Jun 082015

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

Now on the first day of the week…

John 20:1

Jesus is Alive! It is a truth we should celebrate every day. This time of year, when we typically celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ, is a wonderful time to read again the crucifixion and resurrection narratives in the Gospel accounts. As you read through the Gospel accounts, you will see how the authors develop certain themes. When we come to the end of John’s Gospel, we see John tying in the ideas of Christ, the Author of creation and Christ, the Author of the new creation.

The introductory verses of John’s gospel (1:1-18) come together in the resurrection account of chapter 20. John begins by quoting Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning.” John’s birth narrative predates history – Jesus Christ is the Word, the eternal Son of God, and all things were made through him (1:3). John’s birth story is one verse: 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Also in the prologue it is introduced that the Word gives the right to all who receive Him to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. He wills creation and He wills the new creation too.

We notice in John 20:1 that the resurrection takes place on the “first day of the week.” This points us to a new creation. On the sixth day of the creation week, mankind was made in the image of God. On the sixth day of the last week of Jesus’ life, Pilate declares, “Behold the Man.” John is the only one who records this. In Genesis the seventh day of creation was the day of rest. In John, the seventh day is the day Jesus rests in the tomb. Now it’s the first day of the new week, and the One who was light and life (1:4-5) comes to life again. Mary comes to the tomb while it is still dark, and she discovers that the tombstone has been rolled away. The light and life has conquered the darkness!

Also we see in 20:17 how John connects 1:12-13. Jesus said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” They are now children of God too in their own right. Reading chapter 20 in the light of the prologue, we understand that the death and resurrection of Jesus have together affected for the disciples the new birth (1:13, 3:1-8). We should not be surprised then when we read 20:22 when Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” just as Yahweh breathed his life into the life of Adam (Genesis 2:7). (***There is so much about God’s electing grace in John’s gospel that I can’t get to it here***)

To quote N.T. Wright, “The resurrection matters for John because he is, at his very heart, a theologian of creation. The Word, who was always to be the point at which Creator and creation came together in one, is now, in the resurrection the point at which Creator and new creation are likewise one.”

Finally, notice the connection between 1:18 and Thomas’ confession in 20:28 – “No one has ever seen God: the only-begotten God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Christ revealed the Father to us. Jesus could say, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Now Thomas declares, “My Lord and My God!”

It matters that the resurrection took place. Jesus fully satisfied divine justice. God’s wrath is fully absorbed and death has been conquered. Christ gives life to all whom the Father has given him and He ever lives to make intercession for them! Jesus is Lord of Creation and the New Creation!

Pastor Bill

Jun 082015

By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.

Job 37:10

I love the ice! Not the kind of ice that ruins travel on roads or the ice the weighs heavily on power lines, blowing out transformers and making power lines fall to the ground, causing power outages. But I love the ice on a frozen pond or at an ice rink. Actually, I love to play hockey! I learned to skate at age 5. Our pond in Cincinnati, Ohio, would freeze over in the winter. So me, my brothers, my cousin, and neighborhood friends played hockey. Every winter from age 5 to 18, I played as much as possible. One of our chief inspirations for playing was the 1980 Winter Olympics, when the US Men’s hockey team, a huge underdog, defeated the Olympic favorite, the USSR. Right at the height of the Cold War, the victory of the US men stunned the world. It has been called the “Miracle on ice.” We relived that game on ice countless times. I was 9 years old and remember the game like it was yesterday.

The Russians had beaten Team USA just two weeks before in an exhibition game 10-3! No one would have picked Team USA beat the Russians now in the semi-final match. After the first period of the game on February 22, 1980, the score was tied 2-2. The Soviets scored another goal in the second period, making the score now 3-2 going into the 3rd. Mark Johnson of team USA scored a goal with 11:21 left in the game. Just 1 minute and 21 seconds later, team USA’s Mike Eruzione, got free with the puck and shot it passed the Soviet goalie giving the USA a 4-3 lead! And yes, Team USA held the Soviets without scoring in the final 10 minutes to win the match. I have never seen such a sports celebration before or since in my life. It truly was the “Miracle on Ice.” Beating the USSR placed Team USA in the gold medal game and the US beat Finland to take the gold.

But enough of hockey! Let’s look to the Miracle of Ice! Where does it come from? How does it form in the sky? Who really controls the weather? Does man? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Only God does! That is what the Word of God tells us. Here in Job, ice is given by the breath of God and by His breath the broad waters are frozen fast. In Job 38:29, the Lord asks Job, “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?” Following a long string of God’s questions to Job, He can only reply, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5) Job realizes that only a sovereign God controls all the weather, and the water in all its forms. Not one drop of rain, or mist, or frozen precipitation, falls apart from the sovereign will of God.

