Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 21 ~ Christian Liberty

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me. 1689 - Final

Liberty?

Perhaps it is just the circles that I find myself in, but the word ‘liberty’ almost always conjures up negative connotations in my mind.  Cheeky children were always described as ‘taking liberties’.  Anyone with loose morals was ‘liberal’.  An excessive volume of things was a ‘liberal dose’.  In Christian circles anyone with dodgy doctrine was a raving mad ‘liberal’.  However, this chapter of the Confession would seek to argue that biblically speaking liberty is a good thing.  This begins with Christ’s liberty.

Christ’s Liberty

The Confession argues that Christ’s liberty is of utmost importance, and it is difficult to argue against:

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigour and curse of the law, and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and ever- lasting damnation; as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. (pg. 89)

This is the liberty which Christ has won for us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.  While space does not permit a full survey of these truths in Scripture, perhaps some verses would give the reader confidence that the Confession has found these truths in Scripture:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)

Jesus Christ…gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age (Gal. 1:3-4)

Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?  …thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:54-55, 57)

Jesus…delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10)

There should be a stunned awe whenever we grasp all that Jesus has accomplished for us, and yet there is no way that we can comprehend it all.  Our hope is to know the love of Jesus which surpasses knowing (Eph. 3:19).  Jesus has won a liberty for us which delivers a freedom never before known, never to be exceeded.  These are Jesus’ glorious gifts to us and Christ’s liberty for us.

The Conscience’s Liberty

The majority of discussions on Christian liberty tend to gravitate toward the liberty of the conscience.  Christians delight in justifying themselves by claiming a liberty of conscience.  Therefore, this becomes one of the most difficult aspects of Christian living to understand correctly.

Nonetheless, it is clear that Scripture (especially in Paul’s writings – in particular see Rom. 14) makes it clear individuals are able to make their own choices.  There are indeed matters of conscience.  Paul makes it explicit in Colossians:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (2:20-23)

There are some human precepts and teachings which are fine to abide by, but are not necessary.  In fact, Paul’s point in Colossians isn’t that they aren’t necessary but that these human precepts and teachings should not be followed as they were being confused as Christian laws, gospel commands.  All that Christians must follow is taught explicitly in Scripture.  As Andrew Fuller, an eighteenth century Pastor and theologian wisely promised: ‘Lord, thou hast given me a determination to take up no principle at second-hand; but to search for everything at the fountain of thy word’.

The Abuse of Liberty

Even so, some would then neglect things that are explicitly clear and all in the name of Christian liberty!  Paul wryly asks in Romans 6:1-2, ‘Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!’  And so the Confession offers a similar rallying cry – are we to cherish sin in the name of liberty?  By no means!

They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty (pg. 90-91).

May we all faithfully and seriously search our own hearts to discern any practiced sin or cherished lust, and so avoid the abuse of Christian liberty.

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Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 20 ~ The Gospel

After a brief break we return to our weekly reflections here at Gospel Convergence on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Something is Broken

The Confession begins this chapter by once again asserting a truth that we are all too familiar with in this world: something is broken (also see part 6).  We cannot and do not pursue a righteousness which justifies us before God, and in our brokenness we need an outside force to make it right.  Therefore, it was necessary for God to act and not only did he act but he proclaimed and declared that action.  The Confession puts it like this:

The covenant of works being broken by sin and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual, for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (pg. 86)

This giving forth of the promise is the thrust of this chapter.

The World is not Enough

My brother can be a little cheesy from time to time, and ‘The World is not Enough’ is one of his cheesy sermon titles!  However, it captures excellently the big idea of Psalm 19 (the text on which he was preaching).  This is exactly the point that the Confession now makes about the gospel – the world is not enough, but the word is…

This promise of Christ, and salvation by him, is revealed only by the Word of God; neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ, or of grace by Him, so much as in a general or obscure way (pg. 86).

