1689 Confession Study: The Crisis-Conversion in Riper Years

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, chapter 15 on repentance includes a look at the meaning of the first paragraph:

Those of the elect who are converted in riper years, having lived some time in the state of nature, and in this state served various lusts and pleasures, God gives repentance which leads to life, through an effectual call.

From this study I learned some new terminology: the sudden experience of adult conversions, of those who know the date when they were saved (as with my own experience), is referred to as a “crisis conversion,” as contrasted with the gradual conversion experience of children brought up in Christian homes, who cannot pinpoint a sudden, specific time of their conversion.

The audio lesson spends a great deal of time in emphasizing the point–to listeners who are of the second (gradual conversion) type–that all people who are converted experience repentance.  By mentioning the first type, the confession’s authors here were not saying that only the first type of conversion experience is a true experience. The important point is that we have continuing faith and repentance in our lives, now–and to recognize that everyone’s conversion experience is unique and so we should not expect everyone else’s experience to be like ours—or for our own experience to be like that of others. For the latter, Hodgins gave the example of reading David Brainerd’s diary– one who was extremely aware of his wretchedness – and comparing his own conversion experience to that and thinking “I must be lost, since I didn’t have such awareness of my sinful condition.” Each type of conversion has its advantages and disadvantages; the adult with “crisis conversion” lived more years in an unsaved condition, more sins (and perhaps more “baggage” of problems, less common grace than those who were saved at a younger age, a point similarly made during the chapter 13 Sanctification study). The point is well-made, for both groups. I recall from early Christian experience, that at first I assumed that all other Christians likewise had a sudden conversion experience—and only later learned that at least some Christians do not have this.

As quoted from Sam Waldron  (at this person’s 1689 Confession Commentary on chapter 15):

The Confession makes this out of a desire to distinguish repentance as a crisis experience from repentance as an ordinary grace.  All believers are marked by ordinary grace, but not all believers will know, or need to know, repentance as a crisis experience. …The practical applications of this are various and important.  Do not doubt your salvation merely because you lack a crisis experience like that of some respected brother or sister in the Lord.  Do not demand of others a certain type of conversion experience as a necessary mark of true grace.  An emotional earthquake, radical, external changes in one’s life-style, knowing the exact time of one’s rebirth, an extended work of conviction by the law, immediate sudden joy–all of these may accompany conversion, but none are necessary marks of true repentance.”

From further online reading, (courtesy of Google books) I came across a few pages of “Saved by Grace” by Anthony Hoekema, which provides further information on this topic — Variations in the Pattern of Conversion – along with Hoekema’s quotes from Herman Bavinck. The Reformers’ own conversions can be further classified in terms of contrasts: from deep feelings of guilt to the joyful awareness of forgiveness in Christ (Luther), being set free from the bondage of the law, to happiness of being a child of God (Zwingli), or “deliverance from error into truth, from doubt into certainty” in John Calvin’s conversion. The pattern of conversion thus may be predominantly intellectual, or volitional, or emotional, and Hoekema noted examples from Church History of all three: C.S. Lewis the intellectual conversion, Augustine as volitional, and John Bunyan’s as emotional.

The type of conversion experience, for Hoekema, raises the question–from the paedo-baptist covenantal perspective—of whether “covenant children” need to be converted. What he says makes sense, regardless of one’s view of covenant theology and baptism (of the paedobaptist or believer’s Baptist), in the general observation that many who are raised in Christian homes have a gradual conversion experience—yet they still need their own personal conversion, to realize their own sin, their own commitment to Christ, to personally appropriate the blessings of salvation. What Hoekema describes, I can certainly relate to:

Much variation is possible in the way in which those born of Christian parents later come to conversion. Some are led gently, with no earthshaking upheavals, growing steadily from childhood to young manhood, and from young manhood to full maturity… Others, however, who for a time lived openly sinful lives, or became alienated from their Christian upbringing, are suddenly brought to conversion, through some gripping word of arresting circumstance, often by means of a violent emotional struggle.

 

1689 Confession Study: Practical Errors in Sanctification

January 26, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, the final lesson in chapter 13 (Sanctification) considers five practical errors regarding sanctification – five doctrinal points which believers may conflate with an unrelated idea.  These are fairly common ones among evangelicals, ideas which we may even acquire subconsciously (perhaps due to imbalanced teaching).  Hodgins acknowledged his own past experience, of sometimes thinking in these incorrect ways.

  1. Equating a wisdom-call (application) with the moral law of God (there are many different applications of the moral law to particular situations)
  2. Equating gifts with graces (even King Saul and Baalam were gifted, and even prophesied, yet were lost men)
  3. Equating struggle with hypocrisy
  4. Equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline
  5. Equating our sin-tainted works with God-rejected works.

