Sunday Meditation – The Moravians

“The most striking example of self-devotedness in the cause of Christ of which I ever heard in these days of deadness, was told here last week by an English minister. It has never been printed, and therefore I will relate it to you, just as I heard it, to stir up our cold hearts, that we may give ourselves to the Lord.  The awful disease of leprosy still exists in Africa. Whether it be the same leprosy as that mentioned in the Bible, I do not know, but it is regarded as incurable, and so infectious that no one dares to come near the leper. In the south of Africa there is a large lazarhouse for lepers. It is an immense space, enclosed by a very high wall, and containing fields, which the lepers cultivate. There is only one entrance, which is strictly guarded. Whenever anyone is found with the marks of leprosy upon him, he is brought to this gate and obliged to enter in, never to return. No one who enters in by that awful gate is ever allowed to come out again.  Within this abode of misery there are multitudes of lepers in all stages of the disease. Dr. Halbeck, a missionary of the Church of England, from the top of a neighboring hill, saw them at work. He noticed two particularly sowing peas in the field: The one had no hands, the other had no feet—these members being wasted away by disease. The one who wanted [lacked] the hands was carrying the other who wanted [lacked] the feet upon his back, and he again carried in his hands the bag of seed, and dropped a pea every now and then, which the other pressed into the ground with his foot; and so they managed the work of one man between the two. Ah! how little we know of the misery that is in the world! Such is this prisonhouse of disease.  But you will ask, who cares for the souls of the hapless inmates? Who will venture to enter in at this dreadful gate, never to return again? Who will forsake father and mother, houses and land, to carry the message of a Saviour to these poor lepers? Two Moravian missionaries, impelled by a divine love for souls, have chosen the lazarhouse as their field of labor. They entered it never to come out again; and I am told that as soon as these die, other Moravians are quite ready to fill their place. Ah! my dear friends, may we not blush, and be ashamed before God, that we, redeemed with the same blood, and taught by the same Spirit, should yet be so unlike these men in vehement, heart-consuming love to Jesus and the souls of men?”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, The Memoirs of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 40-41.

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The Depravity of Fallen Man (Part 1)

The evangelist Paul Washer has said that the Christian “knows that the more darkly man is painted, the brighter the Morning Star, Christ, appears” (The Gospel Call and True Conversion, 170). The more we understand the fate we have been rescued from, the greater our appreciation will be for what God has done for us through Christ. There are at least three views on the state of fallen man before salvation: Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism. Semi-Pelagianism is represented today by Arminianism and Roman Catholicism (though they would fiercely deny this charge) and Augustinianism is represented by Calvinism.

Pelagianism says that Adam’s sin only affected him so each of us is born into the world as Adam was: morally neutral and without any inclination toward sin. Pelagius believed we could merit salvation for ourselves without God’s grace so the cross of Christ was not absolutely necessary for our salvation. There are not many Pelagians around today and this false belief was condemned as a heresy at the council of Carthage in 411.

Semi-Pelagianism disagrees with Pelagius concerning the effects of Adam’s sin and states that God’s grace is necessary for salvation. But semi-Pelagians do not believe God’s grace is sufficient for our salvation – Christ only made salvation possible for everybody on the cross and we must do something to earn salvation. Man’s good works or free will cooperate with God’s grace to achieve salvation in semi-Pelagianism. The Church of Christ is one group today that is unashamedly semi-Pelagian. Roman Catholicism is semi-Pelagian because they believe we can merit eternal salvation through good works though no one can merit the initial grace of sanctification which they believe comes through baptismal regeneration. The Reformation was never about whether God’s grace is necessary for salvation, but whether it is sufficient. That’s why Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Solus Christus were rallying cries during that time. Semi-Pelagianism was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Orange in 529.

