BoT > Session 6 > Derek Thomas on John Calvin

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Session 6 – (Thurs. 10:45 AM)
“Meditation and the Future Life: The Goal of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes”
Derek Thomas

GRANTHAM, PA – Thomas began his final session with some background and advice to reading Calvin’s Institutes. He recommended using a guide to help get through them for the first time. [I would agree having been greatly helped by T.H.L. Parker’s, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought (Westminster/John Knox: 1995)]. Thomas cautioned against using the Institutes as ones introduction to John Calvin but rather recommended readers begin with Calvin’s rich sermons. Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth: 2006) was presented as a particularly marvelous and fresh exposition although the cover image is one of the most awful images of Calvin, he said. “I’ve seen bad images of Calvin but this one takes the biscuit.”

Thomas highly recommends others read Calvin’s chapter on prayer in the Institutes. The chapter is one of the longest (see 3.20.1-52, pp. 1:850-920). Why, he asked, is Calvin’s teaching on prayer not better known? Calvin’s treatment on prayer is marvelous and all should read it.

Thomas then began his final message with three Scripture readings: Romans 8:1-11, Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 3:1-4. It’s important to note that Calvin’s teaching on mortification ends with this chapter: “Meditation on the Future Life” (3.9.1-6, pp. 1:712-719).

Calvin and the Puritans

Our love for the Puritans is a love of their experiential exposition of Scripture. We are drawn to the most obscure language of John Owen and endure the Ramist subdivisions of Owen’s subplot because he and other Puritans speak to our hearts. Today we long for God’s Word to be addressed not only to our mind and intellect but also to our hearts and affections. We long to have the question: So what? What is the purpose of the passage? What is it calling me to do and feel? The Puritans redress the mistakes of our day.

Calvin intimidates readers more than the Puritans because we think that Calvin does not speak to the heart as the Puritans. This is to buy into a division between Calvin and the Calvinists. The Puritans – all of them – knew, read and loved John Calvin. All the Puritans read Calvin’s Institutes, commentaries and sermons. Perhaps the best way to dismantle this error of separating Calvin from the Calvinists is to plumb the depths of book 3 in the Institutes because here Calvin teaches us that the heart is more important than all else.

Reformed Spirituality

For Calvin, piety was fundamental and the Institutes are a deliberate contrast to the medieval theology of Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. Calvin’s Institutes are a Summa Pietas (sum of all piety) rather than a Summa Theologica (sum of all theology). For Calvin, his theology is a theology of the heart, addressing the totality of anthropology. If we don’t see this in the Reformers it shows a serious misunderstanding on our part.

The Reformers produced a Reformed spirituality! Reformed faith, by design, encompasses the totality of life including piety and the spiritual. Our theology informs our doctrine, prayers, understanding God’s means of grace, the imperatives of Scripture, preaching, corporate gatherings and liturgy. Their theology informed their spirituality. For Calvin and the Reformers there is a decided shape to spirituality and piety. There is a union with Christ first and then communion with Christ (as we saw earlier)!

So where did J.I. Packer get the title of his bestselling book, Knowing God? From the Institutes of course! Having sold over 1,000,000 copies, what makes it such a popular work? Because, who does not want to know God? This is Calvin’s intent in the Institutes. For Calvin piety in the sense of having a right relationship with God – in knowing Him, giving heartfelt worship, believing, offering filial prayers, etc. – is exactly what the Institutes are all about! Calvin says, “I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces” (1.2.1, p. 1:41).

Future Together

For Calvin’s faculty psychology the mind is hugely important. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Ps. 32:9). Calvin says the mind, yes, but also the heart, too! We are to be like newlyweds in their continual talking over their future together. They are thinking about the house and kids they want in the future. In book 3, Calvin says we need to be like newlyweds longing, ever more in love with Christ by which we have been drawn into union and anticipating our future together with Him.

But sin, the world and Satan all seek to draw us away from this anticipation. These are the enemies that prevent this love from blossoming. So we are required, with resolve and effort, to maintain and grow in this love. This resolve and effort comes, for Calvin, in the act of meditation on the future life. For Calvin, like that of the Puritans, they were following a line of sanctification with medieval roots. We live in this world but we anticipate the world to come.

Meditating on the Future Life

What shape does this anticipation take in Calvin?

