Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 8 ~ Jesus the Mediator

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me. 1689 - Final

The Role

As we look at Jesus as Mediator there are a number of assertions about the role that the Confession is sure to make.

First, as we have noted on a number of occasions over the past few weeks, God is in the business of enacting his eternal plan.  In the words of the Confession, ‘[i]t pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus…to be mediator between God and man’ (pg. 50).  God appointed this role of mediation and chose Jesus to fulfil it.  Second, while the role is one of mediation, this is accomplished in its entirety through a variety of works executed by Jesus.  In mediating Jesus is:

[T]he Prophet, Priest, and King; Head and Saviour of His church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom He [God the Father] did from all eternity give a people to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified and glorified. (pg. 50)

The role of mediating between God and man is a complex one, which required Jesus to accomplish it through a variety of offices and employments.  Third, the role is one which can only be filled and fulfilled by one individual, namely Jesus Christ.  There is no other who could do this – God ordained it, Jesus realised it.  ‘This office of mediator between God and man is proper only to Christ…and may not be either in whole, or any part thereof, transferred from Him to any other.’ (pg. 55)

This is remarkable!  One individual fulfilling one role has accomplished so much.  However, this had much to do with his person.

The Person

The Confession tells us that Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.  Therefore, he is truly and eternally God.  He is divine.  However, to be able to mediate effectively between God and man, Jesus must also have some relation to man.  To achieve this Jesus took on flesh (Jn. 1:14):

[W]hen the fullness of time was come, [Jesus took] upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowing her; and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures; so that two whole, perfect and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the mediator between God and man. (pg. 50-51)

Jesus is a unique person, unlike any other before or since.  To aid him in accomplishing all that he was sent to do, God anointed him with the power of the Spirit (pg. 52; Jn. 3:34; Acts 10:38).  Jesus was then ‘thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator’ (pg. 52).  It was necessary for him to be thoroughly furnished for this office, because in it Jesus was required to endure the greatest suffering, pain and hardship afflicted on anyone who has walked the dusty surfaced of this planet.

This individual, God and man, empowered by the Holy Spirit, kept all of the Old Testament laws.  He was perfect – as we noted a few weeks ago, he was not born of ordinary generation and thus was not contaminated with sin.  Yet in his perfection he took the punishment which was due to mankind; enduring great physical suffering to the point of death, and incomprehensible spiritual suffering as he bore the penalty of sin seen in separation from the first person of the Trinity (Gal. 1:3-5; Mt. 27:46).

All of this was for a particular group of people.

The Recipients

Those who enjoy all the benefits of Jesus’ mediation are those given to him by the Father (pg. 53; Jn. 17:2).  In other words, a particular group of people have been appointed to receive the outcome of Jesus’ mediation (more about this in future weeks).  Amazingly, all of the people that the Father has given to Jesus come from all ages throughout the history of the world.  The Confession explains it in this way:

Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world.  In and by those promises, types and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and today, and forever. (pg. 53-54)

The recipients enjoy the great blessings of Jesus’ work in a variety of ways.  He works on their behalf interceding for them; he works in them through his Spirit and Word; he works in their favour defeating their enemies (pg. 54-55).

Ultimately though, the recipients need this work of mediation.  The Confession closes this chapter by asserting this:

This number and order of offices is necessary; for in respect of our ignorance, we stand in need of His prophetical office; and in respect of our alienation from God, and imperfection of the best of our services, we need His priestly office to reconcile us and present us acceptable unto God; and in respect to our averseness and utter inability to return to God, and for our rescue and security from our spiritual adversaries, we need His kingly office to convince, subdue, draw, uphold, deliver and preserve us to His heavenly kingdom. (pg. 55-56)

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Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 7 ~ God’s Covenant

