Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Wardrobe of Grace

"All spiritual good things are purchased by the blood of Christ for them; as Justification, which comprises remission of sins and acceptance of our persons by God: Rom. 3:24 "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ." Sanctification is also purchased for them; yea both initial and progressive sanctification: for of "God, he is made unto us not only wisdom and righteousness but sanctification also, 1 Cor. 1:30. These two, viz. our justification and our sanctification, are two of the most rich and shining robes in the wardrobes of free grace. How glorious and lovely do they render the soul that wears them!" --John Flavel vol 2, p.192.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tweet of the Week -10/12/13

This week's Tweet of the Week goes to Burk Parsons:

"Reformed theology humbles a man without degrading him and exalts a man without inflating him. HT: Charles Hodge" --@BurkParsons.

Indeed. Because in Reformed theology glorifies in God alone when it comes to salvation, man is left to boast only in God. One of my favorite Jonathan Edwards' sermons (God Glorified in the Work of Redemption) brings this out.

But Reformed theology also exalts man because human beings have value. They are created in God's image. What is more, Reformed theology is structured around the covenant and the 1st Adam/2nd Adam theology we find in Paul and the Bible. So man is the apex of God's creation and is given the inheritance of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

All this beautifully captured in a short tweet.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

There is Always a Free Offer of the Gospel

Q. Is the gift of salvation a perpetual offering to those who continue to reject and revile it?

1. I wholeheartedly believe in the free offer of the gospel. When the preacher proclaims the gospel, he should make clear that if anyone believes they will be saved.

2. Everybody has the gospel veiled to them (1) by virtue of their own heart and (2) by virtue of the god of this age blinding people's heart in unbelief. The gospel is always foolish to those who are perishing. It is the power of the gospel that causes people to see and believe. God breaths new life. The preacher should continually offer and plead to the listeners, if God is pleased, he will open hearts and they will receive and believe. But the offer can always be made.

3. Two passages that might be worth considering here are (1) 2 Thes. 2:11, the questions would be what is the delusion, and when does it happen? Hebrews 6:4-6. The questions are what is the nature of the impossibility? I tend to think that it relates to rejecting the New Covenant. I think it means if you fall away from Jesus and his Covenant you have no other options for repentance whereas Old Testament Israel breaking the Old Covenant was promised the New Covenant to deal with her apostasy. But I'm not going to tease this out in a short blog post. These passages do not negate the free offer of the gospel in preaching.

My point is: the offer never changes [at least until Christ returns or the person dies], especially in the preaching of the word. It is a dangerous thing for the preacher to think he can discern when the heart is beyond coming to repentant faith. It can lead to arrogant failures to proclaim and share the gospels. Who are we as human beings to dictate when God cannot work? Indeed, the whole point of the gospel is that it is the power of God and we were all dead in our heart and unable to come, but God opened our eyes to see the light of the glory of the gospel in the face of Christ and without fail we, because of God's power and will, responded and trusted Christ.

Keep making the offer, who knows what the Holy Spirit is doing in people's heart.

What about reprobation, specifically in Romans 1:28ff?

Being given over to a reprobate mind is the description of every sinner. Consider the list of sins in Romans 1:28ff. This description of sinners both Jew and Gentile continues in Romans 3:9-18. In fact the mind set on the flesh (e.g. reprobate) cannot submit to God's law, and cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8). So the reprobate mind is blinded in unbelief with a veil over their heart but God causes light to shine in their heart 2 Cor. 4:6. Also 1 Cor. 6:9-11 describes people who were living in sin/reprobation as being washed, sanctified and justified. 

The person with the reprobate mind can be tracked from Romans 1:26 all the way back to Romans 1:18 where God's wrath is against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men.

One passage to consider is the warning that hearers of God's Word do not harden their hearts Heb. 3:7-19. There are strong warnings, serious warnings--but nothing in the passage does not say that they come to a point where there is no more public outward offering of the Word in public preaching.

Don't we do people a disservice when we let people think they are accepting Christ on their own terms?

We are not calling people to "cast a vote for Jesus" or "come on their terms" we are calling people to come before the Lord and trust Him. We are calling people to believe and repent. Even the idea of 'receiving Christ' or 'accepting Christ' while totally Biblical does not mean adding Christ to your life like you might add potatoes on a buffet line to your plate because it's convenient. The Christian submits and humbles himself to the Lordship of Christ. They are saved only by trusting Christ but out of that trust comes a new allegiance and new affections.

With the rich young ruler, we need to be careful about arguments from silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence to the contrary. But lets suppose he never was given another opportunity because he never encountered another preacher of the gospel. God never promises that we will constantly always encounter lost of preacher. A person may never hear the gospel preached, they may hear only one time, or they may hear multiple times--but these doesn't negate the free offer.

