Charles’s quotes


"It is surely ours to combine these elements of mourning for sin and joy in our salvation in one complex and composite experience which keeps us perpetually humble and yet perpetually joyful too."— Rev William Still

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Does God have a special purpose for you? Is He preparing you for something special?

"The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people" (1 Samuel 2:26). "The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground" (1 Samuel 3:19).
Samuel was only a boy - but the hand of the Lord was upon him. God was preparing Samuel for something special. He would grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. Then, when the time was right, he would bring the Word of the Lord to the people. As you read these words, think about your life. Does God have a special purpose for you? Is He preparing you for something special? Read the Word of the Lord. Learn from His Word. The time for sharing His Word will come. It will be a time of great blessing. You will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Your love for Jesus will grow - and there will be opportunities to share the message of salvation. You will speak the Good News of God's love - and people will be brought to the Saviour.

Jesus is greater than all the Old Testament prophets.

"The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him ... I will put My words in His mouth. He will tell them everything I command Him" (Deuteronomy 18:15,18).
Here, the Lord is directing our attention beyond Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel ... He's pointhing us to One who is greater than all the Old Testament prophets - Jesus. All these prophets were God's servants. Jesus is God's Son. He's more than a prophet. He's our Saviour. 
 

God is faithful.

“God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

God is faithful. He speaks His Word. He does not break His Word. He keeps His Word. He does not lead us astray. He leads us in His way of truth.

Redeemed, grateful and obedient

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high" (Leviticus 26:13).
God had done something very wonderful for His people, Israel. He redeemed them. He delivered them. Now, he expects them to live in obedience to Him. Their obedience is to be grounded in their gratitude - and their gratitude is to be grounded in His redemption. 
This is what He said to them: "“‘But if you will not listen to Me and carry out all these commands, 15 and if you reject My decrees and abhor My laws and fail to carry out all My commands and so violate My covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will set My face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you." (Leviticus 26:14-17).
God is still the God of redemption, the God who delivers his people - and we are still to be His grateful and obedient people. 

Moses didn't realize that his face was shining - but the people saw that his face was shining!

"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord ... when he (Moses) came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant" (Exodus 34:29, 34-35).
Moses didn't realize that his face was shining - but the people saw that his face was shining! There's an important lesson for spiritual leaders here. Moses was too aware of his own shortcomings to realize how much blessing was coming out from him to the people. We should never think, "How much I've been blessed" without also thinking, "How much I've sinned." It's by the grace of God, that the blessing comes to us. It's by the grace of God that the blessing comes out from us and reaches out to others. We must never forget what Paul said about himself and his calling: "Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). We must also remember the words that John the Baptist spoke about Jesus the Saviour: "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30). May Paul's testimony also be our testimony: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The glory of God's holiness ... and the glory of His love

"Show me Your glory" (Exodus 33:18).
When we read "the Ten Commandments, we think of a revelation of God's holiness. This is not a comforting revelation: "When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”" (Exodus 20:18-19). we wonder, "Is this all that God has to say? Does His glory do no more than this - put the fear of death into us?" When Moses replies to their question, does he give us any hope? - "Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”" (Exodus 20:20). Here, he says, "Do not be afraid" - and he also speaks about "the fear of God." There are two things here - (i) a terrifying and crippling fear that fills us with despair - "There is no hope for us"; (ii) the fear of God which makes us think about turning from sin and turning to Him. Straight after this, we are told something else about Moses and the people: "The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was" (Exodus 20:21).Was there something extra special about Moses? No! He was a sinner, the same as everyone else - but God had a special purpose for Moses. He said to Moses: "Make an altar of earth for Me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause My Name to be honoured, I will come to you and bless you" (Exodus 20:24). Here, we have God's promise of blessing. It is connected to the offering of sacrifices. When we read this in the light of the full revelation of God's plan of salvation, our thoughts to Jesus Christ, God's beloved Son - "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). When we look beyond Moses and the animal sacrifices, turning our eyes on Jesus and His perfect sacrifice for sin, we see more clearly that there is more than the glory of holiness. There's the glory of His love. This is the glory that lifts us out of or sin, guilt and fear and into the peace and joy of God's salvation.

From the Heart Of The Law ... A Word Of Love ...

In Exodus 20, we read "the Ten Commandments", and, straightaway, we may be on our guard against legalism. In Exodus 20:5, we read words that make us feel that we, sinners, can't possibly come into the presence of the God of perfect holiness: "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me." As we read such words, we may wonder, "Is this all that God has to say to us?" As we read on to Exodus 20:6, we read something else, something that we could easily miss: "showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments." How wonderful it is that in the heart of the Law, there is this word of love! Is it still demanding of us something that is beyond us - loving God and keeping His commandments? Yes! That's what the Law says to us - but, still, there is this glimpse of God's love, which leads our thoughts beyond the broken Law and the jealous God. To see all that God is saying to us about His eternal love, we need to travel from Mount Sinai, the place where the Law was given, to Mount Calvary, the place where Jesus, God's beloved Son, "loved us and gave Himself for us" (Galatians 2:20). There, it becomes clearer to us - God loves us, and He will never stop loving us. As His love reaches and changes us, He will lift us out of our sin and guilt. He will give us the strength that we need - to love Him and walk with Him in the pathway of true holiness of life.  

Sunday, 24 December 2017

God is with us - even when things seem to be going from bad to worse!

"The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it" (Exodus 7:5).
For the people of Israel, the land of Egypt was their land of oppression. Soon, they would be delivered from their oppressors. God had something better planned for them. He would lead them to a better land - the land that He was giving to them. What a word of encouragement, there is for us here! God is with us - even when things seem to be going from bad to worse!

God has been there for us in the past - and He will be there for us in the future.

"You (Joseph's brothers) intended to harm me (Joseph), but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives ... And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.’" (Genesis 50:20,25).
God was there in the past, and He would be there in the future. The story of Joseph and his brothers was more than their story. It was the story of God. Soon, Joseph would be gone, but God would still be there. 

A sad story - with a happy ending

"And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves (Joseph's brothers) for selling me (Joseph) here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you" (Genesis 45:5).
Isn't it wonderful how the Lord can turn things around - to serve His purpose, to bring glory to His Name? Who would have thought that the story of Joseph and his brothers would have turned out like this? It looked like a sad story, but it had a happy ending. This was because God was in the story. Every step of the way, God was there.  

Strengthened by the Lord

"Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ 16 ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’" (Genesis 41:15-16).
What we can't do, God does. Let's never think only in terms of our own human capabilities. God is more than we are. When we feel that we are out of our depth, may we learn to say, with Paul, "I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

Wisdom from God, Glory to God

"“We both had dreams,” they (the butler and the baker) answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”" (Genesis 40:8). 
The interpretation of their dreams didn't come from Joseph. It was given to Joseph by God. There's an important lesson for us here. We must not claim to be wise in ourselves. We must pray that God will give to us His wisdom: "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you" (James 1:5). The wisdom comes from God. The glory goes to Him.

"The Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph" (Genesis 39:5).


Let us pray for God's blessing - not only for ourselves but for others. Let us pray, "Lord, bless me and make me a blessing to the people that I meet." May we bring to others "the pleasing aroma of Christ ... the aroma that bringd life" (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).  

Dreamer?

"Here comes that dreamer! ... We’ll see what comes of his dreams." (Genesis 37:19-20).
Joseph had dreams. His brothers didn't take him seriously. What are we to say about the dreamer and his dreams? We must not make up our minds too soon. Time will tell whether the dreams are from the Lord, As we read the story of Joseph, we learn that this is more than the story of Joseph. It's God's story: "You (Joseph's brothers) intended to harm me (Joseph), but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20),

Things are not always as they seem ...

"Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”" (Genesis 27:22).
This is a picture of deception. It's a reminder that we need to pray for discernment. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus warns us: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Paul warns us against pepole who "have a form of godliness, but deny its power" (2 Timothy 3:5). While we must never forget Jesus' words, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1), we must take seriously the call to distinguish between good and evil. This is a mark of spiritual maturity: "Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:14).

When hard times come our way ...

 "Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” So Isaac stayed in Gerar." (Genesis 26:1-6).
In a time of famine, Isaac is reminded of "the previous famine in Abraham's time" (verse 1) - "Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe." (Genesis 12:10). This time, God says to Egypt, "Do not go down to Egypt ... " (verse 2). When life is difficult, it is easy to get distracted, to lose sight of what God is doing in our life. Again and again, we need to learn the lesson taught by Jesus when He was tempted in the wilderness - ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4). 

When life is hard ...

"Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe." (Genesis 12:10).
Later on, in the time of Joseph, we read about Egypt being a place of refuge in a time of famine. This story is told in Genesis 41-50. Its significance, in terms of God's purpose of salvation is summed up in Genesis 50:20. Here, in an earlier generation, we read about Abram going down to Egypt to escape the ravages  of famine.  A famine is a testing time. It can be the making or breaking of us. In life's hard times, we can learn to trust the Lord, looking to Him for His help, or we can blame Him and turn away from Him. When we encounter problems in our life, let us pray that these will not lead us into  another kind of famine - "a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). Rather, let us pray that, when life is difficult, we will learn to feed on the Word of the Lord and find that our strength is renewed - "Those who wait on the Lor will renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31).  

Saturday, 23 December 2017

God is calling us to make a new beginning with Him.

After Adam and Eve had sinned, things went from bad to worse. These were very dark days (Genesis 6:5-7). Then, we read these wonderful words, "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8). There was to be a flood - but there would also be an ark. The flood speaks of God's judgment (Genesis 6:17). The ark speaks of God's salvation (Genesis 6:18-20). In our generation, we see so much sin. It's all around us. It's within us. Is this all that we see? No! We also see the God of our salvation. The God of grace is reaching out to us. He's calling us back from the brink. He's calling us to make a new beginning with Him.

A Great Promise

In Genesis 3:15, we have a great promise from God. He won't let Satan have the victory over us. He will sent His Son, Jesus ("the seed of the woman". Through His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus will triumph over Satan - for us. Satan will bruise Jesus' heel. We see this in Jesus' suffering on the Cross. Jesus will bruise Satan's head. We see this in Jesus' mighty resurrection from the dead. When Jesus was crucified, it seemed that Satan had the upper hand. That's the way it seemed, but it's not the way really was. That was only the bruising of Jesus' heel. Soon, it would be made clear that it was Jesus who had the upper hand. His triumph was revealed in his glorious resurrection - the bruising of Satan's head. When we read these words, we may say, "Satan is still alive and kicking." Yes. That's true, but his head has been bruised - and this is the beginning of the end for him. Satan's end will come when he is "cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:10). Then, there will be the ultimate triumph of the Lord - "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4). We have seen the beginning of the fulfilment of God's great promise. We shall see the complete fulfilment of His promise. This is the work of His amazing grace, and we give all the glory to Him.

The serpent, Adam and Eve ... and us!

In Genesis 3:1-7, we read abot the evil influence of "the serpent" (Satan - Revelation 12:9). Here, we must note the difference between temptation and sin. Satan tempted Adam and Eve. They sinned. They couldn't blame Satan for their sin. Temptation only became sin when they gave into temptation. It's the same with us. We are tempted, and we sin. The sin is our sin. We cannot blame someone else - even Satan. We dare not make excuses for ourselves. We must confess our sin. This is the way of receiving God's forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

God can remember - but He chooses to forget!

Jeremiah 31:31-34
God forgives and forgets (Jeremiah 31:34). It’s not “God cannot remember.” It’s “God chooses not to remember.” The rebuilding of our life - we are to be “holy to the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:38-40).

More Of You, Lord, Less Of Me

Jeremiah 31:21-30
“Set your hearts toward the highway; keep the highway in mind” (Jeremiah 31:21) - “the highway of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8):
A call to the “backsliding daughter” (Jeremiah 31:22). “The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied” (Proverbs 14:14).
Here’s a breath prayer (breathe in for the first part, breathe out for the second part). It’s based on John 3:30 - “More of You, Lord, less of me.”
“The Lord bless you... mountain of holiness” (Jeremiah 31:23), “the days are coming” (Jeremiah 31:27,31,38): God is looking towards what we will become.
Taking apart the self-centred life; putting together the God-centred life (Jeremiah 31:28).

Jeremiah - God's Man For Difficult Times

Jeremiah 1:4-10
How old was Jeremiah when he was called to be a prophet of God? We don't know. We do know that this was the great turning-point of his life. This was the day that he discovered the meaning, purpose and direction of his life. This was revealed to him by God. This call gave him strength to face many difficult times.

Everlasting Love

"I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3).
God loves us. This isn’t for some perfect people who’ve never fallen into sin. There’s nobody who’s like that. All of us have made a mess of things – but God still says to us, “I love you.” He says, “My Son, Jesus, died for you.” This is what gives us the strength to choose His way rather than our own way. This is what keeps us from sin. This is what convinces us that there’s a better way than the way of sin. There’s a way of blessing. It comes to us when we’re learning how much God loves us. He doesn’t give up on us when we let Him down. He keeps on loving us. He keeps on lifting us up. He sets us on our feet. He changes the direction of our life. It becomes less about ourselves, and more about Him (Galatians 2:20).

So often, we have been like ‘the prodigal son’(Luke 15:11-24). We have walked away from our Father’s House. We have wandered off into ‘the far country’. We feel that we are far from God, yet still He draws near to us.
The Lord is at work in our hearts. He is bringing us ‘to our senses’. He is reminding us of His love. He is drawing us back to Himself. In love, He is calling us home again. He is speaking to our hearts. He is saying to us, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3).
As His love reaches our hearts, ‘the prodigal son’ becomes ‘the returning son’: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’. ‘Bring me back, let me come back, for you are the Lord my God!’(Jeremiah 31:18).
Where do God’s peace and joy come from? They come from His love. It’s the greatest love of all (Ephesians 3:18). There’s nothing like the love of God. His peace is great. His joy is great. His love is even greater. This is where His blessing comes from. He loves us. He loves us with “an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). It’s a love that will not let us go. It’s a love that goes on forever. When we say, “May God’s blessing surround you each day”, what we’re saying is this: May you know that God loves you; may you know that He’s never going to stop loving you; may you know the blessing of His love.

Human sin and divine grace

Genesis 17:1-27
The contrast between Sarai (Genesis 16) and Sarah (Genesis 17) is striking. It is the contrast between human sin and divine grace: "Don't call your wife by the name Sarai anymore. Instead, her name is Sarah (princess). I will bless her ... " (Genesis 17:15-16). What she was is a thing of the past. What she will become is the work of God's grace. The Lord intends to bless her and make her a blessing - "she will become a mother of nations and kings will come from her" (Genesis 17:16). Human experience can always be viewed from two very different perspectives - the perspective of sin and the perspective of grace. We must learn to look at our lives and say, "Sin shall not have dominion. Grace is victorious" (Romans 6:14).

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

God's Kingdom Endures Forever.

Daniel 2:44-47
God’s Kingdom “will never be destroyed.” It “endures forever.”
“The dream is true, and the interpretation is certain.”
Through the resurrection of Jesus, this is more than a dream. He has triumphed over death.
How are we to respond to Jesus? - “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28); “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16); “revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2:47).
Worship the Lord. Submit to Him. Learn from Him. Live for Him.

Fire!

