Monday, November 25, 2019

Sexual Desire and Marriage

Last Sunday I preached on Jesus words about murder and adultery, recorded in Matthew 5:21-30. You can listen to the sermon at this link. In that passage, Jesus notes that not only is the external act of adultery forbidden, but adulterous desire is also forbidden. This accords with the similar prohibition in the tenth commandment: "you shall not covet your neighbor's wife" (Exod. 20:17). In my sermon, I quoted the following passage from John Murray's book, Principles of Conduct, and I thought I would post it here as well.
“The line of demarcation between virtue and vice is not a chasm but a razor’s edge. Sex desire is not wrong and Jesus does not say so. To cast any aspersion on sex desire is to impugn the integrity of the Creator and of his creation. Furthermore, it is not wrong to desire to satisfy sex desire and impulse in the way God has ordained. Indeed, sex desire is one of the considerations which induce men and women to marry. The Scripture fully recognizes the propriety of that motive and commends marriage as the honorable and necessary outlet for sex impulse. What is wrong is the earliest and most rudimentary desire to satisfy the impulse to the sex act outside the estate of matrimony. It is not wrong to desire the sex act with the person who may be contemplated as spouse if and when the estate of matrimony will have been entered upon with him or her. But the desire for the sex act outside that divinely instituted and strictly guarded sanctuary which God has reserved for the man and his wife alone is wrong; and it is from this fountain of desire that proceed all the evils by which the sanctity of sex is desecrated.”

Thursday, November 14, 2019

John Calvin on the Old and New Covenants

There is one covenant that God has made to reestablish fellowship with sinful humanity, revealed in first in the old covenant (Old Testament) and then in the new covenant (New Testament). There is one people of God throughout history, bound to Him and to each other by this covenant. Christ did not come to abolish the old covenant. He came to bring it to fulfillment in a permanent form, based on His redemptive work, with greater spiritual power and new ceremonies that more clearly exhibit what the old covenant ceremonies pointed to: Christ. John Calvin remarked on this continuity between the old and new covenants, and the abiding authority of the Old Testament law, in his commentary on the Gospels.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)
"God had, indeed, promised a new covenant at the coming of Christ; but had, at the same time, showed, that it would not be different from the first, but that, on the contrary, its design was, to give a perpetual sanction to the covenant, which he had made from the beginning, with his own people.
'I will write my law, (says he,) in their hearts,
and I will remember their iniquities no more.'
(Jeremiah 31:33, 34)
By these words he is so far from departing from the former covenant, that, on the contrary, he declares, that it will be confirmed and ratified, when it shall be succeeded by the new. This is also the meaning of Christ’s words, when he says, that he came to fulfill the law: for he actually fulfilled it, by quickening, with his Spirit, the dead letter, and then exhibiting, in reality, what had hitherto appeared only in figures. 
With respect to doctrine, we must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law: for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable, as the justice of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform. With respect to ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of shadows: for, when we see their full effect, we acknowledge that they are not vain or useless. Let us therefore learn to maintain inviolable this sacred tie between the law and the Gospel, which many improperly attempt to break. For it contributes not a little to confirm the authority of the Gospel, when we learn, that it is nothing else than a fulfillment of the law; so that both, with one consent, declare God to be their Author." (source)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Westminster Assembly on Dating and Courtship

The Westminster Assembly was a 17th century council of English Puritan and Scottish Presbyterian ministers who were tasked with unifying the English and Scottish churches with a shared statement of faith, catechism, system of government, and guidelines for worship. Its confession of faith and catechisms are still the doctrinal standards of Presbyterian churches today.

Today I want to share some of what the assembly said about biblical guidelines for the process of getting married. In evangelical circles in our time, there has been a bit of confusion and discussion about how to respond to the culture of individualism, casual dating, sexual "freedom" that surrounds us. Some have used the term "courtship" to describe a way of getting married that is more purposeful, careful, and respectful of parental authority. While this approach has gone well for some, myself included, in other people's experience the attempt to implement this alternative way has been messy and prone to overreaction, which is why I bring in this historical perspective. Over-reacting and under-reacting are both driven by an unbalanced focus on the present situation. The teachings of the church in other cultures and eras can give us balance, new insights, and the wisdom of experience. So what did the Westminster Assembly have to say about getting married?

