Category Archives: autobio

A switch flipped over in my head

I notice when I was blogging in 2000, my posts, for all their flaws, were much more personal. I’m afraid controversy has changed my stance. Also, the results of controversy: I was a lot more confident about my personal future and my ability to provide for my own back in 2000. (Some of this confidence was somewhat sinfully naive, I think. But much of what happened was truly unforeseeable.) Optimism produces a different tone.

Anyway, this is kind of a throwback autobiographical emotive thingy.

I’ve always been a six-day creationist, “young” earther–at least since college anyway. I’m convinced 1. the Bible teaches these things and 2. that the Bible is true. Until one of those premisses changes, I remain a young earther.

But I have hated having to argue about it in the unbelieving world. It seems so much easier to start with Jesus and the first century and argue for his resurrection and then from there to the reliability of Scripture (I’m not renouncing presuppositionalism, here, by the way).  So intellectually faithful but emotionally weary or wary, I was. I believed and would assert what the Bible says about chronology, but I wanted to talk about other things.

But something has happened. I don’t know how to explain it other than the analogy of a switch flipping in my head.

Suddenly I think the fact that history has barely begun is an exciting truth that deserves to be trumpeted. The whole world seems tired and depressed right now. Even the people trumpeting Keynsean myths about how the future can be opened up don’t seem to believe what they are saying. (It seems far easier to believe that people hate those who disagree with global warming or evolution or quantitative easing or environmentalism than that they are firmly convinced of the ideas they defend. Am I the only one who detects this?) We’re running out and running down. Austerity is ahead.

But like John Paul Jones, Jesus has not yet begun to fight. History has barely begun. Remembering that the earth has just started, and that Jesus came quite near to the beginning of history rather than waiting a million years, just seems like good new worth sharing.

I think a couple of things have converged to make me more excited about this message. For one, the financial crisis is also a Science ™ crisis. Science has been a welfare case especially since WW2 and it has all the resulting features of a bubble and corruption. (More on that in a later post, perhaps). On a personal level, I’ve had to direct my one homeschooled child to do some science reading, which means I’ve been doing some myself.  So this has all become the focus of my attention as has not been true for some time.

Anyway, I think people need to know that the human story has just begun. It is not ending. Whatever judgments we need to go through (and yes we need to repent to avoid eternal wrath) austerity is not the future of the human race. Unimagined prosperity lies ahead for our children–our many many unrestricted, unaborted children with unrationed wealth. Jesus is gracious and he is just starting.

 

I think this actually describes the Reformed presence on the Web from 1995 to 2010

The original idea of the site was to gather a diverse group of writers and guest contributors who would then write about the “intersection of theology and life”. This could find its expression in art, poetry, prose, meditation, short fiction, or more typical non-fiction theological fare. But in the end, I wanted it to be the expression of hearts whose affections had been inflamed by the deeper truths of who God is.

And I think we greatly succeeded in this. The vast majority of writings on the site certainly constituted this calibre of expression. It was exciting. But then people, due to life and such, stopped writing. Eventually, in my desperation to get somebody–anybody–to consistently write, I let the quality of the posts at times slip. The site’s readership, for one reason another (probably because it had the word “Reform” in it) began to appeal and primarily lead towards the … groupies and wanna-be’s; the “TR’s” as we would call them at my seminary (the “Totally Reformed!”). It just wasn’t fun and fruitful anymore when the hyper-Calvinistic theology police came to town, and it all went downhill from there, until no one was writing anything, and the only other person that had written as much as I had on the site deleted all of her stuff off the site, on the off-chance that someone would find her name attached to it someday.

via Reform & Revive: officially shutting down | the long way home.

[Note: I edited out a couple of specific names because they have nothing to do with why this description appealed to me. In my experience, the “wanna-be’s” of people whom I respect are still destructive. It is not the teacher’s fault as far as I can tell. In any case, I have no experience with such specific people and they are not really the issue of why I thought it was worth quoting this description.]

What I thought I had done

In seminary I worked several “menial” jobs to make ends meet. I was a bell hop, security guard, and wore a few other hats. I did all this while being a full time student and while we had our first babies.  I had one semester in which I took nineteen hours of classes. I wanted to make sure I was done in three years.