1. Renovation of the Mind. Not only do we need a renovation in what we think but a renovation in how we think. In his book, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (7:260-497), Puritan John Owen asks: What is it you think about then you are not thinking? When your mind is in the default/neutral position, what is it you think about? We force our thoughts to Christian thoughts. Calvin says nearly the same thing as Owen (did Owen read Calvin’s Institutes?).

Colossians 3:1-4 is very significant here.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Calvin says Paul calls us to we are called to “assiduity” (or diligent effort) in our thinking of the things above. Calvin warns us of stopping at the resurrection of Christ. Christ was crucified, buried, raised and now is seated in heaven. Calvin’s thoughts follow redemptive history.

We have made too little of the ascension of Christ. By Christ’s being brought into heaven, we have been brought into heaven. We are with Him! This means the ascension of Christ is critical to meditation. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).

This renovation of our minds includes repentance and a rigorous discipline of our minds. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

2. Detachment from the present world. Like Augustine, Calvin warns against an improper love for the present world. It is dangerous to set our affections on the things of the world because it brings us into bondage and prevents services. But by nature we are slaves to this world. This world is a shadow and a vapor passing away. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy the provisions of the garden to see the beauty of the Creator of the beauty, to see the One Who is Beauty Himself. Sin, as Calvin says, turns our hearts into idol factories. We tease ourselves by thinking this world is all there is.

We see in our day the idolatry of health and exercise as though we can live to be 350 years old. Is this not a reflection that even Christians have set their minds on the things of this earth?

As this conference comes to a conclusion many of us have our bags packed and we are ready to leave to the airport to go home. Calvin says this is how we should live our lives on this earth. We should have our bags packed and on our way home. If this earth is not our homeland what is this life but an exile? Calvin has “gobs” of things to say on the proper value of enjoying Christian liberties in this life. But heaven is our home. Calvin says, “no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection” (3.9.5, p. 1:718). Calvin calls us to know how to die well.

For Calvin, meditation is not mindless humming but a cognitive discourse on the Word of God. Imagine a preacher in your head expounding, applying and reminding us not to set our roots deeply in this world.

Trails are the primary means God uses to detach us from this world. For the Christian, our crosses are ladders by which the mind and heart ascend into heaven. The Christian is a marcher on the way to glory.

We should maintain a proper contempt for this world. Calvin asks: Where will true and lasting joy be found? Not in this world or the relationships of this world. The greatest joy in this world will pale to the bursting joy of heaven when we shall see Jesus in His glory and splendor (1 John 3:2)!

3. Heaven as our ultimate destiny. There are three tenses to our salvation – we are saved, we are being saved and we will be saved. Only in glory will we be fully saved from the remnants of corruption and freed from the temptations of Satan.

The real world is the unseen world. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). The Cherubim and Seraphim and archangels … this is the real world for Calvin. The privilege of being in Christ is that trouble does not shake us. We feel pain but Christ is always the rock beneath our feet and the security that cannot be taken away. In times of our greatest physical weakness we see beyond the groanings of this world to see with the eye of faith what cannot be shaken.

Psalter and Reformed Spirituality

So how do we meditate on the future life? The discipline of meditation is seen in the realities portrayed of this life in the Psalms. The Psalms are crucial to define the nature of the spirituality of the Christian life. Here we see the anatomy of all parts of the soul. This is why Calvin was adamant in commissioning a Psalter for his congregations to sing from. The Psalms are realistic. If the Psalmist is angry he says it. The Psalms range through a full spectrum of emotion and this displays the contours of our Christian lives. If we don’t sing the Psalms we miss the shape and identity of Reformed spirituality! If we do not sing of the brokenness of this world we will not anticipate the world to come.

And nothing portrays the anticipation of the future life more than prayer. The Psalms are prayers. Prayer is being drawn into heaven. The Holy Spirit groans to enables our voices to carry into heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Romans 8:26 is central for Calvin’s understanding of the Spirit. The Spirit is given to enable us to pray. The Spirit works for us and with us to bring our feeble voices into the presence of the Father in heaven! If you read the prayers of Calvin you will notice how many of them are eschatological in nature.

