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Predestination of the Elect of God by Dr. Francis Turretin

June 22, 2010 Comments off

Predestination of the Elect of God by Dr. Francis Turretin

Ought predestination to be publicly taught and preached? We affirm. Some of the brethren of France in the time of Augustine started this question. Since, in his books against the Pelagians, he had inserted and inculcated many things concerning predestination, so as in this way to defend the truth against their impious doctrines, many were disturbed by it (as appears from the two letters of Prosper, a disciple of Augustine, and of Hilary, the presbyter*; cf.”Letters 225 and 226 to Augustine” [FC 32:119-29 and 129-391). The reason was not that they judged it to be at all false, but because they thought the preaching of it was dangerous and invidious, better to be suppressed than brought into prominence. There are some of the same opinion at the present day. Wearied with the contentions arising from this doctrine in almost every age, they think that it is best for the peace of the church and the tranquility of conscience to let these questions alone (since by them scruples are suggested and doubts generated which are calculated to weaken the faith of the weak and to drive men to desperation or into carnal security). But this opinion is more honest than true and cannot be readily received by those who have known the richest fruits of consolation and sanctification to redound to believers from this doctrine properly understood. Hence we think that this doctrine should be neither wholly suppressed from a preposterous modesty nor curiously pried into by a rash presumption. Rather it should be taught soberly and prudently from the word of God so that two dangerous rocks may be avoided: on the one hand, that of “affected ignorance” which wishes to see nothing and blinds itself purposely in things revealed; on the other hand, that of “unwarrantable curiosity” which busies itself to see and understand everything even in mysteries. They strike upon the first who (sinning in defect) think that we should abstain from the proposition of this doctrine; and upon the latter who (sinning in excess) wish to make everything in this mystery scrupulously accurate (exonychizein) and hold that nothing should be left undiscovered (anexereunifton) in it. Against both, we maintain (with the orthodox) that predestination can be taught with profit, provided this is done soberly from the word of God. The reasons are

(1) Christ and the apostles frequently taught it (as appears from the Gospel, Matthew 11:20, 25; 13:11; 25:34; Luke 10:20; 12:32; John 8:47; 15:16 and in other places; and from the epistles of Paul (the whole of Rom. 9 and Rom. 8:29, 30; Eph. 1:4, 5; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:13). Nor otherwise do Peter, James and John express themselves who speak repeatedly of this mystery whenever occasion offered. Now if it was proper for them to teach it, why is it not proper for us to learn it? Why should God teach what would have been better (arrifton) unspoken (ameinon)? Why did he wish to proclaim those things which it would bebetter not to know? Do we wish to be more prudent than God or to prescribe rules to him?

(2)It is one of the primary gospel doctrines a foundations of our faith. It cannot be ignored without great injury to the church and to believers. For it is the fountain of our gratitude to God, the root of humility, the foundation and most firm anchor of confidence in all temptations, the fulcrum of the sweetest consolation and the most powerful spur (incitamentum) to piety and holiness.

(3) The importunity of the adversaries (who have corrupted this primary head of faith by deadly errors and infamous calumnies which they are accustomed to heap upon our doctrine) imposes upon us the necessity of handling it so that the truth may be fairly exhibited and freed from the most false and iniquitous criminations of evilly disposed men. As if we introduced a fatal and Stoical necessity; as if we would extinguish all religion in the minds of men by it, to soothe them on the bed of security and profanity or hurl them into the abyss of despair; as if we made God cruel, hypocritical and the author of sin-I shudder to relate it. Now as all these things are perfectly false, they ought unquestionably to be refuted by a sober and healthy exhibition doctrine from theword of God. Although wicked men often abuse this doctrine (improperly understood), its lawful use towards the pious ought not therefore to be denied (unless we wish to have more regard for wicked men than believers).

(2) If, on account of the abuse of some persons, we should abstain from the proposition of this mystery, we must equally abstain from most of the mysteries of the Christian religion which the wicked abuse or laugh at and satirize (such as the mystery of the Trinity, the incarnation, the resurrection and the like).

(3) The calumnies launched against the doctrine of Paul by the false apostles could not cause him to suppress it; yea, he thoroughly discussed it in his inspired way so that he might shut the mouths of adversaries. Why then should we refrain from its presentation? Let us only follow in the footsteps of Paul and, with him, speak and be silent.

If some abuse this doctrine either to licentiousness or to desperation, this happens not per se from the doctrine itself, but accidentally, from the vice of men who most wickedly wrest it to their own destruction. Indeed there is no doctrine from which more powerful incitements to piety can be drawn and richer streams of confidence and consolation flow (as will be seen in the proper place).

The mystery of predestination is too sublime to be comprehended by us as to the why (to diod) (as he is rash who would attempt to find out or to assign the reasons and the causes of it). But this does not hinder it from being taught in Scripture as to the fact (to hoti) and from being firmly held by us. To things therefore must be distinguished here: the one, what God has revealed in his word; the other, what he has concealed. The former we cannot despise (unless rashly). “The secret things,’ says Scripture, ‘belong unto God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children’ (Dr. 29:29). To neglect things revealed argues ingratitude, but to search into I things concealed argues pride. “We must not therefore deny what is plain because we cannot comprehend what is hidden,” as Augustine expresses it (On the Gift of Perseverance 37 [NPNF1, 5:540; PL 45.10161).

The fathers before Augustine spoke more sparingly concerning this mystery not because they judged it best to ignore it, but because there was no occasion presented for discussing it more largely (the Pelagian heresy not having as yet sprung up). Indeed it is true that they sometimes expressed themselves without sufficient caution. Nevertheless Augustine (On the Gift of Perseverance) proves that they did not pass over this truth in utter silence (for who could be ignorant of that which is so clearly set forth in sacred Scriptures?) –the testimony of Abrose,Cyprian and Gregory Nazianzus being adduced for this purpose.

While we think that predestination should be taught, we do not further suppose that human curiosity should be enlarged, but believe there is need here of be taught, but believe there is a need here for great sobriety and prudence; both that we may remain within the bounds prescribed by Scripture, not endeavoring to be wise beyond what is written (par’ho geg-raptai), and that we may prudently have a regard for the persons, places and times to regulate the proposition of it.

For it ought not to be delivered immediately and in the first instance, but gradually and slowly. Nor ought it to be delivered equally as to all its parts, for some ought to be more frequently inculcated as more useful and better suited to the consolation of the pious (as the doctrine of election), but others ought to be handled more sparingly (as reprobation). Nor ought it to be set forth so much to the people in the church as to the initiated (tois mystais) in the school. Again, predestination must be considered not so much a priori as a posteriori. Not that we may descend from causes to effects, but ascend from effects to causes. Not that we should curiously unroll “the book of life” in order to see if our names are written therein (which is forbidden to us), but that we should diligently consult “the book of conscience” which we are not only permitted, but also commanded to do, that we may know whether the seal of God is stamped upon our hearts and whether the fruits of election (viz., faith and repentance) may be found in us (which is the safest way of proceeding to the saving knowledge of that doctrine). In one word, all curious and fruitless questions must be avoided here, and what Paul calls ‘foolish and unlearned questions’ (apaideutous zetesis kai aperantous, 2 Tim. 2:23)-which usually engender strifes and contentions. Our only object should be to increase our faith, not to feed curiosity; to labor for edification, not to strive for our glory.

Question: In what sense are the words ‘predestination,’ prognseos, ekloges and protheseos used in this mystery?

Since the Scriptures (whose genuine signification throws great light upon the knowledge of the thing itself) use various words in explaining this mystery, we must premise certain things concerning them.

First the word “predestination’ occurs here, and it must not be passed over lightly. For although the word proorismou does not exist in the Scriptures, yet the verb from which it comes is often read (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29, 30 Ephesians 1:5) Moreover to predestinate (or proorizein from the force of the verb) signifies to determine something concerning things before they take place and to direct them to a certain end.

However, it is understood by authors in three ways.

(1) More widely for every decree of God about creatures and most especially about intelligent creatures in order to their ultimate end. Thus it is frequently employed by the fathers for providence itself.

(2) More specially for the counsel of God concerning men as fallen either to be saved by grace or to be damned by justice (which is commonly called “election’ and “reprobation’).

