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The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson (Review)

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

My recent reading includes a book featured this year in both Kindle format (sale), and as an audio book free monthly offer (from Christianaudio.com):  Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ:  Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters.  A straightforward reading, this book delves into all of the topics included in the title, to bring out many interesting points of both history and doctrine.  The main point throughout is the historical setting of the “Marrow Controversy” in early 18th century Scotland:  the controversy between the “Marrow Men” including its main player Thomas Boston, and those who had twisted the essential grace of the gospel to the preparationist error.  I’ve briefly looked at this error before, including this post about Spurgeon’s response to it and this later post in reference to Spurgeon and preparationism.  Here we see a historical situation that had developed, among those from a Reformed, Westminster Standards background who yet erred in their confused ideas regarding legalism and antinomianism.

Many important truths are brought out in the subsequent chapters:  why it is that repentance logically comes AFTER faith, as a fruit, and not before faith/regeneration; that legalism and antinomianism are not complete opposites but actually closely related, as “non-identical twins” of the same root – not antithetical to each other but both antithetical to grace; and how to compare John Calvin and the Westminster Standards on assurance, seeing them as not in conflict but as coming to the same problem from different angles and arriving at the same middle-ground.

In reference to the initial Marrow conflict and preparationism itself, William Perkins link: post about him (the beginning of the Puritan era) and John Bunyan (late 17th century) manifest the doctrinal shifts during the century between them. Perkins’ “golden chain” includes a “gospel spine” that links each aspect of the application of salvation …to a central spine representing Christ in terms of the various clauses of the Apostles’ creed. … But Bunyan’s map has no Christ-spine… the various aspects of salvation applied are related to each other, not directly to Christ.  Preparationism came about as a result of separating the benefits of salvation to be found in Christ, from Christ Himself.

The book includes many helpful analogies and illustrations, references to Thomas Boston, John Calvin and other teachers, as well as helpful quotes in poetic verse that describe the intricacies and detail of legalism and antinomianism, as with this wonderful piece from Ralph Erskine about grace and law:

Thus gospel-grace and law-commands
Both bind and loose each other’s hands;
They can’t agree on any terms,
Yet hug each other in their arms.
Those that divide them cannot be
The friends of truth and verity;
Yet those that dare confound the two
Destroy them both, and gender woe.

This paradox none can decipher,
that plow not with the gospel heifer.
To run, to work, the law commands,
The gospel gives me feet and hands.
The one requires that I obey,
The other does the power convey.

The beauty of this book is how it relates these doctrines to current-day questions and objections.  The heart issues underlying the “Marrow controversy” and the Westminster Standards are still with us today.  The chapters on legalism and antinomianism go beyond the surface level, of what many people suppose, to address the underlying issue and current-day issues such as doctrinal antinomianism and anti-confessionalism.  One such example is consideration of the “proof-text” mentality — of those who suppose that the Reformed Confessions came from proof-texting – by noting that:

First, the Westminster Divines were deeply opposed to producing a confession with proof texts and did so only under duress at the command of the English Parliament.  But, in addition, biblical theology itself is much older than its history as an academic discipline.  As C.S. Lewis well notes, we moderns can all too easily be like people entering a conversation at eleven o’clock not realizing that it began at eight o’clock.  The truth is that there is an intricate weaving of exegesis and biblical and redemptive historical theology behind the wording of the Confession, and this is nowhere more certain than in its treatment of the law of God.

The Whole Christ provides many quotes and insights into the doctrines of God’s law, such as this quote from B.B. Warfield on the topic of the law and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments:

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what was in it but was only dimly perceived or even not at all perceived before. … Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but is only perfected, extended and enlarged.

Ligonier is now offering a full teaching series on Ferguson’s book, with the first lesson available for free.  As I near the end of the audio-book edition, while referring also to the Kindle version for rereading and reference (including the footnotes, not included in the audio book edition), I appreciate and recommend this book as a very helpful addition to my theology library.