So I would tell anyone that I knew what it was like to make a living working at menial jobs.

Word to the wise:

When you are a student who thinks you have an entire career ahead of you, you know nothing about making a living working at menial jobs.

Nothing.

Different expectations. Different time frame. You were in an entirely different world than anyone you know who actually makes a living working menial jobs.

A note about listening to Proverbs umpteen times in a few weeks

I often read the Bible with the expectation that I will be able to construct arguments from new data points that are drawn to my attention. Listening to Proverbs over and over again hasn’t worked that way.

But it changes you.

I already knew I disagreed with the Horton/Kline land-by-works-as-typological-covenant-of works-v-eternity-by-faith view. It is just wrong. But listening to Proverbs makes even hearing or contemplating the position incredibly painful. It changes you so that you almost cringe when you hear the proposal.

Wisdom inoculates.

Can’t thank you enough

Mark Horne » Blog Archive » A long long time ago.

I didn’t expect the encouraging comments I received here and I want to express publicly that they mean a great deal to me.  I actually can forget amid the horrible false accusations how this all started as a conviction that the Reformed Faith was true to the Bible and that American Baptist culture needed to be challenged by it.

Thank you for reminding me.

The Gospel of the New Covenant (from something I wrote in 1996)

The New Testament describes a covenant made between Jesus Christ and His people. That covenant is conditional.[5] Those who persevere in this covenant by continued faith, repentance, the means of Grace and all other ordinances will be confirmed as children of God on the Last Day.[6] Those that fall away will be consigned to Hell forever, and spend eternity wishing that they had never heard the Gospel. This is the plain and repeated teaching of the New Testament, and it cites the example of the old to make its point. Thus, the old and New Covenants are the same in substance — one Covenant of Grace. Let’s consider some representative passages:

Romans 11.17-24

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

From chapter nine onwards Paul has been explaining the apostasy of Israel, that “they are not all Israel, who are from Israel.” Not all were regenerated by the Spirit so that they would continually live by faith, and demonstrate this by recognizing Jesus the Messiah. Nevertheless, all were objectively members of God’s covenant people, “to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers” (Rom 9.4-5). This picks up a train of though begun in chapter three: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect.. .”

But the covenant is conditional upon perseverance in faith: “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (Rom 2.26). Thus, only those truly regenerated by the Spirit so that they are faithful to the end show themselves to be true Israelites.

Likewise, before Christ, Gentiles who demonstrated persevering faith were never excluded from eternal life (Rom 2.27). This had always been recognized in the Scriptures: Gentiles had the same access to the Tabernacle and Temple as the Jews (Lev 22.17-25; Num 15.14-16). God heard their prayers (1 Kin 8.41-43; 2 Chr 6.32-33). They worshipped with Israel (Psa 115.11, 13; 118.4; 135.20; c.f. Act 13.16, 26). Their worship outside of Israel’s borders was accepted by God (2 Kin 5.17). Gentiles who feared and worshipped the true God showed themselves to be among the elect.

Thus, the rhetorical question: “Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also?” (Rom 3.29) Paul has to remind the Jews of this Old Testament teaching so that they will realize that it is not so surprising that God would eventually end the special privileges which the Jews possessed over against the God-fearing Gentiles. In the New Covenant, just as the distinction between Levite and lay-Israelite has been demolished, so has that between circumcised and uncircumcised.

Amid all these discontinuities between the old covenants and the New, Paul insists especially on one continuity between them. He is concerned that the Gentile converts might become presumptuous and arrogant because of Jewish apostasy. Thus, he presents them with a severe warning: An initial profession of faith [7] is not enough. Just because you “were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree” (Rom 11.17b) does not mean that you have no need to fear God’s covenant curse. On the contrary, you will only inherit eternal life “if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off” (Rom 11.22b).

Again, this is the structure of God’s one covenant of grace, whether before or after Christ:

But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die (Eze 18.24).