First, the Westminster Assembly has a chapter on marriage in its Confession of Faith (chapter 24, see link for biblical footnotes). In short, it affirms that the Bible teaches that marriage is to be monogamous and heterosexual, for mutual help, procreation, and the prevention of immorality. Incestuous marriages cannot be made lawful, and divorce is only lawful in the case of adultery or willful desertion which is unable to be remedied by church and state. Article three of this chapter is particularly relevant for the topic of getting married:
"It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent. Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies." 
Second, the Westminster Assembly described the duties of the seventh commandment (the one against adultery) at length in the Larger Catechism (Q. 137-139). Not only does it describe our duty to be chaste in "body, mind, affections, words, and behavior," but also our duty to preserve our own chastity and the chastity of others. This requires "watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel" - certainly important directions in our present day which exalts pleasure, autonomous freedom, and irresponsible clothing choices. Most importantly for the topic of getting married, it affirms that one duty of the seventh commandment is "marriage by those that have not the gift of continency." If you are of marriageable age, you have a duty to seek marriage, unless you have a special gift of restraint such that sexual temptation is not a threat (1 Cor. 7:2-9; see this post for more on that text). The catechism says that one of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment is the "undue delay of marriage."

Third, and perhaps most overlooked, is what the Westminster Assembly said about getting married in the Directory for Public Worship (under "The Solemnization of Marriage"). Before the directory gives directions for the wedding ceremony, it gives directions for the process of getting married. Give particular attention to how it handles the consent of the couple and their parents, beginning in the fourth paragraph. In short, the free consent of the couple (Gen. 24:57-58, Mal. 2:14) and of their parents (Ex. 20:12, 22:17, Deut. 7:3) are both needed before the engagement is made public (i.e. they all have ability to veto the marriage), although parents cannot deny their consent without just cause.
"Although marriage be no sacrament, nor peculiar to the church of God, but common to mankind, and of publick interest in every commonwealth; yet, because such as marry are to marry in the Lord, and have special need of instruction, direction, and exhortation, from the word of God, at their entering into such a new condition, and of the blessing of God upon them therein, we judge it expedient that marriage be solemnized by a lawful minister of the word, that he may accordingly counsel them, and pray for a blessing upon them.
Marriage is to be betwixt one man and one woman only; and they such as are not within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity prohibited by the word of God; and the parties are to be of years of discretion, fit to make their own choice, or, upon good grounds, to give their mutual consent. 
Before the solemnizing of marriage between any persons, the purpose of marriage shall be published by the minister three several sabbath-days, in the congregation, at the place or places of their most usual and constant abode, respectively. And of this publication the minister who is to join them in marriage shall have sufficient testimony, before he proceed to solemnize the marriage. 
Before that publication of such their purpose, (if the parties be under age,) the consent of the parents, or others under whose power they are, (in case the parents be dead,) is to be made known to the church officers of that congregation, to be recorded. 
The like is to be observed in the proceedings of all others, although of age, whose parents are living, for their first marriage. 
And, in after marriages of either of those parties, they shall be exhorted not to contract marriage without first acquainting their parents with it, (if with conveniency it may be done,) endeavouring to obtain their consent. 
Parents ought not to force their children to marry without their free consent, nor deny their own consent without just cause. 
After the purpose or contract of marriage hath been thus published, the marriage is not to be long deferred."
And fourth, even though it is not the product of the Westminster Assembly, but of one of its members, I would recommend William Gouge's book, Of Domestical Duties (1622), which has been published in a modern edition as Building a Godly Home, 3 volumes (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), available here. The topic of getting married is covered in volumes 2 and 3. William Gouge was a senior member of the Westminster Assembly, a Puritan pastor in London, and a married man with thirteen children. His book is worth reading. Here is one quote from him on the process of getting married:
"The first liking is sometimes on the parents' or other friends' part, and then made known to the party to be married ... (Gen. 24:58). Sometimes again the first liking is on the party's part that is to be married, and then if that party be under the authority of parents, the matter must be proposed to them, before there be any further proceeding ... (Judg. 14:2). Even if the party is not under the authority of any, it is very fitting that counsel be taken of wise and understanding friends ... After a liking is thus taken by one party for a good mate, that liking must be proposed to the other party so liked, to know if there is a reciprocal affection of one towards another ... Mutual love and good liking of each other is as glue. Let the parties to be married be well settled before they come to meet with trials through cohabitation, and that love will not easily be loosened by any trials ... When both parties have shown a mutual liking to each other, and upon mature deliberation and good advice do think one to be a fit match for another, it is necessary that a joint consent and absolute promise of marrying one another before sufficient witnesses be made." (Building a Godly Home, vol. 2, p. 17-19)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Spirit is not a dove, but once He used the form of a dove to symbolize Himself (Matt. 3:16)

