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The Confession of Faith on Genesis 3:15

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 7, 2016 at 11:40 am

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Copyright © 2016 Richard C. Barcellos. All rights reserved.

Our Confession cites Genesis 3:15 in two most instructive contexts. Here is Genesis 3:15 and the 2LCF 7.2-3 (which cites the Genesis 3:15 in 7.3) and 2LCF 20.1 (which cites Gen. 3:15).

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Gen. 3:15)

  1. Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe (Ezek. 36:26-27).
  1. This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. (2LCF 7.2-3)
  1. The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance (Gen. 3:15); in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (2LCF 20.1)

In 2LCF 7.3 above, the covenant of grace is said to be “revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman.” Genesis 3:15 is cited just after “the seed of the woman.” Genesis 3:15 contains the matter of the gospel (i.e., its rudimentary ingredients). This is a very ancient and well-attested understanding of Genesis 3:15.

Genesis 3:15 in 2LCF 7

In the paragraphs of the 2LCF from chapter 7 above, two of the biblical texts cited were inserted into the quoted text—Ezekiel 36:26-27 and Genesis 3:15. Though our main focus is on Genesis 3:15, it is of great importance to understand why the framers of our Confession utilized Ezekiel 36:26-27 as they did. The citation of the Ezekiel text comes in paragraph 2. Here is that paragraph again:

  1. Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe (Ezek. 36:26-27). (2LCF 7.2)

Notice the central assertion of the paragraph: “. . . it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace.” This “covenant of grace” is necessary due to “man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall.” The last clause of the paragraph indicates the efficient cause of sinners receiving the benefits of this covenant—“his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” It is at this point that Ezekiel 36:26-27 is cited. That text reads as follows:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezek. 36:26-27)

This is a clear allusion to what Jeremiah calls the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31, which reads, “Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.’” This covenant was concluded or historically ratified by our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems clear, then, that the Confession sees the new covenant as the covenant of grace.[1]

In light of this, it is of interest to note the other texts cited at the end of 7.2 by the Confession. Those texts are John 6:44-45 and Psalm 110:3. John 6:44-45 reads:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. (John 6:44-45)

These are the words of our Lord. The Old Testament reference in verse 45 is probably a collation of Isaiah 54:13 and Jeremiah 31:34 due to the fact that Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets” (emphasis added). Isaiah 54:13 reads, “All your sons will be taught of the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:34 reads, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me . . .” Jesus’ words allude to the promised new covenant of the Old Testament. Psalm 110:3 reads, “Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew.” This Psalm is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament, about 25 times. Citing these texts (Ezek. 36:26-27; John 6:44-45; and Psalm 110:3) at the end of 7.2 indicates that the framers of our Confession saw the covenant of grace promised in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 36 and Isaiah 54, Jeremiah 31, and Psalm 110.

Genesis 3:15 in 2LCF 7.3

Our main focus in this section is on the Confession’s use of Genesis 3:15. The citation of this verse comes toward the beginning of 2LCF 7.3. It reads as follows: “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), . . .” The words “This covenant” clearly refers back to the “covenant of grace” in paragraph 2. The words “is revealed in the gospel” tell us that our framers believed the “covenant of grace” is gospel revelation. In other words, it is good news for sinners, the news of “life and salvation by Jesus Christ” (2LCF 7.2). The covenant of grace is the promised new covenant of Old Testament prophecy.

This covenant of grace is said to be “revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman.” This is where Genesis 3:15 is cited. Notice that the framers assert that the covenant of grace is “revealed . . . in the promise . . .” This is not the same as asserting that the covenant was formally and historically established by the words of Genesis 3:15. In fact, we know this to be the case because of what follows: “and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.” The completion, or “full discovery,” of the covenant of grace, its formal, historical establishment, waited until the New Testament. It was promised in the Old and brought to completion in the New. It was “revealed . . . first of all to Adam . . . and afterwards [revealed] by farther steps [in the Old Testament], until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.”

