Sunday, December 27, 2009

Genesis 4:1-8, An Interesting Thing about God's Words to Cain

"Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bore his brother Abel, and Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

"And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof: and the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had no respect: and Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

"And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door: And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

"And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." [KJV]

This passage has always bewildered me. What did it mean for sin to be waiting at the door? I chose the KJV here, instead of my accustomed ESV, because of its use of "him" here, rather than "it."

I am reading On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ, by the Covenanter William Symington, and he references this text as an underlying reference to atoning sacrifice, as a type and preparation of the coming crucifixion of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. According to him, the Hebrew word used here, "khatta't," can mean either "sin" or "sin offering." However, when used for "sin", the grammatically-feminine word takes feminine modifiers, while its use for "sin offering" takes masculine modifiers. That's why I used the KJV here, which refers to "him" in place of the ESV's "it."

Symington suggests that God's admonition isn't a warning that sin lies at the door, which he calls a tautology. That is, if Cain does wrong, then he is a sinner, it isn't something of which he need beware. Rather, God encourages Cain with the promise that his sin has an answer, the atoning sacrifice of the lamb outside the door, over which Cain has mastery. Compare Leviticus 3:2, which describes the peace offering killed "at the entrance" of the tabernacle, later the temple. Cain then rejects God's gracious offer, even to the extent of murdering his righteous brother. Thus is the writer of Hebrews justified in writing (11:4) that God accepts Abel's sacrifice because of his faith. Yet, Cain, who apparently received greater revelation concerning sacrifice, rejects God's chosen lamb - both in type and antitype - and instead substitutes his own vegetable offering, i.e., his own works in place of God's gracious atoning sacrifice.

Ah, now both the Genesis and Hebrews passages make much more sense to me!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What of Eternity for Infants?

"Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word."
-Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter X, Section 3

A longtime cavil against Calvinists is that we supposedly believe in the damnation of infants. The above paragraph from the Confession is quoted, with various cries of outrage and superiority. Yet, notice that damnation is mentioned nowhere in the paragraph. Rather, only salvation is under consideration.

It is a common concern of spiritually-minded parents what the spiritual welfare is of young children who die, or miscarried, or of children with severe mental disabilities. Afterall, to be saved, we must confess the Lord Jesus with our mouths, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). How can the infant do so? Or how can the mentally-disabled hear and respond to the Gospel? These are heartfelt questions. And logically, there are only four possibilities that can be discussed for their comfort.

First, some believe that children are spiritually innocent. This is a common view, though it is contrary to the explicit teachings of Scripture. David tells us in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." And as Paul tells us in Romans 5, from 12 to the end, every human being fell in Adam, so the sin nature has already passed to the next generation, even if unborn. And Paul, again, in Romans, chapter 9, tells us that, before he was even born, "Esau I hated" (verse 13). Just as the sin nature is present from the earliest point of human existence, so that nature is under the just judgment of God.

Second, since we understand that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, one could hold that all who die in infancy or in mental disability are condemned and lost. This is the real implication of the one who denies the truth of God's sovereign election.

Third, one can hold that all who die in infancy or mental inability are elect. Some Presbyterians take this position. For example, A. A. Hodge, the son of the more-famous Charles Hodge, says in his commentary on this passage in the Confession, "It is not positively revealed that all infants are elect, but we are left, for many reasons, to indulge a highly-probable hope that such is the fact." Personally, I believe that he exceeds the evidence of Scripture in that assertion.

And lastly, there is the position of the Confession, that we have the testimony of Scripture that we can expect that the covenant children of believers, lost in infancy or mental-disability, are regenerated by the Holy Spirit invisibly, apart from His usual means of grace. But we must then acknowledge the silence of Scripture regarding those outside the covenant. Are they lost? Are they taken out of this world because God has made them His own? In this life, we cannot know, because the Scriptures do not tell us. Thus, we must be silent on that question, just as the Confession is silent on it.

However, against our Arminian and Pelagian opponents, I testify that this issue is against them, not us. They have no basis for hope for bereaved parents. Yet, we have the comfort of Paul's teaching again in Romans 5:14. While God hated Esau in the womb, He also tells us that "Jacob I loved." In His gracious covenant, God has elected at least some even from the womb. The Christian parents of a lost child, or of one with severe disabilities, have that comfort and confidence from God's covenant promises.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Faith Knows No Division between the Kingly and Priestly Offices of Jesus Christ

This is another excerpt from "The Gospel Covenant", by the New England Puritan, Peter Bulkeley. Spelling and grammar are as in the original.