Some of these I was familiar with, ideas generally mentioned in church from time to time (#4), or from my reading on the subject of sanctification over the last several years—especially #5, my (incorrect) way of thinking after several years of over-emphasis on God-rejected works at a Calvinist Baptist church.  One of the points brought out here, is that the well-known reference in Isaiah 64:6 (“all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”) is in reference to the unconverted; this truth has its place in preaching the gospel and evangelism, telling sinners about the need for justification, that our salvation is completely in Christ and we do nothing to merit our salvation; but as believers our relationship is now that of children of God.  I recall learning (or perhaps being reminded again after so many years) the comforting truth of the correct teaching on this point, in J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago (see this blog post from 2010)

For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).  Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comfortable doctrine. Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye, He is well pleased.

I observe that the examples and detail given in this lesson reference various points of the moral law (Ten Commandments), an approach I’ve only recently begun to notice, through study of the 1689 Confession along with Tom Chantry’s series on the Ten Commandments—as contrasted with the standard fare at the New Calvinist / “Sovereign Grace” NCT church which ignores teaching on the moral law, only dealing with Christian living as it is referenced in the New Testament epistles.

For #5 above, the lesson cites some of the same scripture texts from the above J.C. Ryle quote, and the fifth commandment.  Examples of people falling into certain wrong ideas are presented from the perspective of believers who have been taught sanctification in terms of the moral law / Ten Commandments summary–those who thus at least think in these terms in reference to their Christian walk. So with #1 above, examples include a person making a specific “rule” to help him follow the tenth commandment (do not covet) or his own application of law regarding whether or not to go to the beach (in reference to the seventh commandment)—and then equating that particular application with the moral law itself and thus imposed on everyone else (the basic issue of externalism and a problem commonly associated with “fundamentalism”).

Item #3 (one I had not considered before) is the idea that, if at this moment I don’t feel like praying or reading my Bible, then if I do so anyway (“force myself to do so”) I must be a hypocrite–so I’ll just be transparent and honest instead. The biblical response to this one is No – doing the right thing, even when our heart isn’t into it, is called mortification of sin, putting to death the sinful desires. Yes we must deal with our own heart, but it is better to deal with it there, in our own thoughts, rather than bring others into the sphere of our problems by behaving poorly to others.

I especially appreciate the teaching on point 4 (equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline), which included the lyrics of a John Newton hymn — one I had never heard before, but which apparently is in some hymnals, including at the church doing this 1689 Confession study. See this blog post (from the Gospel Coalition blog) for the full lyrics, which Hodgins read aloud in this lesson.  (Hodgins disliked the tune in their hymnal.  From googling, here is a Youtube rendition of the hymn in the familiar tune of another hymn, Psalm 42 As the Hart Longs.)  These excellent words from John Newton describe the Christian’s prayer to God, asking to grow in faith, and love, and every grace — and the result, how the Lord answers that prayer by bringing affliction —

I asked the Lord that I might grow  / In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,  / And seek, more earnestly, His face.

. . .

“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied, / I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, / From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, / That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

 

1689 Baptist Confession Study: The Pattern of Sanctification

January 8, 2016 3 comments

Continuing in the 1689 Exposition series, comes an interesting lesson on the “Pattern of Sanctification.”  Using the analogy of a pattern, the way in which we learn of an idea as well as how to do it, this lecture considers several wrong ways to approach sanctification, and the correct pattern to follow.

Wrong patterns fall into three major categories:

  • Selective pattern (a “check-list” mentality to define and “do” holiness through a list of “dos and don’ts” that relate only to outward actions of morality)
  • Sentimental: Atavistic – the tendency to look back to and revere our ancestors; in evangelicalism, this is expressed in imitation of the particular behaviors of godly men from Christian history, such as the Puritans or J.C. Ryle. Certainly we can learn from our history and from great teachers of the past, but our own practice of holiness should be based on scriptural truths rather than “because so and so” did something – such as, because J.C. Ryle expressed strong criticism of theatre therefore we do the same – forgetting the cultural and societal contexts of what “theatre” involved in that original person’s time.
  • Subjective: our own definition of what holiness means; again, departing from scripture. The popular WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) is one type of subjective pattern of holiness. After all, most of us really don’t know that answer due to lack of overall biblical knowledge, and so that question really gets turned into WWID (What would I Do).

Given that a pattern has three aspects or parts – the concept, ingredients, and an illustration — we can recognize these components in our approach to progressive sanctification / holiness.