 

 

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Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Scripture’s Attributes and Importance

July 7, 2017 2 comments

In doing the 2017 Challies reading challenge, I’ve been going through my inventory of various free and low-cost books I have acquired over the last few years.  These include a free audio recording of Kevin DeYoung’s “Taking God at His Word,” a past selection from Christian Audio’s monthly free downloads (the Kindle version is currently on sale for $3.99); a recent Christian Audio free offer (The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, by Steven Lawson); and a Kindle book that was free at the time of its publication a few years ago, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism.  From reading these three books, plus the latter part of Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon, I notice one common theme, expressed in different ways: the importance of Scripture.

Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word:  I had occasionally read blog posts from DeYoung, but not any books from him yet.  The reading style is easy and straight-forward, and the introduction gave me the impression of a too-easy, too-light book.  Yet the chapters of the book – though for a general  layperson audience — provide solid material, a good overview of the Attributes of Scripture.  I especially like his acronym SCAN:  Sufficiency of scripture, Clarity (or perspicuity), Authority, and Necessity.  Four different groups of people show a weakness in one of these attributes:  Sufficiency – the “Rank and file Christian;” Clarity – Post-Moderns; Authority – Liberal Christians; and Necessity – Atheists and Agnostics.  DeYoung’s popular style relates important ideas and responses to criticism of specific scripture accounts  with current-day analogies, including reference to popular fiction such as the characters from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  A notable example here is the book of Jonah, which Jesus refers to in statements that make it clear that Jonah was not merely a nice, moral literary story, but refers to actual historical events.

Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd Jones:  The latter part of The Forgotten Spurgeon addresses the downgrade controversy and the issue at stake — the authority of the Bible and the attack from increasing liberalism/modernism.  Lawson’s The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, in dealing with London during Lloyd Jones’ preaching ministry in the mid-20th century, serves as a type of sequel to the condition of churches in London, the result several decades after the downgrade controversy that had begun in the late 1880s.

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism focuses on a quite recent attack on scripture, this one especially concerned with the sufficiency of scripture.  Specifically, this book is one of several from the last few years that address the error of fallible prophecy, promoted by Wayne Grudem.  A detailed and informative book, it considers several scriptural passages and interacts with and responds to Grudem’s errors regarding Agabus as well as many other problems with Grudem’s handling of scripture.  The New Calvinist continuationist view, with new revelation that is vague and unclear, “fallible prophecies,” considers scripture as insufficient in itself.

 

Prayer According to God’s Will: 1689 Confession Study (Chapter 22)

September 15, 2016 1 comment

The 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series is currently in chapter 22 – the chapter on worship and its elements.  Two paragraphs here address the specifics of prayer – both corporate and private – and thus the 1689 study includes a mini-series on the elements of prayer.  (Now I am caught up to the latest available message in the series; this will continue with future lessons as they become available on Sermon Audio.)  A few thoughts here, regarding the issue of ‘praying according to God’s will,’ from this lesson (March 13, 2016) — three common errors, or points of misunderstanding, regarding interpretation of 1 John 5:14:

  • The “Room Service” view interprets 1 John 5:14 with over-emphasis on the ‘ask.’ Asking is what matters, and therefore to ask about anything is in itself according to God’s will.

A well-known scripture example that refutes this error, is the apostle Paul’s request (three times) for God to remove the thorn in his flesh; the answer was no.  Another incident I recall here, brought up in Tom Chantry’s recent Deuteronomy series: Moses’ pleading with God to be allowed to go into the promised land—that too was not allowed, and was not according to God’s will.

  • The “name it and claim it” view, one we’re familiar with from all the false teaching on Christian television, takes the scriptural reference that “if two or more people agree” and concludes that therefore, if at least two people agree to pray about something, God will do it.

R. C. Sproul has referred to this idea as, God as our “celestial bellhop,” at our beck-and-call for anything we want. As Sproul observed (quote available at this blog link):

We are reminded of statements like “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7); “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19); and “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Shorthand summaries like these have provoked bizarre theories of prayer where people have violently isolated these passages from everything else Jesus and the Bible say about prayer. Distortions also abound when we approach these aphorisms simplistically. Consider the earlier statement about any two people agreeing. It would not be difficult to find two Christians who agree that ridding the world of cancer or wars would be a good idea. Their prayer in this matter would not automatically accomplish their desire. The Word of God indicates that wars, poverty, and disease will be present at the time of Christ’s return. To expect their absolute elimination before the appointed time is to grasp prematurely the future promises of God.

