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(39 posts)

The Word Is in the Book

Among the frustrations of conversing with postmodern “thinkers” is their insistence that the Bible is not the Word of God, but Christ is the Word. True Christianity is not to be found in the written Word, but in relationship with the incarnate Word. To this I reply, “Nonsense!” (Greek: σκύβαλον). John Piper responds more eloquently (and more politely): Why is the Spirit so silent about the incarnate Word after the age of the New Testament—even among those who encroach on the authority of the book? The answer seems to be that it pleased God to reveal the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, to all succeeding generations through a book, especially the Gospels. Luther puts it like this: The apostles themselves considered it necessary to put the New Testament into Greek and to bind it fast to that language, doubtless in order to preserve it for us safe and sound as in a sacred ark. For they foresaw all that was to come and now has come to pass, and knew that if it were contained only in one’s head, wild and fearful disorder and confusion, and many various interpretations, fancies and doctrines would arise in the Church, which could be prevented and from which the plain man could be protected only by committing the New Testament to writing and language. The ministry of the internal Spirit does not nullify the ministry of the “external Word.” The Spirit does not duplicate what the book was designed to do. The Spirit glorifies the incarnate Word of the Gospels, but he does not re-narrate his words and deeds for illiterate people or negligent pastors. The immense implication of this for the pastoral ministry and lay ministry is that ministers are essentially brokers of the Word of God transmitted in a book. We are fundamentally readers and teachers and proclaimers of the message of the book. And all of this is for the glory of the incarnate Word and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. But neither the indwelling Spirit nor the incarnate Word leads us away from the book that Luther called “the external Word.” Christ stands forth for our worship and our fellowship and our obedience from the “external Word.” This is where we see “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). So it is for the sake of Christ that the Spirit broods over the book where Christ is clear, not over trances where he is obscure. —John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2000), 81–83.

Love—for God’s Sake

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. —Romans 5:3–5 Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts 5:5. Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God, that is, the love which of God and works in us as unshakable adherence to Him, is shed abroad in our hearts. This love we receive by grace and not on account of our merit; and it makes us willing to endure tribulation. If men are unwilling and of an unstable mind, they do not endure it by the Holy Ghost. St. Augustine remarks on the passage: “Step by step he (the Apostle), leads us toward love, which, as he says, we have as a gift from the Holy Spirit. He shows us thereby that we must ascribe all that we might claim for ourselves to God who by grace grant us His Holy Spirit.” We must understand these words as an added motivation or instruction of the Holy Spirit, showing why we can glory in tribulation, though this is impossible by our own strength. It is not the effect of our own power, but it comes from the divine love which is given us by the Holy Ghost. Let us note: 1. It is shed abroad, hence not born in us or originated by us. 2. It is by the Holy Ghost, therefore it is not acquired by our virtuous efforts as we may acquire good habits which lie on merely moral plane. 3. In our hearts, that is, it is in the innermost course of our being, not merely on the surface, as a foam is swimming on the top of the water. Such (superficial) love is that of the hypocrites who imagine and pretend to love. 4. Which is given unto us, that is, which is not merited, for we deserve the very opposite. 5. It is called love (caritas) in contradistinction to the inert and lower form of love with which we love creatures. It is a precious and worthy love, by which we most highly esteem that which we love, as we esteem God above all things, or as we love Him with highest esteem. He who loves God merely for the sake of His gifts or the sake of any advantage, loves Him with the lowest form of love, that is, with a sinful desire. Such (earthly) love means to use God, but not to delight in God. 6. Of God, because only God is so loved. The neighbor is loved for God’s sake, that is, because God wills this. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 76–77.

“Fall in step with the Spirit”

How is it that some tell us the saints did not possess the Spirit in the Old Testament era? Is true that they did not possess the fullness of the revelation objectively given, nor did they have the fullness of the Spirit’s inward operations upon the least in the kingdom of God, as would be given in the New Covenant. Yet, as we observe David’s zeal for the glory of the living God, his sterling faith in the Almighty, and his wisdom beyond human years, who would not stand amazed at the heights to which the Holy Spirit carried him? And, as we read and ponder the Psalms, which of us does not yearn to draw near to David’s inward levels of spiritual exercise? The same Holy Spirit who was operative at the creation is operative in the work of new creation before Christ came. Exploits of the saints before our Lord’s coming can be explained in no other way than this, “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon” them. Let us not make a folk-hero or a super-human figure out of David. He is another of the saints of Hebrews 11. The Spirit of the Lord was with them all. As David left Saul’s tent [to face Goliath], the youth, soon to be the new hero of Israel, had his eye confidently fixed upon his God. The once-popular leader of God’s people had lost God’s Spirit, God’s favor, God’s prophet, and God’s word for his guidance. With these losses came the loss of courage, joy, peace, and a sound mind. It is a stunning contrast. Rather, let us crave in our lives the presence of the Holy Spirit, producing the same qualities to be found in David. Let us ask the Father for the Holy Spirit daily. Let us beware of quenching, grieving, and sinning against the Holy Spirit. Saul stands as a monument of warning. Jesus once said with eloquent brevity, “Remember Lot’s wife.” it would be well to say, “Remember Saul.” The Spirit of the Lord departed from him. That too is a reality. Others since his day have shared his experience. Sensitively welcome the Spirit as the holy Guest he is. Fall in step with the Spirit. —Walter J. Chantry, David: Man of Prayer, Man of War (Banner of Truth, 2007), 31–32.

A Heavenly Transaction

Sinclair Ferguson on the Trinitarian transaction that sent the Holy Spirit: [T]he coming of the Spirit indicated that a heavenly transaction had taken place. The often-overlooked words of Acts 2:33 record it: “being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit. . . .” Here, momentarily, a door into heaven is opened and we are given a glimpse into the fellowship between the Son and the Father. The ascended Son comes to the Father. What will he say? “Father, do you remember what you promised the Great King? You said, ‘Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession’ (Ps. 2:8). You said about the Suffering Servant, ‘Behold, My Servant . . . Kings shall shut their mouths at him. . . . He shall see his seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. . . . I will divide Him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul unto death . . .’ (Isa. 52:13, 15; 53:10, 12). Father, fulfill your promises to me.” How was this world-wide dominion to be established? All authority now belonged to Jesus. He had promised that the disciples would receive the Holy Spirit and He would give them power to become witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. The disciples, therefore, would go into all the world proclaiming Jesus. He would be with them to the end—through the presence of the Spirit-witness. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 90–91.

