Calvin: Enter boldly into God’s presence by the blood of Christ

20 12 2011

Below is Calvin’s exposition of Hebrews 10.19.  I’ve italicized what I think is one of the most profound thoughts on the passage that I’ve come across

He says first, that we have “boldness to enter into the holiest”.
This privilege was never granted to the fathers under the Law, for the
people were forbidden to enter the visible sanctuary, though the high
priest bore the names of the tribes on his shoulders, and twelve stones
as a memorial of them on his breast. But now the case is very different,
for not only symbolically, but in reality an entrance into heaven is made
open to us through the favour of Christ, for he has made us a royal
priesthood.

He adds, “by the blood of Jesus”, because the door of the sanctuary
was not opened for the periodical entrance of the high priest, except
through the intervention of blood. But he afterwards marks the difference between this blood and that of beasts; for the blood of beasts, as it soon turns to corruption, could not long retain its efficacy; but the blood of Christ, which is subject to no corruption, but flows ever as a pure stream, is sufficient for us even to the end of the world. It is no wonder that beasts slain in sacrifice had no power to quicken, as they were dead; but Christ who arose from the dead to bestow life on us, communicates his own life to us. It is a perpetual consecration of the way, because the blood of Christ is always in a manner distilling before the presence of the Father, in order to irrigate heaven and earth.

Calvin’s Commentary on Hebrews 10. 19





Rob Sturdy: The voice of the Son of God

20 12 2011

Soren Kierkegaard once wrote:

“We are touched, we look back to those beautiful times.  Sweet sentimental longings leads us to the goal of our desire, to see Christ walking about in the promised land.  We forget the anxiety, the distress, the paradox.  Was it such a simple matter not to make a mistake?  Was it not terrifying that this man walking around among the others was God?  Was it not terrifying to sit down to eat with him?  Was it such an easy matter to become an apostle?  But the result, the eighteen centuries- that helps, that contributes to this mean deception whereby we deceive ourselves and others.  I do not feel brave enough to wish to be contemporary with events like that…” (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling,Kierkegaard’s Works Vol III pg 115)

The importance of Kierkegaard’s words applied in our present context is this: You and I believe that if we had been present to see the time of Jesus public ministry, his baptism, his feeding of the five thousand, his healing of the lame and blind, his raising of the dead, and eventual resurrection that we would find it easier to believe.  But of course you and I overlook the tremendous responsibility of being those who witnessed with our own eyes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those who witnessed his life with their own eyes are accountable for what they heard and saw during those very interesting times.  This is of course why Kierkegaard writes: “I do not feel brave enough to wish to be contemporary with events like that…”

If that isn’t frightening enough, let me add another observation about witnessing the miracles of Jesus.  You and I are so thoroughly enmeshed in a scientific worldview that we believe the ability to see and observe automatically equates with belief.  That is, if we were able to see and observe Jesus it would make it easier for us to belive.  If we can see and observe, we satisfy the rational requirements of our mind to buttress our faith.  But is this always the case?

On a hot summer day I may be driving on an unfamiliar rode.  As I look up on the horizon, I see a tremendous lake that stretches across the road.  Knowing that I am driving a car that is very low to the ground, I realize I will not be able to ford this unexpected obstacle.  However as I get closer, I see it is not a lake at all but only a mirage, created by the heat.  Sight can be deceptive, therefore seeing is not always believing.

It was no different in Jesus’ day.  Time after time, especially in the Gospel of John we are told of the miracles of Jesus only to be quickly told sentences later that there were many who did not believe.  In fact, our reading from today’s Gospel begins with that very point.

“Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,” (John 12.37)

Very important to note about John’s Gospel, is that Jesus does not perform miracles in John’s Gospel but signs and this gives us an important clue as to why they ultimately did not believe in Jesus.  A sign points towards something.  If I am driving to Myrtle Beach on vacation, I look for the exit that says “All beach traffic left lane.”  The sign is ultimately not the destination, but points towards the destination.  So too Jesus performs signs.  So the raising of the dead is quite remarkable, and we would be tempted to stay there, but it is not the final destination.  But what is?