The third idea is not so much error, but partly true combined with a misunderstanding regarding God’s decretive versus perceptive wills.  The “Submissive but unsure” doubtful view, submits to God’s will, but remains uncertain as to whether the request being made is according to God’s will.  Here we consider God’s two wills: 1) His decretive will regarding everything that happens, everything that will occur; and 2) His perceptive will, that which is revealed throughout scripture as God’s precepts, God’s moral law, how we should live as Christians.  When we pray for things regarding our future – things not specifically revealed in God’s word – we submit the request to God and His will, with that uncertainty as to what the answer will be.  But when we pray for things that pertain to God’s perceptive will, we know that He will answer. Prayers for greater patience and endurance, for more peace, and other Christian “fruits of the spirit” ARE according to God’s will, prayers that we can have confidence that God will answer.  Indeed it is so, as Hodgins related, that often we can look back at a particular situation and realize, that yes, in this situation, this time I was more patient, this time my temper didn’t flare up – continuing answers to prayers that are according to God’s will.

Confession of Sin, Illustrated from Court Cases

May 17, 2016 3 comments

Understanding the Christian worldview through looking at contemporary events is often helpful, providing good application of Bible truth to the “real world”– as observed from time to time in Christian blog topics.  While reading a recent Spurgeon sermon, number 641 (from July 1865), I was reminded of a Pyromaniacs blog post on this same topic a few years ago:  relating “real world” news events to Christian doctrine, through a look at high profile news cases of criminals and their confessions.  The Pyromaniacs post considered a few issues in reference to the rape/murder confession of John Gardner III in California a few years ago.  Spurgeon in 1865 included two news events of criminal cases in a sermon that contrasted the two very different confessions as “types” of two types of people in their attitude of repentance and confession before God.

The first example noted by Spurgeon is the type we usually see (how human nature is the same in every age!), the criminal that — in spite of the overwhelming evidence and strong case for the charges (and popular opinion, from following the news events, also generally affirms that the person did this crime) — puts forth the plea of “not guilty” and shows no repentance or remorse for his or her actions.  Spurgeon well noted this type of confession in reference to unbelievers, the damned who refuse to repent and refuse to confess their sins before God (though as scripture tells us, one day every knee will bow and confess that Christ is Lord, and this includes the ungodly).

The second part of the sermon, about a young woman named Constance Kent, featured the relatively rare event of someone who freely confesses to a crime, with no reservations, exceptions or excuses for the deed.  As Spurgeon related the story then still in progress, we can note one key difference in our criminal justice system as compared to Spurgeon’s day.  At that time even criminals who confessed to a crime did not automatically get a change in sentence, a reprieve from the death penalty of hanging in the gallows — a stark contrast from the current day confession of John Gardner, where entering a guilty plea meant saving his life, accepting a life-term prison sentence instead of death row.  Yet Constance’s case, as Spurgeon describes, does (and did then) bring forth sympathy from others for her honesty and willingness to suffer the consequences of her action.  The full story of the crime is now available in our online encyclopedias, such as this article about Constance Kent:  she was not executed after all, but served twenty years in prison, later moved to Australia, and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1944.

Spurgeon’s focus was a point-by-point type correspondence between aspects of Constance’s confession and the repentant sinner before God.  A sampling of Spurgeon’s teaching here:

though the question is repeated and time is given her to retract, her reply is still the one self-condemning word, “GUILTY!” Even so before the Lord, whenever we come to confess, we must approach Him with this cry, “Guilty. Guilty!  Lord, I cannot say anything else. If hell is my eternal portion for it, I dare say no other. The stones in the streets would cry out against me if I denied my guilt.  . . .

