Saturday, April 29, 2006

John Owen on Justification

I've been reading a little of John Owen, and so here are some quotes I'd like to remember :-)
"This, therefore, is that which herein I affirm:— The righteousness of Christ (in his obedience and suffering for us) imputed unto believers, as they are united unto him by his Spirit, is that righteousness whereon they are justified before God, on the account whereof their sins are pardoned, and a right is granted them unto the heavenly inheritance... The foundation of the imputation asserted is union. Hereof there are many grounds and causes, as has been declared; but that which we have immediate respect unto, as the foundation of this imputation, is that whereby the Lord Christ and believers do actually coalesce into one mystical person. This is by the Holy Spirit inhabiting in him as the head of the church in all fulness, and in all believers according to their measure, whereby they become members of his mystical body. That there is such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church, and has been so in all ages. Those who seem in our days to deny it, or question it, either know not what they say, or their minds are influenced by their doctrine who deny the divine persons of the Son and of the Spirit. Upon supposition of this union, reason will grant the imputation pleaded for to be reasonable; at least, that there is such a peculiar ground for it as is not to be exemplified in any things natural or political among men." [The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Ch9; note the emphasis on union with Christ]
"Christ and believers are one mystical person, one spiritually-animated body, head and members. This, I suppose, will not be denied; to do so, is to overthrow the church and the faith of it. Hence, what he did and suffered is imputed unto them. And it is granted that, as the surety of the covenant, he paid all our debts, or answered for all our faults; and that his righteousness is really communicated unto us. “Why, then,” say some, “there is no need of repentance; all is done for us already.” But why so? Why must we assent to one part of the gospel unto the exclusion of another? Was it not free unto God to appoint what way, method, and order he would, whereby these things should be communicated unto us?
"... Not only, therefore, the thing itself, or the communication of the righteousness of Christ unto us, but the way, and manner, and means of it, do depend on God’s sovereign order and disposal. Wherefore, although Christ did make satisfaction to the justice of God for all the sins of the church, and that as a common person (for no man in his wits can deny but that he who is a mediator and a surety is, in some sense, a common person); and although he did pay all our debts; yet does the particular interest of this or that man in what he did and suffered depend on the way, means, and order designed of God unto that end. This, and this alone, gives the true necessity of all the duties which are required of us, with their order and their ends
"... [Answering like objections that faith is also unnecessary:] the whole fallacy of this objection lies in the opposing one part of the design and method of God’s grace in this mystery of our justification unto another; or the taking of one part of it to be the whole, which, as to its efficacy and perfection, depends on somewhat else. Hereof we warned the reader in our previous discourses. For the whole of it is a supposition that the satisfaction of Christ, if there be any such thing, must have its whole effect without believing on our part; which is contrary unto the whole declaration of the will of God in the gospel... Wherefore, on the only making of that satisfaction, no one for whom it was made in the design of God can be said to have suffered in Christ, nor to have an interest in his satisfaction, nor by any way or means be made partaker of it antecedently unto another act of God in its imputation unto him. For this is but one part of the purpose of God’s grace as unto our justification by the blood of Christ, — namely, that he by his death should make satisfaction for our sins; nor is it to be separated from what also belongs unto it in the same purpose of God. Wherefore, from the position or grant of the satisfaction of Christ, no argument can be taken unto the negation of a consequential act of its imputation unto us; nor, therefore, of the necessity of our faith in the believing and receiving of it, which is no less the appointment of God than it was that Christ should make that satisfaction... And what he underwent and suffered, he underwent and suffered in our stead. But yet the act of God in laying our sins on Christ conveyed no actual right and title to us unto what he did and suffered. They are not immediately thereon, nor by virtue thereof, ours, or esteemed ours; because God has appointed somewhat else, not only antecedent thereunto, but as the means of it, unto his own glory. These things, both as unto their being and order, depend on the free ordination of God. But yet
"... It cannot be said that this satisfaction was made for us on such a condition as should absolutely suspend the event, and render it uncertain whether it should ever be for us or no. Such a constitution may be righteous in pecuniary solutions. A man may lay down a great sum of money for the discharge of another, on such a condition as may never be fulfilled; for, on the absolute failure of the condition, his money may and ought to be restored unto him, whereon he has received no injury or damage. But in penal suffering for crimes and sins, there can be no righteous constitution that shall make the event and efficacy of it to depend on a condition absolutely uncertain, and which may not come to pass or be fulfilled; for if the condition fail, no recompense can be made unto him that has suffered. Wherefore, the way of the application of the satisfaction of Christ unto them for whom it was made, is sure and steadfast in the purpose of God
"... God has appointed that there shall be an immediate foundation of the imputation of the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ unto us; whereon we may be said to have done and suffered in him what he did and suffered in our stead, by that grant, donation, and imputation of it unto us; or that we may be interested in it, that it may be made ours: which is all we contend for. And this is our actual coalescency into one mystical person with him by faith. Hereon does the necessity of faith originally depend. And if we shall add hereunto the necessity of it likewise unto that especial glory of God which he designs to exalt in our justification by Christ, as also unto all the ends of our obedience unto God, and the renovation of our natures into his image, its station is sufficiently secured against all objections. Our actual interest in the satisfaction of Christ depends on our actual insertion into his mystical body by faith, according to the appointment of God." [The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Ch9; answering objections that the necessary conclusion of Owen's view would be that of 'eternal justification', where faith and repentance are unnecessary]

