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Christ our Sweet Savour before God – Spurgeon

March 28, 2014 Comments off

“I will accept you with your sweet savour.”
– Eze_20:41

The merits of our great Redeemer are as sweet savour to the Most High. Whether we speak of the active or passive righteousness of Christ, there is an equal fragrance. There was a sweet savour in his active life by which he honoured the law of God, and made every precept to glitter like a precious jewel in the pure setting of his own person. Such, too, was his passive obedience, when he endured with unmurmuring submission, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, and at length sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane, gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked out the hair, and was fastened to the cruel wood, that he might suffer the wrath of God in our behalf. These two things are sweet before the Most High; and for the sake of his doing and his dying, his substitutionary sufferings and his vicarious obedience, the Lord our God accepts us. What a preciousness must there be in him to overcome our want of preciousness! What a sweet savour to put away our ill savour! What a cleansing power in his blood to take away sin such as ours! and what glory in his righteousness to make such unacceptable creatures to be accepted in the Beloved! Mark, believer, how sure and unchanging must be our acceptance, since it is in him! Take care that you never doubt your acceptance in Jesus. You cannot be accepted without Christ; but, when you have received his merit, you cannot be unaccepted. Notwithstanding all your doubts, and fears, and sins, Jehovah’s gracious eye never looks upon you in anger; though he sees sin in you, in yourself, yet when he looks at you through Christ, he sees no sin. You are always accepted in Christ, are always blessed and dear to the Father’s heart. Therefore lift up a song, and as you see the smoking incense of the merit of the Saviour coming up, this evening, before the sapphire throne, let the incense of your praise go up also.

CH Spurgeon, Morning and Evening 28 March (Evening)

Jesus our righteousness before God – Grace abounding excerpt

March 22, 2012 Comments off

229. But one day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and methought withal, I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever (Heb. 13.8).

230. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations had fled away; so that, from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me now; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God. So when I came home, I looked to see if I could find that sentence, Thy righteousness is in heaven; but could not find such a saying, wherefore my heart began to sink again, only that was brought to my remembrance, He ‘of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ by this word I saw the other sentence true (1 Cor. 1.30).

231. For by this scripture, I saw that the man Christ Jesus, as He is distinct from us, as touching His bodily presence, so He is our righteousness and sanctification before God. Here, therefore, I lived for some time, very sweetly at peace with God through Christ; Oh, methought, Christ! Christ! there was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes, I was not only for looking upon this and the other benefits of Christ apart, as of His blood, burial, or resurrection, but considered Him as a whole Christ! As He in whom all these, and all other His virtues, relations, offices, and operations met together, and that as He sat on the right hand of God in heaven.

232. It was glorious to me to see His exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all His benefits, and that because of this: now I could look from myself to Him, and should reckon that all those graces of God that now were green in me, were yet but like those cracked groats and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunks at home! Oh, I saw my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ, my Lord and Saviour! Now Christ was all; all my wisdom, all my righteousness, all my sanctification, and all my redemption.

233. Further, the Lord did also lead me into the mystery of union with the Son of God, that I was joined to Him, that I was flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone, and now was that a sweet word to me in Eph. 5.30. By this also was my faith in Him, as my righteousness, the more confirmed to me; for if He and I were one, then His righteousness was mine, His merits mine, His victory also mine. Now could I see myself in heaven and earth at once; in heaven by my Christ, by my head, by my righteousness and life, though on earth by my body or person.

234. Now I saw Christ Jesus was looked on of God, and should also be looked on by us, as that common or public person, in whom all the whole body of His elect are always to be considered and reckoned; that we fulfilled the law by Him, rose from the dead by Him, got the victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell, by Him; when He died, we died; and so of His resurrection. ‘Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise,’ saith he (Isa. 26.19). And again, ‘After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight’ (Hos. 6.2); which is now fulfilled by the sitting down of the Son of Man on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, according to that to the Ephesians, He ‘hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2.6).

235. Ah, these blessed considerations and scriptures, with many others of a like nature, were in those days made to spangle in mine eyes, so that I have cause to say, ‘Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness’ (Ps. 150.1, 2).

Source: Grace abounding to the chief of sinners, by John Bunyan

The Transfiguration: Exposition of Luke 9:28-36 by J. C. Ryle

January 1, 2012 Comments off

The event described in these verses, commonly called “the transfiguration,” is one of the most remarkable in the history of our Lord’s earthly ministry. It is one of those passages which we should always read with peculiar thankfulness. It lifts a corner of the veil which hangs over the world to come, and throws light on some of the deepest truths of our religion.

In the first place, this passage shows us something of the glory which Christ will have at His second coming. We read that “the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His clothing was white and glistering,” and that the disciples who were with Him “saw His glory.”

We need not doubt that this marvelous vision was meant to encourage and strengthen our Lord’s disciples. They had just been hearing of the cross and passion, and the self-denial and sufferings to which they must submit themselves, if they would be saved. They were now cheered by a glimpse of the “glory that should follow,” and the reward which all faithful servants of their Master would one day receive. They had seen their Master’s day of weakness. They now saw, for a few minutes, a pattern and specimen of His future power.