Augustinianism, in contrast to the other two, says that not only is God’s grace absolutely necessary for salvation, but it is sufficient to secure for the elect both the accomplishment and application of salvation. They say with Jonah, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9). Reformed theology, which is the natural development of Augustine’s thought, says that Adam’s sin and guilt has been imputed to the entire human race and we are born with sinful desires and inclinations under the wrath of God. We are unable to believe the gospel message until we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit during the proclamation of the gospel. The relationship between regeneration and faith is like the relationship between a baby being born and that child breathing. Faith is the natural response of every born again child of God just as breathing is natural and automatic for everyone who is alive. Augustinianism is monergistic in contrast to semi-Pelagianism which is synergistic in which man and God work together to achieve salvation. In Augustinianism, God alone accomplishes salvation and sovereignly applies it through the gospel message. Fallen man is enslaved to sin and must be liberated from it by the Holy Spirit to be able to believe. Two key texts related to Augustinianism are Romans 8:7-9 and Ephesians 2:1-6 which depict fallen man as being hostile to God and dead in sin apart from the indwelling Spirit. Martin Luther’s book The Bondage of the Will is a classic formulation of Augustinian thought and demonstrates that the Reformation was about a lot more than just justification.

The reason why Pelagius came to his position that man is morally neutral and able to merit salvation is that he believed God would never command us to do something we were unable to accomplish. In his mind, that would be unjust and cruel. What lawgiver gives laws that are impossible to keep? Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Leviticus 19:2 says the same thing, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Mormons use this same logic today against justification by faith alone. Wesleyan perfectionists say roughly the same thing but with regard to man after justification who they believe can live in sinless perfection.

The problem with this argument is that it denies God’s sovereignty to decree whatever he wishes. They do not realize that our fallen state does not change God’s righteous character. Because God is perfectly righteous and holy, he demands of us the same thing. Habakkuk 1:13 says God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” Our inability to not sin does not negate our responsibility and guilt toward God as his creatures. Pelagius, Roman Catholics, and Arminians wrongly assume that responsibility implies ability and construct a theology based around libertarian free will that is not affected by the fall. Hyper-Calvinists do the same thing except in the opposite direction. They argue that because fallen man cannot obey God or believe the gospel, he is not responsible for his sins or unbelief. What these groups fail to realize is that God supplies the ability for his people to believe during the preaching of the gospel and gives them the Holy Spirit to cause them to follow him and not turn away from him (Deut 30:6; Jer 31:31-34; 32:39-40; Eze 36:26-27; John 6:44; 8:36; Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 1:29; 2 Thess 2:13-14; Jam 1:18; 1 Pet 1:3, 23; 2 Pet 1:3; 1 John 5:1). God supplies what he demands. We work because God works in us (Phil 2:13). For those who do not believe, God holds them responsible for their sin on the basis of the evil intentions of their heart. They have no desire to please or honor God and are rebels against him (Rom 3:10-19). They are willing slaves to sin (John 8:34). The resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit is their only hope.

In part two, I will marshal biblical evidence for the Augustinian position regarding fallen man’s natural state.

The Eternal Covenant of Redemption

The covenant of redemption is a theological construct that describes the eternal plan of salvation in the mind of the triune God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit entered into a covenant relationship with one another in eternity past to redeem a people out of this fallen world. It describes the roles and relationships that exist between the three persons of the Trinity and what each person accomplishes in the work of redemption. This covenant of redemption is also known as the pactum salutis. It encompasses the eternal decree of God whereby God controls history for the purpose of bringing glory to himself. What is accomplished in history was planned in eternity.

The covenant relationship between the Father and the Son can be seen in Psalm 110:4: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.'” The language of swearing presupposes an oath formula. When two parties enter into a covenant with each other, they swear oaths that they will uphold the terms of the covenant. If it is a bilateral covenant, both parties will be responsible for the terms of the covenant; if it is unilateral, then only one party takes responsibility for fulfilling the obligations of the covenant. The covenant of redemption is both unilateral and bilateral because there is only one God, yet this one God exists as three distinct persons. Here the Father installs the Son as a high priest to accomplish the work of redemption that he has planned out. Some parallels between swearing an oath and entering into a covenant relationship can be seen in Genesis 26:28; Deuteronomy 19:8; 28:9; 29:12; 1 Chronicles 16:16; 2 Chronicles 15:15; Psalm 89:3; 119:106; Isaiah 54:9; Micah 7:20; and Acts 2:30. In the book of Hebrews, the author uses Psalm 110:4 as evidence for a covenant between the Father and the Son: “but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.'” (Heb 7:21). With this oath, God appointed him to be a high priest (Heb 5:5).