1. The Holy Spirit is God, the same God who is revealed throughout Scripture. The apostle Peter identifies the Spirit as God in Acts 5:3-4. The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:17, identities the Spirit as the Lord, and in that context "the Lord" is God, the same God who revealed His glory to Moses. This means that He shares in all the attributes of God: He is eternal, invisible, present everywhere, all powerful, all knowing, perfectly righteous and wise, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 

2. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force. Jesus described the Spirit in personal terms when He called the Spirit "another Helper," just as Jesus had been a helper (John 14:16-17, 26). The word can mean helper, counselor, or advocate. The Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), which implies a personal relation to the Spirit. The Spirit can also be grieved (Eph. 4:30).  

3. The Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. The Spirit is sent by the Father and is “another Helper” compared to Jesus (John 14:16-17), so the Spirit is distinct from both of them, even though the three of them are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. We also see the Spirit distinguished from - and interacting with - the other persons of the Trinity in passages like Jesus’ baptism where He descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16-17).

4. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Son is distinguished as the only one eternally begotten from the Father (John 1:14) and the Spirit is distinguished as the one who eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. This term comes from John 15:26, where Jesus says, "when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." The Eastern church argues from this that the Spirit only proceeds from the Father, but the Western church has argued that since Scripture also speaks of the Spirit as "the Spirit of his Son" (Gal. 4:6), that the Spirit proceeds from them both. This makes sense, since just as the Son reveals and points to the one from whom He is begotten, the Father (John 1:14, 18), so the Spirit reveals and points to those from whom He proceeds, both the Father and the Son (John 14:26, 15:26, Gal. 4:6). 

5. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life. "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). In both creation and salvation, the Spirit is described as the one who gives life. We get a hint of that when God gives life to man by His breath in Genesis 2:7, since the word for breath and spirit are the same (see also Job 33:4). Psalm 104:29–30 describes God's ongoing work in the order of creation by the Spirit, "When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground."

Therefore, it is fitting that the new spiritual life of salvation also comes from the Spirit. We are born again with a renewed nature by the Spirit (John 3:5-6). We are united to Jesus and given eternal life by the Spirit (John 6:54-56, 63). We are delivered by the Spirit from our sinful nature and its rebellious ways unto a new nature defined by virtues like love, peace, and self-control (Gal. 5:16-24). The Spirit gives life to the church, making the body work together in mutual service and binding it to Christ the head (1 Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13). And finally, our bodies will be raised up on the last day by the Spirit (Rom. 8:11). In short, while the Son accomplishes salvation, the Spirit applies these benefits to the elect. 

6. The Holy Spirit reveals God's word to humanity. The Spirit spoke through people and guided them to write down God's word for future generation in the Scripture. The apostle Peter told his readers to pay attention to Scripture, because no prophecy of Scripture came "by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). And while he had the Old Testament particularly in mind, Peter put apostolic witness on the same level (1:16-19, 3:2) and identifies the apostolic writings as Scripture at the end of his epistle (3:15-16). This is no surprise, since Jesus said that the Spirit would remind the apostles of His words (John 14:25-26), so that the whole Bible is the product of the Spirit's work. 

In connection with this work, the Spirit also gave gifts of healing and miracles to confirm the apostolic message (Heb. 2:4) and gave the gift of speaking in foreign tongues to communicate the inclusion of the Gentiles in the new convent (Acts 2:4-11, 1 Cor. 14:21-22). The new covenant being established and the canon of Scripture being finished with Jesus and His apostles (Heb. 1:1-2, 2:4, 2 Peter 3:2), these particular gifts have ceased with the passing away of the apostles.

Yet, the Spirit continues to work in the hearts and minds of people to enable them to recognize, receive, and understand the written word of God (1 Cor. 2:12–14). The Spirit gives us the ability to believe and obey God's word, not only externally, but also from the heart (Ezek. 36:26-27).

7. The Holy Spirit is essential to the Christian faith and life (Matt. 28:19). Neglecting the Spirit cannot come without fundamentally distorting Christianity. This usually happens by making the faith moralistic, merely formal and external, or a matter of "cold orthodoxy." On the other hand, many people today have a unbiblical understanding of the Spirit's work, isolated from the written word and the work of Christ. This can lead to a dangerous confusion between the Holy Spirit and your inner thoughts and feelings. But a proper appreciation of the Holy Spirit leads to a lively faith and active love in the fellowship of the saints which is guided by Scripture and leads us to appreciate and enjoy the work of Christ and the love of the Father. And so we confess in the historic words of the Nicene Creed of 381:
"And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets."