This use of Genesis 3:15 argues that our framers viewed the Bible as organic and progressive, as well as consummated by the truths revealed to us in the New Testament. This suggests that our framers saw a promise/fulfillment motif in the Bible, centering on the gospel, the covenant of grace, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Genesis 3:15 in 2LCF 20.1

  1. The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance (Gen. 3:15); in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (2LCF 20.1)

Notice that Genesis 3:15 is cited after acknowledging that “[t]he covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life.” The truth revealed in Genesis 3:15 is necessary if fallen man is to enjoy the “life” proffered by the covenant of works. The life proffered by the covenant of works was not what Adam had via creation but what he could have attained via the covenant of works (cf. 2LCF 7.1-2). That which is contained in Genesis 3:15 is “the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman.” The “seed of the woman” clearly refers to Christ. This promise is “the means of calling the elect . . .” It is a promise in which “the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed” and as a gospel promise “[is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.” According to our Confession, the first revelation of the good news is to be found in Genesis 3:15.

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[1] See Pascal Denault’s, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), chapters 2 and 4.

Ecclesiastical Antinomianism

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on May 31, 2016 at 11:13 am

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Antinomianism has certainly received its fair share of just criticism in recent years–predominantly on account of its pernicious presence in the pulpits across our land. While the doctrinal forms of Antinomianism are quite pernicious, its practical forms are sometimes even more dangerous; after all, “bad company corrupts good morals.” Yet, for all the attention that theologians have given to battling Antinomianism in the realm of individual Christian belief and experience, there is a widespread form of Antinomianism that requires more attention, namely, ecclesiastical Antinomianism.  – Read it here

The Christian Sabbath

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on May 28, 2016 at 3:50 pm

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THE SABBATH

1. What is the Sabbath?

It is one day of the week, which God requires to be kept as a day of rest, and holy to Him.

2. What day of the week did the Jews observe?

The seventh, which we commonly call Saturday.

3. What day do Christians keep?

The first day of the week or Sunday.

4. Why do Christians keep Sunday as the Sabbath?

Because it was on that day of the week that Christ rose from the dead.

5. What name is given to it on this account?

The Lord’s Day.

6. Did the Apostles and the Christians of their day observe the first day of the week?

They did, and that is our authority for observing the first instead of the seventh day.

7. What truth was the Sabbath appointed to commemorate?

The completion of God’s work of Creation.

8. What additional truth does the Christian Sabbath teach?

The triumphant completion of the still more glorious work of Redemption.

(A Brief Catechism of BIBLE DOCTRINE by JAMES P. BOYCE, D. D. Professor of Systematic and Polemic Theology; The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

WHEN Are We Forgiven?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 20, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son

A Survey of Reformed and Puritan Views

by D. Scott Meadows

When does God forgive anyone’s sins? Are all the elects’ sins forgiven from eternity, as they are in Christ according to God’s decree? Or are all a person’s sins forgiven when he first repents and believes the gospel? What about future sins after conversion? Does God completely forgive even our future sins at the single point of our conversion, and after that, no longer exercise actual forgiveness toward us? Or does God keep forgiving believers’ particular sins again and again throughout our lives, only after we commit them, and perhaps, after we repent of them? When we pray, “forgive us our sins,” as Christ commanded us, are we pleading for something that has already been granted us, so that it is a mere formality, or are we begging something that we still need, and might be granted afterward and in answer to our hope-filled prayer?

These questions raise very interesting issues concerning the doctrine of justification and its relation to the forgiveness of sins. The matter is not easy because all these questions suggest at least an element of truth and all the truths they suggest are not easily harmonized.

Very significantly to us at CBC-Exeter, our formal subordinate doctrinal standard under Scripture, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LCF), stands squarely against the idea of complete forgiveness of all sins past, present, and future in every sense whatsoever, either in eternity or at a single point in time, when it says,

God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified, and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure; and in that condition they have not usually the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance (11.5).

So while justification is a permanent state for every Christian believer, from the moment he trusts in Christ (not actually before this), God’s forgiveness is a dynamic thing throughout our lives. According to this statement, He “continues to forgive” our sins; i.e., God forgives us particularly, repeatedly, and enduringly. Because we sin daily, we stand daily in need of His forgiveness, and the gospel promises us that we shall have this grand blessing through the renewed exercise of our faith and repentance.

My research into these matters has uncovered a fairly consistent consensus among Reformed and Puritan theologians on the matter, and that consensus is beautifully conveyed in 2LCF above.

Puritan John Owen (1616–1683) is a household name among discerning Reformed Christians today, for he may be one of the most eminent theologians in twenty centuries of church history. That does not mean he is infallible, of course, but he is an extremely reliable guide in biblical exegesis and doctrinal truth. His remarks below should carry much weight with us:

Future sins are not so pardoned as that, when they are committed, they should be no sins; which cannot be, unless the commanding power of the law be abrogated: but their respect unto the curse of the law, or their power to oblige the justified person thereunto, is taken away.

