Sunday, November 27, 2011

Song 5:2-6, the Danger of Complacency

"I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking.
'Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one,
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.'
I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them?
My beloved put his hand to the latch,
and my heart was thrilled within me.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
on the handles of the bolt.
I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer."

We often hear sermons warning the unbeliever that he shouldn't put off closing with Jesus as Savior. And it is proper that we do so. However, there is also the danger of the believer's being complacent, somnolent, when Jesus comes to him. Why does Jesus come to the believer? There are many possible reasons: to give instruction, to comfort, or to apply discipline, just for starters. We see it happening in the passage above. The Lord knocks at the door of His beloved, but she doesn't want to get out of bed. Then, when she does rouse herself, He is nowhere to be found.

My mind dwells especially on the line where the woman complains that she has already washed her feet, and doesn't want to get them dirty again. I think of the shallow Christian who believes his sins are forgiven, and now he doesn't need anything else from Christ. Isn't that the very attitude that is so commonly produced by today's altar-call evangelism? "Thank you Jesus; I'll let you know when I need you again."

This passage applies, whether we are talking of the individual believer or of an entire congregation. We see the latter in Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me."

In a sermon in 1840, Scottish Presbyterian Minister Robert Murray McCheyne explains, "To awaken out of sleep is to see sin as it is - your heart as it is - Christ as He is - and the love of God in Christ. And you can see all this by looking to Calvary's cross. O! it is an awful thing to look to the cross and not be affected, nor feel conviction of sin - not to feel drawn to Christ." We have a saying, "Opportunity only knocks once." What have we missed by snoozing when Jesus was at the door?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

McCheyne on II Corinthians 5:14: The Heart of the Hypocrite

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died."

Robert Murray McCheyne was a minister of the Church of Scotland in the early XIXth Century.

"We have so choked up the avenues of self-examination - there are so many turnings and windings before we can arrive at the true motives of our actions - that our dread and hatred of God, which first moved man to sin, and which are still the grand impelling forces whereby Satan goads on the children of disobedience - these are wholly concealed from our view, and you cannot persuade a natural man that they are really there."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ephesians 2:1 and the Erroneous Free-Will View of Man

"You were dead in the trespasses and sins."

Calvinism starts with a view of a spiritually-dead man, in whom God works by His sovereign grace to renew, regenerate, and justify. The various stripes of anti-Calvinist Christianity hold to a spiritually-able man who works his way to a relationship with God. To paraphrase, free-will Christianity teaches that a man is sick in trespasses and sins, while the Calvinist agrees with the Apostle Paul that the natural man is dead, completely unable to help himself spiritually.

In contrast to free-will Christianity, the Bible teaches that all of the initiative in salvation belongs to God, and none to man. Ezekiel 36:26 tells us, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." That is, God changes our hearts, from the dead heart described in Ephesians, to a new living heart. And verse 27 continues, "And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules." Now that He has given us a new heart, He sends His Holy Spirit to work in it, leading and enabling us to obey Him. For, as Jesus Himself says, "no one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). Unlike the free-willer, God says that we are unable to seek Him, so He draws us to Him by His own will and power.

But we believe and are then saved, right? Nope. Jesus died for us while we were still in our sins (see, for example, Romans 5:6, I Peter 3:18). We aren't saved because we believe; we believe because we are saved! But our part in salvation is to have faith, right? Nope, wrong again. Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." Even our faith, our response to what Christ has done, is given to us by God. And John 1:13 says that Christians are "born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

But I know the free-willer is still holding on to his dream of contributing to his salvation. He's asking, "Alright, but I take it from there in my sanctification, right?" Nope, not that, either. Philippians 2:13, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." God's sovereign grace continues its work in us, conforming us to the holiness of Christ. As Paul also says in I Corinthians 15:10, "by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

Only Calvinism is consistent with the teachings of Scripture that man is utterly helpless in his own salvation. Rather, it occurs - in every step - by God's grace and Holy Spirit.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Apostle Paul, Member of Presbytery

We tend to think of the Apostle Paul as a spiritual Lone Ranger, single-handedly establishing Christianity around the Mediterranean fringe. And it is true that he only occasionally speaks of companions, such as Timothy, Titus, John Mark, and Barnabas. He only gives snippets of the ecclesiastical organization which he established along with the congregations. But I do believe that he gave us such information.

In I Timothy 4:14, the ESV reads, "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you." That phrase "council of elders" is translated "presbytery" by the King James Version, the American Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible, and "eldership" in Young's Literal Translation. "Presbytery" is a transliteration of the Greek word, while "council of elders" and "eldership" are translations. Either way, we see the church leaders joining together to ordain Reverend Timothy. I suspect that this same ceremony is what Paul intends in I Timothy 6:12, "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." That is, Paul is urging Timothy to continue in the faith to which he testified in his examination by the presbytery.

Next look at II Timothy 1:6, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands." Notice the switch in Paul's choice of words. In I Timothy, the ordination is by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Then in II Timothy, it is by the laying on of Paul's hands. I think that the logical implication is that Paul participated in the ceremony of the presbytery.

I see in these verses the kernel of the early church government. It wasn't bishops; nor was it democratic congregationalism. It was presbyterian.