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gen 3:22-24 No Life without Death?

I have often heard people interpret Genesis 3:22 like this: God in his mercy prevented man from eating from the tree of life otherwise he would have lived forever in a state of sin. But I am uncomfortable with this for a number of reasons:
  • It seems a too sophisticated intrepretation; there is a lot of logic involved in the statement above and beyond what is in the text.
  • It attributes a 'magical' property to the tree itself, that by physically eating it eternal life is conferred, ex opere operato.
  • It views 'live forever' only as meaning an unending physical life, a continuation of whatever current physical state is being experienced (kind of like the wind changing when you pull a face ;-)
Instead, I would prefer understanding Gen 3:22-24 as simply about cutting off man from life (and perfected life) as a consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death ('you shall surely die'), and not life, therefore man has no right to the tree of LIFE, and must be cut off from it. So 3:22 is not a mercy, but a judgement. The only way to life is God's way, and man lost the opportunity for life when he sinned. So man was sent out of the garden and cut off from the tree of life. (One wonders if the labour of 3:23 required of man indicates he is 'stuck' in the sixth day, and unable to enter the rest of God, in the perfected seventh day..?)
More tentively, I wonder if Gen 3:24 signifies that there will be no access to the tree of life, without first passing through suffering and death (the flaming sword wielded by the cherubim). This would seem a wonderful picture of what will happen in Christ, that he first dies before obtaining eternal life. But correctly reading typology and symbolism is always difficult!!!
I like Calvin's comments on this:
It is indeed certain, that man would not have been able, had he even devoured the whole tree, to enjoy life against the will of God; but God, out of respect to his own institution, connects life with the external sign, till the promise should be taken away from it; for there never was any intrinsic efficacy in the tree; but God made it life-giving, so far as he had sealed his grace to man in the use of it, as, in truths he represents nothing to us with false signs, but always speaks to us, as they say, with effect. In short, God resolved to wrest out of the hands of man that which was the occasion or ground of confidence, lest he should form for himself a vain hope of the perpetuity of the life which he had lost.

The Meaning of the Christ's Resurrection

Too often I think we overlook the main point of the resurrection. As evangelicals we can simply use it as a good apologetic for the courtroom validity of Christianity, or a litmus for orthodoxy, or even just as God's apologetic to show us that Christ's death was really a sufficient satisfaction for sin, almost as a gloss to Christ's death. But while Christ's resurrection can be all these things as well, I don't think any of these are the main point. Ultimately the resurrection is the reality of the new creation already bursting into this sin-infested world. Christ has priority and pre-eminence in the new creation even as He did in the old creation (cf Colossians 1:15-20). It is that which gives us a certain hope that the world's trajectory of death and utter destruction will be ultimately undone and overcome by God in Christ through the Spirit. Christ's resurrection is the firstfruits and guarantee that the Biblical age to come has already begun and will just as surely be consummated and perfected. And of course, this leaves us, as the church in the power of the Spirit, to be shining beacons of hope in an otherwise hopeless world, living out Christ's resurrection in newness of life, day by day.