(3) Most specially for the decree of election, which is called “the predestination of the saints.’ Again according to the latter, it can be taken in two senses (schesin): not only for the destination to the end, but particularly for the “destination to the means” (in which sense it is used by Paul when he says that God predestinated those whom he foreknew to be “conformed to the image of his Son,’ Rom. 8:29,30). Here it is plain that predestination is distinguished from foreknowledge and refers most especially to the end. Thus after saying that God hath chosen us in Christ, the having predestinated us unto the adoption of children’ (proorisas ian, Eph. 1:5) to mark the destination of means ordained for obtaining the salvation destined by election.

About this word, moreover, it is asked whether it is to be referred only to election or whether it embraces reprobation also. This controversy was formerly vehemently urged in the matter of Gottschalk in the ninth century, John Erigena Scotus maintaining that it suited election alone (De Divina Praedestinatione liber* [PL 122.355,4401). On the other hand, Gottschalk, the Lyonians and Remigius, the bishop (in their name), extended it to reprobation. The same question now lies between us and the papists. For the papists (to whom the term reprobation is hateful) contend that it must be used in the first sense. Hence they are accustomed to call reprobates not predestinated, but “foreknown”; and do not subordinate but oppose reprobation to predestination (as Bellarmine, Gregory de Valentia and Pighius, De libero hominis arbitrio 8.2 [1642], p. 137).

With them even some of the orthodox appear to agree, though not with the same object in view.

But we (although willing to confess that the term predestination is according to Scripture usage often restricted to election; yet not only from the proper signification of the word but also from Scripture usage and received custom) that think it is rightly extended to reprobation so as to embrace both parts of the divine counsel (election and reprobation), in which sense it is taken by us here.

The reasons are:

(1) the Scripture extends the word proorizein to the wicked acts of those reprobates who procured the crucifixion of Christ-“the son of man goeth kata to horismenon” (Luke 22:22; Acts 4:28) Herod and Pontius Pilate did nothing but what the hand of God prooriseto be done.” Nor ought the objection to be made that it does not treat of their reprobation, but of the ordination of the crucifixion to a good end. These things are not to be opposed, but composed. The crucifixion of Christ (which is to us the means of salvation) was to the crucifiers the means of damnation (which depended on the most just decree of God).

Second, the Scripture uses equivalent phrases when it says that certain persons are appointed to wrath (1 Thess. 5:9; 1 Peter 2:8), fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22), ordained to condemnation (Jude 4), made unto dishonor (Romans 9:21) and for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4). If reprobation is described in these phrases, why can it not be expressed by the word “predestination”?

Third, because the definition of predestination (viz., the ordination of a thing to its end by means before it comes to pass) is no less suitable to reprobation than to election.

Fourth, the fathers frequently thus speak: “We confess the elect to life and the predestination of the wicked to death” (Council of Valence, Mansi, 15:4). “He fulfills what he wills, properly using even evil things as if the very best to the damnation of those whom he has justly predestinated to punishment’ (Augustine, Enchiridion 26 [100] [FC 3:454; PL 40.2791; cf. also his “Treatise on theMerits and the Forgiveness of Sins,’ 2.26 [171 [NPNFI, 5:551; CG 21.24 [FC 24:387-941;Fulgentius, Ad Monimum I [PL 65.153-781). “Predestination is twofold: either of the elect to rest or of the reprobate to death’ (Isidore of Seville, Sententiarum Libri tres 2.6 [PL 83.6061).

Although in truth predestination is sometimes taken strictly in the Scriptures for the predestination of saints or the election to life, it does not follow that it cannot be used more broadly. Nor if the objects of reprobation and election are opposite are the acts themselves, therefore (on the part of God), mutually opposed to one another. Indeed, they can proceed from the same course acting most freely.

The second word which occurs more frequently is prognosis. Paul speaks of it more than once: “whom he did foreknow” (hous proegno), Rom. 8:29); “he hath not cast away his people which proegna” (Rom. 11:2); and they are called elect “according to foreknowledge” (kata prognosin, 1Peter 1:2). Because the ancient and more modern Pelagians falsely abuse this word to establish the foresight of faith and works, we must observe that prognosin can be taken in two ways: either theoretically or practically. In the former way, it is taken for God’s simple knowledge of future things, which is called prescience and belongs to the intellect. In the latter, it is taken for the practical love and decree which God formed concerning the salvation of particular persons and pertains to the will. In this sense, knowledge is often put for delight and approbation (Psalm 1:6); John 10:14; 2 Timothy 2:19). Thus ginoskein signifies not only to know but also to know and to judge concerning a thing (as the Plebiscitum is not the knowledge of the people, but the sentence-from the verb scisco, which means “to decree and determine”). Therefore when the Scripture uses the word prognoseos in the doctrine of predestination, it is not in the former sense for the bare foreknowledge of God by which he foresaw the faith or works of men.

(1) Because by that, He foreknew those also whom he reprobated, while here it treats of the foreknowledge proper to the effect.

(2) Bare foreknowledge is not the cause of things, nor does it impose method or order upon them, but finds it out (as happens here in the chain of salvation).

(3) Because nothing could be foreseen by God but what he himself had granted and which would so follow predestination as the effect, not indeed precede it as a cause, as will be proved hereafter. But it is taken in the latter sense for “practical foreknowledge” (i.e., the love and election of God) that we may not suppose it to be without reason (alogon), although the reasons of his wisdom may escape us (in which manner Christ is said to have been foreknown [proegnsmenos], i.e.,foreordained by God “before the foundation of the world,’ 1 Pet. 1:20).

Again, in that benevolence and practical foreknowledge of God we distinguish:

(1) the love and benevolence with which he pursues us;

(2) the decree itself by which he determined to unfold his love to us by the communication of salvation. Hence it happens that prognosis is at one timetaken broader for both (viz., love and election, as in Rom. 8:29 and Rom. 11:2); at another, more strictly for love and favor which is the fountain and foundation of election. Thus Peter speaks of it when he says that believers are “elect according to the foreknowledge” (kata prognosin), i.e. the love of God (1 Peter 1:2).

Third, we must explain the word ekloges (“election”) which now and then occurs, but not always with the same signification. Sometimes it denotes a call to some political or sacred office (as Saul is “elected” [1 Samuel 10:24]; Judas “elected”, viz., to the Apostleship, John 6:70). Sometimes it designates an external election and separation of a certain people to the covenant of God (in which sense the people of Israel are said to be elected of God, Deut. 4:37). But here it is taken objectively for the elect themselves (as ekloge epetychen- “the election” [i.e., the elect] “hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded,” Romans 11:7); or formally for the act of God electing (which is called ekloge charitos, Romans 9:11). Again the latter may be considered either in the antecedent decree (as it were from eternity) or in the subsequent execution (as it takes place onlyin time by calling). Christ refers to this in John 15:16: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”; and “Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world’ (v. 19). Augustine joins both forms (schesin): “We are elected before the foundation of the world by that predestination in which God foresaw his future things would take place; we are chosen out of the world however by that calling by which God fulfills what he has predestinated” (On the Predestination of the Saints).

Election then by the force of the word is stricter than predestination. For all can be predestined, but all cannot be elected because he who elects does not take all, but chooses some out of many.

The election of some necessarily implies the passing and rejecting of others: “Many are called,” said Christ, “but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16); and Paul, “The election hath obtained, and therest were blinded” (Romans 11:7). Hence Paul uses the verb heilto to designate election, which implies the separation of some from others: “God from the beginning heilto, i.e., hath taken out and separated you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth: (2 Thess.2:13).

Fourth, prothesis is often used by Paul in the matter of election to denote that this counsel of God is not an empty and inefficacious act of willing, but the constant, determined and immutable purpose of God (Romans 8:28; 9:11; Ephesians 1:11). For the word is of the highest efficacy (as the old grammarians tell us) and is called distinctly by Paul prothesis tou ta energountos—”the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Sometimes it is applied to election as prothesis kat’ eklogen—”the purpose of God according toelection” (Romans 9:11); and we are said “to be predestinated” (kata prothesin, Ephesians 1:11).

Sometimes it is joined with calling—”who are the called according to his purpose” (tois kata prosthesin kletois, Romans 8:28). For both election and calling depend and are built upon this purpose of God.

