Friday, December 14, 2018

The Vision (12.14.18): The Work of the Holy Spirit

Image: Snow on cedar trees, North Garden, Virginia, December 2018

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 16:1-16.

And when he [the Comforter] is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8).

Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13a).

He shall glorify me (John 16:14a).

In the upper room before he went to the cross, Christ promised to send to his disciples the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and he explained what the ministry of the Holy Spirit would be during the time between his ascension and his glorious coming.

He describes three basic works of the Holy Spirit:

First, the Holy Spirit will reprove the world (unbelievers) of sin, righteousness, and judgement (vv. 8-12):

Christ says that the Spirit will reprove the world in three ways:

First, the Spirit will reprove the world of sin (v. 9). Notice how sin is defined. No vice list is given: lust, excessive anger, envy, stealing, murder, etc. The prevailing sin, the King Sin, is unbelief.

Second, the Spirit will reprove the world of righteousness (v. 10). Righteousness here refers to the righteousness of Christ. The Spirit will show that the Lord Jesus Christ was an altogether righteous, just, and upright man. Correspondingly, it declares the unrighteousness of the world and makes plain their need for Christ.

Third, the Spirit will reprove the world of judgment (v. 11). I think Christ is here saying that the Spirit will bring unbelievers to understand that apart from Christ they are held under the sway or judgment of the prince of this world, blind in unbelief (John 14:30; 2 Cor 4:4).

Second, the Holy Spirit will guide believers into all truth (v. 13):

We turn from the Spirit’s work among those in the world (evangelism) to his work among the apostles and all believers (edification and sanctification).

The first application is to the Spirit’s guiding of the apostles, especially in writing the Scriptures. Secondly, it is applied to the Spirit’s guiding of all believers.

The Holy Spirit is called here “the Spirit of truth” (cf. 14:17; 15:26). The Spirit points men to Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (cf. John 14:6).

Have you ever used a guide to take you to explore some natural wonder? Or to show you the hidden sites of some city?

The Holy Spirit is our guide to living the Christian life. He takes us to what is most important. He directs us away from danger and toward that which is holy, good, true, just, and beautiful.

Third, the Holy Spirit will glorify Christ (vv. 14-15):

We have seen the ministry of the Spirit to the world, to believers, and now to Christ (which is also related to the ministry to believers).

The work of the Spirit in believers will lead them to glorify Christ, to give him glory, to give him “worth,” to worship him.

Let us then look to the work of the Holy Spirit to reprove unbelievers, guide believers, and glorify Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Reading Notes from Niesel's Theology of Calvin: Part One

A few months ago I finished reading Wilhelm Niesel’s The Theology of John Calvin (Lutterworth Press, 1956; trans. Harold Knight; German original published, 1938).

The work has 16 chapters offering a survey of Calvin’s theology under various heads. 

Here are some select notes:

Chapter 1: The present state of critical studies:

Niesel offers a survey of opinion of the times on the center of Calvin's thought:

Bauke: “The theology of Calvin has in fact no basic principle” (11).

Pannier: “Calvin’s spirit is essentially the spirit of the French race” (11).

Weber: The key to Calvin is “the honor of God” (13). Calvin reflected “the primitive character of the soul and life peculiar to the Latin people” (13).

Mülhaupt: The foundation of Calvin’s theology: “the idea of the gracious will” (16).

Niesel: “in Calvin’s doctrine it is a question of the content of all contents—the living God” (19).

Chapter 2: The knowledge of God:

The aim of Calvin in the Institutes is “to attain and expound a synthesis of the contents of Scripture” (23).

“Hence the aim of Calvin’s theology seems to be not an unfolding of “philosophia humana” but an exposition of “philosophia christiana” which God gives us in the Bible (24).

According to Niesel, Calvin takes a “literal” view of the Bible but “did not understand inspiration in any mechanical fashion” (31).

Niesel: Nothing in Calvin’s exegesis suggests a belief in “literal inerrancy” (31).

“That the God of majesty speaks to us to-day in the word of Scripture and babbles with us, as it were, in this book, is a token of His condescension. Because that is so, Calvin so frequently utters the word of command: Ad verbum est veniendum [You must come to the Word”; Inst. 1.7.1]” (35).

Note: Niesel’s analysis of Calvin’s bibliology reflects the dialectical theology of his day.

Chapter 7: The Old and New Testaments:

Niesel: “In Calvin’s opinion the Old Testament does not reflect a primitive form of religion lower in degree than that of the New” (105).

For Calvin “the New Testament is like a colorful picture whereas the Old presents the appearance of a shadowy outline” (107).