Still there abideth the true nature of sin in every inconformity unto or transgression of the law in justified persons, which stands in need of daily actual pardon. For there is “no man that liveth and sinneth not;” and “if we say that we have no sin, we do but deceive ourselves.” None are more sensible of the guilt of sin, none are more troubled for it, none are more earnest in supplications for the pardon of it, than justified persons. For this is the effect of the sacrifice of Christ applied unto the souls of believers, as the apostle declares, Heb. 10:1–4, 10, 14, that it doth take away conscience condemning the sinner for sin, with respect unto the curse of the law; but it doth not take away conscience condemning sin in the sinner, which, on all considerations of God and themselves, of the law and the gospel, requires repentance on the part of the sinner, and actual pardon on the part of God.

Whereas, therefore, one essential part of justification consisteth in the pardon of our sins, and sins cannot be actually pardoned before they are actually committed (Works of John Owen V.146–147).

Francis Turretin (1623–1687) left us a massive work of Protestant scholasticism defending Calvinistic orthodoxy, entitled Institutes of Elenctic Theology. His treatment of the subject is perhaps the fullest and most precise of all we are considering in this lecture. This complex statement, my friends, is a masterpiece of clear and faithful biblical teaching:

XVII. Third proposition: “Remission is extended to all the sins entirely of believers, of whatever kind they may be, future as well as past and present, but in their own order.” This question is moved with regard to future sins—are they also remitted at the same time and at once with the past and present sins? For there are some even of our theologians of great reputation who think that in the justification of the sinner all his sins (the future equally with the past) are at the same time and at once remitted, both because the righteousness of Christ, which is the foundation of our justification, is wholly (however great it is) imputed at once and at the same time to us and because justification ought to leave no room for condemnation (Rom. 8:1). . .

XVIII. We think the difficulty can be overcome by a distinction. All sins (future as well as past) cannot be said to be remitted at the same time and once formally and explicitly because as they are not accidents of a nonentity, so as long as the sin is not, punishment is not due to it; and since it is not due, it cannot be remitted (as a debt not yet contracted cannot be cancelled). Besides for the remission of sin there is required a confession and repentance of it, which cannot be made unless it has been committed. Hence we are ordered to seek remission of sins every day, which is to be applied to sins committed, not to anticipate their perpetration. But because in justification the righteousness of Christ is applied to us (which is the foundation upon which the remission of all our sins rests) and because from the covenant of grace God promises that he will not remember our sins, nothing prevents us from saying that in this sense sins are remitted eminently and virtually because in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us is the foundation of that remission. And thus all our sins are remitted by God, whether past or present or future, but with respect to the time in which they are committed; so that past and present are actually remitted, the future when they are committed will most certainly be remitted according to God’s promise. Thus the state of justification remaining undisturbed and the acceptation of the person remaining uninterrupted and the general remission of sins already committed, the following and future as to particular absolution are not actually pardoned before their commission; nay, before they have been repented of either generally or particularly.

XIX. I confess if we regard the eternal purpose of God in which all things, even the future, appeared to God as present (Acts 15:18) and the merit and acquisition of Christ, who offered to God a perfectly sufficient ransom for the expiation of all our sins, so that as to the promise given by God in the covenant of grace concerning their remission, remission under this relation can be said to be extended to all sins whether past or future. But if the actual remission itself is regarded, which is made by an intimation of the absolving sentence in the heart of the believer and penitent, it can be referred only to sins already committed. Thus to take away the guilt of subsequent sins, there is required a particular application of remission, not only as to the sense and assurance of remission, but also as to the true and real forgiveness itself (emphasis mine, DSM).

XX. As the person whose sins are pardoned can be considered, either as to the state of grace (in which he is constituted by justification) or as to the particular acts (which he can afterwards commit), so remission can be viewed in two aspects: either generally as to state (according to which God receives the believing and penitent sinner into grace on account of Christ and bestows upon him the pardon of all the sins of which he is guilty); or specially as to particular acts of sin into which he afterwards falls, for taking away the guilt of which a particular absolution is needed. Not that the state of justification into which he is translated can be dissolved or remission once bestowed be abrogated, because God remains always his Father, but a Father angry on account of sins recently committed (which although they cannot constitute him a “child of wrath” on account of the immutability of calling and justification, still they make him a “child under wrath,” so that he deservedly incurs the fatherly indignation of God and has need forthwith of a new justification or particular remission of these sins through faith and repentance).