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Irreparable Situation

There are moments in life which are simply irreparable.  For example, getting an unknown individual’s gender wrong on first meeting them; there is no recovery from that.  Or even worse, getting your fiancée’s name wrong in the middle of your marriage vows in front of all your (and more importantly their) friends and family!!  The Fall, which we meditated on last week, was another one of those irreparable situations.  A scenario from which there was no recovery.  This was the case not just for individuals but for all humanity.  Albeit this is nowhere near as funny as the previous two examples…

The reason that Adam and Eve’s first sin, and all the sin that everyone has perpetrated since, is so damaging is because God is completely other.  This is abundantly evident from the prophecy of Isaiah.  At the beginning of Isaiah we are taught that God is perfectly holy (6:3), and this holiness sets God apart as He Himself tells us later in Isaiah.  God proclaims1689 - Final that He will not give His glory to another (42:8), for He is the first and the last, apart from Him there is no God (44:6).  Therefore, He asks, ‘To whom will you compare me
or count me equal?’ (46:5).  The conclusion is that He alone is God, there is no other; He is God, and there is none like Him (46:9).  For that reason the Confession asserts: ‘The distance between God and the creature is so great’ (pg. 48).

In fact, not only are we incapable of bridging this gap, we are not even willing.  Our natural propensity is to ignore it, reject God and strive for our own perceived happiness (Rom. 1:21-23).  There needed to be some solution to this irreparable situation, and it required ‘some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant’ (pg. 48).

Immense Solution

This voluntary condescension by God in the form of a covenant was an immense solution to this irreparable situation.  As the Confession puts it:

[I]t pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved (pg. 48)

Jesus himself used similar phraseology:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16)

The solution was that God himself sacrificed His only Son to offer a plethora of benefits to humanity which when considered together are salvation.  This covenant, enacted when faith is exercised in Christ, brings (among many things): eternal life, the presence of the Holy Spirit and both an ability and willingness to obey God (pg. 48).

In a great display of God’s otherness, this covenant was not promised after the heat had died down and the memory of Adam and Eve’s provocative rebellion had faded.  It was first pronounced in the immediate aftermath of the Fall.  God declares this covenant ‘first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman’ (pg. 49; see Gen. 3:15).  That was not the final pronouncement though, as it was proclaimed ‘afterwards by further steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament’ (pg. 49; see Heb. 1:1ff.).  Yet this was not further pieces of the puzzle being put together as God attempted to redeem the irreparable situation.  Rather, it was the progressive revelation of the plan which had been initiated ‘before the ages began’ (2 Tim. 1:9, Tit. 1:2), to use biblical phraseology.  The immensity of this is fully realised when it is appreciated that it is only by the grace of this covenant that salvation is achieved (pg. 49).

Implications

Does this chapter of the Confession have any implications for us this week?  I believe it does.  Here are three implications for us as we think about God’s grace in this covenant:

  1. Comfort: We all know that we are sinful and our propensity is to revel in our sin, even though it makes us sick. This constant battle against our sinful nature can wear us down, break our spirits and laden us with guilt.  We know we are helpless to remedy the situation.  However, God’s covenant of grace reminds us that salvation is all of His doing; it empowers us with the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives; and gives us the comfort that God has acted, and continues to act, on our behalf and for our salvation.
  2. Perspective: While some of us are introspective, prone to crushing ourselves and in need of the comfort this great grace of God provides, others of us think far too highly of ourselves. Therefore, this chapter of the Confession aids us in offering a little perspective.  There is a massive chasm between who God is and who we are; our sin has damaged us and perverted our view of self; we need to be reminded that we are helpless, unable to redeem and rescue ourselves (in any shape or form) in our own power.  This covenant of grace reminds us that we are in need of a great and gracious God to act on our behalf.  It gives us a right view of ourselves.
  3. Willingness: If the above two points fall into place correctly (and for some of us we need to dwell on both of them at different points in our lives) the third implication is that the covenant of grace will spur us into action. We noted above that we do not have the ability, or willingness, to obey God.  This covenant gives us the ability with the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us.  However, perhaps greater than that, it also gives us a willingness as we come to a realisation of the great condescension of God in acting for us.  We don’t end up obeying under compulsion, but willingly in loving response to God’s immense solution to our irreparable situation.

