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(12 posts)

Greater Works

This was included in the Lord’s day post three weeks ago, but I think this portion is worth pulling out for special attention. 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 J. C. Ryle wrote, The full meaning of this promise is not to be sought in the miracles which the Apostles wrought after Christ left the world. Such a notion seems hardly borne out by facts. We read of no Apostle walking on the water, or raising a person four days dead, like Lazarus. What our Lord has in view seems to be the far greater number of conversions, the far wider spread of the Gospel, which would take place under the ministry of the Apostles, than under his own teaching. This was the case, we know from the Acts of the Apostles. We read of no sermon preached by Christ, under which three thousand were converted in one day, as they were on the day of Pentecost. In short, “greater works” mean more conversions. There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul. —J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Banner of Truth, 2012). It is not the Benny Hinns of the world (pretending for a moment that they are not total frauds) that are doing the greatest works. The shepherds who faithfully preach the gospel, they are the conduits of the miraculous. They do the work that raises the dead to life. Be amazed by the fruit of their labors.

“Expect a Miracle”

Thursday··2013·03·28 · 3 Comments
Let us not argue about what God can do. Let us agree from the start that God can do anything. He can turn a cat into a dog, if he so desires. But let us instead consider what God does do, as he has revealed in Scripture, and as we see in creation. If God wants me to have a dog, he will not transform my cat, though I may earnestly wish for it and believe with all my heart that he can. No, if God wants me to have a dog, he will by some means cause me to acquire a puppy born of a canine mother. To look for anything more dramatic, considering what he has taught me about his normal means of dog-making, would not demonstrate any kind of faith. It would insult him, and be presumptuous and sinful.

Not Without Assignable Reason

Miracles do not appear on the pages of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring his gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course. —B. B. Warfield, quoted in The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 77. [original source]

By Signs and Wonders

In a bit of humorous irony, charismatics believe in continuing revelation, yet demand Scripture references to prove any argument against them. For example: “Oh yeah? Where does the Bible say that the miraculous gifts were for authentication of the Word?” Well, alright then, since you asked, For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. —Hebrews 2:1–4.

Expect a Miracle?

Have you ever been told to “expect a miracle”? Well, don’t. Many Charismatic believers insist that God wants to do a special miracle for every believer. They often say, “God has a special miracle just for you.” Are Christians supposed to seek their own private miracles? If you take all the miracles done by Jesus and chart them, the result will show that none of those miracles were ever done privately. While Jesus healed to cure people’s ailments and relieve suffering, these were secondary benefits. His major purpose was to authenticate His messiahship (John 20:30–31). Similarly, while the apostles also healed people, their primary purpose was to authenticate new revelation—and new revelation is never a private issue. B. B. Warfield wrote: It has not been God’s way to communicate to each and every man a separate store of divine knowledge of his own, to meet his separate needs; but He had rather spread a common board for all, and invites all to come and partake of the richness of the great feast. He had given the world one organically complete revelation. Adapted to all, sufficient for all, provided for all, and from this one completed revelation He requires each to draw his whole spiritual sustenance. Therefore, it is that the miraculous working which is but a sign of God’s revealing power cannot be expected to continue, and in point of fact does not continue, after the revelation of which it is the accompaniment has been completed. [original source] Charismatics circumvent this by insisting that today we have new revelation in addition to new miracles and new apostles. But apostles were special people for a special time. What they did does not need continual repetition. In none of his letters did Paul tell believers to seek the Spirit’s manifestations of signs and wonders. He simply said to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) or, putting it another way, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you” (see Col. 3:16).* Revelation is a book full of vision, wonders, and signs. It would be a perfect place for the writer to urge believers to seek these wonders and signs, but what does he say? “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it” (Rev. 1:3). Romans 15:4 states: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” If we want hope, if we want an anchor, if we want something to carry us through life, it isn’t a miracle we need. We need the Scriptures. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 78–79. * See here.

By Signs and Wonders: Apostolic Authority

Last week, I posted the scriptural testimony on the purpose of the miraculous gifts in authenticating divine revelation. Here, John MacArthur demonstrates the uniqueness of the apostolic office to the age of revelation: Scripture makes it plain that the period of New Testament revelation and the apostles are inextricably connected. Paul said as much when he wrote to the Corinthians and said: “I have become foolish in glorying; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:11–12). Paul was clearly defending his apostleship to the Corinthians (who had challenged him concerning his apostolic authority) by referring to the signs, wonders, and miracles that he did among them. Now, if that kind of thing were common to all Christians, it would be a rather foolish way for Paul to prove his apostleship. Obviously, even during the apostolic age all Christians couldn’t do signs, wonders, and mighty deeds. But if that type of thing were unique to apostles, then it would certainly be proof of their power and authority. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 79–80.

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.

Hokie Pokie This

The difference between charismatic and biblical believers can be seen in their reactions to this video: Charismatic: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Biblical: The “Holy Ghost Hokie Pokie”? That is nothing less than blasphemy. Furthermore, the claims of healing are laughable. There is no one there with anything that couldn't be temporarily relieved psychosomatically. Hypnotism, anyone? Placebo effect? Check on those people in a week, a month, a year, and see how they're doing. Show me before-and-after x-rays of that scoliosis and those knees. Where are the quadriplegics and amputees? Let's see you hokie pokie someone out of a vegetative state, cancer, or HIV. Again, document both the illness and the cure, and publish it in NEJM and JAMA. Take your camera and post the restoration of a veteran's legs on YouTube. Show me a real, undeniable illness or injury and its documented cure. Let me hear from the amazed CNN and NYT reporters. No takers? I thought not, because every single one of these healers is a fraud, with no exceptions. The difference? Credulous versus incredulous, gullible versus discerning, or, as already designated, charismatic versus biblical. Biblical thinkers are also critical thinkers (1 John 4:1). They do not simply believe everything.