XXI. Although the justified believer has not as yet the formal remission of future sins, he does not cease to be happy and free from actual condemnation because he has the foundation from which he can infer with positive certainty that it is prepared for him according to God’s promise. If the whole righteousness of Christ is at the same time imputed, its entire fruit does not flow out to us at once, but successively in proportion to the inrushings of sin (for the remission of which the believer ought to apply that ransom to himself every day). (Institutes 16.5.17–21).

Benedict Pictet (1655–1724), scarcely known today, even among Reformed Christians, was successor at Geneva to the venerable Turretin.

Should it be inquired, whether remission or forgiveness be extended to future sins; although some divines contend, that, from the moment of our entrance into communion with Christ, there is no sin of which we do not obtain the remission, yet we think it better to say, that remission is not extended to future sins. For in the first place, as long as there is no sin, punishment is not due to it, and when it is not due, it cannot be said to be remitted. Again, to remission of sin are required repentance and confession, which therefore suppose sin to be actually committed; hence we are commanded to seek forgiveness daily, which can only be applied to actually committed sins. Observe, also, that when a believer falls into sin, the forgiveness he has once received is not done away, nor do the sins forgiven him, rise up again in judgment, but still he incurs the wrath of his heavenly Father, and stands in need of fresh forgiveness (Christian Theology, p. 320).

I believe this is, in the main, what Puritan Thomas Watson (1620–1687) was driving at when he wrote,

When I say, God forgives all sins, I understand it of sins past, for sins to come are not forgiven till they are repented of. Indeed, God has decreed to pardon them; and when he forgives one sin, he will in time forgive all; but sins future are not actually (emphasis mine) pardoned till they are repented of. It is absurd to think sin should be forgiven before it is committed. If all sins past and to come are at once forgiven, then what need to pray for the pardon of sin? It is a vain thing to pray for the pardon of that which is already forgiven. The opinion that sins to come, as well as past, are forgiven, takes away and makes void Christ’s intercession. He is an advocate to intercede for daily sins. 1 John 2:1. But if sin be forgiven before it be committed, what need is there of his daily intercession? What need have I of an advocate, if sin be pardoned before it be committed? So that, though God forgives all sins past to a believer, yet sins to come are not forgiven till repentance be renewed (The Lord’s Prayer, in loc.).

Puritan Thomas Manton (1620–1677) wrote that

As soon as we repent and believe, a threefold benefit we have:– 1) The state of the person is altered; he is a child of God: John 1.12. . . . 2) The actual remission of all past sins: Rom 3.25, “To declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” It would be a license to sin if his sins were remitted before committed. 3) A right to the remission of daily sins, or free leave to make use of the fountain of mercy, that is always running, and is opened in the house of God for the comfort of believers: Zech. 13:1, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.” (emphasis mine)

Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) had his own way of expressing these things:

These views may assist us in the intricate subject of the relation which justification bears to the believer’s future sins. On the one hand these things are evident; that there is not a man on the earth who does not offend (Jas 3.2), that sin must always be sin in its nature, and as such, abhorrent to God, by whomsoever committed; and even more abhorrent in a believer, because committed against greater obligations and vows; and that sins committed after justification need expiation, just as truly as those before. On the other hand, the proofs above given clearly show, that the justified believer does not pass again under condemnation when betrayed into sin. Faith is the instrument for continuing, as it was for originating our justified state. This is clear from Rom. 11:20; Heb. 10:38, as well as from the experience of all believers, who universally apply a fresh to Christ for cleansing, when their consciences are oppressed with new sin. In strictness of speech, a man’s sin must be forgiven after it is committed. Nothing can have a relation before it has existence, so that it is illogical to speak of sin as pardoned before it is committed. How, then, stands the sinning believer, between the time of a new sin and his new application to Christ’s cleansing blood? We reply: Justification is the act of an immutable God, determining not to impute sin, through the believer’s faith. This faith, though not in instant exercise at every moment, is an undying principle in the believer’s heart, being rendered indefectible only by God’s purpose of grace, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So God determines, when the believer sins, not to impute guilt for Christ’s sake, which determination also implies this other, to secure in the believer’s heart, the unfailing actings of faith and repentance, as to all known sin. So that his justification from future sins is not so much a pardoning of them before they are committed, as an unfailing provision by God both of the meritorious and instrumental causes of their pardon, as they are committed (Systematic Theology, p. 369).

