Results tagged “love” from Reformation21 Blog

A Mantle of Love for the Weak

On the night I proposed to Anna 15 years ago, she gave me a gift--an antiquarian edition of Thomas Brooks The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It is a work to which I returned many times over the past 15 years. The section on the riches and excellencies of Christ, by itself, makes this work a must read. The opening section on humility and gifts is one of the most soul strengthening and edifying chapters of any Puritan work I've read. But, Brooks' section on "the duties of strong saints to the weak" is something every believer should commit to reading, digesting and seeking to put into practice in all of our regular interactions with other believers. When he came to the ninth duty that God requires of spiritually strong believers in relation to spiritually weak believers, Brooks wrote, 

"The ninth duty that lies upon strong saints is tcast mantle over the infirmities of the weak.

Now there is a three-fold mantle that should be cast over the infirmities of the weak. There is a mantle of wisdom, a mantle of faithfulness, and a mantle of compassion, which is to be cast over all the infirmities of weak saints.

First, Strong saints are to cast a mantle of wisdom over the infirmities of weak saints. They are not to present their sins in that ugliness, and with such aggravations, as may terrify, as may sink, as may make a weak saint to despair, or may drive him from the mercy-seat, or as may keep him and Christ asunder, or as may unfit him for the discharge of religious duties. It is more a weakness than a virtue in strong Christians, when a weak saint is fallen, to aggravate his fall to the uttermost, and to present his sins in such a dreadful dress, as shall amaze him. It often proves very prejudicial and dangerous to weak saints, when their infirmities are aggravated beyond Scripture grounds, and beyond what they are able to bear. He that shall lay the same strength to the rubbing of an earthen dish, as he does to the rubbing of a pewter platter, instead of clearing it, shall surely break it all to pieces. The application is easy.

Secondly, There is a mantle of faithfulness that is to be cast over the infirmities of weak saints. A man should never discover the infirmities of a weak saint, especially to such that have neither skill nor will to heal and bury them. The world will but blaspheme and blaze them abroad, to the dishonor of God, to the reproach of religion, and to the grief and scandal of the weak. They will with Ham rather call upon others to scoff at them, than bring a mantle to cover them. Ham was cursed for that he did discover his father's nakedness to his brethren, when it was in his power to have covered it. He saw it, and might have drawn a curtain over it, but would not; and for this, by a spirit of prophecy, he was cursed by his father, Gen. ix. 22. This age is full of such monsters, that rejoice to blaze abroad the infirmities of the saints, and these certainly justice hath or will curse.

Thirdly, There is a mantle of compassion that must be cast over the weaknesses and infirmities of weak saints. When a weak man comes to see his sin, and the Lord gives him to lie down in the dust, and to take shame and confusion to himself, that he has dishonored God, and caused Christ to bleed afresh, and grieved the Spirit; oh now you must draw a covering, and cast a mantle of love and compassion over his soul, that he may not be swallowed up with sorrow. Now you must confirm your love to him, and carry it with as great tenderness and sweetness after his fall, as if he had never fallen. This the apostle presses, 2 Cor. 2:7, 'Love,' says the wise man, 'covers all sin.' Love's mantle is very large. Love claps a plaster upon every sore; love has two hands, and makes use of both, to hide the scars of weak saints. Christ, O strong saints, casts the mantle of his righteousness over your weaknesses, and will not you cast the mantle of love over your brother's infirmities."1

Thomas Brooks The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks vol. 3 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866) p. 101

Defeat and Victory in the Church


It is well documented that a staggering number of pastors leave the ministry each year. Conflict and burnout are numbered as some of the top reasons. Conflict between pastors and the congregation are common. In addition, the pastor's inability to resolve bitter disagreements among members can be perceived as poor leadership. This is where 1 Cor. 6:1-6 can be instructive. Paul was likely addressing a civil matter. A member within the church of Corinth defrauded another which led to a lawsuit. While many concentrate on the necessity of Christian arbitration when conflicts arise between believers, it is equally important to look at the spiritual issues that Paul addressed that led up to this lawsuit. It is striking that Paul emphasizes the gospel as a way forward. And, it is likewise important to notice that the inability to resolve conflict biblically is compared to offenses such as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, becoming drunk, being a reviler, and a swindler.

Roman Judicial System

The Roman historian Tacitus states that in the first century legal representation could cost as much as 10,000 sesterces (Ann. 11.7). Such an amount was over eight times the annual salary of a clerk working in a Roman colony.[1] A soldier in the praetorian guard could receive 20,000 sesterces after serving in the military for 16 years (Dio Cassius 55.23).[2] The fact that a lawsuit had taken place indicates that either one, or both parties, were wealthy individuals.

In addition, the Roman judicial system was far from fair. Tacitus (Ann. 11.6) notes of the widespread corruption of the courts. The ancient philosopher and historian Dio Chrysostom (Or. 8.9) describes of "lawyers innumerable perverting justice" in the city of Corinth.[3] The Roman statesman Cicero (In Verrem 1.1.1) contended that wealth can shield any man from conviction. And, the rhetorician Apuleius (Metam. 10.33) notes how judges were open to bribes.[4] Gender, class, and race all played a factor. Wealthy Roman men had the upper hand and foreigners did not fare well. The lower social classes could win only with the help of powerful patrons. Hence, in 1 Cor. 6:1-11 either a wealthy individual was taking advantage of a financially weaker believer, or, two men of considerable means or societal connections were exploiting the courts for personal advantages. Since Paul indicates in v. 6 that it was "brother against brother" and both had the means to play out the dispute in the court system the latter interpretation is preferred.

Church in Defeat

Paul did not merely mistrust the judicial structures of his day. Rather, his outrage was grounded in the public shame the church had to endure. The judges of Corinth did not share in the common faith of the early believers and did not belong to the covenantal community. But what led up to this lawsuit? In the same verse, Paul states that neither party was willing to be wronged. The first mark of a church in defeat is when believers refuse to take a wrong. The exact situation in Corinth escapes us, but it is likely over some financial matter since criminal proceedings would have taken a different avenue, namely, the involvement of authorities. Rather, what we are witnessing is a case of wounded prides and feelings of being cheated. The desire for retaliation drove these brothers to court at the cost of the unity of the church.

The second mark of a church in defeat is that when conflict arose, no one in the church knew what to do. The "you" in the first two verses are plural indicating that Paul was addressing the entire church. If these Corinthians deemed themselves "wise," they showed their spiritual incompetency by failing to settle this intense quarrel (v. 5). Also, some have noted that the two individuals involved in the lawsuit even failed to live out Grecian wisdom.[5] Socrates, for instance, once stated: "If it were necessary either to do wrong or to suffer it, I should choose to suffer rather than do it." This statement is preserved in Plato's Gorgias.[6] This is an interesting interpretation, yet there were other Grecian philosophers who thought that retaliation was a prudent show of strength (e.g., Aristotle). Paul, rather, is discussing the failure to live out godly wisdom. Roman culture used their courts to gain personal advantages and that was the route these brothers had chosen. Paul, in opposition, echoed Jesus' teachings recorded in Matt. 5:38-42. In v. 7, Paul asks -- why not take a wrong? Or in the words of Jesus -- why not turn the other cheek?

The third mark of a church in defeat is the loss of eschatological vision. Paul reminds them that they will one day judge the world and angels. Paul is seeking to convict the Corinthians of their present responsibilities to settle disputes in the church in light of future roles at the eschaton. We can say that the consequence of losing sight of this vision made present grievances unbearable. If the two brothers in Corinth had proper spiritual sight, they would have accepted the issue as a lesser or trivial case as Paul states in v. 2. Hence, the inability to let go, or, by nurturing a wounded spirit, along with the absence of eschatological sight caused a lawsuit that marked this church as already defeated (v. 7).

Pathway to Victory

Wisdom literature of the Old Testament seems to be operating in the background of v. 7. Proverbs 19:11 (cf. 12:16; 15:18; 20:3), for example, states that there is glory in overlooking an offense. The question we can raise is when do we confront versus overlook a grievance? Jesus taught his disciples to confront the sinful brother (Matt. 18:15-35). We are supposed to involve the church when the person refuses to repent. In this instance, however, the Corinthian church failed to intervene. So, what do we do in these cases? The guiding principle is agapē love -- we need to choose the best option that promotes love in the church. In the previous chapter, Paul tells the Corinthians to expel the wicked person from the community. Here, Paul refers to the man who was sleeping with his father's wife. To not confront such a person and allow it to continue would tear down the holiness of the church. But in 1 Cor. 6:1-11, overlooking personal offenses rather than publicly shaming the church would have better promoted love in the body of Christ. There are times when we are called to take a wrong rather than retaliate to satisfy personal desires.

Paul compares the refusal to take a wrong with sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, becoming drunk, being a reviler, and a swindler. Taking a wrong does not mean merely remaining silent, but the disallowance of bitterness and anger to take hold. At first glance this seems perplexing. There are other passages in Scripture that addresses degrees of sins (e.g., Jn. 19:11). But how can the refusal of letting grievances go compare with these other acts? Upon further inspection, Paul's argumentation is theologically rich. While I cannot address each vice individually, I will give some examples. First, the unwillingness to let go of an offense is idolatry. If idolatry is placing anything above God, then these two individuals placed their personal agendas above the gospel. They could not sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross. Second, it is like being drunk. Inebriation often leads to loss of self-control. These two brothers lost control because they were "drunk" on their wounded prides and desires for vengeance. They lashed out no matter what the cost.

Finally, it was like sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, being a reviler, and a swindler. The common denominator is that they were all perversions before God. For instance, Dionysius of Halicarnassus deployed the word malakos to indicate a form of pederasty which was the taking advantage of young boys by older men (Ant. rom. 7.2.4). And the ensuing term arsenokoitai denoted men engaging the same gender. The two juxtaposed together heightened the sense of perversion. Paul was referring to a form of homosexuality that involved molestation of juveniles.[7] While Paul views all same-sex engagement as unnatural and sinful (Rom. 1:18-32), pederasty according to Philo was the most common form of homosexual practice in the Greco-Roman world (De Spec. Leg. 3.37-39). To place one's desires above the gospel at the cost of the church was perverted in God's sight and was comparable to these other vices.


Paul exhorts the Corinthians to remember their identity in Christ. They were washed, sanctified, and justified in Christ and by the Spirit of God. The tenses of the Greek for all three words indicate a definitive act where believers were cleansed of the guilt of sins, set apart, and were declared to be in right standing with God. The victorious Christian life and the victory of the church hanged on members of the church living out this new life in Christ. Pastors who enter the ministry, enter with a desire to do it right. They want to serve faithfully. However, conflict takes its toll. Identifying and training the right people for ministry is vital for the success of the church. But actively discipling the church in conflict management and gospel resolutions are also indispensable. No number of right leaders can change the direction of the church if the members are not electing the gospel above their personal agendas. A church can only be victorious when the it strives by the Spirit's enablement to choose the gospel as a better way forward.


[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 162. I am indebted to Witherington's commentary for some of these Greco-Roman references. Others were gleaned from John Chow, Brian Rosner, David Garland, and Richard Hays, citations are listed below.

[2] John K. Chow, Patronage and Power: A Study of Social Networks in Corinth, Library of New Testament Studies (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992), 76 n. 1.

[3] In addition to Witherington's commentary, also referenced in Brian S. Rosner, Understanding Paul's Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 91.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 197.

[5] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011), 95.

[6] Hays notes how this form of wisdom was also expressed by Stoic philosophers such as Epictetus and Musonius Rufus. For more see, Hays, First Corinthians, 95.

[7] Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, 166.


Dr. John B. Song received his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) and completed his PhD at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and presently serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Belhaven University Atlanta.

A Horror of Theology


The noisy gongs of acerbic and judgmental discernment bloggers, podcasters, vloggers and conference speakers are scattered throughout our social media feeds...and they're here to stay. The uncharitableness with which such individuals speak online immediately ought to leave a bad taste in the mouth of Christ's true lambs. After all, the fruit of the Spirit in the life of believers is an inextricable constituent of doctrinal truth. No amount of insistence that one is speaking the truth in love (when, in fact, he is speaking the truth in anger) will mask the fact that he is actually speaking in loveless pride. As Jesus said, "A tree is known by its fruit." The bitter fruit of an acrimonious "truth speaker" will inevitably be the bringing forth of disciples more fractious than himself. Nevertheless, the root of the problem does not lie in a love of the truth and a desire to trumpet forth sound doctrine--it is rooted in pride and self-love.

In Scripture, God everywhere charges us to be lovers of biblical truth. The early believers "continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship" (Acts 2:42). The Apostle Paul teaches us to be lovers of truth and practicers of love when he wrote, "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:13). It is often, on account of a loveless defense of truth that many Christians succumb to the opposite error, namely, the embrace of the diminution of sound doctrine. One doesn't have to scroll through his or her social media feed for long to come across an influential pastor or teacher warning his followers about the dangers of an overemphasis on sound doctrine. It sounds quite pious to sophisticatedly downplay truth in order to up play love. Nothing, however, could be more fallacious and factitious. It is impossible to love the truth and to speak the truth too much or too often. In fact, where there is no truth, there is no love. Christians have been redeemed in love by the One who said, "I am the truth."