All of us, who have faith in Christ, whether we are older converts from unbelief who can actually remember the time when we were lost in our sins, or believers raised to have faith in Christ from our mother’s womb who cannot remember any other state, have been grafted into “the same rich root of the olive tree.” We have ” the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law [all of Scripture, in our case] and the [heavenly] service and the promises.” But if we drift away into sin, refusing to repent, until our hearts are hardened in apostasy, then we too will be cut off and be assigned a place with the unbelievers.

“Do not be conceited, but fear!”

I Corinthians 9.24-10.13

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Here we have a warning given to the Corinthians based on the negative example of the Israelites in the wilderness. Notice, Paul does not deny that the Israelites who died in their sins were members of the Mosaic covenant. On the contrary, they were baptized into Moses, ate spiritual food, and drank spiritual water from Christ Himself. But the Israelites did not persevere in what they had been given. Rather they apostatized and fell under the wrath of God.

The New Covenant of which the Corinthians are a part is like the old. Paul does not contrast the possibility of apostasy under Moses with the impossibility under Christ. Quite the contrary, the entire point of the passage is that we must be cognizant of the possibility from the Old Testament example and make sure we persevere in the faith, lest we likewise perish as covenant-breakers.

Furthermore, Paul postulates no distinction between an identifiable class of “nominal believers” who are supposed to heed the warning of the Old Testament by being “truly converted” and a class of “true believers” who can simply assume they are never in danger of becoming apostate. On the contrary, Paul concludes with a general rule for all, “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” after beginning with the example of himself: “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” Paul makes it clear that he, no less than the Corinthians, must heed the warning of the Old Testament.

Is there then no discontinuity mentioned in this passage between the old covenants and the New? Though it is not explicitly spelled out, I do think one is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 10.13: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” Now, God obviously must have offered this sort of assistance before Christ, but I do think that we can all agree that entrance and endurance in the Covenant of Grace became much simpler and easier in the New Age ushered in by Christ. I especially think this because the above verse seems to play the sam part in the passage as vv. 14-16 have in concluding Hebrews 3-4 (see below).

Whatever the case regarding continuity or discontinuity, 1 Corinthians 10.13 only serves to heighten the seriousness of our sin if we give in to temptation. This heightened responsibility is Paul’s whole point, for he concludes: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

II Corinthians 11.1-4

I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

Here there is no direct reference to the Covenant of Grace preceding the Incarnation, but rather to the Covenant of Creation (a.k.a. “The Covenant of Works”). However, the theme of jealousy (also mentioned with our previous passage in 1 Cor 10.22) is worth some moments of thought in our discussion. For it is written:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me (Exo 20.4-5; emphasis added).

Here we have the most severe warning in the Decalogue, and it is premised on God’s jealousy. When people in covenant with God apostatize by going after idols God becomes enraged as a spurned lover, or more to the point, a cuckolded husband. For again it is written:

” And I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God. “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth, and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands, and a necklace around you neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord God (Eze 16.8-14).

Thus the Lord had declared His love and bestowed His gracious glory upon Israel in putting them in covenant with Him. But Ezekiel goes on to describe how all the above blessings were used in idolatry — for “harlotries.”

Therefore, O harlot, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God, “Because your lewdness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered through your harlotries with your lovers and with all your detestable idols, and because of the blood of your sons which you gave to idols, therefore, behold, I shall gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, even all those whom you loved and all those whom you hated. So I shall gather them against you from every direction and expose your nakedness to them that they may see all your nakedness. Thus I shall judge you, like women who commit adultery or shed blood are judged; and I shall bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy” (Eze 16.35-38; emphasis added).

The charge of adultery makes no sense apart from the reality of the covenant mentioned in Ezekiel 16.8. Nor is this some sort of merely “outward” legal arrangement which is unmatched by any real relationship between God and His people. The whole premise of God’s eternal burning wrath is His sincere covenantal love. “For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (Cant 8.6b). Just as we dare not treat God’s wrath as some sort of pretense, so we cannot doubt God’s real relationship with those who provoke Him to jealousy. His rage is caused by His spurned love. “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deu 4.24).