Now although these words are often employed promiscuously, yet they are frequently distinguished; not without reason are they used by the Holy Spirit to denote the various conditions (scheseis) of that decree which could not so fitly be explained by a single word. For the decree can be conceived in relation to the principle from which it arises, or to the object about which it is concerned, or to the means by which it is fulfilled. With regard to the former, protheseos oreudokias (which denotes the counsel and good pleasure of God) is mentioned as the first cause of that work. With regard to the next, it is called prognosis or ekloge (which is occupied with the separation of certain persons from others unto salvation). With regard to the last, the word proorismou is used according to which God prepared the means necessary to the obtainment of salvation. Prothesis refers to the end; prognesis refers to the objects; proorismos to the means; prodiesis to the certainty of the event; prognosis and ekloge to the singleness and distinction of persons; proorismos to the order of means. Thus election is certain and immutable by prothesin; determinate and definite by prognosin; and ordinate by proorismon.

These three degrees (if we may so speak to answer to three acts in the temporal execution: for as we will be glorified with the Father, redeemed by the Son and called through the Holy Spirit, so the Father determined from eternity to glorify us with himself. This is prothesis. He elected us in his Son. This is prognosis. He predestinated us to grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (who seals the image of the Son in us through his holiness and the suffering on the cross). This is proorismos. For as the Father sends the Son, the Son with the Father sends the Holy Spirit. And vice versa, the Holy Spirit leads us to the Son, and the Son at length conducts us to the Father.

The words by which the predestination of the members is described are employed also to express the predestination of the head. For concerning him equally prothesis is predicated when Paul says hon proetheto hilastion (Rom. 3:25); prognosis where we have proegnesmenos (1 Pet.1:20); and proorismos, not only when he is said to be horistheis to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:4), but also when his death is said to have happened by the determinate counsel of God and by his predestination, who proorise to be done whatever was done by Herod and Pontius Pilate (Acts 2:23).

The pastoral character of the Canons of Dordt – R Hanko

June 20, 2010 Comments off

Creeds are not popular in today’s church world. Many churches do not and will not have them, and this reflects the attitude of most church members. If believers are not completely opposed to creeds, then they are deeply suspicious of them, blaming many of the churches’ ills on creeds. Even most of those churches that have a formal creedal basis have neglected and set aside their own creeds, so that those creeds are hardly known and rarely referred to.

One argument against creeds is that the creeds we have are not useful. They were written, so it is said, at a time when cold, abstract discussion of obscure doctrinal points was the order of the day, but now the Church has progressed from such dogmatic argumentation to real, meaningful activity. The creeds, it is suggested, are full of scholasticism, and are far removed from simple, practical teaching of Scripture, and are therefore, all but useless in the Church of Jesus Christ.

The strange thing is that this attitude is often fostered by those who want nothing to do with the very practical teaching of Scripture and the creeds on such matters as women in church office, homosexuality, the keeping of the Lord’s Day, church discipline, and many other such matters. Nonetheless, this attitude does find fertile soil in the ignorance of the creeds which is so widespread, even among those of Reformed or Presbyterian background.

Among many quarters of those who subscribe to the “Three Forms of Unity,” the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort, [1] this attitude is found especially in regard to the Canons [2] So generally are the Canons considered to be “outdated” that there are few any more who know anything about them.

There are few who know that the Canons, in five chapters or “heads,” defend and prove from Scripture, the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism.” They do not know, therefore, that rather than speaking of errors which vanished from the church hundreds of years ago, the Canons deal pointedly and Biblically with the very errors that are troubling the church today. But perhaps the most surprising thing of all to those who to a greater or lesser degree are ignorant of them, is the fact that the Canons, perhaps more than any other creed, are deliberately, deeply, and warmly pastoral in their presentation of these great truths of the Christian faith. [3]

When we speak of the pastoral character of the Canons, we mean that they not only set forth sound doctrine, but that in the Canons these doctrines (including the doctrines of election and reprobation) are applied in a very practical and personal way to the difficulties and problems of the Christian life. That is, after all, what pastoral work is all about – the personal private application of the Word of God to the needs of God’s people. The Canons are very really, a “Pastor’s Handbook,” and can be used with much profit by the leaders and members of the church in dealing with pastoral matters.

One pastoral matter addressed in the Canons is lack of assurance of salvation, very troubling to those who are seeking such assurance, and a problem which ministers of the gospel and elders often face in pastoral counselling. The Canons have much to say about this matter, all of it of great help and comfort to struggling believers. The doctrines of grace themselves are of great comfort to believers in their struggles, but the Canons address the matter of assurance much more personally and practically than just by way of setting out the truth that salvation is of grace alone.

They tell us, on the basis of Christ’s admonition in Luke 10:20, that God’s people not only may but do obtain the assurance of election, forgiveness and eternal life (I,12; V, 9), and they reject the error of those who teach “that there is in this life no fruit and no consciousness of eternal election to glory, nor any certainty” (I, B, 7) [4] This is important as a counter to the discouraging teaching of Rome and of some Protestants that a real assurance of salvation is, ordinarily, not possible for believers. It is some comfort already to those who are plagued with doubts to know that assurance is not only possible, but that it is one of the gifts of grace purchased by Christ for His people.

The Canons do not forget, however, that assurance is not given to all in the same measure (I, 12) and that there are always some “who do not yet experience a lively faith in Christ, an assured confidence of soul, (and) peace of conscience,” “who cannot yet reach that measure of holiness and faith to which they aspire” (I, 16), and who struggle with various carnal doubts (V, 11). To such the Canons speak with comfort. Such persons must not be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor rank themselves among the reprobate, but they must persevere in the use of the means of grace and humbly wait for a season of richer grace. They are reminded of the promise of a “merciful God” that He will not quench the smoking flax or break the bruised reed (I, 16).

So, too, the Canons remind us that this assurance of salvation does not come in the way of some kind of extra-biblical, subjective “revelation,” but always through the Word of God and the work of the Spirit as He applies that Word to us (V, 10, 14). At the same time the Canons do not let us forget that this assurance is very closely connected with a sanctified walk, and warn against all carnal security, licentiousness, rash presumption, wanton trifling with the grace of election, and stubborn refusal to walk in the way of the elect, as things that will inevitably damage and destroy our assurance.

In temptation, the Canons say, we are not always sensible of the full assurance of faith, but we must not forget that God, Who is the Father of all consolation, does not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able, but always makes a way of escape that we may be able to bear it. To this promise of Scripture the Canons add the reminder that by His Holy Spirit God always renews that “comfortable assurance” (V, 11) in His people.

As far as temptation and sin are concerned, the Canons speak powerfully to our own experience. Not only is it possible for God’s people to sin, and not only do they sin daily (V,2), but it is even possible for believers, when watching and prayer are neglected, “to be drawn into great and heinous sins.”(V, 4). Nevertheless, we are assured that God preserves His people so that they persevere to the end and do not lose their salvation. We are even assured that it is impossible for God’s people to commit the “sin unto death” (V, 6).

In setting out that doctrine of perseverance, the Canons speak very warmly and pastorally of the fact that our sins and the possibility of falling into grievous sins furnishes us “with constant matter for humiliation before God and flying for refuge to Christ crucified; for mortifying the flesh more and more by the spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of piety” (V, 2). That God preserves and renews His people in their “lamentable falls” (V, 4), the Canons say, does not produce carelessness and pride, but “renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord … lest by abusing His fatherly kindness, God should turn away His gracious countenance from them, to behold which is to the godly dearer than life … and they in consequence should fall into more grevious torments of conscience” (V, 13).

In connection with the doctrine of election, the Canons address another soulwrenching question, that of the salvation of the children of believers who die in infancy. Also here the Canons bring rich comfort, quoting I Corinthians 7:14 and assuring us on the basis of God’s covenant of grace, His family covenant, that “godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation” of such infants (I, 17). What could be more comforting than that to godly parents who must bring a little one to the grave, and what more pastoral on the part of the minister or elders than to bring them that confession of the church?

Another “pastoral” matter addressed in the Canons is our attitude toward others, both toward those who make a profession of faith and live “regular lives,” and toward those who have not yet been called.

They warn against the sins of pride and judging (III & IV, 15). This is all grounded in the truth that “God is under no obligation to confer grace upon any.” “How can He,” the Canons ask, “be indebted to man, who had no previous gifts to bestow, as foundation for such recompense? Nay, who has nothing of his own but sin and falsehood?” We may never conduct ourselves, therefore, “as if we had made ourselves to differ.”

