Friday, April 28, 2006

For Who Did Christ Die?

Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge John Owen junkie. Many times when discussing the issue of Christ's Atonement the conversation can get bogged down and are thinking muddled. John Owen's most popular work entitled, "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" (Book 3 Ch. 3) illustrates Christ's Definite Atonement (historically called Limited Atonement) very well (see below).

A quick point about why I use the word "Definite" instead of "Limited" in regards to the Atonement. This isn't new and I certainly did not coin the phrase. Most detractors of the Doctrines of Grace have a theological caricature in their minds when they hear Limited Atonement which results in ghastly unbelief of God's electing love. They lament, "God is all powerful, He would never limit His atonement, it has the power to save the whole world!" Duh. Of course God Almighty's power is not limited (as if you needed to convince a Calvinist, of all people, of this). The question should be, "What did the triune God intend to do by sacrificing the Perfect Lamb of God for sinners?" And, "Did Christ die for a particular people (the elect)?" Or did He die for no one in particular?" Which the non-Calvinist must assume: Christ saved no one by his death and resurrection He simply made it possible for people to be saved.

My point is this: everyone (that is Orthodox Christians) limits the atonement. Not just the Calvinist. But the 5 point Arminian as well. The Reformed Christian limits the scope or the extent of the atonement (i.e., Christ died for a particular people, namely the elect - His sheep) and not for anyone else. Remember, it's not that God's power is limited in what He can do but it what was The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit's intention before time began. The non-Reformed limits Christ's atonement by its effect (i.e., Christ's death did not result in people being saved, it was a plan God had in hopes of saving). So his death was not effectual for salvation of sinners. Theoretically, the whole world could be saved and likewise the whole world could be damned. Christ is the theoretical savior of the world. He doesn't save his people from their sin, he pleads with them to save themselves. Now, I know the average non-Reformed would never use such language (at least not explicitly) but this is the consequence of their presuppositions.

"But if the death of Jesus is what the Bible says it is--a substitutionary sacrifice for sins, an actual and not a hypothetical redemption, whereby the sinner is really reconciled to God--then, obviously, it cannot be for every man in the world. For then everybody would be saved, and obviously they are not. One of two things is true: either the atonement is limited in its extent or it is limited in its nature or power. It cannot be unlimited in both." - Edwin Palmer
"John Owen's triple choice" is useful to those who aren't acquainted with the nuances of the theological arguments. It has a way of forcing one to think about the logical outcome of ones position and beliefs. Let me head a certain type of person off before they start. Believers should not entertain absurd notions such as "god is not always logical" or "Election is a mystery and we shouldn't try to understand it." Nonsense. The Apostles sure taught it as if it was "understandable" at least to the mind that has been renewed by the Spirit. In fact, they taught this doctrine as a means to comfort and asure the early believers of God's great love. This was and is meant to bring joy and peace and assurance to God's people! On to Owen's "triple choice":

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:

1. All the sins of all men.
2. All the sins of some men, or
3. Some of the sins of all men.

In which case it may be said:

1. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
2. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
3. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?

You answer, "Because of unbelief."

I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"

Read this over again until you are absolutely clear on what it is communicating. To me, this is very concise. It is also logical (of which naturally proceeds from our God, the Word, the Logos) and thoroughly honoring the truth as is revealed in the Scriptures. Even though it may make sinners to fear and tremble.

It is inescapable: Did he or didn't He? Did Christ, the Perfect Son of God, SAVE His people or did he TRY to save His people?

I [Jesus] am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by my own. . . . But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you. - John 10:11, 14, 26

Maybe the hypothetical savior "jesus" ought not be called "Savior" rather call him "assister". Brothers and sisters, read the Bible. The whole Bible. Read it carefully. Does the Bible teach Redemption or an opportunity to be redeemed?

Be consistent. Be honest. Bow your head and bend the knee to the all Holy One. And stand in awe of Him.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A "True-blue Presbyterian"

True Blue Presbyterianism
Published in The Presbyterian Magazine, May 1852
The clergy tartan of Presbyterians

A "True-blue Presbyterian" is an enlightened, true-hearted son of a church that aims at pursuing the chief end of man: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

1. Historical Antecedents
Let us glance at the origin of this homespun word - often a term of reproach - but, like the banner of Caledonia [the ancient Latin name for Scotland], significant of strength and loyalty.

