Don’t Blame Jonathan!


I recently listened to an interview of a well-respected pastor/theologian on one of my favorite podcasts.  I was quite excited to see that he was a guest on the show and had been looking forward to the episode.  But they didn’t get very far into the podcast before I was hit with a very disappointing blow.  When the interviewer asked the Pastor about what he felt was at the root of the error of the gospel of easy-believism, his answer was, unbelievably, Jonathan Edwards!

His reasoning went along these lines.  Jonathan Edwards used the same terminology that Moses Amyraut (founder of Amyraldianism, often called 4 point Calvinism) had used in describing man’s will with his distinction between man’s natural ability and moral inability.  He said that those who introduced the false gospel in the Second Great Awakening claimed to be following Edwards when they taught that since man has the natural ability to believe in Christ, we can therefore manipulate him into making a decision for Christ.  The pastor concluded by stating that more investigation needs to be done to discover if this is indeed what Edwards taught.  Now I have no desire whatsoever to discredit this pastor in any way.  (hence, no name)  However, I think we can set the record straight in regards to Jonathan Edwards having any responsibility in this case.  The only “further investigation” that needs to be conducted here is to read Edwards’ treatise on Freedom of the Will.

While the terms natural ability or moral inability do not appear in the Scriptures as such, the distinction they convey is both Biblical and Confessional.  These terms accurately convey the fact that when we teach that God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, yet no men anywhere have the ability to repent and believe the gospel, it is not as if God gave a man muscles that could only jump 2 feet high, yet commanded him to jump 100 feet in the air.

Biblical Example

I think the clearest Biblical example of what we are talking about is found in Genesis 37:4.

But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.

Joseph’s brothers could not speak peaceably to him.  This was not because their lips and tongues lacked the ability to produce the noises necessary to express kindness to the brother they so dearly loved.  They could not speak well of Joseph because they hated him.  They had the natural ability to speak well of Joseph, but they were morally unable because of the sinfulness of their hearts.


The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 also sets forth this distinction, though not in the exact terms.  Paragraph 1 of Chapter 9 addresses the issue of natural ability when it says:

God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil.

God did not give man a will that was by nature unable to choose to please God, so that even though his heart would desire to do so, he would be unable to make that choice.  God gave man a will that is perfectly capable of choosing whatever it is that his heart desires.  It is not as though God asked man to choose A, B, C or D, but then punished him because he should have chosen Q.  Or to put a more modern spin on the idea, it is not as though 3 of the required fields on a web based form have been greyed out and cannot be filled.

Paragraph 3 goes on to discuss the other side of this equation, man’s moral inability, when it says:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

Man is utterly and completely unable to do any spiritual good.  This is a moral inability, because the reason he cannot do good is precisely because he has no desire to do so.  He hates God and seeks only to faithfully serve his master: sin (John 8:34).  His will is perfectly capable of choosing what pleases him, but quite simply, it never pleases him to please God.

The fact that man has the natural ability to trust, believe and turn, does nothing to negate the fact that he is morally unable to trust Christ, believe God or turn from his sins.  The fact that he has natural ability does absolutely nothing to negate the fact that he is morally unable.  No one could possibly read Edwards on this subject and walk away thinking that he was teaching that men can be manipulated into coming to Christ because of their natural ability.  The entire point of his treatise is the absolute proof that man’s moral inability has rendered him utterly and entirely incapable to making any motion whatsoever toward pleasing God or forsaking sin.  The regenerating work of the Spirit of God is absolutely necessary before man can even see the kingdom of God, let alone make any motion toward it.


