Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Review- "God Without Passions: A Primer"

"Does God have passions and affections?  No.  He has perfections."  This is a summary phrase which Samuel Renihan repeats in a variety of ways through his new work, "God Without Passions, A Primer:  A Practical and Pastoral Study of Divine Impassibility"  published by Reformed Baptist Academic Press (RBAP).  This work is a concise, accessible, biblically accurate meal upon which to feast on the Doctrine of God.  But one strength of this book (among many) is that many readers will think that they are getting a slender study on one aspect of the Doctrine of God, and be pleasantly surprised to find that they receive helpful instructions, or reminders in the larger categories of hermeneutics, systematic theology, historical theology and practical or pastoral theology.  Renihan has provided in 107 pages a perfect resource for theologians and laymen alike.  Ending each chapter with study guide questions, the work could be introduced into smaller group study formats, and is beneficial beyond just the shelf of the pastor of seminarian.

This work, which follows on Renihan's larger Reader on the subject, is divided into five chapters.  In the first chapter, the focus is providing a foundation for the doctrine of divine impassibility.  This term itself may be new to readers, and Renihan does a good job defining it.  In this chapter, a discussion of both proper hermeneutical methods is given in addition to the larger foundation of God being the God who "does not change."  In chapter two, he walks through "the human half of the equation" to give the reader insight into how "passions" and "affections" are used simply as constructs in common vernacular regarding human beings.  Discussing the way of eminence and negation in chapter three, the work provides a helpful way to understand how we know what we know about God.  Moving to the next chapter, Renihan, having readied the reader, gives discussion on God related to "perfections and incarnation".  He closes in chapter five with a discussion of the personal and pastoral applications and/or implications of the doctrine of divine impassibility.  The work is a needed resource in the church today.
In short-God does not have passions and affections like creatures, he has perfections, and this, as Renihan says, "has implications for the preaching of the gospel and all areas of life." (p. 95)

Another blessing in the book is Renihan's well-researched use of writers of previous eras.  Some true gems appear in this collection.  Who isn't helped by the Binning quote (1666) who wrote, when discussing God's use of language in the Scriptures which uses human pictures to help us understand an incomprehensible God, that "...the Lord accommodates himself unto our terms and notions; balbutit nobiscum he like a kind father stammers with the stammering children"? (p.27)  Or the Charnock statement, when writing on the impassible God says, "Is the sun changed when it hardens one thing and softens another, according to the disposition of the several subjects?  Or when the sun makes a flower more fragrant, and a dead carcass more noisome?" (p. 97).  Also, there is Renihan's own description of God not being like an angry mob boss that we must pay off.

Well-written, biblically thorough, historically researched, and systematically careful, this theological work is worth the time and money.  The thought may cross your mind, "I am charged with preaching the gospel, I don't have time for another book on theology..."  All I can say is that another helpful part of this book is that, rightly-digested, it will make for better preaching of the gospel.  My soul was nourished, and my eyes tear-filled, as I reflected on the gospel and the connections with divine impassibility on the last few pages of this book.  The God of the gospel is an unchanging, sure and steadied God.

My wife and I, 'foodies' that we are, often like to share in meals where one dish, being so good, causes you to want to sample other components of the meal on the table--Bread that leads you to want to taste the salad, which in turn leaves you joyfully expectant of the medium-rare filet to come.  This book, while a dish on divine impassibility, leads you into other dishes on the table which the Lord has banqueted for His people in His Word...

"The Lord our God is but one living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself; infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot by comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions..."-The Baptist Confession 1677/89 2.1

Friday, August 21, 2015

Means of Grace

We are still going through a summer sermon series on the Means of Grace in our church.  One brother sent me this JC Ryle quote this past week, and I found it helpful:

From Holiness, JC Ryle, p. 20:

"Sanctification, again, is a thing which depends greatly on the diligent use of scriptural means. When I speak of means, I have in view Bible reading, private prayer, regular attendance in public worship, regular hearing of God's word and regular reception of the Lord's supper.  I lay it down as a simple matter of fact, that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent Saint whoever neglected them. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of Grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which he has begun in the inward man. Let men call this legal doctrine if they please, but I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no "spiritual gains without pains." I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them till harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness, who was not diligent about his Bible reading, his prayers and the use of his Sundays. Our God is a God who works by means, and he will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them..."

