The Gospel


By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. III:3

Those of mankind who are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him thereunto.
The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, III:5

Jonathan Edwards

The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husband, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Heidelberg Catechism

For next few months, I will be going through the "Heidelberg Catechism". Here is a brief history of how the Catechism was established:

History. — Soon after the introduction of Protestantism into the Palatinate in 1546, the controversy between Lutherans and Calvinists broke out, and for years, especially under the elector Otto Heinrich (1556-59), it raged with great violence in Heidelberg. Frederick III, who came into power in 1559, adopted the Calvinistic view on the Lord's Supper, and favored that side with all his princely power. He reorganized the Sapienz College (founded by his predecessor) as a theological school, and put at its head (1562) Zacharias Ursinus, a pupil and friend of Melancthon, who had adopted the Reformed opinions. In order to put an end to religious disputes in his dominions, he determined to put forth a Catechism, or Confession of Faith, and laid the duty of preparing it upon Zacharias Ursinus (just named) and Caspar Olevianus, for a time professor in the University of Heidelberg, then court preacher to Frederick III. They made use, of course, of the existing catechetical literature, especially of the catechisms of Calvin and of John Lasco. Each prepared sketches or drafts, and "the final preparation was a the work of both theologians, with the constant co-operation of Frederick III. Ursinus has always been regarded as the principal author, as he was afterwards the chief defender and interpreter of the Catechism; still, it would appear that the nervous German style, the division into three parts (as distinguished from the five parts in the Catechism of Calvin and the previous draft of Ursinus), and the genial warmth and unction of the whole work, are chiefly due to Olevianus." (Schaff, in. Am. Presb. Rev. July 1863, p. 379).

When the Catechism was completed, Frederick laid it before a synod of the superintendents of the Palatinate (December, 1562). After careful examination it was approved. The first edition, whose full title is given above, appeared in 1563. The preface is dated January 19 of that year, and runs in the name of the elector Frederick, who probably wrote it. A Latin version appeared in the same year, translated by Johannes Lagus and Lambertus Pithopeus. The German version is the authentic standard. Two other editions of the German version appeared in 1563. What is now the eightieth question (What difference is there between the Lord's Supper and the Roman Mass?) is not to be found an the first edition; part of it appears in the second edition; and in the third, of 1563 — it is given in full as follows: "What difference is there between the Lord's Supper and the Popish Mass? The Lord's Supper testifies to us that we have full forgiveness of all our sins by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself has once accomplished on the cross; and that by the Holy Ghost we are engrafted into Christ, who with his true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and is to be there worshipped. But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead have not forgiveness of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is still daily offered for them by the priest; and that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and is therefore to be worshipped in them. (And thus the Mass at bottom is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and passion of Christ, and an accursed idolatry.)" The occasion for the introduction of this eightieth question appears to have been the decree of the Council of Trent "touching the sacrifice of the Mass," Sept. 17, 1562. This declaration, and the anathemas pronounced at Trent against the Protestant doctrine of the sacraments, had not time to produce their effect before the issue of the first edition of the Catechism. But the elector soon saw the necessity for a strong and clear declaration on the Protestant side, and such a declaration is furnished in this eightieth question, which was added to the Catechism in 1563. The first edition of 1563 was for a long time lost; that given by Niemeyer (Collectio Confessionum, p. 390) is the third of that year. But in 1864 pastor Wolters found a copy and reprinted it, with a history of the text (Der Heidelb. Katechismus in seiner urspr├╝zglichen Gestalt, Bonn, 1864, sm. 8vo), which cleared up all doubt as to the various editions of 1563. In 1866 professor Schaff published a very valuable edition, revised after the first edition of 1563, with an excellent history of the Catechism (Der Heidelb. Kat. nach d. ersten Ausgabe von 1563 revidirt, Philad. 18mo). — Other editions appeared in 1571 and 1573, and in this last the questions are divided, as now, into lessons for fifty-two Sundays, and the questions are numbered. An abstract of the Catechism appeared in 1585. The larger Catechism has since been republished by millions; no book, perhaps, has gone through more editions, except the Bible, Bunyan's Pilgrim, and Kempis. It has been translated into nearly every spoken language. It was, of course, at once used throughout the Palatinate by command of the elector. But it soon spread abroad wherever the Reformed Church had found footing, especially in North Germany and parts of Switzerland. It was early received in the Netherlands, and formally adopted at the Synod of Dort, 1618. Long and bitter controversies with Roman Catholics and Lutherans on the Catechism only endeared it the more to the Reformed. It is to this day an authoritative confession for the Reformed churches (German and Dutch). The (Dutch) Reformed Church directs all her ministers to explain the Catechism regularly before the congregations on the Sabbath day.

