Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Preserving Purity

As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:9).
It is not a matter of small importance whether we preserve the purity of the gospel. The chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems. Mohammedianism has never made inroads upon Christendom save by the sword. Nobody fears that Christianity will be swallowed up by Buddhism. It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity.

Why make much of minor points of difference among those who serve the one Christ? Because a pure gospel is worth preserving; and is not only worth preserving, but is logically (and logic will always work itself ultimately out into history) the only saving gospel. Those who overlay the gospel with man-made additions, no less than those who subtract from it God-given elements, are not preaching "the gospel" in another form, but are offering a different kind of gospel, which is essentially no gospel at all.
- B.B. Warfield, "The Dogmatic Spirit"

Solus Christus

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

It is of the gravest importance to keep clearly before our and others' minds and hearts the great fact that in Christ alone is there salvation. In Christ alone; and that in both sense of the word "alone." Not only can there be no salvation except in him; but in him is all that can be needed for salvation. Jesus only!

Paul determined to know nothing in Corinth but Jesus Christ and him as crucified. The only saving gospel is to find in him all. There needs no supplement. To depend on aught else - aught else, however small it may seem - along with him is as truly to lose him as to depend on aught else instead of him.

The solemn words of Paul, 'Behold I, Paul, say unto you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing,' have their multiform application in these modern times. And it behooves us so to live and so to preach, today, that we can say now, as he said then, that our only trust and our only glory is in the cross of Jesus Christ; and that we find in him and his work alone the beginning and the middle and the end of salvation. He is not only the author but also the finisher of our faith.
- B.B. Warfield, "The Dogmatic Spirit"

Impertinent, But Beneficial

... so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Cor 2:5).
Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from "controversial" matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.
- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism.

Thoroughgoing conviction is only trivial, and the clever wisdom of men is only attractive, if you live on a flowery bed of ease. For the rest of us who are daily squeezed by external crisis, personal tragedy, and inner failure, only the firmest, most controversy-worthy beliefs will suffice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Easy Matter

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands - remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:11-12).

Us Calvinist-types are occasionally criticized for being overly morose and off-putting with our harping on such doctrines as total depravity. I think, however, that Dr. Sibbes clues us into the spiritual benefit of remembering one's past and present sin,
It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and an evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the Judge.

Again, this bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God's grace to them?

Likewise this dealing of God establishes us the more in his ways, having had knocks and bruisings in our own ways... Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God's ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious, good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts.
- Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed.

As Paul set the glory of saving grace against the backdrop of the Ephesians' prior exclusion from God, so must we set our own minds on the sin which is ever-present in our lives. Walking in holiness is no easy matter and takes a little bruising along the way.

Because I Sinned

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12).
Now by far the deepest and by far the most personal experience of every spiritually minded man is his experience of his own inward sinfulness... The simply unspeakable sinfulness of our sin is not the doctrine of David, and of Christ, and of Paul and of Luther, and of Calvin and of Bunyan, and of Edwards, and of Shephard only. It is their universal doctrine - indeed it could not be otherwise - but it is also the everyday experience and the everyday agony of every man among yourselves whose eyes are at all open upon his own heart.
(Alexander Whyte, quoted in A Consuming Fire: The Piety of Alexander Whyte).

You can deny total or radical or thorough depravity in theory, but you know it describes you. Not even one...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Except We Depend

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

Rigid. Cold. Self-reliant. Unspiritual. Legalistic. Such adjectives are often cast to describe those who led the Church and spoke the Word of God in times past. Yet, such misnomers are dispelled by one who was no stranger to personal resolutions or self-discipline:
I find by experience, that let me make resolutions, and do what I will, with never so many inventions, it is all nothing, and to no purpose at all, without the motions of the Spirit of God: for if the Spirit of God should be as much withdrawn from me always, as for the week past, notwithstanding all I do, I should not grow; but should languish, and miserably fade away - there is no dependence upon myself. It is to no purpose to resolve, except we depend on the grace of God; for if it were not for his mere grace, one might be a very good man one day, and a very wicked one the next.
- Jonathan Edwards, "Diary", in The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

Striving after holiness, pursuing obedience, far from self-reliance, is the result of the sovereign and sanctifying work of God's Spirit in the life of His saints for His glorious purposes.