Thomas closed his session by reading some of these precious prayers of Calvin. I close with a personal favorite:

“Grant, Almighty God, that as we now carry about us this mortal body, yea, and nourish through sin a thousand deaths within us; O grant that we may ever by faith direct our eyes toward heaven, and to that incomprehensible power, which is to be manifested at the last day by Jesus Christ our Lord, so that in the midst of death we may hope that thou wilt be our Redeemer, and enjoy that redemption which he completed when he rose from the dead, and not doubt that the fruit which he then brought forth by his Spirit will come also to us when Christ himself shall come to judge the world; and may we thus walk in the fear of thy name, that we may be really gathered among his members, to be make partakers of that glory which by his death he has procured for us. Amen”

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Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.

Book: Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

Book Announcement
Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

So I was all ready to wind down a bit this weekend, and not push to get another post up. That was all disrupted Saturday when a bubble mailer arrived in my mailbox from Baker Academic. I simply could not wait until next week to announce their new release. The book is Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation by Arie de Reuver. The book was published in Dutch in 2002 and translated into English by James A. De Jong.

To explain the importance of this book, I need to give some background.

We are familiar with the English Puritans (men like John Owen, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, etc.) primarily because their original works were written in English, and easily reprinted over the centuries with little editing necessary. However, in the Netherlands another “Puritan” movement was taking place. Like their English counterparts, men like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel were producing valuable theological and spiritual works in Dutch. But until only recently has the work of Dr. Joel R. Beeke and the Dutch Reformed Translation Committee made these works more accessible. In fact, one of the great highlights of Beeke’s Meet the Puritans is a section entirely devoted to the Dutchmen of the “Further Reformation” (see pages 739-824). Books of the Dutch “Further Reformation” authors (like the recently translated The Path of True Godliness by Willem Teellinck) bear all the marks of brilliance we see in the English Puritans.

One of the most noticeable strengths of these “Dutch Puritans” (as I call them) is their emphasis on Reformed spirituality and their enjoyment of sweet communion with Christ. Theirs was a deep and sincere devotion to Christ where their union with Christ was the means of experiencing vibrant communion with Christ. They defended the doctrines of grace and simultaneously enjoyed a joyful and warm spirituality.

This beautiful Reformed spirituality can be seen in the works of Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711).

Wilhelmus à Brakel is most noted for his four-volume work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Reformation Heritage Books; 1993; 4 vols.). While it looks like another Reformed systematic theology it is actually more practical in nature and intended to provide content for small group discussions as Christians gather to encourage one another in the Christian life. It is one of the beautiful works of the “Dutch Puritans.”

I have noticed in the past the “sweet communion” of the believer with Christ is a theme that sparkles from this work. After emphasizing the marriage union between the Groom (Christ) and His Bride (the Church), à Brakel explains the believer’s communion with Christ within this marital union. Once this union between the sinner and his Savior has taken place in conversion “Jesus Himself delights in having communion with you” (2:93). Read that incredible sentence again! This communion produces a “sweetness and overflowing delight … Here they (Christians) find balm for their sick souls, light to clear up their darkness, life for their deadness, food and drink for their hunger and thirst, peace for their troubled heart, blood to atone for their sins, the Spirit for their sanctification, counsel when they are at their wit’s end, strength for their weakness, and a fullness of all for their manifold deficiencies” (2:93,94).

Of this marital union and the communion that follows, à Brakel writes,

“A temporal believer concerns himself only with the benefits and has no interest in Christ Himself. Believers, however, have communion with the Person of Jesus Christ, but many neither meditate upon nor closely heed their exercises concerning Christ Himself. They err in this, which is detrimental to the strength of their faith and impedes its growth. Therefore we wish to exhort them to be more exercised concerning the truth of belonging to each other, and the union and communion with Jesus Himself. They will then better perceive the unsearchable grace and goodness of God that such wretched and sinful men may be so intimately united with the Son of God. Such reflection will most wondrously set the heart aflame with love. It will strengthen their resolve to put their trust in Jesus without fear. It will give them strength and liberty to obtain everything from Him to fulfill the desires of their soul, causing them to grow in Him, which in turn will generate more light and joy. Therefore, faith, hope, and love are mentioned in reference to the Person of Christ. Scripture speaks of receiving Him, believing in Him, trusting in Him, living in Him, loving Him, and hoping in Him” (2:91).

This beautiful passage points the believer back to the Person of Christ to find her joy and strength in the beauty of Jesus Christ. This light and joy is the byproduct of communion with Him and this communion goes back to the believer’s union with Christ in justification.