Chapter 8: The Mediator:

“[Calvin] says that when we are thinking of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ we must not be understood to mean ‘that the Godhead left the heavens in order to confine itself to the chamber of Christ’s body, but that although it filled all things yet it dwelt corporeally precisely in the humanity of Christ, i.e., dwelt therein both naturally and ineffably’ [Inst. 4.17.30]. The Godhead of Christ fills all things and while not being restricted to the manhood of Christ yet dwells within it” (118).

“The paradoxical principle: God wholly within Jesus of Nazareth and yet wholly outside Him, was later termed the Extra Calvinisticum” (118).

“It is not the case that the Extra constitutes the centre of Calvinistic Christology. Calvin does not teach that God is to be found in Jesus Christ but is also to be fully encountered fully apart from Him. No; according to Calvin, God has disclosed Himself only in Jesus Christ and we must therefore hold fast to this One and not attempt to seek God outside the Mediator. But as a critical distinction the Extra has its value. In Jesus Christ we are faced not merely by enhanced nature, but the fact is that there God Himself stands revealed to us” (119).

Calvin: “The Word chose the body of the Virgin as a temple in which to dwell” [Inst. 2.14.1].


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review Posted: Tyndale House Greek New Testament

I have posted to my site a pdf of my review of Dirk Jongkind, Ed., Tyndale House Greek New Testament, which appeared in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 10., No. 2 (July 2018): 329-333 (find it here).

I also recorded and posted an audio version of the review to (listen here).

There's also an extended discussion of the THGNT based on a draft of this review in WM 84: THGNT (listen here).

Note: The PRJ book review editor made a slight change to the opening sentence of the review's final paragraph, which I was not aware of till it came out. My original review read, "Traditionalists might be thankful for some things in the THGNT...." By "traditionalists" I meant those who holding to the traditional or confessional text. The edited phrase reads, "Adherents to the Majority Text might be thankful for some things in the THGNT...." This might give the wrong impression (for those who don't know me--smiles) that I hold the Majority Text position. In the editor's defense, I should have made clear what I meant by "traditionalist."


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

For my Father is greater than I

Image: First snowfall, North Garden, Virginia, December 11, 2018

Devotion taken from my sermon on John 14:27-31 from 11/11/18.

John 14:28b: for my Father is greater than I.

The final statement in v. 28 is important to consider, because it has been twisted by unstable men down through the years, going all the way back to a man named Arius  (c. 250-c. 366) who taught that Christ was not equal in essence to God the Father (a teaching called after its founder “Arianism”).

Calvin says Arius and his followers “tortured” this verse “to prove that Christ is some sort of inferior God” who is “less than the Father.”

Jesus said: “For my Father is greater than I.” Does this prove Arius’ point?

No, it does not. But why not?

First, we need to consider that Christ is described as making himself “equal with God” (cf. John 5:18).  Consider also John 10:30 where he declared, “I and my Father are one.” Consider also all the “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel.

Second, we need to understand that Christ was speaking here of his circumstantial position and not his essence. At this point, as the incarnate Son, having taken on flesh, and not yet having taken on the glorious resurrection body, he had humbled himself as a servant. Positionally, the Father in heaven clearly was in the greater and more glorious position. But this says nothing of Christ’s equality of essence with God the Father. So, Calvin rightly says that the contrast here is between Christ’s “present state and the heavenly glory.” The Arians thus abuse this verse when they say it denies Christ’s equality with the Father.

Calvin also makes the point that Christ is here referring to the fact that as our mediator he was “accommodating himself to our weakness” and placing “himself between God and us.” This is why he says, “for the Father is greater than I.”

Paul makes this same point in 2 Corinthians 8:9 when he says, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”

Or, in the servant song of Philippians 2:5-11, Paul wrote of Christ: "6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men."

This is not the only passage that the Arians have twisted in an effort to deny the deity of our Lord. Another favorite target of the Arian’s has been Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler, when he says to Christ, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18), to which Christ responds, “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God” (v. 19). They miss, however, the irony of Christ’s words. He was telling this man that by addressing him as good he was, in fact, saying more than he could possibly have understood. Only God is the absolute good and Christ as the second person of the Godhead is, indeed, the Good Master!
In his commentary on this statement in John 14:28 Calvin notes how Arians also have also twisted 1 Corinthians 15:24 where Paul speaks of Christ at his coming delivering “up the kingdom to God, even the Father” and so wrongly assume the implication of some inferiority of Christ. Calvin counters that Christ reigns “not only in human nature, but as he is God manifested in the flesh” (cf. 1 Tim 3:16). When Paul speak of one person of the Godhead, the Son, giving the kingdom to another person of the Godhead, the Father, this is not a denial of the equality of those persons, but of the tasks each will perform at the end of the ages. The Son will give what he has acquired, and the Father will receive and rule.
We must be, as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 2:15, “always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is within you with meekness and fear.”
As Paul puts it in 2 Tim 2:15 the workman approved unto God must be “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
This right division includes the fact that we must be prepared to defend the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ against Arian twisting of Scripture.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Vision (12.7.18): Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you

Image: Ralph's tree farm, Nelson County, Virginia, November 2018

Note: Devotional taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 15:16-27.