Well, why do we miss this stuff? I don't know! Maybe it is because it's the end of the story and too many of us never finish the books we start reading :-) When I was looking again at Graeme Goldsworthy's book, According to Plan, I was pleased to read his section on 'The New Creation' near the end of his book. This is a popular book, but why do we still seem to talk so often about a 'disembodied' heaven as the opposite of hell, instead of the new creation, the new heavens and new earth? Maybe we get too tied up with some of the details along the way, and miss the point, forgetting where we're actually supposed to be going..?

I thought I would post a copy of Goldsworthy's section I was talking about, since I thought it was so good...

The New Creation
The bodily resurrection of Jesus dominates the New Testament understanding of the gospel. This emphasis in no way detracts from the death of Jesus as the perfect offering by which our sins are covered. The resurrection is central because it presupposes his death, and because it stands as the new beginning of the human race. It may be for this reason that the birth of Jesus as the new creation is not a theme developed in the New Testament. The new humanity rises in the resurrection of Jesus, and in our own bodily resurrection our participation in the Kingdom will cease to be one which is experienced by faith alone, and will become a fact of our total experience. Thus we are born again by Christ's resurrection (1 Pet 1:3), and through his resurrection we enter newness of life (Rom 6:4-11).

The consummation, then, is perceived as being the event that takes place when Christ is revealed in glory. The life in the Spirit, which is the life of faith, continues for a time. It is a life of suffering (Rom 8:18). At the same time the whole creation, which has been subjected to futility, waits with longing, for the final redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:11, 19-23). The resurrection of the children of God will signal the final redemption and renewal of the whole creation. This involvement of the physical body along with the physical creation in the regeneration is one main reason why regeneration should not be thought of exclusively as God giving new life to our spirits. The New Testament constantly repudiates the Greek Gnostic notions of salvation of the immortal soul alone. Texts dealing with the soul between death and resurrection are very scarce. But texts dealing with the resurrection of the whole person abound throughout the whole New Testament.

By now it should be absolutely obvious that the Old Testament references to the kingdom being on earth and populated by people cannot be spiritualized away. Once we accept that Jesus rose bodily, even though his resurrection body was not exactly as it had been before, the physical component of the Kingdom is clear. Those texts which support the ideas of souls going to heaven (for example, 2 Cor. 5:1-10) see it as a purely temporary situation. Peter's description of the new heaven (sky above) and new earth is drawn directly from Isaiah 65:17 (2 Pet. 3:13), which in turn is based on Genesis 1:1. So also, the marvellous description of the kingdom in Revelation 21 and 22 is based on a number of Old Testament passages. But there is no suggestion that is mere symbolism which must be interpreted in a spiritualized way.

For John, the consummation is the open fulfilment of the Old Testament hope. There is a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Rev 21:1-2). Some may think of the heavenly Jerusalem as a place in the heavens. But John describes it as from heaven and coming down onto the new earth. That which the tabernacle and temple pointed to, the dwelling of God with his people, becomes a reality (Rev. 21:3). The regeneration is now complete (Rev. 21:5), and thus there is no longer any need for 'government outposts and agencies', such as the temple which is the symbol of God's presence, for he is present and is also the source of all light (Rev. 21:22-23). The old images of Eden are there joined with those of the holy city and throne (Rev. 22:1-2, cf. Ezk. 47:1-12).

All sorts of questions no doubt spring to mind about what the new earth will be like. Most of them will have to remain unanswered in this life since scripture provides little information. One thing is for sure: the biblical view of the total regeneration of all things really beats the pagan view of an eternity spent as disembodied souls with only the odd cloud or two for support!

(Graeme Goldsworthy,
According to
(1991) IVP pages 298-300)
PS Since I didn't want to type it all out myself, I thought I'd search the web for someone who'd already done the job for me. Perhaps it is indicative that I could hardly find a copy. What was more interesting was where I did find most of it: on a Worldwide Church of God webpage! Now that is a really amazing story of a group many of us would have written off as a cult, but which has had such a turn around. You can read some of their story at their site, in their own words. Maybe it is another example of Christ's resurrection in action :-)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

What is your response to the King?

Well, I've talked about preaching, so I thought I may as well stick my neck out, and put a link on here to the last sermon I preached. It was based on Luke 19:37-44 and entitled 'What is your response to the King?' We also had Psalm 2 as a second reading. So now everyone can tell how I don't do what I said should be done! If you happen to visit, and have some time to kill, feel free to have a listen, and offer some comment or critique, or ask anything you like about it. Only condition is that if you are critical, you have to also try and be encouraging LOL ;-)

The sermon plus reading is about 35 minutes, and the mp3 is about 8.3Mb in size.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Preaching & 'The Big Idea'?