Of course, the danger of swinging from one error to another is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as the fall. Though it comes in new sociological and philosophical packages, the human heart has always revolted against embracing, loving, propagating and defending the truth about God. Throughout the early decades of the 20th Century, J. Gresham Machen warned about the destructive dangers of the theological liberalism that had stealthily yet persistently crept into the church and the academy. The strength of the theological liberalism of Machen's day is that it downplayed doctrinal truth under the guise of up playing love--much as it seeks to do in our day. In his The New Testament: An Introduction to Its Literature and History, Machen wrote, 

"Many Christians today have a horror of theology; they suppose it must necessarily be a cold and lifeless thing. As a matter of fact, theology is merely thinking about God. Every Christian must think about God; every Christian to some degree must be a theologian. The only question is whether he is to be a bad theologian or a good theologian. If he contents himself with his own preconceived notions, or gives free scope to his own natural feelings, he will be a bad theologian; he will soon find himself cherishing a miserable, imperfect, unworthy conception of God which makes God a mere creature of man's fancy. If, on the other hand, he makes himself acquainted, through patient study, first with the teaching of the Bible about God, then with the mighty acts of God that the Bible records, then with the Bible's explanations about these acts, he will soon be in possession of a 'theology' which will give backbone to his who religious life. There need be nothing technical about such a theology; it may not even be called 'theology' at all; it may be expressed in language that a child can understand; but whatever it is called and however it is expressed, it is absolutely necessary for a genuine Christianity. Christianity is based, not upon the shifting sands of human feeling, but upon solid facts; and the apprehension and understanding of facts inevitably requires the use of the intellect."1

Christians today, no less than in Machen's day, desperately need to come to terms with the fact that we are all theologians--whether good ones or bad ones. While we must be zealous to guard our hearts against embracing the ethos of the vitriolic doctrinal voices around us, we must equally avoid giving ear to those who, under pretense of love and charity, have functionally encouraged "a horror of theology." As Machen rightly noted, "Every Christian must think about God; every Christian to some degree must be a theologian. The only question is whether he is to be a bad theologian or a good theologian." 

1. J. Gresham Machen The New Testament: An Introduction to Its Literature and History (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth, 1976) pp. 374-375.

Promoting the Work of Others


I have a dear friend who is an artist. Her work covers the walls of my home. I love learning about her creative process, the various mediums she uses, and what she is learning through her work. Most of all, I love how she images God and points to him through her creativity.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot draw more than a stick figure. I can't paint or sculpt or take half decent photographs. While the Lord hasn't gifted me in that way, he has given me other gifts. In fact, he gives all believers gifts to use to build up the body of Christ.

Gifts in the Body of Christ

The Apostle Paul used a metaphor of the human body to describe the church and how it functions. "For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them" (Romans 12:4-6)

God gives us all different gifts and graces to use to build up and help the church body grow. Each one of us has gifts and they are all important. Your gift might be teaching or preaching. Another's might be service. Still another may have artistic or musical gifts. Some gifts are more prominent and noticeable, while others have gifts that are used behind the scenes. Each one of those gifts is important. We need everyone's gifts to make the church body function.

What this means is, we shouldn't think our gifts are less important than another's. We shouldn't think that those who have gifts that are more prominent and out there, like preaching the word, or leading worship, is more important to the body of Christ than the person who rocks the babies in the nursery.

The Westminster Confession says: 

"All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in his grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man." 

Through our union with Christ, we are united to one another. God gave us our gifts for each other's benefit. When we use our gifts, we have communion with one another in them. Even more, we are obligated to use our gifts for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Honor One Another's Gifts

When it comes to the gifts we have, it's important that we remember our unity in Christ. We are one body, united under Christ our head. Our gifts and graces are not for us to keep to ourselves; they are for the benefit of one another. They help us all grow. And they make ready the church, the Bride of Christ, for our Savior's return.

We should desire to see everyone use their gifts for the good of the church. We should seek to utilize everyone's gifts. We should look for those who are on the sidelines and help them explore ways to use their gifts, asking: "How can we all work together for the good of the church?" Because when everyone in the church is working together and doing their part, the church grows, thrives, and lives out her unity in Christ. Ephesians 4:16 says, "...from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

Because of our union with one another, when a person uses their gift, we ought to rejoice with them in it. We should appreciate one another's gifts. We should encourage one another in using their gifts. We shouldn't envy or begrudge a brother or sister who uses their gift for God's glory. We shouldn't compare each other's gifts. In fact, we need to honor one another for their gifts, telling others what their gifts mean to us. In Romans 12:10, Paul instructed believers to "outdo one another in showing honor."

Tell the volunteers in the children's program what their service means to the body of Christ. Encourage the pastor by telling him how the Spirit used his sermon to impact your heart. Share with others about how a church member's gifts have served you. Rejoice when a brother or sister uses their gifts. Honor a brother or sister's art work or writings or musical talent. Speak of how indispensable a person's gift of administration or service or mercy is to the church.

May we all work together, using whatever gifts and graces we've been given, to build up the body and to live out our unity with Christ and one another-- until the church is radiant and beautiful, ready for her Bridegroom's return.

Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College and received her Master's in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She serves on the national women's ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. Christina is a conference and retreat speaker and writes for a number of Christian ministries including TGC and Ligonier. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her

Love and Anger at the Cross?

Last week, Wyatt Graham published a post titled, "The Father Was Not Angry at the Son of the Cross," in which he rightly explained that God the Father never stopped loving the Son--even when the Son hung on the cross. While there are many good and helpful statements in Wyatt's post--and, while he cites John Calvin for support--quite a number of them raise more questions than they answer. For instance, he says, "To build a case that the Father was angry with the Son goes beyond Scripture and the consensus of orthodox Christianity." Here we need to pause and ask, "Is it, in fact, unorthodox to believe that, in some sense, the Father was angry with the Son when He hung on the cross in the place of His people to atone for their sin and propitiate the wrath of the Father for their eternal redemption?" 

That the Father never stopped loving the Son--even when he hung on the cross--is one of the most important Christological truths upon which we can meditate. After all, it was Jesus who said, "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again" (John 10:17). Herman Witsius, the 17th century Dutch theologian, explained that the Son "never pleased the Father more, than when he showed himself obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."1 In his sermon, "The Saddest Cry from the Cross," Charles Spurgeon explained, 

"If it had been possible for God's love towards His Son to be increased, He would have delighted in Him more when He was standing as the suffering Representative of His chosen people than He had ever delighted in Him before."2

It is impossible for one member of the Godhead to look upon another without infinite and eternal love...even for one second. 

While it is undeniable that the Father never stopped loving the Son (even when the Son bore the wrath of God on the cross), the way we should speak about the Son as our substitute in relation to the Father when he hung on the cross has been long debated. Is it right, in any sense whatsoever, to say that the Father was angry with the Son when He punished the Son in our place and for our sin? Was he ever the subject of the holy anger of which we, as hell-deserving sinners, are the proper objects?

When we take up the question about God's disposition toward his people, we must first seek to embrace all that Scripture has to say. The Apostle Paul made quite clear that we are all "by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Eph. 2:3). John Calvin wrote, 

"Children of wrath are those who are lost, and who deserve eternal death. Wrath means the judgment of God; so that the children of wrath are those who are condemned before God. Such, the apostle tells us, had been the Jews,--such had been all the excellent men that were now in the Church; and they were so by nature, that is, from their very commencement, and from their mother's womb."3

Why did Jesus have to bear the wrath of God on the cross when he hung there as our representative? Simply put, Jesus had to step in the place of filthy (Job 15:16; Lam. 1:8; Isaiah 64:6; ), ungodly (Rom. 4:5; 5:6); God hating (Rom. 1:30) enemies (Rom. 5:10) who "deserve eternal death," those who are "condemned before God." There was nothing in us to commend us to God. The Apostle puts it in the strongest of terms when he said, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells (Rom. 7:18)." When we read these statements, and the many others like it, we are meant to say, "This is who I am by nature--an enemy of God, alienated from Him and under His wrath and just displeasure." 

Nevertheless, God sent His Son because of "the great love with which He loved us" (Eph. 2:4). The Apostle marveled at what God had done in Christ crucified and he said, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Paul's identity was bound up in the love of God in Christ. He wrote, "The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). God does not love us because of Jesus; rather, God loved us and so He gave His Son for us. As John Murray put it, "The death of Christ does not constrain or elicit the love of God but the love of God constrained to the death of Christ as the only adequate provision of this love. The love of God is the impulsive force and its distinctive character is demonstrated in that which emanates from it."

When we take these two things together we have to say that the cross shows me that I am, by nature, the object of God's just anger and displeasure and that I am the object of His eternal and unmerited love, by grace. The cross reveals a both/and rather than an either/or. This is essential to understanding that the Father never stopped loving the Son on the cross and that He made the Son the object of His just displeasure and anger as the representative who stood in our place to atone for our sin and to propitiate God's wrath. 

In his "Conciliatory, or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies agitated in Britain, under the Unhappy Names of Antinomians and Neonomians" (They were quite luxurious with the printing press back then), Witsius explained the longstanding difference of opinion among orthodox theologians over how to speak about the Son in light of the fact that He was bearing the wrath of God for His people on the cross. He first asked whether or not it was proper to say that "Christ on account of the pollution of our sins was also polluted and odious, and placed in such a state that God abhorred him?" After explaining that the Father never stopped loving the Son, but did, in fact, love him most when he was on the cross, Witsius wrote:

"Christ, not because of the susception of our sins, which was an holy action, and most acceptable to God, but because of the sins themselves which he took upon him, and because of the persons of sinners whom he sustained, was represented not only under the emblem of a lamb, inasmuch as it is a stupid kind of creature, and ready to wander; but also of a lascivious, a wanton, and a rank-smelling goat, Lev. 16:7. yea, likewise of a cursed serpent, John 3:14. and in that respect, was execrable and accursed, even to God. For this is what Paul expressly asserts, Gal. 3:13. on which place Calvin thus comments, "He does not say that Christ was cursed, but a curse, which is more; for it signifies that the curse due to all, terminated in him. If this seem hard to any, let him also be ashamed of the cross of Christ, in the confession of which we glory!"4

Witsius then suggested that even if we agree that "God abhorred the Son" when he legally represented us on the cross, we should be willing--for the sake of peace--to limit ourselves to the language of Scripture (e.g. Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), 

"What cogent reason is there, why we should say that Christ was odious and abominable to the Father, when we may adhere to the dictates of the Holy Spirit, who pronounces that he was an execration (i.e. an angry denouncement or curse) of God? But I would wish also to know what there is in these words of human invention, except that they are of human invention, for the sake of which others are so much offended. If we love the thing itself, is there more of emphasis or of weight, in the names filthy, odious, abominable, than in the name cursed, or execrable? Why do we strive about words, which may be safely omitted, if found to give offense; but being also innocently said, ought not to be wrested to another sense."5

Next, Witsius set out an important section of the "Formula of Concord" as, what he deemed to be, "a convenient method of agreement" in this debate, 

"Since there is an exchange of persons between Christ and believers, and since the guilt of our iniquities was laid upon him, the Father was OFFENDED AND ANGRY with him. Not that he was ever moved with any PASSION against him, which is repugnant in general to the perfection of the Divine nature, under whatever consideration: neither that he was by any means offended at him, much less abhorred him, so far as he was considered IN HIMSELF, for so he was entirely free from all sin; but as considered IN RELATION TO US, seeing he was our SURETY, carrying our sins in his own Body. Thus, if by an OFFENDED AND AN ANGRY mind, you understand a holy WILL TO PUNISH, Christ the Lord felt and bore the displeasure of God, and the weight of his wrath, in the punishment of our sins, which were translated to him. For it pleased the Father to bruise him, having laid the iniquities of us all upon him."6

Witsius concluded, "If these things are granted on both sides, as is just, what controversy can remain?" 

In short, it is right for us to both affirm that the Father never stopped loving the Son when he hung on the cross and that the Father was justly angry with the Son "because of the sins themselves which he took upon him, and because of the persons of sinners whom he sustained." It would be unorthodox to insist that within the Godhead, the love of the Father for the Son was ever diminished or ceased. That would be a denial of the doctrine of Divine simplicity. It would be equally unorthodox to insist that--insomuch as Jesus was the representative of a people who are, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God and rightly the objects of his just anger and displeasure--the Son was not the object of the Father's just wrath. 

1.Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 44. 

2. An excerpt from Charles Spurgeon's sermon "The Saddest Cry from the Cross," Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit #2803

3. Jon Calvin Calvin on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and the Ephesians (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1841) p. 203

4. Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions pp. 44-45.

5. Ibid. p. 46.

6. Ibid., pp. 46-47. 

Luther, Law and Love


Life is too short not to reap the spiritual benefit of reading Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Archibald Alexander, the first professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, once said that this particular work was the most influential book he read during his formative years. While Luther was certainly a theologian in transition throughout much of his early years, his commentary on Galatians gives us the most robust and developed Reformational theology--the fruit of years of diligent theological study, wrestling with the text of Scripture in polemical dialogue with the medieval Catholicism from which Luther labored set the church free. 