Daniel 3:1-30
Fire - danger, heat
There is, in God’s Word, a word of warning and a word of promise.
This is the way we are not to go. This is the way we are to go.
* “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
* “The bush was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2).
* “Our God is an awesome God” (Rich Mullins) - we must never forget this.
Fire is to be respected. Our God is a holy fire. He burns away our dross.
* “Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy, set apart for You, Lord; I choose to be holy, set apart for You, my Master, ready to do Your will” (Brian Doerksen).
* “O God of burning, cleansing flame, send the fire! Your blood-bought gift today we claim: send the fire today!... We need another Pentecost! Send the fire today!” (William Booth).
This is the inspiring and empowering fire: the Holy Spirit. “Give me oil in my lamp. Keep me burning” - burning for God.
* Isaiah 43:2 - “You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.”
There were four men in the furnace of blazing fire - Jesus was there: “the fourth was like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25),
We go through many testing times, but we are not alone. Jesus is with us. He’s there with His grace: “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He calls us to put our faith in Him.
* In the fiery furnace, the men were burning for God. They weren’t being consumed by the fire. They were shining for God. Their light was calling out to others.
Come to the light. Come to the Lord.
When we look at these men, we must look beyond them to the Son of God. Jesus passed through the “fire” for us. He was forsaken by God so that we might be welcomed by God.

Daniel's Deliverance And Christ's Resurrection

Daniel 6:1-28
The deliverance of Daniel from the mouths of the lions - What a great miracle this is! It points forward to an even greater miracle - the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is the resurrection a greater miracle? - It seemed almost inevitable that Daniel would be killed, but he didn’t actually die. Jesus did die. The shadow of death hung over Daniel, but death did not take him. Jesus was raised from death. He was “crucified, dead and buried” - and, after all that, He was raised to life.
The message of Daniel’s deliverance from the mouths of the lions - “For He is the living God, and He endures forever; His Kingdom will never be destroyed, and His dominion has no end” (Daniel 6:26). This is the message of Jesus’ resurrection.
Daniel’s deliverance gives us a glimpse of God’s glory. Jesus’ resurrection is a marvellous and mighty revelation of the eternal God and eternal life (see 1 John 5:20 - “Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”) Daniel was a great man. Jesus is our great Saviour.
Like Daniel, we will face “lions” - Satan goes about “like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). Like Daniel, we must “resist” the devil, firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9). Christ delivers us - and He will raise us.

What a future God has planned for His people.

Daniel 7:13-14
What a future God has planned for His people. What a great future He is planning for His people. Coronation - What a day of celebration.This is better than any human coronation. It’s better than any human celebration.
When Christ comes, this will go beyond our ability to describe or even imagine: the great Kingdom - full of the glory of God; the great Saviour - full of the grace of God. Christ takes us from grace to glory.
In Matthew 26:75, we see what Peter was. In Acts 2, we see what He became. This is grace, calling us on to glory.

Each of us must make choices ...

Isaiah 1:16-20
Each of us must make choices - not just, What suit, shirt and tie will I put on?
Will I worship the Lord? Or Will I stay at home?
What attitude will I bring with me to church? - "This is just a religious habit” or “This a meeting with God. It will change my way of thinking and living.”
In Isaiah 1:18-20, we read about two very different responses to God - returning to Him or rebelling against Him. When we return to the Lord, this will change the way we relate to other people (Isaiah 1:16-17).
We’re not to be like Judas Iscariot - making money for himself, but paying the ultimate price: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26).

Let us return to the Lord ...

Hosea 6:1-3
* “Let us return to the Lord” (Hosea 6:1). There are many blessings, waiting for us. We must come to the Lord and receive these blessings from Him.
* “He will revive us” (Hosea 6:2). This is new life in Christ. It’s new life in the Spirit. We were dead. Now, we are alive, Glory to God!
* “He will raise us up” (Hosea 6:2) - resurrection, not just a pick-me-up. God must do it. He alone can do it - and He does!
* “He will come to us like the rain” (Hosea 6:3) - “the spring showers that water the land”: This will put a spring in our step. It will send us out, with joy and strength, to serve the Lord and bring others to Him (Psalm 126:5-6).

There is hope.

Hosea 14:1-9
There is hope. There is a future. Hosea 14:9 - Conclusion: This is for us. The only way to live is the Lord’s way.
Repentance (Hosea 14:2) - It’s returning to the Lord (Hosea 14:1). It’s more than “words” (Hosea 14:2). It’s a way of life. As we walk with the Lord, we learn about repentance.
God speaks to us about forgiveness (Hosea 14:2). In love, He’s speaking to us. He speaks to us from the cross of Christ. The Spirit makes God’s love real to us. He brings Jesus to us. God’s love inspires our thinking and our living.
Our whole life is to be an expression of our love for the Lord, a heartfelt response to His love for us - a way of saying, “Thank You, Lord”, a way of offering to the Lord the praise and worship that arises from our hearts.
As we worship God, we must remember that He is not only love. He is also holiness.
This is to be seen in our “return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:1), our conversion. It’s not to be a partial conversion - paying lip-service to the Lord. It’s to be a full conversion - our hearts and our lives: the stirring of our hearts and the changing of our lives.

Give thanks to the Lord.

Joel 2:21-32
Give thanks to the Lord (Joel 2:21).
Joel 2:22-24 - Harvest is a special time for giving thanks to the Lord.
* We look back from the harvest, and we see the character of God (Joel 2:13).
* We look forward from the harvest - to greater blessing: spiritual as well as material (Joel 2:28-29).
Note the way of salvation - “Call on the Name of the Lord, and be saved” (Joel 2:32).

Salvation is from the Lord.

Jonah 2:1-10 
"Salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). Salvation comes first, then there is service. Before his prayer "from inside the fish" (Jonah 2:1), Jonah was running away from God. He wasn't serving God. Before we can do something for God - serving Him, He must do something for us: He must save us. Jonah's prayer comes from "out of the depths" (Psalm 130:1). In the depths, he finds that "there is forgiveness with God" (Psalm 130:4). With God's forgiveness comes hope for the future (Psalm 130:5,7). This hope comes from God's "faithful love" and His "abundant redemption" (Psalm 130:7).
Jonah's experience was a physical deliverance. He should have been dead. He remained alive. There was more than that. The man who came out of the fish was different from the man who was swallowed by the fish. He had been disobedient. Now, he was obedient - and blessed.

What does the Lord require of us?

Micah 6:8
In Micah 6:8, the question is asked, “What does the Lord require of us?”
Micah 6:8 gives us an Old Testament answer to the question, “What is holiness?”
As well as Micah’s answer, there is a New Testament answer to this question.
* “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22).
God calls us to come to the Cross. That’s where the life of faith and obedience begins.
* “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
God calls us to put our faith in Christ. It’s personal faith. Each one of us must come to Jesus - “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” Faith is God’s gift. Each one of us must receive His gift.
* “Without holiness, no-one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
God is calling us to become more like Jesus. Our life is to be less of self and more of Christ - and we’re to give all the glory to God.

Jesus is the King - not just a king.

Zechariah 9:9-10
This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
Jesus is the King - not just a king.
* What kind of King is He? - “righteous and victorious”, “humble” (Zechariah 9:9)., “to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10).
* How are we to respond to Him? - “Rejoice greatly... Shout in triumph” (Zechariah 9:9).

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Listening To The Word Of The Lord - And Being Changed By The Word Of The Lord

Jeremiah’s ministry was a call from God to the people – a call to “listen to the Word of the Lord” (Jeremiah 44:24). Listening to what the Lord has to say to us will mean being ready to revise our own ideas. Our thoughts, without the guiding Word from the Lord, will be very different from thoughts which have been shaped by the Word of the Lord.