These are just a few examples. There are others as well. The Canons have much to say about the importance of preaching and hearing the gospel as the God-appointed means of grace and salvation, the neglect of which is always and again a matter of “pastoral” concern (I, 3; III & IV, 6 and V, 14), and they warn that it is “tempting God” to separate His grace from the means that He in His wisdom has chosen to use in order to bring that grace to His people.

So too, the Canons warn those who believe the doctrines of grace to “regulate, by the Scripture … not only their sentiments, but also “regulate, by the Scripture … not only their sentiments, but also their language, and to abstain from all those phrases which exceed the limits necessary to be observed in ascertaining the genuine sense of the Holy Scriptures, and furnish insolent sophists with a just pretext for violently assailing, or even vilifying, the doctrine of the Reformed churches” (Conclusion). How important, but also how pastoral!

Other examples of the pastoral character of the Canons can easily be found, but the point is that they are not a cold, scholastic statement, characterised by hair-splitting and abstraction, but a very personal and warm exposition of some of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and of great use in the application of those truths to believers. They are not out-dated, but relevant to the problems and trials we face every day as we struggle to live a faithful and godly Christian life here in the world.

There is comfort even in knowing that it is the same truth, expounded and set forth in the confessions, which builds up the Church of Jesus Christ today as well as 400 years ago. There is reassurance, too, for those who bring that Word. They are not facing new problems, but problems that have always been found in the Church, the solution to which the Church has always found in God’s holy Word. Without our creeds, or in ignorance of them we have every reason, when we face these problems, to feel that we stand alone, and reason also, therefore, to be afraid. But through the sound knowledge of them and use of them, including the Canons, we stand in living connection with the Church of all ages, “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

Footnotes

[1] These creeds belong, generally speaking, to those churches that identify themselves in name as “Reformed.” They are the creeds of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland, and a free copy of them can be obtained from that congregation (7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, BT42 3NR; telephone: 01266-891851; E-mail: 71674.3261 @compuserve.com).

[2] “Canon” means “an official declaration” or “rule” of the church.

[3] It is sad that the Canons are so little known and appreciated, because of all the Reformation creeds, they come closest to being a creed that belongs to all the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Though they are an official creed of the Dutch Reformed Churches, they were written and signed at a Synod (held in the city of Dort) attended by delegates from Holland, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and Germany.

[4] In the references to the Canons, “B” refers to the second part of each chapter or “Head of Doctrine.” This second part of each chapter is a “Rejection of Errors,” in which various denials of the Five Points of Calvinism are pointed out and refuted from Scripture.

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We persevere because Christ intercedes – JC Ryle

June 14, 2010 Comments off

This is the life, history and experience of every true Christian: Though he falls, he rises again; though he is cast down, he is not destroyed. He goes on from one position to another, like the moon upon a stormy night, plunging from one cloud into another, yet by-and-by shining out again and walking in brightness. What is the secret of it all? It is the continual intercession of a mighty Friend at the right hand of God—a Friend who never slumbers and never sleeps—a Friend who cares for the believer, morning, noon, and night. The intercession of Christ is the secret of the perseverance of the Christian.

Nature of assurance – Arthur Pink

June 6, 2010 Comments off

Let us begin by asking the question, Assurance of what? That the Holy Scriptures are the inspired and infallible Word of God? No, that is not our subject. Assured that salvation is by grace alone? No, for neither is that our immediate theme. Rather, the assurance that I am no longer in a state of nature, but in a state of grace; and this, not as a mere conjectural persuasion, but as resting on sure evidence. It is a well-authenticated realization that not only has my mind been enlightened concerning the great truths of God’s Word, but that a supernatural work has been wrought in my soul which has made me a new creature in Christ Jesus. A scriptural assurance of salvation is that knowledge which the Holy Spirit imparts to the heart through the Scriptures, that my “faith” is not a natural one, but “the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1), that my love for Christ is sincere and not fictitious, that my daily walk is that of a regenerated man.

The assurance of the saints is, as the Westminster divines said, “by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made.” Let us seek to amplify that statement. At the commencement of Matthew 5 we find the Lord Jesus pronouncing blessed a certain class of people. They are not named as “believers” or saints,” but instead are described by their characters; and it is only by comparing ourselves and others with the description that the Lord Jesus there gave, that we are enabled to identify such.

First, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” To be “poor in spirit” is to have a feeling sense that in me, that is, in my flesh, “there dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). It is the realization that I am utterly destitute of anything and everything which could commend me favorably to God’s notice. It is to recognize that I am a spiritual bankrupt. It is the consciousness, even now (not years ago, when I was first awakened), that I am without strength and wisdom, and that I am a helpless creature, completely dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. To be “poor in spirit” is the opposite of Laodiceanism, which consists of self-complacency and self-sufficiency, imagining I am “rich, and in need of nothing.”

“Blessed are they that mourn.” It is one thing to believe the theory that I am spiritually a poverty-stricken pauper, it is quite another to have an acute sense of it in my soul. Where the latter exists, there are deep exercises of heart, which evoke the bitter cry, “my leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!” (Isaiah 24:16). There is deep anguish that there is so little growth in grace, so little fruit to God’s glory, such a wretched return made for His abounding goodness unto me. This is accompanied by an ever-deepening discovery of the depths of corruption which is still within me. The soul finds that when it would do good, evil is present with him (Romans 7:21). It is grieved by the motions of unbelief, the swellings of pride, the surging of rebellion against God. Instead of peace, there is war within; instead of realizing his holy aspirations, the blessed one is daily defeated; until the stricken heart cries out,

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

“Blessed are the meek.” Meekness is yieldedness. It is the opposite of self-will. Meekness is pliability and meltedness of heart, which makes me submissive and responsive to God’s will. Now observe, dear reader, these first three marks of the “blessed” consist not in outward actions, but of inward graces; not in showy deeds, but in states of soul. Note too that they are far from being characteristics which will render their possessor pleasing and popular to the world. He who feels himself to be a spiritual pauper will not be welcomed by the wealthy Laodiceans. He who daily mourns for his leanness, his barrenness, his sinfulness, will not be courted by the self-righteous. He who is truly meek will not be sought after by the self-assertive. No, he will be scorned by the Pharisees and looked upon with contempt by those who boast they are “out of Romans 7 and living in Romans 8.” These lovely graces, which are of great price in the sight of God, are despised by the bloated professors of the day.

We must not now review the additional marks of the “blessed” named by the Redeemer at the beginning of His precious Sermon on the Mount, but at one other we will just glance.

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you…for My sake” (Matthew 5:10, 11).

Observe that this antagonism is not evoked by wrongdoing, or by a well-grounded offense. They who are morose, selfish, haughty, evil speakers, cruel, have no right to shelter behind this beatitude, when people retaliate against them. No, it is where Christ-likeness of character and conduct is assailed; where practical godliness condemns the worldly ways of empty professors, that fires their enmity; where humble but vital piety cannot be tolerated by those who are destitute of the same. Blessed, said Christ, are the spiritual, whom the carnal hate; the gentle sheep, whom the dogs snap at.

Now dear reader, seek grace to honestly measure yourself by these criteria. Do such heavenly graces adorn your soul? Are these marks of those whom the Son of God pronounces “blessed” stamped upon your character? Are you truly “poor in spirit”? We say “truly”: for it is easy to adopt expressions and call ourselves names—if you are offended when someone else applies them to you, it shows you do not mean what you say. Do you “mourn” over your lack of conformity to Christ, the feebleness of your faith, the coldness of your love? Are you “meek”? Has your will been broken and your heart made submissive to God? Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness?—do you use the means of grace, your searching of the Scriptures, your prayers, evince it? Are you “merciful,” or censorious and harsh? Are you “pure in heart”? grieved when an impure imagination assails? If not, you have no right to regard yourself as “blessed”; instead you are under the curse of a holy and sin-hating God.

It is not, Are these spiritual graces fully developed within you—they never are in this life. But are they truly present at all? It is not are you completely emptied of self, but is it your sincere desire and earnest prayer to be so. It is not do you “mourn” as deeply as you ought over indwelling sin and its activities, but have you felt at all “the plague” of your own heart (1 Kings 8:38). It is not is your meekness all that can be desired, but is there unmistakable proof that the root of it has actually been communicated to your soul? There is a growth: “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” But that which has no existence can have no growth. Has the “seed” (1 Peter 1:23) of grace been planted in your heart: that is the point which each of us is called upon to determine—not to assume, or take for granted, but to make “sure” (2 Peter 1:10) of. And this is done when we faithfully examine our hearts to discover whether or not there is in them those spiritual graces to which the promises of God are addressed.

