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J I Packer

(49 posts)

The Humility of John Owen

Wednesday··2007·09·05 · 1 Comments
John Piper on the humility of John Owen: Though he was one of the most influential and well-known men of his day, his own view of his place on God’s economy was somber and humble. Two days before he died he wrote in a letter to Charles Fleetwood, “I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm, but while the great Pilot is in it the loss of a poor underrower will be inconsiderable.” Packer says that “Owen, [though] a proud man by nature, had been brought low in and by his conversion, and thereafter he kept himself low by recurring contemplation of his inbred sinfulness.” Owen illustrates this: To keep our soul in a constant state of mourning and self-abasement is the most necessary part of our wisdom . . . and it is so far from having any inconsistency with those consolations and joys, which the gospel tenders unto us in believing, as that it is the only way to let them into the soul in a due manner. With regard to his immense learning and the tremendous insight he had into the things of God he seems to have a humbler attitude toward his achievement because he had climbed high enough to see over the first ridge of revolution into the endless mysteries of God. I make no pretence of searching into the bottom or depth of any part of this “great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.” They are altogether unreachable, unto the [limit] of the most enlightened minds, in this life, what we shall farther comprehend of them in the other world, God only knows. This humility opened Owens’s soul to the greatest visions of Christ in the Scriptures. And he believed with all his heart the truth of 2 Corinthians 3:18, that by contemplating the glory of Christ “we may be gradually transformed into the same glory.” And that is nothing other than holiness. —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 103–104.

God Ordains the Means

Richard Phillips explains why Calvinism is not an impediment to evangelism: [D]ivine sovereignty does not stand against evangelism because God ordains not only the ends but also the means. He predestines some to be saved and commands us to preach to that end. If we do not preach and teach the gospel, then none will be saved. But God has ordained that some will be redeemed; He has chosen His people to be saved. So he has also ordained that we should preach and share the gospel, and therefore we will, exercising our human responsibility in accordance with His sovereign purpose. God commands all who are His to engage in evangelism; it is part of our obedience to Him. Packer explains: “We are not all called to be preachers; we are not all given equal opportunities or comparable abilities for personal dealing with men and women who need Christ. But we all have some evangelistic responsibility that we cannot shirk without failing in love both to our God and neighbor.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 171.

A Hopeless Task

Friday··2008·06·13 · 2 Comments
The monergist’s approach to evangelism is necessarily different from the synergist’s because the monergist knows that conversion is a result of the miracle of regeneration—and he knows he is unable to perform miracles. [U]nderstanding God’s sovereignty makes us dependent on Him because we see that it is only because of sovereign grace that the conversion of spiritually dead sinners is even possible. The Calvinist knows that unbelievers are not merely sick; they are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We know that people are dead when they no longer respond to stimuli. We talk to them and they do not answer. We touch them and they do not move. This is the way people who are spiritually dead respond to God and his word. When the Bible is taught, they have no comprehension; when the gospel offer is made, they make no response. This presents a most depressing situation for an evangelist. Given man’s utter depravity, an evangelist cannot hope to lead anyone to faith in Christ by his own power. Paul states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:14). Note that Paul says not only the natural person “does not” accept the gospel but that he “is unable to.” Elsewhere, the apostle says “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Packer therefore writes: “Our approach to evangelism is not realistic until we have faced this shattering fact, and let it make it’s proper impact on us. . . . Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 174–175.
Thirty-five years ago, the first edition of J. I. Packer’s Knowing God was published. Being only seven years old at the time, I didn’t read it. In the past few years, since being irresistibly drawn to Reformed theology, I’ve read enough quotes from this book to make actually reading it seem redundant. Nevertheless, I finally obtained a copy earlier this year, and yesterday I cracked it open for the first time. Packer begins Chapter One, The Study of God, quoting Charles Spurgeon on the supremacy of the study of God over all other pursuits. It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. —Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 17.

Five Truths about God

J I. Packer lists “five basic truths, five foundational principles” that will form the foundation of his study of God. 1. God has spoken to man, and the Bible is his Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation. 2. God is Lord and King over this world; he rules all things for his own glory, displaying his perfections in all that he does, in order that men and angels may worship and adore him. 3. God is Savior, active in sovereign love through the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin, to adopt them as his children and to bless them accordingly. 4. God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and the work of salvation is one in which all three act together, the Father purposing redemption, the Son securing it and the Spirit applying it. 5. Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. Life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word. This, and nothing else, is true religion. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarstity Press, 1993), 20.

The Purpose of Theology

Wednesday··2008·10·08 · 13 Comments
As we approach the study of God, we need to consider the purpose for our pursuit of this knowledge. We need to question our motives. J. I. Packer asks, “What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things?” “[T]heological knowledge for its own sake,” he writes, “is bound to go bad on us.” “Knowledge puffs up. . . . The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor 8:1–2). To be preoccupied with getting Theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it. . . . There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard. In this way, doctrinal study really can become a danger to spiritual life, and we today today, no less than the Corinthians of old, need to be on guard here. But, says someone, is it not a fact that a love for God’s revealed truth, and a desire to know as much of it as one can, are natural to every person who has been born again? Look at Psalm 119: “teach me your decrees”; “open my eyes that I may see wonderful things from your law!”; “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”; “give me discernment that I may understand your statutes” (vv. 12, 18, 97, 103, 125). Do not all children of God long, with the psalmist, to know just as much about our heavenly father as we can learn? Is not, indeed, the fact that we have received a love for his truth in this way proof that we have been born again? (See 2 Thess 2:10.) And is it not right that we should satisfy this God-given desire to the full? Yes, of course it is. But if you look back to Psalm 119 again, you will see that the psalmist’s concern to get knowledge about God was not a theoretical but a practical concern. His supreme desire was to know and enjoy God himself, and he valued knowledge about God simply as a means to this end. He wanted to understand God’s truth in order that his heart might respond to it and his life be conformed to it. Observe the emphasis of the opening verses: “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. . . . Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (vv. 1–2, 5). The psalmist was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand. And this must be our attitude too, our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our aquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God. It was for this purpose that revelation was given, and it is to this use that we must put it. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 22–23.
Knowledge about God is not the same as knowledge of God. We can have a systematic theology of God memorized, and still not grow in our knowledge of God. How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God. We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask, for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the act of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper inpact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us—“comfort” us, in the old, strong, Bible sense of the word—as we contemplate the unreachable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . And it is as we enter more and more deeply into this experience of being humbled and exalted that our knowledge of God increases, and with it our peace, our strength, and our joy. God help us, then, to put our knowledge of God to this use, that we all may in truth, “know the Lord.” —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 23. This is the biblical—in opposition to popular and mystical—description of meditation: thinking about what God has already said in his word, not waiting for him to say something new especially for you.

Loss, Gain, and the Knowledge of God

If we really knew God, how would our attitudes be affected? How would we think of the difficulties and losses we suffer? How should knowing God affect our thoughts of these things? J. I. Packer writes of the Apostle Paul’s example to us. [Few of us would] ever naturally say that in the light of the knowledge of God which we have come to enjoy, past disappointments and present heartbreaks, as the world counts heartbreaks, don’t matter. For the plain fact is that to most of us they do matter. We live with them as our “crosses” (so we call them). Constantly we find ourselves slipping into bitterness and apathy and gloom as we reflect on them, which we frequently do. The attitude we show to the world is a sort of dried-up stoicism, miles removed from the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” which Peter took for granted that his readers were displaying (1 Pet 1:8 KJV). “Poor souls,” our friends say of us, “how they’ve suffered.” And that is just what we feel about ourselves! But these private mock heroics have no place at all in the minds of those who really know God. They never brood on might-have-beens; they never think of the things they have missed, only of what they have gained. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ,” wrote Paul, “what is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him. . . . I want to know Christ” (Phil 3:7–10). When Paul says he counts the things he lost rubbish, or dung (KJV), he means not merely that he does not think of them as having any value, but also that he does not live with them constantly in his mind: what normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure? Yet this, in effect, is what many of us do. It shows how little we have in the way of true knowledge of God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 25.

Evidence of Knowing God (1)

Drawing from the book of Daniel, J. I. Packer lists four evidences of knowing God. 1. Those who know God have great energy for God. In one of the prophetic chapters of Daniel we read, “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (11:32 KJV). RSV renders thus: “the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” In the context, this statement is introduced by “but” and set in contrast to the activity of the “contemptible person” (v. 21) who sets up “the abomination that causes desolation” and corrupts by smooth and flattering talk those whose loyalties to God’s covenant has failed (vv. 31–32). This shows us that the action taken by those who know God is their reaction to the anti-God trends which they see operating around them. While their God is being defied or disregarded, they cannot rest; they feel they must do something; the dishonor done to God’s name goads them into action. This is exactly what we see happening in the narrative chapters of Daniel, where we are told of the “exploits” of Daniel and his three friends. . . . Daniel in particular appears as one who would not let a situation of that sort slide, but felt bound openly to challenge it. . . . When Darius suspended the practice of prayer for a month, on pain of death, Daniel not merely went on praying three times a day, but did so in front of an open window, so that everyone might see what he was doing (6:10). . . . Such gestures must not be misunderstood. It is not that Daniel . . . was an awkward, cross-grained fellow who luxuriated in rebellion and could only be happy when he was squarely “agin’” the government. It is simply that those who know their God are sensitive to situations in which God’s truth and honor are being directly or tacitly jeopardized, and rather than let the matter go by default will force the issue on men’s attention and seek thereby to compel a change of heart about it’even at personal risk. Yet the invariable fruit of true knowledge is energy to pray for God’s cause—energy, indeed, which can only find an outlet and relief of inner tension when channeled into such prayer—and the more knowledge, the more energy! By this we may test ourselves. Perhaps we are not in a position to make public gestures . . . But we can all pray about the ungodliness and apostasy which we see in everyday life around us. If, however, there is in us little energy for such prayer,and little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know our God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 27–29.

Evidence of Knowing God (2)

Continuing on the “Evidence of Knowing God,” and drawing from in the book of Daniel, J. I. Packer highlights the great thoughts Daniel had of God. 2. Those who know God have great thoughts of God. . . . there is, perhaps, no more vivid or sustained presentation of the many sided reality of God’s sovereignty in the whole Bible [than Daniel]. In the face of the might and splendor of the Babylonian empire which had swallowed up Palestine and the prospect of further great world empires to follow, dwarfing Israel by every standard of human calculation, the book as a whole forms a dramatic reminder that the God of Israel is King of kings and Lord of lords, “that Heaven rules” (4:26), that God’s hand is on history at every point, that history, indeed, is no more than “his story,” the unfolding of his eternal plan, and that the kingdom which will triumph in the end is God’s. The central truth which Daniel taught Nebuchadnezzar in chapters 2 and 4, and of which he reminded Belshazzar in chapter 5 (vv. 18–23), and which Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged in chapter 6 (vv. 25–27), and which was the basis of Daniel’s prayers in chapters 1 and 6, and of his friends” confidence in defying authority in chapter 3, and which formed the staple substance of all the disclosures which God made to Daniel in chapters 2, 4, 7, 8, 10, and 11–12, is the truth that “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms and his foreknowledge is foreordination; he, therefore, will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man; his kingdom and righteousness will triumph in the end, for neither men nor angels shall be able to thwart him. These were the thoughts of God which filled Daniel’s mind, as witness his prayers (always the best evidence for a man’s view of God): “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and season’s; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom. He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him” (2:20–22) “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands. . . . Lord, you are righteous. . . . The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving. . . . The Lord our God is righteous in everything he does” (9:4, 7, 9, 14). Is this how we think of God? Is this the view of God which our own praying expresses? Does this tremendous sense of his holy majesty, his moral perfection and his gracious faithfulness keep us humble and dependent, awed and obedient, as it did Daniel? By this test, too, we may measure how much, or how little, we know God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 29–30.

Evidence of Knowing God (3)

Thursday··2008·10·16 · 1 Comments
Knowing God inspires courage. 3. Those who know God show great boldness for God. Daniel and his friends were men who stuck their necks out. This was not foolhardiness. They knew what they were doing. They had counted the cost. They had measured the risk. They were well aware what the outcome of their actions would be unless God miraculously intervened, as in fact he did. But these things did not move them. Once they were convinced that their stand was right, and that loyalty to their God required them to take it, then, in Oswald Chambers’s phrase, they “smilingly washed their hands of the consequences.” “We must obey God rather than men!” said the apostles (Acts 5:29). “Neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy,” said Paul (Acts 20:24 KJV). This was precisely the spirit of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It is the spirit of all who know God. They may find the determination of the right course to take agonizingly difficult, but once they are clear on it they embrace it boldly and without hesitation. It does not worry them. (Were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego the only Jews who declined the worship of Nebuchadnezzars’s image? Nothing in their recorded words suggest that they either knew or, in the final analysis, cared. They were clear as to what they personally had to do, and that was enough for them.) By this test also we may measure our own knowledge of God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 30.