A Process of Elimination

Jesus and the apostles performed miracles for a specific purpose. Knowing that purpose should make cessationists of us all, but at the very least, it enables us to rule out any possibility of genuine divine miracles through Benny Hinn and heretics like him. A final characteristic of New Testament healings is that they served as a sign to authenticate the gospel message preached by Christ and the apostles. As Peter explained on the day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus was “a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22). Christ Himself told the skeptical Pharisees, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works , that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:38). And the apostle John explained the purpose of his gospel with these words: “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31). The apostles, as Christ’s ambassadors, were similarly authenticated by the miraculous signs they performed (cf. Rom . 15:18–19; 2 Cor. 12:12). Speaking of that apostolic witness, the author of Hebrews explained, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:3–4). Those signs validated the fact that the apostles were truly who they claimed to be—authorized representatives of God who preached the true gospel. Those who would preach any gospel other than that established by Christ and proclaimed by the apostles show themselves to be “false apostles” and “deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). Paul cursed such people—twice in quick succession , to make the point as emphatic as possible: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8 –9). The God of truth only validates the true gospel. He would not authenticate bad theology or give supernatural power to people who teach bad theology. Thus, self-proclaimed miracle workers who teach a false gospel either cannot perform miracles or do so by a power that does not come from God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 173–174.

God’s Power Has Not Ceased

Biblical miracles had recognizable characteristics not found in today’s “healing ministries.” The miracle-working ministries of Christ and the apostles were unique. . . . the healings they performed were supernaturally powerful, entirely successful, undeniable, immediate, spontaneous, and purposeful—serving as signs that authenticated the message of the gospel. They were not predicated on the faith of the recipient, they were not performed for the sake of money or popularity, and they were not preplanned or choreographed in any way. They were true miracles that resulted in real diseases being instantly cured: the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard, and even the dead were raised to life. Such biblical-quality healing miracles are not being performed today. Benny Hinn may claim to have an apostolic healing ministry, but he obviously does not. Healing miracles of the kind recorded in the Gospels and Acts were unique to the first-century church. After the time of the apostles, healings such as those ceased and have never since been part of church history. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 175–176. Charismatics like to misrepresent cessationism as diminishing or denying the power of God, but it is not God’s ability to heal that has ceased. God still can and does do as he pleases, according to his own purposes and in his own way. It is the revelatory purpose for and the accompanying means that has ceased. While the New Testament does instruct believers to pray for those who are sick and suffering, trusting the Great Physician to do that which is according to His sovereign purposes (cf. James 5:14–15), that is not equivalent to the supernatural gift of healing described in Scripture. Anyone who claims otherwise is fooling himself. —Ibid., 176.
But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. —John 12:37 While the purpose of Jesus' miracles was the authentication of himself and his word (Hebrews 2:1–4), that fact should not lead us to believe that miracles have any power to convince unregenerate minds (Luke 16:31). Calvin writes, That no man may be disturbed or perplexed at seeing that Christ was despised by the Jews, the Evangelist removes this offense, by showing that he was supported by clear and undoubted testimonies, which proved that credit was due to him and to his doctrine; but that the blind did not behold the glory and power of God, which were openly displayed in his miracles. First, therefore, we ought to believe that it was not owing to Christ that the Jews did not place confidence in him, because by many miracles he abundantly testified who he was, and that it was therefore unjust and highly unreasonable that their unbelief should diminish his authority. But as this very circumstance might lead many persons to anxious and perplexing inquiry how the Jews came to be so stupid, that the power of God, though visible, produced no effect upon them, John proceeds further, and shows that faith does not proceed from the ordinary faculties of men, but is an uncommon and extraordinary gift of God, and that this was anciently predicted concerning Christ, that very few would believe the Gospel. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:40. Only one miracle has the power to produce faith, and that is the miracle of regeneration (John 3:4–8).

Many Widows, Many Lepers

God does what he does because of who he is, not because of what we expect. In Luke 4, a brief incident occurred that had tremendous impact. Jesus was speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth. He was handed the scroll of Scripture, and He turned to the next regular reading from Isaiah. Luke 4:18–19 says He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And He said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). In other words, the One the prophet said would come to preach had come. Then Luke records, “And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” (v. 22). They knew Joseph. But they didn’t know anything about Joseph that could cause his Son to be as special as this man seemed to be. And then He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well’” (v. 23). Christ knew that they would want to see some proof that He was who He claimed to be—some miraculous manifestation of His power. Then He said: Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. (vv. 24–27) What kind of an answer is that? What was He saying to them? His point was simple: God has not ordained that everyone be healed. Furthermore, God Himself has determined which widow gets healed and which leper gets healed. It doesn’t hinge on human free will. Even Christ’s miracles would be done according to the sovereign will of God, not in answer to the demands of people in Jesus’ own hometown. He was saying, in effect, “You may expect me to do in this town what was done in Capernaum, but God doesn’t work that way. God sovereignly chooses what He will do.” Then, verse 28 records the first New Testament reaction to the doctrine of election: “And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage.” —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 5–7.


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