Salvation and the assurance of salvation

Genesis 15:1-21
In Genesis 15:2,8, Abraham asks two questions: " ...what will you give me?" " ... how can I be certain ... ?" For us, these are the questions of salvation and the assurance of salvation - God has given us His salvation, and we have the assurance that this salvation has been given and received. Where are we to look for answers to these questions? We are to look to the "Almighty Lord" (Genesis 15:2,8). How are we to receive God's answers? - By faith: "Abraham believed the Lord" (Genesis 15:6). Through Christ: When we read Genesis 15:10, our concern is not with these animals. It is with the fact that they were sacrificed, and that this sacrifice points forward to "Christ, our Passover Lamb (who) has been sacrificed" for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). In Him, we have both salvation and the assurance of salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Genesis 18:1-33
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). God was intent on doing something great - "through him (Abraham) all the nations of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 18:18) - and nothing was going to stop Him. Even if a great many people - Sodom and Gomorrah - refused to honour God, His purpose would not be hindered. He would find a remnant for Himself. the remnant may have seemed impossibly small, but it was to be the beginning of blessing for all the nations. the smallness of the beginnings serves to emphasize the greatness of the blessings. This is not man's doing. It is the work of God, and all the glory belongs to Him, the god of salvation, the God of grace, the God of glory.

God remembered Abraham.

Genesis 19:1-38
In a rather forgettable chapter, we find these gracious words - "God ... remembered Abraham"; "Lot was allowed to escape from the destruction that came to the cities where he was living" (Genesis 19:29). What a great thing it is to be "remembered" by God. What a great thing it is to have God's salvation - "everything we need for life and for godliness" - by which we are able to "escape the corruption that sinful desires cause in the world" (2 Peter 1:3-4). While we have this provision of God for godliness, we need to be constantly on our guard. The sad episode, recorded in Genesis 19:30-38, makes it so clear that we must be careful. Even those, whom we hoped would be a help to us, can turn out to be a hindrance. Devotion to the Lord needs to be renewed day-by-day. If we fail to maintain our devotion to the Lord, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and we will be overcome by him. 

The laughter of unbelief ... and the laughter of faith

Genesis 21:1-34
There are two very different kinds of laughter in the story of Sarah. there is the laughing in Genesis 18:13-15. This is the laughter of unbelief, laughing at the Lord, with the proud attitude that God's Word cannot be taken seriously. There is the laughter of faith, the laughter which rejoices in the Lord - "God has brought me laughter and everyone who hears about me will laugh with me" (Genesis 21:6). This is the rejoicing of Sarah at the birth of Isaac. Hagar and Ishmael are not forgotten - God's sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). The final section - Genesis 21:22-34 - sees Abraham acting more nobly than he did in Genesis 21. It ends with Abraham worshipping the Lord, the everlasting God (Genesis 21:33).

First Things First

“Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

First things first! We worry about many things. We get anxious about this, that and the other thing. Jesus is saying to us, “Seek first God’s Kingdom.” Whenever our many anxieties threaten to overwhelm us, let us remember this: The Lord is King!

Bible Notes by G. Philip


PREACHERS' GATHERING


Bible Notes by G. Philip






Copyright © Preacher's Gathering. All rights reserved.

Friday, 1 December 2017

The inadequacy of human language ...

In his discussion of the 'pre' element in predestination, Berkouwer insists that "he who speaks of God's counsel in terms of human categories will have to be aware of the inadequacy of his words" (Divine Election, p. 152). In this respect, Berkouwer closely follows Bavinck who, in his discussion of predestination, insists that "one cannot speak of before or after with respect to God" (Divine Election, p. 152). Recognizing the inadequacy of human language, Berkouwer seeks to understand the language of predestination in connection in terms of the "depth-aspect" of salvation (Divine Election, pp.113, 150, 168). He emphasizes that "the depth-aspect of salvation ... is not a matter of hiddenness which goes beyond the knowledge of faith ... not something far distant, not a vague threatening reality, but the foundation of salvation ... " (Divine Election, pp. 113-114).

A critique of A. L. Baker’s book, “G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance?”

The book, “G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance?”, made its first appearance as a Th.D. dissertation (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), entitled “A Critical Evaluation of G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election.” It is my view that, apart from providing a catchy title, the revision of the original title adds nothing but ambiguity. Showing distinct displeasure with Berkouwer’s treatment of ‘reprobation’ and with his interpretation of the Canons of Dort (pp. 39, 41-42, 115-126), Baker clearly holds that Berkouwer’s doctrine of election does not give a balanced account of the Biblical teaching on election. Berkouwer, on the other hand, would argue that the strength of his doctrine of election is closely related to his rejection of the ‘balance’ of the equal ultimacy concept (cf. Divine Election, “Election and Rejection”, Chapter Six, pp. 172-217). In view of this ambiguity, the original title might have been preferred unless, of course, this element has been deliberately introduced to arouse interest. There is, however, hardly any indication that Baker is aware of this ambiguity.

The relationship between grace and faith

When we are worshipping the Lord, we praise Him, rejoicing in this: He has saved us by His grace. When we say that He has saved us by His grace, we do not deny that that we have been saved through faith. We say both these things: "by grace" and "through faith". "Through faith" reminds us that we must make our personal response to Christ. "By grace" is God's answer to the question, "Where does this response come from?" It comes from the Lord. "Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17). When faith arises in our hearts, in response to the Gospel of divine grace, we say, from the heart, "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). The relationship between grace and faith is neither (a) co-operative nor (b) coercive. (a) We do not contribute to our own salvation. It is always, "nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling." We do not come to the Lord with our religion in one hand and our morality in the other hand. We come to Him empty-handed and receive from Him His free gift of salvation. Receiving God's free gift of salvation through faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we speak, from the heart, the words of Psalm 118:23 - "the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes. We echo the words of Psalm 115:1 - "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to Your Name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness." (b) We are not forced to receive Christ. We do not come to Him with reluctance. We come to Him with rejoicing. Rejoicing in the grace which has reached out to us in our sinfulness, we affirm the truth of Jesus' words, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you" (John 16:15). Receiving this grace with gladness, we say, "The Lord is my chosen portion" (Psalm 16:5). We sing, "O happy day that fixed my choice on Thee, my Saviour and my God." We trace the way in which the Lord has led us to faith and we sing, "He drew me and I followed on, charmed to confess that grace divine." We have been "loved with everlasting love." We have been "led by grace that love to know." The relationship between grace and faith may be described thus: the whole of the work is God's (the absolute necessity of grace) and the whole of the work is man's (the absolute necessity of faith). There is, of course, mystery here. it is, however, a mystery in which we rejoice - "Amazing love, how can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"

Berkouwer's reinterpretation of election - not a devaluation of divine sovereignty

Berkouwer emphasizes that his reinterpretation of election "has nothing to do with a devaluation of divine sovereignty. It is not motivated by respect for the autonomy of the free man" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 95). He sought to affirm divine election while avoiding the dangers of determinism. Describing the process by which he reached this position, he wrote, "in the Bible's radical and open character, I found a way of speaking that is not defined by some darksome eternal background, but by the way of history" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 100; Divine Election, p. 71) - "I did not have to posit indeterminism over against determinism" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 101).

God's revelation of mercy ...

Berkouwer maintained that, when Romans 9-11 is understood as referring to "God's revelation of mercy ... and not to a 'naked sovereignty'", the illegitimacy of man's protest against God and the "mystical delight" of Paul's doxology are seen quite differenty from their deterministic interpretation (A Half Century of Theology, pp. 90, 93; Divine Election, pp. 65, 147-149). Man's protest is recognized as entirely inappropriate because "the doctrine of election is an 'inexpressible comfort' for both the believer and the nonbeliever since it proclaims that there is hope for the 'most miserable of men'" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 103). Paul's doxology is recognized as entirely appropriate because it is faith's response to the divine mercy in which "there is nothing of 'the inexplicable arbitrariness of power that moves one to put his fingers to his lips" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 93).