Constance Kent was anxious to free all others from the blame of her sin.  … This is well spoken. I know nothing of this young woman’s heart, but using her as an illustration rather than an example, we are safe in saying that it is a very blessed sign of true repentance when the sinner cries out with David, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” There will be, in a gracious penitent, no attempt to lay the blame upon the tempter, or upon providence; no dwelling upon circumstances, the suddenness of the temptation, or the hastiness of one’s temper.  . . .

The unhappy young woman now condemned to die needed no witness to come forward to prove her guilt and assure her conviction. No one saw the deed; it was done so secretly that the most expert detectives were not able to find a satisfactory clue to the mystery. … It will never suffice for us merely to confess to the Lord what other people have seen, and to feel guilty because we know that the case is reported in the neighborhood. Many people who have fallen into sin, have felt very penitent because they knew they would damage their names, or lose their employment; but to have your private sin brought before you by conscience, and voluntarily, without any pressure but the burden of sin itself and the work of the Holy Spirit, to come before God and say, “Lord, You know in this matter I have offended, and though none saw me except Your eyes and mine; yet Your eyes might well flash with anger at me, while mine shall be wet with many a tear of penitence on account of it”—that is what you need.  . . .

She confessed all. It was a solemn moment when the judge said, “I must repeat to you, that you are charged with having willfully, intentionally, and with malice killed and murdered your brother. Are you guilty or not guilty?” Yes, she was guilty, just as the judge had put it. She did not object to those words which made the case come out so black. The willfulness?—yes, she acknowledged that. The intention, the malice?—yes, all that. The killing, the murdering—was it just murder?—was it nothing less? No, nothing else. Not a word of extenuation. She acknowledges all, just as the judge puts it. She is guilty in very deed of the whole charge. Sinner, will you confess sin as God puts it? Many will confess sin after their own fashion, but will you confess it as God puts it? Are you brought to see sin as God sees it? As far as mortal eye could bear that dreadful sight, and do you confess now just what God lays at your door—that you have been His enemy, a traitor, full of evil, covered with iniquity? Will you confess that you have crucified His dear Son, and have in all ways deserved His hottest wrath and displeasure—will you plead guilty to that? If not, you shall have no pardon; but if you will do this, He is merciful and just to forgive you your sins through Jesus the great atoning sacrifice.  . . .

She had not, nor had her counsel for her, a single word to say by way of excuse. … Her counsel might have said she was very young—it was hoped that her youth might plead for her. Being young, she might be readily led astray by an evil passion—might not that excuse her? It was long ago, and her confession was her own; she had brought herself there into that dock—might not this be a reason for mercy? Nothing of the kind; the judge might think so if he pleased, but there was nothing said for her about that, nor did she desire that it should be suggested. She might secretly hope, but her confession was so thorough, that there was not a single word to sully its clear stream. So, sinner, if you come before God, you must not say, “Lord, I am to be excused because of my position—I was in poverty, and I was tempted to steal.” Or, “I had been in bad company, and so I learned to blaspheme.” Or, “I had a hard employer, and so I was driven to sin to find some pleasure there.” No; if you are really penitent, you will find no reason whatever why you should have sinned, except the evil of your own heart—and that you will plead as an aggravation, not as an excuse. “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! I am, O God, before Your face, guilty; I offer no excuse, no extenuation. You must deal with me upon pure mercy, if You do save me, for justice can only award me my well-deserved doom.”

 

 

Christ’s Burial and the Apostles’ Creed

July 13, 2015 12 comments

Continuing through the 1689 Exposition series, the in-depth study of chapter 8 of the confession (Christ’s mediatorial work) includes a lesson on the question of Christ’s burial (available here) and time in the grave, specifically looking at the issue of the Apostles’ Creed (see this recent post that also mentions the Apostles’ Creed) and its statement that “he (Christ) descended into hell.”