Those who believed that the fact of man’s natural ability meant that they could manipulate him into turning to Christ may very well have claimed Edwards was on their side, but they could not possibly make that claim without taking his terminology from its context and using it in such a way that Edwards own words utterly repudiated.  If you haven’t read Edwards’ Freedom of the Will, please do.  It is a masterpiece.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


Talking Blood


I’d like you to take a moment to consider what I believe to be one of the greatest understatements ever made.  It’s found at the end of Hebrews 12:24, but I will include vv. 22 & 23 for context:

Heb. 12:22-24 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

We “have come… to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than (the blood) of Abel.”  The author of Hebrews tells us that Christ’s blood is speaking, and that it is speaking better things than Abel’s blood spoke.  Such a statement seems strange to our modern ears and may appear to be a great mystery, but the truth conveyed in these few words is gloriously profound and deeply edifying to contemplate.  Let’s take a moment to look at the first instance of blood speaking in the Scriptures:

Gen. 4:10 And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”

Here God tells Cain that his brother’s blood is not just speaking, but “crying out” to Him from the ground.  There is no mystery as to what that blood was saying.  Righteous Abel had been slain by wicked Cain, and the blood that had been spilled was crying out for justice.  “Justice is Required!” was the cry that Abel’s blood made from the earth.

But the author of Hebrews tells us that Christ’s blood is saying something better than “Justice is required”.  What exactly is it that Christ’s blood is saying?  Quite simply, Christ’s blood is saying “Justice has been Satisfied!”  For every sin of every one of His people, justice has been fully satisfied.  Not a drop of debt remains.  The judge of all the earth has done right.  No one can bring a charge against God’s elect, for they have all been justified (Rom. 8:33).  They have been justified because their Mediator ever lives to make intercession for them, and one primary aspect of that intercession is His blood continually declaring that the justice required against them for the multitude of their sins has been fully satisfied!  Yeah, that’s better than what Abel’s blood said isn’t it?  What a glorious understatement.

Extent of the Atonement

I believe contemplating this truth can shed a great deal of light upon the debate over the extent of the atonement.  Many in our day set forth the idea that Christ died for all men everywhere, but that His death is only made effectual by sinners who choose to believe in Him by their own free will.  Now, even if we set aside the problematic idea of free will for the moment, we can see the difficulty that such an idea raises with regard to Heb. 12:24.  Calvinists often point out that it is unfathomable that Christ would die for one group of people, but intercede for some different group of people.  Both His sacrifice and His intercession are His work as our Great High Priest.  Our salvation is equally dependent upon both (Heb. 7:24-25).  It ought to be beyond dispute that He intercedes for those for whom He died, and that He died for those for whom He intercedes.  But passages such as John 17:9 plainly teach that He does not intercede for every individual in the world.

John 17:9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”

But our passage makes this even more abundantly clear.  His death and intercession cannot be separated, for a primary aspect of His intercession is His blood crying out that justice has been satisfied on behalf of all those for whom He died.

Accuser of the Brethren

Dear Christian, I want this idea to do more than inform your doctrine of Soteriology though.  Contemplation of this blessed truth can be such a great blessing to us as we daily battle against sin.  We all stumble in many things and fail as we struggle to live a holy life (James 3:2, Rom. 7).  We know that should Satan stand before our Lord, he would have no shortage of sins of which he could truthfully accuse us!  But in such an occasion, our dear Lord need not even open His mouth, for an answer to each and every accusation is provided by the intercession of His precious blood.  To every accusation comes the exact same reply:  “Justice has been satisfied.  Justice has been satisfied.  Justice has been satisfied!”

So when the wicked one comes to accuse you, remember that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 Jn. 2:1).  Remember that Christ’s blood was shed to cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14).  And remember that Christ ever lives to make intercession for you, and that His blood is at this very moment crying out in regard to every one of your sins, “Justice has been satisfied!”