Evidence of Knowing God (4)

One of the greatest blessings of knowing God is the peace and contentment that comes from knowing that God is sovereign, and that he holds us in his hands in all circumstances. Packer writes, 4. Those who know God have great contentment in God. There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has know them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever. This is the peace of which Paul speaks in Romans 5:1—“since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”—and whose substance he analyzes in full in Romans 8. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . . The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children . . . heirs of God. . . . We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. . . . Those he justified, he also glorified. . . . If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who will bring any charge against those who God has chosen? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . I am convince that neither death nor life . . . neither the present nor the future . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus or Lord” (vv. 1, 16–17, 28, 30, 31, 33, 35, 38–39). This is the peace which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know; hence the contentment with which they stood their ground in face of Nebuchadnezzar’s ultimatum (Dan 3:15): “If you do not worship [the image], you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Their reply (3:16–18) is classic “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.” (No panic!) “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.” (Courteous, but unanswerable—they knew their God!) “But even if he does not”—if no deliverance comes—“we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods.” (It doesn’t matter! It makes no difference! Live or die, they are content.) Lord, it belongs not to my care Whether I die or live; To love and serve Thee is my share, And this Thy grace must give. If life be long, I will be glad, That I may long obey; If short—then why should I be sad To soar to endless day? The comprehensiveness of our contentment is another measure whereby we may judge whether we really know God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 31–32.

Images of God (1)

Tuesday··2008·10·21 · 2 Comments
Images as aids to worship: a disputable matter? Growing up as an evangelical (in the historic sense) Lutheran, this was never a question. We were not Catholics, were we? In this increasingly ecumenical age, however, things are not so black-and-white. As Scripture is seen as less and less of a divine document, it is also considered less authoritative, if it holds any authority at all. But let’s pretend, shall we, that we actually consider the Bible to be the very words of God, and are thus the infallible rule of faith and practice. What would we conclude about the use of religious images? What does the word idolatry suggest to your mind? Savages groveling before a totem pole? Cruel faced statues in Hindu temples? The dervish dance of the priests of Baal around Elijah’s altar? These things are certainly idolatrous, in a very obvious way; but we need to realize that there are more subtle forms of idolatry as well. Look at the second commandment. It runs as follows, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex 20:4–5). What is this commandment talking about? If it stood alone, it would be natural to suppose that it refers to the worship of images of gods other than Jehovah—the Babylonian idol worship, for instance, which Isaiah derided (Is 44:9–20; 46:6–7), or the paganism of the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day, of which he wrote in Romans 1:23, 25 that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” But in this context the second commandment can hardly be referring to this sort of idolatry, for if it were it would simply be repeating the thought of the second commandment without adding anything to it. Accordingly, we take the second commandment—as in fact it has always been taken—as pointing us to the principle that (to quote Charles Hodge) “idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also by the worship of the true God by images.” In its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of pictorial or visual representations of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship. The commandment thus deals not with the object of our worship, but with the manner of it; what it tells us is that statues of the One whom we worship are not to be used as an aid to worshiping him. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 43–44.

Images of God (2)

Wednesday··2008·10·22 · 2 Comments
J  I Packer explains why religious images used for worship are prohibited by the second commandment. The Dangers in Images It may seem strange at first sight that such a prohibition should find a place among the ten basic principles of biblical religion, for at first sight it does not seem to have much point. What harm is there, we ask, in the worshiper’s surrounding himself with statues and pictures, if they help him to lift his heart to God? We are accustomed to treating the question of whether these things should be used or not as a matter of temperament and personal taste. We know that some people have crucifixes and pictures of Christ in their rooms, and they tell us that looking at these objects helps them to focus their thoughts on Christ as they pray. We know that many claim to be able to worship more freely and easily in churches that are filled with such ornaments than they can in churches that are bare of them. Well, we say, what is wrong with that? What harm can these things do? If people really do find them helpful, what more is there to be said? What point can here be in prohibiting them? In the face of this perplexity, some would suggest that the second commandment applies only to immoral and degrading representations of God, borrowed from pagan cults, and to nothing more. But the very wording of the commandment rules out such a limiting exposition. God says quite categorically, “Thou shalt not make any like-ness of any thing” for use in worship. This categorical statement rules out not simply the use of pictures and statues which depict God as an animal, but also the use of pictures and statues which depict him as the highest created thing we know—a human. It also rules out the use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are necessarily made after the “likeness” of ideal manhood as we conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which the commandment imposes. Historically, Christians have differed as to whether the second commandment forbids the use of pictures of Jesus for purposes of teaching and instruction (in Sunday-school classes, for instance), and the question is not an easy one to settle; but there is no room for doubting that the commandment obliges us to dissociate our worship, both in public and in private, from all pictures and statues of Christ, no less than from pictures and statues of his Father. But what, in that case, is the point of this comprehensive prohibition? From the emphasis given to the commandment itself, with the frightening sanction attached to it (the proclaiming of God’s jealousy, and his severity in punishing transgressors), one would suppose that this must really be a matter of crucial importance. But is it? The answer is yes. The Bible shows us that the glory of God and the spiritual well-being of humans are both directly bound up with it. Two lines of thought are set before us which together amply explain why this commandment should have been stressed so emphatically. These lines of thought relate, not to the real or supposed helpfulness of images, but to the truth of them. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 44–45. We’ll look at those lines of thought in the next two days.

Images of God (3)

Packer continues explaining why images of God are prohibited. The prohibition is not related “to the real or supposed helpfulness of images, but to the truth of them.” 1. Images dishonor God, for they obscure his glory. The likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars), and in earth (people, animals, birds, insects), and in the sea (fish, mammals, crustaceans), is precisely not a likeness of their Creator. “A true image of God,” wrote Calvin, “is not to be found in all the world; and hence . . . His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form. . . . Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious; because by this corruption His majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is.” The point here is not just that an image represents God as having body and parts, whereas in reality he has neither. If this were the only ground of objection to images, representations of Christ would be blameless. But the point really goes much deeper. The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom they represent. To illustrate: Aaron made a golden calf (that is, a bull-image). It was meant as a visible symbol of Jehovah, the mighty God who had brought Israel out of Egypt. No doubt the image was thought to honor him, as being a fitting symbol of his great strength. But it is not hard to see that such a symbol in fact insults him, for what idea of his moral character, his righteousness, goodness and patience could one gather from looking at a statue of him as a bull? Thus Aaron’s image hid Jehovah’s glory. In a similar way, the pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. It displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power. In both these cases, the symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display. And so are all other visible representations of deity. Whatever we may think of religious art from a cultural standpoint, we should not look to pictures of God to show us his glory and move us to worship; for his glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us. And this is why God added to the second commandment a reference to himself as “jealous” to avenge himself on those who disobey him: for God’s “jealousy” in the Bible is his zeal to maintain his own glory, which is jeopardized when images are used in worship. In Isaiah 40:18, after vividly declaring God’s immeasurable greatness, the Scripture asks us: “To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?” The question does not expect an answer, only a chastened silence. Its purpose is to remind us that it is as absurd as it is impious to think that an image modeled, as images must be, upon some creature could be an acceptable likeness of the Creator. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 45–46.

Images of God (4)

Looking to images of God causes us to misrepresent God in our minds, essentially causing us to worship a false god. 2. Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God. The very inadequacy with which they represent him perverts our thoughts of him and plants in our minds errors of all sorts about his character and will. Aaron, by making an image of God in the form of a bull-calf, led the Israelites to think of him as a Being who could be worshiped acceptably by frenzied debauchery. Hence the “festival to the Lord” which Aaron organized (Ex 32:5) became a shameful orgy. Again, it is a matter of historical fact that the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ’s bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain, and it has kept them from knowledge of the risen Savior. These examples show how images will falsify the truth of God in the minds of men. Psychologically, it is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus you will in this sense “bow down” and “worship” your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 46–47.

Images of God (5)

The second commandment forbids making images of God. But if we only refrain from crafting physical, visual images of God, we miss the point. The reason, as we have seen, for prohibiting images of God is that they cause us to think of God untruthfully, as other than he is. It follows then that we may be guilty of breaking the commandment without actually constructing a physical representation of God. The realization that images and pictures of God affect our thoughts of God points to a further realm in which the prohibition of the second commandment applies. Just as it forbids us to manufacture molten images of God, so it forbids us to dream up mental images of him. Imagining God in our heads can be just as real a breach of the second commandment as imagining him by the work of our hands. How often do we hear this sort of thing: “I like to think of God as the great Architect (or Mathematician or Artist).” “I don’t think of God as a Judge; I like to think of him simply as a Father.” We know from experience how often remarks of this kind serve as the prelude to a denial of something that the Bible tells us about God. It needs to be said with the greatest possible emphasis that those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment. At best, they can only think of God in the image of man’as an ideal man, perhaps, or a superman. But God is not any sort of man. We were made in his image, but we must not think of him as existing in ours. To think of God in such terms is to be ignorant of him, not to know him. All speculative theology, which rests on philosophical reasoning rather than biblical revelation, is at fault here. Paul tells us where this sort of theology ends: “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor 1:21 KJV). To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshipper—the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination. In this light, the positive purpose of the second commandment becomes plain. Negatively, it is a warning against ways of worship and religious practice that lead us to dishonor God and to falsify his truth. Positively, it is a summons to us to recognize that God the Creator is transcendent, mysterious and inscrutable, beyond the range of any imagining or philosophical guesswork of which we are capable—and hence a summons to us to humble ourselves, to listen and learn of him, and to let him teach us what he is like and how we should think of him. . . . The question which arises for us all from the line of thought which we have been pursuing is this: How far are we keeping the second commandment? Granted, there are no bull-images in the churches we attend, and probably we have not got a crucifix in the house (though we may have some pictures of Christ on our walls that we ought to think twice about); but are we sure that the God whom we seek to worship is the God of the Bible, the triune Jehovah? Do we worship the one true God in truth? Or are our ideas of God such that in reality we do not believe in the Christian God, but in some other, just as the Muslim or Jew or Jehovah’s Witness does not believe in the Christian God, but in some other? You may say, how can I tell? Well, the test is this. The God of the Bible has spoken in his Son. The light of the knowledge of his glory is given to us in the face of Jesus Christ. Do I look habitually to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as showing me the final truth about the nature and the grace of God? Do I see all the purposes of God as cen¬tering upon him? If I have been enabled to see this, and in mind and heart to go to Calvary and lay hold of the Calvary solution, then I can know that I truly worship the true God, and that he is my God, and that I am even now enjoying eternal life, according to our Lord’s own definition, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 47–50.
What does the statement that Jesus is the Son of God mean? Jews and Muslims maintain that this claim makes Christianity polytheistic. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, believe that the biblical designation Son of God indicates that Jesus was a unique being, in a special class by himself, but still a created being not possessing divinity in the same sense as the Father. This is not a new idea, but goes back to the Arian heresy of the first century AD. Even before that, the phrase Son of God was not commonly understood in the biblical sense. John’s Gospel was written to present Jesus as the Son of God to peoples who would have been confused by the title, Jews who used it as a title for the coming human Messiah, and Greeks whose mythology included many sons of gods. John’s Gospel was concerned with destroying those misconceptions and introducing the Son of God as no less than God Incarnate. Packer writes, [John] does not bring the term Son into his opening sentences at all, instead, he speaks first of the Word. There was no danger of this being misunderstood; Old Testament readers would pick up the reference at once. God’s Word in the Old Testament is his creative utterance, his power in action fulfilling his purpose. The Old Testament depicted God’s utterance, the actual statement of his purpose, as having power in itself to the effect the thing proposed. Genesis 1 tells us how at creation “God said, Let here be . . . and there was . . .” (1:3). “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. . . . He spoke, and it came to be” (Ps 33:6, 9). The Word of God is thus God at work. John takes up this figure and proceeds to tell us seven things about the divine Word. (1) “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). Here is the Word’s eternity. He had no beginning of his own; when other things began, he—was. (2) “And the Word was with God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s personality. The power that fulfills God’s purposes is the power of a distinct personal being, one who stands in an eternal relation to God of active fellowship . . . (3) “And the Word was God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s deity. Though personally distinct from the Father, he is not a creature; he is divine in himself, as the Father is. The mystery with which this verse confronts us is thus the mystery of personal distinctions within the unity of the Godhead. (4) “Through him all things were made” (1:3). Here is the Word creating. He was the Father’s agent in every act of making that the Father has ever performed. All that was made was made through him. . . . (5) “In him was life” (1:4). Here is the Word animating. There is no physical life in the realm of created things except in and through him. Here is the Bible answer to the problem of the origin and suntenance of life, in all its forms: life is given and maintained by the Word. Created things do not have life in themselves, but life in the Word, the second person of the Godhead. (6) “and that life was the light of men” (1:4). Here is the Word revealing. In giving life, he gives light too; that is to say, all people receive intimations of God from the very fact of being alive in God’s world, and this, no less than the fact that they are alive, is due to the work of the Word. (7) “The Word became flesh” (1:14). Here is the Word incarnate. The baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God. And now, having shown us who and what the Word is—a divine Person, author of all things—John indicates an identification. The Word, he tells us, was revealed by the Incarnation to be God’s Son. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (1:14). The identification is confirmed in verse 18: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (KJV). Thus John establishes the point at which he was aiming throughout. He has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God. The Son of God is the Word of God. We see what the Word is; well, that is what the Son is. Such in the prologue’s message. When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of his distinct personal deity. The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact the child in the manger was—God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 56–57.
Jesus is fully God; but he was also fully man. This is a mystery that has been explained, and explained away, in several ways. Many have committed heresy on this count. I doubt that any have, or ever will, explained it adequately. J. I. Packer writes, The Word became flesh: a real human baby. He had not ceased to be God; he was no less God then than before; but he had begun to be man. He was not now God minus some elements of his deity, but God plus all that he had made his own by taking manhood to himself. He who made man was now learning what life felt like to be a man. He who made the angel who became the devil was no in a state in which he could be tempted—could not, indeed, avoid being tempted—by the devil; and the perfection of his human life was achieved only by conflict with the devil. The epistle to the Hebrews, looking up to him in his ascended glory, draws great comfort for this fact. “He had to be made like his brothers in every way. . . . Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. . . . For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been temped in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 2:17–18; 4:15–16). The mystery of the Incarnation is unfathomable. We cannot explain it; we can only formulate it. Perhaps it has never been formulated better than in the words of the Athanasion Creed. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man . . . perfect God, and perfect man . . . who although he be God and man: yet he so not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking the manhood into God.” our minds cannot get beyond this. What we see in the manger is, in Charles Wesley’s words, Our God, contracted to a span; Incomprehensibly made man. Incomprehensibly. We shall be wise to remember this, to shun speculation and contentedly to adore. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 57–58.