"Faith looks at the manner of Gods invitation and call, when he invites us to come and enter into Covenant with him; he doth not offer himselfe to be a God to us to blesse us, without being a God over us, but links these two both together; If we will have his blessing, his peace, wee must be under his Dominion: Look as in a Common-wealth or Kingdome, none hath the benefit of the Law, but those that subject themselves to the Law: none have the protection of authority, but those that obey it; so here; God doth not promise to pardon our sinnes, leaving us still at our own liberty to live as wee list, but if he doe at all make a Covenant with us, he will be a God to us, as well to rule us, as to save us; To say, live as yee will, sinne as yee will, and yet you shall be saved, is the Devils Covenant, not Gods; and therefore it is that when the Lord calls us into a Covenant with himself, he bids us come out from among the wicked, separate yourselves, and touch no uncleane thing saith the Lord, 2 Cor.
6:17, and in this way he promises to receive us, and to be a God unto us; How vile soever we have been before time, it hinders us not from entring into Covenant with God, but if we will now become his people, we must henceforth walke no more as we had wont to doe; we must henceforth be separate from our uncleanesse, Eph. 4:17. Isa. 1, ver. 6, 7, 8, Come let us reason together, let us make an agreement, but withall wash you, make you clean, etc. This is the Lords manner of invitation, so that faith sees a necessity of submitting to Gods authority, because it may not take hold of one part of the Covenant without the other: If we will have God to be our God to pardon us, and to blesse us, wee must have him a God over us to govern us after his own will."

The VIIth Commandment: Shall We Cuckold the Lord?

The Seventh Commandment says, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14)

I am sure that everyone experiences a wandering mind sometimes, especially when driving. That is what I was doing as this train of thought passed through my own mind.

I was driving to church yesterday, a drive of thirty to forty minutes for me. I was listening to the radio, but I can't remember what the song was. I just remember that it was about a cheating spouse. I think that a wife, for example, who observes that a woman is flirting with her husband, should feel no need to intervene. She should be able to trust her husband to tell the interloper, "I belong to another; you'll have to take this business somewhere else." If he fails to respond in this way, then his wife has a controversy with him, not the other woman.

That thought led me to consider the subject of sin. If I am faced with temptation, my response must be that I belong to another, my Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore have no right to submit to that temptation, to sin, and to cuckold my divine Husband. If I fail to do so, then I have committed spiritual adultery, stolen what is properly His, and His controversy is with me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jesus versus Antinomianism

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." - John 14:15

And again in verses 23-24, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me."

And see also I John 2:3-4, "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says 'I know Him' but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

Too often, I hear the ignorant protest against the use of an Old Testament passage, because "we are under grace, not under law," (Rom. 6:14) wrenching that phrase out of its context. It is also blurted out indiscriminately in violation of the very words of Jesus, in Matthew 5:17-18, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until it is accomplished." However, I have also noticed a tendency in the same folks to set up their own man-made laws, such as no alcohol, no pants on women, or a man's hair cannot pass a certain rulered length. The first part is the error of antinomianism; the latter is the error of neonomianism.

I think that the Westminster Assembly got it just right in their Confession, Chapter XIX, section 6: "Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience."

While the antinomian is right, that we do not need to keep the Law to be saved, indeed can never be saved that way, where he fails is in the lack of understanding that we must be saved to keep the Law.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

John 10, For Whom Christ Died

Verses 7-12: "So Jesus again said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'"

Verses 14-15: "'I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.'"

Verses 25b-29: "'The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out out of the Father's hand.'"

This passage, excerpted above, teaches two of the doctrines commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism: the limited, or particular, atonement and the perseverance of the saints.

Jesus Himself here tells us for whom He was soon to die: His sheep (compare Ephesians 5:25). And then He explicitly tells us that there are some who are not of His sheep, and thus, by implication, not the subjects of His atonement. And He further tells us that these are not a motley gang of random individuals, but rather a specific number given Him by the Father. He had earlier made the same point in 6:37, and would again say, even more explicitly, in 17:2, "since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him." And 17:9, where Jesus says, "I am not praying for the world, but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours." Refer also to Acts 13:48, "...and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." And our author, the Apostle John, reminds us of the exclusion of interlopers from that number in Revelation 20:15, "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

While this doctrine is commonly referred to as "limited atonement," in order to fix it in that acronym TULIP, that terminology can lead to misunderstanding. It can give the mistaken impression that the atonement is partial, which is certainly not the case. Jesus fully atoned for all whom the Father had given Him. Rather it is the Arminian doctrine of atonement which is limited, for it teaches that Jesus didn't actually die for anyone, but rather may hypothetically have died for some. According to Arminianism, it is possible that no one would have believed, so that that the death of Christ would have had no effect whatsoever. Or, on the other hand, that there are people in Hell for whom Christ died, so that His atonement was insufficient. It is thus the Arminian view of the atonement which is actually limited, not the Calvinist.