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 6 ~ The Fall and Sin

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Introduction

Everyone loves a compliment – whether it’s our looks, achievements, character traits,1689 - Final or something else, we love to be told about how much it is appreciated or enjoyed.  This week’s chapter woll not compliment us.  It is a short chapter; however, it is not an enjoyable chapter to read!  Instead of paying us a compliment, chapter six of the Confession calls a spade, a spade.  It tells us how things stand, and what we are really like.

The Fall

As we noted in part four of this series God created humanity good and upright, giving him one command which they (Adam and Eve) were more than capable of keeping in their goodness and righteousness.  In the obedience of this one command there was perfect communion with God, in the perfect creation of God.  But all of this changed, as Genesis records it:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Gen. 3:1-6)

In good Baptist tradition a sentence beginning with a well-crafted alliteration succinctly restates the Genesis narrative:

Satan using the subtilty of the serpent to seduce Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did wilfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them (pg. 45).

One command and the ability to obey it, yet humanity chose to serve themselves instead of the one who had made them.  However, in light of part five, we must not forget that all of this is within the divine providence of God Almighty.  Here the Confession reminds us that God was pleased to permit this fall, according to his wise and holy counsel, because in his providence this was for His own glory (pg. 45).

Sin

Despite God’s overarching plan of salvation and His own glory, our wretched sinfulness is still a bitter pill to swallow.  The Fall, this disobedience of the one command given to Adam and Eve, is sin.  This sin led to death: the death of an animal to clothe them, the death of perfect communion with God and the death of their physical bodies.  What is worse is that everyone in human history is then implicated in this:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Rom. 5:12-14)

Indeed, it is not just that we have this sinful predisposition, but there is a propensity which accompanies it.  All that we do is tainted by the evil desires present in our hearts and minds (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9).  Our actions, and the motives behind those actions, are burdened under this stench of sin.  Therefore, as it stands:

3. They [Adam and Eve] being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal, unless he Lord Jesus set them free. (pg. 46)

As one contemporary children’s song puts it, ‘we are all sick with sin’.  It is this sickness, the perversion of our desires which tempts us toward sin, when we give in to those desires we birth sin, and sin births death (Jas. 1:14-15).

These are painful truths which we can so easily recognise in ourselves.  Furthermore, we are never free from the warp and woof of sin in the here and now – even as Christians.  Writing to a church John warns, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ (1 Jn. 1:8)

It really is a desperate situation – yet there is hope, as the guilt of sin and the corrupt nature is only conveyed to all posterity descended ‘by ordinary generation’ (pg. 46).  There is hope that one not descended by ordinary generation may come, but that is to jump ahead and for that we must wait.

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 5 ~ Divine Providence

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me. 1689 - Final

Everywhere, but totally hidden

In the past year or so I have slightly changed my approach to choosing my preaching material.  My preference is to preach those sections of Scripture that are often avoided; therefore I have worked my way through books such as Ecclesiastes, Haggai, 2 Peter, and Jude.  However, in the past year I have attempted to preach the more familiar parts of the Bible.  One familiar book that I have been preaching from is that of Ruth.  The book of Ruth is the perfect example of what the Confession tackles in chapter five – Divine Providence.

Of the book of Ruth, LaSor, Hubbard and Bush write ‘God is everywhere – but totally hidden in the purely human coincidences and schemes…the book stresses that God works behind the scenes’ (Old Testament Survey, pg. 525).  This is what we observe in the Confession too as it sets out the doctrines of the entire Canon.

A Strange Kind of Providence

The Confession asserts:

God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy. (pg. 41)

Or more succinctly, in the words of Paul, all things have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).