The Holy Spirit (1)

Who is the Holy Spirit? I’m afraid that is a question that many Christians would have difficulty answering. Why is that? I think there are two causes: first, the Bible says far less about the Holy Spirit than it does about God the Father or Christ. The Spirit’s role is so entirely subservient that his business is never to attract attention to himself. Second, so many of the voices we hear speaking of the Holy Spirit are far from biblical, making him into the virtual center of the Godhead and Christian life, and a magician who exists to amaze us with signs and wonders. So on the one hand, we have the Bible saying less than we might like about the Spirit, and on the other hand, an abundance of extra-biblical nonsense about him. That profusion of error and the resulting confusion, I think, often causes Christians who do not accept that error to neglect learning even what Scripture does reveal of the Spirit. In his book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer looks at the Gospel of John and helps us to gain a biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit. [I]n his account of our Lord’s last talk to his disciples, [John] reports how the Savior, having explained that he was going to prepare a place for them in he Father’s house, went on to promise them the gift of “another Comforter”(Jn 14:16 KJV). Note this phrase; it is full of meaning. It denotes a person, and a remarkable person too. A Comforter—the richness of the idea is seen form the clarity of rendering in different translations: “counselor”(RSV), “helper”(Moffatt), “advocate”(Weymouth), one “to befriend you”(Knox). The thoughts of encouragement, support, assistance, care, the shouldering of responsibility for another’s welfare, are all conveyed by this word. Another Comforter—yes, because Jesus was their original Comforter, and the newcomer’s task was to continue this side of his ministry. It follows, therefore, that we can only appreciate all that our Lord meant when he spoke of “another Comforter”as we look back over all that he himself had done in the way on love, and care, and patient instruction, and provision for the disciples”well-being, during his own three years of personal ministry to them. “He will care for you,”Christ was saying in effect, “in the way that I have cared for you.”Truly a remarkable person! Our Lord went on to name the new Comforter. He is “the Spirit of truth,”“the Holy Spirit”(Jn 14:17, 26). This name denoted deity. In the Old Testament, God’s wordand God’s Spirit are parallel figures. God’s word is his almighty speech; God’s Spirit is his almighty breath. Both phrases convey the thought of his power in action. The speech and the breath of God appear together in the record of creation. “The Spirit [breath] of God was hovering over the waters. And God said . . . and there was . . .”(Gen 1:2–3). “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, the starry host by the breath [Spirit] of his mouth”(Ps 33:6). John told us in the prologue that the divine Word spoken of here is a person. Our Lord now gives parallel teaching, to the effect that the divine Spirit is also a person. And he confirms his witness to the deity of the personal Spirit by calling him the holy Spirit, as later he was to speak to the holy Father (Jn 17:11). John’s Gospel shows how Christ related to the Spirit’s mission to the will and purpose of the Father and the Son. In one place, it is the Father who will send the Spirit, as it was the Father who had sent the Son (see 5:23, 26–27). The Father will send the Spirit, says our Lord, “in my name”—that is, as Christ’s deputy, doing Christ’s will and acting as his representative and with his authority (Jn 14:26). Just as Jesus had come in his Father’s name (5:43), acting as the Father’s agent, doing the Father’s works (10:25; 17:4, 12)) and bearing witness throughout to the One whose emissary he was, so the Spirit would come in Jesus’ name, to act in the world as the agent and witness of Jesus. The Spirit “proceedeth from [para: “from the side of”] the Father”(16:28 KJV). Having sent the eternal Son into the world, the Father now recalls him to glory and sends the Spirit to take his place. But this in only one way of looking at the matter. In another place, it is the Son who will send the Spirit “from the Father”(15:26). As the Father sent the Son into the world, so the Son will send the Spirit into the world (16:7). The spirit is sent by the Son as well as by the Father. Thus we have the following set of relationships: 1. The Son is subject to the Father, for the Son is sent by the Father in his (the Father’s) name. 2. The Spirit is subject to the Father, for the Spirit is sent by the Father in the Son’s name. 3. The Spirit is subject to the Son as well as to the Father, for the Spirit is sent by the Son as well as by the Father. (Compare 20:22: “He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”) Thus John records our Lord’s disclosure of the mystery of the Trinity: three persons, and one God, the Son doing the will of the Father and the Spirit doesn’t the will of the Father and the Son. And the point stressed is that the Spirit, who comes to Christ’s Disciples “to be with you forever”(14:16), is coming to exercise the ministry of the comforter in Christ’s stead. If, therefore, the ministry of Christ the Comforter was important, the ministry of the Holy Spirit the Comforter can scarcely be less important. If the work that Christ did matters to the church, the work that the Spirit does must matter also. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 66–68.

The Holy Spirit (2)

Wednesday··2008·11·12 · 1 Comments
Continuing from where we left off yesterday, J. I. Packer laments the general ignorance of the person and work of the Holy Spirit among Christians. It is startling to see how differently the biblical teaching about the second and third persons of the Trinity respectively is treated. The person and work of Christ have been, and remain, subjects of constant debate within the church; yet the person and work of the Holy spirit are largely ignored. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the Cinderella of Christian Doctrines. Comparatively few seem to be interested in it. Many excellent books have been written on the person and work of Christ, but the number of books worth reading on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, even in this charismatic era is small. Christian people are not in doubt as to the work that Christ did; they know that he redeemed us by his atoning death even if they differ among themselves as to what exactly this involved. But the average Christian, deep down, is in a complete fog as to what work the Holy Spirit does. Some talk of the Spirit of Christ in the way that one would talk of the spirit of Christmas—as a vague cultural pressure for making bonhomie and religiosity. Some think of the Spirit as inspiring the moral convictions of unbelievers like Ghandi or the theosophical mysticism of a Rudolf Steiner. But most, perhaps, do not think of the Holy Spirit at all, and have no positive ideas of any sort about what he does. They are for practical purposes in the same position as the disciples whom Paul met at Ephesus—“We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2). It is an extraordinary thing that those who profess to care so much about Christ would know and care so little about the Holy Spirit. Christians are aware of the difference it would make if, after all, it transpired that there had never been an incarnation or atonement. They know that then they would be lost, for they would have no savior. But many Christians have really no idea what difference it would make if there were no Holy Spirit in the world. Whether in that case they, or the church, would suffer in any way they just do not know. Surely something is amiss here. How can we justify neglecting the ministry of Christ’s appointed agent in this way? Is it not a hollow fraud to say that we honor Christ when we ignore, and by ignoring dishonor, the One whom Christ has sent us as his deputy, to take his place and care for us on his behalf? Ought we not to concern ourselves more about the Holy Spirit than we do? —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 68–69.

The Holy Spirit (3)

J I Packer answers the question, “Is the work of the Holy Spirit really important?” Important! Why, were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel, no faith, no church, no Christianity in the world at all. In the first place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel and no New Testament. When Christ left the world, he committed his cause to his disciples. He made them responsible for going and making disciples of all nations. “Ye . . . shall bear witness,” he told them in the upper room (Jn 15:27 KJV). “You will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth,” were his parting words to them on Olivet, before he ascended (Acts 1:8). Such was their appointed task, but what sort of witnesses were they likely to prove? They had never been good pupils; they had consistently failed to understand Christ and missed the point of his teaching throughout his earthly ministry; how could they be expected to do better now that he had gone? Was it not virtually certain that, with the best will in the world, they would soon get the truth of the gospel inextricably mixed up with a mass of well-meant misconceptions, and their witness would rapidly be reduced to a twisted, garbled, hopeless muddle? The answer to the question is no—because Christ sent the Holy Spirit to them, to teach them all truth and so save them from all error, to remind them of what they had been taught already and to reveal to them the rest of what their Lord meant them to learn. “The Counselor . . . will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will speak only what he hears” (that is, he would make known to them all that Christ would instruct him to tell them, just as Christ had made known to them all that the Father had instructed him to tell them . . . The promise was that, taught by the Spirit, these original disciples should be enabled to speak as so many mouths of Christ so that, just as the Old Testament prophets had been able to introduce their sermons with the words, “Thus says the Lord Jehovah,” so the New Testament apostles might with equal truth be able to say of their teaching, oral or written, “Thus says the Lord Jesus Christ.” And the thing happened. The Spirit came to the disciples and testified to them of Christ and his salvation, according the promise. . . . Hence the gospel, and hence the New Testament. But the world would have had neither without the Holy Spirit. Nor is this all. In the second place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth—in short, no Christians. The light of the gospel shines; but “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor 4:4) and the blind do not respond to the stimulus of light. As Christ told Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3:3; compare v. 5). . . . What follows, then? Should we conclude that preaching the gospel is a waste of time and write off evangelism as a hopeless enterprise, foredoomed to fail? No, because the spirit abides with the church to testify of Christ. To the apostles, he testified by revealing and inspiring, as we saw. To the rest of us, down the ages, he testifies by illuminating: opening blinded eyes, restoring spiritual vision, enabling sinners to see that the gospel is indeed God’s truth, and Scripture is indeed God’s Word, and Christ is indeed God’s Son. “When he [the Spirit] comes,” our Lord promised, “he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8 RSV). . . . Paul points the way here: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the Testimony of God in lofty words of wisdom. . . . My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1–5 RSV). And because the Spirit does bear witness in this way, people come to faith when the gospel is preached. But without the Spirit there would not be a Christian in the world. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 69–71.