Let us take comfort in the thought, that there are good things laid up in store for all true Christians, which shall make ample amends for the afflictions of this present time. Now is the season for carrying the cross, and sharing in our Savior’s humiliation. The crown, the kingdom, the glory, are all yet to come. Christ and His people are now, like David in the cave of Adullam, despised, and lightly esteemed by the world. There seems no form or loveliness in Him, or in His service. But the hour comes, and will soon be here, when Christ shall take to Himself His great power and reign, and put down every enemy under His feet. And then the glory which was first seen for a few minutes, by three witnesses on the Mount of Transfiguration, shall be seen by all the world, and never hidden to all eternity.

In the second place, this passage shows us the safety of all true believers who have been removed from this world. We are told that when our Lord appeared in glory, Moses and Elijah were seen with Him, standing and speaking with Him. Moses had been dead nearly fifteen hundred years. Elijah had been taken up by a whirlwind from the earth more than nine hundred years before this time. Yet here these holy men were seen once more alive, and not only alive, but in glory!

Let us take comfort in the blessed thought that there is a resurrection and a life to come. All is not over, when the last breath is drawn. There is another world beyond the grave. But, above all, let us take comfort in the thought, that until the day dawns, and the resurrection begins, the people of God are safe with Christ. There is much about their present condition, no doubt, which is deeply mysterious. Where is their local habitation? What knowledge have they of things on earth? These are questions we cannot answer. But let it suffice us to know that Jesus is taking care of them, and will bring them with Him at the last day. He showed Moses and Elijah to His disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, and He will show us all who have fallen asleep in Him, at His second advent. Our brethren and sisters in Christ are in good keeping. They are not lost, but gone before us.

In the third place, this passage shows us that the Old Testament saints in glory take a deep interest in Christ’s atoning death. We are told that when Moses and Elijah appeared in glory with our Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, they “talked with Him.” And what was the subject of their conversation? We are not obliged to make conjectures and guesses about this. Luke tells us, “they spoke of His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” They knew the meaning of that death. They knew how much depended on it. Therefore they “talked” about it.

It is a grave mistake to suppose that holy men and women under the Old Testament knew nothing about the sacrifice which Christ was to offer up for the sin of the word. Their light, no doubt, was far less clear than ours. They saw things afar off and indistinctly, which we see, as it were, close at hand. But there is not the slightest proof that any Old Testament saint ever looked to any other satisfaction for sin, but that which God promised to make by sending Messiah. From Abel downwards the whole company of old believers appear to have been ever resting on a promised sacrifice, and a blood of almighty efficacy yet to be revealed. From the beginning of the world there has never been but one foundation of hope and peace for sinners–the death of an Almighty Mediator between God and man. That foundation is the center truth of all revealed religion. It was the subject of which Moses and Elijah were seen speaking when they appeared in glory. They spoke of the atoning death of Christ.

Let us take heed that this death of Christ is the ground of all our confidence. Nothing else will give us comfort in the hour of death and the day of judgment. Our own works are all defective and imperfect. Our sins are more in number than the hairs of our heads. (Psalm 40:12.) Christ dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification, must be our only plea, if we wish to be saved. Happy is that man who has learned to cease from his own works, and to glory in nothing but the cross of Christ! If saints in glory see in Christ’s death so much beauty, that they must needs talk of it, how much more ought sinners on earth!

In the last place, the passage shows us the immense distance between Christ and all other teachers whom God has given to man. We are told that when Peter, “not knowing what he said,” proposed to make three tabernacles on the mount, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, as if all three deserved equal honor, this proposal was at once rebuked in a remarkable way–“There came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, hear Him.” That voice was the voice of God the Father, conveying both reproof and instruction. That voice proclaimed to Peter’s ear that however great Moses and Elijah might be, there stood One before him far greater than they. They were but servants; He was the King’s Son. They were but stars; He was the Sun. They were but witnesses; He was the Truth.

Forever let that solemn word of the Father ring in our ears, and give the key-note to our religion. Let us honor ministers for their Master’s sake. Let us follow them so long as they follow Christ. But let it be our principal aim to hear Christ’s voice, and follow Him wherever He goes. Let some talk, if they will, of the voice of the Church. Let others be content to say, “I hear this preacher, or that clergyman.” Let us never be satisfied unless the Spirit witnesses within us that we hear Christ Himself, and are His disciples.

Source

Categories: Gospel, Jesus the Messiah Tags:

Philpot devotional – Romans 6:17

March 9, 2011 Comments off

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Romans 6:17

What reason have we to bless God that he so instructed his Apostle to set forth how a sinner is justified! For how could we have attained to the knowledge of this mystery without divine revelation? How could we know in what way God could be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly? How could we see all the perfections of God harmonizing in the Person and work of Jesus, his law maintained in all its rigid purity and strictest justice, and yet mercy, grace, and love to have full play in a sinner’s salvation?