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain (John 15:16a).

Note first here how Christ speaks to the apostles and tells them that he has chosen them and not they him. We might immediately want to seize upon Christ’s words here to apply to the election to salvation of all disciples. We might want to lay this aside 1 John 4:19: “We love him, because he first loved us,” modifying it to read, “We chose him, because he first chose us.”

We need to acknowledge, however, that Christ was speaking specifically here about his election of the apostles. They were the ones “ordained” or appointed to a special and extra-ordinary office.

To what end had Christ chosen them? That they might “go and bring forth fruit.” Compare the Great Commission Christ gave to them in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go and make disciples of all nations….”.

His aim also was that the fruit would remain. His purpose was that their labors would not be a flash in the pan, a one hit wonder. And they did it. Look at the fruit they produced! We are the evidences of it!

I think we can rightly extend and apply this teaching as well to the present disciples, beyond the apostles. This is Christ’s end or goal for us. That we would produce fruit and that this fruit should remain.

Calvin observed: “But I extend this statement much farther, as meaning that the Church shall last to the very end of the world; for the labor of the apostles yields fruit even to the present day, and our preaching is not for a single age only, but will enlarge the Church, so that the new fruit will be seen to spring up after our death.”

The fruit of the apostles was not seen till long after their deaths. Have you ever considered that the greatest fruit that might be produced for the kingdom from your godly life and ministry and that of our church might be that which happens long after we are gone?

Christ chose the apostles and he has chosen us that we might bear fruit and that this fruit should remain. Let us then be faithful to this end.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

WM 110: Reeves & Hill on John 5:4; Text Note: Luke 9:55-56

I have posted WM 110: Reeves & Hill on John 5:4; Text Note: Luke 9:55-56 (listen here).

In this WM I do two things:

First, I offer some thoughts on a passage from a new book that I have recently begun to read. It is Ryan M. Reeves & Charles E. Hill’s Know How We Got the Bible (Zondervan, 2018) in the “Know Series” edited by Justin Holcombe.

I devoted WM 46 (listen here) to challenging an online article Reeves had written on Erasmus and his Greek NT, in which he perpetuated some of the old “Erasmus Anecdotes” and added a few new ones.

See also this blog post: Response to Ryan Reeves.

Here's the passage from Reeves and Hill's Know How We Got the Bible which I review (p. 26):

            In the Reformation era, European scholars had a smaller number of biblical manuscripts or copies of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament books, than have been found today. Their best copy of the New Testament, for example, dated from the twelfth century. After the rise of archaeology in the nineteenth century, we began to discover older copies of the New Testament. From these older copies, we learned that a few verses in Bible translations were not likely in the autographs, or original writings of Scripture.
            For example, the twelfth-century copy of John 5:4 reads:

For an angel came down at certain times into the pool and stirred the    water: so the first one who entered after the stirring of the water became healed of whatever disease he had. (author transl.)

            Older copies of John do not have these words, meaning they were not likely in the Gospel as originally written by the apostle John.

I point out that it is inaccurate to say that John 5:4 did not appear in any Greek mss. prior to the twelfth century. See my text note on this passage, which shows that John 5:4 appears in Codex Alexandrinus (dated fifth century) and in the Church Father Tertullian (c. 220).

Toward the end of this discussion I note that feminist theologians used to speak of the “hermeneutics of suspicion" and suggest that when you read any modern work on Biblical origins and development, even if the authors are credentialed scholars teaching in “conservative” or “evangelical” schools, one should employ a “hermeneutics of suspicion" or simply a grain of salt.

Second, I provide a spoken word version of my previously posted Text Note on Luke 9:55-56.


Monday, December 03, 2018

Calvin on Fullness of Joy (John 15:11)

Image: Scene from Ralph's tree farm, Nelson County, Virginia, November 2018

Calvin’s commentary on “that your joy may be full” from John 15:11: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”:

He adds, that this joy will be solid and full; not that believers will be entirely free from all sadness, but that the ground for joy will be far greater, so that no dread, no anxiety, no grief, will swallow them up; for those to whom it has been given to glory in Christ will not be prevented, either by life, or by death, or by any distresses, from bidding defiance to sadness.