When we truly apprehend that it is God who works within us, we will yield ourselves to His energizing work and that looks like serious, sober, militant, and prayerful self-discipline.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Jesus Loves Me

"Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so." This familiar children's chorus is actually the confession of a five-point Calvinist:
We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, "No, certainly not." We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer "No." They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, "No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if"—and then follow certain conditions of salvation.

We say, then, we will go back to the old statement—Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say "No;" you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ's death; we say, "No, my dear sir, it is you that do it."

We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only may be saved but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.
- C.H. Spurgeon, "Particular Redemption"

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Free Will to Go to Hell

Welcome to the first weekend post at The Prostrate Calvinist. We, that is, the editorial "we," have decided to dedicate weekend posts to extended quotes from the noteworthy preachers and theologians of yesteryear.

So, what would be more fitting than to begin with George Whitefield himself, who quite possibly typifies the purpose of this blog more than any other:
The doctrines of our election, and free justification in Christ Jesus are daily more and more pressed upon my heart. They fill my soul with a holy fire and afford me great confidence in God my Saviour.

I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this. All others leave freewill in man and make him, in part at least, a Saviour to himself. My soul, come not thou near the secret of those who teach such things... I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but non to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Oh, the excellency of the doctrine of election and of the saints' final perseverance! I am persuaded, til a man comes to believe and feel these important truths, he cannot come out of himself, but when convinced of these, and assured of their application to his own heart, he then walks by faith indeed!... Love, not fear, constrains him to obedience.
- George Whitefield, Vol 1

Whom Do I Worship?

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29).

Right between the eyes. That's where it hit me. Or, maybe it was through the heart? It was not the first time I had read Philippians 1, so how had I missed verse 29?

God's saving and sovereign grace exploded from the page, as I sat in my usual corner of the library before my morning class, “it has been grantedto believe in Him.” I had been blind-sided, for my conscience was already numb to the obvious implications of such passages as Ephesians 1:3-14 or Romans 9:14-24, especially when someone tried to smuggle them under that filthy moniker, "Calvinism.” Needless to say, I was late for class that morning. I stayed in that corner for awhile and I worshipped.

In the days that followed, sovereign grace continued to unfurl as I tore into an excited, but still clandestine, study of Scripture. Even more, the concurrent realities, that though I was radically depraved and refused to believe, Christ had died for me in particular and drew me to Himself and was keeping me by His love, fit together in a glorious logic that could only have come from the divine mind of the Creator. And as these realities began to cohere in my mind… I worshipped.

After about a week of study and worship, I made a rather startling discovery, “Turns out I’m a Calvinist.” An odd turn of events since I had yet to read a word of the Institutes, or of any other Reformed writing for that matter. It was only later that I discovered my experience was not all that uncommon:
My doctrines I had from Jesus Christ and His Apostles: I was taught them of God... I embrace the Calvinistic scheme, not because of Calvin, but Jesus Christ has taught it to me (George Whitefield, Vol 1).

I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist for distinction’s sake; though I utter disclaim a dependence upon Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in every thing just as he taught” (Jonathan Edwards, Preface to The Freedom of the Will).

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else (C.H. Spurgeon, "A Defense of Calvinism").
So, yes, turns out I am a Calvinist... five times over. But I am not a Calvinist because of Calvin. I am unashamedly a Calvinist because I worship Christ.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Meaning of Sola Scriptura

Study to shew thyself laudable unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, dividing the word of truth justly (2 Tim 2:15, Tyndale).

Most of us are content to get the "gist" of it. William Tyndale was not. In an all-consuming drive for Biblical fidelity, this oft-overlooked Reformer gave his very life to deliver the glorious Gospel of Christ to the English people through the words of Scripture itself.

In 1526 in Worms, Germany, the city which had been home to Luther's famous stand nearly a decade earlier, William Tyndale printed his translation of the Greek New Testament into English. The first time this had ever been done in the history of the English-speaking peoples. Without modern lexical aids or centuries of precedent to rely upon, Tyndale so diligently rendered the Word of God into the English tongue that his translation formed the basis of all the English Bibles that would follow. In fact, his renderings still dominate our modern English versions today.