Should Bible teaching and preaching be focused around a single central point, or 'big idea'? Well, I must admit I was very much inculcated with the 'single central point' idea. And I agree with it. (How well I do it is another question ;-) Here are some of the reasons I think it is a good approach:
  • Bible teaching and preaching should be more persuasion and proclamation than just academic. Having the single idea focus adds momentum and purpose which is helpful to these ends.
  • Unless I have randomly selected the verses I will expound, presumably there is something which makes those verses a unit, something (one thing) which unifies them (UNI=one). It seems consistent then that this reason I picked that textual unit (or even collection of texts) will also be at the heart of the message I preach. So I think it is treating the bible as well as I am in picking my text :-)
  • We commonly understand the Bible to speak with this kind of purpose (with points, sub-points etc), and usually search for this purpose (meta-narrative if you like) in understanding the Scriptures. It again seems consistent that our preaching should follow that same model.
  • If I don't know what I want to get across, how will my listeners know either?
So whatever Bible teaching I do (not just in preaching), I prefer by far to have a clear single focus. I suppose at times we can have multiple foci, but if there is nothing that really unites them, then I guess they are really each separate talks or units.

While I'm at it, here are a few more of my random thoughts about preaching...
  • I think APPLICATION is really important in a sermon. But by 'application' I don't just mean things we tell people to do physically. Application can be something like 'appreciate what it means for Jesus to be the Christ'. Although application can I suppose be just knowledge (eg 'intellectually understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ'), I think application should be more emotional and/or volitional. I prefer to see intellectual understanding as the means rather than the end. In fact, I would think that some of the best sermon applications are those that inform our heart, our worldview, and as a result powerfully change our lives, rather than those that merely and superficially tell us what to do, or just put some more third-person knowledge into our heads. So I think our 'big idea' of the sermon should answer questions like 'What response to hope to see in my hearers?'
  • Having said that, I think most people need lots of nudges to move from abstract to real-life, either by way of concrete explanatory illustrations or by examples as to how non-action applications will translate into day-to-day living. Too often we are not reflective or thoughtful enough to do it ourselves after the sermon has finished.
  • I also suspect that the rather formal and polished form and delivery of sermons that is usually expected today, was probably not how they did it in the apostolic church. Maybe it is my problem, but I just can't really imagine them sticking to a tight 25min shedule, making sure everything is word-perfect, writing out everything in full and practicing beforehand, making sure there is a really good introduction and conclusion etc. As for PowerPoint presentations...
  • Theory is easier than practice. Do as I say, not as I do ;-)

Acts 23:2-5 Paul before the Sanhedrin

I'm up to Acts 23 with our English Bible Club. Paul's interactions with Ananias and the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:2-5 are intriguing! Here is what I'm wondering:
  • If we consider Luke paralleling Paul with Christ, how do we explain the difference between Paul's defensive response as compared to Jesus' submissive response? Is it highlighting the imperfection of Paul in contrast to Christ? I don't really like this option as there doesn't seem to be any markers that Paul is doing the wrong thing. Perhaps a better explanation is the change in situation that now Christ is King on the throne, and so now on the offensive compared to His first coming as a servant..?
  • Why did Paul say in 23:5 he did not know that Ananias was the high priest? Was it just because of his eye sight or because he'd wasn't thinking rationally or something? Or was it a use of irony, saying "I couldn't identify you as a high priest by looking at what you are really like"? I actually wonder if it is a subtle accusation about how the Jews did not recognise Jesus as the true high priest and ruler of the people, and reviled Him. I like this last option most, but is it stretching exegesis?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ephesians 2:1-7 Death and Resurrection

Just reading Ephesians 2:1-10 again recently and I noticed something I'd never noticed before. The clear picture seems to be of death followed by resurrection. "And you who were dead... God made us alive together with Christ... and raised us up together" I think I must have always read it with Systematic Theology glasses. I suppose it is pretty obvious. We were dead, now we are alive. But it seemed before to just be an independent metaphor. But surely Paul is patterning it after Christ himself, who died and rose again to life? After all, it does say "with Christ" (2:5). In fact, digging around a bit more, Paul does say just immediately prior: "and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when he raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places" (1:19-20). So how natural it is for him to say that we, like Christ, have been raised from the dead with him, and seated in the heavenly places with Him, and all by the same power.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Classic Calvin on Justification

I was reading some of the Institutes today, and came across a few quotes which were keepers. Concerning Justification. Here they are (with bold highlighting of some of the classic Calvin phraseology that caught my attention)...