Last week, following the snow storm in the Southeast, the Governor of NC, Pat McCrory, was chided by a CBS reporter because McCrory dared to say that the climate is ultimately controlled by God and not man. The Governor of North Carolina is absolutely right. No where does Scripture say that man causes weather or climatic changes. No! Only God does that. Just ask the Russian ship that recently went to the Antarctica with scores of scientists to study global warming and got stuck in the ice! It took efforts from 3 nations to rescue them! If we read the Bible, we will learn that God controls the weather. Read Job 37. At His voice come thunders and lightning. At his command it rains or snows. At his bidding we feel the wind. By His will He loads the clouds with moisture. He spreads out the skies and balances everything with wisdom. When I saw the ice last week, I thought, “O how mighty, and wise and glorious is our Triune God. How powerful is He!” The miracle on ice is nothing compared to the miracle of ice! Let us praise Him today for His power and sovereignty and love! To Him be the glory forever, Amen! I love you all!

Pastor Bill

Jun 082015

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.

Song of Solomon 1:15

I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

Song of Solomon 2:1

Our Sunday school adventure in the Song of Solomon is a new experience for me. This is the first time in 20 years that I have taught this important book. Shame on me! Our study has drawn me to two books that have been on my shelves for several years which I have never read. Now I have a great excuse to read them, and I have certainly been blessed. The first was published in 2009 and was written by my good friend and mentor, Michael A.G. Haykin. He perhaps, more than any other, had the greatest impact on my spiritual life while in seminary. He wrote a book called The Christian Lover. It a collection of love letters from believers in the past like Luther and his Katie, John Calvin and Idelette, Adoniram and Ann Judson, and many more.

The second book was originally published in 1971 and was reprinted in 2004. It was written by Elisabeth Dodds and the book is called Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards, probably the most brilliant theologian born on American soil, met his match when he met Sarah. He was 20, she was 13. Sarah was such a beautiful girl in every way that he was enamored by her. Being around her made him a different person. He was captivated by her beauty, and he became awkward around her and would stutter in speech. He took to walking past her house at night for a glimpse of a candle flickering behind an upstairs shutter. He would go to the wharf where shipments were delivered hoping to see her as she picked up packages to take home to her family. Here is what he wrote on the front page of his Greek grammar book – his mind most certainly was not on Greek. You get a glimpse of what true beauty is and what captured Jonathan’s heart.

“They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him – that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up to heaven; being assured that he loves her to well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love, favor and delight, forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and sweetness of temper, uncommon purity in her affections; is most just and praiseworthy in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything thought wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those times in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about, singing sweetly, from place to place; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone and wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”

In our marriages (and everything), Jesus must be first. He is to be our supreme delight. He is to be our first love. Everything flows from our personal relationship with him. Let us draw close to Christ today. Others will see that we are living in His presence moment by moment. Now that is attractive!

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Sovereign Grace Music produced a project called, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. It is in our church library and I would encourage you to listen to it as we enter the season in which we celebrate the mystery and wonder of the incarnation, that is, God the eternal Son taking upon Himself a nature like ours. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Notice that it is only a child that is born, namely Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but the Son is given (not born). God the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. The Son has never been born. He is fully God. But the eternal Son entered the world He made and was born as a man. He is fully God and fully man. This is a great mystery and something to treasure up and ponder in our hearts. We will never fully comprehend it, but it should cause us to bow before the Divine Majesty.

Luke 2 tells us the account of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to them and told them the good news that in Bethlehem, a Savior had been born, Christ the Lord. The angel told them that they would find the father, mother and the child, who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Then suddenly, with the angel, a multitude of angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds went quickly to Bethlehem, saw and worshiped the newborn king and told Mary and Joseph all that happened. More details for Mary to treasure and ponder. The word “treasure” literally means “to keep together.” I think from the very start of all this Mary was trying to keep all the details of the events together, trying to make them fit in her mind. So many details, from the salutation to the Spirit coming upon her, meeting Elizabeth and little John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, Mary’s song of praise, Joseph’s commitment to take her as a wife and keep her pure until after the baby was born, the taxation of the Romans sending them to Bethlehem, and now the report of the shepherds.