Oh dear unbeliever.  Don’t scoff at the idea of talking blood.  You know in your conscience that you are guilty, and that when you stand before Jesus Christ on judgement day He will justly condemn you for your life of rebellion against Him.  You spend much of your energy seeking ways to quiet your conscience, but none of your attempts will ever take away the guilty feelings, because none of them can actually remove your guilt.  But here is the good news:  Jesus Christ, who will judge all men on the last day, stands before you today, offering to be your Advocate.  If you will trust in Him, if you will forsake your sins and rely solely upon His mercy for salvation, He will wash you white as snow.  Your conscience will no longer condemn you, because your sins will no longer cry out for justice, it will have been satisfied by Him, the one and only Savior for sinners.  Come to Him today, and He will give you rest.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


ARBCA Needs a Calvin

Calvin 3

John Calvin is renowned for his inflexible stance against the errors of Rome, the “Spirituals”, and others whose teachings compromised the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately many do not realize that while he so staunchly stood against errors from those who oppose the gospel, he also worked tremendously hard to establish and maintain peace and unity among the Reformed.  He was a brilliant example of the peacemaker of Matt. 5:9.

For instance, a Synod was held at Berne in 1537 in order to establish unity among the German and Swiss Reformed churches concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Zurich, Basel, Strasburg, Geneva, and Berne each sent representatives.  Bucer, the Strasburg Reformer, had always been sympathetic to Luther’s view. He had been in attendance at one of Luther’s first public disputations and had held him in the highest esteem ever since.  Megander, originally from Zurich, now representing Berne, was determined not to compromise Zwingle’s position in any way.  Dissension prevailed until Calvin came forward.  By recognizing the Biblical truth that each side was determined to uphold, he was able to set forth the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in a manner which upheld the true sentiments of each side without compromising with error.

Bucer had “pointed out that Zwingli and Luther had set out from two different points of view; Zwingli striving to keep as far away as possible from the Roman dogma of transubstantiation, and Luther endeavoring to maintain that there is nevertheless some kind of real presence in the bread.”[i]

Calvin was able, with this in mind, to formulate a doctrinal statement that did justice to the Biblical concerns of both parties without compromising Biblical truth.  In summary he said, “The Spirit is the means by which we are partakers of Christ. That Spirit nourishes us with the flesh and the blood of the Lord, and thus quickens us for immortality. Christ offers this communion under the symbols of bread and wine to all those who celebrate the supper aright and in accordance with his institution.”[ii]

To this Bucer replied “I embrace as orthodox, this view of our excellent brothers Calvin, Farel, and Viret. I never held that Christ was locally present in the holy supper. He has a real finite body, and that body remains in the celestial glory. But in raising us by faith to heaven, the bread which we eat and the cup which we drink are for us the communication of his body and his blood.”[iii]

Thus, these eminent reformers established peace with one another in regard to this vital doctrine.  They were not content to simply have each side adhere to a confessional statement that propounded the particular truths they esteemed most important.  They strove to establish peace, unity and agreement.  The Lord greatly blessed such efforts for the betterment of His church universal and the glory of His name.

Of course, the doctrine under dispute in ARBCA today is not the nature of the Lord’s Supper, but rather, the understanding of the phrase “without passions” in Chapter 2, Paragraph 1 of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.  This is, of course an oversimplification, but we could fairly accurately describe the dispute like this.  On the one side are those whose primary concern is to uphold the unchangeable character of God.  They hold to what we could call the traditional understanding of the phrase “without passions”, which was undoubtedly the understanding of that phrase by those who authored our confession.  (I happen to agree with this side, in my understanding of the issue.) On the other side of the controversy are those who fear that this classical understanding of these words is prone to give the impression that God is cold,  distant, or mechanical.  They do not reject the phrase “without passions” but define it somewhat differently than the authors of the confession did.[iv]  They rightly point to men like Warfield and Hodge as examples of how they understand the phrase.

The Heart of the Issue?