Insisting that Martin Luther was antinomian (i.e. that he had no place for the moral Law of God in the Christian life) many have sadly misrepresented Luther's doctrine of sanctification. There are several rationales for such a mischaracterization. First, Luther made infelicitous statements about the Epistle of James, on account of the fact that he did not understand James' argument on faith and good works. Second--and in many respects related to the first--Luther spent a great deal of his time fighting against the Roman Catholic notion that love was co-instrumental with faith in our justification before God. Luther's relentless defense of justification by faith alone has often overshadowed all that he wrote on sanctification and the Christian life. Third, Luther tended to stress the role of the Holy Spirit as the agent and faith and love as the co-instruments of our sanctification more than he did the Law of God as a means of our sanctification. While Calvin often spoke of the law of God as a means of our sanctification, Luther tended to place his emphasis on the other elements of the process of sanctification. A brief perusal of Luther's treatment of the applicatory section of Galatians, however, shows how he developed his teaching on the place of love in the believer's sanctification with regard to the demands of the law of God. In short, Martin Luther did not believe that sanctification was produced in the life of a believer by a passive, inactive faith. He emphatically asserted otherwise, in his commentary on Galatians 5. 

When he came to exposit Galatians 5:6, Luther explained that there is a dual instrumentality of faith and love in our sanctification. He wrote:

"Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, "In Christ Jesus circumcision avails nothing," i.e., works avail nothing, but faith alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, "If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing," is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men."

That being said, when he came to Galatians 5:16, Luther unequivocally denied that love plays any role in our justification:

"It is a great error to attribute justification to a love that does not exist or, if it does, is not great enough to placate God; for, as I have said, even the saints love in an imperfect and impure way in this present life, and nothing impure will enter the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5). But meanwhile we are sustained by the trust that Christ, "who committed no sin and on whose lips no guile was found" (1 Peter 2:22), covers us with His righteousness. Shaded and protected by this covering, this heaven of the forgiveness of sins and this mercy seat, we begin to love and to keep the Law. As long as we live, we are not justified or accepted by God on account of this keeping of the Law. But "when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every authority" (1 Cor. 15:24), and when "God is everything to everyone" (1 Cor. 15:28), then faith and hope will pass away, and love will be perfect and eternal (1 Cor. 13:8)."1

And, while Luther took the strongest stand against the insistence that love plays any part in our justification, he came full circle back to defense the truth about love in the work of sanctification in his comments on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. Luther explained his understanding of Paul's use of the phrase "against which there is no law," when he wrote, 

"One must beware of understanding him in a stupid way, as if the righteous man did not have to live a good life and do good deeds (for this is what the uninstructed understand not being under the Law to mean). But the righteous has no law, because he owes the Law nothing, since he has the love which performs and fulfills the Law."2

While this may not satisfy all the concerns one may have about a theological deficiency in Luther's doctrine of sanctification, a careful study of his commentary on Galatians is sure to put many of uniformed concerns at bay. 

1. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 27, p. 64). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

2. Ibid., p. 378.

An Extraordinary Love


Dying to self is the fertile ground from which love springs and the weeds of anger and hatred and jealousy cannot take root. When we die to self, we look more like the One who bought us and more like children of our heavenly Father. Let us shock the world by manifesting a Kingdom ethic they can't help but find alluring.

As Christians, ours is a different ethic--namely, a Kingdom ethic. We live by an ethic that comes from above. That truth is brought home as Jesus teaches, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'" (Matt. 5:43-44). This statement by Jesus launches the Christian ethic into the stratosphere of uniqueness. He says that we are not just to refrain hating our enemies back but we are to have a positive attitude towards our enemies! "Those who persecute you," Jesus says. He takes the worst of enemies. Are there any enemies more difficult to love than persecutors? And we are supposed to love those?

When Stephen is being stoned as the first martyr of the Christian church and Saul stands there holding the garments, Stephen utters his last words, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." He is being executed unjustly and yet it is not anger that pours forth, but love. He prays for them.

"This just isn't possible," we might think. I agree, it isn't possible in our flesh. But it is possible for the child of God by the Spirit of God to love the enemies of God for the glory of God. Stephen possessed the power of Christ within Him. The same Christ, who hung upon the cross and cried out to His Father in prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:24).

Isn't this the crux (pun intended) of the Christian life? We look different because we are different. As Christians, we don't belong to this world, so we don't respond as the world with anger and hatred. Let them foam at the mouth, but not us. Let them be on a continual cycle of anger with the day's news, the day's injuries, the day's insults, but not us.

Jesus goes on to say, be "perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Jesus sets before His disciples the ethics of the Father and says, "See who He is; be like Him. Do as He does." Our life is to reflect the life of our Father and manifest His person and truth to the world around us. That is revolutionary, especially in our day!

How do we manifest love instead of anger and hatred? Only by His power. Only by reminding ourselves that we ourselves have no ground on which to stand. To inquire within, "How can I have anger and even hatred in my heart towards my enemies, when I was the recipient of God's love and grace when I was an enemy?" "Has a greater insult or injury been offered to me than I offered to God?" How can I not give what I have received? How can I not understand the grip sin can have upon another? How can I not be moved with compassion that they lack knowledge of the grace of God or don't know it to the degree I do?" We take a step back and look at our enemies with the lens of God's grace and love.

What impact could it have on this culture, a culture that desperately needs it, if every Christian transferred the fervor of hatred, ridicule, and anger towards our enemies into fervent prayer for them instead? What if we prayed with the same zeal with which we ruminate upon the injustices done to us? What kind of impact could that have?

"Love your enemies," Jesus says. He doesn't say we have to like them. Some have done such horrible things, that we may never like them. But we can love them. We can take a step back and remind ourselves of the sinner they are and the need for God's grace they have, just as we are and have need. As Christians, we don't take our ethical standards from the community we live in--thank God. We don't look to society to set our standard for what is right and wrong. We don't look horizontally to determine who we should be. We look vertically at who He is; and, He is love. He is our Father. His only begotten Son is our Savior. This God sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). He gives good gifts to all. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). That is love. We were enemies and He loved us. So, our love is to surpass that which the world evidences. Not just exceed them in quantity but in quality. Ours is a different love. Ours is to be an extraordinary shocking love.

Pursuing True Unity


There is something transcendently unifying when a group is engaged together in a singular, heroic cause. For instance, historians have often highlighted the camaraderie and esprit de corps they have found among the members of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps embodies, perhaps more than anything else in American public life, a brotherhood--forged in the forest of Belleau Wood, on the sands of Iwo Jima, through the bitter cold of Chosin Reservoir, and in the streets of Fallujah. The Marine Corps represents an ethos which has gripped the American imagination since our nation's inception. And that ethos centers around the fact that Marines fight America's toughest battles. When I entered the Corps in 2007, it was at the height of our involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan War. As Marines we shared a common enemy and a common mission and our success depended on our unity as Marines. In this war-time environment, it was normal for Marines from every socio-economic background in America to forge close friendships with each other. I served with Marines who loved those of different ethnicities as much or even more than their own families, and they were willing to lay down their lives for each other. It really did not matter whether you were white, black, Asian, Republican, Democrat, poor, rich, or something in between (not that these identities and distinctions are unimportant), what mattered was that you were a Marine and that we needed each other to win the fight against a formidable enemy.

By way of contrast, our ethnically, politically and socio-economically diverse nation is currently rift with division. Rod Dreher and many others predicted that this is exactly where we would be, after President Trump was elected. It is also not surprising that the wider divisions in the culture have seeped down into the Church. What is surprising is that rather than seeking to maintain biblical unity by the means outlined in the New Testament, some in the Church are turning to secular social constructs and methods--advocating for their use in the Church. It seems that the sufficiency of Scripture is being compromised by many who continue to give lip service to its inerrancy and authority.

That being said, in the midst of all the political and ideological division in our nation, the Church has a golden opportunity to achieve and model true Christian unity. Our unity should be a central part of our prophetic witness to this culture. We need to turn back to the Scripture to discover how that unity was achieved and how it is to be nurtured and maintained among the members of Christ's body.

New Testament Unity in the Gospel

The New Testament emphasis, over and over again, is that true Christian unity is only built on a right understanding of the gospel. No matter our national allegiance, economic background, political party, or ethnicity, the gospel unites believers in one faith, one 'body' (1 Cor 12:12, 17). This is why Paul, a devout Jew, called Titus, a young Greek, "my true child" (Tit 1:4). To what does Paul attribute this close relationship (which, incidentally, contradicted the social boundaries of the ancient world)? He called it the "common faith" (Tit 1:4). It should not be lost on us that it is the gospel and a unity in orthodox doctrine which enables a once prejudiced Jew to call a former godless Greek his own legitimate son. It is also the gospel which enables Paul to write to the Romans, "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you--that is that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mind" (Rom 1:11-12). Our common Christian faith is to bring us together above everything else and cause us to give encouragement to one another. The true gospel and the true gospel alone must be our primary focus--as Martyn Lloyd-Jones emphasized so well at the height of the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century.

It is our knowledge and love of God and the Lord Jesus Christ which transforms our relationships with one another. As Jesus taught, it is those who obey the gospel who are His true "mother and brothers" (Matt 12:49). The family of God outstrips all our other allegiances and affiliations. This includes our allegiance to a political party or ethnicity. Identity, and therefore unity, in the New Testament is almost always linked to the fact that we have been united to Christ in faith through the gospel. This is surely Paul's argument in Galatians 3:26-28, where the Apostle wrote,

"For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Paul was not insisting that these other identities do not matter (indeed he makes a great deal about Jewish identity in Romans 9-11 and male and female identity in Ephesians 5); rather, he is highlighting the fact that these identities are inconsequential when it comes to our standing in Christ. Nor should they be the primary emphasis in matters of Christian unity and fellowship with one another. This is also Paul's point in the second half of Ephesians 2, but I am not going to belabor the point.

On the flip-side, the gospel is also an equal-party offender. Paul's point in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is crystal clear. Both Jews and Greeks were confronted by the message of the cross because it grated against their pre-conceived expectations of God--the Jews could not stand that their messiah could die the death of one cursed by God and the Greeks thought it foolishness that a powerful God would allow himself to be abused and killed. But the message of the gospel, "to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks" is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24). This is why it is a travesty if our local church congregations do not reflect the ethnic diversity of our surrounding communities. For example, an ethnically monolithic church in a diverse geographical community is an affront to the unity the gospel produces among believers. For God is also an equal party elector and Savior. I could say a lot more here, but I think the point is made. The gospel is meant to break into diverse communities and bring a united people together who, by the world's standards, are not supposed to be united.

The New Testament Mission of God

The second principle of New Testament unity is a resolute focus on the mission of Christ. Christ charges us to "make disciples" through the proclamation of the gospel (Matt 28:19-20). Paul emphasized over and over again the necessity of gospel preaching in cultures, rife with issues of injustice (e.g. 2 Tim 4:2, Tit 1:3). It was this focus and the spiritual battle against the forces of darkness, which oppose this mission, which united the Church together.

In our day, many issues of justice such as abortion, slavery and human trafficking, or the treatment of refugees are important...very important. But they are not the primary mission of the Church. Nor are those issues what the Church is to be united around. Not that the Church cannot speak to those issues or that individual Christians cannot engage those issues of injustice with great success, but cultural transformation is not the primary mission of Christ's Church.

In the pages of the New Testament we discover that the early Church rallied around its primary mission, which was and is the proclamation of the gospel. As Christ's Church we have been commissioned with the most important mission in history. It is Christ's mission. And this mission demands all of our effort and energies as well as our unity in the gospel. We also have the most formidable enemy that has ever existed: Satan himself. Satan would love nothing more than for Christ's church to be divided against herself arguing about privilege, power, and political affiliation. Such discussions, in light of our daunting mission, are like stopping to debate about who is holding the fire hose and who is cranking the ladder in the midst of a five-alarm fire. We can be sure that when the Church leaves her primary mission behind and leaves her flank exposed in division that Satan is rejoicing.

When We Sin Against Each Other

Even when we are unified in our identity in the gospel and thoroughly engaged in Christ's mission, there will be times when we sin against one another. Christians will inevitably offend, and sadly sometimes grievously hurt, one another. Sometimes we offend even when we do not intend to do so. This leads to the third principle of Christian unity. Believers are called by God to relentlessly love one another. 1 Peter 4:8, Peter says, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." Our love for one another is an overflow of Christ's love for us (1 John 4:7). Our hearts are to overflow with love for one another inn such a way that our "love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). We are to think the best of one another and we are to be quick to extend forgiveness to one another (Col 3:13). This is key to our preserving the unity that we already have in our mutual union with Christ.

There is no room in the Church for harboring bitterness against a fellow Christian. There is no room for demanding that wrongs be repaid or 'reparations' be made--as some have recently been suggesting. There is no room for continually harboring doubt and distrust towards those who indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. Rather, we should be defined by a spirit of love and forgiveness. This love for one another, even when wronged, is what will stun our embittered culture.

In our divided culture, unity in the Church will be only nurtured and maintained, using the methods and principles that Jesus and the Apostles have outlined for us in the New Testament. If all of the members of our churches would commit to holding fast to our unifying identity in the gospel, relentlessly engaging in Christ's mission of gospel proclamation, and being clothed in Christian love for one another, our churches will be those that effectively maintain unity. These bodies of believers, from diverse backgrounds and idealogies, will serve as beacons of unity in a divided world. I'm hopeful that the Holy Spirit will do a great work among us to this end. This is our time and our opportunity to maintain and model unity God's way.