Jesus refers to God’s eternal plan of salvation in John 6:37-39 when he makes reference to the people whom the Father has given him: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. . . . 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.” The giving of a people to the Son takes place prior to their coming to him in faith. The believing of this people is caused by the Father giving them to the Son and in time they come to Christ because of the drawing of the Father through the gospel (John 6:44). This giving of a people to the Son is part of the doctrine of election where salvation was planned by the Father in eternity past: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:4-5). The Father then sent his Son into the world to die for these people on the cross (John 3:16) and the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of the work of Christ to them in time (Acts 10:44; Jam 1:18). The work of salvation was planned by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit. For more information about the taxis or roles within the Trinity, see Bruce Ware’s helpful article on the Trinity and worship.

In this covenant, the Father promises to his Son exaltation and glory for his work of redemption (Isa 53:12; 55:4-5; Phil 2:7-11). He promises to raise his Son from the dead and exalt him over the nations (Psa 2:7-9; 16:8-11). The Father gives the Spirit to his Son because the Son is the Father’s chosen one (Isa 42:1). The Son, in turn, promises to obey his Father perfectly and accomplish everything the Father has assigned to him (Psa 40:7-8; John 14:31). In return for his obedience, the Son receives a bride and a kingdom. The sacrificial death of Christ serves as the bride-price which redeems the church who is the bride the Father has given to his Son (Eph 5:25-26). The bride of Christ then serves him for what he has done for them (Psa 68:18). The Father assigned to his Son a kingdom even before the incarnation and exaltation (Luke 22:29). The Holy Spirit’s work in this eternal plan is to point people to Christ and raise dead sinners through the gospel (John 15:26; 16:14). The Holy Spirit is the one who makes Christ’s elect people willing to serve him and able to believe (Psa 110:3; Jer 32:39-40; Eze 36:25-27; John 3:3).

John 17, the high priestly prayer of Jesus, unveils the curtains of eternity for us to see part of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. In John 17:4, Jesus says, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” The question we must ask is, “When did the Father give his Son this work to do?” I believe the only answer we can give is eternity past. The cross was God’s eternal plan as Paul says in Ephesians 3:11: “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God promised eternal life before the ages even began (Tit 1:2). He decreed it before the ages for our glory (1 Cor 2:7). The Father chose the Son before the foundation of the world for this work of redemption (1 Pet 1:20). The kingdom has been prepared for God’s people from before the foundation of the world (Matt 25:34; Rev 13:8; 17:8).

But how does the covenant of redemption relate to the covenants of grace and works? In the covenant of redemption, the Son promises to fulfill the obligations of the covenant of works accomplishing what Adam failed to do. Through his obedience, Christ obtains a perfect righteousness for his people and this righteousness is applied to them in justification when they believe the gospel message. The covenant of redemption is the foundation for the gospel of grace because without the sending of Christ into the world as a substitute for sinners, there could be no salvation. We can only be in covenant relationship with God because God did not spare his own Son. He spared him not that he might spare us (Rom 8:32). Our New Covenant relationship with God only exists because divine justice has been satisfied for those who trust in Christ (Rom 3:25). Rather than being a speculative system of doctrine, Covenant Theology provides us with the necessary tools we need to appreciate and comprehend God’s eternal plan of salvation as well as the right relationship between law and grace. Where Covenant Theology is rejected, antinomianism and Arminianism are sure to spring up eventually.