This statement did not appear in the earlier forms of the Apostles’ Creed, but showed up by the 4th century.  Later Christians have considered the importance of this early creed, desiring to show the continuation of the orthodox faith from its early history — and have thus attempted to explain what the early church meant by this statement.  This lesson in the 1689 series mentions six “interpretations” of what was meant by “he descended into hell”:

  1. Rufinus  – the first interpretation, from A.D. 390:  it means “he descended into the grave, the abode/realm of the dead.”  Yet this is redundant, as the previous phrase has already told us that “he was buried.”
  2. John Calvin – the view described in the Heidelberg catechism.  Jesus suffered hell on the cross; the sufferings, felt in His soul, an infinite amount of wrath in a finite period of time.  Certainly this is true, but does not fit with what the Apostles’ Creed meant—the sequence is wrong.  If they had meant this, the line would have been earlier in the creed, instead of after the part about being crucified, buried and dead.
  3. The view of the Westminster confession and the 1689 London Baptist Confession, also stated in the Westminster Larger Catechism:  “He remained in the state of the dead; the realm of the dead.” Again, redundant to say buried and descended into being dead.
  4. The “Roman Catholic” view, which is also commonly taught in Arminian Baptist churches: this view expands into much speculation, though at least they come up with scripture references, as for instance the story in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom.  Here is the idea that Christ during this time went in His soul (not His body) into the holding place where OT saints were waiting for the application of redemptive work; He preached the gospel to them (“got them fully saved”) and then brought them out from there into heaven.  Other proof-texts for this view include Ephesians 4:8-9 – “He descended into the lower regions” (some think this means hell, below Earth, instead of the Earth itself).  A better way to understand this, though, is the contrast between the lower regions as the earth, versus the higher regions (ascending to heaven).  Additional texts for this view include 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:4-6, and the above lesson explains the supposed idea here as well as other ways to understand these texts.
  5. The Lutheran view: Jesus went to hell, to the place of torment for the damned – not to suffer, but to preach judgment upon them and declare His victory and Lordship, as somehow an inauguration of His victory march. The problem here is complete speculation with no proof from scripture, plus the fact that Christ’s burial was part of His humiliation; this was before the resurrection, and not at all the time of His exaltation.
  6. The Anglican view: Jesus went down to the place of the dead, and gave a fuller explanation of the gospel to the OT saints who were waiting there. Again, this is only speculation, with no proof from scripture or any indication that the writers of the apostles’ creed believed this.

As Hodgins observed, in quoting Wayne Grudem on this subject, certainly we should appreciate the Apostles’ creed as an early statement from the historic church.  But the historical importance alone is not a good reason for “keeping” this phrase and seeking to somehow explain it away.  We don’t really know exactly what the early church meant by it, and a survey of early church history does tell us that the early church fathers were wrong on some of their theology.  This is certainly brought out in the RTS Christian History series, including the fact that understanding of the Trinity, and even the nature of the Father and Son, was not fully developed until the Arian controversy in the mid-4th century; before that time, even Tertullian held onto some idea of the Son being subordinate to the Father and just didn’t develop his thoughts to the full level that is now considered an orthodox view of the Trinity.

Refuting Errors About the Incarnation

June 3, 2015 1 comment

Continuing in the 1689 Exposition series, a few messages on the incarnation address an error that I first heard about two years ago (as put forth by a local Sunday School teacher):  the idea that for Christ to be sinless, He could not have had any of Mary’s DNA; he was human but with no physical, genetic relation to Mary. As noted in this series (see these messages: “The Incarnation”  and “The Virgin Conception”), this view is called ‘seminal headship’, the idea that sin is transmitted through physical substance, and idea in contrast to ‘federal headship,’ in which the sin nature is a legal condition placed upon every person descended from Adam.