Imagine There's No Hell

At the Desiring God 1990 Pastor's Conference, Sinclair Ferguson gave a talk titled, "The Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment." It is, without doubt, one of the most significant treatments of the doctrine of hell that I have ever heard. At the outset of that lecture, Ferguson told the following story: 

"A number of years ago, certainly within the lifetime of all of us present in this room, one of the royal princesses of the realm coming out of a cathedral service in England spoke to the dean of the chapter of the cathedral, and said to him, 'Is it true, dean, that there is a place called Hell?' To which the dean apparently replied, 'Madame, the Scriptures say so, Christian people have always believed so, and the Church of England confesses so.' To which she responded, 'Then in God's name, why do you not tell us so?'" 

If the princess' sentiment was an adequate reflection on the preaching in churches in the Western world so many decades ago, it is certainly true of preaching in the church today. Despite a paucity of biblical preaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment, there remains no shortage of attacks on the idea of preaching about the doctrine of hell. Carving out a caricature of conservative Southern pastors, Andy Stanley recently sounded off about his aversion to the idea of preaching about hell. He said: 

"Have you ever heard preachers (well, you have if you grew up in the South)...have you ever heard preachers rant about sin? It's like they're angry at sinners, they're angry about sin, they're just judgmental--they're angry at sinners and happy about hell (audience laughter)? That's Old Covenant thinking that leaked in. That's mix and match. That's an Old Covenant prophet railing against the nation of Israel, "And God is going to judge you," "And God is going to get you." It's Old Testament. It's Old Covenant. In the New Covenant, do you know what we discover? That sin doesn't make God angry." 

I'm not sure what's worse--the fact that Andy Stanley tagged every minister who happens to be Southern, who hates sin and who preaches about eternal punishment as an angry, judgmental bigot who loves hell or that he threw the Old Covenant prophets in the same basket. 

Whatever one may think about his statement, it is clearly en vogue, in our day, for false teachers to mock the biblical teaching on eternal punishment, every chance they get. The mocking of eternal punishment became something of a trend among former evangelicals when Rob Bell responded to the insistence that Ghandi was in hell back in 2011:

"Gandhi's in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?" 

The irony is that while Bell was subtly denying the idea of a place of eternal punishment altogether when he utilized his series of rhetorical questions, he was simultaneously affirming the reality of the existence of such a place. As John Lennon suggested, denying the reality of hell is "easy if you try." But that's the point, isn't it? You have to try and imagine there isn't a place of eternal punishment in which the justice and wrath of God is displayed on the unrighteous for all of eternity, precisely because there is such a place. Which is what makes Stanley's statements so perplexing. It's as if he believes that God somehow did away with a place of eternal punishment--a place that he, at one and the same time, seems to affirm existed prior to Christ coming into the world to saved his people from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). 

A few days ago, Rachel Held Evans took to Twitter to mock an important point that Tim Keller made about eternal punishment and the cross. Keller had written, "Unless you believe in Hell, you will never know how much Jesus loves you." Clearly missing the theological import of Keller's statement, Evans responded, "I will never understand a worldview in which one's security in Christ is dependent upon the eternal torture of millions of men, women, and children in hell. 'Well at least it's not me' is not a faith rooted in love, but a faith rooted in selfishness and fear.'" Though a terribly twisted misrepresentation of the intent of Keller's statement, Evans is correct about this much: the issue of the importance of the doctrine of hell is the issue of security in Christ. In other words, "From what does Jesus save us (secure us)? and "For what does Jesus save us (secure us)?" If we don't know the biblical teaching about that which Jesus saves us from, we will never adequately begin to grasp the greatness of the love that compelled him to die to secure that which he saves us for

The other issue that Evans fails to see is that Keller, in highlighting the love of Christ, is emphasizing the conjunction of justice and mercy in the death of Christ. In Cur Deus Homo, Anselm--the great eleventh century theologian--captured the essence of this conjunction when he He wrote: 

"The mercy of God, which seemed to disappear when we considered the justice of God and the sin of man, is so great, and so consistent with justice, that we can think of nothing greater or more just. For what can be conceived more merciful, than, when the sinner has been condemned to eternal torments, and has nothing by which to redeem himself, God says, 'Take My Only-begotten Son, and give Him for yourself:' and the Son Himself says, 'Offer Me and redeem yourself?'...Again, what can be conceived more just than that He to whom is offered a Price greater than all the debt, should, if it be offered with the due disposition, forgive the whole debt?"

On the cross, the eternal Son propitiated (i.e. removed) the eternal wrath due to those who have sinned against the eternal God by himself falling under that wrath and suffering the equivalent of eternal punishment in the place of his people. We will never begin to adequately understand Jesus' cry of dereliction on the cross, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me" (Matt. 27:26), until we come to terms with the fact that we deserve to be forsaken by God for all eternity on account of our sin (Matt. 25:46). After all, one sin against an eternal being necessarily has eternal consequences. We will never understand what Jesus experienced when he said, "I thirst," until we first hear what he said about the rich man in torments in Hell (Luke 16:24). Jesus warned repeatedly about the reality of eternal punishment under the figure of being cast into "outer darkness" where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). As J. Gresham Machen once noted, "These words were not spoken by Augustine, or by George Whitefield, or by Jonathan Edwards, but by Jesus of Nazareth."

If there is no hell then there is no need for the atoning sacrifice of the eternal Son of God. If there is no hell, we should draw the same conclusion that the Apostle Paul drew when he put forward the logical implications of the resurrection: "If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (1 Cor. 15:32)! If there is no eternal punishment, then there is no magnification of the love of God. As the Apostle explained in Romans 5:8-10, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." If there is no eternal wrath of God removed by the blood of Jesus then there is no eternal love of God demonstrated in the death of Christ. 

If we are to faithfully herald the love of Christ which passes knowledge, we must faithfully and compassionately herald the wrath of God which passes comprehension. We don't help anyone see their need for the eternal life and blessedness that comes to us by faith alone in Christ alone, if we deny, downplay or disregard the reality of eternal death and destruction that we deserve on account of our sin. Far from being judgmental or selfish, preaching about eternal punishment in order to magnify the grace and mercy of God in Christ crucified and risen is the most loving, compassionate and God-honoring thing a minister can do. May God raise up a generation of pastors and preachers who will faithfully proclaim the wrath to come in order to hold up the One who died to save his people from that wrath.

The Incomparable Conjunction of Love and Wrath

I was recently reading John Murray's profoundly enriching sermon, "The Father's Love"--in the newly released volume of his sermon, O Death, Where is Thy Sting?--and was struck afresh with the wonder of the mystery of the commingling of the Father's love and wrath in His dealings with the Son on the cross. This greatest of all subjects received quite a good deal of attention last year, after Tim Keller tweeted out the following sentiment: "If you see Jesus losing the infinite love of the Father out of His infinite love for you, it will melt your hardness." While I certainly share the concern of those who reacted swiftly to the idea that the Son lost the Father's love when He hung on the cross, I was disheartened to see how many of the responses lacked a strong focus on the simultaneity of the manifestation of the Father's eternal love and divine wrath directed to the Son when He hung on the cross. In his sermon on Romans 8:32, however, Murray held these two seemingly incompatible truths inseparably together. 

When he first gave consideration of the words of the text, "spared not His own Son," Murray explained:

"The Father loved the Son with infinite and immutable love because he did not cease to be the only begotten Son, and the infinite love necessarily flowed out from the very relationship that he essentially and immutably sustained to God the Father" (76). 

Murray insisted that we must distinguish between the two kinds of love that the Father had for the Son. The first is that immutable, "infinite love that flows out from the Father to the Son because of the intrinsic relationship that they sustain to one another" (75) The second is "the love of complacency that flowed out with increasing intensity to the Son because of His fulfillment of the Father's commission" (75). This second kind of love that the Father had for the Son is captured in the words of Christ in John 10:17: "Therefore, the Father loves me because I lay down my life, that I may take it again." From this, we must conclude that the Father loved the Son incarnate the most, precisely at the moment when he was voluntarily laying down His life in connection with the command of His Father in the counsels of eternity. Murray noted:

"Every detail of the suffering endured by the Son constrained the love and delight of God the Father because it was all endured by the Son in obedience to the Father's will and--in the performance of the Father's will--the Son committed no sin." 

There is, however, "an incomparable conjunction" at the cross--"an unheard-of conjunction: infinite love and divine wrath." The Son becomes the object of the commingling of the love of the Father and the unmitigated wrath of the Father. "The essence of sin's curse and judgment," stated Murray, "is the wrath of God. So, if Jesus bore sin and if he bore our curse and if he was made sin, then the vicarious fearing of the wrath of God belongs to the very essence of his atoning accomplishment" (78). Here we see that the doctrine of propitiation is of the very essence of the truth of the Gospel. 

Murray further developed the mystery of the meaning of the conjunction of the manifestation of the Father's infinite love and divine wrath at the cross in this sermon, when he noted: 

"The truth is that it is just because the Son was the object of this immutable, infinite, and unique love that he could at the same time be the subject of the wrath of God... (78)

...It was only because the Son was the object of the Father's unique and immutable love that He could be thus abandoned. No other would be equal to it. The lost in perdition will be abandoned eternally, but not one of them will be able to of have occasion to say, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" The abandonment of Christ on Calvary's tree was abandonment in pursuance of the commission given him by the Father, and it was abandonment with the unparalleled effect of ending that abandonment. And because it was abandonment with this result, it was abandonment with inimitable agony and reality...(79)

...The determinate purpose of the Father's love was the explanation for the spectacle of the Son's death. But the love that the Father bore to the Son did not diminish the severity of the ordeal that creates this spectacle--the ordeal of the cross and the abandonment vicariously born" (79). 

The Father's love for those for whom the Son bears His wrath is set against the background of this wondrous conjunction of the Father's love and wrath directed to the Son. Murray noted, "The Father loved His people with such invincible love and purpose that he executed the full toll, the full stroke, of their condemnation upon His own Son. That is the Father's love" (77).

All of this should, of course, make us "stagger with amazement...the amazement of believing and adoring wonder" (77). When we come to understand that the Father loved the Son the most while making the Son the object of His full and unfettered wrath--as He stood in our place as our substitutionary sacrifice--our hard hearts are melted. It is the "incomparable conjunction" of the Father's love and wrath directed to the Son that enables believers to grasp something of the greatness of the love that the Father has for us. 

Faith Among the Graces: Edwards on Faith and Love


This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation when the German Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed a long series of academic debating points about the medieval Roman Catholic penitential system (the 95 theses) to the door of the Wittenberg church. One of the central questions of the Reformation revolved around the nature or essence of saving faith. Is faith in relation especially to the blessing or benefit of justification passive and receptive or is it an active or working faith? Does faith have its own integrity or does it have to be supplemented or completed by another grace?

The Reformation concluded that saving faith, as it is related to justification (i.e. the saving benefit of a sinner being found acceptable in the sight of a holy and righteous God by virtue of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ) is merely receptive. That is, one is justified by placing one's faith in Jesus and that results in the complete forgiveness of one's sins and the obtaining of a right(eous) standing before God. The Reformers determined that the Scriptures taught that faith was the alone instrument or means whereby the sinner unites to and apprehends Christ. While a true and living faith was understood to always be accompanied by all the other saving graces, none of these other graces were taken into consideration by God for his or her justification. It was sola fide or faith alone that was the instrument of justification.

The medieval Roman Catholic church held that saving faith was formed faith. That is, in order for faith to save, it must be formed or perfected by love. In practical terms, one was saved by faith and good works. Luther and the other Reformers recognized that a true and living faith always produced good works but that good works had no part in a proper and biblical understanding of the nature or essence of faith. Faith for Luther and the other Reformers, while accompanied by other graces such as love, was not defective and in need of some corrective such as love.

Over two hundred years later--and across the Atlantic Ocean--New England pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards addressed the question of the relation of faith and love in relation to each other in the thirteenth sermon in the preaching series later published as Charity and its Fruits entitled "Christian Graces Concatenated Together." Edwards has been at the center of a scholarly debate regarding whether or not his concern for sanctification in the Christian life, and specifically his concern with nominalism caused him to compromise his Protestant and Reformed principles about the integrity of justifying faith.

In the 1950s preeminent Edwards scholar Thomas Schafer argued that Edwards had in fact undermined, or called into question, his commitment to a biblical and confessionally Reformed understanding of faith and love in justification. Schafer did not suggest that Edwards intentionally departed from the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but that given his concerns with the new birth and growth in sanctification in the Christian life, he had perhaps accidentally moved away from the gold standard of Reformed orthodoxy. Schafer argued that Edwards embraced a quasi-Roman Catholic understanding of saving faith as formed faith, that is, faith formed by love. It is agreed that Edwards defended the traditional Reformed doctrine of justification in his graduation oration at Yale and in his lecture series on justification delivered at Northampton in 1734. No doubt we will not be able to settle this dispute here and now. However, we can look at how Edwards discusses the relation of faith and love in this sermon to open up for a window into how Edwards thought about this.

Before delving into the specifics of the sermon, we should note the context of this particular sermon. The sermon "Christian Graces Concatenated Together" is the thirteenth of a sixteen sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13, famously known as the "love chapter." I note this in order to point out the direct subject matter is not the doctrine of justification per se, or the nature of justifying faith. Having said this, any confessionally Reformed theologian worth his salt would always have a concern to be as clear and careful as possible when talking about faith (even in a context such as this sermon where the doctrine of justification is not directly in view)--to clearly define faith in such a way as to maintain its integrity as a discrete Christian grace. Faith is a broad biblical category of which justifying faith is one element or facet. What we say about faith more broadly, however, must not undermine what we say more narrowly about justifying faith.

