John Owen on Definite Atonement

In preparation for tonight’s lesson at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, I’m enjoying the clarity of the great Puritan, John Owen, whose work The Death of Death in the Death of Christ remains THE master work on the doctrine of definite atonement.  Consider Owen’s summary of the alternative interpretations of the death of Christ and their implications:

“The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:

1.            All the sins of all men.

2.            All the sins of some men; or

3.            Some of the sins of all men.

“In which case it may be said:

a.            That if the last [i.e. some sins of all men] be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved.

b.            That if the second [i.e. all the sins of some men], then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.

c.            But if the first [i.e. all the sins of all men] be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?

“You answer, ‘Because of unbelief.’  I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not?  If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not.  If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died?  If He did not, He did not die for all their sins.”

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Unhindered: Praying Through the Book of Acts to the Christ who Acts

The following is the text of the last sermon I prayed from the book of Acts.  That’s right:  prayed.  I wrote and “preached” the sermon as a prayer which I prayed that Sunday, working through each of the book’s 28 chapters.

Lord Jesus, You are known, loved, and revered by many names in the Book of Acts:  Son of Man, Son of God, Seed of David, the Nazarene, Holy and Righteous One, Prince of Life, Prophet, the Cornerstone, Lord, the Christ, judge of the living and the dead, and Savior.

My heart overflows with a good theme, the best of all themes, and as we reach now the end of our study of the Book of Acts, we address our verses to You, our matchless King and Master.  For of all the blessings You have bestowed on us, Your bride at Immanuel, through this Book of Acts, the highest, the richest, and the fullest, of those blessings has been Your own, week-by-week verse-by-verse, Self-disclosure to us:  You, the Prince of Life and unhindered King of the Nations, the Alpha and Omega of the Book of Acts, have made Your face to shine upon us!

In Chapter 1, You are the Lord, risen from His sufferings, resolved to take possession of His inheritance from among the nations, whose achievements will transform the entire earth into a holy temple, whose plan and command is to build His Church with His Church, and who must first ascend to the Father’s right hand in order to descend once again at the Father’s pleasure and in the Father’s timing.  We praise You, Lord Christ; grant that we—Your people at IPC—would obediently take this mission as our own.

In Chapter 2, though You are the One “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, and though you were nailed to a Cross by the hands of godless men (2:23), You were unhindered by these evils from fulfilling Your promise, for it was impossible for death to hold You in its power (2:24).  And having entered the Father’s presence in triumph, crowned as Lord and Christ (2:36), Your coronation gift to the world was to pour out the Holy Spirit, proving that “the great and glorious day of the Lord” had come because You had brought it through Your obedient life, crucifixion, and resurrection, and inaugurating the age of amnesty, open until the Day of Your return, in which “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (2:21).  We praise You, Lord Christ.  Grant that we would increasingly trust You to build Your Church with & by the community filled with and sustained by Your Holy Spirit, through means that seem so ordinary to us, but through which You have ordained to release the powers of the age to come:  the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (2:42).

In Chapter 3, exalted as the highest of men at the Father’s right hand, You prove that Your eye is always upon the lowest of men, when you send Your Apostles to heal the man lame since birth.  Though his physical healing is dramatic, You instruct us there to seek what matters most:  that, in this age of mercy, the greatest of all signs and wonders is the healing of the heart, the reconciliation of a sinner to God.  Grant that the Gospel of Your free grace will always be our hearts’ highest definition of prosperity and health.

In Chapter 4, Yours is the only Name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (4:11).  Prince of Life, we praise You, for we know that this unyielding and exclusive honor is rightfully Yours because there never has been, nor will there ever be, anyone else under heaven whose worth and work compare to Yours.  Grant that we would have the same jealousy for Your honor as Your Apostles did, and so speak Your Word with boldness (4:31).

In Chapter 5, You are the fearsome and unhindered guardian of holiness inside Your Church.  Holy and Righteous One, we praise You for Your purity and confess that we are afflicted with a casual attitude toward holiness inside Your Church.  We ask that You would cause us to increase in a holy trembling in all our dealings with Your Bride, a trembling that is the fruit of Your Gospel, which has been given to redeem us from every lawless deed.

In Chapter 6, You provide for Your bride by appointing offices for ministry designed to depict Your own ministry in and for the Church.  Great Prophet of God, we praise You that You are the greatest and most faithful Elder over Your flock, guarding, leading, feeding, and interceding for the Church.  Son of Man, we thank You that You are the greatest and most faithful Deacon serving the Church:  who did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.