In a discussion of the same question, the great scholar of biblical theology in modern times, Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949), quoted this statement with approval:

In justification future sins are not forgiven explicitly and formally, but virtually, that is, in principle and potentially (Reformed Dogmatics IV.159 §19).

Vos added his own explanation,

Sin as it actually exists certainly retains its character as sin as far as its inherent character is concerned. . . . When the consciousness of sin awakens in the believer, again and again there must be a renewed application of justification to the conscience. . . . The application of this single pronouncement [in the forum of heaven or before God of justification] to the conscience occurs again and again in renewal. Scripture calls that the forgiveness of sins (1 John 1.9; Matt 6.12; 1 John 2.1). (Reformed Dogmatics IV.159 §19).

That eminent systematic theologian, Louis Berkhof (1873–1957), is known for simplifying and synthesizing the best of the Reformed tradition. His comment on this is most illuminating:

The usual position of Reformed theology, however, is that in justification God indeed removes the guilt, but not the culpability of sin, that is, He removes the sinner’s just amenability to punishment, but not the inherent guiltiness of whatever sins he may continue to perform. The latter remains and therefore always produces in believers a feeling of guilt, of separation from God, of sorrow, of repentance, and so on. Hence they feel the need of confessing their sins, even the sins of their youth, Ps. 25:7; 51:5–9. The believer who is really conscious of his sin feels within him an urge to confess it and to seek the comforting assurance of forgiveness. Moreover, such confession and prayer is not only a subjectively felt need, but also an objective necessity. Justification is essentially an objective declaration respecting the sinner in the tribunal of God, but it is not merely that; it is also an actus transiens [an actuality or reality that crosses over to us, DSM], passing into the consciousness of the believer. The divine sentence of acquittal [i.e., forgiveness, DSM] is brought home to the sinner and awakens the joyous consciousness of the forgiveness of sins and of favor with God. Now this consciousness of pardon and of a renewed filial relationship is often disturbed and obscured by sin, and is again quickened and strengthened by confession and prayer, and by a renewed exercise of faith.

In all candor, I admit that the judicious Hermann Bavinck (1854–1921) seems out of step with the best of the Reformed tradition, because he denies that God actually forgives us after conversion (Reformed Dogmatics IV.224) by appealing to the permanency of our justification. But as we have seen, these two things (repeated actual forgiveness and permanent justification) are not considered incompatible by the other Reformed and Puritan theologians we have cited. C. H. Spurgeon (1834–1892), too, seems of the same mind as Bavinck (e.g., “The Glories of Forgiving Grace,” MTP #1555). That these worthies grapple with this subject and do not exactly see everything in just the same way should humble us deeply, and guard us against pontification on the fringes. Some things we know for sure because of plain biblical statements; other things are not so clear even to godly and discerning spirits.

Applying this theology, let us rejoice in our once-for-all justification in Christ by faith alone, and apply to God every day for the actual forgiveness of our sins on the basis of Christ crucified, not our repentance or faith. Ω

Preaching as a Means of Grace

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 16, 2016 at 5:04 pm

John_Knox_preaching

Preaching involves teaching, but it is much more. It is often assumed that our job is to teach the gospel as information and then the Holy Spirit does something else within the hearer, apart from this human task. According to this view, it is when the hearer does something with the information or exhortation that he or she is born again. Yet this misses the wonderful truth that the ordinary manner in which the Spirit works savingly in our hearts is through the preaching of the gospel, not by doing something apart from it. The secret working of the Spirit is not separated from the publicly audible proclamation of Christ. In preaching, Christ proclaims himself and the Spirit brings about the new birth when and where he chooses. – Horton, Michael. Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

“For the perfecting of the saints”