The Holy Spirit (4)

Friday··2008·11·14 · 1 Comments
How are we to respond to the Holy Spirit? According to Packer, how we respond to the Word he has given, the extent to which we believe and apply it, is the measure of our response to the Spirit. Do we honor the Holy Spirit by recognizing and relying on his work? Or do we slight him by ignoring it, and thereby dishonor not merely the Spirit but the Lord who sent him? In our faith: Do we acknowledge the authority of the Bible, the prophetic Old Testament and the apostolic New Testament which he inspired? Do we read and hear it with the reverence and receptiveness that are due to the Word of God? If not, we dishonor the Holy Spirit. In our life: Do we apply the authority of the Bible and live by the Bible, whatever anyone may say against it, recognizing that God’s Word cannot but be true, and that what God has said he certainly means, and he will stand behind it? If not, we dishonor the Holy Spirit, who gave us that Bible. In our witness: Do we remember that the Holy Spirit alone, by his witness, can authenticate our witness, and look to him to do so, and trust him to do so, and show the reality of our trust, as Paul did, by eschewing the gimmicks of human cleverness? If not, we dishonor the Holy Spirit. Can we doubt that the present barrenness of the church’s life is God’s judgment on us for the way in which we have dishonored the Holy Spirit? And, in that case, what hope have we of its removal till we learn it our thinking and our praying and our practice to honor the Holy Spirit? “He shall testify . . .” ”He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 71–72.

Unchanging God

Tuesday··2008·11·18 · 2 Comments
God himself does not change. He is as he always has been and will always be. But many Christians who would affirm that statement believe, on the basis of circumstances and experience, and even on the basis of a few passages of Scripture, that God does change his mind. How shall we answer them? J. I. Packer writes, “God’s purposes do not change.” “He who is the glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind,” declared Samuel, “for he is not a man who should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29). . . . Repenting means revising one’s judgment and changing one’s plan of action. God never does this; he never needs to, for his plans are made on the basis of a complete knowledge and control which extend to all things past, present, and future, so that there can be no sudden emergencies or unexpected developments to take him by surprise. “One of two things causes a man to change his mind and reverse his plans: want of foresight to anticipate everything, or lack of foresight to execute them. But as God is both omniscient and omnipotent there is never any need to reverse his decrees” (A. W. Pink). “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Ps 33:11). What God does in time, he planned from eternity. And all that he planned in eternity he carries out in time. And all that he has in his Word committed himself to do will infallibly be done. . . . No part of his eternal plan changes. It is true that there is a group of texts (Gen 6:6–7; 1 Sam 5:11; 2 Sam 24:16; Jon 3:10; Joel 2:13–14) which speak of God as repenting. The reference in each case is to a reversal of God’s previous treatment of particular people, consequent to their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was not foreseen, or that it took God by surprise and was not provided for in his eternal plan. No change in his eternal purpose is implied when he begins to deal with a person in a new way. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 79–80.
I was reminded, as I read the passage that follows, of what David Wells has written on the imminence vs. the transcendence of God. That God is a personal, relational God is emphasized much these days. But what of his greatness and glory, his majesty? [M]ajesty is a word which the Bible uses to express the thought of the greatness of God, our maker and our Lord. “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty. . . . Your throne was established long ago’ (Ps 93:1–2). They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works” (Ps 145:5). Peter, recalling his vision of Christ’s royal glory at the transfiguration, says, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16). In Hebrews, the phrase the majesty twice does duty for God; Christ, we are told, at his ascension sat down “at the right hand of the majesty in heaven” (Heb 11:3; 8:1). The word majesty, when applied to God, is always a declaration of his greatness and an invitation to worship. The same is true when the Bible speaks of God being on high and in heaven; the thought here is not that God is far distant from us in space, but that he is far above us in greatness, and therefore is to be adored. “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise” (Ps 48:1). “The Lord is the Great God, the great King. . . . Come, let us bow down and worship” (Ps 93:3, 6). The Christian’s instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God. But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack: and that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby. We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God. When the person in the church, let alone the person in the street, uses the word God, the thought is rarely of divine majesty. . . . We are poles apart from our evangelical forefathers at this point, even when we confess our faith in their words. When you start reading Luther, or Edwards, or Whitfield, though your doctrine may be theirs, you soon find yourself wondering whether you have any acquaintance at all with the mighty God whom they knew so intimately. Today, vast stress is placed on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are—weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic. But this is not the God of the Bible! Our personal life is a finite thing . . . But God . . . is eternal, infinite, and almighty. He has us in his hands; we never have him in ours. Like us, he is personal; but unlike us, he is great. In all its constant stress on the reality of God’s personal concern for his people, and on the gentleness, tenderness, sympathy, patience and yearning compassion that he shows toward them, the Bible never lets us lose sight of his majesty and his unlimited dominion over all his creatures. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 82–83.

Incomparable God

Thursday··2008·11·20 · 1 Comments
When I held that gun in my hand, I felt a surge of power—like God must feel when he’s holding a gun. —Homer Simpson People often fail to see God as he is because they think of him as they think of themselves. We hear people say things like “How could God . . .” or “My God would never . . .” Barack Obama, in an interview about his religious beliefs, said, “I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.” And why not? Because Barack Obama would not do that (or so he believes, anyway). We often think of what is possible in terms of what we can do, or what is naturally possible. With that kind of mindset, it isn’t ridiculous at all to think that God might feel more powerful if he had a gun, just as we do. But of course, no weapon of any kind could make God be or feel more powerful, because he is already omnipotent. Our thoughts of God are, as Luther said to Erasmus, “too human.” J. I. Packer, looking at Isaiah 40, considers what we would see if we accurately compared ourselves to God and the things he has done. Look at the tasks I have done, he says. Could you do them? Could any man do them? “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basked, or weighed the mountain on the scales and the hills in a balance” (v. 12). Are you wise enough, and mighty enough, to do things like that? But I am, or I could not have made this world at all. Behold your God! Look now at the nations, the prophet continues: the great national powers, at whose mercy you feel yourselves to be. Assyria, Egypt, Babylon—you stand in awe of them, and feel afraid of them, so vastly do their armies and resources exceed yours. But now consider how God stands related to those mighty forces which you rear so much. “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; . . . Before him all the nations are as nothing: they are regarding by him as worthless and less than nothing” (Is 40:15, 17). You tremble before the nations, because you are much weaker than they; but God is so much greater that the nations that they are nothing to him. Behold your God! Look next at the world. Consider the size of it, the variety and complexity of it; think of the nearly five thousand millions who populate it, and of the vast sky above it. What puny figures you and I are, by comparison with the whole planet on which we live! Yet what is the entire mighty planet by comparison with God? “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a net to live in” (Is 40:22). The world dwarfs us all, but God dwarfs the world. The world is his footstool, above which he sits secure. He is greater that the world and all that is in it, so that all the feverish activity of its bustling millions does no more to affect him that the chirping and jumping of grasshoppers in the summer sun does to affect us. Behold your God! Look, fourthly, at the world’s great ones—the governors whose laws and policies determine the welfare of millions; the would-be world rulers, the dictators and empire builders, who have it in their power to plunge the globe into war, think of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar; think of Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler. Think, today, of Clinton and Saddam Hussein. Do you suppose that it is really these top men who determine which way the world shall go? Think again, for God is greater that the world’s great men. “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Is 40:23). He is, as the prayer book says, “the only ruler of princes.” Behold your God. But we have not finished yet. Look, lastly at the stars. The most universally awesome experience that mankind knows is to stand alone on a clear night and look at the stars. Nothing gives a greater sense of remoteness and distance; nothing makes on feel more strongly one’s own littleness and insignificance. And we who live in the space age can supplement this universal experience with our scientific knowledge of the actual factors involved—millions of the stars in number, billions of light years in distance. Our minds reel our imagination cannot grasp it; when we try to conceive of unfathomable depths of outer space, we are left mentally numb and dizzy. But what is this to God? “Lift you eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Is 40:26). It is God who brings out the stars; it was God who first set them in space; his is their Maker and Master—the are all in his hands and subject to his will. Such are his power and his majesty. Behold your God! —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 86–88.

Responding to Majesty

This week we’ve read of some of the attributes of God related to his majesty. Now, how shall we apply these things? Packer repeats three questions from Isaiah. 1. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One” (Is 40:25 RSV). This question rebukes wrong thoughts about God. . . . This is where most of us go astray. Our thoughts of God are not great enough; we fail to reckon with the reality of his limitless wisdom and power because we ourselves are limited and weak, we imagine that at some points God is, too, and find it hard to believe that he is not. We think of God as too much like what we are. Put this mistake right, says God; learn to acknowledge the full majesty of your incomparable God and Savior. 2. “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord and my judgment is passed away from my God?” (Is 40:27 RV). This question rebukes wrong thoughts about ourselves. God has not abandoned us any more than he abandoned Job. He never abandons anyone on whom he has set his love; nor does Christ, the good shepherd, ever lose track of his sheep. It is as false as it is irreverent to accuse God of ever forgetting, or overlooking, or losing interest in, the state and needs of his own people. If you have been resigning yourself to the thought that God has left you high and dry, seek grace to be ashamed of yourself. Such unbelieving pessimism deeply dishonors our great God and Savior. 3. “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?” (Is 40:28 KJV). This question rebukes our slowness to believe in God’s majesty. God would shame us out of our unbelief. “What is the trouble?” he asks. “Have you been imagining that I, the Creator, have grown old and tired? Has nobody ever told you the truth about me?” The rebuke is well deserved by many of us. How slow we are to believe in God as God, sovereign, all-seeing and almighty! The need for us to “wait upon the Lord in meditations on his majesty, till we find our strength renewed through the writing of these things upon our hearts. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 88–89.

Getting Wisdom

Theologians divide the attributes of God into two categories, communicable and incommunicable. That God created man in his image means that man was given qualities corresponding to the attributes of God. However, not all of God’s attributes were included in this image. Incommunicable attributes are those for which there is no corresponding quality in his image in created man. These attributes were not communicated to Adam. They include aseity (self-existence) and infinitude (unlimited by time or space). Communicable attributes are those that God communicated to man in creation. They are his moral qualities. God’s communicable attributes are the image of God in us. That image, and therefore those attributes, were lost or damaged in the fall. A part of God’s redemptive plan is the renewal of those communicable attributes (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10). Among those communicable attributes is wisdom. It should be clearly seen that fallen man is lacking wisdom. It is equally clear that God wants to give us wisdom. Scripture, particularly the book of Proverbs, exhorts us repeatedly to “get wisdom.” The New Testament also instructs us to seek wisdom (Ephesians 5:15–17; James 1:5). But how can we get wisdom? J. I. Packer offers two prerequisites for receiving this gift. 1. We must learn to reverence God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” . . . Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty . . . acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours. 2. We must learn to receive God’s Word. wisdom is divinely wrought in those, and those only, who apply themselves to God’s revelation. “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,” declares the Psalmist; “I have more insight than all my teachers”—why?—“for I meditate on your statutes” (Ps 119:98–99). So Paul admonishes the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . with all wisdom” (Col 3:16). How are we of the twentieth century to do this? By soaking ourselves in the Scriptures, which, as Paul told Timothy (and he had in mind the Old Testament alone!), “are able to make you wise for salvation” through faith in Christ, and to make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15–17). Again, it is to be feared that many today who profess to be Christ’s never learn wisdom, through failure to attend to God’s written Word. . . . How long is it since you read right through the Bible? Do you spend as much time with the Bible each day as you do even with the newspaper? What fools some of us are!—and we remain fools all our lives, simply because we will not take the trouble to do what has to be done to receive the wisdom which is God’s free gift. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 101–102.
God is love. It is appropriate that this phrase has become so well used in describing God, for God’s love is his one characteristic which explains the relationship he has chosen to have with us. But this phrase is much misunderstood and misused. It has been used to the exclusion of God’s other attributes, such as his holiness and justice. It is also used in a trite way, being equated to human affections. But, compared to God’s love, the deepest human affections are pitifully shallow. Packer defines God’s love thusly: “God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified himself with their welfare, he has given his Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy him in a covenant relation.” He explains, 1. Gods love is an exercise of his goodness. The bible means by God’s goodness his cosmic generosity. Goodness in God, writes Berkhof, is “that perfection in God which prompts him to deal bountifully and kindly with all His creatures. It is the affection which the creator feels toward His sentient creatures as such.” (Systematic Theology, p. 70, citing Ps 145:9, 15–16; compare Lk 6:35; Acts 14:7). Of this goodness God’s love is the supreme and most glorious manifestation. . . . 2. God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward sinners. As such it has the nature of grace and mercy. It is an outgoing of God in kindness which is not merely undeserved but is actually contrary to desert; for the objects of God’s love are rational creatures who have broken God’s law, whose nature is corrupt in God’s sight, and who merit only condemnation and final banishment from his presence. It is staggering that God should love sinners; yet it is true. God loves creatures who have become unlovely and (one would have though) unlovable. There was nothing whatever in the object of his love to call it forth; nothing in us could attract or prompt it. Love among persons is awakened by something in the beloved, but the love of God is free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused. God loves people because he has chosen to love them . . . no reason for his love can be given except his own sovereign pleasure. . . . 3. God’s love is an exercise in his goodness toward individual sinners. It is not a vague, defused good will toward everyone in general and nobody in particular; rather, as being a function of omniscient almightiness, its nature is to particularize both its objects and its effects. God’s purpose of love, formed before creation (Eph 1:4), involved, first, the choice and selection, of those whom he would bless, and second, the appointment of the benefits to be given them and the means whereby these benefits would be procured and enjoyed. All this was made sure from the start. . . . The exercise of God’s love toward individual sinners in time is the execution of his purpose to bless those same individual sinners’a purpose which he formed in eternity. 4. God’s love to sinners involves his identifying himself with their welfare. Such an identification is involved in all love: it is, indeed, the test of whether love is genuine or not. If a father continues cheerful and carefree while his son is getting into trouble, or if a husband remains unmoved when his wife is in distress, we wonder at once how much love there can be in their relationship, for we know that those who truly love are only happy when those whom they love are truly happy also. So it is with God and his love for us. . . . It is not for nothing that the Bible habitually speaks of God as the loving Father and Husband of his people. It follows from the very nature of these relationships that God’s happiness will not be complete till all his beloved ones are finally out of trouble: Till all the ransomed church of God Be saved, to sin no more. . . .  Thus God saves, not only for his glory, but also for his gladness. . . . 5. God’s love to sinners was expressed by the gift of his Son to be their Savior. The measure of his love is how much it gives, and the measure of the love of God is the gift of his only Son to become human, and to die for sins, and so to become the one mediator who can bring us to God. . . . Thus, John goes straight on from his first “God is love” to say, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we love God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9–10). Similarly, in his Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall . . . have eternal life” (Jn. 3: 16). So too Paul writes, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinner, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). . . . 6. God’s love to sinners reaches its objective as it brings them to know and enjoy him in a covenant relation. A covenant relation is one in which two parties are permanently pledged to each other in mutual service and dependence. (example: marriage). A covenant promise is one by which a covenant relation is set up. (example: marriage vows). Biblical religion has the form of covenant relation with God. . . . All Christians inherit this promise through faith in Christ, as Paul argues in Galatians 3:15–29. What does it mean? It is truth in a pantechnicon promise: it contains everything. “This is the first and fundamental promise,” declared Sibbes, the Puritan; “indeed, it is the life and soul of all the promises” (Works VI, 8). . . . Thus faith in Christ introduces us into a relation big with incalculable blessing, both now and for eternity. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 123–127.