While Gospel assurance is the opposite of carnal presumption and of unbelieving doubts, yet it is far from being opposed to thorough self-examination. But alas, so many have been taught, and by men highly reputed for their orthodoxy, that if it is not actually wrong, it is highly injurious for a Christian to look within. There is a balance of truth to be observed here, as everywhere. That one might become too introspective is readily granted, but that a Christian is never to search his own heart, test his faith, scrutinize his motives, and make sure that he has the “root of the matter” within him (Job 19:28), is contradicted by many plain Scriptures. Regeneration is a work which God performs within us (Philippians 1:6), and as eternal destiny hinges on the same, it behooves every serious soul to take the utmost pains and ascertain whether or not this miracle of grace has been wrought within him. When Paul stood in doubt of the state of the Galatians, he said,

“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).

So to the Colossians he wrote, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

“For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in (or “by”) God” (John 3:20, 21).

Here is one of the vital differences between the unregenerate and the regenerate, the unbelieving and the believing. Unbelief is far more than an error of judgment, or speculative mistake into which an honest mind may fall; it proceeds from heart-enmity against God. The natural man, while left to himself, hates the searching light of God (v. 19), fearful lest it should disquiet the conscience, expose the fallacy of his presumptuous confidence, and shatter his false peace. But it is the very reverse with him who has been given “an honest and good heart.” He who acts sincerely and conscientiously, desiring to know and do the whole will of God without reserve, welcomes the Light.

The genuine Christian believes what Scripture says concerning the natural heart, namely, that it is “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9), and the surest proof that he does believe this solemn fact is that he is deeply concerned lest “a deceived heart hath turned him aside” (Isaiah 44:20), and caused him to believe that all is well with his soul, when in reality he is yet “in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity.” He believes what God’s Word says about Satan, the great deluder, and trembles lest, after all, the Devil has beguiled him with a false peace. Such a possibility, such a likelihood, occasions him much exercise of soul. Like David of old (and every other genuine saint), he “communes with his own heart” (Psalm 4:4), and his “spirit (makes) diligent search” (Psalm 77:6). He turns to the light of Holy Writ, anxious to have his character and conduct scrutinized by the same, desiring to have his deeds made manifest, as to whether they proceed from self-love or real love to God.

It is not that we are here seeking to foster any confidence in self, rather do we desire to promote real confidence toward God. It is one thing to make sure that I love God, and it is quite another for me to find satisfaction in that love. The self-examination which the Scriptures enjoin (in 1 Corinthians 11:28, for example), is not for the purpose of finding something within to make me more acceptable to God, nor as a ground of my justification before Him; but is with the object of discovering whether Christ is being formed in me. There are two extremes to be guarded against: such an undue occupation with the work of the Spirit within, that the heart is taken off from the work of Christ for His people; and, such a one-sided emphasis upon the imputed righteousness of Christ that the righteousness imparted by the Spirit is ignored and disparaged. It is impossible that the Third Person of the Trinity should take up His abode within a soul, without effecting a radical change within him: and it is this which I need to make sure of. It is the Spirit’s work within the heart which is the only infallible proof of salvation.

It is perfectly true that as I look within and seek to faithfully examine my heart in the light of Scripture, that the work of the Spirit is not all I shall discover there. No, indeed: much corruption still remains. The genuine Christian finds clear evidence of two natures, two contrary principles at work within him. This is brought out plainly, not only in Romans 7 and Galatians 5:17, but strikingly too in the Song of Solomon:

“What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies” (Song of Solomon 6:13).

Hence it is that in her present state, the Bride says,

“I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon” (Song of Solomon 1:5).

And again, “I sleep, but my heart waketh” (Song of Solomon 5:2)— strange language to the natural man, but quite intelligible to the spiritual. And therefore is it also that the renewed soul so often finds suited to his case the prayer of Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

It is because the real Christian finds within himself so much that is conflicting, that it is difficult for him to be sure of his actual state. And therefore does he cry,

“Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart” (Psalm 26:2).

They who are filled with a carnal assurance, a fleshly confidence, a vain presumption, feel no need for asking the Lord to “prove” them. So completely has Satan deceived them, that they imagine it would be an act of unbelief so to do. Poor souls, they “call evil good, and good evil”; they “put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). One of the surest marks of regeneration is that the soul frequently cries

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).

Perhaps some of our readers are still ready to say, “I do not see that there needs to be so much difficulty in ascertaining whether one is in a lost or saved condition: I am resting upon John 5:24, and that is sufficient for me.” But allow us to point out, dear friend, that John 5:24 is not a promise which Christ gave to an individual disciple, but instead, a doctrinal declaration which He made in the hearing of a mixed multitude. If the objector replies, “I believe that verse does contain a promise, and I am going to hold fast to it,” then may we lovingly ask, Are you sure that it belongs to you? That John 5:24 contains a precious promise, we gladly acknowledge, but to whom is it made? Let us examine it: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”

That promise is given to a definitely defined character, namely, “He that heareth my word.” Now dear reader, can it be truthfully said that you are one that “heareth” His Word? Are you sure? Do not be misled by the mere sound of words. The reference here is not to the hearing of the outward ear, but to the response of the heart. In the days that He sojourned on earth, there were many of whom the Lord Jesus had to say that “hearing (with the outward ear), they hear not” with the heart (Matthew 13:13). So it is still. To “hear” spiritually, to “hear” savingly, is to heed (Matthew 18:15), is to obey (Matthew 17:5; John 10:27; Hebrews 3:7). Ah, are you obedient? Have you searched the Scriptures diligently in order to discover His commandments? And that, not to satisfy an idle curiosity, but desiring to put them into practice? Do you love His commandments? Are you actually doing them? Not once or twice, but regularly, as the main tenor of your life—for note it is not “hear” but “heareth.”

Does someone object, “All of this is getting away from the simplicity of Christ: you are taking us from the Word, and seeking to get us occupied with ourselves.” Well, does not Scripture say, “Take heed unto thyself” (1 Timothy 4:16)? But it may be answered, “There cannot be any certainty while we are occupied with our wretched selves; I prefer to abide by the written Word.” To this we have no objection at all: what we are here pressing is the vital necessity of making sure that the portions of the Word you cite or are resting upon, fairly and squarely belong to you. The reader may refer me to

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31)

and ask, Is not that plain enough? But have you ever noted, dear friend, to whom the apostles addressed those words, and all the attendant circumstances?

It was neither to a promiscuous crowd, nor to a careless and unconcerned soul, that the apostles said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Rather was it to an awakened, deeply exercised, penitent soul, who had taken his place in the dust, and in deepest anguish cried, “What must I do to be saved?” However, what is the use you are making of Acts 16:31? You answer, “This: those words are divinely simple, I believe in Christ, and therefore I am saved; God says so, and the Devil cannot shake me.” Possibly he is not at all anxious to; he may be well content for you to retain a carnal confidence. But observe, dear friend, the apostles did not tell the stricken jailor to “believe on Jesus” nor “believe in Christ”; but to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What does it mean to savingly “believe”? We have sought to answer this question at length in our recent articles on “Saving Faith.” But let us now give a brief reply. John 1:12 makes it clear that to “believe” is to “receive,” to receive “Christ Jesus the Lord” (Colossians 2:6). Christ is the Savior of none until He is welcomed as LORD. The immediate context shows plainly the particular character in which Christ is there viewed: “He came unto his own” (John 1:11); He was their rightful Owner, because their Lord. But “his own received him not”; no, they declared, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Ah, dear friend, this is searching. Have you received “the Lord Jesus Christ”? We do not ask, “Are you resting on His finished work,” but have you bowed to His scepter and owned His authority in a practical way? Have you disowned your own sinful lordship? If not, you certainly have not “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and therefore the promise of Acts 16:31 does not belong to you.

“Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).

This is just as much a part of God’s Word as is Acts 16:31. Why do we not hear it quoted as frequently! And how can anyone know that he is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ? Only by discovering within him the fruits of His regenerating and sanctifying grace. Not that either these “fruits” or the “good works” of the Christian are in any wise or to any degree meritorious. No, no; but as the evidence of his Divine sonship.