Had the rich young ruler encounter another preacher there is nothing that stops the cry of preaching from being: "Trust Christ." The offer always stands. The promise always stands: if you trust Christ, you will be saved.

What is your qualification for accepting Christ?

Consider one more thing everyone: what is your qualification for hearing Christ? What qualifies you to hear Christ's message? Nothing but your need is your qualification. The only thing you come to God with is great desperation. This is the Biblical argument, this is expounded in E.J. Fischer's classic: The Marrow of Modern Divinity, with Thomas Boston's notes.

If your great need is your only qualification or precondition in coming to Christ--then what can disqualify you? Nothing! Your heart is desperately wicked and dead in sin. The call is: "trust Christ! Flee to Christ! Believe and repent to Christ." You never disqualify yourself because you never qualified yourself in the first place: you only ever have and will have your great need of the Savior.

You never reach a point where the gift of salvation is not offered to you. The promise is come and find peace. Believe and receive salvation. You cannot disqualify yourself from a free gift because you have no qualifications for the gift in the first place. God's promise stands until death or Christ's return: if you trust Christ you will be saved.

Of course I'm not calling on people to test God or harden their heart. But in the preaching of the gospel: the free offer of salvation always stands to each and every sinner.

My thoughts on Calvinism and Arminianism.

There can be a lot of caricatures, especially of Calvinism. And of course, people think Calvinism isn't Biblical or it makes God harsh and unloving, but it is unfortunate that this portrait of Calvinism continues today, especially on the internet.

I'll be a little bold and just lay out an obvious irony here: it is the true Calvinist who will vigorously defending the free offer of the gospel here. [I'm not saying Armininians wouldn't]

In my opinion, this is also why the doctrines of grace are so important--and all this on the free offer is totally consistent within Calvinism. In fact, I'll just drop a bomb, stir up the hornet's nest, and say it: the Calvinist and only the Calvinist can be the most consistent in this defense because we believe in total depravity--in their depravity every person without the Spirit and in their natural state is "UNABLE to understand" the things of God's Spirit (2 Cor. 2:14). Total depravity is the reason the free offer is for all and equal to all--going out indiscriminately.

It is the sovereignty of God who hardens and calls not on the basis of anything inside the person (Romans 9), that can lead Paul to his passionate plea for preaching in Romans 10. 'How can they believe if they've never heard? How will they hear unless they are sent? ...Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.'

The free offer is made in preaching and in the outward proclamation God sees fit to call people inwardly. No heart is outside the ability of God to regenerate and effectively call. The free offer is for everyone no matter how they reject and revile because the 'word of the cross' is always foolishness to those who are perishing.

God Bless. Soli Deo Gloria.

I tweet at @tim_bertolet and welcome followers.
This blog post was cross posted at Christians in Context.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ministers are to Seek Souls

Christ’s ministers must take all occasions of doing good to others, in regard of the work which they are about—which is saving of souls. What a precious thing is a soul! Christ takes, as it were, a pair of scales in his hands and he puts the world in one scale and the soul in the other—and the soul outweighs! (Matthew 16:26). The soul is of a noble origin. It is a flower of eternity; here, in the bud; in heaven, fully ripe. The soul is one of the richest pieces of embroidery which God ever made—the understanding bespangled with light, the will invested with liberty, the affections like musical instruments tuned with the finger of the Holy Spirit. Now if the souls of men are of so noble an extract and made capable of glory, oh how zealously industrious should Christ’s ministers be to save these souls! If Christ spent his blood for souls, well may we spend our sweat! It was Augustine’s prayer that Christ might find him at his coming—either praying or preaching. What a sad sight is it to see precious souls, as so many pearls and diamonds—cast into the dead sea of hell!

Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes

HT: Aaron Armstrong

Blog Update

New things! Visit the blog if you haven't been their recently or subscribe in an RSS. I've updated the look a bit. The sidebar is stream lined and uncluttered.

So along with my own new look of a beard (see also my updated profile picture), my blog also has a new look. It's a simple blogger template with the backdrop of J.J. Abrams' movies Enterprise in warp. Hopefully the font and style are easy to read.

I'm starting to write again Lord willing. Up until a week ago, I had only two posts for the year and had slowed down considerably at the end of August 2012 (maybe even before that). Things were happening in life that I won't go into right now. I feel like I again have some mental energy to blog a little again and hope to become more active here. At least that's the plan for now.

If you subscribe to the RSS, I'd invite you to pass along good posts. Feel free to tweet, FB and G+ them. I cautiously think I'd enjoy a little more traffic around here. (Although maybe that is selfish and comes with downsides).