In Chapter 7, You are boldly commended by Your servant Stephen as the Righteous One (7:52), the heart and long-expected Champion of Israel’s history, and as he sees you truly in this history, You permit him to see Your glory in the heavens.

Lord Jesus Christ, we praise You for Your identity as Israel’s truest Prophet, her most sympathetic & faithful Priest, and her mightiest King.  Grant that we, Your flock at IPC, would love Your glory even as our brother Stephen did.

In Chapter 8, You display Your unhindered rule over all history by taking what men mean for the worst against You and Your Church, and turning it to the advancement of Your Kingdom, as You use the outbreak of persecution against the Church in Jerusalem to bring the light & liberation of Your Gospel, first to Samaria and then even to Africa through the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.  We praise You, Lord, that You prove throughout Acts that You are able to build Your Church in the midst of the darkest of storms.  Grant that we would trust You to continue to do so in our own day.

In Chapter 9, Your grace transforms the most vicious wolf, first into a sheep, and then into a shepherd.  We thank You for two unfathomably rich lessons displayed in Saul’s conversion:  (1)  First, Your identification with the sufferings of Your bride, taking a personal interest in her persecution; and (2) Second, Your identification with the worst of sinners.  Grant that our grasp of these truths, anchored in Your Cross, would continue to deepen and bear more fruit in our lives.

In Chapters 10 and 11, You keep Your promise by sending the Gospel and the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles: first, to Cornelius and his friends in Caesarea, and then later in the church in Antioch.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for teaching us in these chapters both what the Gospel is not and what it is.  That it is not:  piety, belief in God, good-works, continual praying or spiritual influence upon others.  But it is: God cleansing what is unholy through the holy work of His holy Son.  Grant that we would never consider unholy what God has cleansed, that we would believe this about others and ourselves.

In Chapter 12, we are confronted by the mystery of Your sovereignty:  in James’ martyrdom, in Peter’s release, and in the death of Herod.  Grant that we would be appropriately humble and hopeful before Your authority and control over all things, even the worst evil of men and the most painful suffering of Your people.

In Chapter 13, You set apart Paul & Barnabas for the 1st missionary journey in fulfillment of Your plan to send Your witnesses to the remotest part of the earth, to fulfill Your own mission as the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:6),  to be “the Light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the end of the earth” (13:47).  We praise You, Lord Christ, Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, could not, and will not overcome it.  Grant that we would increasingly see ourselves as bearers of Your light into the world.

In Chapter 14, You display Your worth through the willing suffering of Your servants, Paul and Barnabas, as they carry Your Gospel to both the Jews in Iconium and the Gentiles in Lystra and Derbe, with the testimony that it is “Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (14:22).  Grant we, Your people at IPC, would rejoice if and when we are considered worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Your Name.

In Chapter 15, You are the Great Teacher of Your Church, as You guide the Jerusalem Council into a deeper and more accurate understanding of Your Gospel.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for the inexhaustible depth of Your Work and its implications, that no matter how long and far we journey with You, we will never graduate from the wonders of the Gospel.  Grant that we would exult in the riches of Your grace, rejoicing that there is no caste system in Your Church, but all who come to You come on an equal footing, as sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone in You alone.

In Chapter 16, You remind us that You have ordained to build Your Church by linking the edification of the saints and the evangelization of the lost (16:5).  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would never separate what You, our God and Savior, have joined together.  In Philippi, we witness the power of Your Gospel:  first, by saving very different kinds of people (the pious Lydia, the demon-possessed slave girl, and the jailer), and then by bringing those people together into Your Church.  Great Savior of Sinners and Builder of Your Church, grant that we would experience Your power to save and join together in DeLand as You demonstrated it in Philippi.

In Chapter 17, You build Your Church through much affliction & conflict in Thessalonica, according to the Scriptures in Berea, and assert Your supreme relevance and authority over the intellectual and idolatrous pride of Athens.  We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for the boundless relevance of Your Gospel depicted in this chapter.  We pray You will give us hearts like Your servant Paul’s, burdened and provoked by compassion for the lost and a jealousy for Your glory so that we would be courageous speakers & sharers of Your Gospel, Your call to all men everywhere to repent, and your identity as the One appointed as the Righteous Judge over all men.

In Chapter 18, You shock us with Your announcement to Paul that “I have many people in this city.”  First, because the city is Corinth, a place of great sin.  Second, because You teach us once again that Your saving grace is sovereign grace, the grace of election.  Third, because not only have You sovereignly ordained the end for Your people (R&Fàsalvation), but the means by which they are saved (“go on speaking”)(18:9).  We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for Your sovereign, invincible grace.  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would move from this foundation with the same confidence into our communities as Paul did into Corinth, that we would not be silent, but go on speaking until Your return.