See also “The Covenant of Works” and “The Covenant of Grace”

Sunday Meditation – A Higher Calling

“The time is short; eternity is at the door; was there no other evil in these vain amusements than the loss of precious time (but alas! their name is legion), we have not leisure in our circumstances to regard them.  And, blessed be God! we need them not.  The gospel opens a source of purer, sweeter, and more substantial pleasures: we are invited to communion with God: we are called to share in the theme of angels, the songs of heaven; and the wonders of redeeming love are laid open to our view.  The Lord himself is waiting to be gracious, waiting with promises and pardons in his hands.  Well then may we bid adieu to the perishing pleasures of sin; well may we pity those who can find pleasures in those places and parties where he is shut out; where his name is only mentioned to be profaned; where his commandments are not only broken, but insulted; where sinners proclaim their shame, as in Sodom, and attempt not to hide it; where at best wickedness is wrapt up in a disguise of delicacy, to make it more insinuating; and nothing is more offensive that is not grossly and unpolitely indecent.”

-to Miss Thorpe

John Newton, The Letters of John Newton, 379.

The Covenant of Grace

The covenant of grace is a theological phrase that describes the covenant relationship that exists between every justified believer and God. The covenant of grace begins in Genesis 3:15 where God promises to undo the damage caused by the sin of man by conquering the one who deceived him through a descendant of Adam and Eve. This promise of salvation was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who crushed Satan under his feet through his death on the cross. Adam and Eve were saved by believing this message and God clothed them in animal skins to demonstrate his forgiveness and the covering over of their sins by means of a blood sacrifice. God entered into a covenant relationship with them after the breaking of the first covenant where he promised to forgive all their sins, give them a new heart, put his Spirit within them, and make them his people (Jer 31:31-34; 32:40; Eze 36:25-27). Some other verses related to the covenant of grace include Psalm 25:14; Isaiah 54:10; 55:3; 59:20-21; 61:8; Jeremiah 50:4-5; Zechariah 9:11; Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:14-17; 13:20.

Every believer throughout history is in this covenant which translates them from being under condemnation for their sins to being forgiven and adopted into God’s family. They are no longer under the covenant of works relating to God as a stern judge who must punish them for their sins, but they now relate to God in terms of grace and God is their loving Father. They are no longer under the condemning power of the law because their relationship to God has changed to one of grace and forgiveness. That is what Paul means in Romans 6:14 when he says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” They are under the reign of God’s grace instead of the reign of sin and death through the law’s power over them. They no longer relate to the law as a covenant of works that they must perfectly obey in order to be saved because Christ has perfectly obeyed it in their place. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the covenant of works (God’s perfect righteous standard) when Adam failed to. Now we relate to God in terms of unmerited favor because of what Christ has done rather than being condemned for our violation of God’s law because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. Christ both lived for us in his active obedience and died for us in his passive obedience.

This covenant of grace does not just exist between God and New Testament saints, but with those who lived before Christ.  Isaiah 55:3 says that God will make a covenant with everyone who turns to him: “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” This covenant with every repentant believer is of the same nature as God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:16 which cannot possibly fail to be accomplished. The covenant of grace with every believer is unilateral which means that God takes responsibility to see its fulfillment and therefore is unconditional and unbreakable. The covenant of works, on the other hand, is bilateral, conditional, and breakable as in the covenant with Adam and the Mosaic covenant: “my covenant that they broke” (Jer 31:32). The covenants with Noah, Abraham, David, and the New Covenant are covenants of grace because they are unbreakable and kept by God alone. That is why these covenants have been referred to as administrations of the covenant of grace started in Genesis 3:15 and because they mark God’s unfolding redemptive plan to redeem a people for himself.

The difference between the New Covenant of Hebrews 8 and the covenant of grace is that while the New Covenant did not come into existence until the death of Christ, the covenant of grace has existed since Genesis 3:15. The blessings of the New Covenant (knowing God, having the law written on the heart, and the forgiveness of sins) are the same as the blessings of the covenant of grace. But while all of those in the New Covenant know God, only some of those who were under the Old or Mosaic Covenant knew God. Old Testament saints had these blessings, but not all in Israel had them. Israel was a mixture of both the saved and the lost whereas the church is only made up of those who are saved. Of course, there are many local churches where not everyone who is a member is saved – but it should not be that way. The pattern we are given in the New Testament is one of regenerate church membership.