Also if you have a good system of following blogs, I'd love to have a recommendation because I was using iGoogle but that is shutting down with the google reader. 

If you're a reader, I'd love to connect with you via Twitter. Send me a tweet. @tim_bertolet
Add me in a Google+ circle... or whatever.

Hoping to have some theology and Biblical studies posts in the future.
Also, I'm considering putting up some short notes from my sermon preps or previous sermons.

Looking forward to the rest of 2013 and into 2014, Lord willing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Let us Exalt God Alone

 Let us be exhorted to exalt God alone, and ascribe to him all the glory of redemption. Let us endeavour to obtain, and increase in, a sensibleness of our great dependence on God, to have our eye to him alone, to mortify a self-dependent and self-righteous disposition. Man is naturally exceeding prone to exalt himself, and depend on his own power or goodness; as though from himself he must expect happiness. He is prone to have respect to enjoyments alien from God and his Spirit, as those in which happiness is to be found.-- But this doctrine should teach us to exalt God alone; as by trust and reliance, so by praise. Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord. Hath any man hope that he is converted, and sanctified, and that his mind is endowed with true excellency and spiritual beauty? that his sins are forgiven, and he received into God's favour, and exalted to the honour and blessedness of being his child, and an heir of eternal life? let him give God all the glory; who alone makes him to differ from the worst of men in this world, or the most miserable of the damned in hell. Hath any man much comfort and strong hope of eternal life, let not his hope lift him up, but dispose him the more to abase himself, to reflect on his own exceeding unworthiness of such a favour, and to exalt God alone. Is any man eminent in holiness, and abundant in good works, let him take nothing of the glory of it to himself, but ascribe it to him whose "workmanship we are, created in Christ Jesus unto good works."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Happy Birthday Jonathan Edwards!

Today is Jonathan Edwards birthday. In celebration of Jonathan Edwards, I am going to invite you to read my two favorite Edwards' sermons.

I am not an expert on Edwards, but I have read a few of his sermons. Of course everyone is most familiar at least with the name of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". Sadly many people think that this is the summation of Edwards' preaching--hell fire and brimestone. But Edwards preached this doctrine (1) because it was in Scripture and (2) Edwards was concerned with the glory of God and exalting God.

My two favorite sermons of Edwards are his "The Excellency of Christ" which he preached from the text Rev. 5:5-6. This is not only a wonderful reflection on Christology but also leads the heart to worship. Edwards compares how Christ is both the most high being over all (by virtue of being God) but also how he is the most lowly of all (by virtue of being the Lamb).

You can read the sermon here.

A quote to wet your appetite:
In Christ do meet together self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God, which is another conjunction peculiar to the person of Christ. As he is a divine person, he is self-sufficient, standing in need of nothing. All creatures are dependent on him, but he is dependent on none, but is absolutely independent. His proceeding from the Father, in his eternal generation, argues no proper dependence on the will of the Father; for that proceeding was natural and necessary, and not arbitrary.But yet Christ entirely trusted in God: -- his enemies say that of him, "He trusted in God that he would deliver him," Matt. 27:43. And the apostle testifies, I Pet. 2:23. "That he committed himself God."

He also offers exhortation to accept Christ. He has words to the weak and distressed soul. I'd encourage you to read this sermon.

My other favorite sermon is his GOD GLORIFIED IN THE WORK OF REDEMPTION, BY THE GREATNESS OF MAN'S DEPENDENCE UPON HIM IN THE WHOLE OF IT. Quite the long title but it is often shorted just to "God Glorified in Man's Dependance."

This sermon is preached on 1 Corinthians 1:29-31. He moves from a Calvinist soteriology where God does all the work, to argue that the Christian can only ever boast wholly in the Lord. It is extremely practical--and Christian today need to be exhorted to boast only in the Lord.

You can read the sermon here.

" The redeemed have all their inherent good in God. Inherent good is twofold; it is either excellency or pleasure. These the redeemed not only derive from God, as caused by him, but have them in him. They have spiritual excellency and joy by a kind of participation of God. They are made excellent by a communication of God's excellency. God puts his own beauty, i.e. his beautiful likeness, upon their souls. They are made partakers of the divine nature, or moral image of God, 2 Pet. 1:4. They are holy by being made partakers of God's holiness. Heb. 12:10. The saints are beautiful and blessed by a communication of God's holiness and joy, as the moon and planets are bright by the sun's light. The saint hath spiritual joy and pleasure by a kind of effusion of God on the soul. In these things the redeemed have communion with God; that is, they partake with him and of him."