Later, à Brakel explains that since our union with Christ is absolute, our communion with Christ does not shift with circumstances or emotions. “By faith, hold fast to the fact that you are reconciled to and are a partaker of Him and His benefits, even if you do not perceive and feel this. This belonging to Him is not based on feeling. If the souls may truly believe this and be exercised therewith, this will lead the soul toward communion with Him” (2:96). Communion can never be separated from our union and our union is described by our justification by faith alone and in our election in the Son. So à Brakel and the “Dutch Puritans” remind us that our sweet communion with Christ is inseparably bound to our understanding of our union with Christ in the gospel!

In his conclusion on the teachings of Wilhelmus à Brakel, de Reuver writes that his “spirituality is one that is rooted in Christ through the word believed, even in its most intimate and mystical moments. This foundation protects his mysticism from spiritualism” (258).

Many today are drawn towards Roman Catholic mysticism or a non-theological spirituality by thinking a deep spiritual experience of Christ can be separated from a genuine understanding of the gospel. This, as à Brakel displays, is not the case. Neither does Reformed theology favor a cold orthodoxy. Following the best intentions of the Medieval theologians, the Reformed “Dutch Puritans” always believed that rich biblical doctrine is the vein for the warm blood of spiritual experience of the Son in communion.

So here is the importance of Sweet Communion by de Reuver: The rich spirituality we have received from the “Dutch Puritans” is a spiritual legacy following the spiritual traditions of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) but is firmly rooted in the precious theology of the Reformation. The final conclusion of de Reuver is that the all-controlling center of the Dutch Further Reformation spirituality rested in the Reformed theology. This is a beautiful and timely book to further dismantle the idea that Reformed theology is cold and stiff intellectualism. Our rich theology actually leads us deeper into true “mysticism” of direct communion with Christ.

Title: Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation.
Series: Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought
Author: Arie de Reuver (Dutch)
Translator: James A. De Jong (English)
Reading level: 4.5/5.0 > academic and some untranslated Dutch quotations
Boards: paper
Pages: 303
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Baker Academic
Year: 2007
Price USD: $29.99/23.99 from Baker
ISBNs: 0801031222, 9780801031229

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Related: Communion with God by Kelly Kapic. Another gem from Baker this year on communion with God. Kapic studies English Puritan John Owen’s understanding that communion with God takes place within a balanced Triunity of the Father, Son and Spirit. Highly recommended.

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The importance of God’s wrath

The importance of God’s wrath

Yesterday I posted some comments about my gratefulness to Christ for escaping the horrifying consequences of my own sinfulness, namely escaping God’s wrath (see Saved from the wrath of God). Today I want to return to the topic and post from arom59big.jpg slightly different angle.

From my perspective – and knowing my own heart — we sinners are apt to forget the gospel. When we become ignorant of the gospel, we make unwise life decisions, bear children ignorant of the gospel, and live in marriages where the Cross is not central (Eph. 5:22-33). It’s to our benefit, humility, and joy to be reminded of Scripture’s emphasis upon the wrath of God poured out towards sinners. This is what Christians have been saved from. The wrath of God is absorbed in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ as our judicious and forensic Savior, and we are never beyond need of reminding.

So why is the doctrine of God’s wrath so important? For starters, the gospel – that the wrath of God resting upon the heads of all sinners, is, in Christ, absorbed when He drank the cup of our condemnation and substitutes Himself for the redeemed – is always in a process of erosion. This is especially true today.

One of the most noted dangers of the New Perspective(s) of Paul is the de-emphasis on Christ as the substitute who absorbs the wrath of God. After citing direct quotations from prominent NPP writer N.T. Wright, T. David Gordon writes, “The enemies and powers defeated by Christ do not (for Wright) include God’s own wrath or judgment … when he explains Paul’s narrative theology, and the cross and resurrection as the center of that narrative, he is entirely right, but when he explains precisely what Christ therein triumphed over, the wrath of God is not among the panoply” [in Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters, editors. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification (Crossway: 2006), p. 63].

The point is we are always in danger of forgetting God’s wrath. By sheer volume of Bible references, the wrath of God towards every sinner is the central consequence of our sinfulness. It is central to the work of Christ, central to the gospel, and central to living the Cross centered life.