Marks of Revival

Many events are named “revival.” Few deserve the title. Sinclair Ferguson describes genuine revival: In his Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Jonathan Edwards draws on 1 John 4 to show that all true works of God share several features:1. A high esteem for Christ. 2. The overthrow of Satan’s Kingdom in our hearts. 3. A reverent view of, and close attention to, God’s Word in Scripture. 4. The presence of the Spirit of truth convincing us of the reality of eternity and the depth of our sin and need. 5. A deep love for both God and man. But what does this mean in real-life terms? A Microcosmic View . . . Many years ago, I witnessed revival in its most microcosmic form in a sudden, unexpected, and remarkable work of God’s Spirit on a friend. The work was so dramatic, the effect so radical, that news of it spread quickly to different parts of the country. . . . I [asked] my friend . . . What this remarkable experience had involved. The answer was illuminating. Five things seemed to have happened . . . 1. A painful exposure of the particular sin of unbelief occurred. Listening to preaching was a staple of my friend’s spiritual diet, but what came with overpowering force was a sense that God’s Word had actually been despised inwardly. God’s own Word, preached in the power of the Spirit, stripped away the mask of inner pride and outward reputation for spirituality. There was a fearful exposure to sin. 2. A powerful desire arose to be free from all sin. A new affection came, as if unbidden, into the heart. Indeed, a desire seemed to be given actually to have sin increasingly revealed and exposed in order that it might be confessed, pardoned, and cleansed. Disturbing though it was, there was a sweetness of grace in the pain. 3. The love of Christ now seemed marvelous beyond measure. A love for Him flowed from a heart that could not get enough of Christ, ransacking Scripture to discover more and more about Him. 4. A new love for God’s Word was born—for reading it, for hearing it expounded and applied, and especially for knowing every expression of God’s will, so that it might be obeyed. 5. A compassionate love for others now flowed. It came from this double sense of sin and need on the one hand and grace and forgiveness on the other. Christian witness ceased to be a burdenand became the ecpression of Spirit-wrought and powerful new affections. It was thus for King David: Have mercy upon me, O God . . . According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight. . . . Purge me . . . Wash me. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God. . . . My tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness. —Psalm 51:1–4, 7, 10, 14 —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 103–104.

Lord’s Day 32, 2008

I reioyced, when they sayd to me, We wil go into the house of the Lord. (Psalme 122:1) Petitionary Hymns Poem VIII. John xiv. 17. He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. Augustus Toplady (1740–1778) Savior, I thy word believe, My unbelief remove; Now thy quick’ning Spirit give, The unction from above; Shew me, Lord, how good thou art, My soul with all thy fulness fill: Send the witness in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. Dead in sin ’till then I lie, Bereft of power to rise; Till thy Spirit inwardly Thy saving blood applies: Now the mighty gift impart, My sin erase, my pardon seal: Send the witness, in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. Blessed Comforter, come down, And live and move in me; Make my every deed thy own, In all things led by thee: Bid my every lust depart, And with me O vouchsafe to dwell; Faithful witness, in my heart Thy perfect light reveal. Let me in thy love rejoice, Thy shrine, thy pure abode; Tell me, by thine inward voice, That I’m a child of God: Lord, I choose the better part, Jesus, I wait thy peace to feel; Send the witness in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. Whom the world cannot receive, O manifest in me: Son of God, I cease to live, Unless I live in thee Now impute thy whole desert, Restore the joy from which I fell: Breathe the witness, in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. —The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987). Psalme 137 (Geneva Bible) 1 By the riuers of Babel we sate, and there wee wept, when we remembred Zion. 2 Wee hanged our harpes vpon the willowes in the middes thereof. 3 Then they that ledde vs captiues, required of vs songs and mirth, when wee had hanged vp our harpes, saying, Sing vs one of the songs of Zion. 4 Howe shall we sing, said we, a song of the Lord in a strange land? 5 If I forget thee, O Ierusalem, let my right hand forget to play. 6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleaue to the roofe of my mouth: yea, if I preferre not Ierusalem to my chiefe ioy. 7 Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Ierusalem, which saide, Rase it, rase it to the foundation thereof. 8 O daughter of Babel, worthy to be destroyed, blessed shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast serued vs. 9 Blessed shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy children against the stones. Grace be with you, and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

The Fruit of the Filling

Most of what we read these days on the filling of the Spirit is just flat wrong. This post is intended as an antidote. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Tangent: The filling of the Spirit, which is an on-going process throughout every Christian’s life, should not be confused with baptism of the Spirit, which is a one-time event that happens to every believer at the moment of regeneration. (See John MacArthur, The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.) Notice the word fruit in verse 22. It does not say that the fruits of the Spirit are, but that the fruit . . . is. The list that follows is not of fruits of the Spirit, but various manifestations of that singular fruit. These are the characteristics that flow from being filled with the Spirit. These manifestations are, it is vital to note, not works. This is not a list of things to do, as if we could produce spiritual fruit through fleshly effort. The Geneva Bible notes state succinctly: Therefore, they are not the fruits of free will, but so far forth as our will is made free by grace.1 Matthew Henry wrote: And here we may observe that as sin is called the work of the flesh, because the flesh, or corrupt nature, is the principle that moves and excites men to it, so grace is said to be the fruit of the Spirit, because it wholly proceeds from the Spirit, as the fruit does from the root . . .2 And John Gill: Not of nature or man’s free will, as corrupted by sin, for no good fruit springs from thence; but either of the internal principle of grace, called the Spirit, ver. 17. or rather of the Holy Spirit . . ; the graces of which are called fruit, and not works, as the actions of the flesh are; because they are owing to divine influence efficacy, and bounty, as the fruits of the earth are, to which the allusion is; and not to a man’s self, to the power and principles of nature; and because they arise from a seed, either the incorruptible seed of internal grace, which seminally contains all graces in it, or the blessed Spirit, who is the seed that remains in believers; and because they are in the exercise of them acceptable unto God through Christ, and are grateful and delightful to Christ himself, being his pleasant fruits; which as they come from him, as the author of them, they are exercised on him as the object of them, under the influence of the Spirit . . .3 Finally, John MacArthur: Contrasted with the deeds of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. Deeds of the flesh are done by a person’s own efforts, whether he is saved or unsaved. The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, is produced by God’s own Spirit and only in the lives of those who belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.4 The fruit of the Spirit is a list, then, of indications that one belongs to Christ and has therefore “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It is a standard of measure to which we can refer when examining ourselves in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” The question this passage asks us is, Are we filled with the Spirit? The filling of the Spirit is something we need continuously. D. L. Moody, when asked why this is, reportedly replied, “Because I leak.” Whether that exchange actually occurred, or is apocryphal, it certainly is true. What are we to do? We can’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. Contrary to the beliefs of many, there is no one we can go to for an “anointing,” no one who can zap us with the Spirit. Consider these two parallel passages: Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Can you see the parallel? Ephesians: Colossians:be filled with the SpiritLet the word of Christ richly dwell within you speaking to one another in psalms . . . teaching and admonishing one another with psalms . . . giving thankswith thankfulness . . . giving thanks be subject to one another Wives, be subject to your husbands in the fear of Christ as is fitting in the Lord We can see that the results of being filled with the Spirit are precisely the same as those of letting “the word of Christ richly dwell within” us. The Holy Spirit fills us as we devote ourselves to “the word of Christ.” On this parallel, John MacArthur writes, The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word dwell in one’s life richly. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and power of the word, the expressions are interchangeable.5 This truth is seen also in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer (John 17), when he prayed that the Father would “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (verse 17). So, coming back to Galatians 5, we can conclude that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruit of letting the Word of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit’s voice, richly dwell within us. 1 1599 Geneva Bible, (Tolle Lege Press, 2006) 2 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. 6 (Hendrickson, 2006), 545. 3 Exposition of the Old & New Testaments: Vol. 9 (Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006), 49. 4 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Moody, 1987), 163. 5 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians & Philemon (Moody, 1992), 159.