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm

http://www.english.uiowa.edu/courses/boos/galleries/scotgall/source/16.html

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:12

(1.) The word itself and all the ordinances of the gospel are appointed and given unto us for this end, Eph. 4:11–15. That which is the end of giving gospel officers to the church is the end also of giving all the ordinances to be administered by them; for they are given “for the work of the ministry,”—that is, for the administration of the ordinances of the gospel. Now, what is or what are these ends? They are all for the preventing of decays and declensions in the saints, all for the carrying them on to perfection; so it is said, verse 12. In general, it is for the “perfecting of the saints,” carrying on the work of grace in them, and the work of holiness and obedience by them; or for the edifying of the body of Christ, their building up in an increase of faith and love, even of every true member of the mystical body. But how far are they appointed thus to carry them on, thus to build them up? Hath it bounds fixed to its work? Doth it carry them so far, and then leave them? “No,” saith the apostle, verse 13. The dispensation of the word of the gospel, and the ordinances thereof, is designed for our help, assistance, and furtherance, until the whole work of faith and obedience is consummate. It is appointed to perfect and complete that faith, knowledge, and growth in grace and holiness, which is allotted unto us in this world. But what and if oppositions and temptations do lie in the way, Satan and his instruments working with great subtlety and deceit? Why, verse 14, these ordinances are designed for our safeguarding and deliverance from all their attempts and assaults, that so being preserved in the use of them, or “speaking the truth in love, we may grow up unto him in all things who is the head, even Christ Jesus.” This is, in general, the use of all gospel ordinances, the chief and main end for which they were given and appointed of God,—namely, to preserve believers from all decays of faith and obedience, and to carry them on still towards perfection. These are means which God, the good husbandman, makes use of to cause the vine to thrive and bring forth fruit. And I could also manifest the same to be the especial end of them distinctly. Briefly, the word is milk and strong meat, for the nourishing and strengthening of all sorts and all degrees of believers. It hath both seed and water in it, and manuring with it, to make them fruitful. The ordinance of the supper is appointed on purpose for the strengthening of our faith, in the remembrance of the death of the Lord, and the exercise of love one towards another. The communion of saints is for the edifying each other in faith, love, and obedience.  – John Owen. The Works of John Owen.

How to Read the Bible

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 5, 2016 at 3:48 pm

readthebible

That sermon which does not lead to Christ, or of which Jesus Christ is not the top and the bottom, is a sort of sermon that will make the devils in hell to laugh, but might make the angels of God to weep, if they were capable of such emotion. You remember the story I told you of the Welshman who heard a young man preach a very fine sermon, a grand sermon, a highfalutin, spread-eagle sermon; and when he had done, he asked the Welshman what he thought of it. The man replied that he did not think anything of it. ‘And why not?’ ‘Because there was no Jesus Christ in it.’ ‘Well,’ said he, ‘but my text did not seem to run that way.’ ‘Never mind,’ said the Welshman, ‘your sermon ought to run that way.’ ‘I do not see that, however,’ said the young man. ‘No,’ said the other, ‘you do not see how to preach yet. This is the way to preach. From every little village in England—it does not matter where it is—there is sure to be a road to London. Though there may not be a road to certain other places, there is certain to be a road to London. Now, from every text in the Bible there is a road to Jesus Christ, and the way to preach is just to say, “How can I get from this text to Jesus Christ?” and then go preaching all the way along it.’ ‘Well, but,’ said the young man, ‘suppose I find a text that has not got a road to Jesus Christ.’ ‘I have preached for forty years,’ said the old man, ‘and I have never found such a Scripture, but if I ever do find one I will go over hedge and ditch to get to him, for I will never finish without bringing in my Master.’ – Charles H. Spurgeon. How to Read the Bible

Seven “according to the form of a servant/according to the form of God” affirmations

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 5, 2016 at 3:36 pm

1. on existence and essence

a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord’s existence is not co-extensive with his essence;

b. according to the form of God, our Lord’s existence is his essence

2. on creature and Creator

a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord is creature;

b. according to the form of God, our Lord is Creator

3. on created being and divine being

a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord came into temporal or creaturely being;

b. according to the form of God, our Lord is I AM

4. on creaturely knowing and divine knowing

a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord grew in his understanding of the Old Testament;

b. according to the form of God, our Lord predates and is the source of the Old Testament

5. on creaturely composition and divine non-composition

a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord is composed of parts and faculties;

b. according to the form of God, our Lord is without body, parts, or passions

6. on beginning and without beginning

a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord began;

b. according to the form of God, our Lord is without beginning

7. on finitude and infinity

a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord is no way infinite;

b. according to the form of God, our Lord is every way infinite

The “according to . . .” formula is borrowed from Augustine.