Psalm 19 begins with the announcement that ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.’ (v. 1).  The world lets people know that there is a 1689 - Finalgreater and higher power than mere human beings.  Paul makes the same argument in Romans: ‘what can be known about God is plain…God has shown it…For his 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.  So they are without excuse.’ (vv. 19-20).

Yet there is a limit to what can be understood without ‘words’, and indeed the ‘Word’.  Psalm 19 explains that God’s Word is ‘perfect’, ‘sure’ (v. 7), ‘right’, ‘pure’ (v. 8), ‘clean’, ‘enduring’, ‘true’, ‘righteous’ (v. 9), ‘desired’, ‘sweeter’ (v. 10).  It takes the Word for the gospel to be understood and accepted.  Again, Paul in Romans 10:17 states it explicitly: ‘faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’

Promise & Precept

The Confession proceeds to note that the proclamation comes with both ‘promises and precepts’ (pg. 87).  There are the great promises of salvation, forgiveness, hope, assurance, joy, and there are precepts which we must heed – there is an ‘obedience required therein’ (pg. 87).  This is perhaps helpfully captured by the beginning of Titus 3:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy towards all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (vv. 1-8)

Visible & Invisible

Another pairing that the Confession notes with regard to the preaching of the gospel is that there is a visible aspect (the Word) and an invisible aspect (the Spirit).  Visibly the Word is proclaimed, spoken, preached, and declared.  A message is audibly communicated and visibly written.  However, as Scripture testifies, this message only brings life in conjunction with the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Confession words this truth as follows:

Although the gospel be the only outward means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is moreover necessary an effectual insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God. (pg. 87-88)

This is indeed the good news of the gospel!

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 19 ~ The Law of God

After a brief break we return to our weekly reflections here at Gospel Convergence on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

The Law of God

In many ways the idea and theme of law is a problematic one for gospel-preaching-evangelicals.  It is difficult to know exactly how to treat the law when found in the Old Testament and more than a little puzzling to see it both repudiated and yet upheld in the New Testament.  An in-depth discussion of the law is well beyond our remit here, however I would recommend you get your hands on Brian Rosner’s Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God.  It is an excellent treatment of Paul’s use of the law.

What we will simply do today is reflect on some characteristics of the law of God.

Universal and Particular

Language which is often connected with salvation can equally be applied to discussions on the law.  The law of God is both universal and particular.  First, it is clear that God’s law is universal in some sense.  The Confession notes that God wrote the law of obedience into the 1689 - Finalheart of man, and asserts that this law of the heart has continued even after the Fall.  Paul, writing in Romans, agrees: ‘[Gentiles] show that the work of the law is written on their hearts’ (2:15).  In fact, in the previous verse Paul states that they can obey the law of God even though they don’t have the law of God (v. 14).

Second, however, the law of God is particular.  We can note this from Romans 2:14 as Paul makes it clear that the Gentiles obey a ‘particular’ law accidently in their obedience to a ‘universal’ law written on their hearts.  There are more explicit ways in which God’s people are given explicit commands though.  Adam is given the ‘particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil’ (pg. 82; Gen. 2:17).  The children of Israel are given the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai which detail particular laws to obey.  Moses remembers, ‘he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly’ (Deut. 10:4).

A Limitation?

Within the context of both universal and particular laws the Confession does revert to the longstanding and somewhat helpful classifications of moral, ceremonial and judicial laws for the people of God in the Old Testament.  This is perhaps a slight limitation, as there has been much work on developing a more holistic understanding of the law of God.

Perhaps this is most acute in the Confession’s argument that the ‘ceremonial laws…prefigure Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings and benefits’ (pg. 83).  While I certainly wouldn’t deny that, I would contend that the whole of the law points forward to Christ, not just the ceremonial aspects of the law.  This is testified to repeatedly in Rosner’s book (see in particular chapter five – ‘Witness to the Gospel: Reappropriation of the law as prophecy).  D. A. Carson writes:

According to Paul God gave the law not only to regulate the conduct of his people and to reveal their sin until the fulfilment of the promises in Christ.  He also gave it because the law has a prophetic function, a witness function: it pointed in the right direction; it bore witness to the righteousness that is now revealed. (Quoted in Rosner, Paul and the Law, pg. 153).