Additionally, I should mention Edwards' emphasis on the integrated nature of the human soul. Edwards moved away from the faculty psychology of his day in which the powers of the human soul (intellect and will) worked concurrently with each other rather than in a reified, hierarchical manner. This means that faith for Edwards was a "whole soul" endeavor. It was not just a matter or the intellect or will alone, but both working together.

Now we can turn to the sermon "Christian Graces Concatenated Together." The main point of the sermon is that whatever Christian graces the Holy Spirit dispenses to Christians, they are chained (this is what concatenation means) together or they occur together or they are interlocked or linked. This is a thoroughly sound and biblical insight. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and not fruits. Wherever one fruit such as love, joy, or peace occur, so do others. The Westminster Assembly divines concurred in this (which is a good thing since they were aiming to be biblical!) when they noted that while justification was by faith alone, it was not a faith that was alone. True faith would always be accompanied by every other saving grace. In the case of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is arguing for the supremacy of agape love. In the end, only three graces remain and survive into the eschaton: faith, hope, and love. And, as Paul tells us, the greatest of these is love. Note that this is said by the Apostle of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Edwards tells us three things about the Christian graces: they always appear together, they depend on one another, and they are implied in one another. For our purposes, it is the second and third points that may be most problematic. To say that faith depends upon hope and love in order to be faith or vice versa does seem to suggest that faith does not maintain its own integrity or independence. The further point that faith implies hope and love or implicates them also casts into doubt Edwards' understanding of faith. Edwards goes further and says that love is of the essence of faith or is essential to faith or is an essential ingredient of faith.

One basic Pauline thought at this point is that the fruit of the Spirit, while multifaceted, is singular. We can even recognize a sort of synergy at work in the concatenated graces in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We can go further and say that each grace brings out the best in the others. But, to many, Edwards' language of faith depending upon hope and love to be what it is and to function properly seems to undermine the discrete integrity of faith. Some have suggested that it comes too close to the Roman Catholic notion of formed faith. It is one thing to say that hope and love enrich faith but it is another to say faith depends upon hope and love. This dependency relation suggests that faith cannot function in its own right. That is, faith qua faith, is insufficient. The same thing can be said about implication. Implication suggests that no grace is sufficient as God created them and gives them to his people. Is it logomachy to suggest that impinge might be a better word than imply?

Edwards' concern to stress that Christian graces come together like a floral bouquet is altogether legitimate. But dependency appears to undermine the proper functionality of each grace. Love is not faith--neither is it hope. Implication appears to undermine the discrete integrity of faith, hope, and love. Is Edwards' suggesting in so many words, that the Christian graces interpenetrate one another in a manner analogous to the perichoretic nature of the triune Godhead? He does not say as much in this sermon; but, one is left wonder.

We are left to conclude that while Edwards nowhere affirms in this sermon the medieval Roman Catholic doctrine of formed faith, the logical implication of what he says seems to suggest something similar. Be that as it may, this does not square with what Edwards has written elsewhere about justification by faith alone. I suggest that we have a consistency breakdown in the teaching in this particular sermon.

In conclusion, what we learn from this experiment is that no fallen, sinful Christian theologian can be accepted in everything he teaches or advocates. This is in no way to undermine Edwards' proper due influence. However, with regard to the dependency and implication ideas, Edwards appears to accidentally undermine the biblical and confessionally Reformed notion of justifying faith as passive and receptive and complete in and of itself with its own proper functionality and discrete integrity. The Protestant Reformation recovered a biblical jewel when justification and justifying faith were clarified. Edwards' muddies the waters at this point. So brethren, let's go back behind Edwards to the crystal clear fount of Scripture and the Reformers! 

Dr. Jeff Waddington is the interim pastor at Knox OPC in Landsdowne, PA. He is the author is The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. Jeff is a contributor on the podcast, "East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards."

Love the Sinner as You Love Your Sinful Self?

Over the past week, I've seen more appeals to the second half of Matthew 22:39 than I've seen artist postcards in a hipster coffee shop. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (which is the second greatest command, according to Jesus) is now apparently the favorite verse of atheists, agnostics and liberal Christians alike. Without doubt, it should be one of the most greatly beloved truths for anyone who calls himself or herself a disciple of Christ. However, this command can only be properly understood in light of the previous two verses, its own textual qualification and the teaching of Scripture regarding the person and work of Christ. 

Recently, while reading through Augustine's "On Christian Doctrine," I stumbled across an enlightening section on self-love, loving other and loving God. Augustine wrote: 

"He is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God's sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself. Likewise we ought to love another man better than our own body, because all things are to be loved in reference to God, and another man can have fellowship with us in the enjoyment of God, whereas our body cannot; for the body only lives through the soul, and it is by the soul that we enjoy God."

If we endure the enigmatic language of Augustine's opening sentence, we come to what is one of the most profound thoughts on the relationship between the first and second greatest commandments. "No sinner is to be loved as a sinner," he wrote, "and every man is to be loved as a man for God's sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself." Augustine is walking back from the second great commandment to the first great commandment; and, in that way, is showing that we cannot properly understand the second great commandment if we do not rightly understand the first. 

We will surely find ourselves at a loss to properly explain what Scripture means when it says "Love your neighbor as yourself" if we do not have an adequate understanding of what it means when it says "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." To love the Lord with all of our being is to live as a creature in dependence on our Creator, to humble ourselves under His word, to acknowledge His infinite, eternal and unchangeable being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth, to seek to do those things that are pleasing in His sight and to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. It is the first and great commandment because we are, in all that we do, to seek to please God rather than men (Gal. 1:10). In short, man's chief end is "to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." 

Without doubt, a vital constituent of loving the living and true God is loving those made in His image. If we don't love our fellow image bearers, then, the Apostle says, "he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20). It is impossible for someone to prove that he is living for and loving God if he is not seeking to love his neighbor as himself. 

When, however, someone bandies about Matthew 22:39--irrespective of its subordination in the taxonomy of Matthew 22:37-39--he or she often goes on to misconstrue its theological and ethical meaning. The second great command is not, "You shall love the sinner as you love your sinful self." As Augustine succinctly put it: "No sinner is to be loved as a sinner." Rather, we are to love our neighbor "as a man for God's sake." This involves first realize that "God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself." When we fail to place these truths in their proper order there is no end to the sorts of evil that we will readily tolerate in ourselves and promote in others.

Of course, none of us has loved the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. None of us has loved our neighbor as ourselves as we ought. In fact, we are all pervasively depraved by nature (Eph. 2:1-4). A Christian is necessarily someone who confesses that he or she has fallen short--so very short--of the glory of God (Rom. 6:23). A Christian is one who flees to the only One who ever perfectly loved the Lord with all of His heart, mind, soul and strength--to the only One who ever perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself. Jesus fulfilled the first and second great commandments. Jesus took the punishment, in His own body at the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), for our failure to keep these two commandments. Jesus bore the wrath of God that we deserve for our failure to love the Lord and our neighbor as we ought. Jesus did not "love the sinner as His sinful self." The sinless Son of God incarnate loved sinners "for God's sake, God for His own sake, and God more than any man." It is only as we keep the Jesus of the Scriptures before our eyes that we too will learn to love the Lord and our neighbor in a way that brings glory to God and good to our neighbors. 


A Historic Framework for Social Responsibility


How shall the church think about social issues of race, justice and power? It is increasingly popular for these issues to be framed and discussed in the church using the categories of social justice and racial privilege as defined by the social sciences. In secular academic settings such categories find their genesis in and are tethered to Marxist systems of analysis. These systems emphasize the struggle between oppressed and oppressor. Marxist frameworks may have surface resonances with Biblical concerns for justice, equality and the poor. However, these frameworks emphasize the ongoing Hegelian struggle of thesis and antithesis without a clear pathway for resolution. Therefore, the insights gained from such analyses are not placed within a framework adequate to provide a healthy response to the social problems posed.

Rather than relying--almost exclusively in certain sectors of the church--on categories that find their genesis in systems hostile to orthodox Christianity, the church should rediscover the corrective guidance of its own tradition and draw upon its creedal and confessional resources. One such resource is the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), a document famous for its exposition of the moral law of God. The WLC offers a paradigm for social responsibility, a framework for robust ethical reasoning, and points toward the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Paradigm for Social Responsibility

We don't need to rely on Marxist paradigms to teach us about social responsibility. The WLC's rules for interpreting the moral law make it clear that we are, in fact, our brother's keeper. WLC 99 states that "what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places." Similarly, rule eight sates "what is commanded to others, we are bound, according to our places and callings, to be helpful to them; and to take heed of partaking with others in what is forbidden them."

The WLC does not envision a Christian unconcerned with the moral obligations of their neighbor. Loving your neighbor as yourself includes helping them obey God. In the WLC's exposition of the Ten Commandments, this concern extends to the physical welfare of our neighbors too (see WLC 141-142). Pietistic isolation is not an option. As human beings we are knit together in social relationships which incur moral obligation.

However, the WLC pushes past the simplistic collectivism of Marxist paradigms which posit blanket responsibility or victimization in collectives of race, class and gender. Accordingly, moral guilt or a claim to justice will accrue to these same collectives. The result is a powerful, yet vague and ultimately unhelpful, angst. By contrast the WLC goes further, providing a framework that has the capacity to yield particular pathways for repentance, obedience and advocacy. The WLC teaches that our moral obligations will also be informed by our places and our callings.

On the one hand this is freeing. The single mother working two low-wage earning jobs does share the same kind of moral responsibility as the wealthy CEO for her neighbors, but she does not share the same degree of moral responsibility as the wealthy CEO. On the other hand, it is morally challenging. True righteousness is measured by deeds not by angst. Marxist paradigms that call for awareness, angst and protest allow us to rest content with awareness, angst and protest. The WLC pushes further, calling for actual righteous deeds to be done according to your place and calling. When we stand before God we shall not be judged for how we felt, but for what we have done. Therefore, we need theories of social responsibility that provide particular guidance for obedience.

A Framework for Robust Ethical Reasoning

Pastors and historians alike can tell you that evil deeds are often justified through painfully atomistic readings of Scripture. Our sinful hearts are prone to suppress obvious moral implications from Biblical texts. Jesus summarized the ten commandments with two great laws of love. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind soul and strength. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus reasons even as he appeals to the heart.

The WLC follows Jesus and embraces a well-reasoned use of the law of God. Good and necessary inferences are drawn from the commandments, always with a view to the whole counsel of Scripture: "where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded: so, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and, where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included." The WLC encourages a robust moral reasoning intended to give expression to the spirit of the law, lest our sinful hearts rest content with the letter of the law. Both the WLC's exposition of the commandments and the type of moral reasoning it encourages offer resources to fashion a Biblical response to issues of race, justice and power.

The Hope of the Gospel

The WLC makes it clear that the moral law of God binds all people at all times (WLC 91-93). It is the ethical standard that defines what Christians labor for in the public square as much as in the home. For example, the WLC reminds us that we are not to exercise "undue silence in a just cause" (WLC 145). We should "endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others" (WLC 142). In these matters the moral law of God will be our guide.

And yet, the WLC reminds us that ethics and morality are not social goods with which we can rest content. For love of God and neighbor we pursue earthly righteousness. But we accept that "none is righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). Therefore, there is no lasting hope without Christ. The law that guides our vision for justice will, if handled rightly, at the very same time convict us of our inability to keep it. For the regenerate this means that the law will "show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule to their obedience" (WLC 97). Here we see that the law moves us to worship and adore Christ when we realize that he kept it for us when we could not and bore its curse in our place. The WLC would have the law move our hearts to love Christ, and from that place of love to obey Christ.

For the unregenerate, the moral law is of use "to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ" (WLC 96). The law serves salvation by driving the unregenerate to Christ. We can never rest content with social transformation or the alleviation of earthly suffering. We will always be burdened to see spiritual transformation and the alleviation of eternal suffering. This is not to deny the God glorifying, neighbor loving value of alleviating temporal suffering. It is simply to remember that temporal suffering is temporal. Of course, to lean on the temporality of suffering as an excuse to ignore our neighbor's pain is wrong. But to forget that our neighbor faces eternal suffering is equally heartless, and with even greater consequences.

This understanding of the usefulness of the law for the unregenerate will inform how we exercise co-belligerence as Christians. Augustine famously coined the phrase City of Man to describe that realm of civil society where Christians labor with unbelievers for the common good. But, those with whom we labor in matters of social concern must take us as we are. We cannot make common cause with those who would demand we lay down the cross of Christ in order take up another cause. We cannot be silenced, for we must save both ourselves and our hearers.


In the spirit of avoiding what C.S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery," just because the Westminster Larger Catechism is old (1648) does not mean it is old-fashioned. It remains relevant today. Nor should we presume that because it was not heeded in earlier days that it did not speak clearly enough to be heard. Hearing was not the problem, heeding was. Chad Van Dixhoorn has noted that in the late 18th century the American Presbyterian church removed the word "depopulations" from the WLC's exposition of the eighth commandment. This ban "was embarrassing given the ongoing European settlement of territory once belonging to native Americans." One might wonder whether 19th century Presbyterians were not similarly embarrassed by the prohibitions against manstealing, defrauding one's neighbor and enriching oneself unjustly.