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“Who gave Himself for our sins” – Luther commentary

June 2, 2010 Comments off

Galatians 1:4 Who gave himself for our sins

Note especially the pronoun “our” and its significance. You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins. This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the real significance and comfort of the words “for our sins” is lost upon them.

The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins” as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin.

St. Paul also presents a true picture of Christ as the virgin-born Son of God, delivered into death for our sins. To entertain a true conception of Christ is important, for the devil describes Christ as an exacting and cruel judge who condemns and punishes men. Tell him that his definition of Christ is wrong, that Christ has given Himself for our sins, that by His sacrifice He has taken away the sins of the whole world.

Make ample use of this pronoun “our.” Be assured that Christ has canceled the sins, not of certain persons only, but your sins. Do not permit yourself to be robbed of this lovely conception of Christ. Christ is no Moses, no law-giver, no tyrant, but the Mediator for sins, the Giver of grace and life.

We know this. Yet in the actual conflict with the devil, when he scares us with the Law, when he frightens us with the very person of the Mediator, when he misquotes the words of Christ, and distorts for us our Savior, we so easily lose sight of our sweet High-Priest.

For this reason I am so anxious for you to gain a true picture of Christ out of the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins.” Obviously, Christ is no judge to condemn us, for He gave Himself for our sins. He does not trample the fallen but raises them. He comforts the broken-hearted. Otherwise Paul should lie when he writes “who gave himself for our sins.”

I do not bother my head with speculations about the nature of God. I simply attach myself to the human Christ, and I find joy and peace, and the wisdom of God in Him. These are not new truths. I am repeating what the apostles and all teachers of God have taught long ago. Would to God we could impregnate our hearts with these truths.

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Job 33:19-28 – Matthew Henry commentary

June 1, 2010 Comments off
Job 33:19  He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain:
Job 33:20  So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat.
Job 33:21  His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out.
Job 33:22  Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers.
Job 33:23  If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness:
Job 33:24  Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.
Job 33:25  His flesh shall be fresher than a child’s: he shall return to the days of his youth:
Job 33:26  He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness.
Job 33:27  He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not;
Job 33:28  He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.
God has spoken once to sinners by their own consciences, to keep them from the paths of the destroyer, but they perceive it not; they are not aware that the checks their own hearts give them in a sinful way are from God, but they are imputed to melancholy or the preciseness of their education; and therefore God speaks twice; he speaks a second time, and tries another way to convince and reclaim sinners, and that is by providences, afflictive and merciful (in which he speaks twice), and by the seasonable instructions of good ministers setting in with them. Job complained much of his diseases and judged by them that God was angry with him; his friends did so too: but Elihu shows that they were all mistaken, for God often afflicts the body in love, and with gracious designs of good to the soul, as appears in the issue. This part of Elihu’s discourse will be of great use to us for the due improvement of sickness, in and by which God speaks to men. Here is,
I. The patient described in his extremity. See what work sickness makes (Job_33:19, etc.) when God sends it with commission. Do this, and doeth it. 1. The sick man is full of pain all over him (Job_33:19): He is chastened with pain upon his bed, such pain as confines him to his bed, or so extreme the pain is that he can get no ease, no, not on his bed, where he would repose himself. Pain and sickness will turn a bed of down into a bed of thorns, on which he that used to sleep now tosses to and fro till the dawning of the day. The case, as here put, is very bad. Pain is borne with more difficulty than sickness, and with that the patient here is chastened, not a dull heavy pain, but strong and acute; and frequently the stronger the patient the stronger the pain, for the more sanguine the complexion is the more violent, commonly, the disease is. It is not the smarting of the flesh that is complained of, but the aching of the bones. It is an inward rooted pain; and not only the bones of one limb, but the multitude of the bones, are thus chastened. See what frail, what vile bodies we have, which, though receiving no external hurt, may be thus pained from causes within themselves. See what work sin makes, what mischief it does. Pain is the fruit of sin; yet, by the grace of God, the pain of the body is often made a means of good to the soul. 2. He has quite lost his appetite, the common effect of sickness (Job_33:20): His life abhorreth bread, the most necessary food, and dainty meat, which he most delighted in, and formerly relished with a great deal of pleasure. This is a good reason why we should not be desirous of dainties, because they are deceitful meat, Pro_23:3. We may be soon made as sick of them as we are now fond of them; and those who live in luxury when they are well, if ever they come, by reason of sickness, to loathe dainty meat, may, with grief and shame, read their sin in their punishment. Let us not inordinately love the taste of meat, for the time may come when we may even loathe the sight of meat, Psa_107:18. 3. He has become a perfect skeleton, nothing but skin and bones, Job_33:21. By sickness, perhaps a few days’ sickness, his flesh, which was fat, and fair, is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; it is strangely wasted and gone: and his bones, which were buried in flesh, now stick out; you may count his ribs, may tell all his bones. The soul that is well nourished with the bread of life sickness will not make lean, but it soon makes a change in the body.
He who, before, had such a beauteous air,
And, pampered with the ease, seemed plump and fair
Doth all his friends (amazing change!) surprise
With pale lean cheeks and ghastly hollow eyes;
His bones (a horrid sight) start through his skin,
Which lay before, in flesh and fat, unseen.
– Sir R. Blackmore
4. He is given up for gone, and his life despaired of (Job_33:22): His soul draws near to the grave, that is, he has all the symptoms of death upon him, and in the apprehension of all about him, as well as in his own, he is a dying man. The pangs of death, here called the destroyers, are just ready to seize him; they compass him about, Psa_116:3. Perhaps it intimates the very dreadful apprehensions which those have of death as a destroying thing, when it stares them in the face, who, when it was at a distance, made light of it. All agree when it comes to the point, whatever they thought of it before, that it is a serious thing to die.
II. The provision made for his instruction, in order to a sanctified use of his affliction, that, when God in that way speaks to man, he may be heard and understood, and not speak in vain, Job_33:23. He is happy if there be a messenger with him to attend him in his sickness, to convince, counsel, and comfort him, an interpreter to expound the providence and give him to understand the meaning of it, a man of wisdom that knows the voice of the rod and its interpretation; for, when God speaks by afflictions, we are frequently so unversed in the language, that we have need of an interpreter, and it is well if we have such a one. The advice and help of a good minister are as needful and seasonable, and should be as acceptable, in sickness, as of a good physician, especially if he be well skilled in the art of explaining and improving providences; he is then one of a thousand, and to be valued accordingly. His business at such a time is to show unto man his uprightness, that is, God’s uprightness, that in faithfulness he afflicts him and does him no wrong, which it is necessary to be convinced of in order to our making a due improvement of the affliction: or, rather, it may mean man’s uprightness, or rectitude. 1. The uprightness that is. If it appear that the sick person is truly pious, the interpreter will not do as Job’s friends had done, make it his business to prove him a hypocrite because he is afflicted, but on the contrary will show him his uprightness, notwithstanding his afflictions, that he may take the comfort of it, and be easy, whatever the event is. 2. The uprightness, the reformation, that should be, in order to life and peace. When men are made to see the way of uprightness to be the only way, and a sure way to salvation, and to choose it, and walk in it accordingly, the work is done.