A Biblical View of Grace

Grace is a word we hear often in the church, as well we ought. Sadly, it is a word that is not as commonly understood as spoken. J. I. Packer points out that many who speak the word have actually put their faith in something else. “What is it,” he asks, “that hinders so many who profess to believe in grace from really doing so?” The answer, he says, is that they have a basic misunderstanding of the relation between themselves and God. At the root of this is a failure to grasp “four crucial truths . . . which the doctrine of grace presupposes.” 1. The moral ill-desert of man. Modern men and women, conscious of their tremendous scientific achievements in recent years, naturally incline to a high opinion of themselves. They view material wealth as in any case more important than moral character, and in the moral realm they are resolutely kind to themselves, treating small virtues as compensating for great vices and refusing to take seriously the idea that, morally speaking, there is anything much wrong with them. . . . The thought of themselves as creatures fallen from God’s image, rebels against God’s rule, guilty and unclean in God’s sight, fit only for God’s condemnation, never enters their heads. 2. The retributive justice of God. The way of modern men and women is to turn a blind eye to all wrongdoing as long as they safely can. They tolerate it in others, feeling that there, but for the accident of circumstances, go they themselves. . . . The accepted maxim seems to be that as long as evil can be ignored, it should be; one should punish only as a last resort . . . In our pagan way, we take it for granted that God feels as we do. The idea that retribution might be the moral law of God’s world and an expression of his holy character seems to us quite fantastic. Those who uphold it find themselves accused of projecting onto God their own pathological impulses of rage and vindictiveness. Yet the Bible insists throughout that this world which God in his goodness has made is a moral world, one in which retribution is as basic a fact as breathing. . . . 3. The spiritual impotence of man. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has been almost a modern Bible. A whole technique of business relations has been built up in recent years on the principle of putting the other person in a position where he cannot decently say no. This has confirmed modern men and women in the faith which has animated pagan religion ever since there was such a thing—namely, the belief that we can repair our own relationship with God by putting God in position where he cannot say no anymore. Ancient pagans thought to do this by multiplying gifts and sacrifices; modern pagans seek to do it by churchmanship and morality. . . . but the Bible position is as stated by Toplady: Not the labours of my hand Can fulfill Thy law’s demands. Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears for ever flow, All for sin could not atone —leading to the admission of one’s own helplessness and to the conclusion: Thou must save, and Thou alone. . . . 4. The sovereign freedom of God. Ancient paganism thought of each god as bound to his worshipers by bonds of self-interest, because he depended on their service and gifts for his welfare. Modern paganism has at the back of its mind a similar feeling that God is somehow obliged to love and help us, little though we deserve it. . . . But this feeling is not well founded. The God of the Bible does not depend on his human creatures for his well-being (see Ps 50:8–13; Acts 17:25), nor, now that we have sinned, is he bound to show us favor. We can only claim from him justice—and justice, for us, means certain condemnation. God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice taking its course. He is not obliged to pity and pardon; if he does so it is an act done, as we say, “of his own free will,” and nobody forces his hand. “It does not depend on man’s will or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom 9:16 NEB) Grace is free, in the sense of being self-originated and of proceeding from One who was free not to be gracious. Only when it is seen that what decides each individual’s destiny is whether or not God resolves to save him from his sins, and that this is a decision which God need not make in any single case, can one begin to grasp the biblical view of grace. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 128–132.

The Righteous Judge

Tuesday··2008·12·16 · 2 Comments
God is love. This, quite naturally, is a major theme in our understanding of God. We speak of God’s love, we sing of God’s love, we “love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” It ought to be reflexive for Christians to revel in the love of God. However, God is not a one-dimensional being; he is not only love. He is a holy God who is righteous and just, as well; and his love does not nullify those attributes. Not only is he a loving father, he is a righteous judge. His justice will be served. The Old Testament is filled with narratives of the judgment of God falling on both pagans and the people of God. This is not only an Old Testament manifestation of God’s character, nor is this quality limited to the Father. Jesus himself is “the righteous judge.” When we turn from Bible history to Bible teaching—the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom writings, the words of Christ and his apostles—we find the thoughts of God’s action in judgment overshadowing everything. The Mosaic legislation is given as from a God who is himself a just judge and will not hesitate to inflict penalties by direct providential action if his people break his law. The prophets take up this theme; indeed, the greater part of their recorded teaching consists of exposition and application of the law, and threats of judgment against the lawless and impenitent. They spend a good deal more space preaching judgment than they do prediction the Messiah and his kingdom! In the Wisdom literature, the same viewpoint appears: the one basic certainty underlying all discussion of life’s problems in Job, Ecclesiastes and all the practical maxims of Proverbs is that “God will bring you to judgment,” “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden sin, whether it is good or evil” (Eccles 11:9; 12:14). People who do not actually read the Bible confidently assure us that when we move from the old testament to the new, the theme of divine judgment fades in the background. But if we examine the New Testament, even in the most cursory way, we find at once that the Old Testament emphasized God’s action as a Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified. The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment, and by the problem thence arising: How may we sinners get right with God while there is yet time? The New Testament looks on to “the day of judgment,” “the day of wrath,” “the wrath to come,” and proclaims Jesus, the divine Savior, as the divinely appointed Judge. The judge who stands before the door (Jas 5:9), “ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet 4:5), “the righteous Judge” who will give Paul his crown (2 Tim 4:8), is the Lord Jesus Christ. “He is the one who has been designate by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42 NEB). God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed,” Paul told the Athenians (Acts 17:31); and to the Romans he wrote, “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as the gospel declares” (Rom 2:16). Jesus himself says the same. “The Father . . . has entrusted all judgment to the Son. . . . And he has given him authority to judge. . . . A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear the voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (NEB has “will rise to hear their doom”) (Jn 5:22, 27–29). The Jesus of the New Testament, who is the world’s Savior, is its Judge as well. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 140–141.

Jesus as Judge

Last week in our reading of Packer we saw that “The Jesus of the New Testament, who is the world’s Savior, is its Judge as well.” Today we will see what kind of judge he is. His authority as judge is unlike that of any judge in the human realm. The judge of the world differs from earthly judges in authority, passion, wisdom, and power. What is involved on the idea of the Father, or Jesus, being a judge? Four thoughts at least are involved. 1. The judge is a person with authority. In the Bible world, the king was always the supreme judge, because his was the supreme ruling authority. It is on that basis , according to the Bible, that God is judge of his world. As our Maker, he owns us, and as our Owner, he has the right to dispose of us. He has, therefore, a right to make laws for us and to reward us according to whether or not we keep them. In most modern states, the legislature and the judiciary are divided, so that the judge does not make the laws he administers; but in the ancient world this was not so, and it is not so with God. He is both the Lawgiver and the Judge. 2. The judge is a person identified with what is good and right. The modern idea that a judge should be cold and dispassionate has no place in the Bible. The biblical judge is expected to love justice and fair play and to loathe all ill treatment of one person by another. An unjust judge, one who has no interest in seeing right triumph over wrong, is by biblical standards a monstrosity. The bible leaves us in no doubt that God loves righteousness and hates iniquity, and that the ideal of a judge wholly identified with what is good and right in perfectly fulfilled in him. 3. The judge is a person of wisdom, to discern truth. In the biblical setting, the judge’s first task is to ascertain the facts in the case that is before him. There is no jury; it is his responsibly, and his alone, to question, and cross-examine, and detect lies and pierce through evasions and establish how matters really stand. When the Bible pictures God judging, it emphasizes his omniscience and wisdom as the searcher of hearts and the finder of facts. Nothing can escape him; we may fool men, but we cannot fool God. He knows us, and judges us, as we really are. When Abraham met the Lord in human form at the oaks of Mamre, he gave Abraham to understand the he was on the way to Sodom, to establish the truth about the moral situation there. “The Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gamorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down an see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know’” (Gen 18:20–21). So it is always. God will know. His judgment is according to truth—factual truth, as well as moral truth. He judges “the secrets of men,” not just their public façade. Not for nothing does Paul say, “We must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10 RV). 4. The judge is a person of power to execute sentence. The modern judge does no more than pronounce the sentence; another department of the judicial executive then carries it out. The same was true in the ancient world. But God is his own executioner. As he legislates and sentences, so he punishes. All judicial functions coalesce in him. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 141–142.

Thou Most Worthy Judge Eternal

Judge—it’s a serious title, and one that does not evoke pleasant thoughts. It’s certainly not the first word we think of when we hear the name “Jesus.” But we do not understand Jesus rightly if we neglect knowing him as our judge. It is not always realized that the main New Testament authority on final judgment, just as on heaven and hell, is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Rightly does the Anglican burial service address Jesus in a single breath as “holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal.” For Jesus constantly affirmed that in the day when all appear before God’s throne to receive the abiding and eternal consequences of the life they have lived, he himself will be the Father’s agent in judgment, and his word of acceptance or rejection will be decisive. Passages to note in this connection are, among others, Matthew 7:13–27; 10:26–33; 12:36–37; 13:24–50; 22:1–14; 24:36–25:46; Luke 13:23–30; 16:19–31; John 5:22–30. The clearest prefiguration of Jesus as Judge is in Matthew 25:31–34, 41: “The Son of Man . . . will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations [everybody] will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another. . . . Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance. . . .” Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire.’” The clearest account of Jesus’ prerogative as Judge is in John 5:22–23, 26–29: “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. . . . The Father . . . has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man [to whom dominion, including judicial functions, was promised: Dan 7:13–14]. A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (RSV). God’s own appointment has made Jesus Christ inescapable. He stands at the end of life’s road for everyone without exception. “Prepare to meet your God” was Amos’s message to Israel (Amos 4:12); “prepare to meet the risen Jesus” is God’s message to the world today (see Acts 17:31). And we can be sure that he who is true God and perfect man will make a perfectly just judge. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 144–145. These last few posts have presented Jesus as quite fearsome, and fearsome he is. But there is more to the story of “Jesus as Judge.” Next time . . .

Judge and Savior

The last three posts in this series have presented Jesus as our judge. He is holy and righteous, and has received all power and authority from the Father to judge all men. The day is coming when he will do just that. This ought to be a cause for terror in the hearts of all who have not bowed to his lordship. But for those who are his, there is another side to Christ. Paul refers to the fact that we must all appear before Christ’s judgment seat as “the terror of the Lord” (2 Cor 5:11 KJV), and well he might. Jesus the Lord, like his Father is holy and pure; we are neither. We live under his eye, he knows our secrets, and on judgment day the whole of our past life will be played back, as it were, before him and brought under review. If we know ourselves at all, we know we are not fit to face him. What then are we to do? The New Testament answer is: Call on the coming Judge to be your present Savior. As Judge, he is the law, but as Savior he is the gospel. Run from him now, and you will meet him as Judge then—and without hope. Seek him now, and you will find him (for “he that seeketh findeth”), and you will then discover that you are looking forward to that future meeting with joy, knowing that there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). So— Whilst I draw this fleeting breath; When my eyelids close in death; When I soar through tracts unknown, See thee on thy judment-throne; Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 146–147.

The Solemn Reality of God’s Wrath

Just as we cannot know Jesus as Savior until we have first come to terms with him as Judge, we cannot fully appreciate the goodness of God without an understanding of his wrath. But you will not hear much about the wrath of God from many pulpits today. Few home Bible studies will spend much time exploring the topic of wrath. Yet Scripture speaks more of God’s wrath than of his love. Considering that fact, shouldn’t it command more of our attention than we give it? Packer writes: No doubt it is true that the subject of divine wrath has in the past been handled speculatively, irreverently, even malevolently. No doubt there have been some who have preached on wrath and damnation with tearless eyes and no pain in their hearts. No doubt the sight of small sects cheerfully consigning the whole word, apart from themselves, to hell has disgusted many. Yet if we would know God, it is vital that we face the truth concerning his wrath, however unfashionable it may be, and however strong our initial prejudices against it. Otherwise we shall not understand the gospel of salvation from wrath, nor the propitiatory achievement of the cross, nor the wonder of the redeeming love of God, nor shall we understand the hand of God in history and God’s present dealings with our own people; nor shall we be able to make head or tail of the blood of Revelation; nor will our evangelism have the urgency enjoyed by Jude—“save some, by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23 RSV). Neither our knowledge of God nor our service to him will be in accord with the Word. The wrath of God [wrote A. W. Pink] is a perfection of the Divine character on which we need to meditate frequently. First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for sin. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and his frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely are we to realize its heinousness. Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God. “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28, 29). We cannot serve Him “acceptably” unless there is due “reverence” for His awful Majesty and “godly fear” of His righteous anger, and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that “our God is an consuming fire.” Third, to draw our soul in fervent praise [to Jesus Christ] for having delivered us from “the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). Our readiness or our reluctancy to meditate upon the wrath of God becomes a sure test of how our hearts really stand affected towards Him (The Attributes of God, p. 77). Pink is right. If we would truly know God, and be know of him, we should ask him to teach us here and now to reckon with the solemn reality of his wrath. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 156–157.

Goodness and Severity

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 11, instructs us to “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God.” “The crucial word here,” writes Packer, “is and.” We must be aware of these two aspects of God’s character, neglecting neither, dwelling on neither alone, but contemplating them side by side. God’s GoodnessGoodness, in God as in human beings, means something admirable, attractive and praiseworthy. When the biblical writers call God good. They are thinking in general of all themoral qualities which prompt his people to call him perfect, and in particular of the generosity which moves them to call him merciful and gracious and to speak of his love. . . . The Bible is constantly ringing the changes on the theme of the moral perfection of God, as declared in his own words and verified in the experience of his people. When God stood with Moses on Sinai and “proclaimed the name [that is, the revealed character] of the Lord [that is, God as his peoples Jehovah, the sovereign Savior who says of himself, “I am what I am” in the covenant of grace],” what he said was this, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slaw to anger abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex 34:6–7). And this proclaiming of God’s moral perfection was carried out as the fulfillment of his promise to -make all his goodness pass before Moses (Ex 33:19). All the particular perfections that are mentioned here, and all that go with them—God’s truthfulness and trustworthiness, his unfailing justice and wisdom, his tenderness, forbearance and entire adequacy to all who penitently seek his help, his noble kindness in offering believers the exalted destiny of fellowship with him in holiness and love—these things together make up God’s goodness in the overall sense of the sum total of his revealed excellencies. . . . Within the cluster of God’s moral perfections there is one in particular to which the term goodness points—the quality which God especially singled out from the whole when, proclaiming “all his goodness” to Moses, he spoke of himself as “abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex 34:6 KJV). This is the quality of generosity. Generosity means a disposition to give to others in a way that has no mercenary motive, and is not limited by what the recipients deserve but constantly goes beyond it. Generosity expresses the simple wish that others should have what they need to make them happy. Generosity is, so to speak, the focal point of God’s moral perfection; it is the quality which determines how God’s other excellencies are to be displayed. . . . God’s Severity What, now of God’s severity? The word Paul uses in Romans 11:22 means literally “cutting off”; it denotes God’s decisive withdrawal of his goodness from those who have spurned it. It reminds us of a fact about God which he himself declared when he proclaimed his name to Moses; namely, that though he is “abounding in love and faithfulness,” he “does not leave the guilty unpunished”—that is, the obstinate and impenitent guilty (Ex 34:6–7). The act of severity to which Paul referred was God’s rejection of Israel as a body—breaking them off from his olive tree, of which they were the natural branches—because they did not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Israel had presumed on God’s goodness, while disregarding the concrete manifestation of goodness in his Son; and God’s reaction had been swift—he had cut Israel off. Paul takes occasion from this to warn his Gentile Christians readers that if they should lapse as Israel had lapsed, God would cut them off too. “You stand fast only thorough faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither ill he spare you” (Rom 11:20–21 RSV). The principle which Paul is applying here is that behind every display of divine goodness stands a threat of severity in judgment if that goodness is scorned. If we do not let it draw us to God in gratitude and responsive love, we have only ourselves to blame when God turns against us. . . . But God is not impatient in his severity; just the reverse. He is “slow to anger” (Neh 9:17; Ps 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2) and “longsuffering” (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18; Ps 86:15 KJV). The Bible makes much of the patience and forbearance of God in postponing merited judgments in order to extend the day of grace to give more opportunity for repentance. Peter reminds us how, when the earth was corrupt and crying out for judgment, nevertheless “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (1 Pet 3:20 KJV)—a reference, probably, to the hundred and twenty years’ respite (as it seems to have been) that is mentioned in Genesis 6:3. . . . Our ResponseFrom the above line of thought we can learn at least three lessons. 1. Appreciate the goodness of God. Count your blessings. Learn not to take natural benefits, endowments and pleasures for granted; learn to thank God for them all. Do not slight the Bible nor the gospel of Jesus Christ, by and attitude of casualness toward either. The Bible shows you a Savior who suffered and died in order that we sinners might be reconciled to God; Calvary is the measure of the goodness of God; lay it to heart. Ask yourself the psalmist’s question—“How can I Repay the Lord of all his goodness to me?” Seek grace to give his answer—“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. . . . O Lord, truly I am your servant; . . . I will fulfill my vows to the Lord” (Ps 116:12–18). 2. Appreciate the patience of God. Think how he has born with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him and you have so richly deserve his rejection. Learn to marvel at his patience and seek grace to imitate it in your dealings with others; and try not to try his patience any more. 3. Appreciate the discipline of God. He is both your upholder and, in the last analysis, your environment. All things come of him, and you have tasted his goodness ever day of your life. Has this experience led you to repentance and faith in Christ? If not, you are trifling with God and stand under the threat of his severity. But if, now, he (in Whitefield’s phrase ) puts thorns in your bed, it is only to awaken you from the sleep of spiritual death—to make you rise up to seek his mercy. Or if you are a true believer, and he still puts thorns on your bed, it is only to keep you from falling into the somnolence of complacency and to ensure that you “continue in his goodness” be letting your sense of need bring you back constantly in self-abasement and faith to seek his face. This kindly discipline, in which God’s severity touches us for a moment in the context of his goodness, is meant to keep us from having to bear the full brunt of that severity apart form that context. It is a discipline of love, and it must be received accordingly. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline” (Heb 12:5). “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps 119:71). —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 161–166.
Raised as an evangelical Lutheran, the doctrine of Justification has been pretty well drilled into me as the supreme doctrine of the church, with only sola Scriptura as its equal. I’m grateful for that heritage, and the foundation that was laid early in life. These doctrines are the very bedrock of my faith, and without them, I would have nothing to believe in. In the last several months, however, another doctrine has absolutely captivated my heart. I cannot think of it without being utterly overwhelmed. Whenever I encounter it, I am stopped in my tracks and must simply sit and contemplate it at length. It is the doctrine of Adoption. I have more to say about that, but first this, from J. I. Packer: Sonship to God . . . is not a natural but an adoptive sonship, and so the New Testament explicitly pictures it. . . . The Apostles proclaim that God has so loved those whom he redeemed on the cross that he has adopted them as heirs, to see and share the glory into which his only begotten son has already come. “God sent his Son . . . To redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full [adoptive] rights of sons” (Gal 4:4–5): we, that is, who were “foreordained unto adoption as sons by Jesus Christ unto himself” (Eph 1:5 RV). “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! . . .” (1 Jn 3:1–2). Some years ago, I wrote: You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctly Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God. (Evangelical Magazine 7, pp. 19–20) This still seems to me wholly true, and very important. Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 201–202 [bold added] I have a sort of mental picture of God’s adoption process. It is perhaps rather lame; I’m sure I can’t capture such profound truth in a parable of my own design. There is a fabulously wealthy man who wants to adopt a son. It’s not that he needs to. He already has a son’and not just any son, but a son who is perfect in every way. This man is entirely happy with his natural son, and has no need of another. He loves his son, and his son loves him. The son he wants to adopt is not just anyone, either. He knows this boy. He has seen him on several occasions. He knows this child. This child is not the typical child that most parents seek to adopt. He is no adorable, cooing baby. He is a homeless child, a loner, living in alleys and abandoned buildings. But he isn’t just any homeless child, either. He has a disease. His disease has deformed his body and twisted his mind. He is filthy, and he stinks. He is vicious and violent, entirely antisocial. He survives by scavenging and stealing. No one would want him. The man tracks this boy down, finding him in an alley scrounging through a dumpster. He approaches the boy with a smile and an outstretched hand. The boy runs. The man follows him, tracking him to a condemned building. Cornered, the boy begins hurling debris at the man, shouting threats and obscenities. All the while, the man looks upon him and loves him. He wants him. He wants nothing more than to take him home and lavish his wealth and affection on him. And so he does. He subdues the boy and takes him to his home. He feeds him, clothes him, and treats his illness. He loves him. And he gives him his name and writes him into his will. This child who was nobody, with no hope, diseased and ugly, hateful and hated, is now a privileged son, heir to a fortune; and he is loved. He has been adopted. He is me. I love this doctrine of adoption.

The Highest Privilege

What is the highest blessing and privilege offered by the gospel? Many, if not most, people’s answer would involve something about forgiveness, salvation from the penalty of sin. In short, justification, and it is no wonder that most would answer in that way. Surely, it is a wonderful thing to be forgiven and freed from the threat of eternity in hell. But there is a greater blessing than that. Packer writes: Adoption . . . is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. This may cause raising of eyebrows, for justification is the gift of God on which since Luther evangelicals have laid the greatest stress, and we are accustomed to say, almost without thinking, that free justification is God’s supreme blessing to us sinners. Nonetheless, careful thought will show the truth of the statement we have just made. That justification—by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance for the future—is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing, because it meets our primary spiritual need. We all stand by nature under God’s judgment; his law condemns us; guilt gnaws at us, making us restless, miserable, and in our lucid moments afraid; we have no peace in ourselves because we have no peace with our Maker. So we need the forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God, more than we need anything else in the world; and this the gospel offers us before it offers us anything else. The first gospel sermons to be preached, those recorded in Acts, lead up to the promise of forgiveness of sins to all who repent and receive Jesus as their Savior and Lord (see Acts 2:38; 3:19; 10:43; 13:38–39; compare 5:31; 17:30–31; 20:21; 22:16; 26:18; Lk 24:47). In Romans, Paul’s fullest exposition of his gospel—“the clearest gospel of all,” to Luther’s mind—justification through the cross of Christ is expounded first (chaps. 1–5), and made basic to everything else. Regularly Paul speaks of righteousness, remission of sins, and justification as the first and immediate consequence for us of Jesus’ death (Rom 3:22-26; 2 Cor 5:18–21; Gal 3:13-14; Eph 1:7; and so on). And as justification is primary blessing, so it is the fundamental blessing, in the sense that everything else in our salvation assumes it, and rests on it—adoption included. But this is not to say that justification is the highest blessing of the gospel. Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves. Some textbooks on Christian doctrine—Berkhof’s, for instance—treat adoption as a mere subsection of justification, but this is inadequate. The two ideas are distinct, and adoption is the more exalted. Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge. In justification, God declares of penitent believers that they are not, and never will be, liable to the death that their sins deserve, because Jesus Christ, their substitute and sacrifice, tasted death in their place on the cross. This free gift of acquittal and peace, won for us at the cost of Calvary, is wonderful enough, in all conscience—but justification does not of itself imply any intimate or deep relationship with God the judge. In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God resulting. But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 206–207.