“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12.44-45)

So Jesus has come in order that we might believe in and see the Father.  And herein lies why many did not believe in him.  Back to our vacation metaphor, you only look for the sign that points to the destination in which you are heading.  Those who did not believe in Jesus were not headed towards the destination he wished to point them in.  Therefore, no matter how many signs he performed they didn’t notice.  Why?  Because they weren’t looking for either the sign or the destination.

Therefore they may “keep on hearing” the voice of Jesus but not understand him, and may “keep on seeing” his signs but not perceive (Isa 6.9).  And because of their rebellion against God he has furthered hardened their heart, effectively making them incapable of ever hearing or seeing, as our reading from John makes clear.

It would be foolish for us to think this is a problem of the Jews in the time of Jesus.  It is important to ask if we have the same spiritual blindness, if we have the same disinterest in the destination which Jesus would make us aware of.  A clear diagnostic for this is to ask yourself what is it that you long for most in the whole world?  If you say “heaven”, then perhaps I would ask you “what about heaven do you specifically long for?”  If it is anything other than communion with the Father, to behold the glory of Christ, and to have fellowship with the Holy Spirit then you and I have fallen short and are in spiritual blindness.  We will overlook the signs of Jesus.  He could raise a man from the dead, and the sign would be to no avail.  Our gaze will be directed towards those signs which point us towards what our hearts really desire.  If we do not desire the Father, Jesus’ signs will be of little use to us.

How are we freed from this spiritual blindness and hardness of heart?  Jesus came to accomplish several things, a few of which are highlighted by our reading today and address the spiritual blindness and bondage of the heart to which we just referred to.  Jesus says:

1)  “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12.48).

2)  “I do not judge, for I did not come into the world to judge the world but to save it” (John 12.47)

3)  “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life” (John 12.49-50)

To summarize, he gives light to those in darkness, salvation to those under judgment, and eternal life to those that are spiritually dead.  His words are eternal life.  Which words? None may be excluded.  Nevertheless, one perhaps more than any other may be looked to in order to communicate eternal life.  Jesus says that “God so loved the world he sent his only Son” (John 3.16).  But sent him to do what?  Namely, to proclaim “It is finished” (John 19.30).  In other words, he came into the world that it might have light and that work from the cross is finished.  He came to the world that it might be saved and that work from the cross is finished.  He came to speak the word of eternal life.  And from the cross, what he came to do he finished.  This is the importance of the voice of the Son of God, and these are the words like a life raft in a tumultuous sea, many of the saints of God have clung to towards their own salvation.





Horatius Bonar: Faith is the absence of work

20 12 2011

For me, the take home point was “faith is no work, nor merit, nor effort; but the cessation from all of these, and the acceptance in place of them of what another has done.”  Conveying that one thought is the chief aim of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, the main goal of all pastoral ministry, and the only thought that brings progress in discipleship.

The strength or kind of faith required is nowhere stated. The Holy Spirit has said nothing as to quantity or quality, on which so many dwell, and over which they stumble, remaining all their days in darkness and uncertainty. It is simply in believing,-feeble as our faith may be,-that we are invested with this righteousness. For faith is no work, nor merit, nor effort; but the cessation from all these, and the acceptance in place of them of what another has done,-done completely, and for ever. The simplest, feeblest faith suffices; for it is not the excellence of our act of faith that does aught for us, but the excellence of Him who suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. His perfection suffices to cover not only that which is imperfect in our characters and lives, but that which is imperfect in our faith, when we believe on His name.

Many a feeble hand,-perhaps many a palsied one,-was laid on the head of the burnt-offering (Lev 1:4); but the feebleness of that palsied touch did not alter the character of the sacrifice, or make it less available in all its fullness for him who brought it. The priest would not turn him away from the door of the tabernacle because his hand trembled; nor would the bullock fail to be “accepted for him, to make atonement for him” (Lev 1:4), because his fingers might barely touch its head by reason of his feebleness. The burnt-offering was still the burnt-offering, and the weakest touch sufficed to establish the connection between it and him, because even that feeble touch was the expression of his consciousness that he was unfit to be dealt with on the footing of what he was himself, and of his desire to be dealt with by God on the footing of another, infi-nitely worthier and more perfect than himself.