It seems to me that what lies at the heart of this issue is our understanding of the fact that man, as he is an image bearer of God, is endowed with the faculties of mind, will and emotions.  Those who are defending the traditional understanding of “without passions” are almost exclusively focusing on what man’s emotions do not reveal about God.  Affections in man arise from the affects of things outside of himself.  God, existing outside of time, cannot be affected by anything outside of Himself, therefore He has no affections.  (And other similar, sound arguments)  Those who are advocating a modified view of the phrase in question do not do so in an effort to make God more like man, but rather, in an effort to do justice to the role of the emotions of man in his image-bearing capacity.

I am a great distance from the inner workings of ARBCA and have no direct knowledge of the exact means by which they plan to deal with this issue.  But it seems possible, if not likely, that something like this will happen:  A position paper will be published that simply states the traditional understanding of the phrase “without passions” and demonstrates that the authors of the confession had this in mind when they penned the words.  This paper will be voted on  and approved.  Any church that has an issue with this understanding will no longer be welcome in ARBCA.  Thus unity of doctrine will be firmly established among the remaining churches.  I think it would be a great shame if this is what actually takes place.

ARBCA Needs a Calvin

I am not saying that a position paper defending the traditional understanding of the phrase in question should not be drawn up, it should.  But it should do more.  As Calvin recognized and dealt with the concerns of both sides of the issue at Berne, so those who seek to defend the traditional understanding of  “without passions” should go out of their way to recognize and address the legitimate concerns expressed by the other side.  A careful doctrinal statement should be drawn up that not only demonstrates what the Bible teaches about God that prevents us from rightly ascribing affections to Him, but also palpably demonstrates the manner in which the emotions of man actually do reflect something of the character of God.  It must be demonstrated that justice can be done to the anthropopathisms of Scripture without resorting to any sort of modified theism.  If we really want unity in the sense that the great Reformers sought it, we must go out of our way to rightly address the issues on both sides.

We must recognize the real issue that brings about concern regarding the manner in which Divine impassibility is often taught.  For example, after listening to a sermon or lecture that clearly demonstrates that affections cannot be rightly attributed to God, a child of God may walk away saying to himself, “OK, so God is love, but He has no affection for me.”  This is hardly a comforting thought.  But if we understand that even though the love of God toward us is not an affection, in that this love is not brought about by any affect we have had on God, as a Divine perfection, it is something far greater than any affection of love we have ever experienced.  We also must be clear that the emotion of love that God endowed men with is actually in some sense revelatory of what God’s love is like.  It is a reflection of what the Divine perfection of love is, a dim and imperfect reflection, but a reflection none the less.

When one demonstrates that the emotion of anger cannot rightly be attributed to God, but merely expresses His determination to rightly meet out justice against all sin, the impression that may easily be given is that this is something quite cold and mechanical.  The problem with this is that when God speaks of His anger, He means to convey a truth that is easily lost in this definition.   God’s “hot displeasure” that will manifest itself in the eternal flames of hell is anything but cold!  The human emotion of anger is truly meant to give us some insight into the nature of God’s eternal, unchangeable disposition toward sin.

Surely we are correct to insist that it is beyond the bounds of propriety to speak of God experiencing the sensation of delight.  But we ought also to admit that the emotion of delight that men experience is in some real sense revelatory of what the eternal disposition of the Father toward the Son is like.  In this way we not only guard against the idea that God can be affected by something outside of Himself, but we also guard against the idea that this makes Him cold and mechanical.

We ought also to go beyond the Scriptural anthropopathisms that are easier to explain, such as God repenting or relenting.  We need to deal with passages such as the command “do not grieve the Holy Spirit” in such a way that God is not left just telling us not to do something that we are entirely unable to do.  Perhaps one could demonstrate that the feeling of grief a parent has when he is sinned against by a child he loves gives us some insight into God’s eternal and unchangeable disposition toward the remaining sin in His redeemed people.

We need to be as earnest to establish unity among Reformed Baptists as the Reformers were to establish unity among their churches.  I am not certain that this can ever be achieved in this area, but I am certain that we can strive for it more earnestly than we have thus far.  May the spirit of love and peace that was so manifest in Calvin and his fellow Reformers be manifest in us today.