The WLC is not our only Biblical resource to address concerns over race, justice and power, but it is an important one. Our forebears seemed to have heard the WLC without heading it in these areas. We may find that tomorrow's embarrassment is not that we deleted a word from the WLC because it made us uncomfortable, but that we never bothered to read it seriously in the first place.


1. The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

2. Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2014), xxii.

Luther and Calvin's Quiet Discussions in Heaven

Those who cherish the Reformation have often sought out what, if any, influence Martin Luther may have had on John Calvin. Did the two Reformers ever meet in person? Was Calvin influenced by the writings or ministry of "the Initiator" of the Reformation? Did he ever rely on the writing of Luther in the development of his own theology? These and many other related questions surface when we begin, with admiration, to give ourselves to a study of these two massively important figures. 

Much remains uncertain about which of Luther's works Calvin read and which of Calvin's works Luther read. It is, however, clear that Calvin had knowledge of the controversies that surrounded Luther's theological writings and debates and that Luther read Calvin on certain theological issues. For instance, Calvin labored to wed Zwingli's spiritual view of the Supper to Luther's insistence on real presence. In John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, Herman Selderhuis explains:

"Calvin was left with the pieces of the dispute and tried to resolve things by combining the elements that both Luther and Zwingli insisted on. He thus arrived at a belief in the real presence of Christ through his Spirit, a solution through which some kind of unity was established both with the Wittenbergers and with the Swiss. Unfortunately a three-party consensus was never achieved."1  

Luther was aware that Calvin was seeking to reconcile his view with that of Zwingli, as Selderhuis notes:

"Melanchthon reported that when someone tried to incite Luther to attack Calvin's teaching on the Lord's Supper...Luther actually praised Calvin after reading the relevant passages."2 

The bulk of Calvin's references to Luther have to do, not with theological matters but with personal assessment (which is unsurprising given the strong personalities possessed by the two Reformers). Calvin was critical as well as celebratory in his opinions about the Wittenberg Reformer. In a letter to Bullinger, Calvin deemed Luther "immoderately ardent and violent in character;" and, in a letter to Melanchthon, he criticized Luther for getting too worked up and for being too quick tempered. However, Calvin praised Luther to Bullinger when he wrote: 

"I understand that Luther pours invectives on you and on us all. I dare scarcely request you to keep silence. But I supplicate you at least to remember what a great man Luther is, by what admirable qualities he is distinguished, what courage, what constancy, what ability, what power of doctrine there is in him to beat down the kingdom of anti-christ, and to propagate the knowledge of salvation. I say it, and have often repeated it, even though he called me a devil, I would not cease to honor him, and to acknowledge him as an illustrious servant of God."3 

Despite having to endure personal attacks from Luther, Calvin praised Luther for being a "most learned father in the Lord." Merle d'Aubigne wrote: "Calvin did not even fear to say, that in his eyes Luther was far above Zwingli;--Nam si inter se comparantur, scis ipse quanto intervallo Lutherus excedat."4

On one occasion, Luther sent word to Calvin from Martin Bucer. Selderhuis notes that "Calvin was thrilled when Bucer brought him personal greetings from Luther, along with a report that their German colleague had been pleased with Calvin's writings."5 Calvin received word that Luther was finally appreciative of something that he had written. Not unaffected by this commendation, Calvin wrote, "If we are not appeased by such moderation, we must be completely of stone. I am really appeased. I wrote something that satisfied him."6

Despite his criticisms of Luther, Calvin acknowledged the early influence that Luther has on him regarding the other Reformers. Later in life, Calvin reflected on the fact that "'when he began to liberate himself from the darkness of the papacy,' he was so influenced by Luther that he distanced himself from the writings of Oecolampadius and Zwingli."7

One of the most beautiful statements about Calvin's view of Luther is in a letter that he wrote to Luther toward the end of Luther's life (a letter that Luther sadly never received). In it, the Genevan Reformer suggested he and Luther "would soon be together in heaven where they could continue their discussion in quiet."8 What more beautiful way to pursue the peace that Christ longs for His followers to experience! Despite what appears to have been a tumultuous relationship, there was, on the part of Calvin, a deep desire for unity and peace with the great "Initiator" of the Reformation. While they may not have had the sweetest of fellowship on earth, of this much we may be sure: Calvin and Luther are engaging themselves in perfectly loving discussions in heaven before the presence of the Christ whom they sought to glorify here on earth.

1. Herman Selderhuis John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2009) p. 94
2. Ibid., p. 105

3. Emmanuel Stickelberger, Calvin, a Life. Translated by Georg Gelzer (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1954), 70. 

4. Robert Baird, D'Aubigne and His Writings (New York: John S. Taylor, 1847) p. 257

5. John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, p. 33

6. Ibid., p. 106

7. Ibid., p. 105

8. Ibid. p. 259

Masculinity and the Priority of Love

If you were asked to identify the primary quality which defines a true man of God in his specific relation to a true woman of God - distinctively within the marriage relationship - what one-word answer might you give? What if the opposite question were asked: what single quality ought to characterise a woman of God in relation to her husband in particular?

In pondering the answers to those questions, rest assured that I am not having a sly dig at anyone or seeking to make unreasonable or unfair assumptions. I am on record in The New Calvinism Considered (US and UK) as being what is generally now defined as a complementarian, but also as being uncomfortable with some of the excesses that I have perceived, and those in both directions.

Most germane to the purposes of this post are those excesses in which biblical masculinity is celebrated but potentially or actually exaggerated toward a caricature of (Western?) masculinity - "a sort of hairy, Neanderthal, chest-beating machismo." This caricature, it seems, is now being used by some to justify not just a strangely exaggerated form of masculinity but a horribly perverted abuse of it.

I wonder if this can be traced in some instances to a fundamental misunderstanding of what true masculinity looks like in relationship to true femininity? As so often, perhaps there is a danger of reactionary theology: a position formed not from the Word of God but from a response - proper in kind but not in degree - to some opposite aberrance. So, for example, think of someone so (rightly) horrified by the suggestion that the Lord Jesus, in some way, was not fully human that he responds in such a way as actually (wrongly) to undermine his divinity. Such is the skewed reaction to the cultural pressure by which many men have become milk-livered geldings that the goal becomes the embodiment of the rutting stallion. Neither is it a matter of finding some kind of middle ground. The aim should not be some anodyne mean, but a biblical fulness.

But what does that look like with regard to male leadership, especially leading to and in marriage? A simple passage like Ephesians 5 helps us here. I will not go into the substructure of male-female relations, grounded in both being made in the image of God, both being fallen in Adam, both able to be redeemed and restored in Christ. In such a relationship there is a genuine correspondence, a profound cleaving, a total commitment and a joint commission. Furthermore, I am persuaded from the Word of God that there are some distinctive roles within that relationship. In Ephesians 5, the apostle sounds two abiding keynotes, one for the woman and for the man. The primary element for the woman of God is submission, and I recognise that that must be carefully and scripturally defined and worked out. Paul, in this passage, then moves on to the keynote for the man. And what is it? If we make a merely reactionary leap (and I fear this is, in essence, what many are doing) we start looking for the counterpoint to submission. The husband is to be marked by ... what? Authority? Rule? Headship? Leadership? Some other near-synonym for being in charge that emphasises the difference between the sexes?

No, the distinctive feature of masculinity in this relation to femininity is love. Leadership or headship may be implied, but the focus of the apostle is on the motive and nature of the husband's relation to his wife. This love is neither physical lust nor romantic delight, and neither one can or will supply a lack of intelligent and principled love.

Let me briefly spell out several things about this love. Note first its character, for it is Christlike. As such, it must be principled, realistic, intelligent , sweet and - ultimately - sacrificial. Its great pattern is Christ's coming for and dying for his church. This is not a matter of occasional spectacular demonstrations, though it may include them. It is not a notional knight in shining armour who, fortunately for the husband, never actually needs to make an appearance. It is to labour for the good of your wife regardless of the cost to yourself, a daily death of a thousand cuts to male selfishness and laziness.

Secondly, see the quality of this love: it is purposeful. Like Christ's love to his church, it aims not at a wife's slavish subjugation, but at her proper liberation. A husband's love aims to raise his beloved wife to the highest point development and her greatest blessing. He invests in and serves her so as to bring her, by all legitimate means, to the highest pitch of spiritual and moral excellence to which she is able to attain, as defined by God himself. There is a deliberate goal in such love.

Thirdly, consider the anchor of this love: union. Paul grounds this love in the one-flesh union between husband and wife. For the married man, she is one with me. Whatever I would do or have done for my true good and real blessing, by God's estimation, I should pursue for her. As it would be both unnatural and ungodly to ignore, neglect, despise or injure your own flesh, so - if our love is remotely Christlike - it ought to be recognised as unnatural and ungodly to do the same with regard to our wife.

Finally, observe the activity of such love: it is a nourishing and cherishing affection. Whatever the origin of this language, it is clearly not meant to be demeaning, because it refers both to the way in which a man is expected to be caring for himself, and representative of the way in which Christ cares for his church. The words communicate a profound tenderness and principled care, to develop by nurture and to envelope with affection. Some men show more of this toward their car or their home than they do toward their wife - investing more time, energy and money in a hobby than in their God-given wife. The call is for words backed up by deeds, and deeds adorned with words, just as with Christ.

So, brothers, how do you assess your distinctive relationship toward your wife? What ought to lie at the root of your dispositions and actions toward other women who are not your wife? Do you perceive your relationship toward your spiritual sisters (or, indeed, unconverted women), and especially with regard to (but not merely) your wives, to be characterised primarily by rule - by the robust exercise of the authority which has been so largely abandoned by our generation and culture? If so, you are missing the mark. The characteristic quality of the true man of God is a Christlike love, first and primarily with regard to his own wife, and then to other women in appropriate measure and framed by the parameters of a legitimate relationship. If, to paraphrase the apostle elsewhere, you are getting other things right but have not love, you have failed to follow and to show Christ at this point.

If It Makes You Happy

A discernible pattern has emerged in the wake of recent events. A particular tragedy is perpetrated by a person of one community upon people of another community. The life of one who bears the image of God is wantonly snuffed out. One group of people is allegedly violated by an outdated or oppressive system. A protest for justice forms. Commentators and pundits try to explain who is really at fault and what needs to change. The solution is consistently summarized in one word...Love. Profile pics are changed. Statuses are updated. Social media activism is fully engaged. And with great intentions, everyone seems to agree that what we really need is love. Love is love! We might rightly respond to this ambiguous appeal for "love" with the ever relevant words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Love" is bandied about as the answer to every societal ill. Every problem is met with the call to love. Racism, sexism, classism, terrorism, or whatever "-ism" that gets thrown out, the answer is love. What makes this solution so attractive and also so dangerous is that there is quite a bit of truth to it. If rightly understood, love is the answer to these problems. But that's the rub, isn't it? It is rare for the idea of love to be rightly understood. Often it is reduced to emotional or sentimental tripes that can be easily shared, retweeted, pinned, or liked.

What is popularly understood as love? The popular notion of "love" seems to be something that more readily resembles "happiness." If something makes me happy then it is good, not just preferentially but also morally and ontologically. And whatever that good is, it must be celebrated and embraced by all people. This is how love and the modern notion of tolerance become so intertwined. Today, the idea of tolerance requires that you never question anyone's pursuit of happiness but must only celebrate it. "Love," (in its late-modern form) therefore, is the unhindered pursuit of happiness, and tolerance is the cheering on of those pursuing happiness. And if we just loved like that, then all our problems would be solved--or so we are constantly hearing. 

The imperative to "be happy," though, comes across as trite and hollow. Perhaps the singer Bobby McFerrin ruined it for us all. Happiness is too subjective and fickle. Rhetorically, "love" packs a much greater punch. There is a weightiness to love. Love is objective and unassailable. Love requires resolution, sacrifice, and commitment. Love requires a standard of faithfulness that is missing in the modern pursuit of happiness. The sexual chaos in our society today thrives off this lack of objectivity. The New York Times recently ran a story about "LGBT -Affirming" psycho-therapy in which a psychotherapist questions the assumption of the benefit of "sexual fidelity in marriage." He states it in the following way:

The whole idea of the crisis of infidelity is based on the expectation that it ought to be otherwise. And that somehow if a relationship changes in its dynamic and somebody has sex with somebody else, that somehow it's ruinous to the intimacy and potential for growth and love. That's an enormous assumption. And it's just another example of a hetero-normative assumption, one that causes enormous suffering.1 

Again, an understanding of love that has commitment and sacrifice at its heart is rejected for the pursuit of personal happiness. Ironically, the conflation of "love" and "be happy" is, in itself, a tacit condemnation on subjective relativism. We use love because we intuitively know that "happy" is too flimsy to carry the weight of the moment. While "love" is used, I believe it would be more accurate if we just admitted as a society that we're trying to say, "Everybody ought to just be happy and then all our problems would be over."

But what is the problem with being happy? Isn't happiness a good thing? Doesn't God want me to be happy? Again, it depends on what we mean by our use of the word "happy." Happiness must be rightly ordered. Our happiness must be subject to our holiness. God does not want you to be happy when it is at odds with you being holy. When these become disordered we fall into the same problem as the nation of Israel at the end of Judges. The result of that tailspin was, "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). Happiness unchecked will always lead to doing what is right in your own eyes. And when we understand that the "heart is deceitful above all things" (Jer. 17:9), we can quickly understand the problem with doing what is right in our own eyes.

