Don’t Blame Jonathan!

 edwards

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.

1689

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.

Conclusion

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!

rex

Talking Blood

Justice

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!”

Unbeliever

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!

rex

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.

eyes

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.

Men

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.

 Women

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!

rex

 

Men who achieve a degree of greatness are often polarizing figures

Excellent thoughts by Pastor Jim Savastio!

Reformed Baptist Fellowship

IMG_1904

Men who achieve a degree of greatness are often polarizing figures.  This is not only true in the realms of politics and popular culture but in the church as well.  Bland men rarely stir great passions, but men of  conviction and gift often do.  In recent days much has been written about one of the prominent preachers among Reformed Baptist.   That man is Albert N. Martin.  For four years he was my pastor and instructor in Pastoral Theology at the Trinity Ministerial Academy.

Much has been written about the public ministry of Pastor Martin.   There are sermons that resonate with me nearly thirty years after hearing them.  There are the dozens of Pastoral Theology classes that form the bedrock of my life and ministry.  But there are three anecdotes that I want to share that have left the most lasting impression upon me.

When I first came to Trinity in…

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An Orthodox Catechism by Hercules Collins

Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Orthodox Catechism

This catechism, first published in 1680, is a Particular (i.e., seventeenth-century Calvinistic) Baptist revision of the Heidelberg Catechism. The editors slightly revised the original for modern use.

The book includes the original Preface by Collins, a Foreword by James M. Renihan, and an Introduction by Michael Haykin and G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.

Here are the chapter titles from the table of contents:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface by Hercules Collins
  • Foreword by James M. Renihan
  • Introduction by Michael A. G. Haykin and G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.
  • General Introduction and The First Part: Of  Man’s Misery
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (Introductory Questions)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Father)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Son)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Holy Spirit)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (The Sacraments)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (Baptism)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (The…

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