Lord’s Day 43, 2010

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Christ the Beloved Samuel Davies (1723–1761) Let others let their passions rove Round all the earth, from shore to shore; Since Jesus is my friend and love, My utmost wish can grasp no more. His glories have allured my eye, And into love transformed my heart; To Him my tenderest passions fly; Jesus, nor shall they e’er depart. Upon His friendship I rely, Still of His tender care secure; My wants are all before His eye! Nor can they overcome His pow’r. His presence fills unbounded space; My heavenly friend is always nigh. Full of compassion, rich in grace; Touched with the tenderest sympathy. Faithful and constant is His love, And my ungrateful conduct hides; Safe to the happy world above, The meanest of His friends He guides. Amid the agonies of death, and terrors of the final doom, He saves them from almighty wrath, And leads the helpless pilgrims home. Oh, may an everlasting flame Of love possess my grateful mind! And my last breath adore His name, Who condescends to be my friend! —Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). John 14:21–26 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. 25 These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” We learn from these verses that keeping Christ’s commandments is the best test of love to Christ. This is a lesson of vast importance and one that needs continually pressing on the attention of Christians. It is not talking about religion, and talking fluently and well too, but steadily doing Christ’s will and walking in Christ’s ways, that is the proof of our being true believers. Good feelings and desires are useless if they are not accompanied by action. They may even become mischievous to the soul, induce hardness of conscience, and do certain harm. Passive impressions which do not lead to action, gradually deaden and paralyze the heart. Living and doing are the only real evidence of grace. Where the Holy Ghost is, there will always be a holy life. A jealous watchfulness over tempers, words, and deeds, a constant endeavor to live by the rule of the Sermon on the Mount, this is the best proof that we love Christ. Of course such maxims as these must not be wrested and misunderstood. We are not to suppose for a moment that “keeping Christ’s commandments” can save us. Our best works are full of imperfection. When we have done all we can, we are feeble and unprofitable servants. “By grace are you saved through faith,—not of works.” (Ep. ii. 8.) But while we hold one class of truths, we must not forget another. Faith in the blood of Christ must always be attended by loving obedience to the will of Christ. What the Master has joined together, the disciple must not put asunder. Do we profess to love Christ? Then let us show it by our lives. The Apostle who said, “You know that I love You!” received the charge, “Feed my lambs.” That meant, “Do something. Be useful: follow my example.” (John xxii. 17.) We learn, secondly, from these verses, that there are special comforts laid up for those who love Christ, and prove it by keeping His words. This, at any rate, seems the general sense of our Lord’s language: “My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” The full meaning of this promise, no doubt, is a deep thing. We have no line to fathom it. It is a thing which no man can understand except he that receives and experiences it. But we need not shrink from believing that eminent holiness brings eminent comfort with it, and that no man has such sensible enjoyment of his religion as the man who, like Enoch and Abraham, walks closely with God. There is more of heaven on earth to be obtained than most Christians are aware of. “The secret of the Lord is with them who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.”—“If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.” (Ps. xxv. 14; Rev. iii. 20.) Promises like these, we may be sure, mean something, and were not written in vain. How is it, people often ask, that so many professing believers have so little happiness in their religion? How is it that so many know little of “joy and peace in believing,” and go mourning and heavy-hearted towards heaven? The answer to these questions is a sorrowful one, but it must be given. Few believers attend as strictly as they should to Christ’s practical sayings and words. There is far too much loose and careless obedience to Christ’s commandments. There is far too much forgetfulness, that while good works cannot justify us they are not to be despised. Let these things sink down into our hearts. If we want to be eminently happy, we must strive to be eminently holy. We learn, lastly, from these verses, that one part of the Holy Ghost’s work is to teach, and to bring things to remembrance. It is written, “The Comforter shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance.” To confine this promise to the eleven Apostles, as some do, seems a narrow and unsatisfactory mode of interpreting Scripture. It appears to reach far beyond the day of Pentecost, and the gift of writing inspired books of God’s Holy Word. It is safer, wiser, and more consistent with the whole tone of our Lord’s last discourse, to regard the promise as the common property of all believers, in every age of the world. Our Lord knows the ignorance and forgetfulness of our nature in spiritual things. He graciously declares that when He leaves the world, His people shall have a teacher and remembrancer. Are we sensible of spiritual ignorance? Do we feel that at best we know in part and see in part? Do we desire to understand more clearly the doctrines of the Gospel? Let us pray daily for the help of the “teaching” Spirit. It is His office to illuminate the soul, to open the eyes of the understanding, and to guide us into all truth. He can make dark places light, and rough places smooth. Do we find our memory of spiritual things defective? Do we complain that though we read and hear, we seem to lose as fast as we gain? Let us pray daily for the help of the Holy Ghost. He can bring things to our remembrance. He can make us remember “old things and new.” He can keep in our minds the whole system of truth and duty, and make us ready for every good word and work. —J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Baker Books, 2007) [Westminster (PB) | Amazon (HC)]. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

WLC Q11: Acts 5:3–4

Q. 11. How does it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father? A. The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only. Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? . . . You have not lied to men but to God.” —Acts 5:3–4 The most obvious point we can make from this text, considering our purpose here, is that the Holy Spirit is God, “equal with the Father.” To belabor that point would risk insulting the audience. I could also make a joke about being biblically slain in the Spirit, but that would be more fun than instructive. The question I want to answer is this: Why is the Holy Spirit singled out as the person on whom the fraud was perpetrated? Were not the Father and Son lied to, as well? My answer, I admit, might appear to be a bit of speculation; that is, I can’t pull out a text that says explicitly what I’m going to say. I do believe, however, that it can reasonably be deduced from the general teaching of the New Testament. Jesus went to heaven. Yes, we believe he is with us (Matthew 18:20; 28:20), but this is a spiritual presence.* He went away so that the Holy Spirit could come (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is actually here, “in the flesh,” we might say, if he had flesh. God is immanently present in the person of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit to whom Jesus left orders for the Apostles before his ascension (Acts 1:2). It was the Holy Spirit who gave us the Word (2 Peter 1:21). It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates sinners (Titus 3:5), seals us in Christ (Ephesians 1:13), and sanctifies (Romans 15:16). It is the Holy Spirit who indwells believers (Acts 2:4, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Timothy 1:14), teaches us (John 14:26), guides us (John 16:13), and empowers us for service (Acts 1:8). It is the Holy Spirit who will give us the words to say in times of persecution (Mark 13:11, cf Luke 12:11–12). It is the Holy Spirit whom we grieve with our sin (Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit is near to us, and indwells us. He translates our stammering, stumbling prayers into words suitable for the ear of the Father (Romans 8:27). And, as Ananias and Sapphira learned too late, he hears us when we lie—because he is here. * A can of worms not to be opened today. Get your own copy of The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms here.

The Limits of Perspicuity

Monday··2011·12·05 · 1 Comments
When we speak of the perspicuity of Scripture, it is not without a vital qualification. Luther wrote, If you speak of internal perspicuity, the truth is that nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God’s creatures, nor anything else—as Ps. 13 puts it, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps. 14.1). The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 73–74.

The Twofold Perspicuity of Scripture

The perspicuity of Scripture is twofold . . . The first is external, and relates to the ministry of the Word; the second concerns the knowledge of the heart. If you speak of internal perspicuity, the truth is that nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God’s creatures, nor anything else—as Ps. 13 puts it, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps. 14.1). The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. If, on the other hand, you speak of external perspicuity, the position is that nothing whatsoever is left obscure or ambiguous, but all that is in the Scripture is through the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 73–74.