If anyone has problem imagining how God could possibly love those He predestined to perish, perhaps we should think about God’s covenant with Adam and Eve. Were Adam and Eve elect or reprobate? With regards to the original covenant they were unquestionably reprobate. They were predestined to fail to persevere in the Covenant of Creation. Not only that, they were told by God that such reprobation was an actual possibility. When God told them what would happen if they ate the forbidden fruit, it was given as a possibility that they might indeed be predestined to eat of it. Furthermore, they knew that, if they did not persevere, instead transgressing the Covenant by eating the forbidden fruit, then they would be punished according to the seriousness of the sin, and the seriousness of the sin would be greater according to the degree of grace they received from God. In other words, Adam and Eve knew that, if they were predestined to Fall, then every good and perfect gift coming to them from God was decreed to bring about greater punishment.

So the question arises: Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them?

The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, [8] yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.

Adam was God’s son (Luk 3.38). He and Eve were put in covenant with God — a genuine relationship of love. When Eve was seduced by Satan, God became jealous and put the world under a curse, disinheriting His son, divorcing His bride. His jealousy continues to be aroused by the natural man:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Rom 1.18-21; emphasis added).

God shows His love for man by showering blessings on him, and man responds by worshipping the gifts and spurning the Giver. The doctrine of reprobation does not conflict with God’s love, but presupposes it. Reprobation is God’s decree that sinners will continue to refuse His love and arouse His jealousy.

What is true of men in general, is much more true for reprobates in God’s Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament. They have been restored to Eden, and wedded to God in a new covenant, only to again be seduced by Satan. As Hosea puts it, “like Adam they have transgressed My covenant” (6.7). Indeed, Israel is guilty of doing with God’s special gifts of love, what all men in general are guilty of doing with his general gifts as described in Romans 1.18ff: “For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil, and lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (Hos 2.8). How much more is God’s jealousy aroused by such treachery in response to such special love!

All of this is background to Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 11.1-4. Paul doesn’t say that the New Covenant means that God’s jealous wrath is no longer a factor. Far from it.

Colossians 1.21-23a

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard

Here we have the plainest statement possible that the New Covenant is a conditional covenant. If one is to be confirmed in Christ’s imputed righteousness on the Day of Judgment, one must persevere in the Faith. The strongest language conceivable is used to describe Christ’s covenant relationship with the Colossians, but any thought that the Colossians can continue to be confident of their eternal salvation apart from continuing in faith is forcefully removed. Nor is there any desire on Paul’s part, to somehow throw doubt on the reality of their initiation in the Covenant of Grace. He doesn’t throw doubt on the grace they have objectively received but only exhorts them to continue in it.

Hebrews 3-4

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know My ways'; as I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.'” Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

The author of Hebrews here addresses “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” (3.1). Furthermore, he includes himself in the exhortations (“Let us therefore be diligent…” [4.11]). His entire message is parallel to 1 Corinthians 10.1-13, for he compares the Christians receiving the letter to those with whom God made a covenant in the wilderness but who failed to enter the Land because of unbelief. They have been initiated in the Covenant of Grace and now they must continue in it.

Notice, that just as Paul exhorted the Corinthians to flee temptation on the grounds that God would provide a way of escape (10.13-14), so the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to endure because they have Christ as a sympathetic high priest (Heb 4.14-16). Obviously, if they do not endure, the fault is all the more with them, because they have spurned such a gracious God. The author doesn’t say that some have access to this Priest but that others don’t. No, it is perfectly plain — and made even more and more evident, if that were possible, by almost every other chapter in Hebrews — that those who fall away are guilty of having spurned their high priest and have refused to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (4.16).

Furthermore, while I certainly think the author of Hebrews believed in a qualitative difference between the faith of those whose faith was predestined to endure and the faith of those who were going to fall away, he doesn’t seem to think it is worth mentioning. He simply exhorts all professing Christians to “hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (3.14), to “hold fast our confession” (4.14). On the contrary, “unbelief” (3.19) is identified with “disobedience” (4.6; 3.18) on the part of those who have been engrafted into the Covenant of Grace. The objective standing of the readers in Christ’s New Covenant is not any more in doubt than the membership of the wilderness generation in the Mosaic covenant. What is in doubt is whether they are going to enter God’s rest. This will not happen unless they persevere. If they become “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3.13) then they will provoke God to wrath. No matter what sort of belief they once possessed, it will only count as unbelief if they fall away from the living God (c.f. Eze 18.24).