Instead, Christians should acknowledge that love is the answer but should labor to define that term as the Bible defines it. Happiness falls far short of love. Happiness is an emotion or state of mind. Love is something so much more. In short, the Bible tells us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), but that warrants a little bit of unpacking. Wilhelmus à Brakel explained it this way, "Love is an essential attribute of God by which the Lord delights Himself in that which is good, it being well-pleasing to Him, and uniting Himself to it consistent with the nature of the object of His love. The love of God by definition is the loving God Himself."2 That which is most perfect and glorifying and beautiful is to be the very definition of love. That object is God Himself.

The way the world sees love and the way the Bible sees love are incompatible. The apostle John saw these competing definitions of love when he contrasted the love of the world with the love of the Father. The love of the world is concerned with "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of possessions" (1 John 2:16), i.e. brief feelings of happiness. But the love of the Father is concerned with the will of God. This love of God is exhibited by a conformity to holiness. It too will bring pleasure and happiness, but it is beheld by faith and is not fleeting.

Love requires sacrifice. Happiness delights in whatever causes immediate pleasure. Love requires delighting in that which is greatest, most perfect, and pure. "God shows his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9, 10). God's love is demonstrated in his redemption of his people and the restoration of his creation such that they more clearly demonstrate and reflect that which is most glorious, namely God himself.

Love also requires commitment. It requires a commitment to God and His holiness, as well as a commitment to one another. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11). We must be personally and corporately committed to holiness. This means disciplining ourselves and being willing to submit to the discipline of the Body. Love requires discipline. The author of Hebrews tells us that if we don't discipline our children, we don't love them. In fact, a failure to discipline your children is to treat them like "bastards" (Heb 12:8, KJV). Love requires discipline that conforms us to the pattern of holiness (Prov 3:11, 12). This is, perhaps, the most heartbreaking aspect of the mainline church's drift into apostasy. They earnestly want to love one another. But that love has no meaning beyond the personal happiness of individuals. Thus, when members are in open and unrepentant sin, the most loving thing to do would be to call them to repent. Instead, the boundaries of acceptable behavior are simply moved to continue including them. Happiness is called love and the truth is substituted for a lie. This is happening in the evangelical church as well. A failure to execute discipline, both informal and formal, on the members of Christ's Church will lead to a rejection of Christ.

On one level, there is a great deal of truth to society's answer to the world's problems. Love is the answer. We just have to be clear about what love looks like in action. Matthew Henry said, "When iniquity abounds love waxes cold."3 Love is incompatible with sin. But happiness can thrive momentarily in sin. When love is substituted with happiness, sin reigns and our problems only increase. But when we hold firm to true love, sin is killed, holiness is honored, and true happiness is experienced.

1. Casey Schwartz, "The Couch in Rainbow Colors: 'L.G.B.T.-Affirming' Therapy," The New York Times, July 13, 2016, 

2. Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), I.123. 

3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1588.
Love is the end (telos) of the apostles' teaching and the first apology for the faith (1 Tim. 1:5). Without love even the most celebrated preacher or apologist is just a noisy gong or clanging cymbal; by love even the least gifted believer can adorn the gospel, shame Christ's opponents, and silence the church's slanderers (1 Cor. 13:1; Tit. 2). There are other ways to shame opponents and silence slanderers than by love, of course, but no other way adorns the gospel and demonstrates the present reality of saving grace while doing so--or demands much self-denial from the would-be apologist.

It's this last bit I'm most interested in here: a peculiar sort of self-denial that love demands of apologists of the faith, which we are all called to be (1 Pet. 3:15). What does love demand of us, for example, when our brother or sister does or says something socially embarrassing or politically impolite or completely uncool in the company we keep or aspire to keep?

Harsh and scathing reactions occasionally encountered on the Christian blogosphere show just how ready we are to throw brothers and sisters who happen to embarrass or disagree with us under the first bus we meet. Love never throws anyone under a bus, last of all a brother or sister in Christ. Seems like that should go without saying and yet it seems like that sometimes needs to be said.

The weird temptation is to think that stiff-arming the embarrassing brother or sister is apologetically expedient. It never is. It may temporarily spare us, in a selfish way, some part of the unpleasantness of being too closely associated with a sister's awkward act or a brother's distasteful statement. Whatever apologetic gain we think we derive from deriding our fellow believer is destroyed through our failure to embrace and love that brother or sister as Christ does. In the end, when we behave this way, we come off more like asinine teens too cool to bear their parents' presence than people who believe the gospel or know God's grace.

But what if those parents are not just insufficiently sophisticated but say and do certain despicable things? What if, for example, they're obliviously racist or what if they are not so obliviously so? Is it then permissible or apologetically expedient to throw them under the nearest bus? (I'm only asking about fellow believers, not those outside the church.)

No doubt, the children must stop eating their parents' sour grapes if they don't want their teeth set on edge (Ezek. 18; cf. Ex 20:5-6). To that end, we must recognize and name the sinful, harmful, and offensive ways of our spiritual parents and break with whatever witness-destroying pattern of life and thought we find coursing through "our history." This is clearly one of several things the overture on civil rights remembrance at the 2015 PCA General Assembly was calling the church to do.

Even as we break with the sinful ways of our spiritual predecessors, however, we must honor them and own them as our parents in the faith along with everything that association entails--the wonderful and the dreadful--accepting the responsibility of rightly disposing of every inherited effect. It's precisely because we are their heirs that we must break with them on this matter and it's precisely as their children that in doing so--doing the right thing, that is--we honor them. The very possibility of doing the right thing, in other words, begins with owning our solidarity with these brothers and sisters in Christ who, like all the redeemed who have ever lived, left us a mixed and conflicted legacy.

Christian solidarity is something love demands of every apologist who attempts to deal with the sins of those who preceded us and is why those who follow us will have to deal with ours too one day. Love never asks of a brother or sister or father or mother in the faith, "What do I have to do with them?" or "What business of mine is their sin?" Jesus made our sin his business, freely associating with and embracing his sinful people, and he is not ashamed to call the despicable likes of me his brother (Heb. 2:11, cf. 11:16). That's what love does: despising the shame, love denies itself and bears and endures all things; and we adorn the gospel and begin to acquire apologetic credibility only insofar as we do the same.

Cormac McCarthy on Ministerial Power

I've been reading a good bit of Cormac McCarthy since late spring, when I have time for fiction anyway. McCarthy is a master of terse understated conversation and landscapes, and I happen to be a special admirer of landscapes--real and artistically rendered. But McCarthy is also a sharp observer not just of the human condition but of what that condition does to us, if you follow what I mean--of what it does to the single individual, in that peculiar Kierkegaardian sense, and to every individual so considered. No body escapes being human or being lost in his novels, though some come off rather witless about it just like in this non-fictional world of ours.

One somewhat witless fellow is a certain priest he describes in The Crossing. I know, witless ministers abound in novels. But McCarthy's priest is not a shell of a man and he's witless in a particularly subtle way--and for this reason he is a very good reminder of what pastoral ministry demands of those who would be evangelists and shepherds and potent preachers.

The backstory is convoluted and unnecessary to tell. Suffice to say there is a man living in Sonora who lost essentially everything in the terrible earthquake of 1887, including perhaps his mind. He has taken up residence inside a church whose roof is ruined and about to cave in, and he spends his days (and nights) there, reading and thumping his Bible, pacing and wrestling openly with God. He is Job, or perhaps Ahab the whaler, it's hard to tell.

"The people of the town came and they stood about. At a certain distance. They were interested to see what God would do with such a man. Perhaps he was a crazy person. Perhaps a saint. He paid them no mind." Eventually, they send for the priest, who comes and stands outside the structure and tries to reason with the man dwelling "beneath the shadow of the perilous vault." It's a great scene:

The priest spoke to this misguided man of the nature of God and of the spirit and the will and of the meaning of grace in men's lives and the old man heard him out and nodded his head at certain salient points and when the priest was done this old man raised his book aloft and shouted at the priest. You know nothing. That is what he shouted. You know nothing.

"The people looked at the priest. To see how he would respond." To hasten the story along, the priest went away, troubled by the exchange, but came back the next day, and day after day, to try again. "People came to attend. Scholars of the town. To hear what was said on either side. The old man pacing under the shadow of the vault. The priest outside."

And right there is the whole of the matter: the priest never entered in, never took up the place where the old man stood. He would not, perhaps could not. "The priest wagered nothing. He'd nothing to hazard. He stood on no such ground as the crazed old man. Under no such shadow. Rather he chose to stand outside the critical edifice of his own church and by his choice he sacrificed his words of their power to witness."

"He was a reasonable man and he believed that there was love in his heart," but "there was not."

A reasonable man stands aloof and tries to speak into the situation. The reasonable man imagines himself to love whenever he aims at helping from afar. The reasonable man, however, may well lack the faith to step under the threatening vault, to take up the place of those crazed this way or that by the terrors of life in this world, who rightly understand that everything is in the balance. And in just this way, the reasonable man of this sort often fails to love as he should.

How many ministers, some fresh out of seminary perhaps, stand in the pulpit a bit like this priest stood outside this crumpled church? Such preachers call out to the people and try to reason with them about God and the gospel with words "sacrificed of their power to witness" because they have never stepped into the half-crazed lives of the people before them. How many times have I been as witless as this priest in the world? More than I know or care to admit, I'm sure. Thank God his grace is sufficient to save his people through the preaching of the gospel even when my love is not what it ought to be; thank God that's no excuse for my failure to love the people before me, whoever they may be; and thank God I've sat under pastors who loved so well and see so many of seminary students and presbytery interns doing likewise.

"God set before me love"

S.M. (Bod Alwyn)
God set before me love
To draw my soul to him,
But I was bound in Satan's chains
And revelled in my sin.

I saw the mercy seat,
Was taught the way to go;
I saw that Christ had died for sin,
But did not want to know.

I would not follow him,
I fought against his call,
But God would have me be his child,
Him be my All in All.

God set before me fear,
Darkness, despair and dread.
He drove me forth into the night
Where angels fear to tread.

As wreckage on the sea
Before God's storm I fled,
Exhausted, scourged and fearing still,
To where my Saviour bled.

While still his enemy
He suffered for my sin.
As clouds across a storm-swept sky
God sped my soul to him.

Still understanding not
I wept and feared until
At the bright throne of God I found
Grace, love, and mercy still.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

I Love President Barack Obama, but...

Facebook is an interesting utensil. People use it for all sorts of things (e.g., advertising, spying, networking). If you spend even the slightly amount of time there, you can also get a sense of what matters to people. Some highly value their family. Every other post is a picture of their child or their latest family vacation. Others use it as a means to argue about doctrine. In certain discussion rooms, it seems that every other post is about baptism or church polity. 

Along with the aforementioned, you further get a sense of who is politically inclined. Of course we should all be concerned about what is occurring in the government, both locally and nationally, but not everyone knows the particulars to same extent. However, what is interesting is regardless of the degree to which one knows how the US government functions and how policies are employed, almost everyone has something to say about President Barack Obama. Fox News' posts and certain underground websites' posts go viral over the President's desires. The Affordable Care Act and abortion are a couple of the latest controversies.

Over the years, however, I have refrained from entering most of the conversations on Facebook about the President. Like any form of online communication, it is too easy to be misunderstood. Perhaps I have waited too long. They say, "Timing is everything." Now, I have something to say. Here it is: "I love President Barack Obama and I pray for him."

It seems fair to suggest that many of us, who were raised in the US, were taught to fight for those things in which we believe. "Stand up for your beliefs!" "Find others who are like-minded and fight! Protest! Get others to sign petitions! Do what is right despite what others believe!" If that is not how many of us were raised, Facebook tells a different story. People have no problem telling you what they believe.

"The Affordable Care Act is not so affordable," they say. "We should impeach the President," some believe. "He really isn't American," they post. "The President is a Muslim," a minority suggest. 

Are these claims and suggestions true? You probably have an opinion. You may have even posted your thoughts on Facebook already. Thankfully, in this nation, we have "some" freedom to express ourselves, but in our expressions we should be balanced. "We" in the previous sentence could mean "everyone." As image bearers of God, we should all maintain balance in our comments, but for the purposes of this blog I am particularly interested in Christians.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the theological spectrum (i.e., reformed or reforming), your theology requires balance. Listen to a fundamentalist sermon that is all law and no gospel and you'll soon realize why we need balance. The law is good. It reveals our sin, points us to Christ, and directs our steps, but without the gracious gospel, we are in a desperate predicament. 

Similarly, when we make comments about the President (and anyone else for that matter), we should, likewise, attempt to be balanced. Most of the posts I read on Facebook, however, are far from balanced. You are entitled to your opinion. Please don't misunderstand me. I have my thoughts on the institution of certain policies, too. I have to remind myself to be balanced, though.

Jesus calls us to love (and pray).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:43-48).

Paul calls us to pray.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Yes, stand up for those things in which you believe. On many of them, I would probably stand beside you. But I hope, along with standing for what you believe, you can also, by the grace of God, obey your Lord. He tells you to love (and pray). By the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul also tells you to pray. 

Do you?