The Confession proceeds to explain that this providence is executed through two causes; the first cause being God himself, and the second cause being other means.  In other words, God is the first cause of all things, providence occurs at his direction.  However, this providence is then seen (albeit vaguely sometimes) in our world through means.  Perhaps the best illustration of this is Peter’s accusation in his speech on the day of Pentecost:

Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed (Acts 2:23)

Even though God has chosen to execute his providence by way of means, he is not constrained or limited to or by these means.  In fact, ‘God, in His ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at His pleasure.’ (pg. 42)  An example of this would be Daniel and his three friends escaping the normal consequences of being thrown into a pit of hungry lions and a fiery furnace respectively (Dan. 3, 6).

The Worst of Times are not Wasted

While this may be the assertion, it leaves plenty of questions unanswered for us in the here and now.  But these questions the Confession gladly tackles.  It argues that God’s determinative counsel is not limited to good things, but extends over the fall initially, and all other sinful acts.  Moreover, these sinful acts don’t happen by way of mere permission, but are bound, ordered and governed by him.  Yet in all of it God is not the author, nor approver of sin (pg. 42).

The Confession’s argument is seen in the narrative of the book of Genesis.  Joseph is slandered, lied to, abused, sold, imprisoned, forgotten and falsely accused by all manner of people, including his very own brothers.  However, the testimony of Joseph and the author of Genesis is powerful:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good (50:20).

Thus, in the shadow of divine providence, even the most trying times and those periods where sin abounds and dominates, God is orchestrating the story bringing about the growth, maturity and development of his people.  The Confession states, ‘So that whatsoever befalls any of His elect is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good’ (pg. 43).  Or in wording borrowed from John Piper’s book on Ruth (A Sweet and Bitter Providence, 2010, pg. 24): the worst of times are not wasted in God’s economy.

Providence to another Destination

The Psalmist assures us that the LORD hates the wicked (Ps. 11:5).  These are hard words for a people who follow the God of love, and yet rather than diminishing God’s love they magnify it.  Sin, evil and wickedness will not go unpunished and God’s providence (among other things) ensures this is so.

Sinners will not escape; God will harden their hearts, blind their eyes and hold them for judgement of all that they have perpetrated.  Scripture testifies to this in the narratives of Exodus as God promises to harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21) and then repeatedly we read of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened (7:13; 8:15, 19, 32).  This is reaffirmed by Paul in Romans as he teaches the church these truths in his letter (11:7-8).

Comfort and Confidence

All of this then is to inspire comfort and confidence in the people of God, no matter what circumstances they face because they are all under the divine providence of God.  As the Confession concludes:

As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of His church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof. (pg. 44)

Longman and Dillard in introducing the book of Ruth contend that ‘the attentive reader finishes the book knowing that God’s hand has guided the events of this story’ (Introduction to the Old Testament, pg. 149-150).  The Confession contends that the attentive reader of Scripture should finish the book knowing God’s hand guides the events of the story, and by implication God’s hand guides the events of every story.  In other words, because of God’s divine providence there can be comfort and confidence for his people.

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 4 ~ Creation

Today we continue our new series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

The Power of a Voice

Recently I have, for the first time, been reading through the Chronicles of Narnia series.  As I alluded to a couple of weeks ago I am not a huge fan of all of C. S. Lewis’ work.  However, these novels have captivated me!  I think my favourite part of these books so far has been a lesser known extract from the first book, The Magician’s Nephew.  At one point in this book two children watch in bewilderment as Aslan simply sings Narnia into existence.  It is a wonderfully imaginative retelling of creation, and perhaps most poignantly of all it captures the power of a voice.  After all, the repeated refrain throughout the creation narrative is ‘And God said…’ (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26).  This is the topic that the Confession deals with in chapter four.