Divine sovereignty and divine freedom in Romans 9-11

Relating his understanding of divine sovereignty and divine freedom to the interpretation of Romans 9-11, Berkouwer wrote, "Words like 'sovereignty' ought not to be approached abstractly via a formal concept: this can only create the impression that we are capturing our own understanding or words in transparent definitions and then applying them directly to God without deeper consideration, as though he naturally fits the definition garnerd from human experience. Not surprisingly, this abstract notion of sovereignty has a profound effect when theologians apply it to ... Romans 9" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91). He asked this question: "If divine freedom explains everything ... how is it posssible that Paul ... in ... Romans 9-11 ... does not end with a reasoned conclusion that the destiny of eveything and everyone is sealed from eternity. Why does he, rather, end with a breathtaking doxology" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 92 - followed by the words of Romans 11:33).

Divine Freedom

Concerning the interpretation of divine freedom, Berkouwer gave this warning: "waving the banner of absolute divine autonomy does not dam up anguishing questions, and is certainly not likely to lead to praise" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 92). He did not wish to question the divine freedom. He sought to clarify its meaning in a way that "phrases like 'incontestible freedom' and ... 'absolute possibility'" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91) fail to do. He insisted that the New Testament "avoids a dialectic between divine freedom and human freedom" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 101). He emphasized that divine freedom should be understood in connection with divine goodness (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91 - referring to Matthew 20:15). He maintained that divine freedom reminds man that he must not presume on divine goodness. He emphasized that divine freedom serves as " summons to conversion" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91 - referring to Matthew 22:14 and Matthew 20:16).

An interpretation of election which points to the trustworthiness of God

Berkouwer gave much serious thought to difficult theological concepts and Biblical passages. Concerning the interpretation pf divine sovereignty, he wrote, "one has to be on guard against isolating and abstracting words, including the word 'sovereignty.' If we are not, we use words that violate the heart of the church" (A Half Century of Theology, p.90). He did not seek "to replace determinism with an indeterminism" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91). He sought to develop an interpretation of election which points to the trustworthiness of God: "the knowledge of divine sovereignty is possible only within knowledge of the God in whom there is no arbitrariness" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91).

Divine Election - Not An Arbitrary Decree ...

Berkouwer maintained that a thoroughgoing reinterpretation of election was essential if it was to be made clear that "divine election was not an arbitrary decree that opened the door to a fatalism and determinism in which the events of our time and history were robbed of all genuine meaning" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 89).

In Concern For The Heart Of The Church ...

Berkouwer recognized that the deterministic interpretation of election has, for many, proved to be an obstacle to faith - "the confession of divine election did come to the fore in a very direct pastoral way; people in the congregations have been plagued by questions concerning election and human responsibility, questions about the certainty of one's own salvation" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 78). Berkouwer's approach need not be dismissed as a denial of election. He does, however, offer us a reinterpretation - "We knew we had to go further - in concern for the heart of the church - than the construction of defensive syntheses" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 89).

The importance of the doctrine of election

Berkouwer emphasized the importance of the doctrine of election - "if we take seriously the conviction that election lies ... at the heart of the church, we find ourselves at the centre of the church's faith when qwe focus on the question of election" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 79). He also discerned the harmful effects of a deterministic doctrine of election - "this doctrine has been all but comforting ... an offence, with no real liberating and tension-relieving power ... a decision that was extremely difficult to rhyme with a gospel of love comforting to the heart" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 79).

Understanding theological language within the context of the obedience of faith ...

Berkouwer insists that a proper understanding of theological language is only attainable within the context of the obedience of faith. The language of predestination may be understood as a form of expression which the believer, who has willingly submitted to the authority of grace, uses to confess his Christian faith. Set in this context, the language of predestination need not be viewed as a form of determinism which threatens to strip human experience of decisive significance. Emphasizing that "he who has seen Christ has seen the Father" (John 14:9), Berkouwer maintains that the believer, in his encounter with Christ, comes to know the revelation of God as something which is not threatened by the idea of a hidden God whose secret cannot be known (Divine Election, p. 124).

Human language and divine revelation

Berkouwer's concept of the depth-aspect of salvation may be viewed as a serious attempt to understand the complex problem of the relation of human language to divine revelation. It need not be dismissed as a denial of what Scripture says. It may be regarded as an interpretation of what Scripture says, an attempt to understand what a particular passage teaches in relation to the "entire Biblical message" (Divine Election, p. 18). The recogniton of a depth-aspect of salvation need not involve a denial of Biblical authority. We may regard it as a way of asking the question, "Is this what the Bible is really saying?", a way of developing a penetrating analysis which recognizes that we must make a clear distinction between Scripture itself and theological interpretations of Scripture. This distinction emerges directly from the nature of human language, the precise meaning of which is not immediately evident in its reference to God.

Berkouwer's use of the idea of the depth-aspect of salvation

Here's an attempt to bring things together. (1) man knows of grace through revelation. (2) divine revelation comes to man in the form of human language. (3) The inadequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine revelation demands that due care be taken in the interpretation of Scripture. (4) The inadequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine revelation demands an avoidance of undue dogmatism regarding the precise meaning of Scripture. (5) The idea of a depth dimension points beyond the limitations of human language to the profound spiritual realities of the eternal God and His eternal salvation.

The 'pre' element in predestination ...

In his discussion of the 'pre' element in predestination, Berkouwer insists that "he who speaks of God's counsel in terms of human categories will have to be aware ofthe inadequacy of his words" (Divine Election, p. 152). UIn this respect, Berkouwer closely follows Bavinck who, in his discussion of predestination, insists that "one cannot speak of before or after with respect to God" (Divine Election, p. 152). Recognizing the inadequacy of human language, Berkouwer seeks to understand the language of predestination in connection in terms of the "depth-aspect" of salvation (Divine Election, pp.113, 150, 168). He emphasizes that "the depth-aspect of salvation ... is not a matter of hiddenness which goes beyond the knowledge of faith ... not something far distant, not a vague threatening reality, but the foundation of salvation ... " (Divine Election, pp. 113-114).

The grace of God ...

As Berkouwer's thought moved from abstract concept towards the person and work of Christ in whom the grace of God is clearly revealed, he found that he was not denying the free sovereignty of God but rather recognizing its character as the free sovereignty of grace (A Half Century of Theology, p. 102). He described the direction of his thought thus: "the reconsideration of election has tended ... not in the direction of a double decree that merely waits to be executed, but in the direction of grace as the nature, the character of election" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 102). He gave this summary of his understanding of election: "anyone who expects salvation from grace rather than works is set immediately within the sphere of election; but he need not encounter alongside or over election in grace a decision that was made in a hidden decree" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 102).

Berkouwer's reinterpretation of election ...

Berkouwer emphasizes that his reinterpretation of election "has nothing to do with a devaluation of divine sovereignty. It is not motivated by respect for the autonomy of the free man" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 95). He sought to affirm divine election while avoiding the dangers of determinism. Describing the process by which he reached this position, he wrote, "in the Bible's radical and open character, I found a way of speaking that is not defined by some darksome eternal background, but by the way of history" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 100; Divine Election, p. 71) - "I did not have to posit indeterminism over against determinism" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 101).

The 'depth-aspect' of salvation ...