III. God’s gracious acceptance of him, upon his repentance, Job_33:24. When he sees that the sick person is indeed convinced that sincere repentance, and that uprightness which is gospel perfection, are his interest as well as his duty, then he that waits to be gracious, and shows mercy upon the first indication of true repentance, is gracious unto him, and takes him into his favour and thoughts for good. Wherever God finds a gracious heart he will be found a gracious God; and, 1. He will give a gracious order for his discharge. He says, Deliver him (that is, let him be delivered) from going down to the pit, from that death which is the wages of sin. When afflictions have done their work they shall be removed. When we return to God in a way of duty he will return to us in a way of mercy. Those shall be delivered from going down to the pit who receive God’s messengers, and rightly understand his interpreters, so as to subscribe to his uprightness. 2. He will give a gracious reason for this order: I have found a ransom, or propitiation; Jesus Christ is that ransom, so Elihu calls him, as Job had called him his Redeemer, for he is both the purchaser and the price, the priest and the sacrifice; so high was the value put upon souls that nothing less would redeem them, and so great the injury done by sin that nothing less would atone for it than the blood of the Son of God, who gave his life a ransom for many. This is a ransom of God’s finding, a contrivance of Infinite Wisdom; we could never have found it ourselves, and the angels themselves could never have found it. It is the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, and such an invention as is and will be the everlasting wonder of those principalities and powers that desire to look into it. Observe how God glories in the invention here, heurēka, heurēka, – “I have found, I have found, the ransom; I, even I, am he that has done it.”
IV. The recovery of the sick man hereupon. Take away the cause and the effect will cease. When the patient becomes a penitent see what a blessed change follows. 1. His body recovers its health, Job_33:25. This is not always the consequence of a sick man’s repentance and return to God, but sometimes it is; and recovery from sickness is a mercy indeed when it arises from the remission of sin; then it is in love to the soul that the body is delivered from the pit of corruption when God casts our sins behind his back, Isa_38:17. That is the method of a blessed recovery. Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee; and then, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk, Mat_9:2, Mat_9:6. So here, interest him in the ransom, and then his flesh shall be fresher than a child’s and there shall be no remains of his distemper, but he shall return to the days of his youth, to the beauty and strength which he had then. When the distemper that oppressed nature is removed how strangely does nature help itself, in which the power and goodness of the God of nature must be thankfully acknowledged! By such merciful providences as these, which afflictions give occasion for, God speaketh once, yea, twice, to the children of men, letting them know (if they would but perceive it) their dependence upon him and his tender compassion of them. 2. His soul recovers it peace, Job_33:26. (1.) The patient, being a penitent, is a supplicant, and has learned to pray. He knows God will be sought unto for his favours, and therefore he shall pray unto God, pray for pardon, pray for health. Is any afflicted, and sick? Let him pray. When he finds himself recovering he shall not then think that prayer is no longer necessary, for we need the grace of God as much for the sanctifying of a mercy as for the sanctifying of an affliction. (2.) His prayers are accepted. God will be favourable to him, and be well pleased with him; his anger shall be turned away from him, and the light of God’s countenance shall shine upon his soul; and then it follows, (3.) That he has the comfort of communion with God. He shall now see the face of God, which before was hid from him, and he shall see it with joy, for what sight can be more reviving? See Gen_33:10, As though I had seen the face of God. All true penitents rejoice more in the returns of God’s favour than in any instance whatsoever of prosperity or pleasure, Psa_4:6, Psa_4:7. (4.) He has a blessed tranquility of mind, arising from the sense of his justification before God, who will render unto this man his righteousness. He shall receive the atonement, that is, the comfort of it, Rom_5:11. Righteousness shall be imputed to him, and peace thereupon spoken, the joy and gladness of which he shall then be made to hear though he could not hear them in the day of his affliction. God will now deal with him as a righteous man, with whom it shall be well. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, even righteousness, Psa_24:5. God shall give him grace to go and sin no more. Perhaps this may denote the reformation of his life after his recovery. As he shall pray unto God, whom before he had slighted, so he shall render to man his righteousness, whom before he had wronged, shall make restitution, and for the future do justly.
V. The general rule which God will go by in dealing with the children of men inferred from this instance, Job_33:27, Job_33:28. As sick people, upon their submission, are restored, so all others that truly repent of their sins shall find mercy with God. See here, 1. What sin is, and what reason we have not to sin. Would we know the nature of sin and the malignity of it? It is the perverting of that which is right; it is a most unjust unreasonable thing; it is the rebellion of the creature against the Creator, the usurped dominion of the flesh over the spirit, and a contradiction to the eternal rules and reasons of good and evil. It is perverting the right ways of the Lord (Act_13:10), and therefore the ways of sin are called crooked ways, Psa_125:5. Would we know what is to be got by sin? It profiteth us not. The works of darkness are unfruitful works. When profit and loss come to be balanced all the gains of sin, put them all together, will come far short of countervailing the damage. All true penitents are ready to own this, and it is a mortifying consideration. Rom_6:21, What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? 2. See what repentance is, and what reason we have to repent. Would we approve ourselves true penitents? We must then, with a broken and contrite heart, confess our sins to God, 1Jo_1:9. We must confess the fact of sin (I have sinned) and not deny the charge, or stand upon our own justification; we must confess the fault of sin, the iniquity, the dishonesty of it ( have perverted that which was right); we must confess the folly of sin – “so foolish have I been and ignorant, for it profited me not; and therefore what have I to do any more with it?” Is there not good reason why we should make such a penitent confession as this? For, (1.) God expect it. He looks upon men, when they have sinned, to see what they will do next, whether they will go on in it or whether they will bethink themselves and return. He hearkens and hears whether any say, What have I done? Jer_8:6. He looks upon sinners with an eye of compassion, desiring to hear this from them; for he has no pleasure in their ruin. He looks upon them, and, as soon as he perceives these workings of repentance in them, he encourages them and is ready to accept them (Psa_32:5, Psa_32:6), as the father went forth to meet the returning prodigal. (2.) It will turn to our unspeakable advantage. The promise is general. If any humble himself thus, whoever he be, [1.] He shall not come into condemnation, but be saved from the wrath to come: He shall deliver his soul from going into the pit, the pit of hell; iniquity shall not be his ruin. [2.] He shall be happy in everlasting life and joy: His life shall see the light, that is, all good, in the vision and fruition of God. To obtain this bliss, if the prophet had bidden us do some great thing, would we not have done it? How much more when he only says unto us, Wash and be clean, confess and be pardoned, repent and be saved?