Carson and Rosner are not breaking new ground in referring to the entire law pointing forward to Christ.  The biblical authors also make this same point.  Speaking of the law, Paul writes to the church in Colossae, ‘These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ’ (2:17).  Again, the author to the Hebrews writes, ‘For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities’ (10:1).

The Law is Good

One final note to hear from chapter 19 of the Confession is that the law is indeed good.  I quote at length to let the Confession speak for itself:

Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace. (pg. 84-85)

Christians and the Brexit by Gordon Walker

On Thursday 23rd June everyone registered to vote will be asked the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

Some might ask, what does that have to do with us? Didn’t Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)? Shouldn’t the Church and the state be separate?

voter-1519381But how separate should individual Christians be? Does being a citizen of another kingdom, mean we owe no allegiance whatsoever to secular powers? That’s the question that Paul seems to address directly in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities”.

Remember that Paul was aware of political diversity: he was the citizen of an Empire; he had preached in Athens, a primitive democracy; and was intimately familiar with the theocratic rule of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. That informs this deliberately general phrase, “governing authorities”, because, without endorsing any particular form of government, Paul is saying that government is ordained by God. Not all governments are good, but government of some kind is necessary and, since that is the case, as Christians, we must play our part in the form of government that providence has placed us under.

So what does submission to the ruling authorities look like in a democracy?

In Romans 13 Paul twice calls the ruler, “God’s servant”, implying that he is responsible to God – he will be judged based on how well he punished the guilty and commended the innocent (vv. 3-4). But in a democracy … who rules? The answer is, we do. The word ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek words for ‘the people’ – demos, and for rule – kratia. Democracy is the rule of the people and so, on election day, you and I are among God’s servants – commending that which is good, and condemning that which is wrong.

So what about Brexit? It would rather undermine everything I’ve said about taking individual responsibility to suggest which way we should vote, but I want to suggest some principles.

It’s not all about you

At any vote, people seem to get very self-centred. It’s hard to avoid, one of the key indicators going around is the idea that you personally will be £4,600 poorer off if you vote to leave.

Whether that’s true or not, is that really the most important issue? Paul says, in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition … Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”. As Christians, we in particular should approach such a question, not in terms of how it will affect our job, our livelihood, or our bank balance but in terms of the great issues of justice, accountability, and compassion. If, in the conversations we have about this topic with our friends, we emphasise these, instead of small parochial issues, we will show the practical outworking of our faith.

It’s not the end of the world.

We should respond to the issue of the UK’s remaining in the EU as neither a matter for our national salvation, nor as a matter for despair. It may well lead to huge changes in our nation’s wealth, its place in the world, its relationships to the other powers and therefore it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if we vote the wrong way, we will doom our country.

However, no matter what way this referendum goes, it won’t surprise God, and no matter whether we make a wise decision or a foolish one, God is still the ultimate ruler. Even if we make a foolish decision, God is fully able to use the outcome for his own glory.

Exercise your obligations wisely, but don’t act as if the future of the world hung on this vote.

It is important

While it’s not the end of the world that doesn’t mean that voting should be approached casually. The question is, what does it look like for a Christian to take this seriously?

Voting should be accompanied not just by a careful weighing of the facts, but also by prayer. If it seems strange to pray about an EU referendum remember that Paul says, in 1 Timothy 2, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour”.

I don’t expect God to tell me what to vote for, but I know he expects me to pray for the cause I choose, he expects me to pray for those who are going to have to execute the decision, whatever it is. Because, as surely as Scripture requires me to accept that government is necessary, and instituted by God for our good, it also requires me to remember that no ruler is perfect. And commonplace as it is to write off all politicians as corrupt beyond use, they are no worse than you or I, and they, because of their office, require our prayers more than most.