I believe the Baptist Confession 1677/89 gives a clear picture of the ordinary means of grace:

"The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened." LBCF 1689 14.1

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What We Do When We Get Together...

"The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord's supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; moreover, solemn humiliation, with fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner. "
-The Baptist Confession 22.5

Lord's Day worship each Sunday as the church gathers, is an opportunity to be matured in the faith, and for the Lord to receive glory from His people.  In our day, the methods through which people seek to order their Christian worship services is often very divergent from the ways the text indicates that the people of God are to worship.  The Baptist Confession mentions prayer, and then the next section (above) gives what, in addition to prayer, ought to mark our worship services.  To say that these are the things that ought to occupy our time together is not a legalistic practice, but rather a dependence upon Apostolic tradition--upon the Word of God as the guide for how the covenant people of God ought to worship and commune together with their God.

The Lord has not left us without instruction regarding how we ought to worship.  Often times, we seek spiritual nourishment from man-made cisterns that really hold no water.  Many will resort to means other than the Lord's given means to assemble.  And often these things are not inherently sinful ontologically, but when they become replacements for His given means of worship, they are detractors, and at best spoilers of the meal to come.  In an earlier section, the Confession reads: 

"The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. " 22.1

This is not to imply that the Lord is not watching over His children.  It is not to imply that He isn't glorified in things we do throughout the week, for example the talents He has given us.  Painting, doing drama, building something with our hands, etc., are all things that the Lord can be glorified through as His children perform them unto His glory.  However, these are not things for example that the church should focus on in its assembled worship time.  We have an apostolic pattern.  We have  the Lord's institution of the ordinary means of grace.  Therefore, we should let the Word be our guide for how we come to worship.  When we do, a byproduct is that we are not longer looking for an "emotional" experience in worship to drive our times.  We are also not designing our services for the non-believer, as if the assembling of the body is primarily for non-covenantal purposes.  We are gathering as covenantal people, using our covenant maker's instructions on how to assemble in His name.  We are free to expect God to use what He has shown He will use versus resting on our own imaginative devices for the next "big" experience that we hope will move us.  

May God be glorified as His churches worship Him according to His Word.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Law vs. Legalism

"The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation." Baptist Confession 1689, 19.5

When Jesus says, "You have heard it said...but I say unto you..." in Matthew 5-7,  He is not doing away with the Law (specifically, the 10 Commandments).  Rather, He is exposing the legalism of the Pharisees.  Often times, the Sermon on the Mount is a chief text used by many to make the claim that Jesus brings in a new law, and does away with the moral law of the Old Testament.  A brief study of the Pharisaical teaching and method of the day, of adding rules upon rules to God's perfect law, which occurred in the inter-testamental period, will show the context for Jesus' teaching.  Jesus is not seeking to abolish the forever binding moral law of God (summarized in the Decalogue), but rather, He is teaching on how the Law is applied, and how it needs to be separated from the legalism of the religious leaders of the day.

In our day, preaching grace has often meant that many resort either to saying the the entire Old Testament law is done away with, or it has meant calling the adherence to the Law "legalism". (This is most often seen in the keeping of Sabbath).  How ironic.  Jesus is upholding Law over against legalism, and now many today are using those same passages to call Law legalism.  We must preach bold grace...and yes, there are times we may sound antinomian because we preach grace to the deepest of sins and we preach repentance boldly, inviting any to come.  "Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation; that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent; which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary.Baptist Confession 1689, 15.5
However, we must not "be" antinomian" in casting off obedience to God's law as a way of glorifying the God Who saved those who broke His righteous law.

I must boldly preach grace, and monergistic grace at that.  God saves me...He sanctifies me...he ordains good works for me to do (Eph 2:10).  I can boldly proclaim grace for any sin, but I must also proclaim that true faith and repentance are met with obedience to God's law as lifestyle, imperfect as it may be.

"Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise shew them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man's doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.  Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done."
Baptist Confession 1689, 19.6-7

Christians can be like the Psalmist who "delights in the Law of the Lord."  I delight as one who has a record of obedience because of Christ's work, and as one who sees the beauty of the Law as a means of living for the God who saves.--the God who saves a law-breaker like me.  Legalism is adding to His law, it is not seeking to keep His law by His grace...