Job 33:19-28  God has spoken once to sinners by their own consciences, to keep them from the paths of the destroyer, but they perceive it not; they are not aware that the checks their own hearts give them in a sinful way are from God, but they are imputed to melancholy or the preciseness of their education; and therefore God speaks twice; he speaks a second time, and tries another way to convince and reclaim sinners, and that is by providences, afflictive and merciful (in which he speaks twice), and by the seasonable instructions of good ministers setting in with them. Job complained much of his diseases and judged by them that God was angry with him; his friends did so too: but Elihu shows that they were all mistaken, for God often afflicts the body in love, and with gracious designs of good to the soul, as appears in the issue. This part of Elihu’s discourse will be of great use to us for the due improvement of sickness, in and by which God speaks to men. Here is,I. The patient described in his extremity. See what work sickness makes (Job_33:19, etc.) when God sends it with commission. Do this, and doeth it. 1. The sick man is full of pain all over him (Job_33:19): He is chastened with pain upon his bed, such pain as confines him to his bed, or so extreme the pain is that he can get no ease, no, not on his bed, where he would repose himself. Pain and sickness will turn a bed of down into a bed of thorns, on which he that used to sleep now tosses to and fro till the dawning of the day. The case, as here put, is very bad. Pain is borne with more difficulty than sickness, and with that the patient here is chastened, not a dull heavy pain, but strong and acute; and frequently the stronger the patient the stronger the pain, for the more sanguine the complexion is the more violent, commonly, the disease is. It is not the smarting of the flesh that is complained of, but the aching of the bones. It is an inward rooted pain; and not only the bones of one limb, but the multitude of the bones, are thus chastened. See what frail, what vile bodies we have, which, though receiving no external hurt, may be thus pained from causes within themselves. See what work sin makes, what mischief it does. Pain is the fruit of sin; yet, by the grace of God, the pain of the body is often made a means of good to the soul. 2. He has quite lost his appetite, the common effect of sickness (Job_33:20): His life abhorreth bread, the most necessary food, and dainty meat, which he most delighted in, and formerly relished with a great deal of pleasure. This is a good reason why we should not be desirous of dainties, because they are deceitful meat, Pro_23:3. We may be soon made as sick of them as we are now fond of them; and those who live in luxury when they are well, if ever they come, by reason of sickness, to loathe dainty meat, may, with grief and shame, read their sin in their punishment. Let us not inordinately love the taste of meat, for the time may come when we may even loathe the sight of meat, Psa_107:18. 3. He has become a perfect skeleton, nothing but skin and bones, Job_33:21. By sickness, perhaps a few days’ sickness, his flesh, which was fat, and fair, is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; it is strangely wasted and gone: and his bones, which were buried in flesh, now stick out; you may count his ribs, may tell all his bones. The soul that is well nourished with the bread of life sickness will not make lean, but it soon makes a change in the body.He who, before, had such a beauteous air,And, pampered with the ease, seemed plump and fairDoth all his friends (amazing change!) surpriseWith pale lean cheeks and ghastly hollow eyes;His bones (a horrid sight) start through his skin,Which lay before, in flesh and fat, unseen. – Sir R. Blackmore4. He is given up for gone, and his life despaired of (Job_33:22): His soul draws near to the grave, that is, he has all the symptoms of death upon him, and in the apprehension of all about him, as well as in his own, he is a dying man. The pangs of death, here called the destroyers, are just ready to seize him; they compass him about, Psa_116:3. Perhaps it intimates the very dreadful apprehensions which those have of death as a destroying thing, when it stares them in the face, who, when it was at a distance, made light of it. All agree when it comes to the point, whatever they thought of it before, that it is a serious thing to die.II. The provision made for his instruction, in order to a sanctified use of his affliction, that, when God in that way speaks to man, he may be heard and understood, and not speak in vain, Job_33:23. He is happy if there be a messenger with him to attend him in his sickness, to convince, counsel, and comfort him, an interpreter to expound the providence and give him to understand the meaning of it, a man of wisdom that knows the voice of the rod and its interpretation; for, when God speaks by afflictions, we are frequently so unversed in the language, that we have need of an interpreter, and it is well if we have such a one. The advice and help of a good minister are as needful and seasonable, and should be as acceptable, in sickness, as of a good physician, especially if he be well skilled in the art of explaining and improving providences; he is then one of a thousand, and to be valued accordingly. His business at such a time is to show unto man his uprightness, that is, God’s uprightness, that in faithfulness he afflicts him and does him no wrong, which it is necessary to be convinced of in order to our making a due improvement of the affliction: or, rather, it may mean man’s uprightness, or rectitude. 1. The uprightness that is. If it appear that the sick person is truly pious, the interpreter will not do as Job’s friends had done, make it his business to prove him a hypocrite because he is afflicted, but on the contrary will show him his uprightness, notwithstanding his afflictions, that he may take the comfort of it, and be easy, whatever the event is. 2. The uprightness, the reformation, that should be, in order to life and peace. When men are made to see the way of uprightness to be the only way, and a sure way to salvation, and to choose it, and walk in it accordingly, the work is done.III. God’s gracious acceptance of him, upon his repentance, Job_33:24. When he sees that the sick person is indeed convinced that sincere repentance, and that uprightness which is gospel perfection, are his interest as well as his duty, then he that waits to be gracious, and shows mercy upon the first indication of true repentance, is gracious unto him, and takes him into his favour and thoughts for good. Wherever God finds a gracious heart he will be found a gracious God; and, 1. He will give a gracious order for his discharge. He says, Deliver him (that is, let him be delivered) from going down to the pit, from that death which is the wages of sin. When afflictions have done their work they shall be removed. When we return to God in a way of duty he will return to us in a way of mercy. Those shall be delivered from going down to the pit who receive God’s messengers, and rightly understand his interpreters, so as to subscribe to his uprightness. 2. He will give a gracious reason for this order: I have found a ransom, or propitiation; Jesus Christ is that ransom, so Elihu calls him, as Job had called him his Redeemer, for he is both the purchaser and the price, the priest and the sacrifice; so high was the value put upon souls that nothing less would redeem them, and so great the injury done by sin that nothing less would atone for it than the blood of the Son of God, who gave his life a ransom for many. This is a ransom of God’s finding, a contrivance of Infinite Wisdom; we could never have found it ourselves, and the angels themselves could never have found it. It is the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, and such an invention as is and will be the everlasting wonder of those principalities and powers that desire to look into it. Observe how God glories in the invention here, heurēka, heurēka, – “I have found, I have found, the ransom; I, even I, am he that has done it.”IV. The recovery of the sick man hereupon. Take away the cause and the effect will cease. When the patient becomes a penitent see what a blessed change follows. 1. His body recovers its health, Job_33:25. This is not always the consequence of a sick man’s repentance and return to God, but sometimes it is; and recovery from sickness is a mercy indeed when it arises from the remission of sin; then it is in love to the soul that the body is delivered from the pit of corruption when God casts our sins behind his back, Isa_38:17. That is the method of a blessed recovery. Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee; and then, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk, Mat_9:2, Mat_9:6. So here, interest him in the ransom, and then his flesh shall be fresher than a child’s and there shall be no remains of his distemper, but he shall return to the days of his youth, to the beauty and strength which he had then. When the distemper that oppressed nature is removed how strangely does nature help itself, in which the power and goodness of the God of nature must be thankfully acknowledged! By such merciful providences as these, which afflictions give occasion for, God speaketh once, yea, twice, to the children of men, letting them know (if they would but perceive it) their dependence upon him and his tender compassion of them. 2. His soul recovers it peace, Job_33:26. (1.) The patient, being a penitent, is a supplicant, and has learned to pray. He knows God will be sought unto for his favours, and therefore he shall pray unto God, pray for pardon, pray for health. Is any afflicted, and sick? Let him pray. When he finds himself recovering he shall not then think that prayer is no longer necessary, for we need the grace of God as much for the sanctifying of a mercy as for the sanctifying of an affliction. (2.) His prayers are accepted. God will be favourable to him, and be well pleased with him; his anger shall be turned away from him, and the light of God’s countenance shall shine upon his soul; and then it follows, (3.) That he has the comfort of communion with God. He shall now see the face of God, which before was hid from him, and he shall see it with joy, for what sight can be more reviving? See Gen_33:10, As though I had seen the face of God. All true penitents rejoice more in the returns of God’s favour than in any instance whatsoever of prosperity or pleasure, Psa_4:6, Psa_4:7. (4.) He has a blessed tranquility of mind, arising from the sense of his justification before God, who will render unto this man his righteousness. He shall receive the atonement, that is, the comfort of it, Rom_5:11. Righteousness shall be imputed to him, and peace thereupon spoken, the joy and gladness of which he shall then be made to hear though he could not hear them in the day of his affliction. God will now deal with him as a righteous man, with whom it shall be well. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, even righteousness, Psa_24:5. God shall give him grace to go and sin no more. Perhaps this may denote the reformation of his life after his recovery. As he shall pray unto God, whom before he had slighted, so he shall render to man his righteousness, whom before he had wronged, shall make restitution, and for the future do justly.V. The general rule which God will go by in dealing with the children of men inferred from this instance, Job_33:27, Job_33:28. As sick people, upon their submission, are restored, so all others that truly repent of their sins shall find mercy with God. See here, 1. What sin is, and what reason we have not to sin. Would we know the nature of sin and the malignity of it? It is the perverting of that which is right; it is a most unjust unreasonable thing; it is the rebellion of the creature against the Creator, the usurped dominion of the flesh over the spirit, and a contradiction to the eternal rules and reasons of good and evil. It is perverting the right ways of the Lord (Act_13:10), and therefore the ways of sin are called crooked ways, Psa_125:5. Would we know what is to be got by sin? It profiteth us not. The works of darkness are unfruitful works. When profit and loss come to be balanced all the gains of sin, put them all together, will come far short of countervailing the damage. All true penitents are ready to own this, and it is a mortifying consideration. Rom_6:21, What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? 2. See what repentance is, and what reason we have to repent. Would we approve ourselves true penitents? We must then, with a broken and contrite heart, confess our sins to God, 1Jo_1:9. We must confess the fact of sin (I have sinned) and not deny the charge, or stand upon our own justification; we must confess the fault of sin, the iniquity, the dishonesty of it ( have perverted that which was right); we must confess the folly of sin – “so foolish have I been and ignorant, for it profited me not; and therefore what have I to do any more with it?” Is there not good reason why we should make such a penitent confession as this? For, (1.) God expect it. He looks upon men, when they have sinned, to see what they will do next, whether they will go on in it or whether they will bethink themselves and return. He hearkens and hears whether any say, What have I done? Jer_8:6. He looks upon sinners with an eye of compassion, desiring to hear this from them; for he has no pleasure in their ruin. He looks upon them, and, as soon as he perceives these workings of repentance in them, he encourages them and is ready to accept them (Psa_32:5, Psa_32:6), as the father went forth to meet the returning prodigal. (2.) It will turn to our unspeakable advantage. The promise is general. If any humble himself thus, whoever he be, [1.] He shall not come into condemnation, but be saved from the wrath to come: He shall deliver his soul from going into the pit, the pit of hell; iniquity shall not be his ruin. [2.] He shall be happy in everlasting life and joy: His life shall see the light, that is, all good, in the vision and fruition of God. To obtain this bliss, if the prophet had bidden us do some great thing, would we not have done it? How much more when he only says unto us, Wash and be clean, confess and be pardoned, repent and be saved?