But the Spirit of God led Paul deeply into this blessed subject; and especially in the Epistle to the Romans does he trace out this grand foundation truth with such clearness, weight, and power, that the Church of God can never be sufficiently thankful for this portion of divine revelation. His grand object is, to shew how God justifies the ungodly by the blood and obedience of his dear Son; so that “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” He declares that “the righteousness of God is unto and upon all them that believe;” and that “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” he pardons the sinner, justifies the ungodly, and views him as righteous in the Son of his love. In opening up this subject, the Apostle (Romans 5) traces up this justification to the union of the Church with her covenant Head; shews us her standing in Christ as well as in Adam; and that all the miseries which she derives from her standing in the latter are overbalanced by the mercies that flow from her standing in the former; winding up with that heart-reviving truth, that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life.”

This then is a “form of doctrine,” or mould of teaching, into which the soul is delivered when it is brought into a heart-felt reception of, and a feeling acquaintance with it; and by being led more or less into the experimental enjoyment of it, is favoured with a solemn acquiescence in, and a filial submission to it, as all its salvation and all its desire. And as the mould impresses its image upon the moist plaster or melted metal poured into it, so the heart, softened and melted by the blessed Spirit’s teaching, receives the impress of this glorious truth with filial confidence, feels its sweetness and power, and is filled with a holy admiration of it as the only way in which God can justify an ungodly wretch, not only without sacrificing any one attribute of his holy character, but rather magnifying thereby the purity of his nature, and the demands of his unbending justice.

JC PHILPOT – 1802-1869


Matt 13:11 – John Gill

January 20, 2011 Comments off

Mat 13:11  He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

He answered, and said unto them,….

Christ was always ready to give an answer to his inquiring disciples, concerning his ministry, and his conduct in it; which shows great respect to them, and condescension in him:

because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven:

by the “kingdom of heaven”, is meant the Gospel, which treats of the kingdom of heaven, and of things pertaining to it; of the saints’ meetness for it, which is the regenerating and sanctifying grace of the Spirit; and of their right to it, which lies in the justifying righteousness of Christ. The “mysteries” of it intend the sublime doctrines thereof; such as relate to the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, to the incarnation of Christ, and the union of the two natures, human and divine, in him, eternal predestination, redemption by Christ, satisfaction by his sacrifice, justification by his righteousness, and pardon through his blood, the resurrection from the dead, &c. things, though clearly revealed, yet may have difficulties attending them, and which are not very easily solved: now to know and understand the great truths of the Gospel, spiritually, savingly, and experimentally, is not from nature, or to be acquired by men’s industry, but is the gift of God’s grace, flowing from his sovereign will and pleasure; a favour which the disciples of Christ, as a chosen people, receive from the Lord, and which is denied others:

but to them it is not given;

to the wise and prudent, to the Scribes and Pharisees, to the multitude, to the bulk and generality of the people, to the rest that were blinded. Mark calls them “them that are without”; who are not in the number of God’s elect; nor within the covenant of grace, nor among the disciples of Christ; referring to a common way of speaking among the Jews, who used to call the Gentiles, all without their land, “they that are without”; and indeed all within themselves that despised the rules and judgment of the wise men (i): but Christ here calls the wise men themselves such. Now our Lord, who was privy to the secret and sovereign dispensation of God, who, of his own will and pleasure, had determined to give a spiritual and saving knowledge of divine things to some, and deny it to others, made this the rule of his conduct in his ministry; that is to say, he preached in parables to some without an explication, whilst he spoke plainly to others; and, if in parables, yet gave them an interpretation, and an understanding of them.

True grace may ebb and flow, but never die – Joseph Caryl

July 18, 2010 Comments off

Job’s complaint ended in the former chapter: in this a hot dispute began. Job having cursed his day, as was indeed a wounding, such as almost at every word, drew blood; and was not only a rod upon his back, but a sword at his heart. Job was wounded first by Satan, he was wounded a second time by his wife, a third time he was wounded (not as it is spoken in the prophet, “in the house of friends, but) in his own house by his friends. these last wounds are judged by all good physicians, in soul afflictions) his deepest and sorest wounds.

Everyone who faileth or declineth or falleth off from what formerly was,or held forth, is therefore an hypocrite or hat his graces are false, and but pretences; there may be many declining’s and failings, many breaches and backsliding’s, and yet the spirit upright. Indeed, falling away and quite falling off, are an argument of insincerity and hypocrisie.; for true grace is everlasting grace, true holiness, endures forever. Therefore we are here to consider whence these failing were occasionined in Job, and how a failing maybe exprest, and continue so, as to conclude insincerity or hypocrisy.

First, it was from a sudden perturbation, not for a settled resolution. Job was not resolvedly thus impatient and unruly: an unexpected storm hurried his spirit so violently, that he was not master of his own actions; Job had not his affections at command, they got the bridle (as it were) on their necks, and away they carried him with such force, that he was not able to stop or stay them.

