is a piece of information which Joseph had not known before. It is Reuben’s comment that makes Joseph turn away and weep. He sees that the brothers are not completely hardened. It is also Reuben’s comment that makes Joseph pass him by and instead take Simeon to be the hostage. Simeon will have to cool his heels in Joseph’s prison until the brothers come back with Benjamin. As we will see, that is quite a long time.

Well, the brothers are ready. After Joseph unexpectedly gives them leniency, and reverses the number of those who will go versus the number of those who will stay. Joseph unexpectedly gives them their money back. Probably, this had more than one motive as well. Joseph wanted to care for his brothers. He had long forgiven them in the past, as is very clear from his statement later on when he says that it was the Lord’s doing. However, Joseph also wants to up the ante here. They are going to have to come back afraid, thinking that they would be labelled thieves in addition to the charge they already have of being spies.

After the brothers tell their father about their encounter, selectively removing anything that appears bad, they empty their sacks, and discover that their money has been returned to them. Now, we have a difficulty here. Earlier the text says that one of the brothers opens his sack to find his money. And in chapter 43, verse 21, the brothers tell Joseph on their second trip that they all found out at the same time at the stopping place. How come chapter 42 seems to imply that only one of them found out at the stopping place, and that all the rest of them didn’t find out until later? Liberal scholars say that the answer lies in the theory of two sources, and that there is no way to resolve the contradiction. I disagree. I believe that the reason has more to do with how good the brothers want to look to their father. Notice that they leave out the part of the one brother finding his money returned to him. Probably what happened is that they all found out at the stopping place. But they pretended that they had not found out. They wanted to have as much credibility with their father as possible. So they wait until they can all find out together, so that when Jacob found out (as he surely would), he wouldn’t blame the brothers. This was a needless deception on the part of the brothers, but they did it anyway.

The main point of this whole chapter has to do with guilt and repentance. That is Joseph’s entire aim, as we have seen. And in this chapter, we have seen that the brothers have admitted their guilt before God. This is an essential step in the reconciliation process. However, as we said at the beginning, we need not only to confess our sin, but also to turn away from it.

So, if you have faith, have you repented? That is, have you left behind your enslavement to sin? We admit, as good Reformed people, that only God can make us do that. But the call is to people: have you repented? It is impossible to say that you believe in God, and then to say that you can still live a life of sin. To quote Candlish again, “Thou art called to deep and salutary exercises of penitential sorrow. If instead relief for thy burdened conscience is granted, and he whom thou hast pierced utters at once the words, “Be of good cheer, it is I, thy sins be forgiven thee;”- with what a flood of tears shouldest thou be graciously mourning for these very forgiven sins? And if it should be otherwise with thee,- if it should seem as if this assured forgiveness were long of coming, and the prince, the Saviour, were long of showing himself,-surely thou canst not pretend that thou hast any right to complain. Thou canst no more take it amiss than Joseph’s brothers could, that thou shouldest have bitter days and nights to spend in thinking over all thy heinous guilt.” Repentance is a sorrowing turn away from sin. It is sorrow that we have sinned against God, not merely sorrow for sin’s consequences. Rather it is sorrow for sin itself. That is the message of repentance, and of our chapter.

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