His Throne is Forever and Ever!



[i] Merle d’Aubigne, J. H. History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin The AGES Digital Library, Vol. 6, Book 11, p. 271

[ii] Ibid. p. 273

[iii] Ibid p. 273

[iv] For example, as one proponent of the modified view in this debate has explained:  “We take no exception to the 1689 LBCF in 2:1. We confess that God is without body, parts, or passions.  We believe in divine impassibility. God has no internal (ad intra) fluctuation, passions, or changes in his nature of any sort. We believe that his divine affections are perfectly infinite and immutable (thus, they are also impassible). Our understanding of ‘divine emotivity’ resides in his external (ad extra) interactions with his world via the very covenant condescension described in the 1689 LBCF 7:1.”


Can We Please Stop Playing These Games?

Matthew 5:28  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


Sexual lust may very well be the most prevalent sin in American society today.  We are saturated with it.  Anyone who has not cut themselves off from the world is bombarded with images and ideas and attitudes that are completely contrary to the word of God regarding sexuality.  It is certain that this has a negative effect upon Christian men and women.  As we are constantly exposed to the basest of sexual sins, we can become numb.  I just want to provide a short exhortation to Christian men and women to help us abide by the word of God in the midst of such filth.


Lust is in the look.  I know, and am always disappointed in the fact, that many read Matthew 5:28 in such a way that the sin Christ is forbidding is something beyond the look.  Sin is only committed when a man allows himself to start thinking lustful thoughts about the woman he has looked at.  Sin only occurs when he allows himself to start entertaining lustful imagination.  I think every truly converted man knows in his heart of hearts that the lust is in the look itself.

No, I am not saying that we have sinned any time we see a woman provocatively dressed etc.  I am not saying that a man cannot look a pretty woman in the face while he talks to her either. Let’s not play games, you all know what I’m talking about.  A man can derive some form of sensual pleasure just from looking at a woman.  The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition is popular for one reason, lust.  And that lust does not begin when men stop looking at the pictures and start imagining things.

Men, keep that battle at the front line.  Fight not to allow yourself to look in that way.  When images appear on your computer screen or in the grocery checkout isle, don’t allow yourself the little bit of sensual pleasure you get from looking at the woman and fight to keep yourself from allowing it to go further.

A thought that has helped me over the years may help you as well:

More surely than candy will rot your teeth, eye candy will rot your soul

Don’t commit adultery in your heart.  Don’t allow your eyes to fulfill the lusts of your heart.  You cannot accomplish this in your own strength though.  Make it your constant prayer that the Spirit of our Holy God will bear His fruit of self control in your life and enable you to mortify this lust.


Why do women post bikini selfies on social media?  You don’t need to struggle to answer that question do you?  They want men to lust after them.  There may be other motives as well, but this is certainly a primary one.  They derive some sort of satisfaction in the knowledge that men are sexually attracted to them.  Are Christian women immune from this sinful desire?  If they were, it would have been superfluous for God to exhort them to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9).  You don’t have to post cleavage shots on FB to be guilty of indulging this lust.

Dear sisters in Christ, your brothers struggle not to indulge the lust of their eyes.  We know that we are responsible for our own hearts and our own eyes.  When we beseech you to dress modestly, we are not doing so because we think that if you dress provocatively it excuses our sin.  But that does not mean that you have no reason not to dress provocatively.  What does provocative dress even mean?  It means dressing in such a way that provokes lust in others.

Form fitting clothes, whether they be yoga pants or tank tops can easily provoke even Christian men to lust.  Short skirts and revealing tops do the same.  In fact, such things are much more likely to be a temptation to a sincere Christian man than to an unbeliever.  A man who indulges in pornography may think nothing of a form fitting top because he is used to seeing so much more, but a Christian man who fights to keep himself from such things may be caused to stumble.  David surely had the greater sin in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba.  But her enticement of him by bathing in his sight is certainly blameworthy as well.