So in hopes of stirring you up by way of reminder, here is a (short) list of some reasons why the theme of God’s wrath is important:

1. God’s wrath is biblical. The Scriptures are saturated with the wrath of God. Look for yourself. Talking about God’s wrath is nothing but letting the priorities of Scripture become our own priorities. We should be humbled and sobered by God’s wrath, but never silent. God has promised that sinners – all who are sexually impure, covetous, idolatrous, or otherwise impure and unrighteous – will face the wrath of God (Jam. 2:10; Eph. 5:3-6). Those who say otherwise are speaking empty and deceptive words.

2. God’s wrath reveals God. The wrath of God reveals His holiness, envy, perfections, an intense hatred of rebellion, His righteousness, His justice, His power. “I will make myself known among them, when I judge you” (Ezek. 35:11). Soberly, God reveals Himself in the damnation of the wicked. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). The beauty of the Cross and the redeemed shines with greater luster when compared to the coming condemnation coming upon the wicked. Until we understand God’s holiness and wrath, we will only have wrong conceptions of Him.

3. God’s wrath reveals who we are.
We are sinners. We exchange the glory of God for created things. We happily replace the joy of God for collecting Hallmark figurines, antiques and Beanie Babies (Rom. 1:18-23). We would rather treasure the fleeting things of the world and forfeit our souls (Mark 8:36). We are His subjects, but we do everything in our power to reject Him. We will abandon the natural biological creation to invent our own unnatural means of rebellion (Rom. 1:27). Every act of rebellion stokes the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). If we have become honest with ourselves, we know that we are wrath-deserving, glory-exchanging, sin-pursuing sinners that (apart from Christ) can only expect the eternal wrath of God’s holiness. This is who we are. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, writes: “The way to appreciate your own sinfulness is not to look at your actions, nor your life, but to come into the presence of God” (Great Doctrines, 1:72). Step close enough to feel the heat of God’s holiness.

4. Importance of God’s wrath in the daily life of the Christian. To the question, “How are you today?”, C.J. Mahaney has popularized the response: “Better than I deserve.” Try it sometime. The barista behind the counter at Starbucks will give you a very puzzled look. But this will also be a great opportunity to share that an understanding of God’s wrath has made a permanent impact in your heart. So what do you deserve? Do you deserve perfect health? A venti Americano? Comfortable finances? An early retirement? Comforts? Vacations? The Christian knows better. Sinners (of which Christians will be until we see Christ face-to-face and have our sin burned away) deserve the wrath of God. It’s only because of God’s graciousness in the death of His Son that some sinners will be spared. Most sinners will get exactly what they deserve — the undiluted, eternal torment of God’s burning wrath. So why do we get angry when our comforts are disrupted by our spouse or children? Take a look into your own heart and ask: What upsets me? These disruptions are typically rooted in a misunderstanding that we are entitled to something other than wrath.

5. God’s wrath kills self-righteousness. If ever there was a truth that would break a self-righteous sinner like me, it’s the truth that God’s wrath rests upon me eternally if I am uncovered by the righteousness of Christ. My church attendance and good works and kindness and charity are a flick of water into a raging furnace. What can I do to cool the wrath of God? In light of His blazing holiness, what efforts, what works, will extinguish His wrath towards each of my sins? The popular wax gospel of human invention — that God will be pleased with me because I am not as bad as others – melts near the furnace of God’s wrath. Even a great and righteous prophet must pronounce condemnation upon himself in the presence of a holy God (Isa. 6:1-7).

6. God’s wrath exalts the work of Christ. How easily we forget that the searing pain and scorching suffering of Christ can never be pictured by His lacerated back and the holes in His hands, feet and side. These physical pains are only a surface-level visual to the horrors of the Son drinking down the cup of God’s wrath (Mark 14:32-36 with Jer. 25:15-38). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Or to put it another way, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). The Gospel is centered around God’s wrath. For in His anger towards sinners He transferred the wrath from His children onto His only Son and then crushed that only Son. Until we catch a glimpse of the horrors of God’s wrath, we will never begin to see the horror and the beauty of the Cross.

7. God’s wrath motivates evangelism. How can we be quiet? “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). The thought that sinners would rest content in self-righteousness was appalling to the Apostle Paul. All self-righteous sinners, and especially the religious, need to hear the gospel to be saved from the wrath of God. This gospel travels on the wings of preachers sent out with the self-righteous killing Gospel (Rom. 10:1-21). What loosens the mouth to speak the Gospel is a heart that has seen a glimpse of the eternal wrath awaiting sinners (Acts 17:30-31).