On our part there is unrighteousness, condemning us; on God’s part there is righteousness, forgiving and blessing us. Thus unright-eousness meets righteousness, not to war with each other, but to be at peace. They come together in love, not in enmity; and the hand of righteousness is stretched out not to destroy, but to save.

It is as the unrighteous that we come to God; not with good-ness in our hands as a recommendation, but with the utter want of goodness; not with amendment or promises of amendment, but with only evil, both in the present and the past; not presenting the claim of contrition or repentance or broken hearts to induce God to receive us as something less than unrighteous, but going to Him simply as unrighteous; unable to remove that unrighteous-ness, or offer anything either to palliate or propitiate.

It is the conscious absence of all good things that leads us to the fountain of all goodness. That fountain is open to all who thus come; it is closed against all who come on any other footing. It is the want of light and life that draws us to the one source of both; and both of these are the free gifts of God.

He who comes as partly righteous is sent empty away. He who comes acknowledging unrighteousness, but at the same time trying to neutralize it or expiate it by feelings, and prayers, and tears, is equally rejected. But he who comes as an unrighteous man to a righteous yet gracious God, finds not only ready access, but plen-teous blessing. The righteous God receives unrighteous man, if man presents himself in his own true character as a sinner, and does not mock God by pretending to be something less or better than this.

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness (Banner of Truth Trust: 1993 pg 74-78)





Thomas Watson: Christ “Fastened to the heart”

20 12 2011

Who can tread upon these hot coals, and his heart not burn?  Who can cry out, with Ignatius, ‘Christ my love is crucified!’?  If a friend should die for us, would not our hearts be much affected by his kindness?  That the God of heaven should die for us, how should this stupendous mercy have a melting influence upon us!

The body of Christ is broken, is enough to break the most flinty heart.  At our saviour’s passion, the very stones did cleave asunder: ‘The rocks rent’ (Matt 27.51).  He that is not affected with this has a heart harder than stones.  If Saul was so affected with David’s mercy in sparing his life (1 Sam 24.16), how may we be affected with Christ’s kindness, who to spare our life, lost his own!  Let us pray, that as Christ was cruci-fixus’, so he may be ‘cordi-fixus’- as he was fastened to the cross, so may he be fastened to our hearts.

Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper (Banner of Truth Trust) pg 30-31





Rob Sturdy: What role do feelings, faith, works etc. play in spirituality?

20 12 2011

Many judge the quality of their spiritual life by three things.  First, people judge their spiritual life by how they feel.  Do you feel spiritual?  Do you feel the presence of God?  Second, people judge their spiritual life by the quality of their life.  Am I becoming a better person?  Am I happier?  More content?  And finally, people will judge their spiritual life by the vibrancy of their faith.  Do I believe strongly  enough?  These are helpful questions to ask and I would encourage you to ask them frequently.  But there is more to the spiritual life than these things.  To ask these questions is not a journey to understand God but a journey to understand yourself.  How do I feel?  What do I believe?  Am I becoming a better person?  You’ll quickly notice the answers to these questions have very little to do with God.  You’ll also quickly notice that if you ask these questions frequently enough, you’ll learn that there are days when you don’t feel spiritual.  You’ll recognize that there are days when you’re not a good person at all.  You’ll even have days when you wonder if there is a God at all!  What is the solution then?  We need something that is (a) outside of ourselves and (b) unchanging.  Enter Christ . Rather than asking how strong is my belief we ask “how strong is Christ’s faith?”  Rather than asking “am I a good person?” we ask “is Christ a good person?” And you’ll notice that unlike your answer to these questions, Christ’s answer doesn’t change.  In short, if we base our spiritual life on Christ rather than ourselves we’ll have something quite special, that being confidence and assurance in our relationship with God.  It is put well by Charles Spurgeon who writes:

“There is one thing which we all of us too much becloud in our preaching, though I believe we do it very unintentionally- namely, the great truth that it is not prayer, it is not faith, it is not our doings, it is not our feelings upon which we must rest, but upon Christ and on Christ alone.  We are apt to think that we are not in a right state, that we do not fell enough, instead of remembering that our business is only with Christ.  O soul, of thou couldst fix thy soul on Jesus, and neglect every thing else- if thou couldst but despise good works, and aught else, so far as they relate to salvation, and look wholly, simply on Christ, I feel that Satan would soon give up throwing thee down, he would find that it would not answer his purpose, for thou wouldst fall on Christ, and like the giant who fell upon his mother, the earth, thou wouldst rise up each time stronger than before.”