Maintaining that Berkouwer has continually failed to expound the full teaching of Scripture concerning the ‘before’ element of divine election, Baker insists that “Berkouwer cannot communicate what the Bible means by ‘election’ if he neglects such a determinative concept” (pp. 102-103). Referring to the phrase “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; John 17:24; 1 Peter 1:20), Baker states that “Berkouwer has never commented at any length in any of his Dogmatics on the significance of these words” (p. 102). It may also be argued that Baker’s failure to discuss at any length Berkouwer’s concept of the “depth-aspect” of salvation weakens his criticism of Berkouwer’s interpretation of the ‘before’ element of election. Here, we may note what Berkouwer says about the depth-aspect of salvation. Recognizing the inadequacy of human language, Berkouwer seeks to understand the language of predestination in connection with the “depth-aspect” of salvation (Divine Election, pp. 113, 150, 168). He emphasizes that “the depth-aspect of salvation … is not a matter of hiddenness which goes beyond the knowledge of faith … not something far distant, not a vague, threatening reality, but the foundation of salvation … ” (pp. 113-114 - in a discussoion of Biblical passages which speak about “the Book of Life”). With this idea of the depth-aspect of salvation, Berkouwer seeks to understand the idea of ‘before the foundation of the world.’ He emphasizes that “These words do not occur in Scripture as a threat, but in the decisive depth-aspect of salvation. They are not placed in a context in which they make us dizzy in the face of an unapproachable ‘eternity’, … but they are intended to show us the source of our eternal salvation … ‘Before’ indicates that this divine act of salvation, preached to us by the gospel, is free from what we know in the world to be arbitrary and precarious … in this depth-aspect of God’s salvation it becomes … evident that this salvation did not originate in our flesh and blood, and that it is by no means of human merit or creation. But precisely this fact does not obscure the way; on the contrary, it illumines it. ‘Before the foundation of the world’ means to direct our attention to what can be called the opposite of chance and contingence.” (pp. 150-151). Berkouwer’s basic understanding of the depth-aspect is defined thus: “When we speak of the depth-aspect, we mean that eternity does not stand in contrast to what in time becomes historical reality, but rather that the salvation accomplished by Christ’s death of reconciliation cannot be merely historical, but that it has its eternal foundation in the love of God” (p. 168)

The 'before' element in God's election ...

Berkouwer does not wish to dispense with the ‘before’ element in God’s election. Rather, he seeks to understand it in a way that does not diminish the significance of the historical revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Baker contends that, in his interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 - “chosen before the foundation of the world” - , Berkouwer has undermined the ontological foundation of divine election. There is, in Baker’s view, a suggestion that he has not distanced himself sufficiently from his own outlook in order to understand more sympathetically and accurately Berkouwwer’s understanding of the language of predestination. In his critique of Berkouwer’s doctrine of election, A. L. Baker writes, “Berkouwer desires to maintain a dynamic concept of election, but instead lays most of his emphasis on the human response to the gospel. He continually warns against ‘an objectivized election that goes its own way without consideration for faith and unbelief” (G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance?, (1981), p. 67, citing Berkouwer, The Return of Christ, p. 333). In response to this criticism, it should be pointed out that, as well as placing a proper emphasis on the human response to the Gospel, Berkouwer, in his exposition of the doctrine of election, repeatedly emphasizes the divine origin of our salvation: “… in Scripture the election of God … does not come out of works but out of grace” (Divine Election, p. 51), “God’s electing plan prepares the way of salvation in which man learns that salvation is obtained only as a divine gift and never as an acquisition because of good works” (p. 68). “… salvation … has its eternal foundation in the love of God” (p. 168). “election is not of works but of Him who called” (p. 217). “God’s election is sovereign and gracious, and hence not based on any human quality” (p. 308). In view of Berkouwer’s repeated affirmation of the divine character of election, it must be denied that most of his emphasis is laid on the human response. Rather, it should be pointed out that Berkouwer’s penetrating analysis of the competition-motif enables him to place due emphasis on the human response without threatening the divine character of God’s gracious election . Berkouwer emphasizes that a full emphasis on the significance of faith does not relativize the gracious character of salvation - “The character of faith resolves all tension between objectivity and subjectivity, For faith has significance only in its orientation to its object - the grace of God. Thus sola fide, instead of directing our attention to the believer, points us away from him to grace and God … Sola fide and sola gratia mean the same thing.” (Faith and Justification, pp. 29, 44, italics original). In response to Baker’s contention that Berkouwer has continually failed to expound the ‘before’ element in election, it may be argued that Berkouwer has expounded this element. He has offered a different kind of exposition from that which Baker is asking for. An alternative exposition must, however, be distinguished from the absence of any exposition.