Even when I first heard this idea (though not knowing the specific background or terminology), I realized how wrong this is, for several reasons, rooted in the important fact that Jesus was fully God AND fully Man.  This is one of the basic doctrines of Christianity, the hypostatic union, addressed by the early church in response to so many heresies regarding Christ’s nature: errors that said He was only a man, or only God.  But it’s part of basic understanding of true science, how God has propagated the human race, that we all have DNA, the genes passed down from parent to child.  No one could really be human if he did not have the DNA of any human parents. Furthermore, if Jesus did not inherit any human genes from his human mother, He would not be descended from the line of David and would not even be a Jew – another serious theological error. Plus, if He was not really descended from Mary, without Mary’s genes, then He was not the seed of the woman prophesied in Genesis 3:15.  The Messiah was to come from the woman (Mary; Genesis 3:15), from the Jews and the line of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and descended from David, per the terms of the Davidic covenant.  As to Jesus’ physical appearance:  we know that the Jews slandered Jesus for his “illegitimate” birth and the question of who was His father (reference John 8:41).  But they never brought forth the charge that He was not really Mary’s son and did not belong to Mary’s family – which certainly would have been the case if He had not inherited any of Mary’s DNA and had no physical resemblance to Mary or His human brothers and sisters.

The series from Arden Hodgins notes that a few theologians have held to seminal headship, including William G.T. Shedd, Lorraine Boettner, plus Amish and Mennonites. Amish and Mennonite groups hold to an idea of “heavenly flesh.”

An excellent point to counter this idea: sin is not contained in physical substance such as the human seed. That is a gnostic idea, that something physical is bad or sinful. Also, our righteous nature — regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit — does not come to us through any physical means; the new nature does not come to us through the genes.  So why should people think that the sin nature is transmitted through physical means? “Federal headship” makes sense concerning both our sinful nature inherited from the first Adam (a legal state put upon us), and our new righteous nature given to believers in the Last Adam.

1689 Confession Series Study: Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King

May 18, 2015 3 comments

Continuing in a sermon audio series through the 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 8 in the confession includes a good study of Christ as our Mediator: our Prophet, Priest and King. The following comes from the introductory message in this mini-series on Christology (number 74) in the full 1689 series, and the introductory message brings out many interesting points.

Christ is the Last Adam. Thus, the First Adam was also, at least in some sense, a prophet, priest, and king – and would have continued in that state if he had been confirmed. Though Adam may not have consciously realized his three roles, Adam’s three roles are implicitly taught.

  • Adam as a prophet, had true knowledge; he accurately reflected God in his thoughts, words and deeds, thought God’s thoughts after Him, and acted as a representative of God, reflecting God and His truth.
  • Adam as a priest offered sacrifices of praise and service, in complete communion with God, and represented a people. No mediator was then needed (before the fall), and Adam could approach God on behalf of himself and others.
  • Adam as a king: he had been given dominion over the lower-creation (the Garden of Eden), and ruled according to correct knowledge.

The Last Adam, Christ:

  • Our Prophet: we come to Him and learn from Him, we study His word, and hear it proclaimed in sermons.
  • Our Priest: daily we confess our sins to Him as we continue in fellowship with Him
  • Our King: the basic understanding of Lordship Salvation, that we obey Him

A right relationship to God includes observing all three of Christ’s offices.

  • Some people only want to have Christ as Prophet (liberal Christianity), saying that He was a good man and a great teacher—ignoring that the one who was a good and great teacher also claimed to be Priest and King.
  • Others will go further, affirming Christ as Prophet AND as priest—Christ our Savior—but claim He need not be our Lord–or, that third part can come later (“Free Grace” non-Lordship and easy-believism views here).
  • Others may claim Christ as their King, with emphasis on obedience, on following the law of God; yet are really taking a self-righteous approach of doing their own works, denying Him as their priest.

A good application: three things to consider whenever we read or study scripture or hear a sermon. We should always ask ourselves these three questions:

  1. What do I learn from this passage, and what am I learning about God? – role of Christ as prophet
  2. What sins do I need to confess and repent of right now? — Christ as priest
  3. What must I now do? What do I learn, in this passage or this sermon, about obedience: what things to stop doing or start doing? – Christ as King

The gospels present Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, which has implications for evangelism.  A key text is Matthew 11:28-30, in which Christ offers Himself in all three offices:

  • All you who labor and are heavy-laden:   Christ as our Priest
  • Come and learn of Me: Christ as our Prophet
  • Take my yoke upon you… : Christ as our King