8. God’s wrath drives me deep into doctrine. I can only escape God’s wrath if I am justified. So what is justification? Justification is the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to me, whereby God declares me “righteous” and takes my sin and wrath and transfers these upon the account of Christ, whereby He is declared “guilty” and endures the wrath I deserve. By faith, I entrust my salvation alone to Jesus Christ, my sin is atoned, I am declared righteous, I have the hope of eternal life and enjoy peace with God (Rom. 3:9-5:21; Gal. 3:1-14; Phil. 3:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). If I am not justified, I am not safe from the wrath of God. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9). The wrath of God gives significance to doctrines like justification.

9. God’s wrath reveals the beauty of our adoption. We are all by nature sinners and this makes us naturally “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). But now the enemies of God can be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10). We are more than justified and declared righteous, we are taken into the family of God! Through Christ, our relationship to God radically changes! By faith alone, we come back to our Father in all our filthy sinfulness and He runs to us, grabs us, kisses us, celebrates over us, and calls us His children (Luke 15:11-32). If you are justified, God has taken His judgments away from you and now sings over you with loud singing (Zeph. 3:14-17)! The wrath of God was paid in Christ and through this beautiful Gospel I am now accepted. It’s not because I am good enough or ever will be obedient enough, rather because of His graciousness alone. Every day I can wake up knowing I am a child of God and that will never depend upon my own appeasement of God. Jesus, Thank you!

Jesus, Thank You (song by Pat Sczebel, Sovereign Grace Ministries)

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

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Related: Propitiation is the theological term for the appeasement of God’s wrath in Christ’s substitutionary work for sinners. Theologian John Murray writes, “Sin is the contradiction of God and he must react against it with holy wrath. Wherever sin is, the wrath of God rests upon it (cf. Rom. 1:18). Otherwise God would be denying Himself, particularly His holiness, justice, and truth. But wrath must be removed if we are to enjoy the favor of God which salvation implies. And the only provision for the removal of wrath is propitiation. This is surely the import of Romans 3:25, 26, that God set forth Christ a propitiation to declare His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the ungodly.”

The Heidelberg Catechism

Book Review
The Heidelberg Catechism

In the March issue of reformation21 magazine, Carl Trueman wrote an interesting article on the place of creeds in the church today. In his article, A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished, he writes,

“On the issue of creeds, the evangelical world often seems absolutely divided into two broad camps: There are those who are so passionately committed to a particularly narrow view of scripture’s sufficiency that they not only deny the need for creeds and confessions but regard them as actually wrong, an illegitimate attempt to supplement scripture or to narrow the Christian faith in doctrinal or cultural ways beyond the limits set by scripture itself. Then there are those whose view of creeds and confessions is so high that any other theological statement, and sometimes even the Bible itself, seems to be of secondary importance. Neither group, I believe, really does the creeds justice.”

I certainly fall into the category of non-denominationally, creedally-deficient. To rectify this, I’ve taken up the Heidelberg Catechism of late. It has been a wonderful boost to my study time, sometimes reading like a concise doctrinal statement, sometimes reading like a passage from The Valley of Vision, but always edifying.

What makes the Heidelberg Catechism unique is its subjective, experiential emphasis. Here is one example:

27. Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power,[1] whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures,[2] and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty,[3] indeed, all things, come not by chance[4] but by His fatherly hand.[5] … [1] Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 17:24-28. [2] Heb. 1:3. [3] Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:15-17; John 9:3; Prov. 22:2. [4] Prov. 16:33. [5] Matt. 10:29.

As you can see the Heidelberg Catechism is unique in its ability to double as a devotional. Comparing the Belgic, Helvetic and Westminster Confessions, Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson write, “The [Heidelberg] catechism presents doctrines with clarity and warmth. Its content is more subjective than objective, more spiritual than dogmatic. Not surprisingly, this personal, devotional catechism, as exemplified by its use of the singular pronouns, has been called ‘the book of comfort’ for Christians” (Reformed Confessions Harmonized, p. x).