The term seems to be suggested by some part of the dress which was blue; and some say that, after the fashion of other Presbyterian things, it is taken from the Scriptures. "Did you ever hear of such a word in the Bible?" exclaimed master Charles, who had learned a good deal in the Scriptures, at home and in parochial school. "Stop a minute," said I, "my young scholar, and bring me the family Bible. Now turn to Numbers, 15th chapter and 38th verse." The boy, with some amazement, read as follows:

"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the garment a riband of blue. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them."

"Well," said Charles, "I always knew that Presbyterians tried to do the commandments of the Lord, but I never thought of this blue before!"

Without entering deeper into the origin of our clannish blue, (the reproach of which color, by the bye, tinges the vesture of our Congregational brethren, whose far-famed legislation was scandalized with the name of "blue laws"), we will content ourselves with assuming that blue characterized the Scottish tartan from time immemorial, like red the dress of Southern Englishmen, and that in the civil wars of the seventeenth century, a "true-blue Presbyterian" was synonymous with a Scotsman who fought for liberty and his church. What is the meaning of the word now-a-days? That, dear reader, we shall explain very briefly, and in its truest sense. The word has some definite meaning at our hearth-stones, and in our school-houses and churches.

2. A Confessionalist
A true-blue Presbyterian is a Christian who loves the old fashioned Bible doctrines in the Confession of Faith. He lays much stress on God's sovereignty and the doctrines of grace.

All Presbyterians do not thus magnify revealed truth; this characteristic more properly belongs to the "true-blue." The Word of God, in its simple and spiritual meaning, as explained in the Confession of Faith, not for "substance of doctrine," but for true doctrine, is dear to the heart of a thorough Presbyterian.

Though infidels blaspheme, and Arminians deride, and papists mystify, the doctrine of election, it stands forth in the prominence of heaven towering sublimity in the vision of the Christian we are describing. "You need not quote Paul," said an infidel, combating the doctrine of election, "Paul was a Presbyterian."

The fathers across the waters, with Calvin and Knox at their head, were thorough believers in all the distinctive doctrines of grace. So were our own great ancestors, Makemie, the Tennants, Dickinson, and Davies. "As to our doctrines," replied Francis Makemie, when arraigned by the High-church governor of New York, in 1707, "we have our Confession of Faith, which is known to the Christian world." In that compendium of Bible truth the real Presbyterian believes, as containing the best human interpretation of the Divine will.

3. The Sabbath and Law
He is also a strict friend of the Sabbath and of divine ordinances. A Scot's Sabbath is a purgatory to a worldling. But the Lord's day is a day of sober meditation and of spiritual delight to those who have faith in Divine teachings.

Sobriety and joy are not inconsistent terms. May-poles, feasting, and dancing, which agreed with the taste of King Charles' Christians, were the horror of those of Covenanter stock; whilst attendance on the house of God, and a reverence for its ministrations and ordinances, were the joy of the latter, and will be of their spiritual descendants from generation to generation.

4. The Covenant of Grace
A true-blue Presbyterian exalts the covenant of grace in the training of his children. He dedicates them to God from birth, seeks in their behalf the ordinance of baptism, brings them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, engages with them in family-worship, instructs them in the Bible and Shorter Catechism. He disciplines them on the principles of Solomon, is careful in the selection of their books and companions, sends them to a parochial or religious school, provides for them an honest calling, and in every way endeavors to act upon the truth, "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

Far be it from us to arrogate superiority over brethren of other denominations whose doctrinal views and practice coincide in general with those of our church. But it cannot be doubted that thorough Calvinists lay great stress on religious training, both at home and away from home; for what wise Christian would make a distinction in the principles of education, so as to exclude religion from the school-room?