And… she delivered the One who would deliver her. That brings me back to the Sovereign Grace project on the incarnation. They wrote a song called “Sleep Jesus Sleep.” It is written from Mary’s perspective of the events. I will let you ponder the words and all that the incarnation means for God’s people.

Sleep, Jesus, sleep
We’ve come to see
You who never closed Your eyes
Watching over earth and skies
Now in frail humanity
Must sleep

Sleep, newborn King
We’ll gently sing
You who reigns forevermore
Ruling as the Lord of lords
You who never had a need
Must sleep

Sovereign One
Born as Mary’s son
Prince of Peace
One day You’ll deliver me
Deliver me

But now sleep, Son of God
We’ll watch in awe
You’ll fulfill the Father’s plan
Reconciling God and man
Now Your promises to keep
Must sleep

Let us all take some time this Christmas to treasure and ponder God’s great love for His people. “O what a mystery, meekness and majesty, bow down and worship, for this is your God” (Graham Kendrick, from “Meekness and Majesty”).

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Bill

May 302013

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

Recently, I was watching a documentary on Georgia Public Television called The Appalachians. The subject of the section I watched was about the religious practices of Appalachia. The writers stated that the settlers that first came to the South were Calvinistic and that they believed in a harsh and stern God, who had His chosen people. Then, the documentary stated (and I’m paraphrasing), John Wesley came and preached a God of love, a God that accepted everyone, and this message was accepted by the people of Appalachia, and Calvinism was rejected. (The truth is John Wesley did not have a good reputation when He came to America in 1736 in Savannah, GA. He testifies that he had come to convert the Indians and realized that he himself was not converted. Wesley was not converted until 1738 back in England at a Moravian mission. George Whitefield the Calvinist had a far greater impact and reputation in his preaching in America, and Whitefield was called a Methodist first! That’s right: the first Methodists were Calvinists!)

The documentary got one thing right: Over a period of time, Calvinism was primarily rejected (and we are paying the price the fruit of Arminianism has caused). But it got one thing very wrong: The God of Calvinism is not like an old grumpy grandpa who really doesn’t love anybody. The biblical truth is that it is amazing that He would set His affection on any of us, rebels such as we are.

“In love He predestined us.” Eph. 1:5

“But God, being rich in mercy (rebels deserved condemnation but needed mercy), because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” Eph. 2:4-5

Calvinists most certainly believe the truth of God’s perfections and that He is to be feared. But Calvinists do not believe that He is a joyless God and saves a joyless people. It is actually the other way around. He is the happy God, the blessed God of 1 Timothy 1:11. He is in no way stingy with His love and grace. As a matter of fact, “Heaven will not be thinly populated. The living seed of Abraham will be as numerous as the sand on the seashores and the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:5). Election declares the expansive generosity of God, not his stinginess.”[1] The Father’s house of John 14 is actually a large house, and millions of believers, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation will be there. What a diverse family God’s elect become! The fact that the elect come from all over the world and from different periods of time, shows them the amazing bond they will have with those so different; and yet they have one thing in common: The Father who chose them before the foundation of the world, the Son who achieved their righteousness and died for them, and the Spirit who made the Gospel effectual in their hearts – elected by sovereign grace!

Believers should be the happiest people on earth! Peter says in verse 8 that we love the God we do not see and that this God has filled us with joy unspeakable and full of glory. It does not mean that we love to go through trials, but that even through trials there is an enduring hope and peace, a rest in God’s promises, a joy that gives strength. Believers are joyful because of God’s love and work in their lives (James 1:2-3). The elect exiles rejoice that this life is temporary and that God is producing in them a great weight of glory in their home to come.

So don’t believe the lie of those who misrepresent the God of Calvinism as a joyless, dull, loveless, graceless and gloomy God. The elect will one day enter into the joy of their Master! Believers experience God’s joy now and will in the future. May grace and peace be multiplied to you!

In Christ’s Joy,

Pastor Bill

– * –

[1] Beeke, Joel. Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008, Pg. 67.

May 142013

To those who are the elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood: may grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

Last week, we saw that believers are not elected so that they can live however they please. Believers are elected to be conformed to the image of Christ. Believers are elected for holiness, in the sanctification of the Spirit. Election is also unto obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood. Believers were chosen to have the work and benefits of Christ applied to them so that they can live in obedience to God.