I understand. I can't read your heart. I don't know your motives. I'm not with you 24-hours a day. You may love the President as an image-bearer of God and pray a great deal, but my perception is something different. As you know, perception can be a gateway to reality. If all you did was write your wife letters criticizing her activities, she might begin to wonder if you really love her. A husband can respond all day long, "Of course I love you," but the portrayal reflects the contrary. As Christians, we must love everyone and pray for them. That includes President Barack Obama. 

I know you desire to see things change. You were likely taught that speaking out on things can lead to change. I was taught the same thing. Yet, while I know lifting our voices in one accord can lead to change, love and prayer can lead to change, too. I'm not naive. Love is not void of correction, but it is definitely much more than correction. 

I'm sure many people want me to say, "I love President Barack Obama, but..." (fill in the blank; lists all your disagreements about his policies). I'm not going to say that. I'm going to say, "I love President Barack Obama, and..."

"...and I pray for him."

Will you love President Barack Obama and pray for him, too. Will you allow your Facebook posts to reflect that love and heart of prayer? People are watching, and you may be providing a perception that is contrary to your heart's desire.

Effective personal evangelism: love

In the introductory article to this brief series, we marked out the limits of our study, namely that we are considering how individual believers, in their various spheres, might faithfully communicate the saving truth to those around them still lost in darkness, and what are the features of attitude and action that mark out those who do this well.

I suggest that the first requirement for the effective personal evangelist is love. This love must stretch in two directions: up to God and out to men. His love to God is the love that desires God's glory at any cost to himself, and is provoked when the Lord is dishonoured (Acts 17.16), grieved by affronts to his name. If the glory of God is the supreme object at which the evangelist aims, this will do much to direct and sustain him. But out of a love for the God of love that derives from having been loved comes a love for other people. This is a Godlike, Christlike love, the love of John 3.16 and Romans 5.6-8. Our love for the lost is confident of and reflective of God's love to sinners. It looks like Christ weeping over Jerusalem (Lk 19.41); it feels like Paul being willing to be accursed from Christ for his brothers, his countrymen according to the flesh (Rom 9.3); it sounds like Paul warning the people of Ephesus (Acts 20.31). The true-hearted evangelist knows what is at stake and responds to the desperate condition of the lost. He desires to see sinners new-born of the Spirit and growing in grace (1Cor 4.14-15), and - like his Saviour - dismisses none, but receives and sits down with those whom others would despise (Lk 15) if - by any means - he might win some. This is simply the echo of God's divine love and a response to it. I have known men who love God so much that they cannot bear to see his person unknown, his glory despised, his name dishonoured, his truth rejected, and his gospel unheard. Because of this, they love people enough to take that good news to all men. Our love for God carries us from God to men with a real interest in their well-being. I think of one brother who spent several months witnessing to Christ in a small village. By the end of that time I have some confidence that, without notes, he could have walked down any street in the village and told you the names and circumstances of pretty much every person to whom he spoke. Whatever that says of his mental powers, I believe that they were enhanced by genuine love and exercised by specific prayers. Do we love our children? If we do, are we speaking to them earnestly of Christ? Do we love the children we teach in Sunday School classes? Do we love our neighbours? What are their names? What are their circumstances? Are your colleagues mere faces, perhaps with names, or real people who need a real Saviour? The reason why we are often so slow to go to the lost is because we lack love for God and men. Love will overcome many obstacles in order to secure a blessing.


"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"

So asked William Cowper. And so might each child of God ask, with a thousand more questions besides.

Why was I chosen to receive life, when many die in their sins? Why did the Lord show mercy to me? Why was I not made a mere beast? Perhaps, why was I born into a Christian home? Or, why did God send a true friend to preach the good news to my needy soul? Why was I even made to feel my need? Why does the Lord bear with me so patiently? Why am I not cast off on account of my continued sins? Why is forgiveness so freely and readily extended? Why does God love me? Why did God ever love me? Why does he love me still? Why did he send his beloved Son to suffer and die in my place? Why was the Lamb of God sacrificed for me? Why is a sinful wretch like me not in hell?

Why did I end up in a church where my soul is cared for and fed, or at least good spiritual food is offered? Why, if there is no church which can care for my soul, am I sustained? Perhaps, why were Christian friends, a Christian spouse, Christian fellowship provided for me? Why am I fed and clothed? Why do I have any measure of physical and spiritual health? Why have pastors and preachers been sent to minister to my heart? Why are they faithful to me when I make it hard for them? Why was I not set in a place where I would never hear God's saving truth? Why do I have so many resources available as a means to my growth in grace? Why do I receive so many warnings about temptation and sin? Why do I receive so many counsels toward holiness? Why do I hear faithful sermons? Why do they do me good?

Why do so many seeming coincidences work out for my blessing? Why do so many seeming tragedies work a likeness to Christ in me? Why does the medicine, though often bitter, always do me good? Why am I sustained amidst persecutions? Why, though tempted, do I stand? Why, though falling, do I rise again? Why, though sinning, am I restored? Why does the ever-flowing, over-flowing fountain of Christ's blood remain open to me? Why, though despised, am I not cast down? Why do all things work together for my good?

Why are my prayers heard? Why do I receive what I need when I do not know what to pray, have no appetite to pray, or forget to pray? Why do I have opportunities to serve the God of my salvation? Why do my efforts secure any good? Why does God draw a straight line with such a crooked stick as I am? Why am I never alone? Why does he never leave me or forsake me? Why does the devil not readily devour me? Why do I advance? Why do I even stand?

Why do I not need to fear death? Why do I have comfort when other saints die? Why has the grave lost its ultimate sting? Why do I have any hope in this world or for the world to come? Why do I anticipate full and final likeness to Jesus Christ? Why do I have the promise of eternal bliss? Why shall I inherit an unshakeable kingdom? Why am I an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ? Why do I look forward to heaven?
And the answer to it all is, the grace of a loving and faithful God revealed in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - what Matthew Henry called, "God's free favour and all the blessed fruits of it."

My friend, do you ever marvel at the goodness and grace of the Lord toward you? You might, with perfect justice, have been forever cast into the depths of the pit. You might, with absolute equity, live and die without ever knowing that there is salvation for a sinner like you. You might, without any dent in or damage to the reputation of the Holy One of Israel, have been immediately and forever abandoned to your doom.

So, Christian, have you given thanks to the God of mercy this day? Have you cried out with gratitude to the Triune Jehovah for sparing you and pouring out his lovingkindnesses upon you? Will you realise afresh, and respond afresh to, the blessings which are yours in the Son of God, those unsearchable riches of Christ?

Or, if you are no child of God, will you repent of years of ingratitude and carelessness, held back from destruction while you have no thought of salvation? Will you appreciate, perhaps for the first time, what God has done in sending the Lord Christ, his only Son, to die in the place of the ungodly? Will you grasp that the offer of mercy is held out this day to you, in the face of all your sin and rebellion? Will you realise now that God is gracious, and seek his face?

Let each one who has tasted and seen that the Lord is good lift up heart and voice to the Lord: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph. 1.3).

See how he loves

When the Jews saw Christ weep outside the tomb of Lazarus, this demonstration of his deep affection (compare Jn 11.3, 5) brought forth the declaration: "See how he loved him!" (Jn 11.36). His attitude and actions left the onlookers in no doubt concerning the feeling of Christ for his beloved friend, although their ignorance put it in the past tense. In similar fashion, when we consider the attitudes and actions of Christ toward any child of God, though the circumstances may be very different, we should be able to say, "See how he loves him!"

The love of Christ for his people is something that is worth considering, meditating on and dwelling upon. It does our souls good to remember how we have been and are being loved by the Saviour. The love of Christ is like the many faces of the diamond - we can turn it in the light of our experience to find the aspect which gleams most brightly at this moment. The demonstrations of Christ's love are like the cities of refuge: in times of trouble we flee to the nearest one to find a safe place. So consider these seed thoughts concerning the love of Christ, some few of the ways in which you, child of God, are loved by him, and take those which are most needful and precious. His love for you is a love . . .

  • . . . without beginning. You were loved in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1.4, compare Jn 17.23-24) - the affections of the triune God toward you were always bound up in Christ, who was your representative before time began. Christ has always had his eye upon you: his is an everlasting love (Jer 31.3).
  • . . . of the greatest degree. It is held up as an example of extravagant love: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (Jn 15.13).
  • . . . demonstrated as well as declared. Many speak of love who do not love. But the Lord not only tells me of his love - time and time again - but demonstrates it in countless ways. As John encouraged the saints, "let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1Jn 3.18), so Christ shows a love that is in deed and in truth.
  • . . . proven beyond all doubt. There are times when our confidence in Christ's love is shaken, but then we look to the cross, and can say with Paul, he "loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2.20). The cross - the great demonstration of love - banishes all possibility that he did not and does not love me.
  • . . . beyond human knowledge. It is a shoreless ocean, beggaring human insight and appreciation, a love that passes understanding (Eph 3.19), surpassing our best efforts to comprehend it - like quicksilver, you may get a few sparkling drops in your hand, but the gleaming lake lies outside your grasp.
  • . . . not repulsed by sin. Sin is repulsive and repugnant - the great obstacle that love must overcome (1Pt 4.8) - but the love of Christ does overcome it, and is not defeated by it. Rather, it is in the face of sin that love shows its true depth: "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5.6-8).
  • . . . which pays the full redemption price for the beloved. To purchase those upon whom he had set his love, the Son paid all that was necessary. The Good Shepherd said, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn 10.15). Blood must be spilt, a life must be given, and Christ held back nothing of himself in making atonement for those he loved.
  • . . . that maintains a prayerful interest. Too often love wanes - ardent protestations give way to lukewarm demonstrations. But not with Christ: he ever lives to make intercession for his people (Heb 7.25). Having died for us, he lives for us, and we are the constant objects of his perfect prayers. Have you stopped to consider: the risen Lord of Glory has prayed for you today? What a wonder!
  • . . . that secures us absolutely. Christ's love is the ground of our certainty, it is the crimson cord that binds us forever to God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8.35-39). Having been so loved, it is not possible for you to cease being so loved.
  • . . . that will not ignore sin in us. Perhaps you have never considered what an act of love it is that the Lord cares about your sin: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev 3.19). A love that does not care about the foul presence of sin in its object is not really love: it would be like saying that you love someone, but are happy for them to live in filth.
  • . . . that really overcomes sin in us. There is a positive aspect, too. The love that addresses sin works holiness. That rebuking and chastening is a means of producing holiness in us: "For whom the LORD loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. . . . we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness" (Heb 12.6-10).
  • . . . of unfailing patience. This is indeed a love that suffers long (1Cor 13.7). Remember how often our Lord, with holy frustration, asked how long he must bear with his stumbling and ignorant and dull disciples. And how long did he bear with them? He bore with them all the way, and bears with us still. We find it all too easy for our love to be undermined by irritability, but Christ's love is not defeated by our failures and foolishnesses.
  • . . . that removes all our fears. We need fear nothing if so beloved. Even the day of judgement, so awesome and terrible, while not ceasing to be awesome and terrible in itself, ceases to be a cause of overwhelming terror for the one who exists in a relationship of deepening and appreciated love with God: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment" (1Jn 4.18).
  • . . . that never abandons us. We cry, "Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation" (Ps 27.9), calling upon the one who has given us that very promise (Dt 31.6-8, compare Heb 13.5). His is a love as strong as death (Song 8.6).
  • . . . that will endure forever. It is an everlasting love (Jer 31.3), stretching not only back into eternity past but forward into eternity future. We shall never cease to be loved by Christ. When Christ returns the dead in Christ shall rise first, and "then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1Thes 4.17). Forever with the Lord! Forever with the one who loved us and gave himself for us.
  • . . . held up as the pattern for all love worthy of the name. Christ's "new commandment" is "that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13.34; 15.12). Time and time again we are pointed back to the love of Christ as the grand and enduring model of love, the perfect template of what love truly is (see, for example, 1Cor 13.4-8; Phil 2.1-8). It is how we know what love is: "By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" (1Jn 3.16).
  • . . . that offers repeated reminders of its reality and substance. We find these reminders sown throughout the Scriptures and our own experience. However, perhaps pre-eminently, it is the Lord's supper which brings us back to the supreme demonstration of that love in his atoning death, carries us into the present expressions of that love in communion with the risen Christ by his Spirit, and points us forward to the consummation of that love when he returns: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same manner he also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes" (1Cor 11.23-26).

The Lord Christ wants us to consider his love. How often do you say, "Pause, my soul, adore and wonder, ask, 'Oh, why such love to me?'" Do you stop to consider, meditate and dwell upon the love Christ has for you as one of his sheep individually, one of his flock entirely?

To do so will increase our joy. What happiness there is in knowing that this is Christ's disposition toward us! It will deepen our assurance. To know that we are so loved will be a powerful defence against the insinuations of the devil that we are unworthy (we know we are, but that has not stopped Jesus loving us) and the undermining of our sense of enjoying peace with God. It will heighten our gratitude, for the more we see of the kindness and mercy of the Lord in so loving, the more we will be brought to humble amazement at his great goodness toward us. It will stir up love: to be so loved cannot but draw out our hearts toward the one who loves us so: "We love him because he first loved us" (1Jn 4.19). How can we not, when we see how he loved us, and how he loves us still?

Welcome Scotland!


Welcome Iain! Glad you were able to sign in. T4G is over and perhaps we'll now be able to "resume normal service" again. I feel the "luv" already in the Trueman comment about Lewis. We'll be praying for you in Uganda.