Secondly, it came from the smart and sense of pain in his flesh, not for the perverseness of his spirit. If the taint had been in his spirit, then Eliphaz, had a ground, a certain ground to have argued thus against him.

Thirdly, Job’s graces were hid and obscured, they were not lose or dead; the acts were suspended, the habits were not removed; when grace which hath been shewed, is quite lost, that grace was nothing but a shew of grace, painted fear, and painted confidence; but in Job’s case there was only a hiding of his graces or a vail cast over them.

Last we must not say, he falls from grace who falleth into sin; nor must it be concluded that he hath no grace who falls into a great sin: it follows not, that grace is false or none, because it doth not work like itself, or because it doth not sometimes work at all. True grace works not always uniformly; though it be always the same in itself, yet is is not always the same in its effects; true grace is always alive, yet it doth not always act, it retains life when motion is undiscerned Wherefore they who not work like themselves, or do not work at all (for a time) in gracious ways, are not to be concluded as having no grace, or nothing but a shew of grace.

Vol 2 Chaptaer 1

Recovering experimental religion

March 21, 2010 Comments off

Sherman Isbell

Experimental religion, which once was a vital part of the Reformed tradition of preaching and spirituality, has in a large measure been lost sight of in our day. Even use of the term experimental in connection with religion is no longer customary, it being more commonly associated with the natural sciences, where a method of probing and investigation leads to an understanding of reality. The older Reformed writers used the word to indicate that we not only read and confess what Scripture teaches, but also are enabled by the Holy Spirit in our own experience to prove and enter into those truths. The propositions of Scripture are true regardless of our experience of them. But in those who belong to Christ, there is a work of the Holy Spirit to persuade them of those truths, so that they taste and feel the power of them in their own souls. To tremble when we discern our guilt before God, and to be driven to seek covering in the blood of Christ, is to gain an experimental knowledge of realities revealed in Scripture. Such experiences are not like the groping of the heathen, who reflect on the mystery of their own hearts, trying to understand themselves, and pondering what God might be like and how he might relate to the world. Experimental religion in the Reformed tradition entails an experience which arises from being confronted with the testimony of Scripture, and in which the prime mover is God the Holy Spirit, driving home to heart and conscience the truths of the Word of God.

John Elias, preaching in Wales in the early nineteenth century, describes such experiences of biblical truth: “To have an experimental knowledge of something means to try it, to possess it, and to enjoy it ourselves. You must not merely read or hear about it. . . . You may read many a sweet chapter about Christ, and no doubt you have heard many a faithful sermon about Him, and yet, you may be without a saving knowledge of Christ. But an experimental knowledge of Him is to prove, see, and feel what you have read and heard about Him.” 1

Anthony Burgess, a member of the Westminster Assembly, speaks of the knowledge that a man may acquire about foreign countries by looking at a map. But map knowledge cannot compare with actually going to the country, climbing its mountains, swimming in its rivers, and walking the streets of its towns. “Or as the Queen of Sheba, who had heard rumors of Solomon’s wisdom, when she came to have an experimental knowledge of it, then she was astonished, and said, All that she had heard was nothing to that which she saw. . . .But how is it to be feared, that many have seen godliness but in the map only, they never had experience of the thing itself. How many are there that talk of conversion or repentance, as men do of bringing forth a child, who never had the experience of the throbs and pains that then are endured. Paul, what a long time did he live in a road of religious duties, but when he came to have an experimental work upon him, he died, whereas he was alive before, that is, he became sensible of the damnable and dangerous estate he was in, whereas he had great confidence of his good life and salvation before. And thus it is with every man that hath gotten experimental knowledge; alas (saith he) I was alive once, I thought myself somebody, when I could pray, write sermons, dispute so understandingly, but now I see I did not know what that faith was, or godliness was, that I did argue so much about, I never knew anything of God, or of his gracious works till now, will that soul say.” 2

There is a memorable passage in which J.C. Ryle presses on his readers the distance between belief that there is forgiveness and the believing reception of that forgiveness. “You believe perhaps, there is forgiveness of sins. You believe that Christ died for sinners, and that he offers a pardon to the most ungodly. But are you forgiven yourself ? . . . What does it avail the sick man that the doctor offers him a medicine, if he only looks at it, and does not swallow it down? Except you lay hold for your own soul, you will be as surely lost as if there was no forgiveness at all. . . . There must be actual business between you and Christ.” 3

Therefore we preach not only what Christ once did in his death and resurrection to accomplish our redemption, namely what he did outside of us, but also how Christ now works within our hearts by his Holy Spirit to apply that redemption. The Spirit brings us to appreciate Christ as the pearl of great price. He puts down the opposition of our hearts and carries us forward in repentance. In the resulting conflict, struggle and upheaval in our experience, the Spirit progressively conforms us to Christ. All of this touches the realm of our conscience, our desires and choices, our affections, joys and sorrows, and things felt and experientially known.

