Ralph Waldo Emerson did for education what Finney did for religion in America. Emerson, as the leader of the New England Brahmans was more enamored with Hinduism than he was Christianity--in fact, he thought that Christianity could be reduced to a single emotional response, an approach that is still bearing bitter fruit in our churches. The perfect spokesman for his point of view arrived with the emergence of the poet Walt Whitman. Whitman's opus "Song of Myself" was the foreshadowing of modern preoccupation with self and bodily processes. If religion is self-absorption with feeling, then self-absorption triumphs in sexual pleasure, personal gratification, and complete selfishness.
Finney brought the same principle to evangelism and religion. Objective truth was abandoned in terms of preoccupation with man's decisions and feelings. In Finney's revivals Emerson's ideal came close to being realized as doctrine and church structure was abandoned for personal ecstasy and irrationalism. "Truth" was no longer defined in terms of propositions that can be contradicted and examined, but in terms of the "experience" of God. How you felt about religion was far more important than what you thought.
The modern deconstruction of doctrine and truth is the result. It is interesting that the church once confessed the truth in terms of creeds and doctrines that could be understood and preached. Modern Protestantism has degenerated to where the greatest evidence of the Holy Spirits work is in irrational mutterings and peepings. Go figure.
“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?” (Isa 8:19)
I had rather be a Muslim that lives for something than a goofy Christian who will live for nothing. But I am neither. I am a minister of the Reformed Church in the U.S. who loves the truth of the creeds and the great doctrines of the Scripture, and am proud of the privilege to confess them.
The Bible not only tells us that we are saved by faith, it also describes what faith is, so that we won’t be deceived. True faith always saves because it is directed to Christ and His cross. Because the Holy Spirit is the author of faith, He also softens our hearts to repent our sins and love our neighbor. Hence, hatred for our neighbor is incompatible with faith.
“Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” (Ac 3:24-26)
If you do not see what the problem is, you will be unlikely to discover the solution. Although they praised and honored the memory of the prophets, Israel did not understand nor believe the message of the prophets.
Man’s problem from the Garden of Eden has been sin. Not only is each man’s individual sin a problem for him, but every man bears the curse of God upon his soul because of Adam’s sin. Because of Adam’s sin men are born under the curse of sin and death and are alienated from God. Note:
“Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:” (Eph 4:18)
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Ro 5:12)
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Ro 5:19)
Moses was not sent to remove the curse, but rather to make the curse obvious. The law of Moses is good but: “But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” (Ro 7:13)
Hence the blessing of Abraham, if it was to have any meaning to the people of God had to include the forgiveness of sins and also the “turning away every one of” them from the love and power of sin. These two things, the theological terms are “justification” and “sanctification” and both are necessary if the soul is to be saved.
Justification is the forgiveness of sins, but more than that it is the legal standing that a man has in Christ because the Lord Jesus represents him before God has his mediator. All the wrath of God that the sinner deserves was received in the body and soul of the Lord Jesus so that there is “no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” and “blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not inpute iniquity.”
Those who receive forgiveness of sins do so because of the eternal decree of God; it is determined in heaven before the world began, and even all of Abraham’s children did not receive it, but “in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Not even all of Isaac’s children received it, but Jacob was loved and Esau was hated, specifically to teach us that “the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” [Rom 9]
In general, [Romans 9:7,8] “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” This means that because it is of promise, it must be by faith, as in:
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,” (Ro 4:13-16)
Because of this, Abraham was not the head of his children in the same sense that Adam was the head of his seed and Christ is head of His. Every single one of Adam’s natural seed partake of the curse of his sin; every single one of Christ’s seed partake of the blessings of His obedience.
Abraham is head only by the example of faith. Because the enemies of Christ, though descended from Abraham, did not believe as Abraham believed, they did not received the blessing of Abraham and were not counted among the seed of God. Instead, Jesus said of them, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do.” They were not saved because they had descended from Abraham unless they believed as Abraham believed.
Adam’s seed perished under the curse and death passed upon them, even in those years before Moses and even though they had not sinned in the same way Adam sinned. They perished because of Adam’s sin. In a similar way, those in Christ receive the gift of eternal life even though none of them is able to present to God the same kind of obedience that Jesus did. “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Rom. 5:19. The effect of Christ’s righteousness is universal upon all in Christ; just as the effect of Adam’s sin was universal upon all those in Adam.