You can read the catechism for free here. An updated version of the catechism is available from Faith Alive Christian Resources. This version (used by the Christian Reformed Church) comes with the complete text of the biblical references printed from the NIV. Obviously some conclusions will be contentious (like infant baptism). But overall I highly recommend it if (like me) you find yourself creedally-deprived.

Title: The Heidelberg Catechism with Scripture Texts
Reading level: 1.75/5.0 > easy
Boards: paperback
Pages: 181
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Faith Alive Christian Resources
Year: 1989
Price USD: $11.25
ISBNs: 093026567x

Book announcement > Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness by Brian Vickers

Book announcement
Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation
by Brian Vickers

Few topics are more central to a right relationship with a holy God than the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ for undeserving sinners. But few issues are more hotly contested in recent years. As Ligon Duncan writes, “The historic reformational doctrine of imputation is under serious duress in our day. Interestingly, it is often evangelical, Protestant, biblical studies scholars who have the doctrine in their sights.”

The solution is a historical, theological and exegetical look at imputation and a fairly new book from Crossway, Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation by Brian Vickers does this. Vickers tackles the confusing teachings of N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn and affirms,

“A synthesis of Paul’s teaching leads to the conclusion that Christ’s righteousness is, after all, imputed to believers. A variety of themes merge in such a way as to establish that the righteousness that counts before God and is by faith can be nothing other than Christ’s righteousness. From various texts is it evident that when discussing justification Paul speaks of, among other things, God’s actions through Christ on behalf of sinners, who though undeserving are forgiven and declared righteous as a free gift from God on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death. Christ as the second Adam, the covenant head of his people, and the first fruits of the harvest, obeys the will and command of God, and his obedience results in a right standing before God for those identified in union with him. This righteousness is appropriated by faith, which, as the instrumental means of justification, effects their union with Christ” (p. 232).


Title: Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation
Author: Brian Vickers
Reading level: 4.0/5.0 > advanced > some Gk./Heb.
Boards: paperback
Pages: 254
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no (person index)
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2006
Price USD: $14.99 / $11.99 at CBD
ISBNs: 1581347545, 9781581347548

Book review: Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical by Robert Duncan Culver

Book review:

Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical by Robert Duncan Culver

One bookshelf groans and creaks under the weight of my treasured systematic theologies. And so I thought the shelf would completely crack apart when I added the newest (and biggest) addition to my family of contemporary systematic theologies.

Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical
by Dr. Robert Duncan Culver was published in 2005 by Mentor (Christian Focus) as one massive book easily surpassing the size and weight of Erickson’s Christian Theology. But it’s impressive for more than its weight.

Culver’s volume adds two dimensions that I have come to love. I’m grateful for Robert Reymond’s ability to clearly set forth a clear Reformed theology systematically based upon an explicitly biblical foundation. Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith is one of the first volumes I reach for when I need specific biblical discussion. But I’ve also grown to love the historical theology of Alister McGrath. McGrath’s Historical Theology is a fabulous look at the historical development of the various components of theology over the centuries. Culver brings both the explicitly biblical framework of Reymond and the historical-mindedness of McGrath together in one massive volume!

But because of its readability and because I most agree with his understanding of the charismatic elements of Christianity, I still prefer Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. It’s very good although it’s one of the oldest of my contemporary systematics (and in need of an overall revision and update). But for my money, Culver sits behind Grudem in the No. 2 position.

A note to expositors is necessary. I am a preacher not a systematician, so systematic theologies are more fun to collect than commentaries (which I must collect). But there is one excellent expositional advantage to a small library of systematic works. When preaching through, say Acts 6, you can see where the doctrine of the passage fits within the larger context. If I browse the Scriptural index in the back of Culver I come to see that Acts 6 is an important chapter because verses 1-5 define some rare but clear proofs that the early church held some form of ‘church membership.’ I may have breezed right past this in my commentaries and expositional studies.

Expositors are good at narrowing their laser-beam attention on 4-8 verses of God’s Word and the systematicians are good at shining a wide-angle beam of light on all Scriptural doctrine. It’s very helpful for preachers like myself to understand where my sermon text fits into the larger systematic structure.

Building a small family of systematic theologies is important (and a fun hobby). So get Grudem and Culver. If you have a strong enough bookshelf (and budget) consider McGrath, Reymond and then Erickson.

Photos (c) 2007, Tony S. Reinke

ISBN: 1845500490