Remember, “falling away from the living God” (3.12) presupposes standing in Covenant relation with Him.

Hebrews 10.4-39

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.'” After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, “sat down at the right hand of God,” waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and “the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, “He Who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Here we find the author of Hebrews presenting huge contrasts, significant discontinuities, between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant. But again, there is a particular continuity between the periods in the Covenant of Grace both preceding and following Christ. Under both administrations of the Covenant some do not persevere but rebel against God despite His great blessings. As covenant-breakers, such people fall under God’s covenantal wrath.

Even here, we do find a significant discontinuity: Those who break the New Covenant are to be much more severely punished than those who merely broke the Mosaic covenant.

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (10.28-29)

If there is some sort of unconditional guarantee for all members of the New Covenant that they need never fear God’s covenantal jealousy, then the above verse simply makes no sense whatsoever. To posit this sort of discontinuity is to eviscerate the true discontinuity which the author of Hebrews declares to us — that the sanctions facing covenant breakers in the New Covenant are substantially greater than those facing covenant breakers in the old covenants.

Furthermore, the author of Hebrews could not be more explicit that he is addressing a singular group of people, members of the New Covenant, who all need to continue in what they have been given if they would be saved. “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10.10). And again, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10.14) This same language begins and ends Hebrews: “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (2.11). And again: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate” (13.12). This is exactly the same gift which makes the treason of apostasy such a high-handed sin: “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has … regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified?” (10.29)

Additionally, the writer of Hebrews, makes it clear that all whom he is writing have privileges — privileges which were purchased at a great price and the despising of which will bring great wrath:

Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (10.19-22).

All the intended readers share in the same confidence, the same priest, their hearts are all sprinkled and their bodies all washed so that all must draw near, holding fast their “confession of hope without wavering” (10.23), lest any one of them come under the fearful wrath of God.

Again, verses 32 and following make it clear that the intended audience consists of people who have made a good start in accepting “joyfully the seizure of your property” (10.34) but who must “not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (10.35). The Pauline prooftext for justification by faith alone is used to demonstrate that “endurance” in faith is required for us to “receive what was promised” (10.36). The writer of Hebrews expresses confidence that his readers will endure in such faith “to the preserving of the soul” (10.39).

RePost: A paragraph that changed the course of my theology and soteriology

J. I Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, p. 155.

The final element in the Puritan development of the doctrine of justification was to safeguard it against mis-statement within the Puritan camp. Chapter XI of the Westminster Confession wards off two such abberations. The first is that justification is from eternity, i.e., before faith. William Twisse, first prolocutor of the Assembly, had maintained this as part of his case against Arminianism, but in addition to being unscriptural the idea is pastorally disastrous, for it reduced justifying faith to discovering that one is justified already, and so sets seekers waiting on God for assurance instead of exerting active trust in Christ. The trouble here was the assimilating of justification to election, and the Confession deals with it by drawing the correct distinction; “God did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect… nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them” (XI:iv).

I read this some time in the early nineties.  Before seminary.  Maybe while living in Nashville but probably even earlier in Florida before I got married.

Why I joined the PCA (NAPARC)

I wasn’t born into the PCA, but I moved there from another Evangelical tradition.  Why?

Well, some of it had to do with a strong belief that God foreordains all things including who mercifully inherits eternal life and who justly is left to eternal damnation.  But there are lots of predestinarian groups.  What really made me look for a Westminsterian denomination is that I thought Westminster’s covenant theology had done a really good job at capturing what was involved in following Jesus the way the Gospels show us Jesus demanding.  While not all my commitments are summed up in the following four questions and answers my core beliefs are expressed well in them.  They directed me both as a layman, as one called to the ministry looking for a seminary, and as a trained candidate looking for a pastorate.

Q. 76. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.

Q. 101. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is contained in these words, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.

Q. 153. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law?
A. That we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us by reason of the transgression of the law, he requireth of us repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation.

Q. 167. How is baptism to be improved by us?
A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

While these by no means express all my theological commitments, they do express some important ones.