Richard C. Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

The Great Commission

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 5, 2016 at 3:35 pm

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The Great Commission is the manifesto that commission’s believers to habitually practice evangelism. Everything in a believer’s life is corollary to this solemn responsibility. The church must be the citadel that recapitulates the necessity of evangelism, and preachers must epitomize love and intrepidity when adjuring the populace. Even if a pastor is ill-informed on evangelistic pedagogy or if a new believer is in the rudimentary stages of Christianity, they must be reminded that Gospel boldness in evangelism emanates from our effectual calling. Charles Spurgeon once said: “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!” The purpose of this article is not to cause dissonance or be captious towards anyone who does not evangelize. Rather, this article is intended to awaken the church from its aberrations of dead evangelism.

The word evangelical is unfortunately the antilogy that has caused pejorative debates over its definition. The English word evangelism comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which basically means Gospel or good news. The Scriptures declare the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and demands believers to remain unyielding and unashamed (Mark: 8:34-38). If a person professes to believe in the Gospel but will not evangelize due to fear of reprisal or unpopularity, then here is a plausible question to ask: What good is your faith if you do not put it into practice? Sadly, it is not only lay people that abdicate their responsibility to witness, it is also pastors. Paul Washer provides a possible explanation (preface) why: “people are not Gospel hardened; they are Gospel ignorant because many of their pastors are.”

Authentic or Vitiated Witness?

What happens when evangelism is not put into practice? Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” If a professing believer is always inaudible about their faith and fretful of being held in derision for witnessing, then it can easily be deduced that discipleship training would be imperative. There are several plausible reasons why self-professing believers will not witness. Here are a few examples: (1) worried about not being liked or held in disrepute; (2) fearful of disputations or quarrels; (3) wise in their own eyes; (4) ashamed of the Gospel; (5) biblically illiterate, (6) or unregenerate. Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 8:34-38, Romans 1:16; 2:13, and James 2:17 and would be helpful studies to overcome the aforementioned reasons.

There are voluminous evangelical ministries that offer academic training and mentorship for pastors. It is not uncommon to meet a reformed preacher who is zealous about academics and has a true affinity for reading books, which are advantageous to spiritual development. If pastors are going to be trained by any ministry that espouses “shepherding pastors,” then this underlying theme must be taught by example: evangelism is not a theoretical practice; it is an indispensable command! Here are a few questions for those evangelical ministries that train pastors and also to my fellow reformed pastors who are advocates of academia and reading solidified books:

First, what good is your ability to train pastors or exegete a text historically, grammatically, and typologically if you do not evangelize (witnessing in community, sharing the Gospel with unsaved family members and friends, street-preaching, passing out tracts, etc)? If you respond by saying, “I am not called to evangelize,” you are correct. You are not called, you are commanded (Matthew 28:19)! There are several biblical and historical examples that you can emulate who typify evangelistic rigor (e.g., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Paul, Whitefield, and Spurgeon). You must be the example to your entrusted flock (1 Peter 5:3)! If you say, “I preach to my church, that’s my calling,” then you must answer the next two questions:

Second, how do you preach on evangelism to your church when you do not evangelize yourself? Do you not practice what you preach? The Master warned about certain men who told others to do something that they would not do (Matthew 23:3-4). If you do not possess the desire or calling to be an evangelistic example to your flock, then maybe you’re not called! If you are content with a stable (pastoral) job with a respected paycheck and refuse to be an evangelistic example to your flock, then maybe it’s the paycheck that you are called to receive. You must determine if your calling is authentically Gospel centered or false and vitiated. Either you possess the vehement desire to witness out of an inexpressible love for sinners, or you possess the attributes of a trifling pastor who contemptuously tells others what they are doing wrong in evangelism while they themselves do not evangelize at all.

Third, if you do not put your faith into practice by evangelizing then what profit have you gained from your seminary academics, erudition, and robust book collection? It would be absurd to hear about an aspiring medical student who endured laboriously to graduate, then never practiced medicine. It is also absurd to hear about a preacher who professes faith in Christ but will not witness. If you do not evangelize, your seminary degree and books will be nothing more than a compilation of inconsequential rubbish. According to Martin Luther: “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.”