A Still Greater Mystery

I suppose I risk belaboring the point, but here’s another excerpt on the unknowability of the moment of regeneration, this time from Spurgeon. Scripture does not teach that Christians know the moment of their rebirth. No man can describe his first birth; it remains a mystery. Neither can he describe his new birth; that is a still greater mystery, for it is a secret work of the Holy Ghost, of which we feel the effect, but cannot tell how it is wrought. [Read sermon online: Life from the Dead.] I do not think you can tell, with regard to yourself, when the first gracious thought was sewn in you, when first you lived towards God. You can tell when you first perceived that you believed in God; but there was an experience before that. You cannot put your finger on such and such a place and say, “Here the east wind began,” nor canst thou say, “Here the Spirit of God began to work in me.” [Read sermon online: The Spirit and the Wind.] This truth has an important practical lesson: an individual may have passed from death to life in regeneration and yet not recognize it at first. This explains how a person can be truly “willing to believe” and yet uncertain if Christ will accept him. To such a person Spurgeon could say, “If the power of God has made a man will to believe, the greater work has been done, and his actual believing will follow in due course . . . Rising from the dead is a greater thing than the performance of an act of life.” — Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 54–55.

Has God Lost His Zip?

The charismatic caricature of cessationists portrays a belief in an inactive holy spirit, and a god who no longer works in the world, who has, as one charismatic quipped, “lost all of his zip.” John MacArthur responds: Has God lost His zip? Has he done nothing significant in two thousand years? All around us we see evidence of God’s marvelous work: in the miracle new birth in the lives of millions around the world; in the healing of illness in answer to prayer; in the matching of people and resources in providential circumstances to bring glory to Himself; in the resilience of His church which has survived ruthless persecution and attack through the centuries and continues to do so today. Ephesians 3:20 gives a promise for our age and it is this: Our Lord “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” What God does in us and through us today is not the same thing that He did in the apostolic age because He had a special purpose for the apostles, and that purpose was served. He also had a special purpose for us, and what he does in us and for us and through us will be marvelous because He is God and what he does is always marvelous. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 84.

Unique and Unrepeatable

Charismatics insist that anything that happened in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, should still be expected today. Cessationists believe that certain events recorded in Scripture served a particular purpose and, once that purpose was accomplished, were not only unnecessary, but unrepeatable. Examples include creation—God is no longer creating—and, most apropo, the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. These things will never be repeated, because they have fully accomplished their purpose. Merrill Unger explains why Pentecost is likewise unique and unrepeatable: Pentecost is as unrepeatable as the creation of the world or of man; as once-for-all, as the incarnation and the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. This appears from the following simple facts: (1) The Spirit of God could only come, arrive, and take up His residence in the church once, which He did at Pentecost. (2) The Spirit of God could only be given, received, and deposited in the church once, which occurred at Pentecost. (3) The event occurred at a specific time (Acts 2:1), in fulfillment of a specific time (Lev. 23:15–22), in a specific place (Jerusalem; cf. Luke 24:49), upon a specific few (Acts 1:13, 14), for a specific purpose (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–20), to introduce a new order. The event did not constitute the continuing and recurring features of the new order once it was introduced. —Merrill Unger, cited in The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 94. Humorously, MacArthur notes: In 1976 Pentecostals held a world conference in Jerusalem to celebrate “the ongoing miracle of Pentecost.” Significantly, they had to have interpreters and headphones for the various delegates to hear and to understand in their own language. —John MacArthur, Ibid.
According to the Assemblies of God, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate experience that follows salvation. It is not a requirement for salvation, but it is a benefit that every member of the body of Christ can enjoy. . . . it is an empowering experience for the Christian so that they [sic] can be supernaturally equipped. . . . With that experience comes intimacy where [sic] we will live a righteous, holy life. Also, there comes a power to witness.” [source] Furthermore, this experience, without which Christians are (I speak as a fool) powerless to live as they ought, must be sought. A believer could presumably live his entire life just limping along without the Holy Spirit. That is, of course, pure nonsense. God has not left us lacking anything. John MacArthur writes: The last part of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is particularly important. Christians “were all made to drink of one Spirit.” This is a beautiful thought. Not only have believers been places into Someone (Christ), but they have had Someone placed into them (the Holy Spirit). As Christians we have the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). God dwells in our bodies (2 Cor. 6:16). Not only are we immersed into an environment of the life of God, but the life of God is in us. All the resources we need are there. We have received the promise the Holy Spirit fully and totally. The Bible is absolutely clear on this point. There is nothing to wait for. All we have to do is yield to and obey Him who is already in us. . . . one can find as many variations in the ways to “get the baptism of the spirit” as he can find Charismatic writers. Why all the confusion and contradiction? Why don’t Charismatic writers simply quote the Bible plainly and let it go at that? The reason that no Charismatic writer can do this is that the Bible doesn’t tell us how to get the baptism of the Spirit. The Bible only tells us that we already have been baptized by the Spirit when we believed. One of the greatest realities the Christian well ever have is contained in two brief and fulfilling statements. One is by Paul, and the other is by Peter. “And in him you have been made complete” (Col. 2:10). “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). How? “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v. 2) There is no point in seeking what is already ours. —John MacArhur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 129.

Greater Works: John 14:12

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. —John 14:12 Ligonier Ministries recently published R. C. Sproul’s explanation of this passage (I only mention it because many of you may have seen it). I love Sproul, but I think he’s missed the mark on this one. I think John MacArthur gets it right. The astonishing promise to the one who believes in Christ is that the works that He does, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do. The greater works to which Jesus referred were not greater in power than those He performed, but greater in extent. The disciples would indeed perform miraculous works, as Jesus had (cf. Acts 5:12–16; Heb. 2:3–4). But those physical miracles were not primarily what Jesus had in mind, since the apostles did not do more powerful miracles than He had. When the Lord spoke of His followers performing greater works, He was referring to the extent of the spiritual miracle of salvation. Jesus never preached outside of Palestine, yet His followers would spread the gospel throughout the world. Jesus had only a limited outreach to Gentiles (cf. Mark 7:26ff.), but the disciples (particularly Peter and later Paul) would reach the Gentile world with the gospel. The number of believers in Christ would also grow far beyond the hundreds (Acts 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:6) that were numbered during His lifetime. The power to perform those greater works would only be available because Jesus was going to the Father. It was only then that He would send the Holy Spirit (John 7:39; cf. 14:16–17, 26; 15:26; 16:13; Acts 1:5) to indwell believers (Rom. 8:9–11) and empower them for ministry (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11; cf. Eph. 3:20). Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit offered further comfort to the disciples. Though Jesus would no longer be visibly present with them, the Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to extend the work He had begun (cf. Acts 1:8). —John MacArthur, John 12–21 (Moody, 2008). J. C. Ryle concurs.