And regarding the perseverance of the saints, or as I prefer, the preservation of the saints, Jesus promises us that we can never be snatched out of the Father's hand. What blessed assurance to the believer, for what threat, even from Satan or from our own frailty, can be stronger than the preserving hand of our heavenly Father? Even the Arminian, who holds to the native ability to believe or to disbelieve, nevertheless tells us that "once saved, always saved."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

John 8:47, The True Race War

"Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

In spiritual terms, there is only one division among men: between believer and unbeliever. That explains the mystery of why the one message of the Gospel has such drastically different effects on otherwise similar people. Paul repeats this thought of the Lord in Romans 8:7, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot."

In Reformed Theology, this is called the antithesis. This terminology is most-closely associated with the name of Abraham Kuyper, seen here, who applied it to social and political issues in his native Netherlands. He said that "... we, of course, have to acknowledge two kinds of human consciousness: that of the regenerate and the unregenerate; and these two cannot be identical. . . If, therefore, it be true that man's own consciousness is his primumverum, and hence must be also the starting-point for every scientist, then the logical conclusion is that it is an impossibility that both should agree, and that every endeavor to make them agree must be doomed to failure" (quoted in this article). It was further developed in the presuppositional apologetics system developed by Dutch-American Professor, the late Dr. Cornelius van Til, and his successor, the late-Presbyterian Minister Greg Bahnsen.

This principle has implications not just in apologetics, but in evangelism, as well. It undercuts an evangelistic method that depends on finding common ground with the believer. While finding common relational grounds is certainly essential, there are not and cannot be any ideological common grounds between the believer and the unbeliever. Truth must be presented as truth, with the results left to the Holy Spirit to change the unbeliever's heart. This especially exposes the false assumptions behind seeker-centered evangelism and worship, since it necessarily implies that to appeal to the nature of the unbeliver is to violate the nature of the believer.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

John 6:35-51, the Sovereign Redeemer

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'

"So the Jews mumbled about Him, because He said, 'I am the bread that came down from heaven.' They said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, Whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, "I have come down from heaven"?' Jesus answered them, 'Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, "And they will all be taught by God." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me - not that anyone has seen the Father except He Who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I give for the life of the world is My flesh."

The doctrine of election is often taught from the words of the Apostle Paul, such as in Ephesians 1. That makes sense, of course, since Paul is the one who presents it in the most systematic fashion. But here we have the words of Jesus our Savior Himself.

First, He tells us that the decree of the Father is efficacious, verse 37, such that not one of the elect can possibly fail to be saved. Calvinists refer to this as "irresistible grace." The same principle is seen again in verse 39. Notice also that it is particular: the Father gives Him a definite number of specific individuals, not an ambiguous mass. This same idea is seen in Acts 13:48, where Luke tells us, "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed."

And second, we see that Jesus also teaches election from the negative perspective, i.e., that no one outside the Father's decree can stumble into salvation by accident or by native ability. Our Lord says in verse 44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." Also later, in verse 65, "No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." Our author also teaches this principle in the Revelation 13:8, where he describes the deception of any "whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain." Calvinists refer to this as the doctrine of "reprobation." Paul also teaches this doctrine, such as in Romans 9:21-23, where he refers to the reprobate as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction."

And third, He is confronted by the opposition of the religious people, verse 41, just as we now see the emotional objection to election by so many professing Christians.

The Puritan commentator Matthew Henry writes of this passage: "The Father, having sent Christ, will succeed Him [i.e., give Him success], for He would not send Him on a fruitless errand. Christ having undertaken to bring souls to glory, God promised Him, in order thereunto, to bring them to Him, and so to give Him possession of those to whom He had given Him a right. God, having by promise given the kingdom of Israel to David, did at length draw the hearts of the people to him; so, having sent Christ to save souls, He sends souls to Him to be saved by Him."

Think of the consequences if God hadn't rendered His decree of election. As men are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), no one would come to Christ of his own volition. Would not a Savior with no one saved be a despised Son? God forbid that He should leave His Son a wasted Savior! And what a basis of assurance for our faith. Knowing that God the Father saved us out of the mass of fallen mankind, what have we to fear for our spiritual welfare? Nothing at all, for He promises never to cast us out or to allow us to be lost.

The Father said to the Son (Isaiah 49:6), "It is too light a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Oh, that God for that!