Thus I take a close look at myself, observing whether the truths revealed in Scripture concerning God’s holiness and his just displeasure against sin have elicited a response from me. I consider the overwhelming generosity and mercy of God in the gospel provision for the ungodly, and I ask myself, What constraint do I feel from such kindness, by which God is wooing me in the gospel? Is there discernible in my life and thought that spirituality, repentance and love which Scripture indicates will be found in a true child of God?

A prominent aspect of Christ’s ministry was that he aroused his hearers to go beyond a shallow consideration of his kingdom, challenging wouldbe disciples as to their readiness to accept what was entailed in following him, and probing whether their hearts were truly alienated from the world (Matthew 7:21–23, Mark 10:17–22, Luke 9:57–62 and 14:25–33).

To examine ourselves as to whether we actually belong to Christ may be painful, and it may lead us to the discovery that we do not manifest the characteristics present in one who is savingly united to Christ, but ultimately it can also produce the deep comfort of a well-grounded assurance of our salvation. Under the thrust and shove of the probing questions and confrontational rebukes found in Scripture, we are brought to a place where we feel compelled to resolve the question, Are my faith and life true to what Scripture says will be found in a child of God? Scripture pointedly calls us to practice such self-examination, and provides us with the criteria for carrying it out. The people of God should welcome preaching that sets forth the biblical marks of grace in the life of a believer, indicating traits of character which are found only in the regenerate and which therefore are sound evidence of conversion, and distinguishing these from traits which may appear in the regenerate and unregenerate alike, and therefore provide no basis for assessing whether one has come to Christ. One objective in such preaching is to undeceive persons who are indulging a misguided hope.

Such preaching and self-examination were prominent aspects of the pastoral ministries for which the commissioners to the Westminster Assembly were renown. But appreciation for experimental religion has become increasingly rare in Presbyterian churches that honor the theological statements and the directories of worship and preaching produced by the Assembly. There are undoubtedly a number of influences that have brought this about, but one notable cause has been a movement candidly known among its advocates as Neo-Calvinism, that is, Calvinism in a somewhat altered form, with new answers to some significant questions. One point at issue touches upon the definition of conversion. To understand accurately what it is to be converted is a very consequential matter. Indeed, the modification introduced in this area has altered the kind of preaching heard in the churches, the spiritual meditation practiced by church members, and how Christian parents conceive of the religious guidance they are to give to their children.

Neo-Calvinism has presented a more externalized definition of conversion, viewing it more in terms of what we confess, our adherence to Christian doctrine and world view, and our having a place in the church and in a Christian family. The older Calvinism warned that many, despite maintaining a public attachment to doctrinal affirmations of the faith, may never have been delivered from spiritual death, that youth growing up in a Christian setting are often still alienated in heart from God, and that a saving faith will be accompanied by experience of one’s need for Christ and of the power of the gospel.

The Neo-Calvinistic movement was a response to the increasing secularization of modern society, which has dismissed the concept of an authoritative and inerrant revelation from God given in human language.

Secular man has set out to identify a new mission for human society, without reference to traditional Christian doctrine. The power of this secularizing flood is intimidating. We may well appreciate the sense of crisis which prompted the retort given by Neo-Calvinism when secularization was making rapid progress in Europe a century and a half ago.

The mentor of Neo-Calvinism was a Dutch historian and politician, Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, who was born in 1801. He authored an influential book analyzing the political revolutions spreading across Europe, and sought to demonstrate that this agitation was grounded in a spiritually infidel philosophy. His assessment gave rise in the Netherlands to a new political party, which offered resistance to many of the fruits of secularization. The best-known of his disciples was the theologian and politician, Abraham Kuyper, who led this political party, and was prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905.

From a classical Reformed perspective, it is certainly appropriate to oppose secularism. But the strategy adopted by Neo-Calvinism in this conflict entailed a major shift in thinking about conversion, which came to be confused with taking the side of Christian doctrine in the culture wars, as if this were a sufficient indication of whether one has a new heart.

In failing to maintain the distinction drawn by Calvin and the Puritans between the mere espousal of biblical doctrine and an experimental knowledge of those realities, Neo-Calvinism diluted the spirituality of the churches. Endeavoring to confront external foes, Neo-Calvinists employed a method which led to the inward weakening of the Lord’s house.

We would begin by noting a point of agreement between Neo-Calvinism and the older Calvinism. The two concur in observing that no one is without a spiritual allegiance. One either has a heart renewed by grace, or one is still dead in trespasses and sins. Moreover, between these two kinds of people, regenerate and unregenerate, there exists a spiritual opposition, antipathy or antithesis in reference to the things of God. Thus far we have sound Reformed doctrine.

Where the Neo-Calvinist model became problematic is in its assumption that this antipathy or antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate will be visible in whether or not one adheres to a Christian world view. In the older Calvinism, it was a commonplace that there are multitudes who profess the doctrines of the Bible and traditional Christian values, but who still have not been brought from death to life, and that large numbers in the churches do not have a heart antithesis to the world.4 It is one thing to profess that we are on the Lord’s side with respect to the world view we espouse, but it is something else altogether to experience a crucifixion to the world and to its lusts when God renews the heart.