Blaspheming the Spirit

The mailman was received with great joy, trumpet fanfare, etc. today, as John MacArthur’s Strange Fire was delivered into my grasping hands. Cessationist zealot that I am, you might have expected this sooner. On the other hand, no one would ever accuse me of riding the cutting edge of anything, so maybe not. Anyway, here I am, and better late than never. I love an adult who can deal in straight talk, and MacArthur, as usual, wastes no time in getting to the point, and tells it like it is. It is a sad twist of irony that those who claim to be most focused on the Holy Spirit are in actuality the ones doing the most to abuse, grieve, insult, misrepresent, quench, and dishonor Him. How do they do it? By attributing to Him words He did not say, deeds He did not do, phenomena He did not produce, and experiences that have nothing to do with Him. They boldly plaster His name on that which is not His work. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of Israel blasphemously attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:24). The modern Charismatic Movement does the inverse, attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s armies of false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans. We can see an endless parade of them simply by turning on the television. Jude called them clouds without water, raging waves, and wandering stars “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v. 13). Yet they claim to be angels of light—gaining credibility for their lies by invoking the name of the Holy Spirit, as if there’s no penalty to pay for that kind of blasphemy. The Bible is clear that God demands to be worshipped for who He truly is. No one can honor the Father unless the Son is honored; likewise, it is impossible to honor the Father and the Son while dishonoring the Spirit. Yet every day, millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit. They have become like the Israelites of Exodus 32, who compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf while Moses was away. The idolatrous Israelites claimed to be honoring the Lord (vv. 4–8), but instead they were worshipping a grotesque misrepresentation, dancing around it in dishonorable disarray (v. 25). God’s response to their disobedience was swift and severe. Before the day was over, thousands had been put to death. Here’s the point: we can’t make God into any form we would like. We cannot mold Him into our own image, according to our own specifications and imaginations. Yet that is what many Pentecostals and charismatics have done. They have created their own golden-calf version of the Holy Spirit. They have thrown their theology into the fires of human experience and worshipped the false spirit that came out—parading themselves before it with bizarre antics and unrestrained behavior. As a movement, they have persistently ignored the truth about the Holy Spirit and with reckless license set up an idol spirit in the house of God, dishonoring the third member of the Trinity in His own name. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) viii–ix.

The Spirit’s True Work

The incredible irony is that those who talk the most about the Holy Spirit generally deny His true work. They attribute all kinds of human silliness to Him while ignoring the genuine purpose and power of His ministry: freeing sinners from death, giving them everlasting life, regenerating their hearts, transforming their nature, empowering them for spiritual victory, confirming their place in the family of God, interceding for them according to the will of God, sealing them securely for their eternal glory, and promising to raise them to immortality in the future. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) xvi.

The Fatal Flaw

According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than ninety percent of self-identified Pentecostals in most countries hold to the beliefs known as the “prosperity gospel.” How is this possible for such a blatantly heretical philosophy to so thoroughly infest the movement? The answer explains more than just the embrace of prosperity teaching. It is a critical and systemic defect within charismatic theology—a flaw that accounts for just about every theological aberration or abnormality that makes its home within the Charismatic Movement. It is this: Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it. If Scripture alone were truly their final authority, charismatic Christians would never tolerate patently unbiblical practices— like mumbling in nonsensical prayer languages, uttering fallible prophecies, worshipping in disorderly ways, or being knocked senseless by the supposed power of the Holy Spirit. They ought to reinterpret their experiences to match the Bible; instead, they reinterpret Scripture in novel and unorthodox ways in order to justify their experiences. As a result, any aberrant teaching or practice can be legitimized, especially when a new “revelation from God” conveniently authenticates it as having His approval. Though written nearly a half century ago, the words of René Pache still ring true: The excessive preeminence given to the Holy Spirit in their devotions and their preoccupation with gifts, ecstasies, and “prophecies” has tended to neglect of the Scriptures. Why be tied to a Book out of the past when one can communicate every day with the living God? But this is exactly the danger point. Apart from the constant control of the written revelation, we soon find ourselves engulfed in subjectivity; and the believer, even if he has the best intentions, can sink rapidly into deviations, illuminism or exaltation. Let each remind himself of the prohibition of taking anything away from Scripture or adding anything to it (Deut. 4: 2; Rev. 22:18–19). Almost every heresy and sect has originated in a supposed revelation or a new experience on the part of its founder, something outside the strictly biblical framework. By abandoning the final authority of the text, the Charismatic Movement has made itself susceptible to the worst kinds of doctrinal deception and spiritual exploitation. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) 16–17.

Missionaries to the Gibbers

The Gibbers are, of course, the inhabitants of Gibb, speakers of—well, you figure it out. Pentecostal father Charles Parham was a nut by anyone’s standard. Contrary to cessationist—i.e., biblical—orthodoxy, he expected the gift of tongues. Contrary to today’s Pentecostal/charismatic dogma, he believed that biblical tongues were actual languages, intended to be understood. He boasted to the Topeka State Journal, “The Lord will give us the power of speech to talk to the people of the various nations without having to study them in schools.” Several weeks later, he told the Kansas City Times, “A part of our labor will be to teach the church the uselessness of spending years of time preparing missionaries for work in foreign lands when all they have to do is ask God for power.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 22. As the best laid plans of mice and mystics often go awry, so Parham’s plans were to be disappointed. S. C. Todd of the Bible Missionary Society investigated eighteen Pentecostals who went to Japan, China, and India “expecting to preach to the natives in those countries in their own tongue,” and found that by their own admission “in no single instance have [they] been able to do so.” As these and other missionaries returned in disappointment and failure, Pentecostals were compelled to rethink their original view of speaking in tongues. — Ibid., 23.

Spirit-Centered Is Off-Center

Tuesday··2014·04·22 · 1 Comments
A few years ago, I was down on Main Street with my family watching a parade. I forget the occasion, but I remember one entry in particular. It was an old pickup that’s wheels had been modified so that the hubs were eccentric, causing it to wobble up and down, front to back, side to side, and corner to corner. It was entertaining as a novelty, but no one would want to travel in a car like that, for obvious reasons. As a means of transportation, it was worthless. So it is with the religion of many. The glorious priority of the Holy Spirit is to point people to the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus told His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. . .  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 14: 26; 16: 14). The Spirit’s work is always centered on the Savior. Any ministry or movement He empowers will share that same priority and clarity. In contrast to this, an emphasis on the person and work of Christ is not the defining feature of the Charismatic Movement—where an intense fixation on a caricature of the blessing and gifting of the Holy Spirit has instead taken center stage. As charismatic authors Jack Hayford and David Moore affirm, “In the Pentecostal potpourri only one thing is the same for all: the passion they have to experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This is the common denominator. This emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is what defines the ‘charismatic century.’” Ironically, they celebrate a misplaced priority. While claiming to honor the Holy Spirit, charismatics generally ignore the very purpose of the Spirit’s ministry—which is to draw all attention to the Lord Jesus. As Steve Lawson rightly observes, “The Holy Spirit’s desire is that we be focused on Jesus Christ, not Himself. That is the Spirit’s chief ministry. He is pointing us to Jesus. Bringing Christ more clearly into focus. When the Holy Spirit becomes an end in Himself, then we have misunderstood His ministry.” Within charismatic circles, a proper focus on Christ is obscured by a preoccupation with alleged spiritual gifts and supernatural empowerment. 6 Listen to the typical charismatic and you might think the Holy Spirit’s work is to manifest Himself and call attention to His own works. In the words of Kenneth D. Johns, a former Pentecostal, many charismatic churches “are Spirit-centered rather than Christ-centered.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 41–42. A Charismatic Bicycle

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.