Osiander laughs at those men who teach that “to be justified” is a legal term; because we must actually be righteous. Also, he despises nothing more than that we are justified by free imputation. Well then, if God does not justify us by acquittal and pardon, what does Paul’s statement mean: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing men’s trespasses against them” [2 Corinthians 5:19]? “For our sake he made him to be sin who had done no sin so that we might be the righteousness of God in him.” [verse 21 p.] First, I conclude that they are accounted righteous who are reconciled to God. Included is the means: that God justifies by pardoning, just as in another passage justification is contrasted with accusation. This antithesis clearly shows that the expression was taken from legal usage. Anyone moderately versed in the Hebrew language, provided he has a sober brain, is not ignorant of the fact that the phrase arose from this source, and drew from it its tendency and implication. Where Paul says that righteousness without works is described by David in these words, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven” [Psalm 32:1; 31:1, Vg.; Romans 4:7], let Osiander answer me whether this be a full or half definition. Surely, Paul does not make the prophet bear witness to the doctrine that pardon of sins is part of righteousness, or merely a concomitant toward the justifying of man; on the contrary, he includes the whole of righteousness in free remission, declaring that man blessed whose sins are covered, whose iniquities God has forgiven, and whose transgressions God does not charge to his account. Thence, he judges and reckons his happiness because in this way he is righteous, not intrinsically but by imputation. [Institutes 3.11.11]

Here they have an ingenious subterfuge: even though they have not devised it themselves but have borrowed it from Origen and certain other ancient writers, it is still utterly silly. They prate that the ceremonial works of the law are excluded, not the moral works. They become so proficient by continual wrangling that they do not even grasp the first elements of logic. Do they think that the apostle was raving when he brought forward these passages to prove his opinion? “The man who does these things will live in them” [Galatians 3:12], and, “Cursed be every one who does not fulfill all things written in the book of the law” [Galatians 3:10 p.]. Unless they have gone mad they will not say that life was promised to keepers of ceremonies or the curse announced only to those who transgress the ceremonies. If these passages are to be understood of the moral law, there is no doubt that moral works are also excluded from the power of justifying. These arguments which Paul uses look to the same end: “Since through the law comes knowledge of sin” [Romans 3:20], therefore not righteousness. Because “the law works wrath” [Romans 4:15], hence not righteousness. Because the law does not make conscience certain, it cannot confer righteousness either. Because faith is imputed as righteousness, righteousness is therefore not the reward of works but is given unearned [Romans 4:4-5]. Because we are justified by faith, our boasting is cut off [Romans 3:27 p.]. “If a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But God consigned all things to sin that the promise might be given to those who believe.” [Galatians 3:21-22 p.] Let them now babble, if they dare, that these statements apply to ceremonies, not to morals. Even schoolboys would hoot at such impudence. Therefore, let us hold as certain that when the ability to justify is denied to the law, these words refer to the whole law. [Institutes 3.11.19]

I wonder what Calvin would say about Bishop Tom Wright and his views on justification...

(PS thanks to Bob Vincent whose page I copied from because my Battles edition of the Institutes was on a different computer...)

Gen 1:1-2:3 The end at the beginning?

I thought I would begin my blog with a thought about the beginning. I've been looking at Genesis 1 & 2 for my Hebrew exegesis class, and noticed some things which might be significant. In the numbering the days, the first day is cardinal, and the rest are ordinal. Further, the first five days have no article with the numbering, but the sixth and seventh days have the article. So a translation might be: one day (1:5)... a second day (1:8)... a third day (1:13)... a fourth day (1:19)... a fifth day (1:23)... the sixth day (1:31)... the seventh day (2:2,3). What is the significance of this? Who knows :-) But I'm wondering if the article points to the increased significance of the sixth and seventh days as the culmination of creation. [Originally I had thought only the seventh day had the article, and thought it pointed especially to the seventh day as the perfected consummation. Then I checked again and found an article with the sixth day as well. And maybe it is just my really bad Hebrew, and I've missed something else and actually there is no significance at all. LOL]