I’m sure this short exhortation will draw nothing but wrath from those women who are constantly seeking to justify wearing provocative clothing and the men who want to justify their looking.  But I sincerely hope it may urge genuine Christian men and women to honor Christ in this area.


His Throne is Forever and Ever!



Book Review: “The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen”

Reformation Heritage Books has added another delightful volume to their series, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality.  I was not familiar with the author, Ryan McGraw, but as I read through this short book one thing became quite clear, this man loves John Owen just as much as I do.

The author begins with a short biographical sketch of Owen that will be very helpful to any who are not familiar with this eminent Puritan.  He then provides the reader with 41 selections from the works of John Owen that are particularly well chosen to demonstrate Owen’s genius and piety.  These readings are divided into three sections:  1. Knowing God as Triune, 2. Heavenly-Mindedness and Apostasy & 3.Covenant and Church.  As the reader makes his way through these wonderful examples of Owens writing, he will inevitably be amazed at the depth and insight Owen repeatedly displays, but more importantly he will be drawn to contemplate and worship the God who Owen so patently loved and adored. McGraw concludes the book with some excellent insights about why many find Owen difficult to read and very helpful suggestions as to how one might begin to read Owen.

John Owen stands above his peers in every age as a man of eminent genius and piety. This genius and piety is especially displayed in his remarkable insights into the nature and character of our Triune God and his marvelous grasp of the nature and character of the human heart.  These insights, both emanating from the remarkable depth of his knowledge of Holy Scripture, combine to make Owens writings not only intellectually satisfying, but amazingly practical.  I must repeat my previous comment and thank the author for his skill in choosing  selections from Owen’s writings that display him at his best.

Whether you have been reading John Owen for years, or have never picked up one of his works, you will benefit greatly from this small volume.

5 out of 5 stars!

Reformation Heritage Books


His Throne is Forever and Ever!


Jim Savastio on Pastors Loving Their People

rex (1689Nut):

Excellent Admonitions from Pastor Savastio

Originally posted on GORDONFLASH:

Jim Savastio, Pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville and a fellow student at Trinity Ministerial Academy, spoke on the theme of Pastors loving their flocks at the 2014 Trinity Pastor’s Conference. He agreed to let me post the nine points of practical cultivation of Pastoral love that follow:

A.     Prayer— Obviously part of this exhortation is that you will pray for your people.  Don’t just pray for them, let them know that you have prayed for them.  Ask them how you can pray for them. 
But I am here referring to your prayerful desire for the Lord to increase your affections for all the people of God…especially that one who is most difficult for you to love from the heart.  The Lord is giver of every good and perfect gift.  The scriptures promise us that when we ask anything according to his will…

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Rules For Peace

rex (1689Nut):

While I can see some possible exceptions to #29, these are indeed excellent rules to live by if we truly desire Biblical unity! Thank you Dave Chanski and Paul Gordon!

Originally posted on GORDONFLASH:

The following are 31 Rules for Peace presented by Pastor Dave Chanski at the 2014 Trinity Pastor’s Conference:

1. I will aim to never cause or create sinful divisions among God’s people.

2. I will mortify the sins that tend to result in division and disunity.
a. Pride
b. Self-love
c. Touchiness
d. Anger and bitterness
e. Paronoia/assuming evil
f. Rigidity
g. Rashness
h. Willfulness
I. Inconsistency; carelessness in keeping a clear conscience
j. Jealousy and envy
K. Covetousness
l. Contentiousness
m. Gossip

3. I will be reluctant to believe a negative report about a brother.

4. I will not judge a brother guilty until I know the facts.

5. I will cover as many sins as I can with a blanket of love.

6. I will deal with people with patience and gentleness, including when they have sinned.

7. I will seek to win an offending brother through openly…

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