The older perspective held that a nation should be organized on the basis of a collective acknowledgement of the truth of the Christian religion. The entire population would espouse the world view taught in Scripture. Civil laws would be framed in conformity to biblical standards of morality. Society would be unified and homogeneous, and the political constitution would embrace a Christian foundation for the social order. Thus the Reformers spoke of both the first and second uses of the law of God. The first use of the law is in the preaching of the law from the pulpit, which serves to expose our sin and show us our need of Christ as the Savior. The second use of the law is in the civil order embodying biblical standards of morality in public codes of conduct, so that the citizenry are directed into at least an outward conformity to the moral law, thus restraining the worst displays of depravity, and reminding the population that they will answer both to human and divine authority for their conduct.

But though the older Calvinism understood that the moral law is to have a formative role for society, there was no illusion about the spiritually-mixed character of the population in an avowedly Christian society. It was recognized that despite the virtually universal acceptance of a biblical world view in such settings, there would still be at work a radical antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate. This was the social order within which the Reformers and Puritans carried out their ministries. They knew full well that masses of people in these outwardly homogeneous societies had not experienced the new birth, or come to personal contrition for sin or fled to the Savior for deliverance.

The Reformers neither identified the kingdom of God with the social structures of this present age, nor did they regard a man’s adherence to the Christian world view as implying that he has a regenerate heart. Neo-Calvinism’s approach to resisting the fruits of secularization was coupled with a large adjustment in thinking about how a Christian relates to the social order. It arose in the environment of modern pluralism, which looks for a strenuous competition of ideologies in the public marketplace of ideas. Neo-Calvinism adapted to this new playing field by advocating that Christians form their own social institutions in order to counter those which promote a secularist outlook. Christians were to develop political parties, labor unions, and schools, each of these being selfconsciously based on the principles of a biblical world view. At a moment in history when western societies are professedly framed to tolerate a multiplicity of world views, one might conclude that Neo-Calvinism had little alternative regarding how a biblical world view might be asserted in such a setting. However, the response of Neo-Calvinism was not altogether innocent, in part because Neo-Calvinism introduced the assumption that participation in these distinctively Christian institutions was a manifestation of the antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate. This is to confuse a participant’s adherence to the Christian world view with his having a regenerate heart.

This error has even more serious implications when it is brought to bear on the life and practice of  the church. Kuyper regarded those in the congregation, including the children, as being in a state of grace from their birth. The church, therefore, is not a place where people are being brought to salvation. The congregation need not be warned to flee from the wrath to come. This removes a primary reason for preaching the gospel of justification in the congregation. The call of the gospel is to be directed rather to those who are not in the church. According to this model, what the church should seek among those in its care is not their conversion to new life in Christ, but their nurture in the eternal life which they are presumed to possess already. Unless and until children of the church give clear indication of repudiating the covenant, their parents and the church were to proceed on the supposition that the children are regenerate.

However, the biblical method of bringing sinners to Christ is to confront them with the law and the gospel, and with the call to faith and repentance. In this respect, children are no different from adults.

Evidence of a work of saving grace will be given in a child’s response to law and gospel. Inasmuch as the sign of the covenant in baptism functions as an offer of mercy extended with particular reference to each child of a believer, and without regard to the status of the child as either elect or reprobate, the basis for concluding that such a child has passed from death to life is found in his answer to this call. Though the child might manifest doctrinal orthodoxy and a moral demeanor, he is to be taught the discipline of self-examination, so that he may discern in himself the marks indicative of a heart renewed by grace.

Archibald Alexander cautions that, “Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul at any period of its existence in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood. Most persons with whom we have been acquainted grew up without giving  any decisive evidence of a change of heart. Though religiously educated, yet they have evinced a want of love to God, and an aversion to spiritual things.” 5 The call to faith and repentance should be addressed to children in the church, in recognition that, though we do not know whether a young child is regenerate, we dare not withhold from him those means which God ordinarily employs for bringing sinners to himself. “The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured. These are Christ’s lambs—‘little ones, who believe in him’—whom none should offend or mislead upon the peril of a terrible punishment. But though the religious education of children should proceed on the ground that they are destitute of grace, it ought ever to be used as a means of grace. Every lesson, therefore, should be accompanied with the lifting up of the heart of the instructor to God for a blessing on the means.” 6

At whatever age an individual is regenerated, his experience of conscious trust in Christ will not be without conviction of his guilt and wickedness, which drives him to forsake self-reliance and to rest in Christ alone for salvation. His faith will be a faith which appreciates the need for justification.