II. Contents. — The Catechism, in its present form, consists of 129 questions and answers. It is divided into three parts:

1. Of the misery of man.
2. Of the redemption of man.
3. Of the gratitude due from man (duties, etc.).

The arrangement of the matter is admirable, looking not simply to logical order, but also to practical edification. The book is not simply dogmatic, but devotional. It assumes that all who use it are Christians, and is thus not adapted for missionary work. As to the theology taught by the book, it is, in the main, that of pure evangelical Protestantism. On the doctrine of predestination it is so reticent that it was opposed, on the one hand, by the Synod of Dort, the most extreme Calvinistic body perhaps ever assembled, and, on the other (though not without qualification), by James Arminius, the greatest of all the opponents of Calvinism. On the nature of the sacraments the Catechism is Calvinistic, as opposed to the Lutheran doctrine. Dr. Heppe (deutscher Protestantismus, 1, 443 sq.) goes too far in asserting that the Catechism is thoroughly Melancthonian, and in no sense Calvinistic. Sudhoff answers this in his article in Herzog's Real- Encyklopadie, 5, 658 sq.; but he himself goes too far, on the other side, in finding that the Calvinistic theory of predestination, though not expressly stated, is implied and involved in the view of Sin and grace set forth in the Catechism (see Gerhart's article in the Tercentenary Monument, p. 387 sq., and also his statement in this Cyclopaedia, 3, 827). Olevianus, it will be remembered, was educated under the influence of Calvin; Ursinus under that of Melancthon. Dr. Schaff remarks judiciously that "the Catechism is a true expression of the convictions of its authors; but it communicates only so much of these as is in harmony with the public faith of the Church, and observes a certain reticence or reservation and moderation on such doctrines (as the twofold predestination), which belong rather to scientific theology and private conviction than to a public Church confession and the instruction of youth" (American Presb. Review, July, 1863, p. 371).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Times We've Been Given -- Margeret Manning

In one of the climactic scenes of The Lord of the Rings, the young hobbit, Frodo, laments the world he sees around him with all the tragedy and darkness that has befallen him. Looking at the difficulty in continuing on the path laid out before him, Frodo mourns, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” Gandalf the Grey, ever his wise mentor, consoles him with these words: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”(1)
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. I have often thought of this scene and these words as I look out onto our world. There are always crises of one sort or another that might make even the strongest among us pine for different times, crises that make us wish our journey would be a different and far more pleasant trip. The recent economic panic gives us one such contemporary example. The clamor for money belies our desire for some sense of security in a world that is far beyond our control. We long for a calmer time, when growth continued its steady increase and made the future look bright. But such is not the time that is given to us.
While our longing for something more, something different and something better, speaks to us of what should be, we often allow our longings to lead us beyond our present moment. We make ourselves impotent to the possibility of decision to make the best of the time that is given to us. Instead, we must resist the tendency to avoid our present circumstances by wishful thinking, and allow hope for something better to motivate us into action here and now with the time that is given to us.
When Jesus prayed what would be one of his last prayers prior to his crucifixion, he prayed for his disciples as he knew he would leave them to a task far greater and more difficult than they could possibly imagine. Did he pray that God would rescue them from the times they would face? Peter and others in this fellowship would soon be martyred as a result of their mission. Yet, Jesus doesn’t pray that they would be saved from the world in which they were living. Jesus prayed, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from evil.... As You did send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:15-18).
Of course, as a direct result of their witness, a long line of faithful followers of Jesus would arise. Those who would also bear witness to the faith, hope, and love found in the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated in his life and ministry. Jesus provided his disciples with what they would need to make the best of the times they had been given. On the one hand, he encouraged them to find their peace and security in his life and ministry. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). On the other hand, Jesus empowers his disciples by calling them to mission--to witness to him in the world, regardless of the tribulation they would find there. He called them to purposeful action, here and now, to share the good news to the world in desperate times.
Like Frodo and the other members of the Fellowship of the Ring, we can so easily look around us and see the peril of the journey in this world. Our desire to avoid difficulty and pain, and our longing for another kind of world often distracts us from doing God’s work in God’s world, regardless of the times at hand. Yet, our longings for what is good, beautiful, and right for our world do not have to lead us to flights of fantasy, or to wishful thinking. Rather, our longing for a better world should compel us to action as witnesses to the gospel as the force of good for our world. Indeed, our longings can lead us to decide what we can do to make the best of the times we’ve been given.