The only people who have ever been partakers of the covenant of grace are those who have been saved and know God. As Herman Witsius (the chief proponent of Covenant Theology) has said, “We are first of all to consider those benefits which belong to the covenant of grace, taken absolutely and in itself, and therefore common to all those in covenant . . . we enumerate the following in order: 1. Election. 2. Effectual calling to the communion of Christ. 3. Regeneration. 4. Faith. 5. Justification. 6. Spiritual peace. 7. Adoption. 8. The Spirit of Adoption. 9. Sanctification. 10. Conservation, or preservation. 11. Glorification.” (The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man, 1:325) and “in the covenant of grace are promised both salvation itself, and all the means leading to it” (The Economy, 1:283). Those who believe in infant baptism have misused Covenant Theology to support their beliefs when it was originally a soteriological system, not an ecclesiological one. The infant children of Israelites were partakers in the external economy of the covenant of grace or outward administration of it without being members of the covenant of grace until they received the forgiveness of their sins. It does not follow that to be a member in the community created by the members of the covenant of grace implies that they are actual partakers of it when the covenant is defined in solely soteriological terms.

See also: “The Biblical Basis for the Covenant of Works”“How Do the Church and Israel Relate to Each Other?”, and “Were Old Testament Saints Indwelt by the Holy Spirit?”

Does God Still Give Dreams and Visions Today?

I was asked to write about how I would respond to a woman who claims that she received a dream from God saying that Christ is coming soon. Here is my response:

Thank you for sharing your dream with me. Acts 2:17 does say that in the last days “your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” We should strive to be like the first century church and imitate their faith and trust in God. However, there are false teachers who claim to receive dreams from God and use them to twist the Scripture. For example, Jude 1:8 says, “Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” That’s why we need to examine the content of our dreams to see whether or not they are in-line with Scripture. Acts 17:11 says that we must be “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so.” If we think that we have received a dream from God, we must examine all of it by Scripture alone and if any part of it is not from God, then it is not a dream from him. The Bible is our ultimate authority and we must test everything by it (2 Tim 3:16-17).

The Bible does teach clearly that Jesus is coming soon: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev 22:12). However, Jesus warns us strongly about anyone who would say they know exactly when he will return: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13; 24:36, 50). Later he says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). If someone claims that they know exactly when Jesus is coming back, then they are not speaking in accordance with Scripture.

It could be that this is not a dream directly from God, but is the result of your being saturated in the Scripture and the promises of Jesus. If God has given you a dream, you should be like Mary who “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). I do not think it would be wise for you to share this dream with the entire church because some of them are not used to God working in supernatural ways (we are Baptists after all). The truth that Jesus is coming again soon is a plain truth revealed in Scripture and we don’t need a dream to share with others this great message.

Dreams from God are rare occurrences and usually occur in the context of extreme persecution and on the mission field. Here are some links to videos showing examples of people who have received dreams and visions from God in extreme circumstances:

IMB video about Muslims receiving dreams which tell them about missionaries who will share with them the gospel

Another IMB video about a Buddhist woman who came to faith in Christ and was miraculously healed after receiving a dream telling her to seek out Christians.

Richard Wurmbrand’s description of a vision from Jesus which occurred while he was being tortured horribly for Christ in prison over a 14 year period

Other written examples could be added to the list from the testimony of missionaries, but you see that these dreams occur in very unique circumstances to help bring the message of the gospel to places where evangelism is forbidden or to bring comfort in the midst of terrible suffering. Because of this, I think that it is more likely that your dream is the result of you being saturated with the Word of God and looking forward to the coming of Christ to redeem his bride. If this dream has been used by God to cause you to long more for the coming of Christ, then I praise God for it.

See also: “Why I Am A Cessationist”

Sunday Meditation -Depression

“Let a man be naturally as blithe as a bird, he will hardly be able to bear up year after year against such a suicidal process; he will make his study a prison and his books the warders of a gaol, while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy. He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours ramble in the beech woods?  Umbrageous calm would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best. Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air, ev’ry wind that rises blows away despair. The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops—these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary. For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.”

Charles Spurgeon, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits”