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The John Bunyan Conference Atonement Series: S. Lewis Johnson’s Last Teaching Series

January 25, 2012 4 comments

Among the full collection at the SLJ Institute, I’m now listening to a series I had often heard about, SLJ’s atonement series from the John Bunyan Conference.  Following are my general observations after listening to the first nine of the 18 messages.

As a set of messages from a conference, it’s quite different from the standard lecture series at Believers Chapel.  These messages were given in 1997, when Dr. Johnson was 81 years old, three years after his last messages taught at Believers Chapel.  The series is a topical one, with what at first seems a rather eclectic selection of passages unrelated to each other.  Yet all have in common words such as “all”, “all men” and “saviour.”  The audio quality, while good overall, isn’t as consistent as the recordings at Believers Chapel — minor things like variation in the speaker’s volume.  For the sixth message (1 Timothy 4:10),  S. Lewis Johnson read a paper he had previously written — a delivery style that takes some getting used to.   More than with any other series, too, this one includes far more biographical details, especially concerning Johnson’s years at Dallas Theological Seminary, including the reason (view of the atonement) that he resigned from DTS in 1977.  It is also fun to hear him tell stories from those days, including his reflections on Lewis Sperry Chafer and Dallas Seminary’s early practice  concerning solicitation of money, a view shared in common with 19th century missionary George Muller.

Among the passages considered are these:

Several of these passages are well-known ones considered “key” to the atonement issue, with words that could be said to support universalism — except of course for the well-known principle of interpretation, that scriptures must not conflict with each other; from the overall teaching of God’s word we know that not everyone will be saved.  Another common view is the Amyraldian view, or the four-point Calvinist (without the “L” of limited atonement):  that the intent of the atonement is for everyone including those who do not come to faith.

Following is a summary listing of ten reasons in support of Particular Redemption, given during the seventh message.

1.  The statements of Scripture are of that character.  The language of conditionality, the language of potentiality, the language of possibility is not found with reference to the atonement.

2.  The argument from definite expressions, so beautifully set out in A. Hodge’s Christian Theology, the expressions of Scripture are definite.  He died for the church.  He redeemed a people.

3.  The argument from the nature of the atonement. The nature of the atonement, the atoning work of Jesus Christ is a penal substitutionary, by a sacrifice, work.  It is penal – Christ died and bore the penalty of those for whom he died.  It is, of course, a satisfaction, that is, he propitiated the Father, satisfied his justice of holiness.  And it is a substitution.  He died for us, for a particular people.  And if he died for a particular people, then my friend, what judgment can heaven bring against those for whom Christ has died?  What judgment?  Heaven can bring no judgment against the one for whom Christ has died.  So if we believe in substitution, then we must be believers in a definite atonement, a particular redemption.  There is no way out of that.

4.  An argument from the priesthood of Christ, after all, the work of the high priest was the work of sacrifice and intercession for a particular people, wasn’t it?  What Aaron and the other high priests did was to offer sacrifices for the Israelites, didn’t they?  Did they offer them for the Moabites or the Amalakites?  They were for Israel.  They were a particular people.  And he made intercession for those for whom he offered sacrifice.

5.   Argument from the less to the greater.  “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  If he died for us, then he will give us everything.  That’s the greatest gift.  Everything else follows.  If he offered a sacrifice for us then, will he give us conviction of sin?  Will he give us repentance?  Will he give us all of the other things?  Will he give us faith?  Of course.  “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  So if you believe he has given himself up for you, the greatest work of all, all these other lesser things, like faith, repentance, and so on, they have to come.

6.   Argument from the results the atonement has accomplished:  the harmonization of the design of the atonement and the end.  The limited result necessitates for an unfrustratable deity, a limited intent.  It seems obvious.  Of course, if you have a God who can be frustrated, that argument does not carry weight with you.  But your problem’s not the atonement, your problem is with the kind of God that you have.  The necessary harmony of the inter-trinitarian economy of salvation, I learned that from John Murray, the Westminster Seminary.

7.  The inter-trinitarian economy of salvation.  Think about that.  You know what that means?  That means the Father works toward one end.  The Son works toward the same end.  The Spirit works toward the same end.  The Father elects.  The Spirit gives faith to the elect.  The Son dies for, well, with the intent of saving everybody?  No, of course not.  We don’t have a dissonance in the Trinity.  We do not have the persons of the Trinity working toward different goals.  They have the same design – the elect, the elect, the elect.  The Father doesn’t elect the non-elect.  He elects the elect.  The Spirit brings to faith the elect.  The Son of God dies with the intent of saving the elect.  He offers for the elect.  I know you’re persuaded by now.

8.  Argument from the representative nature of Jesus Christ’s death.  It’d be interesting to talk about a number of the passages, of course, where our Lord is set forth as the covenantal head of his people, and when he offers himself, he offers for them.

Thomas Goodwin:  “There are but two men standing before God, Adam and Christ, and these two have all other men hanging at their girdles.”

9.  Argument from special divine love or the fact that the Scripture represents God’s love as distinguishing.  The Son doesn’t pray for all.  The Son doesn’t give the Spirit to all.  That’s important, too.  John 14:16 and 17.  He has withheld the gospel from countless myriads throughout the world, both in Old and New Testament times.  Difficult to understand, but nevertheless, true.  And true for a sovereign God.

10.  Revelation 5:10-11  The text says, “You have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”  Now if the atonement or redemption was universal, he would have simply said, You have redeemed every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  But it’s “out of”.  The construction in the original text is a partitive construction.  It’s some out of them.  Some translations translate it that way – some from have been redeemed.

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Additional resource information: Jim McClarty’s Q&A regarding “All Men.”

The Hermeneutical Connection Between Creation and Eschatology

January 18, 2012 3 comments

As I’ve shared before, my first understanding of millennialism, Israel and prophecy was at a Reformed church that promotes preterism, amillennialism and Church Replacement Theology. Before that I had only experienced mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterian) that really didn’t say anything either way about these subjects, only teaching of the basic gospel message. The way I came to consider and learn about premillennialism and Calvinist-Dispensationalism was directly because of the local pastor’s anti-young-earth creation (Progressive Creation) view, a subject for which I understood the plain sense of language and the literal grammatical historical hermeneutic (even if I didn’t know that particular term at the time).

How ironic it is, then, to find a few modern-day professed believers who hold to dispensationalism and yet insist on an Old Earth view, specifically the Gap Theory.  Such is clearly a case of inconsistent hermeneutics, and demonstrates the same reasoning as those who hold to other ideas such as amillennialism, preterism, etc.:  abondoning the literal grammatical historical hermeneutic, along with the appeal to human authority, the otherwise respectable preachers who held to the Gap Theory.

Granted, the Gap Theory is less of a compromise than other ideas that came up later, such as Theistic Evolution and Progressive Creation.  As the first of the compromise ideas that developed in the 19th century, it makes more of an attempt to hold to true scripture, not directly saying that the six days of creation are really symbolic of indefinite, vast ages of time.  Instead it says a “gap” occurred between verses one and two, during which untold millions of years of events occurred.

Still it is a compromise, one of those ideas not thought of until relatively recent times when secular scientists said the earth was extremely old.  Spurgeon, too, at least in his earlier years, accepted what the scientists said and didn’t give the matter much thought.  When it comes to consistent application of hermeneutics, though, one might as well be trying to defend Covenant Theology, preterism, and amillennialism as defending the Gap Theory.