  • Concept: The attributes of our creator God – specifically, His communicable attributes, often what we see mentioned in the New Testament epistles (the fruits of the Spirit; the 1 Corinthians 13 description of love, God’s character; the qualities to add to our faith as in 2 Peter 1:5-9).
  • Ingredients: here, God’s moral law for all time, that which is well summarized in the Ten Commandments. As any study of the Ten Commandments will point out, the actual teaching expressed in this list of ten is a very broad subject, covering not mere formality or following “the letter,” but all that is really involved in each of these commands.
  • Illustration: Christ Himself, who is the exact imprint of God, the “picture” that God has provided for us; God’s Revelation of Himself to us, to satisfy our desire for an image, as addressed in the Second Commandment – Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series ties in so well at this point, as I’ve been going through his lectures regarding the Second Commandment. We have Christ’s example described to us in the four gospel accounts, as well as the follow-up in the rest of the New Testament.

I find this approach quite helpful, with three distinct parts from scripture to help us in our daily walk.  Those of the “new Calvinist” persuasion would make a sharp break in continuity (more than is justified) from the Old to New Testament age, so as to neglect study of the Old Testament – and sanctification becomes ONLY “look at Christ’s example,” or possibly expanded to allow for the concept in the attributes of God, but again specifically focused on New Testament revelation instead of the whole counsel of God. It is nice to see the three-pronged Reformed approach to Sanctification, how it all relates together. Certainly too, this is a much more positive and helpful understanding than the emphasis of New Calvinists (and possibly others) who cry “legalism!” at any mention of “the law” – and thus do not even study the Ten Commandments, the moral law. As Hodgins here (and others) point out, following the law is only legalism when intended as a means for our justification.

As well-observed by Tom Chantry in this post:

Say anything – anything at all – about preaching the law, and see what happens. Voices are raised on every side, mainly quoting verses out of context with absolutely no comprehension of Christian doctrine, all shouting “NO!” “We’re under grace, not law!” “We can’t proclaim commandments; salvation is of grace, not works!” The baffled preacher may answer, “Who said anything about salvation by works?” … The evangelical church is quickly becoming the one place where mention of morality is strictly proscribed.

Following the moral law, the precepts of God’s law as summarized in the Ten commandments, as a guide for increasing holiness / progressive sanctification, has nothing to do with legalism – and instead quite agrees with 1 John 2 :3 — And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

In the interesting providence of my current choices for sermon listening, I have found that these two audio sermon series — exposition of the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and Chantry’s Ten Commandments — complement each other quite well, often relating to the same overall doctrinal issues with different, but interesting, points brought up in one series, which relates to the material presented in the other series.

 

 

 

Understanding and Distinguishing between the First and Second Commandments

December 30, 2015 1 comment

Continuing through Tom Chantry’s “Ten Commandments” series, some interesting observations regarding the first two of the commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; and the lengthier 2) You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.

In our modern age, with the historical reference and background of Judeo-Christian culture, these two commandments are often easily confused and even combined together. Chantry notes that the Catholic church does the latter – one lengthy 1st commandment, then other numbering and their own extra division in one of the later commandments to come up with the number ten. From our perspective it seems clear enough that anyone who worships idols IS worshipping other gods, false gods; the two go hand-in-hand in all pagan societies. The liberal, modernist scholars would also have us esteem the ancient pagans as sub-par in intelligence, “those stupid pagan idolaters who actually thought their god was that piece of gold or wood.” But no, the early civilizations well understood the concept of symbolic representation: the god existed apart from his idol; the idol represented that god. Though certainly false religions in some cases since have devolved even further, to actually believing that the idol = the god, yet generally those who worship the idol are affirming a “god” that exists beyond the idol itself.

The Exodus Israelites came from a culture with two important features: polytheism AND excellent artwork. Though they were but lowly slaves in that kingdom (Egypt), they could certainly appreciate the artwork—still enjoyed by people today, as evidenced by the multitudes who attend every “ancient wonders” type of museum exhibit, enamored by King Tut’s tomb and other finds from ancient Egypt. So, having experienced the power of Yahweh in delivering them from Egypt, to the Israelites it was very natural to consider the worship of this other God, the one God – Yahweh; thus, in the cultural style of Egypt: how should this God be represented? by what artwork/idol?

So to distinguish the two commandments: the First Commandment says Who to worship. The Second Commandment says How to worship. God tells us further, that He is not a fit subject for our artwork.

