Friday, January 2, 2009

A belated Happy New Year

I should have put this up yesterday but I never really got around to sitting down at the computer so it got pushed back to being a day late. Happy New Year to all and here are a few late things on it.

First, if you don't already have a plan to read through the Bible in a year then you should check out these ESV Bible Reading Plans. There are ten options on there to choose from and you're only one day behind so far so easy to get going. Andrea and I are going to try to do the plan that is listed in the ESV Study and Literary Study Bibles (though I'm horrible at keeping up with these things). This plan has a selection from the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, the Pentateuch and Historical books, Chronicles and the Prophets, and the Gospels and Epistles for every day. It is designed to read through the Psalms, Isaiah, Luke, and Romans twice during the year in their entirety. If you choose this then not only is it already in the back of those Bibles but this .pdf is designed to be cut into four bookmarks that you place in your Bible to keep your place. Justin Taylor also has directions for how to get any of these plans as a podcast that you can download through iTunes. Don't forget the plans out to read Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion in a year as well (see posts lower down).

Second, January 1 was the 71st anniversary of when the Lord called J. Gresham Machen to glory. Machen was the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary and a crucial figure in the foundation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He was a stallwart defender of biblical Christianity against the errors and heresies of theological liberalism. He died of pneumonia while preaching and helping to build up several young OPC churches in the Dakotas. His last recorded words were a telegram that he sent to his younger colleague at WTS, John Murray, "[I am] so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it." I highly recommend Stephen Nichols book, J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought, as a short biography of Machen and also a summary of his most important writings. You should certainly read Christianity and Liberalism, listed as one of the top 100 books of the Millenium by World Magazine and the Top 100 of the 20th century by Christianity Today, and the subsequent What Is Faith? (Christianity and Liberalism is also available to read online)

Finally, I wanted to put a quick survey of the Fifth Head of Doctrine from the Canons of Dort on the perseverance of the saints and true assurance of salvation. This will be in two parts so only the first seven articles are here. I find Dort very helpful here as the Synod carefully shows that from the perspective of man our assurance is tied to perseverance but from the divine perspective perseverance is assured as God preserves.

Article 1. Those people whom God according to his purpose calls into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, he also sets free from the reign and slavery of sin, though in this life not entirely from the flesh and from the body of sin.

In transitioning from the articulation of regeneration and effectual calling to perseverance the Synod first holds that the regenerate are free from the slavery to sin though they are not entirely free from indwelling sin. So believers continue to sin as long as they are in this body of sin in death even though in their inner man they have been raised to new life in Christ.

Article 2. Hence daily sins of weakness arise, and blemishes cling to even the best works of God's people, giving them continual cause to humble themselves before God, to flee for refuge to Christ crucified, to put the flesh to death more and more by the Spirit of supplication and by holy exercises of godliness, and to strain toward the goal of perfection, until they are freed from this body of death and reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.

Therefore the Synod holds that even our best works are blemished by indwelling sin. This requires us to constantly repent of our sins and to turn from them to God and to plead again only the merit of Christ's atoning death. On the basis of Christ's perfect finished work believers still know that they are justified before God. Thus we find that is it justification by grace alone through faith alone and in Christ alone that is the key to perseverance. Michael Horton says that it is only if we are justified by faith that our works are justified. Believers persevere in good works as the regenerate and justified people of God because they know that the perfection of those works is not what justifies them but it rather the feeble offering of sons and daughters to a gracious and loving Father who receives those works done for his glory as they are done by us in Christ.

Article 3. Because of these remnants of sin dwelling in them and also because of the temptations of the world and Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources. But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end.

Having placed the believer in the paradox of being renewed in the image of Christ in the inner man even while the body decays because of sin and death the Synod states that indwelling sin would prohibit the believer from persevering according to their own resources. So perseverance by the believer is the work of God who continues to build his elect up in the grace given to them in regeneration and preserves them in that grace to the end. Thus we see how it is from our perspective that it is perseverance and from God's it is preservation unto perseverance.

Article 4. Although that power of God strengthening and preserving true believers in grace is more than a match for the flesh, yet those converted are not always so activated and motivated by God that in certain specific actions they cannot by their own fault depart from the leading of grace, be led astray by the desires of the flesh, and give in to them. For this reason they must constantly watch and pray that they may not be led into temptations. When they fail to do this, not only can they be carried away by the flesh, the world, and Satan into sins, even serious and outrageous ones, but also by God's just permission they sometimes are so carried away--witness the sad cases, described in Scripture, of David, Peter, and other saints falling into sins.

This article helps to guard against perfectionism. Though God does perfectly preserve believers in perseverance this does not mean that believers are made incapable of committing sins, even horrible sins. Like all that occurs this is by the good counsel of God that they are permitted to fall away into these sins.

Article 5. By such monstrous sins, however, they greatly offend God, deserve the sentence of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith, severely wound the conscience, and sometimes lose the awareness of grace for a time--until, after they have returned to the way by genuine repentance, God's fatherly face again shines upon them.

Furthermore, sins committed by believers are not different in character than those committed by unbelievers. All sin is offensive to God and deserves his wrath and curse (see Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 83). Because of this believers who fall into grevious sin can lose some or all of their sense of the assurance of their salvation until they again return to the promise of God in Scripture and come again in repentance of their sin. This returning to repentance is not a second salvation, that was accomplished one time in their conversion, but it does lead to the renewal of their sense of assurance as they again sense and experience God's fatherly blessings.

Article 6. For God, who is rich in mercy, according to his unchangeable purpose of election does not take his Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does he let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit), and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by him, into eternal ruin.

The reason that we know this is not a second salvation is because God has given his Holy Spirit to regenerate believers and he does not ever take it away from them. Even when in their sin they grieve the Holy Spirit of God they remain still united to Christ and saved in him and thereby safe from eternal condemnation.

Article 7. For, in the first place, God preserves in those saints when they fall his imperishable seed from which they have been born again, lest it perish or be dislodged. Secondly, by his Word and Spirit he certainly and effectively renews them to repentance so that they have a heartfelt and godly sorrow for the sins they have committed; seek and obtain, through faith and with a contrite heart, forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator; experience again the grace of a reconciled God; through faith adore his mercies; and from then on more eagerly work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

In showing how this relationship is perserved the Synod argues that God first keeps believers from ever committing an impardonable sin. All of their sins, past and future, are paid for by Christ on the cross. Thus the work of the Spirit to unite us to Christ's person and work secures our eternal salvation. Second, because the Spirit remains in us and works in us even when we fall into sin he will renew us again to repentance. We will have true grief and hatred of sin and will turn from it to God with full pursuit of new obedience (see WSC Q&A 86). Therefore in these two points we see that perseverance is wholly the work of God but in that work he causes us to work also.

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