A century ago, the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck had opportunity to observe the effect of Neo-Calvinism on the religious life of his country. Bavinck came from churches in which experimental religion had been cherished, but which had come under a new influence when they merged with churches guided by the perspective of Kuyper. Bavinck commented on what followed, in his introduction to a reprint of the highly experimental sermons by the Scottish Presbyterians Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine: “Here we have an important element which is largely lacking among us. We miss this spiritual soul-knowledge. It seems we no longer know what sin and grace, guilt and forgiveness,

regeneration and conversion are. We know these things in theory, but we no longer know them in the awful reality of life.” 7 What Bavinck had witnessed was the widespread absence in his generation of anything like the experience which led Luther to cry out to God for mercy, in concern about sin and guilt. One still found justification, faith and repentance confessed as valid doctrine, but it was no longer expected that they would be reflected in the experiences of the soul in seeking God. The theoretical knowledge of Reformed doctrine had come to be separated from a sense of personal need for salvation.

There was a second error of similar magnitude. The aggressive pursuit of a social and cultural agenda in the service of God came to be seen as a basic objective of man’s life, with the Christian called to redeem society and culture from the influence of unbelieving principles. Neo-Calvinists were intent upon advancing a cultural program which would stand in contrast to that of opposing world views, and which would increasingly bring to light the underlying antipathy or antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate. It came to be suggested that the foundational character of man’s involvement with culture may be seen in a mandate given to him at creation.

This development has a background in the personal history of Kuyper, the principal figure in the emergence of Neo-Calvinism. A mark had been left on him by the university training he received at the hands of a sophisticated exponent of modern philosophy. Kuyper then entered the ministry, and it was only after he was settled as a pastor that he came to saving faith, in part through the influence of parishioners who had discerned that their minister was not converted. These humble folk avoided many of the interests of the culturally sophisticated, but Kuyper was of the view that there was no need for believers to hold aloof from cultural pursuits. He was convinced that their perspective would be enhanced if they came to appreciate how a Christian could make application of biblical principles in the realm of culture.

But such was the impetus which Neo-Calvinism gave to cultural activity, that there has been a striking alteration in the message heard from the pulpit. Preaching about the necessity of the new birth, about  the call to faith and repentance, about the justification of the ungodly, and about the pursuit of personal sanctification, was in a measure displaced by preaching which assumes that the congregation is already regenerate, and that the need of the congregation is to be nurtured in the Christian’s mission to transform society and culture. What criticism should be made of the Neo-Calvinist claim that the development of culture is a primary task in the service of God? There is something appealing in Kuyper’s proclamation that there is not a thumb’s breath in all of life but Christ will have it as his. There should be no disagreement that in every aspect of life we should think and act from the perspective of God’s revealed truth. Our intellectual, social and cultural life must be in conformity with and obedient to Scripture. Moreover, our faithfulness to the Word of God in these matters will have a powerful effect on others. A society shaped by a biblical perspective on social and cultural issues is a mighty instrument for restraining sin, for guiding the young into wise patterns of conduct, and for commending biblical faith to those who are blessed to live under such outward influences.

The first point of criticism of the cultural mandate regards the displacement of religion’s primacy in man’s life. Here is a significant departure from the classical Reformed tradition, which regarded all matters of this present life as subservient to the interests of religion, so that all institutions are to join together in furthering religion as that which is of ultimate significance for man’s life. For this reason, promotion of the true religion was the goal not only of the church, but also of the civil order. The Reformers understood man’s highest service, greatest access to God, and chief means of furthering the glory of God, to be through religion and worship. The direction of Kuyper’s thought is indicated by his rejection of the concept of an established religion.

It should be evident that to view the goal of man’s life largely in terms of a social and cultural agenda is not in accord with the Bible. Culture and society do not hold any such preeminence in the narrative and doctrine of Scripture. Of course much is said in Scripture about family life, public justice, and other forms of social involvement, but they are in no way primary in the message of Scripture. This disproportion between social concern and religious concern has contributed significantly to the decline of experimental religion, and directed the thoughts of Christians away from what the original Reformed tradition considered to be most vital for the life of the church, for spiritual stability, and for living to the glory of God.

What then is the origin of Neo-Calvinism’s dominant interest in cultural progress? The answer, we believe, is that it took over this interest from an aggressive secularism. Though Neo-Calvinism sets out zealously to resist secularism, there is a foundational matter regarding which it has retreated in the face of Enlightenment philosophy, because Neo-Calvinism has effectively abandoned the primacy of religion as the goal of man’s life. In doing this, Neo-Calvinism has capitulated to secularism’s choice of the field on which the contest between Christianity and secularism will be fought. As the parties contended over which world view should guide the development of culture, they concurred that the goal of man’s life should not be viewed in terms of religion. This removal of religion as primary in man’s life and in society is an abandonment of what is theologically indispensable to Christianity’s strategic position.

Inasmuch as man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, his proper orientation to God is not so indirect that man may give himself fundamentally to the affairs of this life, albeit with the plea that it is done in the name of God. The goal of his life is found in God, and not in this creation. Only religious worship and the communion of the soul with God can give the access and intimacy of relationship to God which answers to what is ultimate for man.