A True Work of the Spirit

Who do you suppose has a higher view of the Holy Spirit: those who describe his ministry as he does (i.e., scripturally), or those who attribute to him all sorts of nutty behavior? When the Holy Spirit commanded us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), he did not leave us wondering what his true work looks like. Ask the average charismatic what the Holy Spirit’s influence looks like in his or her life, and you’re likely to get one of several answers. The classic Pentecostal will probably emphasize speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, or some other imagined manifestation of miraculous gifts. The mainstream charismatic will likely reflect the teaching of popular televangelists by pointing to a form of faith healing or the hope of a financial windfall. Those in either category might claim to have had an extraordinary encounter with God—such as a revelatory vision, a word of prophecy, or a tingling sensation of supernatural empowerment. Based on such criteria, they identify themselves as Spirit-filled Christians. But what do they mean by that label? Within a charismatic context, almost any subjective experience is construed as evidence of the Spirit’s involvement. Charismatics may think they are being filled with the Spirit when they utter nonsensical (and often repetitious) syllables, fall backward in a mindless trance, speak fallible words of so-called prophecy, feel a sensation of emotional electricity, or donate money to their favorite health-and-wealth prosperity gospel preacher. But none of those things is any indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence. A spirit may be at work in such phenomena, but it is not the Spirit of God. Despite what is commonly emphasized in charismatic circles, the genuine evidence of the Holy Spirit’s influence in a person’s life is not material prosperity, mindless emotionalism, or supposed miracles. Rather, it is sanctification: the believer’s growth in spiritual maturity, practical holiness, and Christlikeness through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (as He applies biblical truth to the hearts of His saints). A true work of the Spirit convicts the heart of sin, combats worldly lusts, and cultivates spiritual fruit in the lives of God’s people. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 56.

The Resemblance of Duty

Christian duty performed in our own strength is duty failed. George Swinnock wrote, Indeed, the Christian hath no natural power for . . . spiritual performances, but God gives him his Spirit for this purpose, that he might be enabled to do sacred duties, with suitable graces; ‘we know not how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit helpeth our infirmities,’ Rom. viii. 26. Man is impotent, but the Spirit is an able assistant, ‘helpeth our infirmities,’ συναντιλαμβανεται. The word is either an allusion to a nurse, which helps her weak little child to go, so the Spirit affords his hand and helps us to go to God in duties; or, as the composition of the word imports, it is an allusion to those who lift at a weighty piece of timber, too heavy for one alone, one man tugs and pulls hard, but he cannot wag it, till one stronger than he comes and helps him, then he bears it away cheerfully; so the Christian, he pulls and hales at his own heavy heart in a duty, to perform the duty aright, and yet makes nothing of it till the Spirit comes and helps him, and then he goes along comfortably through the duty. As to preaching there is required external mission, so to every prayer and performance there are required internal motions; therefore we find the ‘Spirit of grace and supplication’ joined together, Zech. xii. 10. Samson when his lock was cut off, became like another man; the Christian, when the Spirit withdraweth, that grace be not acted, he performeth duties like a carnal man. It is the breath of the Spirit of God in a duty, which is so sweet and savoury to God; gifts may do somewhat as to the outward part of a duty, as a carver may make an image with the external lineaments of a man, but unless grace and spiritual life be in it, it is but the counterfeit, the resemblance of a true duty. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:94–95

The Spirit’s Work in Salvation

John MacArthur writes, “If we are to honor our divine Guest, treating Him with the reverence and respect that is His royal due, we must rightly discern His true ministry—aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His wondrous work.” Toward that end, he lists “six aspects of the Spirit’s work in salvation.” The Holy Spirit Convicts Unbelievers of Sin As the general, external call of the gospel goes forth, through the preaching of the message of salvation, unbelievers in the world are confronted with the reality of their sin and the consequences of their unbelief . For those who reject the gospel, the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction might be likened to that of a prosecuting attorney. He convicts them in the sense that they are rendered guilty before God and are, therefore, eternally condemned (John 3:18). The Spirit’s convicting work is not about making unrepentant sinners feel bad, but about delivering a legal verdict against them. It includes a full indictment of their hardhearted crimes, complete with irrefutable evidence and a death sentence. Yet for those whom the Spirit draws to the Savior, His convicting work is one of convincing, as He pricks their consciences and cuts them to the quick. Thus, for the elect, this work of conviction is the beginning of God’s saving, effectual call. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 184. The Holy Spirit Regenerates Sinful Hearts Regeneration is a transformation of a person’s nature, as the believer is given new life, cleansed, and permanently set apart from sin (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13). Those who formerly operated in the flesh now operate in the Spirit (Rom. 8:5–11). Though they were dead, they have been made alive, indwelt by the very Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (v. 10; cf. 6:11). The Spirit of life has come upon them, empowering them to resist temptation and live in righteousness. This is what it means to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). —Ibid., 188. The Holy Spirit Brings Sinners to Repentance A vivid illustration of this is found in Acts 11:15–18, where Peter reported the conversion of Cornelius to the other apostles in Jerusalem: ”As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” As Peter and the others realized, the undeniable proof Cornelius and his household had truly repented was that they had received the Holy Spirit. They had been convicted of their sin; their hearts were regenerated; their eyes were opened to the truth of Peter’s preaching; and they were given the gift of repentant faith (cf. Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:25)—all of which was the Holy Spirit’s work. —Ibid., 188–189. The Holy Spirit Enables Fellowship with God The Spirit produces an attitude of profound love for God in the hearts of those who have been born again. They feel drawn to God, not fearful of Him. They long to commune with Him—to meditate on His Word and to fellowship with Him in prayer. They cast their cares freely on Him, and openly confess their sins without trepidation, knowing that all has been covered by His grace through the sacrifice of Christ. Thus, the Spirit makes it possible for believers to enjoy fellowship with God, no longer fearful of His judgment or wrath (1 John 4:18). As a result, Christians can sing hymns about God’s holiness and glory without cowering in terror—knowing they have been securely adopted into the family of their heavenly Father. —Ibid., 190. The Holy Spirit Indwells the Believer It is important to emphasize that there is no such thing as a genuine believer who does not possess the Holy Spirit. It is a terrible error—one tragically promoted by many within Pentecostalism—to assert that a person could somehow be saved and yet not receive the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit’s work, no one could be anything other than a wretched sinner. To reiterate Paul’s statement from Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Put simply, those who do not possess the Holy Spirit do not belong to Christ. Genuine believers—people in whom the Holy Spirit has taken up residence—think, talk, and act differently. They are no longer characterized by a love for the world; instead, they love the things of God. That transformation is evidence of the Spirit’s power at work in the lives of those whom He indwells. —Ibid., 192. The Holy Spirit Seals Salvation Forever The Holy Spirit Himself personally guarantees that fact. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. He secures them unto eternal glory. —Ibid., 193.