Adoption and Antinomianism

Tuesday··2009·02·10 · 5 Comments
Once a person is saved, he no longer needs concern himself with the law. Since he has been forgiven and justified, he no longer needs worry about sin—right? Orthodox Christianity has always replied, “wrong!” But why is that? If we are indeed freed from the law, what part does obedience play in our lives? Many have found it hard to see what claim the law can have on the Christian. We are free from the law, they say; our salvation does not depend on law-keeping; we are justified through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. How, then, can it matter, or make any difference to anything, whether we keep the law henceforth or not? And since justification means the pardon of all sin, past, present and future, and complete acceptance for all eternity, why should we be concerned whether we sin or not? Why should we think God is concerned? Does it not show an imperfect grasp of justification when a Christian makes an issue of his daily sins, and spends time mourning over them and seeking forgiveness for them? Is not a refusal to look to the law for instruction, or to be concerned about one’s daily shortcomings, part of the true boldness of justifying faith? The Puritans had to face these “antinomian” ideas, and sometimes made heavy weather of answering them. If one allows it to be assumed that justification is the be-all and end-all of the gift of salvation, one will always make heavy weather of answering such arguments. The truth is that these ideas must be answered in terms not of justification but of adoption—a reality which the Puritans never highlighted quite enough.* Once the distinction is drawn between these two elements in the gift of salvation, the correct reply becomes plain. What is that reply? It is this: that, while it is certainly true that justification frees one forever from the need to keep the law, or try to, as means of earning life, it is equally true that adoption lays on one the abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing one’s newfound father. Law-keeping is the family likeness of God’s children; Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, and God calls us to do likewise. Adoption puts law-keeping on a new footing: as children of God, we acknowledge the law’s authority as a rule for our lives, because we know that this is what our Father wants. If we sin, we confess our fault and ask our Father’s forgiveness on the basis of the family relationship, as Jesus taught us to do—“Father . . . forgive us our sins” (Lk 11:2, 4). The sins of God’s children do not destroy their justification or nullify their adoption, but they mar the children’s fellowship with their Father. “Be holy, for I am holy” is our Father’s word to us, and it is no part of justifying faith to lose sight of the fact that God, the King, wants his royal children to live lives worthy of their paternity and position. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 222–223 * Joel Beeke, in Heirs With Christ: The Puritans on Adoption, disagrees with this assessment of the Puritans.

Packer: Guidance (1)

All Christians desire God’s guidance in their lives. We know that we need it, and that without it, our lives will be a chaotic, purposeless mess. Unless he leads us, we cannot do his will. But we are often confused on the subject of God’s leading. J. I. Packer suggests two common misconceptions concerning God’s guidance: 1) many who believe that God can guide, and has promised to do so, doubt their own ability to receive his guidance; 2) knowledge of God in our day has been obscured—“turned, in effect, into ignorance of God”—so that there is doubt as to whether God even has a plan, and is able and willing to give guidance. If this was true thirty-six years ago when Packer first published Knowing God, it is even more applicable in our postmodern age. So we’re going to spend two or three days on this subject, beginning with the affirmation that God Has a Plan: Belief that divine guidance is real rests upon two foundation-facts: first the reality of God’s plan for us; second, the ability of God to communicate with us. On both these facts the Bible has much to say. Has God a plan for individuals? Indeed he has. He has formed an “eternal purpose” (literally, a “plan of the ages”), “a plan for the fulness of time,” in accordance with which he “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 3:11; 1:10–11 RSV). He had a plan for the redemption of his people from Egyptian bondage, when he guided them through the sea and the desert by means of a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. He had a plan for the return of his people from Babylonian exile, where he guided by setting Cyrus on the throne and stirring up his spirit (Ezra 1:1) to send the Jews home to build their temple. He had a plan for Jesus (see Lk 18:31; 22:22 and so on); Jesus’ whole business on earth was to do his Father’s will (Jn 4:34; Heb 10:7 ,9). God had a plan for Paul (see Acts 21:14; 22:14; 26:16–19; 1 Tim 1:16); in five of his letters Paul announces himself as an apostle “by the will of God.” God has a plan for each of his children. But can God communicate his plan to us? Indeed he can. As man is a communicative animal, so his Maker is a communicative God. He made known his will to and through the Old Testament prophets. . . . And though guidance by dreams, visions and direct verbal messages must be judged exceptional and not normal, even for the apostles and their contemporaries, yet these events do at least show that God has no difficulty in making his will known to his servants. Moreover, Scripture contains explicit promises of divine guidance, whereby we may know God’s plan for our action. “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you,” says God to David (Ps 32:8 RSV). Isaiah 58:11 contains the assurance that if the people repent and obey, “the Lord will guide you always.” Guidance is a main theme in Psalm 25, where we read, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him” (vv. 8–9, 12). So in Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” In the New Testament, the same expectation of guidance appears. Paul’s prayer that the Colossians might be filled “with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” and Epaphras’s prayer that they might “stand firm in all the will of God” (Col 1:9; 4:12), clearly assume that God is ready and willing to make his will known. Wisdom in Scripture always means knowledge of the course of action that will please God and secure life, so that the promise of James 1:5—if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him” (RSV)—is in effect a promise of guidance. “Let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed,” counsels Paul. “Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect” (Rom 12:2 NEB). . . . Again, Scripture is God’s Word, “profitable” (we read) “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17 RSV). “Teaching” means comprehensive instruction in doctrine and ethics, the work and will of God; “reproof,” “correction” and “training in righteousness” signify the applying of this instruction to our disordered lives; “equipped [ready] for every good work”—that is, a life set to go God’s way—is the promised result. Again, Christians have an indwelling Instructor, the Holy Spirit. “You have been anointed by the Holy One. . . . The anointing which you received from him abides in you . . . his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie” (1 Jn 2:20, 27 RSV). Doubt as to the availability of guidance would be a slur on the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to his ministry. . . . Again, God seeks his glory in our lives, and he is glorified in us only when we obey his will. It follows that, as a means to his own end, he must be ready to teach us his way, so that we may walk in it. Confidence in God’s readiness to teach those who desire to obey underlies all Psalm 119. In Psalm 23:3 David proclaims the reality of God giving guidance for his own glory—“he guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” So we might go on, but the point is sufficiently established. It is impossible to doubt that guidance is a reality intended for, and promised to, every child of God. Christians who miss it thereby show only that they did not seek it as they should. It is right, therefore, to be concerned about one’s own receptiveness to guidance, and to study how to seek it. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 231–233.

Packer: Guidance (2)

God does indeed have a plan, and he is able to communicate it to us. But there is much confusion about how he accomplishes that. Packer writes on How We Receive Guidance: Earnest Christians seeking guidance often go wrong. Why is this? Often the reason is that their notion of the nature and method of divine guidance is distorted. They look for a will-o’-the-wisp; they overlook the guidance that is ready at hand and lay themselves open to all sorts of delusions. Their basic mistake is to think of guidance as essentially inward prompting by the Holy Spirit, apart from the written Word. This idea . . . is a seed-bed in which all forms of fanatacism and folly can grow. How do thoughtful Christians come to make this mistake? What seems to happen is this. They hear the word guidance and think at once of a particular class of “guidance problems”—on which, perhaps, the books they have read and the testimonies they have heard tended to harp exclusively. This is the class of problems concerned with what we may call “vocational choices”—choices, that is, between competing options, all of which in themselves appear lawful and good. Should I contemplate marriage, or not? Should I marry this person, or not? . . . Should I serve God in the land of my upbringing, or abroad? Which of the professions open to me should I follow? . . . Is my present sphere of work the right one to stay in? . . . Which claims on my voluntary service time should have priority? . . . Two features about divine guidance in the case of “vocational choices” are distinctive. Both follow from the nature of the situation itself. First, these problems cannot be resolved by a direct application of biblical teaching. All one can do from Scripture is circumscribe the lawful possibilities between which the choice has to be made. (No biblical text, for instance, told the present writer to propose to the lady who is now his wife, or to seek ordination, or to start his ministry in England, or to buy his large old car.) Second, just because Scripture cannot decide one’s choice directly, the factor of God-given prompting and inclination, whereby one is drawn to commit oneself to one set of responsibilities rather than another and finds one’s mind settled in peace as one contemplates them, becomes decisive. The basis of the mistake which we are trying to detect is to assume, first, that all guidance problems have these same two characteristics, and, second, that all life should be treated as a field in which this kind of guidance should be sought. The consequences of this mistake among earnest Christians have been both comic and tragic. The idea of a life in which the inward voice of the Spirit decides and directs everything sounds most attractive, for it seems to exalt the Spirit’s ministry and to promise the closest intimacy with God; but in practice this quest for superspirituality leads only to frantic bewilderment or lunacy. . . . But the true way to honor the Holy Spirit as our guide is to honor the holy Scriptures through which he guides us. The fundamental guidance which God gives to shape our lives—the instilling, that is, of the basic convictions, attitudes, ideals and value judgments, in terms of which we are to live—is not a matter of inward promptings apart from the Word but of the pressure on our consciences of the portrayal of God’s character and will in the Word, which the Spirit enlightens us to understand and apply to ourselves. The basic form of divine guidance, therefore, is the presentation to us of positive ideals as guidelines for all our living. “Be the kind of person that Jesus was”; “seek this virtue, and this one, and this, and practice them up to the limit”; “know your responsibilities—husbands, to your wives; wives, to your husbands; parents, to your children; all of you, to all your fellow Christians and all your fellow human beings; know them, and seek strength constantly to discharge them”—this is how God guides us through the Bible, as any student of the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Prophets, the Sermon on the Mount, and the ethical parts of the Epistles will soon discover. “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:14; 37:27)—this is the highway along which the Bible is concerned to lead us, and all its admonitions are concerned to keep us on it. Be it noted that the reference to being “led by the Spirit” in Romans 8:14 relates not to in¬ward “voices” or any such experience, but to mortifying known sin and not living after the flesh! Only within the limits of this guidance does God prompt us inwardly in matters of “vocational” decision. So never expect to be aided to marry an unbeliever, or elope with a married person, as long as 1 Corinthians 7:39 and the seventh commandment stand! The present writer has known divine guidance to be claimed for both courses of action. Inward inclinations were undoubtedly present, but they were quite certainly not from the Spirit of God, for they went against the Word. The Spirit leads within the limits which the Word sets, not beyond them. “He guides me in paths of righteousness” (Ps 23:3)—but not anywhere else. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 233–237.