A second point of criticism against Neo-Calvinism’s concept of a cultural mandate respects its exegesis of Genesis 1:28. It is claimed that language about man’s dominion implies a mandate for developing the hidden potential of creation. Though the reference to multiplying may be taken as indicating the increase of families, the reference to filling the earth and subduing it as the extension of human habitation across the earth and the tilling of the soil, and the reference to exercising dominion over the animals as implying herding and shepherding, Kuyper appealed to the text as inclusive of every dimension of man’s social and cultural life. The verse has been made one of the most important in the Bible, a foundation for identifying man’s calling throughout history, and perhaps beyond. One suspects that some texts are asked to support more weight than they were ever intended to carry, and when that happens one feels that presuppositions are being brought from elsewhere and forced onto a text rather than arising from it. Indeed, Calvin seems to be quite unaware that the passage would be viewed as a key to man’s mission in life. Instead, the Reformer reads the text as a simple blessing from God, in which attention is drawn to the riches of God’s provision for mankind, to whom he gives abundance of food, and allows geographical space into which the race could expand as its numbers increased.

A third criticism of the cultural mandate is that Neo-Calvinism’s strong orientation to this present world misses the pilgrim character of the believer. Calvin and the Puritans were deeply interested in what the Bible teaches about family life, civil government, and godly relationships throughout society. But their understanding of what these relationships implied for the Christian’s relationship to this world was quite different from that of Neo-Calvinism. The older view was given classic expression in Augustine’s The City of God , which is an extended reflection on the decline of the Roman world, and the place of the kingdom of God in this present age.

Augustine discerned two societies to which men belong, which he called cities. The city of God, composed of the holy angels and God’s redeemed, is in heaven. Some, who by grace have become its citizens, are pilgrims on this earth while still on their way to the heavenly city. These pilgrims are like the Jews exiled in Babylon, longing to be united with their home elsewhere. This is the outlook adopted by Calvin: “For, if heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but our place of exile?” 8 Augustine understood that the city of God was not the same as the Christian church, because only some members of the church are pilgrims traveling to the heavenly city. The other city, which Augustine calls the earthly city, is composed of those men and angels who in heart are the enemies of God. The men of this city are dominated by the angels who turned away from God and became devils. Whereas the citizens of the city of God are characterized by love to God, the earthly city is driven by selfish love. The earthly city is the city into which we all are born, though by grace we can become citizens of the heavenly. And yet, though the pilgrim is sighing for a distant country, he does not flee from the life around him, being aware that his present life is inextricably bound up with the lives of others around him in this place away from his home. He currently has business in this world. He can value virtues such as patriotism, friendship, marital fidelity, responsible parenthood, and a degree of justice administered by civil rulers, all of which are common to citizens of the two cities. But the pilgrim recognizes that these virtues are not good in an absolute sense, because they are defiled by an unbelief and human pride which turn away from the Creator and use created things without gratitude to God as our benefactor. And so the division between the two cities remains, despite the necessity and advantage of sharing the present life.

Here is a model which expresses the ambivalence found in Scripture about the believer’s place in the world. There are those within the church who are not citizens of the heavenly city, so that espousing a set of doctrines does not indicate where the ultimate division is to be found. Further, citizens of both cities are involved in the discharge of responsibilities which pertain to this present life. Social institutions are useful for restraining evil and giving outward enforcement of biblical morality, but their administration of justice will often miscarry, and they fall far short of the righteousness of God’s heavenly kingdom. The social structures of the present life, though they are under obligation to promote the true religion, never represent the coming of the kingdom of God. Accordingly, Augustine does not have a high expectation for them, and finds their value relativized in the perspective of eternity.

Neo-Calvinists have a number of names for this point of view. They call it dualism, Manichaeism, pietism, and world flight. Rarely do they call it Augustinian or Calvinistic, though it is certainly the view with the longest pedigree in the Reformed tradition. The larger question remains, Is it biblical? In such passages of Scripture as Hebrews 11:8–16 and 13:10–14, and 1 Corinthians 7:29–31, the believer’s situation is certainly regarded as that of a detached pilgrim journeying to his true home, though having responsibilities here for the present. The goal of his life is found in what transcends this creation.

Neo-Calvinism and the classical Reformed tradition represent two discrete concepts of the Christian’s relationship to this world, and historically one of them has not been congenial to experimental religion.

Though there sometimes have been and will be attempts to form a hybrid of the two traditions, the leaven of the new perspective will eventually militate against experimental spirituality.

Notes

1 John Elias, The Experimental Knowledge of Christ and additional sermons of John Elias (1774–1841) (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 27.

2 Anthony Burgess, Spiritual Refining: or a Treatise of Grace and Assurance (London: A. Miller for Thomas Underhill, 1652), 5.

3 John Charles Ryle, Old Paths, being plain statements on some of the weightier matters of Christianity (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1977), 204–205.

4 Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Orlando: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 279.

5 Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 13-14.

6 Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, 13.

7 C. Pronk, Neo-Calvinism (Millgrove: Free Reformed Student Society, 1994), 15.

8 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), III.viii.4, 716.

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