Gospel Dictum

Embracing evangelism does not mean to espouse all of the cultural gimmicks that are gross misrepresentations of the Gospel. Telling unsaved people that God loves them and died for them is not evangelism. Providing inventive principles in worship so carnal people can experience spiritual euphoria is not evangelism. Preaching palatable and innocuous sermons is not evangelism. Being contentious or disputatious on Facebook is not evangelism. The new Reformed fad of wearing skinny jeans, growing long beards, showing tattoos, drinking beer, smoking cigars, boasting about robust book collection, lauding about favorite seminary, and using the “relevant” gimmicks on church slogans is not evangelism. Sharing the Gospel is!

If unbelievers are by nature servants of sin, subjects of death, and do not desire God, then how can they hear the good news without a preacher? It is impossible to earn merit or favor with God by keeping the law because salvation is freely given by His Grace. Christ received the imputation of (His elect) sin willfully and voluntarily submitted himself to be desecrated by wretched men. He received afflictions that are unfathomable to carnal reasoning. His appearance was so marred beyond human semblance and He suffered the pangs of hell that everyone deserves. The sinless Christ did not sip the full cup of divine wrath; Christ had the full cup of divine wrath splashed in His face and was pulverized with a fierce and torrential rage from His Father.

If this article offends you, is it because the article contradicts itself? Or because it contradicts you? If you are in Gospel ministry or you call yourself a Christian, you must be willing to be a public spectacle for Christ. There is no excuse for a Christian not to witness! You can pass out Gospel tracts or witness when you are at work, go to the grocery store, restaurant, dropping off kids at school, or by calling unsaved family members or friends. How can anyone you know ever know the love of Christ if all you do is warm the pews and never put your faith into practice? Remember what the Lord commanded:

“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)

About the author Sonny Hernandez is an evangelist for Jeremiah Cry Ministries and is also a Chaplain (Captain) in the Air Force Reserves. He earned a Doctorate in Pastoral Leadership from Tennessee Temple University. He is the author of Reforming the Church of Tradition: A Sunday School Sermon Project, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Three Implications of the Empty Tomb

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 26, 2016 at 4:43 pm

tomb

It has been said by some that all preaching consists of two elements–the ‘what’ of the text and the ‘so what’ of the text. Millions of professing Christians take one Lord’s Day a year to celebrate the wondrous reality of the empty tomb of Jesus. Jesus had power to lay down His life and to take it up again. I trust we all realize the tremendous theological and eternal implications of our Lord’s glorious resurrection. But what difference will it make between the time I am converted and the time I reach heaven? I may sing of it on Sunday but what help is it to me on Monday or Tuesday? For our churches facing so many different practical and spiritual issues, what difference does the empty tomb make? We must realize that we are dealing with more than an empty tomb. We are also dealing with an occupied throne. Jesus did not rise from the dead only to wander the earth for two thousand years. He ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand. 1 Corinthians 15 is the classic New Testament text which deals with the necessity and implications and applications that arise from both the truth of the resurrection and the horrific speculation of what it will mean for all of us if Jesus never did rise. At the conclusion of the chapter Paul (v. 58) gives three applications that arise from the fact of the empty tomb. The first is that we ought to continue steadfast and immovable in the faith. The word ‘steadfast’ can be translated to mean, sit there and don’t get up. Ground yourself here. This is reinforced by the command to be immovable. There are rocks so big that no one even tries to move. The world should see the Church of Jesus Christ holding fast to the truth of divine revelation. It is the truth of the gospel of a risen and glorified and one day returning Savior. If He is dead and decayed we can choose to hold or choose to throw away. If the tomb is empty we must stand fast.

The second application is that of Spirit empowered effort and activity to obey Him. Since Christ is risen and glorified we are to be ‘always abounding in the work of the Lord’. There is no greater motivation for Christian service and unceasing labor than the empty tomb.

The third application is the truth that our labor is not in vain. Why does Paul have to say these words? Is it not because many who profess faith lose sight of this truth? What is the point of all these labors and efforts? Why do men get home from work, wolf down a quick meal and go to prayer meeting? Why do women gather late on the Lord’s Day evening with one another to pray? Why seek to send missionaries and hand out tracts and preach the same truths to the same folks week after week? Is it fruitfulness and success that moves and motivates us to the blood, sweat, and tears of laboring for the good of the Kingdom? Paul says, if the King is risen and if the King is enthroned than nothing done for Him is meaningless. It is His triumph and not our fruitfulness that determines these realities.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville
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