Packer: Guidance (3)

Tuesday··2009·03·03 · 1 Comments
We have read that God does indeed have a plan for our lives, and that he is able to communicate it to us. We have read of his method of communicating his plan to us. But knowing that does not clear the way for us to easily discern God’s guidance. There are still obstacles, and they are all us. Even with right ideas about guidance in general, however, it is still easy to go wrong, particularly in “vocational” choices. No area of life bears clearer witness to the frailty of human nature’even regenerate human nature. The work of God in these cases is to incline first our judgment and then our whole being to the course which, of all the competing alternatives, he has marked out as best suited for us, and for his glory and the good of others through us. But the Spirit can be quenched, and we can all too easily behave in a way which stops this guidance from getting through. It is worth listing some of the main pitfalls. First, unwillingness to think. It is false piety, super-supernaturalism of an unhealthy and pernicious sort, that demands inward impressions that have no rational base, and declines to heed the constant biblical summons to “consider.” God made us thinking beings, and he guides our minds as in his presence we think things out—not otherwise. “O that they were wise . . . that they would consider” (Deut 32:29 KJV). Second, unwillingness to think ahead and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action. “Think ahead” is part of the divine rule of life no less than of the human rule of the road. Often we can see what is wise and right (and what is foolish and wrong) only as we dwell on its long-term issues. “O that they were wise . . . that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut 32:29 KJV). Third, unwillingness to take advice. Scripture is emphatic on the need for this. “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov 12:15). It is a sign of conceit and immaturity to dispense with taking advice in major decisions. There are always people who know the Bible, human nature and our own gifts and limitations better than we do, and even if we cannot finally accept their advice, nothing but good will come to us from carefully weighing what they say. Fourth, unwillingness to suspect oneself. We dislike being realistic with ourselves, and we do not know ourselves at all well; we can recognize rationalizations in others and quite overlook them in ourselves. “Feelings” with an ego-boosting, or escapist, or self-indulging, or self-aggrandizing base must be detected and discredited, not mistaken for guidance. This is particularly true of sexual or sexually conditioned feelings. As a biol¬ogist-theologian has written: The joy and general sense of well-being that often (but not always) goes with being “in love” can easily silence conscience and inhibit crit¬ical thinking. How often people say that they “feel led” to get married (and probably they will say “the Lord has so clearly guided”), when all they are really describing is a particularly novel state of endocrine balance which makes them feel extremely sanguine and happy. (O. R. Barclay, Guidance, pp. 29-30) We need to ask ourselves why we “feel” a particular course to be right, and to make ourselves give reasons—and we shall be wise to lay the case before someone else whose judgment we trust, to give a verdict on our reasons. We need also to keep praying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24 KJV). We can never distrust ourselves too much. Fifth, unwillingness to discount personal magnetism. Those who have not been made deeply aware of pride and self-deception in themselves cannot al¬ways detect these things in others, and this has from time to time made it possible for well-meaning but deluded people with a flair for self-dram-atization to gain an alarming domination over the minds and consciences of others, who fall under their spell and decline to judge them by ordinary standards. And even when a gifted and magnetic person is aware of the danger and tries to avoid it, he is not always able to stop Christian people from treating him as an angel, or a prophet, construing his words as guidance for themselves and blindly following his lead. But this is not the way to be led by God. Outstanding people are not, indeed, necessarily wrong, but they are not necessarily right, either! They, and their views, must be respected, but may not be idolized. “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess 5:21). Sixth, unwillingness to wait. “Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 237–239.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:28–39 When Jesus Died on the cross, he did not merely make our salvation possible; he actually secured that salvation—and all that it entails—for each of his elect. J. I. Packer expounds this truth from Romans 8: The thought expressed by Paul’s [question in v. 32] is that no good thing will finally be withheld from us. He conveys this thought by pointing to the adequacy of God as our sovereign benefactor and to the decisiveness of his redeeming work for us. Three comments will bring out the force of Paul’s argument. Note, first, what Paul implies about the costliness of our redemption. “He did not spare his own Son.” In saving us, God went to the limit. . . . We cannot know what Calvary cost the Father, any more than we can know Jesus felt as he tasted the penalty due to our sins. . . . Yet we can say this: that if the measure of love is what it gives, then there never was such love as God showed to sinners at Calvary, nor will any subsequent love-gift to us cost God so much. So if God has already commended his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (5:8), it is believable, to say the least, that he will go on to give us “all things” besides. . . . But this is not all. Note, second, what Paul implies about the effectiveness of our redemption. “God,” he says, “gave him up for us all”—and this fact is itself the guarantee that “all things” will be given us, because they all come to us as the direct fruit of Christ’s death. We have just said that the greatness of God’s giving on the cross makes his further giving (if the words may be allowed) natural and likely, but what we must note now is that the unity of God’s saving purpose makes such further giving necessary, and therefore certain. At this point the New Testament view of the cross involves more than is sometimes realized. That the apostolic writers present the death of Christ as the ground and warrant of God’s offer of forgiveness, and that we enter into forgiveness through repentance and faith in Christ, will not be disputed. But does this mean that, as a loaded gun is only potentially explosive, and an act of pulling the trigger is needed to make it go off, so Christ’s death achieved only a possibility of salvation, needing an exercise of faith on our part to trigger it off and make it actual? If so, then it is not strictly Christ’s death that saves us at all, any more than it is loading the gun that makes it fire: strictly speaking, we save ourselves by our faith, and for all we know, Christ’s death might not have saved anyone, since it might have been the case that nobody believed the gospel. But that is not how the New Testament sees it. The New Testament view is that the death of Christ has actually saved “us all”—all, that is to say, whom God foreknew, and has called and justified, and will in due course glorify. For our faith, which from the human point of view is the means of salvation, is from God’s point of view part of salvation, and is as directly and completely God’s gift to us as is the pardon and peace of which faith lays hold. Psychologically, faith is our own act, but the theological truth about it is that it is God’s work in us: our faith, and our new relationship with God as believers, and all the divine gifts that are enjoyed within this relationship, were all alike secured for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. For the cross was not an isolated event; it was, rather, the focal point in God’s eternal plan to save his elect, and it ensured and guaranteed first the calling (the bringing to faith, through the gospel in the mind and the Holy Spirit in the heart), and then the justification, and finally the glorification, of all for whom, specifically and personally, Christ died. Now we see why the Greek of this verse says literally (and so the KJV renders it), how shall he not with him also give us all things? It is simply impossible for him not to do this, for Christ and “all things” go together as ingredients in the single gift of eternal life and glory, and the giving of Christ for us, to remove the “sin barrier” by substitutionary atonement, has effectively opened the door to our being given all the rest. . . . Note, third, what Paul implies about the consequences of redemption. God, he says, will with Christ give us “all things.” What does that cover? Calling, justification, glorification (which in v. 30 includes everything from the new birth to the resurrection of the body) have already been mentioned, and so throughout Romans 8 has the many sided ministry of the Holy Spirit. Here is wealth indeed, and from other Scriptures we could add to it. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 264–266

The Vanity of Hyper-Calvinism

The third of four Lessons from the Conflict with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeons day is the vanity of expecting to answer every question satisfactorily to human reason. Murray writes: This controversy directs us to our need for profound humility before God. It reminds us forcefully of questions about which we can only say, behold, God is great, and we know him not (Job 36:26), and, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Rom. 11:33). We do not know why God has purposed to save some and not others, nor why, given his desire for the good of all, many are left in their sin. We cannot say why his love to all men is not the same to the elect. We do not know how God works in us to will and to do and yet leaves us wholly responsible for our own actions, nor how invitations to all to believe on Christ are to be harmonised with electing grace. As Crawford said, various attempts have been made to solve such mysteries, but, it must be owned, they have been signally unsuccessful. He concludes: We do well to be exceedingly diffident in our judgments respecting matters so unsearchable as the secret purposes of God. It is to be feared that sharp contentions between Christians on these issues have too often risen from a wrong confidence in our powers of reasoning and our assumed ability to draw logical inferences. It is arguable that in the eclipse of Calvinistic beliefs at the beginning of the eighteenth century, at a time when reason was being made the test of all religious belief, the would-be defenders of orthodoxy who became Hyper-Calvinistic fell into the very mistake which they were seeking to correct. As J. I. Packer writes, In an increasingly rationalistic age, the reaction itself was rationalistic, within the Reformed supernaturalistic frame. Joseph Hussey, the standard bearer of the movement, certainly gave justification of that charge. The contentious spirit in which he advocated his views was a discredit to the truth. John Newton was not the only Calvinist to complain that in Husseys writings, I frequently found more bones than meat, and seasoned with much of an angry and self-important spirit. Spurgeon, like all the children of men, had to learn humility, and he was not always entirely blameless in this regard in his early years, but it was given to him to see how a system which sought to attribute all to the grace of God had itself too much confidence in the powers of reason. His mature judgment on that point, given below, constitutes a statement of great value. Probably as a young man Spurgeon was, at times, over concerned to assert his agreement with Calvin but in his deepening humility before God, and his refusal to trust in human reason, he truly followed in the spirit of that leader and of all true teachers in the church of God. It was Calvin, shortly before his death, who, on the words, have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? (Ezek. 18:3) said this: If any one again objects this is making God act with duplicity, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, Gods will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it, as far as our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we now look through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence (1 Cor. 13:12). Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 117119.

Pygmies Rather Than Giants

J. I. Packer on the effects of historical ignorance on modern evangelicalism: Seeing in this Puritan ideal, and in individual Puritan lives that I have studies, the most complete, profound, and magnificent realization of biblical religion that the world had yet known, and viewing German Lutheran pietism and the English-speaking evangelical movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as they viewed themselvesnamely as partial though incomplete realizations of the Puritan vision of godlinessI have only been able to give two cheers for those many latter-day explorations of the evangelical heritage that treat evangelical religion as beginning in the eighteenth century. The truth is that evangelicalism, so-called, yesterday and today, should be seen as Puritanism continuing, but constantly narrowedintellectually, culturally, humanistically, aesthetically, relationallyby secularizing pressures and perspectives in the Protestant world, so that increasingly it produces pygmies rather than giants. It is by Puritan standards that our stature should be measured, and our short-comings detected, for those are the standards of the Bible. The pioneers of the Evangelical Revival in Britain and the Great Awakening in New England knew this well, and read, thought, prayed, spoke, and acted accordingly. The fact that todays evangelicals are so largely out of touch with their own history, and so cannot discern how small and dry and lightweight and superficial and childish they are compares with those from whom they take their name, is one of the more glaring of or current shortcomings, all the more so for going constantly unnoticed. Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 838839.

The Spirit Glorifies the Son

Three more quotations on the subordinate ministry of the Holy Spirit, all from Strange Fire (44, 45). The Spirit does not glorify Himself; He glorifies the Son. . . . This is, to me, one of the most amazing and remarkable things about the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit seems to hide Himself and to conceal Himself. He is always, as it were, putting the focus on the Son, and that is why I believe, and I believe profoundly, that the best test of all as to whether we have received the Spirit is to ask ourselves, what do we think of, and what do we know about, the Son. Is the Son real to us? That is the work of the Spirit. He is glorified indirectly; He is always pointing us to the Son. And so you see how easily we go astray and become heretical if we concentrate overmuch, and in an unscriptural manner, upon the Spirit Himself. Yes, we must realize that He dwells within us, but His work in dwelling within us is to glorify the Son, and to bring to us that blessed knowledge of the Son and of His wondrous love to us. It is He who strengthens us with might in the inner man (Eph. 3:16), that we may know this love, this love of Christ. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible: God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 2:20; emphasis added. If we are told that the Holy Spirit will not speak of himself but of Jesus, then we may conclude that any emphasis upon the person and work of the Spirit that detracts from the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the Spirit’s doing. In fact, it is the work of another spirit, the spirit of antichrist, whose work is to minimize Christ’s person (1 John 4:2–3). Important as the Holy Spirit is, he is never to preempt the place of Christ in our thinking. —James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986) 381. Mark it down: the Spirit glorifies Christ. I’ll go one step further: If the Holy Spirit Himself is being emphasized and magnified, He isn’t in it! Christ is the One who is glorified when the Spirit is at work. He does His work behind the scenes, never in the limelight. —Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 188.

Arminian Philosophy

Packer on the philosophical basis of Arminianism: The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. . . . From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions: (1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor (2.) is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it. (3.) God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe. (4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe. (5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 3. One must wonder what Arminians do with (1.) Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 (2.) John 6:37 (3.) Romans 9:11–13 (4.) Ephesians 2:8 (5.) John 6:37, 39–40. All of the Epistles, indeed, the entire New Testament, speak loudly against them.

No Small Difference

The difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is no minor disagreement. J. I. Packer writes, The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God Who saves; the other proclaims a God Who enables man to save himself. One view [Calvinism] presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view [Arminianism] gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on the work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation; the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the “five points,” as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 13–14.

The One Point of Calvinism

Although the five points are useful as a systematic expression of biblical soteriology, and were necessary as a refutation of the five Arminian articles, we ought to be careful not to separate them as though each stands alone. In fact, they are inseparable. As J. I. Packer writes, You cannot reject one without rejecting them all, at least in the sense in which the Synod meant them. For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father's will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved from bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners—men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God's will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners—and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man's own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner's inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Saviour. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the “five points” are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory forever; amen. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 14–15.


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