Made by God

1689 - FinalCreation was made by God is the opening statement of the Confession in this chapter.  While there would be virtually no debate on this among Biblical Christians, it then proceeds to assert that it is God the Trinity who has made creation.  This, to my mind, is a helpful reminder.  That God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1) is almost assumed, but helpfully it reminds us that both the Son (Jn. 1:1-3; Heb. 1:2) and the Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13) were also involved in creation.  Despite some debate concerning the Scripture references for the Spirit’s work in creation, a strong argument can be made for reading them in this way (see especially Genesis commentaries by McKeown, Waltke and Wenham).

Inevitably, because creation was made by God, this means that there is some imprint left by God on creation.  This is testified to by Paul in Romans when he writes ‘[God’s] invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made’ (1:20).  Indeed, simply watching the facial expressions of people standing at the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, or even just on the North Coast – they know, feel and see eternal power and divine nature.

Another point the Confession makes regarding the fact that creation was made by God, is that it was made in six days.  It pleased God, argues the Confession, ‘to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days’ (pg. 39).  Not everyone can sign up to reading Genesis 1 as six literal days.  However, for me this isn’t a problem.

Made like God

The pinnacle of creation is mankind.  The narrative of Genesis builds toward this pinnacle, and the Confession mirrors that: ‘After God had created all other creatures, He created man’ (pg. 39).  In modern society it is particularly pertinent to note that man was made both male and female.  ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Gen. 1:27).

Most remarkable of all, however, is the fact that humanity was made in the image of God.  As the Confession puts it:

                [M]ade after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness (pg. 39).

I found it intriguing that the Confession used terms such as knowledge, righteousness and holiness to describe how we are made in the image of God.  Yet Scripture points to some of these facets for us.  The Preacher in Ecclesiastes mourns that ‘God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes’ (7:29).  As Longman puts it, ‘God made people virtuous, but they have corrupted themselves’ (Ecclesiastes, pg. 207).

How did sin enter the world if humanity was created upright or virtuous?  They were the Confession answers, ‘left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change’ (pg. 39).

Made Under God

Creation was also made under God, in that everything was to take its cue from and live in obedience to God.  Initially, this is observable in humanity ‘having the law of God written in their hearts’ (pg. 39); Paul affirms this in Romans 2:15, when speaking of the Gentiles who do not know, nor obey, Torah.  He argues that they ‘show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness’.  However, in the beginning there was more than just the law in their hearts:

3. Besides the law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (pg. 40)

There was an explicit command from God (Gen. 2:17) which exemplified the truth that creation (including the pinnacle of mankind) had been made under God.  Yet while there was obedience there was happy communion, a perfect relationship!

So what?

That’s all pretty standard stuff, isn’t it?  Therefore the question follows – so what?

It would be inappropriate to take time to fully flesh out all of the implications of the doctrine of creation as set out by the Confession; but here are a few primers to get you thinking on some of the implications:

  • The reality that creation reveals God to a certain extent opens up a myriad of evangelistic opportunities. Scientists, geographers, geologists, photographers, etc. could all easily use their work, studies and hobbies to point to evidence of eternal power and divine nature in creation.  Even taking your unbelieving family members for a walk along the coast with the large waves breaking on the beach offers that opportunity.
  • That humanity is the pinnacle of creation gives them special status. In today’s social climate I think this offers the primary basis for arguments over the sanctity of life.  We are different from the animals, thus it should be problematic to our conscience to kill unborn persons (abortion), or end an unwanted person’s existence (euthanasia).
  • Another avenue for evangelistic efforts could surround the truth that God’s law is written on humanity’s heart (to a degree) and that morals are often constrained by a conscience. These are very obvious and very personal evidences of a Greater Being at work in this world.
  • Finally, obedience is good. In recent years obedience has been a bad word in evangelical circles.  But here, in creation we have the affirmation that obedience led to happy communion.  Holiness is a vital sign of discipleship, growth and maturity in the faith.  Obedience does not dictate our standing, but it can be a sign of our standing.  It is good and should be pursued in a gospel way.