Spirit Filled

John MacArthur writes, “As those who claim to have the primary, if not exclusive, right to the title ‘Spirit-filled Christians,’ charismatics invariably define being filled with the Spirit in terms of ecstatic experiences.” Babbling gibberish, falling down, rolling or crawling on the floor, hysterical laughter, animal noises, drunken behavior, or, at least, being overcome with emotion, are all (according to charismatics) signs of being filled with the Spirit. Scripture describes the fruit of the Spirit somewhat differently. After commanding believers to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul continues in the subsequent verses by giving specific examples of what that looks like. Those who are Spirit-filled are characterized by joyful singing in worship (5:19), hearts full of thanksgiving (5:20), and selflessness toward others (5:21). If they are married, their marriage honors God (5:22–33); if they have children, their parenting patiently unfolds the gospel (6:1–4); if they work for an earthly master, they work hard for the Lord’s honor (6:5–8); and if they have people working for them, they treat their subordinates with benevolence and fairness (6:9). That is what it looks like to be a Spirit-filled Christian. His influence in our lives makes us rightly related to God and to others. In Colossians 3:16–4:1, a parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18–6:9, Paul explains that if believers “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly,” they will likewise respond by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. They will do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Wives will be submissive to their husbands; and husbands, in turn, will love their wives. Children will obey their parents, and parents will not exasperate their children. Servants will work diligently for their masters, and masters will respond by treating their workers with fairness. A comparison of Colossians 3:16 with Ephesians 5:18 demonstrates the inseparable relationship between the two passages—since the fruit produced in each case is the same. Thus, we can see that obeying the command to be filled with the Spirit does not involve emotional hype or mystical encounters. It comes from reading, meditating on, and submitting to the Word of Christ, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our hearts and minds. Said another way, we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are filled with the Word, which He inspired and empowers. As we align our thinking with biblical teaching, applying its truth to our daily lives, we come increasingly under the Spirit’s control. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 205–206.

The Real Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Rather than being hopelessly distracted by charismatic counterfeits, believers need to rediscover the real ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is to activate His power in us through His Word, so that we can truly conquer sin for the glory of Christ, the blessing of His church, and the benefit of the lost. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 212.

Luther, Regeneration, and Faith

This might have surprised the Lutheran evangelists of my youth: Luther believed that regeneration precedes faith. The truth is that no sinner can believe and embrace the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit’s divine enabling. As Martin Luther observed, “In spiritual and divine things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yea, like a log and a stone, like a lifeless statue, which uses neither eyes nor mouth, neither sense nor heart. . . . All teaching and preaching is lost upon him, until he is enlightened, converted, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 225.

The Influence of Heaven

Swinnock has exhorted us to allow time for meditation on the Word. Our own meditations, however, will do little good without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We must also Petition for a blessing upon the word. After the seed is sown, the influence of heaven must cause it to spring up and ripen, or otherwise there will be no harvest. ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God must give the increase,’ 1 Cor. iii. 6. The minister preacheth, thou hearest, but it is the Lord who teacheth to profit. Thou mayest, like Mary, have Christ before thee in a sermon, and yet not know him till he discover himself to thee. The eunuch could read of Christ in the prophet, but could not reach Christ till God came to his chariot. There is a twofold light requisite to a bodily vision—light in the eye, and light in the air. The former cannot, as we experience in the night, do it without the latter. There is also a twofold light necessary to spiritual sight: beside the light of understanding which is in a man, there must be illumination from the Spirit of God, or there will be no beholding the Lord in the glass of the word. When the disciples had heard Christ’s doctrine, they were not able to understand or profit by his preaching, and therefore they cry to him, ‘Lord, open to us this parable.’ When thou hast read or heard the word, go to God, and say, ‘Teach me, Lord, the way of thy statutes; give me understanding and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness,’ Ps. cxix. 33–37. Entreat God to write his law on the fleshly tables of thine heart. Bernard observes, bodily bread in the cupboard may be eaten of mice, or moulder and waste; but when it is taken down into the body, it is free from such danger: if God enable thee to take thy soul-food down into thine heart, it is safe from all hazards. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:163

The Principle Efficient Cause

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen's The Mortification of Sin. I've decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. —Romans 8:13 Sin is no small problem, even for believers. The Apostle Paul, certainly a giant among Christians, and probably the chief theologian of the church, wrote of his own struggle against “sin which dwells in me” (Romans 7:14–25). Sin is an enemy that must be put to death. This is clear: either our sin must be put to death, or we ourselves will die. But how, or more importantly, by what power? As Owen writes, it is by the same power that gives us life that enables us to “[put] to death the deeds of the body.” The principal efficient cause of the performance of this duty, is the Spirit; . . . ‘if by the Spirit.’ The Spirit here is the Spirit mentioned, ver. 11. the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, that ‘dwells in us,’ ver. 9. That ‘quickens us,’ ver. 11. . . . the ‘Spirit of adoption,’ ver. 15. the Spirit ‘that maketh intercession for us,’ ver. 26. All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless, it must be done by the Spirit. Men, as the apostle? intimates, Rom. ix. 30–32. may attempt this work on other principles, by means and advantages administered on other accounts, as they always have done, and do; but, saith he, this is the work of the Spirit, by him alone is it to be wrought, and by no other power is it to be brought about. Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a selfrighteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:7. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)]

None to Mortify Corruption

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin. I’ve decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. —Philippians 2:12 13 Why men fail in their attempts to subdue sin: they attack the sin, rather than the corruption from which sin germinates. In a word, they have sundry means to mortify the natural man, as to the natural life here we lead; none to mortify lust or corruption. This is the general mistake of men ignorant of the gospel about this thing; and it lies at the bottom of very much of that superstition and will-worship that hath been brought into the world. What horrible self-macerations were practised by some of the ancient authors of monastical devotion! what violence did they offer to nature! what extremity of sufferings did they put themselves upon! Search their ways and principles to the bottom, and you will find that it had no other root but this mistake, namely, that attempting rigid mortification, they fell upon the natural man instead of the corrupt old man,—upon the body wherein we live instead of the body of death. Neither will the natural Popery that is in others do it. Men are galled with the guilt of a sin that hath prevailed over them; they instantly promise to themselves and God that they will do so no more; they watch over themselves, and pray for a season, until this heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin is worn off: and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion. . . . Spiritually sick men cannot sweat out their distemper with working. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:18. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)] Failure also comes from attacking sin as though it is our own work. Mortification of sin is the work of the Holy Spirit. We have all our mortification from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ: “Without Christ we can do nothing,” John xv. 5. All communications of supplies and relief, in the beginnings, increasings, actings of any grace whatever, from him, are by the Spirit, by whom he alone works in and upon believers. From him we have our mortification: “He is exalted and made a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto us,” Acts v. 31; and of our repentance our mortification is no small portion. How doth he do it? Having “received the promise of the Holy Ghost,” he sends him abroad for that end, Acts ii. 33. You know the manifold promises he made of sending the Spirit, as Tertullian speaks, “Vicariam navare operam,” to do the works that he had to accomplish in us. —Ibid., 19. How is this accomplished? In part, By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them. So the apostle opposes the fruits of the flesh and of the Spirit: “The fruits of the flesh,” says he, “are so and so,” Gal. v. 19–21; “but,” says he, “the fruits of the Spirit are quite contrary, quite of another sort,” verses 22, 23. Yea; but what if these are in us and do abound, may not the other abound also? No, says he, verse 24, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” But how? Why, verse 25, “By living in the Spirit and walking after the Spirit;”—that is, by the abounding of these graces of the Spirit in us, and walking according to them. For, saith the apostle, “These are contrary one to another,” verse 17; so that they cannot both be in the same subject, in any intense or high degree. This “renewing of us by the Holy Ghost,” as it is called, Tit. iii. 5, is one great way of mortification; he causes us to grow, thrive, flourish, and abound in those graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the fruits of the flesh, and to the quiet or thriving of indwelling sin itself. —Ibid. But, if the mortification of sin is wholly the work of the Spirit, why are we commanded to do it? First, because God works not only in miraculous ways (e.g., regeneration), but through natural means. In doing so, he is no less the sole and sovereign agent of our sanctification. It is no otherwise the work of the Spirit but as all graces and good works which are in us are his. He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” Phil. ii. 13; he works “all our works in us,” Isa. xxvi. 12,—“the work of faith with power,” 2 Thess. i. 11, Col. ii. 12; he causes us to pray, and is a “Spirit of supplication,” Rom. viii. 26, Zech. xii. 10; and yet we are exhorted, and are to be exhorted, to all these. —Ibid., 20. Furthermore, He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself. —Ibid.