In Chapter 19, You literally turn the entire culture of Ephesus upside down and inside out with Your Gospel, liberating people from their slavery to the forces of wickedness and darkness, and proving that the longer and more deeply Your Word is sown into the life of a community and its people, the more every facet of that community will be changed forever by the Gospel.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for Your power in Ephesus.  Grant that we too, Your people at IPC, would sow the seed of Your Gospel into our communities with the expectation that You will turn them upside down.

In Chapter 20, You are the Good Shepherd, who purchased the Church at the cost of Your own blood.  We praise You, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, for redeeming us at such tremendous cost.  Grant that we would decreasingly think of ourselves as belonging to ourselves, and increasingly live as those who belong to, and are the rightful property of, Another, even You.

In Chapters 21, 22, and 23, You are the culminating fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, but Israel (largely) doesn’t honor You for it. You are the Messiah and rightful heir to David’s throne, who has been rejected by His own people, the one true Israelite rejected by Israel; but who has not rejected them, who deploys His lead Apostle to witness to Israel’s leaders once again.  Greatest Son of David, we praise You for Your covenant faithfulness to Your people and Your promise from Acts 1:8 to link Jerusalem with the ends of the earth in Your Kingdom by assuring Paul that he will be Your witness in Rome just as he was in Jerusalem (23:11).

In Chapters 24, 25 and 26, You demonstrate yet again the scandalous extravagance of Your grace as You permit Paul to remain in prison in Caesarea for 2 years (!), thereby ensuring repeated access to Your Gospel for Felix (a man of mixed motives, who feigned genuine interest, but loved his sin more than Your grace), Festus (who feigned neutrality), Agrippa, Bernice & Drusilla (the children of Herod Agrippa I, who murdered Your Apostle James [12:2], the grandchildren of Herod Antipas, who murdered Your cousin John the Baptist, and the great grandchildren of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem in order to destroy You!).  We praise You, Lord Christ, that Your grace always proves to be more than sufficient for the worst and darkest of sinners, and that You delight to wield Your strength to save.  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would grow increasingly strong in this same grace.

In Chapter 27, You are the Sovereign over the storm, and remind us that not only Acts, but the entire Bible is a book of storms which serve Your purposes.  We thank You that Your own Cross proves this to us most compellingly, and that because of Your mastery there, we have an unshakable warrant to believe You that it will turn out exactly as we have been told, that You will deliver us from every evil deed and will bring us safely into Your heavenly Kingdom.  We believe, Lord; please help our unbelief.

In Chapter 28, we learn that the very last word Your Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write, the final word of this momentous book, is the Greek word we translate into English as “unhindered.”  And though Luke uses it to describe Your Apostle’s ministry in Rome, it is such a fitting end to Acts because it so accurately describes Your own ministry throughout Acts and throughout history and the world.

Acts is a book shaped and propelled by the truth that You, our Lord, are the unhindered One.  Your advance is unchecked and unstoppable in Acts:  nothing and no one succeeds in slowing down, let alone blocking, Your project of building Your Church.  We see that the agenda unfolded in human history is the agenda of Jesus Christ alone, You to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given.

In Chapter 28, we see that You are the Lord who has kept every single one of His promises, the unhindered Builder of His Church from Jerusalem to Rome, whose building strategy  has not altered even in the imperial capital.  You shower Your saving kindness on the Jews of Rome as well as the 6 Gentile praetorian guards daily chained to Your Apostle in four hour shifts! (vv. 17—20; 23—28; 30—31), as Your witnesses reason and persuade from the Scriptures which testify to You and Your Kingdom (vv. 23, 31).

From the open, unfinished ending of Acts, You also show us that Your work of building Your Church in the world is not yet done, and since Yours is not, ours isn’t either.  We thank You, Lord Jesus, that Your intentions toward the world remain merciful and gracious.  Grant us, Your people at IPC, not only to see the triumphantly unhindered and open door for the Gospel at the end of Acts, but the one that remains open in our own age until the Day of Your Return.  Grant that each of us who name You as Savior and Lord would lay hold of this mission as our own.

For You and Your Gospel will always remain unhindered—from DeLand to the remotest part of the earth.

With praise, thanksgiving, and joy, we pray in Your name, our Master and our God, the name we have called upon in order to be saved, even Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior of sinners.  Amen.

