Albert N. Martin: The Practical Implications of Calvinism

Albert Martin is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Essex Fells, New Jersey. This material is the substance of an address which was transcribed with minor revisions from the tape.

The Experience of God

B. B. Warfield describes Calvinism as ‘that sight of the majesty of God that pervades all of life and all of experience’. In particular as it relates to the doctrine of salvation its glad confession is summarized in those three pregnant words, God saves sinners. Now whenever we are confronted with great doctrinal statements in Holy Scripture, God does not leave us merely with the statement of doctrine. The end of God’s truth set before the minds of God’s people is that, understanding it, they might know its effect in their own personal experience. So the grand doctrinal themes of Ephesians, chapters 1, 2 and 3 are followed by the application of those doctrines to practical life and experience in Ephesians, chapters 4, 5 and 6. The end for which God gave his truth was not so much the instruction of our minds as the transformation of our lives. But a person cannot come directly to the life and experience, he must come immediately through the mind. And so God’s truth is addressed to the understanding and the Spirit of God operates in the understanding as the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge. He does not illuminate the mind simply that the file drawers of the mental study may be crammed full of information. The end for which God instructs the mind is that he might transform the life.

What, then, are the personal implications of Calvinistic thought and truth both in the life of the individual and in the ministry exercised by the individual? By personal implications I mean the implications of your own relationship to God without any conscious reference to the ministry.

Now, these things cannot be separated in an absolute sense, for as has been well said, ‘The life of a minister is the life of his ministry’. You cannot separate what you are from what you do; you cannot separate the effect of truth upon your own relationship to God personally from the effect of truth through you ministerially. For the sake of bringing the principles into sharp focus I am separating them, but in no way do I want to give the impression that these two are in rigid categories.

I ask then, What are the implications of Calvinistic thought, this vision of the majesty of God and of the saving truth of Scripture as it relates to us as individuals? In answer let us go back to that general principle which B. B. Warfield calls the ‘formative principle of Calvinism’. I quote Warfield’s words:

It lies then, let me repeat, in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the poignant realization which inevitably accompanies this apprehension, of the relation sustained to God by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature. The Calvinist is the man who has seen God, and who, having seen God in His glory, is filled on the one hand with a sense of his own unworthiness to stand in God’s sight as a creature, and much more as a sinner, and on the other hand, with adoring wonder that nevertheless this God is a God who receives sinners. He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling and willing — in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral and spiritual — throughout all his individual social and religious relations, is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.1

Notice that when B. B. Warfield defines Calvinism and the Calvinist he used words of a strongly experimental nature. The words ‘apprehension’ and ‘realisation’ deal primarily with the understanding, though they go beyond that, but when we come to words such as ‘seen God’, ‘filled on the one hand with a sense of his own unworthiness’, ‘adoring wonder’, ‘thinking, feeling and willing’, these are words of experience. Warfield is really saying that no person is a Calvinist, no person is truly Biblical in his thinking of God, no man is truly religious, no man is truly evangelical until these concepts have been burned into the nerve fibres of his experience. In other words, Warfield would say that an academic Calvinist is a misnomer, as much as to speak of ‘a living corpse’ is a misnomer. When the soul and the body are separate death has taken place, and Warfield would teach us that when the soul of Calvinistic thought is dead or absent, all that remains is a carcase, a stench in the nostrils of God, and so often a stench in the church when found in a minister.

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Steven Walton: Speech Discipline

Sermon Text: Ephesians 4:29
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

This sermon is part 3 on the series “What to Wear” and is labeled “Speech Discipline”, it was preached by Steven Walton on the 14.08.2016 in Stuttgart Germany and is about our use of language, casting off our foul talk and taking on words of grace – through God’s help – to die to our old way of talking.

http://www.cfcstuttgart.org/

Gene Edward Veith: What Is True Liberty?

America is mad for liberty. Ours is a free country. We enjoy freedom of speech and of religion, the freedom of the press, and the freedom to bear arms. And rightly so. But though Americans love freedom, many of them have forgotten what it means.

Today many of us assume that freedom means getting to do whatever we want. Any restrictions on our behavior — whether from the state, the church, or some other person — violate our freedom. And, for many of us, freedom above all means the liberty to sin.

But, according to the Bible, this is the opposite of freedom. Sin has nothing to do with liberty. Sin destroys freedom. Sin enslaves.

Jesus Himself makes that point: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The apostle Paul also talks about how sin turns us into slaves (Rom. 6:16–22).

If we are honest, we can see this truth in our own experience. An alcoholic may want to be free to get drunk. A drug addict may demand his liberty to take drugs. But alcoholics and drug addicts are not free. Their appetites enslave them. The same is true of people addicted to pornography or in thrall to some other sexual compulsion. As the sin takes away the sinner’s self-respect, his money, and his happiness, the sinner may even want to stop doing what he has been doing. But he cannot.