If You Abide

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7 The Lord promises that he will do whatever we ask, and there is no “except for this or that” added. ”Whatever” really means whatever. This does not, however, mean that there is no limit to God will do. Of course there is. But the limiting factor is not found in the promise, but in the recipients of the promise. The promise is given to a particular kind of people, who will have a particular kind of desire, stemming from a particular source. If you abide in me. Believers often feel that they are starved, and are very far from that rich fatness which is necessary for yielding abundant fruit. For this reason it is expressly added, whatever those who are in Christ may need, there is a remedy provided for their poverty, as soon as they ask it from God. This is a very useful admonition; for the Lord often suffers us to hunger, in order to train us to earnestness in prayer. But if we fly to him, we shall never want what we ask, but, out of his inexhaustible abundance, he will supply us with every thing that we need, (1 Cor. i. 5.) If my words abide in you. He means that we take root in him by faith; for as soon as we have departed from the doctrine of the Gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us leave to form wishes according to our own fancy. God would do what was ill fitted to promote our welfare, if he were so indulgent and so ready to yield to us; for we know well that men often indulge in foolish and extravagant desires. But here he limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule subjects, to the good pleasure of God, all our affections. This is confirmed by the connection in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honours, or any thing of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, Which enables them to bear fruit. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:111.

Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. —John 16:8–11 9. Of sin. It now remains that we see what it is to convince of sin. . . . First, it ought to be observed, that the judgment of the Spirit commences with the demonstration of sin; for the commencement of spiritual instruction is, that men born in sin have nothing in them but what leads to sin Again, Christ mentioned unbelief, in order to show what is the nature of men in itself for, since faith is the bond by which he is united to us, until we believe in him, we are out of him and separated from him. The import of these words is as if he had said, “When the Spirit is come, he will produce full conviction that, apart from me, sin reigns in the world;” and, therefore, unbelief is here mentioned, because it separates us from Christ, in consequence of which nothing is left to us but sin In short, by these words he condemns the corruption and depravity of human nature, that we may not suppose that a single drop of integrity is in us without Christ. 10. Of righteousness. We must attend to the succession of steps which Christ lays down. He now says that the world must be convinced of righteousness; for men will never hunger and thirst for righteousness, but, on the contrary, will disdainfully reject all that is said concerning it, if they have not been moved by a conviction of sin. As to believers particularly, we ought to understand that they cannot make progress in the Gospel till they have first been humbled; and this cannot take place, till they have acknowledged their sins. It is undoubtedly the peculiar office of the Law to summon consciences to the judgment-seat of God, and to strike them with terror; but the Gospel cannot be preached in a proper manner, till it lead men from sin to righteousness, and from death to life; and, therefore, it is necessary to borrow from the Law that first clause of which Christ spoke. By righteousness must here be understood that which is imparted to us through the grace of Christ. Christ makes it to consist in his ascension to the Father, and not without good reason; for, as Paul declares that he rose for our justification, (Rm. iv. 25.) so he now sits at the right hand of the Father in such a manner as to exercise all the authority that has been given to him, and thus to fill all things, (Eph. iv. 10.) In short, from the heavenly glory he fills the world with the sweet savor of his righteousness. Now the Spirit declares, by the Gospel, that this is the only way in which we are accounted righteous. Next to the conviction of sin, this is the second step, that the Spirit should convince the world what true righteousness is, namely, that Christ, by his ascension to heaven, has established the kingdom of life, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, to confirm true righteousness. 11. Of judgment. . . . [T]he light of the Gospel having been kindled, the Spirit manifests that the world has been brought into a state of good order by the victory of Christ, by which he overturned the authority of Satan; as if he had said, that this is a true restoration, by which all things are reformed, when Christ alone holds the kingdom, having subdued and triumphed over Satan. Judgment, therefore, is contrasted with what is confused and disordered, or, to express it briefly, it is the opposite . . . of confusion, or, we might call it righteousness, a sense which it often bears in Scripture. The meaning therefore is, that Satan, so long as he retains the government, perplexes and disturbs all things, so that there is an unseemly and disgraceful confusion in the works of God; but when he is stripped of his tyranny by Christ, then the world is restored, and good order is seen to reign. Thus the Spirit convinces the world of judgment; that is, having vanquished the prince of wickedness, Christ restores to order those things which formerly were torn and decayed. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:139–141.

Spirit and Word

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not to be separated from his written Word. The Holy Spirit so inheres in His truth, which He expresses in Scripture, that only when its proper reverence and dignity are given to the Word does the Holy Spirit show forth His power. . . . For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn may embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word. So indeed it is. God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display, intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it. Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word. In this manner Christ opened the minds of two of his disciples [Luke 24:27, 45], not that they should cast away the Scriptures and become wise of themselves, but that they should know the Scriptures. Similarly Paul, while he urges the Thessalonians not to “quench the Spirit” [1 Thess. 5:19–20], does not loftily catch them up to empty speculations without the Word, but immediately adds that prophecies are not to be despised. By this, no doubt, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is put out as soon as prophecies fall into contempt. What say these fanatics, swollen with pride, who consider this the one excellent illumination when, carelessly forsaking and bidding farewell to God’s Word, they, no less confidently than boldly, seize upon whatever they may have conceived while snoring? Certainly a far different sobriety befits the children of God, who just as they see themselves, without the Spirit of God, bereft of the whole light of truth, so are not unaware that the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers. For they know no other Spirit than him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, and by whose oracles they are continually recalled to the hearing of the Word. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.9.3.

Lord’s Day 8, 2018

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, “Where are You going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. —John 16:5–15 To the Comforter. Horatius Bonar (1808–1889) Mighty Comforter, to thee In our feebleness we flee; Oh, unveil thy gracious face, Spread out all thy wondrous grace. Strengthener of the poor and weak, To thy power for strength we seek; Heavenly fulness, from above, Oh descend in blessed love. Patient Teacher of the blind, Opener of the sin-seal’d mind, Fix in us thy sure abode, And reveal the Christ of God. Guider of the erring feet In the waste or busy street, Lead us thro’ life’s Babel-crowds, Through its pathless solitudes. True Enricher of the poor, Enter thou our lowly door; Let thy liberal hand impart Heavenly riches to our heart. Looser of the bonds of sin, Oh make haste and enter in; Break each link, till there remains Not one fragment of our chains. Loving Spirit, come, Oh come! Find in us thy endless home; Find in this our world below A dwelling for thy glory now. Holy Light, upon us shine, With thy energy divine; Heavenly Brightness, break thou forth, Over this benighted earth. With the eternal Father one, One with the eternal Son; Eternal Spirit, thee we praise, Now and through eternal days. —Hymns of Faith and Hope, Second Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about #LordsDay from:thethirstytheo !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");


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