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The New Heaven and Earth Acquired by Christ

I’ve been doing some reading this afternoon in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics and my soul has been fed and replenished.  Here is an excerpt from his section entitled, “The Universal Significance of Particular Atonement,” that I found especially moving in its vision of Christ:

“…as in the old covenant, the tabernacle and all its liturgical implements were sprinkled with blood (Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:21), so Christ by His Cross reconciled all things and acquired a new heaven and a new earth.  The whole creation as one day it will stand perfect–without spot or wrinkle–in God’s presence is the work of Christ, the Lord of lords and the King of kings (Hebrews 12:22-28).”  Reformed Dogmatics 3:473

Amen and amen!

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“I prayed about it.”

This is a helpful, short, and insightful article by Dr. Ed Welch from CCEF on a problem all too commonly encountered in my experience, first with my own heart and also with the hearts of others.

“I prayed about it.” | CCEF.

An Exceeding Great Company

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Some more helpful thoughts from Charles Spurgeon on safeguarding the proper Scriptural balance with respect to the doctrine of definite atonement.  I hope you’re encouraged and edified:

“The Father’s love is not for a few only, but for an exceeding great company.  ‘A great multitude, which no man could number [Revelation 7:9—11],’ will be found in heaven.  A man can reckon up to very high figures; set to work your Newtons, your mightiest calculators, and they can count great numbers, but God and God alone call tell the multitude of His redeemed.  I believe there will be more in heaven than in hell.  If anyone asks me why I think so, I answer, because Christ, in everything is to ‘have the pre-eminence, and I cannot conceive how he could have the pre-eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of satan than in paradise. 

“Moreover, I have never read there is to be in hell a great multitude, which no man could number…Christ shall be Master everywhere, and his praise shall be sounded in every land.  Christ shall have the pre-eminence at last; his train shall be far larger than that which shall attend the chariot of the grim monarch of hell.”  Spurgeon, A Defence of Calvinism (Banner of Truth), 21—22. 

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2 Lines, not 1

“The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the Gospel until he knows how to look at two lines at once.  For instance, I read in one Book of the Bible, ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him that heareth say, Come.  And let him that is athirst come.  And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’  Yet I am taught, in another part of the same inspired Word, that, ‘it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’  I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will.  Now if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once in Antinomianism or fatalism.

That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly.  They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other.  If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.  I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity.  They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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#FromWhereIStand Weeks 3 + 4

Once again, I humbly present to you:  the enjoyable work of my photographically spectacular daughter and fellow Downton Abbey groupie, Lydia Francis…….

#FromWhereIStand Weeks 3 + 4.

“Conscious Justification”: The Power of Assurance

“…conscious justification, such as Luther contended for, shut out priesthood and penance; giving a man the joy of true liberty and divine fellowship at once, without the intervention of another party or the delay of an hour.

This conscious justification started the man upon a happy life, because relieved from the burden of doubt and the gloom of uncertainty;

it made his religion bright and tranquil, because springing so sweetly from the certainty of his reconciliation to God;

it delivered him from the cruel suspense and undefined fears which the want of assurance carries always with it;

it rescued him from all temptations to self-righteousness, because not arising from any good thing in himself; it preserved him from pride and presumption, because it kept him from trying to magnify his own goodness in order to extract assurance out of it;

it drew him away from self to Christ, from what he was doing to what Christ had done; thus making Christ, not self, the basis and the centre of his new being;

it made him more and more dissatisfied with self, and all that self contained, but more and more satisfied with Jesus and His fulness;

it taught him to rest his confidence towards God, not on his satisfaction with self, not on the development of his own holiness, not on the amount of his graces and prayers and doings, but simply on the completed work of Him in whom God is well pleased.”

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, Ch.9

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A Speaker Greater than Heaven and Earth: Mark 13:31

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31).

Here is a Speaker who claims for himself the greatest authority in the universe, and an existence greater than, and independent of, that universe. There are only 2 rational responses to this statement (and this Speaker): either to hate and oppose him as the most dangerously self-deceived megalomaniac in history or to bow before him in worship and allegiance and love as the Lord of history.  To be unmoved (in either direction) is the ultimate irrationality.

 

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A Ladder of Water: the Self-Defeat of Materialism

“Suppose we think of a man made of water in an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of water. Desiring to get out of water, he makes a ladder of water. He sets this ladder upon the water and against the water and then attempts to climb out of the water. So hopeless and senseless a picture must be drawn of the natural man’s methodology based as it is upon the assumption that time or chance is ultimate. On his assumption his own rationality is a product of chance. On his assumption even the laws of logic which he employs are products of chance. The rationality and purpose that he may be searching for are still bound to be products of chance.”

—Cornelius Van Til

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