5. A "Conservative"
A thorough Presbyterian is a conservative in church and state. Theological novelties, telegraphed from former ages, do not secure his credence. Extravagances of doctrinal statement he disrelishes. He does not approve of new measures, boisterous excitements, and man's devices in church affairs. A true friend of revivals, like Dickinson and Alexander, he is unwilling to hazard the permanent interests of religion for doubtful issues, but prefers in all things the good old paths. If others sneer at him, it is a small thing to be judged by man's judgment. In the state, as a citizen, he is never carried away by the dream-land theories of reformers and infidels.

A true-blue Presbyterian is never found advocating the abolition of capital punishment, resisting the law of the land, affording new facilities for divorces, encouraging agrarianism in any shape. Conservatism, as opposed to extravagance, is the law of his life; the first and second nature of the inner man.

6. A Churchman
A thorough Presbyterian loves his own church. Why should he not? Has he not been nurtured by her care? Does she not hold forth the truth? Are not her methods founded on the Scriptures? The form of church government is not trivial and unimportant matter. Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods and General Assemblies are ramparts, which he may go round about and admire. Her mode of worship, simple, Scriptural, God-ward, uncontaminated by the pomp and circumstance of artificial forms, is dear to his inmost soul. The more simple, the better for him. Hence he dislikes choirs, and abhors organs, as usurpers of the precentor's place, to stop the voice of the people.

The history of his church is a chapter in Providence which calls forth gratitude to the Giver of mercies. What church has done more to maintain the gospel in purity, and to vindicate civil and religious liberty? Ye Covenanters, worshipping in your glens and fighting for your firesides; ye Huguenots, shut out of France, but not out of Heaven, persecuted witness of grace and truth; ye Puritans of England and Westminster divines, brethren in spirit and in principles; ye ancestors of ours in this goodly land, preachers of the Word with mighty power, and organizers of our Zion in troublous times, we honor you as the servants of the living God, raised up for your mission in His providence! In short, the true Presbyterian's heart is with his church, which Christ has honored with blessings, and will honor, even with life for evermore.

7. A Missionary
The thorough Presbyterian aims at extending the knowledge of the truth, as he understands it, among all nations. As he loves his church, so he desires to see her excellence perpetuated and extended. He prizes her institutions.

No Missionary Society compares in his judgment with the General Assembly's Board of Missions; no Education Society has claims equal to the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church; no Board of Commissioners draws out his sympathy like his own Board of Foreign Missions; no Tract or Sunday-school society comes up to the Board of Publications. These institutions of his church he patronizes on the ground that it is the church's duty to do her own work, and that no church is better able to attend to her own affairs than his own.

Hence he rallies around Presbyterian institutions, with a view of planting them wherever Providence invites, at home or abroad. A Synod is as useful in India as in Pennsylvania; a religious academy as necessary in Africa as Ohio; and the old-fashioned literature of Calvinistic divines as nutritious the world over as in the highlands and lowlands of Scotland.

A true Presbyterian is no idle religionist, asleep over the wants and woes of his fellow men. With an enterprise as energetic as his doctrines, and with a sense of responsibility stimulated by the sovereignty of his King, he aims at communicating the word of life in its purest form to the millions of mankind.

8. A Protestant
The true Presbyterian is an uncompromising foe to the Man of Sin and Popish idolatry. The Confession of Faith teaches that "such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with Infidels, Papists, and other idolaters;" and that the Pope is "that anti-Christ, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God."

Whether in Geneva, France, Scotland, Austria, America, the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii], or wherever the Jesuit has penetrated with his guile and guises - whether in this or in preceding ages - the true-blue Presbyterian opposes the scarlet-pointed pageantries and abominations of Romanism.

He has no sympathies with indulgences, masses, purgatory, unctions, crucifixes, impure moralities and soul-deceiving heresies. Like John Knox, he would denounce Popery in the presence of queens, or like Luther, go to contend against it though opposed by devils numerous as house tiles, or like meek-minded Felix Neff, labor among mountains to bring its deluded votaries to a knowledge of the truth.

9. Magnanimity
The thorough Presbyterian, notwithstanding his uncompromising ecclesiastical principles, has a sectarianism more tolerant and magnanimous than that of some sects which boast of larger charity - as will be discovered at the last day.

Whoever reads the severe denunciation of the Savior against formalism and hypocricy, and the tremendous threatenings of the apostles against anti-Christ, knows that Christian charity does not consist in smooth sayings and man-pleasing conduct.