Therefore, the key was the faith of Abraham. Only those who believed as Abraham believed were saved and counted among the children of God. All others remained under the curse, and the Law of Moses only compounded their guilt and misery, for the law works wrath, it cannot take it away.
It is by faith, then, that sins are forgiven and the sinner is justified in the sight of God. The reason for this is that faith is not a work of the flesh, but is the work of the Spirit and is only found in connection with the preaching of the Gospel. “How shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard?” Any who were saved in Old Testament times were saved because of faith in Christ and the Gospel must have been preached in the Old Testament, as Hebrews 11 witnesses.
This is exactly what the Scripture says. Sabbath Day rest and the rest in Canaan pointed to justification by faith: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Heb 4:1-2)
Moses suffered because of Christ: “Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Heb 11:26) Acts 3:25,26, quoted above, specifically connects the promise of Christ with the promise God made to Abraham, and even more specifically to the taking away of sins. There are many other such places, such as Galatians 3, and Romans 4.
“That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Ga 3:14)
In this text, the blessing of Abraham is specifically equated with the receiving of the Spirit through faith. It is the Spirit that draws the soul to Christ, working faith and repentance, for the Spirit is the One who energizes the Gospel and applies the work of Christ of the soul. “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye, though the Spirit to mortify the deeds of body, ye shall live.”
This work of the Spirit is the first work of sanctification, the beginning of the putting off of the old and the putting on of the new. Justification does not depend upon sanctification, but sanctification depends upon justification. No man can be sanctified who is not justified; but those who have only the first beginnings of sanctification will be completed when we see Christ in glory. Until then, we walk by faith, for He that has begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Christ. The same decree of God that elects us to faith and eternal life has also determined that we shall be conformed to Jesus Christ, according to Romans 8:29. It must be, for none of Christ’s sheep shall perish.
But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” (Joh 10:26-29)
This is the blessing of Abraham that those who believe receive in Jesus Christ. It came first to Israel, in both the Old and the New Testaments. This was the message of the prophets and the apostles. The Great Prophet [Jesus Christ--Acts 3:22,23, predicted by Moses] would come and those who would not hear him would be cut off and perish.
The Promise is to the elect alone, and they alone receive it by faith. The Lord Jesus alone turns us by faith from our sins and miseries and joins us to Christ. All others are lost, even if within the church, for ““He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (Joh 3:18)
It is faith which saves. Not being born of the corruptible seed of a human father, no matter how godly; but being born of incorruptible seed, by the word of God which lives and abides forever. Sanctification depends upon justification and both rest upon the eternal decree of God. To make the decree depend upon sanctification, or to make justification depend upon sanctification is to make sanctification impossible and to deny the power of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and must die, but the word of God abides forever.
Faith cannot make a man elect, for he cannot have faith unless he is elect, for the natural man who is dead in trespasses and sins cannot believe, for he cannot receive the things of God for they are foolishness to him.
However, the great power of the work of God is this: faith overcomes doubt and fear; it raises the soul from the death of sin and misery and makes him a new creation in Christ Jesus and sets him free from the bondage of sin’s guilt so that he may serve God with godly fear. Amen.
Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. --Acts 17:18
Have you ever studied the idolatry of the Greeks? Have you ever read the stories of the gods like Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis, Aris, Hestia? And Jesus seemed strange?
Nowadays to a great many of the elites in this great nation, educated in elite universities, the Christian faith seems strange also. They can accept the stupidity of evolution, the perfectibility of man, salvation through state initiatives, political correctness, green politics, etc., but forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ seems like babbling.
It isn't the message, though. It's the ears. The babbling is in the ears.
1Co 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
John 10:26, 27 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
John 8:47 He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.
“Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?” Prov. 20:24
How many people older than fifty can honestly affirm that what they are today is what they thought they would be when they were twenty? I would hazard an unscientific guess of zero.
When I was a green youth the newspapers were filled with the Soviet Union’s Five Year Plans, plans devised by communist bureaucrats to jerk their country into the twentieth century. The twentieth century is gone and so is the Soviet Union. None of the plans worked and the Soviet Union finally fell by its sheer incompetence. Slavery only can compete with liberty across a very narrow field of activity.