Some creationists at least understand the hermeneutical connection, as for instance the founders of ICR, the Institute for Creation Research.  Consider this excerpt from Ronald L. Numbers’ “The Creationists” (available through Google books):

[M]ost flood geologists (in America at least) came from churches awaiting Christ’s soon return to earth. And for Christians expecting the imminent end of the present age –whether premillenial Baptists and Adventists or amillenial Lutherans and Church of Christ members –Whitcomb and Morris offered a compelling view of earth history framed by symmetrical catastrophic events and connected by a common hermeneutic. “If you take Genesis literally,” reasoned Morris, “you’re more inclined to take Revelation literally.” Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists, p. 339

Ironically, Answers in Genesis does not see this hermeneutical link, in their emphasis on the physical evidence for creation, as in this audio clip (1 1/2 minutes) from Ken Ham in which he makes it clear that he sees eschatology as something different than the issue of creation: because, he says, we also have the scientific physical evidence for creation, and the creation compromises came about from people responding to external ideas about evolution and old-earth. Whereas, he claims, schatology is only dealing with the words of scripture themselves, apart from any external ideas.

How wrong he is on that point, actually, and it’s likely that he is unaware of the extrabiblical (Greek philosophical) influences that brought about the ideas of non-premillennial eschatology.  Both old-earthers and amillennialists approach scripture through their extra-biblical presuppositions and human authority. Old-earthers appeal to the secular scientists’ claim to vast amounts of time (an extra-biblical presupposition) as well as to the 19th and early 20th century preachers who held to old-earth ideas (human authority).  Non-premillennialists likewise appeal to the secular presupposition of Greek philosophy and allegory (see this paper for instance), the Greek view of physical material as evil and non-physical spiritual as good; and then they appeal to the human authority of Augustine who invented amillennialism in the early 5th century.

In closing, S. Lewis Johnson’s first message in his Genesis series contains his analysis of the Gap Theory and what verses are said to support it.  As one who originally held to the Gap Theory, because he was taught it by his mentor Donald Grey Barnhouse, he well explains the appeal of the Gap Theory.  He then goes on to point out the biblical problems with it, including Exodus 20:9-11.  A brief excerpt (read the transcript for his much longer commentary on the matter):

And so they tend to say well, you can put all of that between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 and you have no problem.  But really you do have a problem.  In the first place, because geologists don’t accept the guess or cataclysmic theory, they are generally evolutionary uniformitarians, and so therefore you cannot have any ultimate harmonization with them.  In addition you have theological problems because by accepting the geological aid system the Bible scholar is thereby accepting the Bible record, which identifies these ages.  Fossils are dead things.  They speak clearly of a world in which suffering and disease and death often violent and widespread death were universal realities.  They speak of a world much like our own, a world containing sharks and jellyfish, dragonflies, cockroaches, turtles, crocodiles, beavers as someone has put it — further dinosaurs and other animals that are now extinct.

But Peter says the world that then was, perished.  If that world existed prior to this pre-Adamic cataclysm, then it existed before the sin of Satan, which brought on the cataclysm.  That is, suffering and death existed for half a billion years before the sin of Satan and the subsequent sin of Adam.  How can you explain such deaths?  Do you not see that you have theological problems with that theory too?  So, I’m persuaded in spite of the fact that, I confess, I used to be persuaded by that theory — that we are rather to read Genesis as a straightforward account of the creation in six days.

Hebrews 13: The Great Shepherd of the Eternal Covenant

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

From the depths of scripture passages, comes this interesting insight regarding Hebrews 13 and a reference to Isaiah 63.  Hebrews 13:20 contains this phrase in the benediction:   the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.

S. Lewis Johnson observes here a reference to Isaiah 63:11 (“​​​​​​​Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people.  Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit”):

Now, who is the shepherd?  Well, the shepherd is Moses.  And what is the flock?  Well, the flock is the people of Israel.  They have been brought out of the land of Egypt; they have been brought through the Red Sea, they have been brought out into the land.  And this, as you know, was the great deliverance to which the prophets and others pointed Israel, to remind Israel of their beginnings and how God had performed that mighty miracle of the exodus, bringing them out of from bondage to the Egyptians, bringing them through in a miraculous way through the sea, out onto dry land.

Spurgeon also noted this in reference to Isaiah 63.  SLJ read portions from this text, of which we can read the full sermon online here.