Peter alludes back to Exodus 24:3-8, when Moses confirmed the covenant between God and Israel. Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the people, pointing us ultimately to the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In Exodus 24:7, Moses read the book of the covenant in the hearing of all the people and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” So, when Peter says that we are elect for obedience to Jesus Christ and for the sprinkling of His blood, he refers to the blood of the new covenant, which cleanses us from sin and grants us a heart of obedience. The blood of forgiveness that is applied to the believer’s soul is the fruit of God’s election in Christ. So, John Calvin called election the “parent of faith”. If we are believers, we are elected to faith and salvation, elected unto a union with Christ, elected unto adoption, and elected to participate in all the redemptive provisions of our great God and Father. We have been chosen by God to be Abraham’s offspring, heirs of the promise, receiving the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14). We are born again of the Spirit, adopted into God’s family, our sins cast as far as the east is from the west, united with Christ and placed in His Church, and we are preserved forever for an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). The inheritance and rest of Joshua would point to this! The inheritance Israel received through Joshua was one that would not last; the land was still defiled, and it would fade away. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on” (Hebrews 4:8).

As you look at verse 2, you can’t help but see that God’s election is personal. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you (plural).” The plural “you” refers back to the elect. Election is clearly definite, personal and irreversible. Romans 9:10-13 – “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” The election of certain individuals for salvation was God’s purpose in redemption. God loves one graciously and calls him to Himself, like Jacob, and God passes over others, like the reprobate Esau. This was the essence of Calvin’s view of election and reprobation: “God’s election is always sovereign and gracious. None of the elect deserves to be elect and enter into heaven. At the same time, God’s reprobation is always sovereign and just: none of the reprobate will be unjustly damned to hell.”

The personal nature of God’s election of sinners brings warmth and comfort to the believer. It is evidence that no one cares for you and loves you like your heavenly Father. “The Son of God has loved you and has given his life for you” (Gal. 2:20). The great hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above,” says it so well: “My name is graven on his hands. My name is written on his heart. I know that while in heaven he stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.” God has displayed the richness of His mercy to you (Eph. 2). When God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, it was a display of His goodness and kindness (Titus 3). The Son of God met all the Law’s demands on your behalf. His perfect life secured your righteousness and in His sacrificial death He became your substitute. He rose again and He sits at His Father’s right hand where He continually intercedes for you. His sinless blood, shed for you, speaks on your behalf, and it protects you from all the accusations of our enemy. Divine election is a most glorious truth for the Christian. Marvel at His love today and give Him thanks that He has called you and granted faith and repentance. It’s all His work!

Praising Him,

Pastor Bill

May 072013

To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit.

1 Peter 1:1 (ESV)

We have already seen the fallacy of conditional election. Last week, we saw that God’s foreknowledge means that His love is voluntary, discriminatory (He chooses whomever He wills) and gracious. He has always known His Bride intimately. So, to say that God has always foreknown us is to say that God has always loved us.

This week we will look at how Peter refutes the Arminian objection that if election is true, then that means believers can live however they choose. Arminians claim that unconditional election takes away from a believer’s motivation to holiness, since he is already elect. But Peter makes clear that the elect are not only so according to the foreknowledge of God, but they are elect for a purpose: in the sanctification of the Spirit. The elect are called to holiness through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Sanctification is a process that begins at regeneration. Sanctification is distinct from justification, but there will not be one without the other. God sanctifies those whom He justifies. “Without holiness,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “no will see the Lord.” Peter also affirms this truth: sinful, depraved people cannot enter into God’s presence nor live a holy life unless they have been sanctified by the Spirit. Peter says in verses 14-16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

Calvinists must be careful to guard against either legalism (works righteousness) or antinomianism (no law). We cannot add to what Christ has done for us, but at the same time, the Law has not been abolished. The Law has been written on our hearts, so it is the Spirit that works in us, making God’s law a delight to us. The Law is powerless to save, but it points us to Christ, who is our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). Unconditional election is a call to holiness. “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)

So, the very purpose of election is to make God’s people holy. God’s election does not destroy moral effort; rather, as Spurgeon notes, “God’s choice makes chosen men choice men.” And Thomas Watson said, “Sanctification is the earmark of Christ’s elect sheep.” No believer can say, “Because I am elect, I do not need to be Christ-like.” Rather, a believer should say, “Because I am elect, I cannot avoid being Christ-like.” As surely as God has committed to save a people for the glory of his name, He also is committed to their purity in life and heart. No true Christian should be comfortable in a lifestyle of sin. This is the work of the Spirit bringing conviction and causing us to confess and look to Christ.