Berkouwer and Arminius

Berkouwer’s understanding of divine election is best understood in terms of the Dutch Reformation. There, one finds a similar struggle to avoid determinism and thus emphasize the sincerity of the Gospel offer. These motifs are found in the writings of the Dutch Reformer, James Arminius. The strong similarities between Berkouwer and Arminius should not to be taken to mean that Berkouwer regards himself as standing – unequivocally – in the line of Arminius.
While rejecting the equal ultimacy of election and rejection, Berkouwer insists that his own position need not involve the acceptance of an Arminian position (Divine Election, p. 189, n. 31). In his book, Faith and Justification, he explains how his his own position differs from ‘Arminianism’. He opposes, in Arminianism, a most dangerous ‘overestimation of faith as a spiritual achievement’ (p.87). Alongside this criticism of Arminianism, we must set Berkouwer’s favourable attitude towards recent criticism of the very document which opposed Arminianism (the Canons of Dordt). He sees, in such criticism of the Canons of Dordt, the deepest intentions of the Arminians of the seventeenth-century (A Half Century of Theology, pp.104-105). In seeking to describe Berkouwer’s view of Arminius and Arminianism, it may be useful to distinguish between the view of Arminius and the later development of Arminiianism.
In his book, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, Carl Bangs has made a number of observations about Arminius which suggest a striking similarity to Berkouwer (I have reviewed this book in Reformed Review, 40, 2, 145).
(i) The historical situation in Holland was not a simple one of Calvinism coming in, Arminius nearly ruining it and the Synod of Dordt restoring it. Bangs comments, ‘The earliest Dutch Reformed leaders don’t seem to be Calvinists at all. They rise out of the soil, here and there, nurtured by the old Dutch piety, not seized by dogmatic insights but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith, according to Scripture’ (p.21). This emphasis is similar to Berkouwer’s insistence that election is not a special gnosis for the theological elite. Rather, it is a confession of faith arising from the hearts of those who have come to know the grace of God (Divine Election, p.216).
(ii) Arminius’ theological method is ‘practical and through faith’: ‘For the Theology which belongs to this world, is practical and through faith: Theoretical Theology belongs to the other world, and consists of pure and unclouded vision. For this reason we must clothe the object of our Theology in such a manner as may enable us to worship God, and fully to persuade and win us over to that practice’ (cited by Bangs, p.63, from ‘Oration on the Object of Theology’ in The Works of James Arminius, I, p.264).
(iii) In Romans 9, Arminius finds the message of justification, the message of the freedom of God’s mercy, by which he determines that it will be the believer who will be saved. Bangs maintains that this interpretation of Romans 9 may be viewed as an affirmation of predestination. God has predestined to salvation all who believe in Christ. He also argues that Arminius stands in the Reformed tradition, since he insists that salvation is by grace alone and that human merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. Only faith in Christ places the sinner in the company of the elect. Arminius’ understanding of Romans 9 is remarkably similar to the view expounded by Berkouwer as Reformed(Divine Election, pp.64-79, 209-217).
(iv) Against synergism – ‘half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s’ (see quotation from Sell, citing Duncan, below in (v)), Arminius affirms that grace is essential for the beginning, continuation and consummation of faith. He does, however, reject the distinction between a universal call which must be resisted and a special call which must be heeded – ‘Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous of their repentance and salvation’ (Bangs, p. 343, citing ‘Certain Articles’ in The Works of James Arminius, I, p.497); ‘The whole controversy reduces itself to this question, “Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” … I believe that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered’ (Bangs, p.343, citing The Works of James Arminius, pp. 253-254). Arminius’ point is that grace is not a force. Grace is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot be sheer overpowering. This is precisely what Berkouwer is concerned to maintain in his protest against the ‘ potestas absoluta’ (Divine Election, pp. 60ff.; The Return of Christ, p.444). It is precisely what Berkouwer means by his idea of the divine sovereignty as ‘the personal superiority of love and grace’ (Divine Election, pp. 49, 46).
(v) Regarding the enigmatic character of Arminius, Bangs writes, ‘Some Calvinists, finding that his writings do not produce the heresies they expected, have charged him with teaching secret heresy unpublshed. Many Arminians, finding him too Calvinistic, have written him off as a transitional thinker, a “forerunner”‘ (p. 18) (Here, we may also note the comment made by A P F Sell, in his book, The Great Debate, Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation – ‘in important respects Arminius was not an Arminian’ (p. 97)). Berkouwer stands in the line of this element of the Dutch Reformation. To those who like to classify theologians as ‘Calvinists’ or ‘Arminians’, he is an enigma. He does not seem to fit. Perhaps, this is because he recognizes that the Gospel itself does not fit neatly into our systems (Again, we may note another comment from Sell – ‘Armnianism says that half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s. Calvinism asserts that the whole is God’s and the whole is man’s also’ (p. 1, citing Colloquia Peripatetica … being notes of conversations with the late John Duncan, p. 29). Note that Arminius’ rejection of this kind of ’synergism’ (see above in (iv)) is one of ‘the important respects’ in which, according to Sell, he was ‘not an Arminian’. For more of my own thoughts on Arminius in relation to ‘the five points of Calvinism’, see ‘Arminius – Hero or Heretic?’ in Evangelical Quarterly, 64:3 (1992), 213-227.)
(vi) Arminius was committed to the Reformed Confessions and their creative interpretation. He was concerned to teach nothing other than the teaching of the Dutch Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (Bangs, pp. 460-461). he sought to present his teaching on predestination as true to the historic teaching of the Church, by which he meant the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 350). nonetheless, there was a curious duality about his relationship to the Confession and the Catechism. he believed his views were consonant with them yet he wanted them revised, reduced to the essentials, to remove the ambiguities that allowed for the views of his opponents (p. 315).
If Arminius is understood according to his deepest intentions and not according to a Pelagian distortion of his meaning, he can be regarded as a Reformed theologian, committed to the Confession and the Catechism, while maintaining an element of ambiguity with respect to them. This is essentially Berkouwer’s position. He seeks to interpret the Reformed standards, being careful to state which interpretation he favours and which he avoids. His favourable citation of recent developments in the confessional life of the Dutch Church has been noted, with the observation that his concern, in such discussions, has been for the interpretation rather than categorical rejection of the Canons of Dordt.
* Bangs points out that the historical situation in Holland was not a simple one – Calvinism coming in, Arminius nearly ruining it and the Synod of Dort restoring it:
“The earliest Dutch Reformed leaders don’t seem to be Calvinists at all. They rise out of the soil, here and there, nurtured by the old Dutch biblical piety, not seized by dogmatic insights, but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to Scripture” (p. 21).
This emphasis is similar to Berkouwer’s insistence that election is not a special gnosis for the theological elite. Rather, it is a confession of faith, arising from the hearts of those who have come to know the grace of God (Divine Election (DE), p. 216).
* Bangs observes that Arminius’ theological method is “practical and through faith”: “For the Theology which belongs to this world, is practical and through faith: Theoretical Theology belongs to the other world, and consists of pure and unclouded vision. For this reason we must clothe the object of our Theology in such a manner as may enable us to worship God, and fully to persuade and win us over to that practice” (p. 63, citing “Oration on the Object of Theology”, The Works of James Arminius, D. D. (WJA), (London edition 1825, 1828, 1875), I, p. 264).
This understanding of theology bears an amazing similarity to Berkouwer’s doxological approach which sets the doctrine of election in the context of praise and thanksgiving (DE, pp. 26, 65).
* Bangs looks closely at Arminius’ exposition of Romans 9 (Chapter 14 – “Theology in Amsterdam: Romans 9; The Conference with Junius”, pp. 193-205).
In Romans 9, Arminius finds the message of justification, the message of the freedom of God’s mercy, by which He determines that it will be the believer who will be saved. This is an affirmation of predestination. God has predestined to salvation all who believe in Christ.
Bangs argues that Arminius stands in the Reformed tradition, since he insists that salvation is by grace alone and that human merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. Only faith in Christ places the sinner in the company of the elect (p. 340). Arminius’ understanding of Romans 9 is remarkably similar to the view expounded by Berkouwer as Reformed (DE, pp. 64-79, 209-217).
* Against synergism, Arminius affirms that grace is essential for the beginning, continuation and consummation of faith. He does, however, reject the distinction between a universal call which must be resisted and a special call which must be heeded.
“Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous pf their repentance and salvation” (Bangs, p. 343; citing “Certain Articles”, WJA, (London edition 1956), I, p. 497).
“The whole controversy reduces itself to this question, ‘Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?’ … I believe that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered” (Bangs, p. 343, citing WJA, 1956, pp. 253-254).
Arminius’ point is that grace is not a force. Grace is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and, in personal relationships, there cannot be sheer overpowering. This is precisely what Berkouwer is concerned to maintain in his protest against the ‘potestas absoluta’ (DE, pp. 60ff; cf The Return of Christ, p. 444). It is precisely what Berkouwer means by his idea of the divine sovereignty as “the personal superiority of love and grace” (DE, pp. 49, 46).
* Regarding the enigmatic character of Arminius, Bangs writes,
“Some Calvinists, finding that his writings do not produce the heresies they expected, have charged him with teaching secret heresy unpublished. Many Arminians, finding him too Calvinistic, have written him off as a transitional thinker, a ‘forerunner’” (p. 118; cf. A P F Sell, The Great Debate, Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation (GD) – “in important respects Arminius was not an Arminian” (p. 97)).
Berkouwer stands in the line of this element of the Dutch Reformation. To those who like to classify theologians as ‘Calvinists’ or ‘Arminians’, he is an enigma. He does not seem to fit. Perhaps, this is because he recognizes that the Gospel itself does not fit neatly into our systems.
In his booklet, A Hole in the Dike: Critical Aspects of Berkouwer’s Theology, C W Bogue has difficulty in classifying Berkouwer within his own Calvinist – Arminian distinction (p. 19).
A helpful manner of stating the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is found in A P F Sell, GD. – “Arminianism says that half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s. Calvinism asserts that the whole is God’s and the whole is man’s also” (p. 1, citing Colloquia Peripatetica … being notes of conversations with the late John Duncan, 6th edition, 1907, p. 29).
* Arminius was committed to the Reformed Confessions and their creative interpretation. He was concerned to teach nothing other than the teaching of the Dutch Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (Bangs, pp. 460-461).
He sought to present his teaching of predestination as true to the historic teaching of the Church, by which he meant the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 350).
Nonetheless, there was a curious duality about his relationship to the Confession and the Catechism.
He believed his views to be consonant with them yet he wanted them to be revised, reduced to the essentials, to remove the ambiguities that allowed for the views of his opponents (p. 315).
* If Arminius is understood according to his deepest intentions and not according to a Pelagian distortion of his meaning, he can be regarded as a Reformed theologian, committed to the Confession and the Catechism, while maintaining an element of ambiguity with respect to them.
In essence, this is Berkouwer’s position. He seeks to interpret the Reformed standards, being careful to state which interpretation he favours and which he avoids.
In his favourable citation of recent developments in the confessional life of the Dutch
Church, his concern is with interpretation rather than categorical rejection of the Canons of Dort.
A child of the Reformation, Berkouwer seeks always to interpret, rather than categorically reject, the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions.
He bears a marked affinity to the Dutch Reformation, “nurtured by the old Dutch biblical piety, steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to the Scriptures” (Bangs, p. 21).
When we make a connection between Berkouwer and “the old Dutch biblical piety”, we should note also his “consistent apologetic intention … directed against scholasticism” (S Meijers, Objectiviteit en Existentialitet (Objectivity and Existentiality), p.448).
His work is done in a pietistic rather than a scholastic perspective. This does not lead him into subjectivism. It does enable him to deal with the living character of God’s Word.