Turn to Isaiah 63:11—“Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He that put His Holy Spirit within them? That led them by the right hand of Moses with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make for Himself an everlasting name?”

See how this making to Himself an everlasting name tallies with the last clause—“To whom be glory forever and ever”? But let us proceed—“Who led them through the deep as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble.” Truly, those do not stumble in whom the Lord works “that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” “As a beast goes down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest”—there is the God of Peace—“so You lead Your people, to make Yourself a glorious name”—there again is the doxology, “To whom be glory forever and ever.” The historical event to which he alludes is the deliverance from Egypt and the coming up from the Red Sea!

Having saved His people by the blood of the Covenant which was smeared upon their doorposts, He led them to the Red Sea, their foes pursuing them. Into the Red Sea they descended—not to its banks, alone, did they go, but into its very depths they passed and there were they buried—the sea was as the place of death to them. Between its liquid walls and beneath the cloudy pillar which hung over the passage, they were baptized unto Moses and buried in Baptism as in a liquid tomb! But lo, they come up out of it again, led safely up from what became the grave of Pharaoh, with songs and shouts and rejoicing!

The parallel is this—“That Great Shepherd,” who is far greater than Moses and Aaron, must go down into the place of death on behalf of His people. He must, as the Representative of His flock, descend into the sepulcher. This He did, for He bowed His head and died. But lo, the Lord led Him up, again, from the deeps and He arose to life and glory—and all His people with Him! On that day the song might have been jubilant as that of Miriam when she chanted, “Sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously. Your right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power.” But now, in this greater deliverance by “the blood of the Everlasting Covenant” the Psalm is not to the Lord who is a man of war, but to “the God of Peace.” The honor is ascribed to the same Lord, but under a gentler name and to Him be glory forever and ever.

S. Lewis Johnson continues with Hebrews 13, observing that the writer of Hebrews is using the same words in the Septuagint, “Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.” The writer of Hebrews was thinking of the same analogy noted by Spurgeon and S. Lewis Johnson:

In other words, just as Moses led the children of Israel out, then led them down through the sea that had been parted by the Lord God, and led them through so, our Lord Jesus, by going to Calvary’s cross, by giving up his life, by entering into the grave and coming up in resurrection, has delivered his people, his flock, and he’s delivered them as their representative.  So brought again from the dead.

It’s also interesting to note that the term resurrection is only mentioned once in all of the book of Hebrews: only here in the benediction.  Hebrews focuses on Christ’s exaltation, which assumes the resurrection.  But only here in Hebrews 13 is the resurrection actually mentioned.

Prevenient Grace: Its Different Meanings

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Some doctrinal terms can be confusing at first, since it turns out they can have very different meanings, depending on who is using the term.  “Prevenient grace” is one such term.  For several years I heard the term “prevenient grace” from a Reformed Baptist church, as describing what the Puritans believed:  the grace that comes to the person before they believe to bring them to the point of salvation.

Then recently online I’d heard it used disparagingly, as an Arminian free-will term. Someone I know, from an Arminian background, was then surprised to hear a Calvinist preacher, S. Lewis Johnson, use the term “prevenient grace,” since to him the term was associated with Arminian free-will ideas about our choosing God, the “wooing” which is resistible by the human will.

Throughout history the term “prevenient grace” has been used in different ways. Originally the term was used by Reformed theologians as a synonym for irresistible grace: the grace which comes before  salvation and brings us to salvation. Arminians came along later and changed its usage to suit their own ideas.  That does not preclude Calvinists from using the term with a different sense, and I found from googling S. Lewis Johnson’s transcripts, his statement that semi-Pelagians (which is what many Arminians really are) do not believe in prevenient grace:

Semi-Pelagians say, ‘I wanted to come and God helped me.’ They deny prevenient grace. That is they deny the grace that comes first that enables a man to respond to the word of God. They conceive of themselves as first responding, first choosing to come, and then being helped by God to receive Christ as Savior.

Here is an article that examines “Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan System” (scroll down almost a page, to that section heading).