Top Five Commentaries on Ruth

Ruth is a hugely popular book of the Bible for preachers/pastors to preach through.  It is a short, compelling and at times very practical book.  If you haven’t preached through Ruth, I assure you that you will at some point.  However, there is a rich, theological depth to this book which may be easily overlooked if you don’t have the right people pointing you in the right direction!  Here are my top five picks for the preacher’s library.tumblr_lz6p2aMgTT1qc3cl1o1_1280

  1. Daniel I. Block, New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth, B&H, 1999.

This is a huge commentary, but don’t let that put you of.  Block is an excellent, evangelical Old Testament scholar.  While he is perhaps better known for his work on Deuteronomy, this commentary is the ‘must-have’ on Ruth (and Judges for that matter).  His examination of the text leaves no stone unturned and no debate avoided, yet it is written in a winsome and readable manner.  In addition to the impressive scholarly work undertaken there is clear, pertinent application found scattered throughout.  If you can only consult one commentary on the book of Ruth make it this one.

  1. K. Lawson Younger Jr, The NIV Application Commentary: Judges/Ruth, Zondervan, 2002.

The NIVAC series is very popular among preachers and pastors, and rightly so.  However, its structure of Original Meaning/Bridging Contexts/Contemporary Significance is, in my experience, undoubtedly better applied in its treatment of the Old Testament.  While the exegetical work in Younger’s chapters on Ruth is a little light in places, the bridging contexts and application sections are very helpful in thinking through application in the contemporary setting.  In particular Younger offers invaluable help in crossing the vast time span between the time of Ruth and today in his bridging contexts sections.  His treatment of redemptive history and Christological links in Ruth is most appreciated.

  1. James McKeown, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary: Ruth, Eerdmans, 2015.

In some ways I was a little disappointed with this commentary.  Many of the commentary chapters seemed excessively short, and skipped over many questions that I had of the text.  However, there was freshness to McKeown’s treatment of the book of Ruth that forced me to pause and think.  While I did not agree with all of his conclusions or angles, it was thought provoking and beneficial as I developed my understanding of the details in Ruth.  Despite all of that, the best thing about this commentary (indeed this series) is the second half of the book in which theological themes, and other topics are handled.  I used the second half of the commentary much more than the first.  There are useful chapters on character studies, theological themes such as providence and redemption and even good chapters lending to application such as feminist studies and missiological significance.  Wrestling with this commentary would certainly enrich your sermons on Ruth!

  1. Robert L. Hubbard, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Ruth, Eerdmans, 1988.

This commentary is a little dated and dry.  The primary benefit to having this book in your library is that it is completely dedicated to the book of Ruth.  There are two particular reasons that this is profitable.  First, the introduction is detailed, running to 75 pages (see here for my recommendations on Bible Introductions).  This is of invaluable help in planning and preparing a sermon series on Ruth.  Second, because it is dedicated in its entirety to the book of Ruth there are some more minor debates which are treated more fully here than in other commentaries.  Indeed, Block in some instances refers readers to Hubbard’s detailing of the argument.  It was helpful in understanding some of the finer details with respect to the levirate law.

  1. John Piper, A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and Sovereignty in the Book of Ruth, Inter-Varsity Press, 2010.

Piper’s book is of course not so much a commentary as a series of sermons.  However, it is packed full of his passion, crammed with compelling arguments and overflowing with application.  Overall, Piper’s treatment of Ruth differs a little from the heavy academic commentaries, which is always a helpful corrective when preaching.  There is lots of fodder for the development of illustrations too, which is always a difficult skill to master in preaching.  This short book also warms your own heart too.

Any preaching I have done from the book of Ruth has been based on the solid foundation of these five commentaries.  They have led, guided and challenged my understanding of the text, giving me a deeper appreciation for the beauty in and the depth of the book of Ruth.  Therefore, if you are going to tackle Ruth, I would suggest you put some of these commentaries on your bookshelf.