The Presbyterian does not "unchurch" other evangelical denominations, after the manner of some High-church Baptist and Episcopalians, nor does he, on the other hand, seek to co-operate with other sects on conditions which compromise his own principles, and in unions which often end in alienation and strife.

All his views of truth cherish charity toward others; and practically other denominations find that, notwithstanding his peculiarities, they can live with him as peaceably, if not more so, than with those whose professions of brotherly love may exceed him. Who assists more in relieving the wants of the poor and needy, and in substantial acts of general and public benevolence, outside his own church, than the thorough-going Presbyterian? His sectarianism is an honest and a manly one, without croakings or concealments, and bearing fruits of which he is not ashamed, either before God or man.

10. Alien Righteousness
Finally, the true Presbyterian, after aiming at a life of holiness, which acknowledges its imperfections at the best, wishes to die trusting alone in the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Presbyterianism brings Christ prominently to view, not by the abstractions of philosophy, which the common people cannot understand, but by a tender, personal union through a living faith, which may be realized in every pious heart.

Such a system, in its relation to holiness, produces two effects: - it directly prompts to holiness, and it produces a consciousness of coming short of perfection. Perfect sanctification is the reward of the glorified; and this the believer pants for, and hopes for, only as Christ saves him here from his sins and gives him admission into heaven through His own blood and righteousness. On a dying bed the religious experience of a sincere Presbyterian will be found to magnify Christ and his cross.

His life having been "by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him," his death testifies to the consistent desire "to be found in Him, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."

11. Conclusion
These remarks on the characteristics of a consistent and loyal Presbyterian are not offered in the spirit of "we are the (only) church," but simply as descriptive of one of the many shades of doctrinal belief and practice which prevail in the Christian world.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

John Owen on the "Apostasy of the Church of Rome"

1. Romanists are the supreme example of those who have turned away from the holy ways of gospel obedience into paths which they have made for themselves

None boast more of holiness than does the Roman Catholic Church. They claim their church is the true church because of its sanctity. But because of the unholy lives of the majority of Roman Catholics, and also of many of their chief rulers and guides, they point to those who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and who have dedicated themselves to a monastic life and to stricter rules and duties than others reach up to, or are obliged to submit to. These alone have obtained the name of religious among them. But many have already discovered the vanity, superstition and hypocrisy of their daily routines in which they generally spend their time. But this holy obedience is not that required and commanded in the gospel.

2. Romish vows of holiness do not show the spiritual freedom of gospel holiness

The first thing that truth does in our minds is to free them from all error and prejudices (John 8:32). Truth is the principle of all holiness, enlarging the mind and spirit. So it is called “true holiness” or “ the holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:24). So “where the Spirit of the Lord (or the Spirit of truth) is, there is liberty“ (2 Cor. 3:17).

Men are, since the fall, “servants of sin”. Willingly giving themselves up to its service, satisfying its lusts and obeying its commands. In such a state, they are ”free from righteousness.” They refuse to serve and obey the demands of the righteousness. But where the Holy Spirit works with the Word of truth, men are freed from sin and become servants to God, producing holy fruit in their lives (Rom. 6:20, 22). So it is said of all believers that they “have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15). They have not received the “spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).

The teaching of the whole of Scripture is that the hearts of believers, by God’s grace, are freed from fear of judgment, to a free, willing, cheerful spirit that loves to do all the duties that holiness requires, moved by gratitude for mercies received. They are not driven by fear to a scrupulous bondage to outward duties, but with delight and true freedom of will they gladly obey. Because they have received the “Spirit of adoption” they live as children of God, honoring their Father by doing His will gladly and out of gratitude for the great salvation which He has wrought for us in and through Christ.

But there are strong proofs that those who place themselves under Romish vows and strict monastic rules of life and who spend their days in many outward religious duties, which the Church of Rome calls holiness, are not free, but are ruled by a servile, slavish spirit. They are forced to bind themselves and to be bound by their vows if they wish to live in that community, which is contrary to true Christian fellowship. In obeying these vows, they are not their own masters, free to discipline and rule themselves, but are under the strict discipline of others who administer outward punishments in cases of failure. Those are the servants of men in religious duties are not God’s freemen, nor do they have Christ for their Lord who subject themselves religiously to men.