Yet, perhaps even more significant and instructive for us, was Tyndale's absolute commitment to preserve and to give the meaning of Scripture accurately, regardless of how violently it contrasted with the prevailing assumptions of his day. This is the meaning of Sola Scriptura.

Tyndale's bold faithfulness is probably most observable in his accurate, and non-Catholic, translation of presbuteros, ekklesia, metanoeo, and agape. These important Greek words had been chained to presupposed Roman Catholic theology for centuries, being understood as "priest," "church," "do penance," and "charity," respectively. Tyndale's conscience, however, was captive to another authority.

With the disregard of a revolutionary and the faithfulness of a workman, Tyndale accurately translated presbuteros as "elder" (it literally means "old man") and ekklesia as "congregation" (it literally means "assembly" or "gathering"). And, in so doing, Tyndale unleashed the New Testament doctrine that all are one in Christ and that there is no spiritual hierarchy of pope, bishop, and priest in Christ's Church. Metanoeo means "repent" and agape means "love," which is exactly how Tyndale translated these terms and ended their supposed support of the Roman Catholic sacramental system.

David Daniell, whose thorough biography of Tyndale is well worth your time, captures the gravity of Tyndale's insubordinate, and devastatingly accurate, translation:
So Tyndale translated the Greek New Testament word ekklesia as 'congregation'... To the English bishops, the heresy was twofold: the implied equality and the pernicious word "congregation" instead of "church'. The bishops saw that this idea, which they took as basically Lutheran rather than scriptural, could make the whole Church structure fall apart. That indeed, is what it did, and quickly (122).

He [Tyndale] cannot possibly have been unaware that those words in particular undercut the entire sacramental structure of the thousand-year Church throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was the Greek New Testament that was doing the undercutting (149).
Brave fidelity to the Word of God, and hard work in it, blew away centuries of superstition and carried the Gospel of salvation to untold numbers of souls. Far more than a philosophical discussion of epistemology, this is the meaning of Sola Scriptura.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called... (Eph 4:1).

This blog is an experiment. An expedition into quite possibly the most significant word in our Bible... "therefore." By the superintending of the Holy Spirit, "therefore" declares that Christian theology is far more than an exercise in mental gymnastics. It is, in fact, an explanation of reality and, as such, makes demands on our lives. Or, in a word, it always has a "therefore."

Hence the experiment of this blog. I am not seeking to necessarily defend the Biblical and historical foundations of Reformed theology or the points of Calvinism (if you need help here, visit the guys at Team Pyro, or JP at Desiring God, or my pastor at Pulpit Magazine), although I do believe that the practical implications of these doctrines are, in fact, a powerful defense in and of itself. Rather, I intend to unpack the "therefore" of these wonderful verities and explore the function of Biblical theology for the Christian life.

By His grace, I hope to post and reflect upon the Scriptures and the writings of pastors and theologians, both past and present, to uncover how the solas and the doctrines of God's sovereign grace inform a robust life of service to the Lord Jesus Christ and for the glory of God. Thus, my title, "The Prostrate Calvinist."

For, as the Doctor once commented, there is a very real danger...
Some people are naturally intellectual; they have been given minds by God above the average, perhaps, and they enjoy reading and studying and reasoning and handling great truths and doctrines. Their particular danger is to spend all their time with doctrine and to stop at doctrine.
…and, consequently, a very real exhortation.

In the light of this word therefore we must say that sanctification is not a gift to be received; it is rather something that has to be worked out in the light of the doctrine. It is an imperative, it is a command. In the same way it is clear that sanctification is not an experience, for the Apostle uses the form of an exhortation. It is most important that we should understand the relationship of these things to one another. All the great experiences to which the Apostle has been referring, and about which he has been teaching, are simply designed to encourage us to 'work out' our sanctification, our salvation, 'with fear and trembling'. The doctrines and the experiences provide us with the motive for sanctification. They are intended and designed to create a desire within us for sanctification. They are designed to show us the possibility of sanctification by reminding us of the power that works in us in order that we may work it out.
(D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Unity: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16, pp. 15, 17-18).

So, while this blog is primarily for my own edification, please feel free to stop by and ponder awhile, and consider how the sovereign grace of God must therefore change the way you live.

Soli Deo Gloria