Spurgeon, “The Comer’s Conflict with Satan” Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol II pg 309





William Guthrie: What does “faith in Christ” mean?

19 12 2011

William Guthrie was a minister of Fenwick, Ayrshire, from 1650-1664. Guthrie was unfortunately forced from his church due to the Act of Uniformity (when the CofE lost 2000 of its best and brightest ministers). In his time he was considered one of the greatest practical preachers in Scotland. All of Guthrie’s teaching and pastoral experience was poured into one book, “The Christian’s Great Interest” (read it online here, or buy it here). Having just finished it I thought I would share with you a few of the more profound things that Guthrie had to say on “faith in Christ,” which for us has become an all together too familiar notion. All quotations are taken from the Puritan Paperbacks edt 2002 courtesy of the Banner of Truth Trust.

“Whosoever receive Christ are justly reputed the children of God- ‘But as many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God’ (John 1.12); but I have received Christ in all the ways which the word there can import: for I am pleased with the device of salvation by Christ, I agree to the terms, I welcome offer of Christ in all of his offices, as a King to rule over me, a Pries to offer sacrifice and intercede for me, a Prophet to teach me; I lay out my heart for Him and towards Him, resting on Him as I am able. What else can be meant by the word RECEIVING? Therefore may I say, and conclude plainly and warrantably, I am justly to reckon myself God’s child, according to the aforesaid scripture, which cannot fail.” pg 25

“For the better understanding of this, consider that justifying faith is not to believe that I am elected, or to believe that God loveth me, or that Christ died for me, or the like: these things are indeed very difficult, and almost impossible to be attained at the first by those who are very serious; whilst natural atheists and deluded hypocrites find no difficulty in asserting all those things: I say, true justifying faith is not any of the aforesaid things; neither is it simply believing of any sentence is written, or that can be thought about upon. I grant, he that believeth on Christ Jesus believeth what God hath said concerning man’s sinful, miserable condition by nature; and he believeth that to be true, that ‘there is life in the Son, who was slain , and is risen again from the dead,’ etc: but none of these, nor the believing of many such truths, evinces justifying faith, or that believing on the Son of God spoken of in Scripture; for then it were simply an act of the understanding; but true justifying faith, which we now seek after, as a good mark of an interest in Christ, is chiefly and principally an act or work of the heart and will; having presupposed sundry things about truth in understanding- ‘With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.’ (Rom 10.10). And although it seem (verse 9), that a man is saved upon condition that he believes this truth, namely, that ‘God raised Christ from the dead,’ yet we must understand another thing there, and verse 10, than the believing the truth of that proposition; for besides that all devils have that faith, whereby they believe that God raised Christ from the dead; so the Scripture hath clearly resolved justifying faith into the receiving of Christ: ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.’ (John 1.12). The receiving of Christ is there explained to be the believing on His name. It is also called a staying on the Lord (Isa 26.3) a trusting in God, often mentioned in the Psalms, and the word is a leaning on Him. It is a believing on Christ: ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him who He hath sent (John 6.29). pg 62

“There is a communion between husband and wife, whereby they have a special interest in each other’s persons, goods, concerns: so it is here. There is such a communion with God; He is our God, and all things are ours, because He is ours. This communion with God all true believers have at all times, as we shall show afterwards. I grant there is an actual improvement of that communion, whereby men do boldly approach unto God and converse with Him as their God with holy familiarity; especially in worship, when the soul doth converse with a living God, partaking of the divine nature, growing like unto Him, and sweetly traveling through His attributes, and, with some confidence of interest, viewing these things as the man’s own goods and property: this we call communion of God” pg 99