What drives these men to a monastic life, and in strict religious rules of life invented by men, are vows and rules of life nowhere requited by God or our Lord Christ in the gospel. And the chief reason why they continue in this life is the obedience, which they have vowed and so owe to their superiors.

It is easy to see how opposite this way is to true spiritual freedom of mind, which is the root of all true gospel holiness. Romish vows and rules of religious life are also motivated by thoughts of achieving merit, which stimulates them to further religious disciplines. The desire to achieve merit also makes for a servile, slavish spirit in all that they do, for they cannot but know that everything done in order to achieve merit must not only be tried by the strict, relentless standard of perfect sincerity, but also weighted in the balance of absolute perfection. This thought utterly destroys that free, willing, cheerful, glad obedience given out of gratitude for the free gift of justification and eternal life. Those under Romish vows are also driven to obedience by the tormenting thought that they have no assurance either that they are accepted by God in this life, or ever shall be accepted by Him in the next. So in all their duties, they are of necessity driven by “a spirit of fear” and not “of power and a sound mind.”

3. Romish vows and rules of religious life bind men to observe that which is not commanded by the gospel, but is a system of laws and rules invented by men.

So some obey the rule of Benedict, some of Francis, some of Dominic, some of Ignatius and the like. This proves that all that they do has nothing to do with gospel holiness, for that holiness is conformity to the rule of the gospel, which is the will of God. Thus, like the Pharisees of old whom Christ rebuked, they add duties not commanded by God. So, “in vain they worship God, teaching for doctrines the commands of men” (Matt. 15:6-9). Let the number of false, invented duties of religion be ever so great, let the manner of their performance be ever so exact or sever, they only divert the minds of men from the obedience which gospel requires. “As plants which the heavenly Father never planted, they shall, in due time, be rooted up” and cast into the fire (Matt. 15:13).

There is nothing in all that is prescribed by the masters of these rules and vows, or practiced by their disciples, but may all be done without either faith in Christ or a sense of His love to souls.
On the other hand, the obedience the gospel requires is the “obedience of faith”. On that and on no other root will gospel holiness grown. And the chief nature of gospel holiness is “the love of Christ” which alone “constrains” to it (2 Cor. 5:14).

But what is there in all these monastic vows and rules of life that makes it necessary for them to be carried out for the love Christ? May not men rise at midnight to repent a number of prayers, or go barefoot, or wear sackcloth, or abstain from meat on occasions or always, or submit to discipline from themselves or others and, if strong enough, undergo all the horrid and indeed ridiculous hardships without the least dram of saving faith or love? All false religions have always had some among them who have loved to amuse others with their self inflicted punishments and penances.

All the good that these Romish vows and rules of life do is utterly corrupted by the proud thought of gaining merit and doing works of supererogation*, works above all that was required by them, which can then be used to help others to achieve the required standard of merit. The whole idea of merit and works of supererogation utterly weakens the covenant grace, treats with contempt the blood and mediation of Christ, and is totally inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the gospel.

And when we add to these vows all the gross superstition and idolatry to which they give themselves up in their devotions, then we can see that, notwithstanding all Rome’s claims to holiness and a more strict obedience to duties than other men, yet it is clear that the best of their works falls far below the standard of the holiness required by the gospel and without which no-one shall see the Lord.


On the John Owen page at A Puritan's Mind you'll find most of his works.
Or try
More can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Fire and Ice is alway a good source for Owen and other Puritans.

Here is a Bio of John Owen.

May God raise up more like him. In light of the condition of the Church in America today, I'd be happy with 1/2 of a John Owen.

* supererogation - those good deeds believed to have been performed by saints, or capable of being performed by men, over and above what is required for their own salvation.

Phrase Search / Concordance
Words/Phrase To Search For
(e.g. Jesus faith love, or God of my salvation, or believ* ever*)
Book Chapter Verse Range
All Verses
Or Start: End:
Show Strongs Numbers:
Enter a
Strong's Number
e.g. 2424 Greek