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Lord's Day Cometh

A normal rhythm of the Christian life, if we allow it, is 1 in 7.  Every week, we have before us a chance to Sabbath in our Lord and assemble on the Lord's Day in the light of His resurrection.  There is much talk today about how to "do" church.  Many people focus on "how-to" strategies aimed at growing a church, or desire to minimize certain elements and maximize others.  I have been profoundly benefitted from reflection upon what the Bible calls the church to be.  Having grown up in church, served in churches as early as High School and college, and entered ministry right out of college, I have been exposed to a variety of church "styles" and "types".  But in the end, the Lord's pattern for the church is laid out clearly in Scripture if we are willing to in faith, believe that the Word is our best guide for the church.  How do we think weekly about each approaching Lord's Day?  A few thoughts:

Rhythm:  The Lord has given a one in seven pattern for us to follow since creation.  Sabbath rest, ultimately realized in our eschatological rest in Christ, is a rhythm that is given to us for our good (Mark 2).  This pre-Sinai pattern also teaches about our God, and His own pattern that He has revealed to us at creation.  The early church, because of the resurrection of Jesus, observed Sabbath together on the first day of the week, and weekly celebrated the ultimate eschatological rest through the the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This God-given rhythm, although having a change in which day it was to be observed, has not been rescinded (Heb 4), but has been given greater understanding.  We need this rhythm.  We need a day of God-centered devotion and rest, where we remove the requirements and distractions of the other 6 days out of our hearts, minds and physical focus, and we rest in our Lord.  And on this day, the church assembles together (Rev. 1:10).  "Keeping the sabbath holy" is not a burden, but a delight to borrow Walt Chantry's verbiage.

Food:  The ordinary means of grace, specifically the Word and the Table, are the food the Lord uses.  We live in a day when so many minimize these things, and church diets...the spiritual diets of believers, are junk food.  The minimizing of preaching, the lackadaisical use of the table, either in frequency or in the lack of intentionality, has left people starving for the food of the Lord.  Why would we not want to regularly gather at the table of the Lord as He is spiritually present with His people by the Holy Spirit, nourishing them in the benefits of His accomplished work?  What skit, video presentation, or state of the art building can hold a candle to that?  And the amazing thing is that He has told us in His Word to focus on these things--these means of grace.

Structure:  Biblical church government/polity and membership are crucial forms of fencing.  Given that the New Covenant is an unbreakable covenant, the church is to be made up of professing believers.  These believers, duly baptized, recipients of the sign of the covenant of grace, are gathered together with under-shepherds into a community of discipleship, accountability, and mutual joys and sorrows (Gal 6).  We live in a day when a biblical ecclesiology is lacking, and many assume that it really doesn't matter.  We just think "let's just preach the gospel",  but why would we discard the Lord's instructions on "how to gather" as we do?  Hebrews 4 (Sabbath) and Hebrews 10:25 (assembling) go together as the best mixture--the New Testament knows nothing of Sabbath without assembling.  The regular gathering of the church, duly constituted, is crucial in the life of the believer.

So often when I sit to give spiritual counsel to a weary person who professes Christ, some component in the three given above is missing, or is askew.  Not every problem will be solved by just having the above three things in order, but so often, one of more of these three things in lacking in a believer's life.  So, how do we think about this coming Lord's Day approaching?  I now look forward with eager expectation to the Lord's "Sabbathing" in Christ.  I think in advance about how He will feed His people through His Word preached and in His Word made visible (sacraments).  The Lord has changed how I focus on these things, and as a result, my life has been enriched.  Prayer, while not the main focus of this post, is also a means the Lord uses in the life of the believer...a means, which too many of us, myself included, don't utilize as we could.

Friend, we have a wonderful one in seven rhythm given to us by the Lord.  We should not only not neglect the assembling of believers (Heb 10), but we should look to the coming Lord's Day as a reminder of weekly nourishment.  The ministry of the Word, Sacraments and prayer along with biblical church membership and government are the food and fence that the Lord uses to lead His sheep in green pastures in a weekly rhythm of grace until they are safely home.  It is now a few days until the next Lord's day.  If I have breath a few days from now, I will, Lord willing, be pleased to gather with the saints, feed on the Word, rest together and individually in Him, and look toward heaven's shore--what a gift He has given to us...