‘No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him’ (John 6.44); yet the Lord hath left it as a duty upon people who hear this gospel, to close with His offer of salvation through Christ Jesus, as if it were in their power to do it; and the Lord, through these commands and exhortations, wherein He obliged men to the thing, doth convey life and strength to the elect, and doth therein convey the new heart unto them, which pointeth kindly towards this new device of saving sinners, and towards Christ in His covenant relations; for it is the Lord’s mind, in these commands and invitations, to put people on some duty, with which He useth to concur for accomplishing that business between Him and them: so then, it is a coming on our part, and yet a drawing on his part; ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.’ (John 6.44). It is a drawing on His part, and a running on our part- ‘Draw me, we will run after Thee.’ (Cant 1.4). It is an approaching on our part, and yet a ‘choosing and causing ot aproach’ on His part (Ps 65.4). It is a believing or receiving on our part- ‘But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name’; and yet it is given to us to believe’ (John 1.12; Phil 1.29).” pg 121





Calvin: On the distinction between faith and repentance

19 12 2011

We must first note the distinction of faith and repentance, which some do falsely and unskillfully confound, saying, that repentance is a part of faith. I grant, indeed, that they cannot be separate; because God doth illuminate no man with the Spirit of faith whom he doth not also regenerate unto newness of life. Yet they must needs be distinguished, as Paul doth in this place. For repentance is a turning unto God, when we frame ourselves and all our life to obey him; but faith is a receiving of the grace offered us in Christ. For all religion tendeth to this end, that, embracing holiness and righteousness, we serve the Lord purely, also that we seek no part of our salvation anywhere else save only at his hands, and that we seek salvation in Christ alone. Therefore, the doctrine of repentance containeth a rule of good life; it requireth the denial of ourselves, the mortifying of our flesh, and meditating upon the heavenly life. But because we be all naturally corrupt, strangers from righteousness, and turned away from God himself. Again, because we fly from God, because we know that he is displeased with us, the means, as well to obtain free reconciliation as newness of life, must be set before us.

Therefore, unless faith be added, it is in vain to speak of repentance; yea, those teachers of repentance who, neglecting faith, stand only upon the framing of life, and precepts of good works, differ nothing, or very little from profane philosophers. They teach how men must live; but, forasmuch as they leave men in their nature, there can no bettering be hoped for thence, until they invite those who are lost unto hope of salvation; until they quicken the dead, promising forgiveness of sins; until they show that God doth, by his free adoption, take those for his children who were before bond-slaves of Satan; until they teach that the Spirit of regeneration must be begged at the hands of the heavenly Father, that we must draw godliness, righteousness, and goodness, from him who is the fountain of all good things. And hereupon followeth calling upon God, which is the chiefest thing in the worship of God.

We see now how that repentance and faith are so linked together that they cannot be separate. For it is faith which reconcileth God to us, not only that he may be favorable unto us, by acquitting us of the guiltiness of death, by not imputing to us our sins, but also that by purging the filthiness of our flesh by his Spirit, he may fashion us again after his own image. He doth not, therefore, name repentance in the former place, as if it did wholly go before faith, forasmuch as a part thereof proceedeth from faith, and is an effect thereof; but because the beginning of repentance is a preparation unto faith. I call the displeasing of ourselves the beginning, which doth enforce us, after we be thoroughly touched with the fear of the wrath of God, to seek some remedy.

Faith toward Christ. It is not without cause that the Scripture doth everywhere make Christ the mark whereat our faith must aim, and as they say commonly, set him before us as the object. For the majesty of God is of itself higher than that men can climb thereunto. Therefore, unless Christ come between, all our senses do vanish away in seeking God. Again, inasmuch as he is the Judge of the world, it must needs be that the beholding of him without Christ shall make us afraid. But God doth not only represent himself unto us in Christ’s image, but also refresh us with his Fatherly favor, and by all means restore us to life. For there is no part of our salvation which may not be found in Christ. By the sacrifice of his death he hath purged our sins; he hath suffered the punishment that he might acquit us; he hath made us clean by his blood; by his obedience he hath appeased his Father’s wrath; by his resurrection he hath purchased righteousness for us. No marvel, therefore, if we said, that faith must be fixed in the beholding of Christ.

Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. XIX, pg 246-247