Pride and Faith in Berkouwer's "Studies in Dogmatics" (The believer's experience of salvation)

Central to Berkouwer’s exposition of Christian experience are three books which might be called a kind of trilogy - Faith and Justification, Faith and Sanctification, and Faith and Perseverance.
These titles emphasize the importance of faith in the theology of Berkouwer. From beginning to end, the Christian life is a life of faith. In each of these books, Berkouwer stresses that true faith in Jesus Christ is in direct contrast to the sinful pride of man by which he glories in himself rather than in the Lord.
Commenting on the meaning of justification by faith, Berkouwer writes, ‘Everything is really said in an unobtrusive phrase, in Christ.’ On the subject of Faith and Justification, he continues, 'faith... is not added as a second, independent ingredient which makes its own contribution to justification in Christ... faith does nothing but accept, or come to rest in the sovereignty of His benefit ... we are not acceptable to God because of the worthiness of our faith. Grace is exclusively and totally God’s.
Citing John Calvin, Berkouwer describes the nature of faith thus: ‘faith looks away from itself to Christ’. With this understanding of faith, Berkouwer offers a helpful analysis of the doctrine of sola fide (by faith alone) and sola gratia (by grace alone): ‘Solo fide and sola gratia ... mean the same thing.’ In these doctrines, by faith alone and by grace alone, God is glorified and man is humbled. On the final page of Faith and Justification, Berkouwer issues a warning against man’s sinful pride. It is a warning which is grounded in the gospel doctrines of salvation: by faith alone
and by grace alone ‘let the sound of sola fide-sola gratia ring in the life of the Church. Let it be a warning against the pride of the treacherous heart.’9
These doctrines of salvation - by faith alone and by grace alone - also lie at the heart of Berkouwer’s exposition of Faith and Sanctification. He stresses that ‘in the New Testament all admonition is grounded in and proceeds from the mercy of God’. When the mercy of God is magnified, the pride of man is brought low - ‘the Scriptures preach humility: the only suitable response to the mercy of God.’ How is man able to walk in the way of humility? It is the work of the Holy Spirit: ‘he spirit alone could perform the miracle of making man walk on the road of sanctity without a sense of his own worth.’ How long is man to walk in the way of humility? The believers life-long experience is to be a walk in humility; ‘This humility is not to be sloughed off as believers advance to new levels but to be preserved as long as grace communicates itself.’ This call to humility brings with it a strong warning against human pride: 'if anything is clear in the message of Scripture, it is that in sanctification there is never, under any circumstances, any room for self-pride or self-praise.'10
This emphasis on humility also comes out strongly in Berkouwer’s volume on Sin, where he maintains that ‘(i)n the mystery of the Spirit there is no greater gift than this gift of humility’.
Concerning the importance of humility, he writes, ‘it is identified with the gift of conversion itself since “(o)nly those who are humble can escape the judgment of which the Gospel speaks: 'He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts' (Luke 1:51)’. Berkouwer speaks of humility in connection with ‘the mystery of the Spirit’ since it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that sinful man can be led into and kept on the way of humility. Concerning this ministry of the Holy Spirit, Berkouwer writes, ‘In reproving and rebuking, in comforting and counselling, the Holy Spirit maintains a Christian in humility.’11 If we are not to walk in the way of sinful pride, we must learn to walk in the way of humble faith. In this, the Holy Spirit is our Teacher.
Berkouwer’s strong emphasis on the grace of God, with its warning against man’s sinful pride, is maintained in the third part of the trilogy, Faith and Perseverance. Here, he stresses that we are not concerned with ‘perseverance ... by one’s own power’. Rather, we must direct attention to ‘the persevering grace and power of God... the faithfulness of God’. In maintaining this emphasis on divine grace, Berkouwer insists that’(t)he grace of God is never the cause for glorying in one’s
own power’ and that ‘(p)erseverance is always opposed to false self-confidence.’ There is, in Berkouwer’s trilogy on the Christian life, an echo of Calvin’s Institution which never tire of repeating the warning against every attempt at gaining assurance apart from Christ and His cross.12
The fact that Berkouwer has written this trilogy on justification, sanctification and perseverance should not lead us to suppose that he is concerned only with personal faith and has nothing to say about the corporate aspects of Christian faith. In his book, The Church, he gives attention to the relationship between the individual believer and the fellowship of God’s people. Berkouwer stresses that in ‘God’s saving reconciling action (t)he individual does not disappear’. Instead, ‘he
is liberated from individualization and solitariness in order to have a place in this new fellowship.’ In the purpose of God, both the individual believer and the fellowship of the Lord’s people have their important place: 'Every individual need receives his undivided attention; yet, at the same time, ways are opened by which the individual receives a place in a human fellowship, ending all individualism.'13
In his understanding of the relationship between the believer and the church, there is a warning against both individualistic pride and ecclesiastical pride. The individual believer dares not stand apart from the church because it is not all that it should be.
The church dares not conceive of itself as an impersonal organizational or institution which can nun roughshod over its individual members.
Consideration of the believer’s place within the church leads us on to The Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Here, we are called away from our sinful pride. Concerning baptism, Berkouwer writes, ‘The fundamental fact about baptism will always be its involvement with the death of Christ.’ Developing this idea further in connection with the meaning of baptism, Berkouwer makes an important point: The prevenient aspect of the grace of God lies not in the temporal priority of the acts of God in baptism in comparison with the conscious acceptance of the divine promise, but in the temporal priority of the cross of Christ with respect to the baptized person, whether child or adult.
A particular form of baptism, whether believers baptism or infant baptism, must not become such a source of doctrinal or denominational pride that we lose contact with the only legitimate boastings: ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 6:14).
In his exposition of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, Berkouwer comments helpfully on the phrase ‘worthy partakers’.
'They are those who confess their sins in self-abhorrence, humiliation, faith in God’s promises, and gratefulness of heart. This is the ‘worthiness’ that belongs to the Lord’s Supper. It is not at all meritorious in nature, but is in complete harmony with what is signified and sealed in the Lord’s Supper. It is a worthiness that coincides with a confession of ‘unworthiness’ and with trust in the salvation of God.'14
This insightful explanation of what it means to worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper presents a holy and yet loving rebuke to man’s spiritual pride, whatever form it may take. There is a rebuke for those who, while speaking of their own unworthiness, proudly refuse to receive - by faith - the salvation which God, in love, offers to them in Christ. There is a rebuke also for those who take the love of God for granted, coming to the Lord’s Table as a matter of mere religious ritual.
The celebration of the Lord’s Supper directs our attention toward the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ - ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Cor. 11:26). This is an oft-repeated reminder to us that the life of faith is a life that is directed toward the future. In his book, The Return of Christ, Berkouwer emphasizes that we must approach the future with a living faith and not with proud complacency.
Challenging the teaching which moves directly from the love of God to the notion that all will be saved, he writes: ‘it is extremely dangerous to think and talk about “the love of God” and what follows from it outside of the gospel.’ The way of living faith is quite different from a proud complacency which simply assumes that all will be saved. Here, Berkouwer refers to ‘the question addressed to Jesus... “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”’ He points out that ‘Jesus’ answer seems so noncommittal, so evasive’. Concerning Jesus’ answer: ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door (Luke 13:23f.)’, Berkouwer comments, ‘this evasiveness is only apparent’, adding this insightful remark: 'This is the answer to this question ... this question has been answered, once for all time.'15
In all our theological study, there is one thing we must never forget. Whenever we bring our questions to God, he gives his answers, but they are not answers which bolster our proud complacency. They are answers which call us to faith, a living faith, a growing faith, a faith which brings glory to God.
-----
9 Faith and Justification, (Grand Rapids, 1954), 43, 175, 44, 201.
10 Faith and Sanctification, (Grand Rapids, 1952), 25, 125, 78, 117.
11 Sin, (Grand Rapids, 1871), 228-9.
12 Faith and Perseverance, (Grand Rapids, 1958), 228-9.
13 The Church, (Grand Rapids, 1976), 77.
14 The Sacraments, (Grand Rapids, 1969), 118, 176, 256-7.

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