On some level, all sins are like this. Anger takes us over. Pride prevents us from treating others as we should. Stealing, lying, disrespect, hate — you name it — they all enslave us.

Though we might learn to control our worst impulses through external constraints — whether of shame, fear of discovery, or self-discipline — sin continues to lurk deep inside. We try to exert our will power. But what if the problem is precisely with our will?

Luther wrote a book entitled The Bondage of the Will. His point was that our will is in bondage to sin. What we want to do, if we give in to our primal desires, is to sin. The laws of church and state, our rational awareness of consequences, our conscience and other restrictions on our external conduct can make possible a social order made up of sinful human beings. But morally and also spiritually, we are slaves to sin.

But after Jesus talked about how sinners are enslaved, He gives the good news: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Jesus, through the power of His sacrificial death and resurrection, frees sinners from the bondage of sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel, we are set free. Though while we are still in the flesh we may still struggle with sin, we are free from sin’s dominion. To the extent we are in Christ, through faith, we no longer even need the external Law to keep us in line. We voluntarily — freely — do God’s will, not out of compulsion or threats, but because we really want to please Him, and, because we are in God’s love, we really do love our neighbors.

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Sinclair Ferguson: Christian, Do You Love God’s Law?

At a PGA Tour tournament in October 2015, Ben Crane disqualified himself after completing his second round. He did so at considerable financial cost. No matter—Crane believed the personal cost of not doing it would be greater (encouraged by a devotional article he had read that morning by Davis Love III, the distinguished former Ryder Cup captain).

Crane realized he had broken one of the more recondite rules of golf. If I followed the story rightly, while in a hazard looking for his ball, he leaned his club on a stone. He abandoned the ball, took the requisite penalty for doing so, played on, and finished his round. He would have made the Friday night cut comfortably; a very successful weekend financially beckoned. Then Ben Crane thought: “Should I have included a penalty for grounding my club in a hazard?” Sure enough (Rule 13.4a). So he disqualified himself.

(Got it? Hopefully, no readers will lie awake tonight now knowing the trophy was won illegally.)

Crane has been widely praised for his action. No avalanche of spiteful or demeaning attacks on cyberspace or hate mail for being narrow-minded. All honor to him. Intriguingly, no one seems to have said or written, “Ben Crane is such a legalist.”

No, we are not starting a new sports column this month. But how odd it is to see so much praise for his detailed attention to the rules of golf, and yet the opposite when it comes to the rules of life, the (much more straightforward) law of God, even in the church.

There is a problem somewhere.

The Problem

Neither Jesus nor Paul had a problem with the law. Paul wrote that his gospel of grace upholds and establishes the law (Rom. 3:31)—even God’s laws in their negative form, since the “grace of God . . . teaches us to say ‘No’” (Titus 2:11–12NIV). And remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17–19? Our attitude to the law is a litmus test of our relationship to the kingdom of God.

So what is the problem? The real problem is that we do not understand grace. If we did, we would also realize why John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” could write, “Ignorance of the nature and design of the law is at the bottom of most religious mistakes.”

There is a deep issue here. In Scripture, the person who understands grace loves law. (Incidentally, mere polemics against antinomianism can never produce this.)

Think again of Ben Crane. Why keep the complex rules of golf? Because you love the game. Something similar, but greater, is true of the believer. Love the Lord, and we will love His law—because it is His. All is rooted in this beautiful biblical simplicity.

Think of it in terms of three men and the three “stages” or “epochs” they represent: Adam, Moses, and Jesus.

Adam

At creation, God gave commandments. They expressed His will. And since He is a good, wise, loving, and generous God, His commandments are always for our best. He wants to be a Father to us.

As soon as God created man and woman as His image (Gen. 1:26–28—a hugely significant statement), He gave them statutes to follow (v. 29). The context here makes clear the rationale: He is Lord; they are His image. He made them to reflect Him. He is the cosmic Overlord, and they are the earthly under-lords. His goal is their mutual enjoyment of one another and creation in a communion of life (1:26–2:3). So, He has given them a start—a garden in Eden (2:7). He wants them to extend that garden to the ends of the earth, and to enjoy it as miniature creators, images imitating the great original Creator (1:28–29).

God’s creation commands then had in view our reflecting His image and glory. His image-bearers are made to be like Him. In one form or another, all divine commands have this principle enshrined in them: “You are my image and likeness. Be like me!” This is reflected in His command: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2).

Implied here is that God’s image-bearers are created, hardwired as it were, to reflect Him. Yes, there are external laws given to them, but those laws simply provide specific applications of the “laws” inbuilt in the divine image, laws that are already on the conscience.

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