Apr 252013

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

In our study of unconditional election, we should not neglect Peter’s plain teaching regarding those that belong to God. Peter is writing specifically, not to all exiles, but to elect exiles. The word “elect” is in the plural, so it is true of all God’s people that God has specially chosen them, has given preference to them, and has shown divine favor to them, and makes them resident aliens in this world. God has predestinated His elect (Eph 1); that is, before the world began, God destined His elect (unconditional chosen ones) to be in glory with Him. Believers are temporal residents here, who have been born again to a living hope, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for them. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Last week we saw that God does not choose persons for salvation based on faith they might exercise in the future, but rather He elects them unconditionally, “before they were born or had done anything good or bad” (Romans 9:11).

God elects sinners according to His foreknowledge, Peter says. Peter is not speaking of God’s intellect, which of course is perfect and infinite, but rather of His decretal foreknowledge, of God’s determination of whom he would graciously rescue from just condemnation. In His foreknowledge, He intimately knows His own and saves them according to his sovereign purposes.

So, you can see from ‘foreknowledge’ that election is very personal and intimate. Foreknowledge is more affectionate than cerebral. For God, to truly know is to truly love. Amos 3:2, speaking of God’s people Israel says, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” Does this mean that God does not intellectually know what is happening around His world, but only knows what is happening to Israel? No. God knows everything at every time. But God has a special love and affection for His people that He does not have for others. Matthew 7:23 proves this: “Depart from me you that work iniquity. I never knew you.” Does this mean that God did not intellectually know the wicked? No. It means His saving affection was never upon them.

God’s election of a people is the seal of His love for them. Because He elects them, and saves them with His blood, and regenerates them by the Spirit, He will cherish them. He calls them His Bride. God has always loved them (‘In love he predestined us!’ Eph. 1:5). This is what makes unconditional election so amazing – there was nothing in me to be desired. All I had to offer was rebellion, iniquity, self-reliance and sufficiency, and a long list of more of the same, but God in love conquered every barrier. That’s what foreknowledge does. In love He gave me life. He gave me hope in a world that is full of sin and is rapidly passing away.

Thankful for electing grace,

Pastor Bill

Apr 172013

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.’” (Romans 9:10-13)

It has been such a joy to preach through Matthew’s Gospel for the last three-plus years. The congregation of RBC has endured well. This Lord’s Day, Lord willing, I will preach my final message from Matthew. It is a text we commonly call “The Great Commission”, though the text does not call itself that. The text calls us to our obligation as the Church to make disciples of all nations. But I am reminded in the Bible, over and again, that the Great Commission is successful only because God elects sinners to salvation, and that He does so unconditionally.

At RBC, we love the Doctrines of Grace, commonly called the “Five Points of Calvinism”. Of course, Calvin did not develop the “five points”, but they were codified 54 years after he died. Calvin so desired to be faithful to Biblical revelation. The “five points” come from the Synod of Dort (1618-19), and were a response to the “five points” of Arminianism. (The Arminians were called “The Remonstrants” at the time.) We understand that Scripture clearly develops these points in regards to salvation. It all comes as a package deal and each point flows from one to another. Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited or Particular atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints formed this body of teaching.

I talked to a young man on the phone a while ago and he asked if we could meet and if I could explain to him the point of unconditional election. This point is a huge hang-up for him, as it is for many. Sam Storms, who wrote a marvelous book called Chosen for Life, said in an article, “To those who minimize the Scriptural record of man’s total depravity, election is the primary reason people are in hell. To Calvinists, who accept the Bible’s teaching of total depravity, election is the primary reason people are in heaven.” If one has a skewed view of total depravity, or original sin, unconditional election will seem to be a horrific doctrine. But when you understand the Bible’s teaching that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, that we have no spiritual life at all in ourselves, then election is a most glorious, comforting truth. Spurgeon said it best: “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I would never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterward.”

Arminianism teaches conditional election, that is, that God elects those who are depraved but who He foresees will believe in Christ for salvation in the future. Though people are sinful, they can meet God’s condition of believing in Jesus by exercising their own free will. There is still some glimmer of ability that a sinner has to embrace Christ of his own free will.

From the text in Romans above, and everywhere you look in the Bible, we can see that unconditional election is taught. God elects those who are totally depraved and are not able to exercise their free wills to embrace him. This is not to deny there is a freedom of will, but to say that our free wills will lead us straight to hell. Our wills are in bondage and cannot embrace Christ unless they have been born-again of the Spirit. God elects believers on the basis of His sovereign good pleasure, conquering their wills so that they are made willing to exercise faith, (which is a gift of God), in Christ for salvation. So it is based on God’s free and sovereign grace, not conditioned on some foreseen faith that we might exercise at some point.