Harmless Petty Sins? -- JM Njoroge

A familiar fable tells of the hunter who lost his life to the leopard he himself had saved as a pet for his children when the leopard was just a cub. The moral of the story can be deduced easily from the title, Little Leopards Become Big Leopards, meaning that sin is easier to deal with before it becomes a habitual practice that eventually defines our lives.(1) Though the story as it stands is a beautiful illustration of a profound truth, there is a deeper lesson regarding the nature of sin that is easily concealed by this line of thinking and which, I believe, lies at the very essence of our call to Christ-likeness. The problem is that the parallel between little harmless leopard cubs and little harmless sins can be dangerously deceptive.
Whereas leopard cubs are indeed harmless, there is no stage of development at which sin can be said to be harmless, for individual acts of sin are merely the symptoms of the true condition of our hearts. It is not accidental that the call to Christian growth in the Scriptures repeatedly zeros-in on such seemingly benign “human shortcomings” as bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, slander, and malicious behavior (Ephesians 4:31). In his watershed address, The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus placed a great deal of emphasis on lust, anger, and contempt; behaviors and attitudes that would probably not rank high on our lists of problems in need of urgent resolution. Armed with firm and sometimes unconscious categories of serious versus tolerable sins, we gloss over lists of vices in the Scriptures because they seem to be of little consequence to life as we experience it.
But when we fail to grasp the subtleties of sin, we run the risk of rendering much of biblical wisdom irrelevant to our daily life and practice. While we appreciate the uniqueness and necessity of the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf, his specific teachings can at times appear to be farfetched and the emphasis misplaced. Does it not seem incredible that the God who made this world would visit it in its brokenness, dwell among us for over thirty years, and then leave behind the command that we must be nice to each other? Can the problems of the world really be solved by having people “turn the other cheek” and “get rid of anger and malice”? To quote a close friend, “Hello!”
Unfortunately, those “little” sins are not only the mere symptoms of a much bigger problem; they are also effective means of alienating us from God and other human beings. How many careers have been ruined only because of jealousy? How many people have been deprived of genuine help as a result of the seemingly side-comment of someone who secretly despised them? How many relationships have been destroyed by bitterness? How many churches have split up because of selfish ambitions couched in pietistic terms? How much evil has resulted from misinformation, a little coloring around the edges of truth? And have you noticed how much we can control other people just through our body language? From the political arena to the basic family unit, the worst enemy of human harmony is not spectacular wickedness but those seemingly harmless petty sins routinely assumed to be part of what it means to be human.
According to a NASA scientist, a two-degree miscalculation when launching a spacecraft to the moon would send the spacecraft 11,121 miles away from the moon: all one has to do is take time and distance into account.(2) How perceptive then was George MacDonald when he uttered these chilling words, “A man may sink by such slow degrees that, long after he is a devil, he may go on being a good churchman or a good dissenter, and thinking himself a good Christian”!(3) Similarly, C.S. Lewis warned that cards are a welcome substitute for murder if the former will set the believer on a path away from God. “Indeed,” he wrote, “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”(4)
Now the decisive path out of this quandary is not just a greater resolve to be obedient to God. Such a response is usually motivated by guilt, and the duration of our effort will be directly proportional to the amount of guilt we feel: we will be right back where we started from when the guilt is no longer as strong. The appropriate response must begin with a greater appreciation of the holiness of God and a clear vision of life in Him. It is only along the path of Christ-likeness that the true nature of sin is revealed and its appeal blunted. Yes, brazen sinfulness is appallingly evil and destructive, but it only makes a louder growl in a forest populated by stealthier, deadly hunters masquerading as little leopards. It is no idle, perfunctory pastime to pray with King David:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
And lead me along the path of everlasting life (Psalm 139:23-24).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Reformer of the Month of October

" I never want to lose sight of Calvary as the matter of first importance (1 Cor 2:2). I hope my life and leadership are Cross centered. I'm passionate about the local church in a day when eccelesiology is so often neglected. I am a complementarian who appreciates and celebrates complementarity (I'm married to a godly, gifted and beautiful woman!). I am Reformed with a passion to see the free offer of the gospel proclaimed far and wide. "
C.J. Mahaney leads Sovereign Grace Ministries in its mission to establish and support local churches. After 27 years of pastoring Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, C.J. handed the senior pastor role to Joshua Harris on September 18, 2004, allowing C.J. to devote his full attention to Sovereign Grace. He serves on the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), and on the boards of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). He is author of The Cross Centered Life; Christ Our Mediator; Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know; and Humility: True Greatness. He also contributed to Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, and to two additional volumes in the Foundations for the Family Series (Crossway). He has also edited or co-authored four books in the Pursuit of Godliness book series, published by Sovereign Grace Ministries: Why Small Groups?, This Great Salvation, How Can I Change?, and Disciplines for Life.

C.J. and his wife Carolyn have three married daughters and one son. They make their home in Gaithersburg, Maryland
Online Sermons (Audio) C.J Mahaney MP3 Sermons Online
Author Related Links
Sovereign Grace Ministries website
Adrian interviews C.J.Mahaney C.J. Mahaney interview with Adrian Warnock