Israel’s later history also attests to this distinction between the First and the Second Commandments. Jeroboam’s great sin (1 Kings 12:28) harkens back to the golden calf of Exodus 32:4-8, even using the same language “these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” – a clear violation of the Second Commandment, worshiping the true God, but worshiping Him in the wrong way. 1 Kings 16:31 further makes this point, in reference to King Ahab: “as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat” – the Second Commandment violation – “he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.” Thus Ahab is specifically connected with violating BOTH the First and the Second Commandments, introducing Baal worship in addition to the golden calf sin to the northern tribes. 2 Kings continues the story with Jehu, raised up by the Lord to destroy the house of Ahab – and commended for doing so, including Jehu’s destruction of Baal worship (2 Kings 10:18-27). Yet we are told in verse 29, “But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin-that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.”

Chantry’s lessons in this series, as with the section about the Second Commandment, include consideration of several Bible events which serve as illustrations for each commandment; see this lecture about the golden calf and this one about Nadab and Abihu’s Strange Fire. In the study of their experiences as examples for us in our age (1 Corinthians 10:11), we can learn more about the specific circumstances and background of the early Israelites, to relate to their way of thinking—and to understand where they went wrong.

The Ten Commandments and the ‘Greatest Generation’

December 18, 2015 3 comments

I’m now going through Tom Chantry’s “The Ten Commandments” series, a set of 81 available audio messages (the audio is missing from a few of the lectures), a Wednesday-night series he did several years ago as an in-depth look at Exodus 20 and related scriptures regarding the overall issue of the Ten Commandments as well as each individual command within the set.

The introductory messages include (message 2) “For Whom?,” a look at the people who received the Ten Commandments – two groups (Exodus 20, and the children a generation later in Deuteronomy) and the contrast between them, with a great point of application to us in our day.

The first generation, those who came out of Egypt, was a generally unbelieving group. As Paul later said, they were an example for us; and the law was given as a schoolmaster, to point out our sinfulness and our need of Christ, that we cannot obtain salvation by keeping the law.

Their children were a very different group: a generally believing group who had great faith and, abiding in the Lord, accomplished great things: the initial conquest of Canaan under Joshua – a generation in Israel unlike the preceding and unlike all the later generations, a group that could be called “the greatest generation.” Of course they were fallen, unglorified humans, with imperfect obedience – and yet they were believers–like us, part of the one people of God throughout all redemptive history.

Yet the law was also given to them–a point that Moses emphasized: this law is given to you, this covenant made with you. As Chantry points out, this group might have been tempted to think “we’re different than our parents,” and “we’ve arrived.” After all, the wilderness wandering is over; this group would soon be entering the Promised Land; no more following the cloud by day and the fire by night, but living in a settled land; no more miraculous daily feeding of the manna, but the “milk and honey” abundance of the land.

An interesting point, of great application to us in our day: the “third use” of the law. We recognize that God’s people never were saved by law-keeping but always by the “covenant of grace” which was progressively revealed, the atonement provided for God’s people in Christ’s death. Yet the law, the Ten Commandments, was given to both types of people in the Old Testament: the generally unbelieving group in Exodus, and also to the group of believers in Deuteronomy.

 

1689 Confession Study: Motives for Holiness (Progressive Sanctification)

December 7, 2015 4 comments

Continuing in the 1689 Confession series, the messages on chapter 13 (Sanctification) include a look at the source of sanctification (this message).  Yes, in an objective and general sense, we can all say that our sanctification comes from the Lord, it is He who works in us and continues the work of grace in our hearts and lives, and preserves and keeps us. The subjective side, though, includes our own personal experience and specific biblical motives for our continuing to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, in the synergistic aspect of sanctification.

Here are ten motives for holiness – as noted in the lecture, this list is not exhaustive (not in this list, for example: desire to keep one’s good name, seen in Joseph’s experience with Potiphar’s wife, one of several motives that Joseph had) , but ten major motives for the subjective aspect of sanctification.

The desire …

  1. To express love and thanksgiving to God. (1 John 5:3)
  2. To proclaim the excellencies of God. (1 Peter 2:9; our holy lives)
  3. To maintain a clear conscience before God and man. (Reference Acts 24:16, Romans 13, 1 Peter 3:16)
  4. To be more useful to God. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)
  5. To see unbelievers come to faith in Christ. (1 Peter 3:1-2, 3:15)
  6. To avoid God’s displeasure and discipline in our lives. We’re not always “up there” and so in love with God. (1 Cor. 11:29-32; the case of Ananias and Saphira, struck down for their lie)
  7. To seek greater, heavenly reward. (1 Cor. 3, 2 Cor. 5:9-10)
  8. To have a closer walk with God.
  9. To do what God commands simply because His commands are right, we delight in doing what’s right (as the psalmist delighted in God’s laws).
  10. To have peace and joy in our lives.

