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Much Ado about the Sabbath

The difference between the Puritan Sabbath and the Continental Sunday should not be exaggerated, especially so far as the actual practices of churches in the Reformed tradition are in view. To be sure, at the confessional level, there are differences, although these, too, are not as substantial as sometimes maintained. The Three Forms of Unity, the confessional standards of Continental Calvinism, do treat the Sabbath much less extensively and with a somewhat different accent than the Westminster Standards. But in the main, especially beginning in the seventeenth century following the Synod of Dort, British-American Presbyterianism and Continental Calvinism became of one mind on what Sunday observance should look like: in view of the continuing validity of the fourth commandment, Sunday is to be a day of rest from our daily work, devoted primarily to the worship of God.

Richard Gaffin, “Westminster and the Sabbath” in The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, pp. 123-124

A Different Religion

But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical–not even, perhaps, the temporal–order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern “practical” Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

 

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

True Love

Here is my newsletter article for Summer 2014 at Midlane Park ARP Church.

 

This past week my wife and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. Our anniversary is on June 30, the same day as another couple in the congregation. And I was told that for another couple, June 29th was their anniversary! Undoubtedly many couples were celebrating at roughly the same time we were.

Marriage seems to have taken its lumps recently, however. “Traditional marriage” (as it is sometimes called) has been challenged recently, and with the decision of a federal judge, we are about to feel the pinch even here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The problem goes back much further than just recent history, however.

In Matthew 19, the Pharisees ask Jesus a question about divorce, and He responds with these words:

 “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (vv. 4-7)

Note what Jesus says here about marriage: its foundation is not based upon culture or history or tradition or government, but upon God’s own design. He, as the Creator, made all things (including human beings), and He designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. Jesus quotes from Genesis 2, which is significant, because this takes place before man’s fall into sin in Genesis 3. The effects of sin can be seen everywhere, and marriage is no exception. But God’s design in the beginning for marriage was not only for it to be permanent (answering the question about divorce), but also between one man and one woman.

These matters are not only important for the way in which our modern society functions. Marriage is used in Ephesians 5 to express the relationship between Christ and the church:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,that He might present to Himself the churchin all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (vv. 25-27)

Those words make no sense outside of a biblical framework. Those words must be understood in light of the foundation truth of Genesis 2. Rest assured, such an assertion will be deemed “intolerant” by many in our day. But we should not – we must not – shy away from the truth of the gospel.

And that is the truth and message we want to convey: Jesus shows us what true love really looks like. Our sins make us ugly and hideous and repulsive, but He gave Himself up for His beloved bride, the church, so that she would be beautiful and blameless. We do not define love by looking to ourselves and our own desires, whatever they might be. We see love shown to us in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we are loved with an everlasting love. In Him we have a true love that knows no end.

 

Religion in the Soul

Look upon your dear Redeemer! look up to this mournful, dreadful, yet, in one view, delightful spectacle! and then ask thine own heart, Do I believe that Jesus suffered and died thus? And why did he suffer and die? Let me answer in God’s own words, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, that by his stripes we might he healed: it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to grief, when he made his soul an offering for sin; for the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:5,6,10) So that I may address you in the words of the apostle, “Be it known unto you therefore, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins;” (Acts 13:38) as it was his command, just after he arose from the dead, “that repentance and remission of sins should be, preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem,” (Luke 24:47) the very place, where his blood had so lately been shed in such a cruel manner. I do thereby testify to you, in the words of another inspired writer, that Christ was made sin, that is, a sin offering, “for; though he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him:” (2 Cor. 5:21) that is, that through the righteousness he has fulfilled, and the atonement he has made, we might be accepted by God as righteous, and be not only pardoned, but received into his favor. “To you is the word of this salvation sent,” (Acts 13:26) and to you, O reader, are the blessings of it even now offered by God, sincerely rely offered; so that, after all that I have said under the former heads, it is not your having broken the law of God that shall prove your ruin, if you do not also reject his Gospel. It is not all those legions of sins which rise up in battle array against you that shall be able to destroy you, if unbelief do not lead them on, and final impenitency do not bring up the rear I know that guilt is a timorous thing; I wilt therefore speak in the words of God himself nor can any be more comfortable: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,” (John 3:36) “and he shall never come into condemnation.” (John 5:24) “There is therefore now no condemnation,” no kind or degree of it, “to them,” to any one of them, “who are in Jesus Christ, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” (Rom. 8:1) You have indeed been a very great sinner, and your offences have truly been attended with most heinous aggravations; nevertheless you may rejoice in the assurance, that “where sin hath abounded, there shall grace much more abound; “that where sin bath reigned unto death,” where it has had its most unlimited sway and most unresisted triumph, there “shall righteousness reign to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:21) That righteousness, to which on believing on him thou wilt be entitled, shall not only break those chains by which sin is, as it were, dragging thee at its chariot-wheels with a furious pace to eternal ruin, but it shall clothe thee with the robes of salvation, shall fix thee on a throne of glory, where thou shalt live and reign for ever among the princes uf heaven, shalt reign in immortal beauty and joy. without one remaining scar of divine displeasure upon thee, without any single mark by which it could be known that thou hadst even been obnoxious to wrath and a curse, except it be an anthem of praise to “the Lamb that was slain, and has washed thee from thy sins in his own blood.” (Rev. 1:5)

 

~ Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul

True Zeal

The earnest desire of a true Saint is the enjoyment of God, and the glory of God; and, of both these sin is the only let and hindrance. And therefore a soul that is passionate for God hath not so great an indignation against anything as against sin. Can he endure to that God, whom he loves dearer than his life, daily provoked injured? to hear his name blasphemed, to see his ordinances, his worship neglected, his servants abused, and the most sacred truths of religion denied, and the sacred mysteries of it derided? He is the most meek and patient man on earth, in his own concerns; unwilling to observe the wrongs that are done him, and much more to revenge them; but when God is injured, the dear object of his love and joy, he can no longer refrain; but whatsoever befall him, riseth up to vindicate his honour, and thrusts himself between to receive those strokes which were aimed at God; and what he cannot prevent or reform, that he bitterly bewails. This is true Zeal; and he that saith he loves God, and yet is not thus zealous for him, is a liar.

~ Ezekiel Hopkins

Great and Worldly Saints

Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity: we don’t. A much-traveled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism — man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent, and sentimental as it blatantly is — to be three thousand miles wide and half an inch deep. We are spiritual dwarfs. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them, clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion combined. Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic, too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers.

J.I. Packer, “Foreword” to Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were, by Leland Ryken

This book is recommended in this message by Joel Beeke, well worth your listening time: Reading the Puritans

 

 

Here is one way: Oprah Winfrey interviews Rob Bell and asks him a few “spiritual” questions.

As you watch the video (follow the link; I could not find a way to embed it), ask yourself how you would have answered Ms. Winfrey’s questions if given the opportunity. They are very much like the questions that a “spiritual” (but lost) individual might ask you one day. Better to give biblical answers rather than postmodern ones.

 

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