Sam Storms says this: “Does God elect people because they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Arminianism), or does God elect people in order that they shall believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ?” (Calvinism)

Conditional election fails in three ways:

(1.) It puts the primacy on man’s choice and not God’s choice in salvation. Believers were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Eph.1, Rev. 7:9-17). As in Romans 9 above, God chose Jacob unconditionally, before the boys were born or had done anything either good or bad.

(2.) It fails to recognize the extent of our depravity. It makes us better than what we really are. By doing this, it robs God of His sovereignty and glory. If we are as depraved as the Bible says we are, then salvation cannot originate with us. Without election, no one would be saved. That is why I put this doctrine alongside Matthew 28. Depraved humanity could never choose God on their own. “Men loved darkness rather than light.” (John 3:19) Believers go into the world to proclaim the Gospel knowing that the Sovereign Lord of all will grant it success, for His elect will come to Him by the means of the Gospel.

(3.) It fails to save anyone! It makes salvation dependent upon man. The wonder is not that God justly rejects some sinners but that He graciously saves any sinners at all. Augustus Strong said, “We may better praise God that he saves any than charge him with injustice because he saves so few.” Or J.C. Ryle: “The believer who knows his own heart will ever bless God for election.”

This will be a good place to end for now, but much more still needs to be said. The mystery of election is this: “Once your enemy, now seated at your table, Jesus, thank you!” (Sovereign Grace Music)

As we prepare even now for the upcoming Lord’s Day, let us pray for the city of Boston and the families affected. Let us also pray for the many needs in our own congregation and that God would graciously call sinners to Himself in our community and around the world.

Praising our great God,

Pastor Bill

Mar 212013

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.

Genesis 14:18 (ESV)

The Second London Confession of 1689 says in section 1.9, “It is an infallible rule that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, that is to say, one part by another. Hence any dispute as to the true, full and evident meaning of a particular passage must be determined in light of clearer, comparable passages.” The Reformers were committed to destroy the prominent view of Scriptural interpretation prevalent in their day. This view of biblical interpretation began early in Church history and carried through all the way to Luther (though some even hold to this today!). This method is known by the Latin, “Quadriga”, or “the four-fold” sense. What this means is that the Medieval view was that each text of Scripture had four senses to it: 1) a literal sense, 2) an allegorical sense, 3) a tropological (pulling out the moral teachings) sense and lastly, 4) an anagogical (a mystical interpretation that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife) sense.

Those that held to this view could look at the verse above and say:

  • 1) The literal sense – Melchizedek brought bread and wine and refreshed the soldiers of Abraham after battle and travel.
  • 2) The allegorical sense – Melchizedek offers up Christ in the Mass.
  • 3) The tropological sense – Melchizedek is giving bread to the poor. He is doing a morally good deed, so we should in like manner give to the poor.
  • 4) The anagogical sense – As Christ is in heaven, he shall be the bread of life to the faithful.

The Puritan William Perkins said that such a method of interpretation “must be exploded and rejected because there is only one sense, and the same is the literal.” A text might demand an allegorical interpretation of course, if it is in its literary style an allegory. But we are not to go hunting for interpretations that the literal reading of the text does not warrant. The Scriptures themselves must dictate how they are to be interpreted. This literal sense has also been called the literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible. It simply reads the Bible like one would read any other piece of literature, taking into account figures of speech, genres of literature, etc.

I should also make a distinction when it comes to the Bible. The Bible can be read like any other book, but it is NOT like any other book. The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired, inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient Word, and at the end of the day, only those in whom the Spirit of God dwells will really understand its message (1 Corinthians 2). Only those indwelt by the Spirit will love it as the Word of God and desire to live their lives by its teachings. The Spirit-inspired Word must be Spirit-illumined in our hearts. Let us never take the ministry of God’s Spirit for granted. When we come to the Bible every day, our heart’s cry should be for divine assistance to understand its message and apply its message by God’s grace and power. This He gives to His people. Let us in humility and trust come to His Word in the right manner of heart, reading it in the sense that it should be understood, but acknowledging every moment that it is NOT like every other book and that we need God’s help. Let us pour our lives and hearts into the Bible. I pray that we will read it to understand it and let its truth conform us into the image of Christ.

Sola Scriptura! (Scripture alone!)

Pastor Bill