"Hence those doctrines and schemes of divinity that are in any respect opposite to such an absolute and universal dependence on God, derogate from his glory, and thwart the design of our redemption. And such are those schemes that put the creature in God's stead, in any of the mentioned respects, that exalt man into the place of either Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, in any thing pertaining to our redemption. However they may allow of a dependence of the redeemed on God, yet they deny a dependence that is so absolute and universal. They own an entire dependence of God for some things, but not for others; they own that we depend on God for the gift and acceptance of a Redeemer, but deny so absolute a dependence on him for the obtaining of an interest in the Redeemer. They own an absolute dependence on the Father for giving his Son, and on the Son for working out redemption, but not so entire a dependence on the Holy Ghost for conversion, and a being in Christ, and so coming to a title to his benefits. They own a dependence on God for means of grace, but not absolutely for the benefit and success of those means; a partial dependence on the power of God, for obtaining and exercising holiness, but not a mere dependence on the arbitrary and sovereign grace of God. They own a dependence on the free grace of God for a reception into his favour, so far that it is without any proper merit, but not as it is without being attracted, or moved with any excellency. They own a partial dependence on Christ, as he through whom we have life, as having purchased new terms of life, but still hold that the righteousness through which we have life is inherent in ourselves, as it was under the first covenant. Now whatever scheme is inconsistent with our entire dependence on God for all, and of having all of him, through him, and in him, it is repugnant to the design and tenor of the gospel, and robs it of that which God accounts its lustre and glory."

I hope that you will read and enjoy these sermons.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Grace, Love and the Trinity

"The end of the dispensation of grace being to glorify the whole Trinity, the order fixed on and appointed wherein this is to be done, is by ascending to the Father's love through the work of the Spirit and blood of the Son. The emanation of divine love to us begins with the Father, is carried on by the Son, and then communicated by the Spirit; the Father designing, the Son purchasing, the Spirit effectually working: which is their order. Our participation is first by the work of the Spirit, to an actual interest in the blood of the Son; whence we have acceptation with the Father."
-John Owen Communion with God Works Vol. 2 pp.179-180.

Just a few thoughts in relationship to this quote:

1. Many evangelicals today do not have this conception of the Trinity shooting through their veins with respect to their relationship with God. The Trinity could fall away into the dust bin of obscure doctrines for them and it would make little difference in how they conceive their faith in God, their love for God and more importantly God's love for them. Yet, to read Owen, and indeed many of the Puritans, is to be pricked by men who have the Trinity flowing in their veins. It is behind the gospel, redemption, the covenants and their spiritual lives. 

This is not to say that theologians don't have a conception of the Trinity or that pastors and pew don't believe in it but rather to say it makes little functional difference. Many Christian today would probably consider a doctrine "fight" over precision in our language of the Trinity to be akin to debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or you say tomato [toe-may-toe]; I say tomato [toe-maw-toe].

2. Owen sees an ordering of the Godhead that flows in both directions. So that Father plans, the Son accomplished and the Spirit effects or applies. Yet in our drawing close to God--i.e. our ascent to communion with God--there order flows the opposite direction: The Spirit regenerates, this applies the blood of the Son so that we have an interest in it and faith in Him and then we are accepted by the Father.

We see this working out in Titus 3:4-7.

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 
Thus there is an ordering to the accomplishing of redemption that is reflected in the ordering of the persons of the Godhead. The Father pours out His love, which he has had for his elect from the before the foundation of the world. The Son comes, dies and His resurrection. The Father and Son pour out the Spirit.

Yet in this sending of the Spirit, the believer experiences in the application of redemption first a washing of regeneration. This leads to us being justified, adopted and sanctified "in Christ" with respect to a union to him that is experienced by faith. Finally in this justification we are "right with God" the Father and have peace with Him.

3. There is no communion with one person of the Godhead without there being equal communion with the other remaining persons. So that we address God the Father as our father but not without the reality of Jesus Christ, his shed blood and our union with Him, and the presence of the Holy Spirit as our sealer and enabler to cry out "Abba, Father." Similar things could be said about our relationship to the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Yet, it also says something about the unity of the Godhead. We do not have relationships with three gods but only with three persons who are one God.

Thus, the Trinity is absolutely integral to my "relationship" with God.

Finally, just a couple of practical questions. I asked this early today on my Twitter feed: 

Agree or disagree?- Too many evangelical would see little change in their faith in/love of God if the doctrine of the Trinity was dropped.

I think its a fair question to ask but not in an abstract way. Rather make it more personal: in your relationship to God is it fundamentally important to you that God really is Triune?

Even more: Pastors does the Trinity make a difference to the what and the how of your preaching?
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...