I guess that it is human, depressingly so, for men with large egos to run for office in the United States, but it might be refreshing sometime to hear the candidate say, “I will accomplish as President exactly what God wills for me to accomplish.” Of course, it would be the end of his candidacy, for the press would excoriate him. The average reporter or editor does and could not understand that the candidate would be uttering a most profound truth. They would think him vain and pretentious, presuming to know the will of God, or thinking that he was arrogantly assuming to be a special instrument of God. And they might be right, for the words could be understood in different ways.
But they could be true in a most profound and Biblical way. Nebuchadnezzar ate grass like an animal because he was lifted up with pride and boasted in his achievements. After living off the land, so to speak, he was humbled and blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” --Daniel 4:34,35
Your sex. Your skin color. Your race. The century and date of your birth. The identity of your parents. The economic condition of your parents. The continent and country in which you were born. Your general health at birth, the lack or presence of deformities, blindness, deafness, or handicaps of some sort.
You had a lot to do with each of these, right? Wrong.
Then why do you prate on about free will? Helen Keller was a very admirable character. She didn't choose blindness and could not choose it away. I was born a Powell; my mother had an 8th grade education, my father, an ex-con, had part of a 10th grade education. My name was not Rockefeller, I inherited no trust fund, but I had a decent upbringing and have many happy memories of my childhood and my extended family. But I could have been bitter about my dad. He never held a steady job; we lived in thirty or forty different places by the time I finished high school; I went to three different high schools. But I never had a sliver of bitterness about any of this. Why? I don't know. I didn’t choose to be bitter, but neither do I remember choosing NOT to be bitter.
But I think it was because of things I learned in church. Somehow the message seeped into my soul that everything that happened to me was for my good. I believed that. It was only many years later that I learned the words of the Heidelberg Catechism:
My only comfort in life and in death is that I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.
I knew the doctrine long before I knew the catechism.
Would my life have been different if I had been born a girl in A.D. 1654 in what is now Bolivia? I suspect that it would have. If things happened by chance, or if the events of my life depended upon the random choices of the billions of people who do and have and will inhabit the world, then why not just eat, drink, and raise Cain? Teach your kids life is the result of random acts and you are giving them a formula for suicide. It boggles the mind to think that people could be so nasty as to teach that stuff to kids, just so that they [the teachers] can justify their own rotten life-styles. Do they then pretend to like kids? Whew!
Thankfulness is of the essence of faith; without thankfulness faith is shadow and illusion.
· “Because I love God I keep His commandments” is not the same as “Because I keep the commandments I love God” They produce two very different results. The first is love from the heart; the other results in minimal acts that pretend love. The first is focused on faith; the other is focused on the law. The first is focused on Christ in whom the love of God is manifested; the other if focused on the law and the wrath of God. They are not the same thing, and produce differing ethical systems.
· God said that He would put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. There will never be peace between Christ and His people and the devil and his people. Anyone who thinks he can is living in a dream world. Can you make straight what God has made crooked? [Ecc. 7:13.] The modern dream of One World and universal brotherhood is based on an empty dream. Evil cannot be reconciled with good. Who can best the devil in negotiations? Who, but Christ alone, and Christ overcomes the devil and cast him and all his seed into everlasting fire. [Matt. 23:23; Matt. 25:41]
· Do not embezzle the children’s food and give it to the dogs. (Mt 15:26) When the promises of God are appropriated by unbelievers it is a robbery of staggering proportions. “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lu 6:46 ) God pronounced the death penalty on anyone who would counterfeit the holy anointing oil , which is a symbol of the blessings of Christ. It was forbidden to put it upon man’s flesh or upon a “stranger.” [Ps. 133:1; Ex. 30:33.]
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We will send A Basket of Figs free of charge to anyone who requests it. It is our desire that these little papers be used of the Lord to bear witness of the truth as it is in Christ. Our only request is that they be read: you do not even have to agree with everything! Unless otherwise indicated, Pastor Powell writes all articles, and they may be freely duplicated as long as duly credited. We do not solicit funds, nor will we give or sell our mailing list to anyone. All readers of this publication are invited to visit our website: www.trinityrcus.com. The website for Basket of Figs is http://basketoffigs.org where you will find back issues of Figs and other delicacies. Some of these may not be for your taste, but you can pick and choose, and download anything you like. For some you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader, which may be downloaded free at http://www.adobe.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org