Some of these motives may be “higher” and more “spiritual” than others, but we should never discard the “lower” motives. In answer to those who would disdain the motive of being “more useful to God” by saying that we should always be thinking great thoughts and always be “up there” just wanting God’s glory—the reality of our Christian experience (reference Romans 7) is that we’re not always feeling such high thoughts of just wanting to praise and proclaim the greatness of God. The one who says that “I just want to glory in Christ and God can use me or not use me, it’s all about Him,” is really not being more spiritual—but rather being a hyper-Calvinist. Sometimes in our lives, only the “lower” motives will work, those times when God puts us in such conditions. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged”; so motive #6 above certainly is biblical and has its place, that we strive for holiness so as to avoid God’s chastening, such as some of the Corinthians had experienced.

A similar point is made regarding motive #7, to seek greater reward. Our salvation is not by works, yet God’s word plainly teaches that believers will have rewards for their level of faithfulness and their works done as believers. In Matthew 5:19 Jesus contrasts those who will be called “least in the kingdom of heaven” versus those who will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ also told us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth, and Paul contrasts those who build on the foundation with gold, silver or precious stones, versus those who build with straw. Some will enter into glory “as by fire,” with their lives–yet all their works burned up.  We don’t know what those rewards will be in the specifics, but again, this is a motive for holiness.  Our understanding here is a “both/and” regarding salvation and rewards.

[As a sidenote here, I note an inconsistency regarding understanding and applying the ‘both/and’ concept to various doctrines. The amillennialist rejects the teaching of premillennialism on the basis that “spiritual is more important than literal, therefore only the spiritual part is true,” not seeing the “both/and” aspect of premillennialism. Yet the same person who rejects this doctrine at least understands and gets some teaching right (better than those who are more consistent yet consistently come to the wrong conclusion on most doctrines), though not seeing their inconsistent handling of various biblical doctrines.]

In our continued walk with God, we should certainly aim for greater holiness and sanctification, including through the greater motives. Yet any motive to refrain from sin and to improve in our walk with God, anything that keeps us from sin, is something good.

Carl Trueman on John Owen

November 30, 2015 2 comments

Following the topic of church history and the Puritans, and having enjoyed Carl Trueman’s Reformation History lectures, I have now listened (available on sermon audio here to a 5-part series (with two additional messages after these five) from Trueman, on John Owen.

Much of the content is actually about the Puritans generally, with some overlap of the Reformation series as to the overall historical setting, along with descriptions of Owen’s theology in particular. Of note, Reformed theology in Owen’s day was more complex, more developed than in the 16th century, in part due to the heresy confronted in the 17th century: Socinianism. Owen’s view of the atonement comes out in a more detailed response to Socinianism. While John Calvin, Samuel Rutherford and Twisse (the chairman of the Westminster Assembly) saw the atonement as not necessary–God COULD have provided redemption in another way, but He chose to do it that way—for Owen the atonement had to be done in that way, the blood sacrifice of the God-man, as necessary due to the character of God.

Among other interesting points: the Puritans, as authors of the Westminster Confession, did not hold to the idea of “proof-text scriptures.” The Westminster Confession document originally did not have scripture verses associated with the confession statements. They added these only at the request of Parliament. Still, their thinking was more the idea of, look at the scripture reference, and then refer to the 100+ commentaries that had ever been written on that text. As J.I. Packer also noted (in this series), here also from Trueman, the Puritan era was one of strong expository preaching, of very strong exposition of biblical texts.

The idea of the Covenant of Redemption (the agreement in eternity past, between the Father and the Son) first showed up, in Puritan writing, in 1638. Yet a criticism of that covenantal structure has been that the idea is “not very Trinitarian.” Here John Owen contributed and expanded the Trinitarian view of the Covenant of Redemption: the Spirit’s role also in this covenant. Trueman recommends reading this work, Owen’s Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, even before reading Owen’s other works such as “the Death of Death in the Death of Christ” or “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.”

Also generally recommended, especially for laypeople, are the Banner of Truth reprints, abridgements of John Owen’s works.  For people with more limited time (non-pastors, those busy working other jobs in the world), Trueman notes that the abridgements will at least give you Owen’s conclusions (without reading the many hundreds of pages of reasoning to how he got to those conclusions). As a beginner-level, Trueman suggests J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God,” which includes Packer’s quotes from Owen.

As with previous material from Trueman, this “John Owen conference” series provides good and helpful material, a good introduction to the overall Puritan authors and particularly the key features of John Owen and his writings.

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