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Join Us for the 2019 Pilgrim Heritage Celebration!

In the video above, I give a brief explanation of why my church hosts an annual event that remembers and celebrates the Pilgrims who settled Plymouth colony. This year's event will be held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, November 23rd, at the Family Vision Library (2020 Parkway Dr. St Peters, MO 63376). I will be speaking on how we might live today as heirs of the Pilgrims, learning from their example and extending their vision into the future. I will be joined by Jeff Hamann, who will recall the history of the Pilgrims, and Dan Ford, who will speak about the legacy of the Pilgrims in American history. Dan Ford is the author of The Legacy Of Liberty and Property and In the Name of God, Amen: Rediscovering Biblical and Historical Covenants.

The main program will begin at 3:30pm. This will include the talks, as well as music and other fun. Afterwards we will eat together with a delicious Thanksgiving-style dinner, and we will conclude with a 17th-century country dance.

Registration for the event is now open online at this link. Register today at least several days in advance so that we can tell the caterer how much food to bring. Admission is $5 a person, and children 2 years old and under are free. Let me know if you have any questions by using the contact form at this link

For recordings from the last two years of this event, see here and here. You can also read this post that I wrote in preparation for this event last year, explaining why the Pilgrims are worth a celebration. You can also watch the dance that I plan on calling at the end of this year's event at this link

“Lastly, (and which was not least), a great hope and inward zeall they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way therunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospell of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
-William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Friday, November 1, 2019

Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Feasts?

Because modern Christianity tends to neglect the Old Testament, some have sought to supply this lack by returning to Old Testament practices like the food laws, the seventh-day Sabbath, and at least some of the feasts. It also seems that this movement comes as a radical reaction against the history and tradition of the Christian church. For example, the choice between the traditional church calendar and the Old Testament feasts is seen as a conflict between tradition and biblical truth. This is a bit ironic, because they usually end up adopting Jewish traditions that have continued to develop since biblical times. But it is a powerful appeal, especially to Protestants, and appears to have some truth to it - after all, Sukkoth is in the Bible, but Christmas is not. So should we return to the Old Testament ceremonies and holy days?

In his letter to the saints in Colossae, the apostle Paul wrote,
"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." (Colossians 2:16–17)
This is one of the places in the New Testament which teaches that the old covenant ceremonies that pointed to Christ are no longer binding on Christians in the present era. Now, I have seen some argue that Paul is here affirming these practices, in effect saying: "do not let anyone condemn you for practicing these things, since they point to Christ." But this is not Paul's point in Colossians. Rather, he is saying, "do not let anyone condemn you for not following these practices, since you already have the substance they pointed to - Christ!" How do I know this? Because the sufficiency of Christ, as opposed to regulations regarding what you can taste and touch, is Paul's theme (Col. 2:6, 20-21). He had already addressed the matter of circumcision, the preeminent symbol of the old covenant administration. He argued that they were already circumcised with a circumcision made without hands by putting off the flesh and being united to Christ, an event confirmed by their baptism (Col. 2:11-12). They were circumcised without being physically circumcised by having the substance, Christ. This pattern holds true for other ceremonial laws of food and times.

The laws regarding clean and unclean foods had been given to represent the purity of God’s people, in distinction from the nations (Lev. 11, Acts 10:9-29). The unclean foods were literally unclean and often unhealthy, but that is not the main reason they were forbidden (just as ritual washings were primarily spiritual in meaning, even though they did physically wash things). The true uncleanness or defilement is sin and curse. The food laws were a shadow, but the substance belongs to Christ. Christ takes away our defilement and makes us clean. In Christ, we are called to avoid the defilement of sin and to be holy. Christ taught us the true meaning of defilement in Mark 7:18-23 when he said,
“‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” 
The festivals and new moons were holy times in Israel, observed with sacrifices and often participated in by eating. These also were shadows of Christ. The Passover pointed to Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:6-13). The Feast of Firstfruits pointed to Christ, who rose as the firstfruits of the dead on that very day (1 Cor. 15). The Feast of Weeks or Harvest (i.e. Pentecost) commemorated blessing in the Promised Land and the giving of the law. It pointed to Christ, who achieved lasting rest in the land (Heb. 3-4) and who sent His Spirit on that day to write the law on our hearts (Acts 2). The Feast of Trumpets prepared the people for the next two events in that seventh month: the Day of Atonement, which pointed to Christ’s atonement for our sins which was achieved on the cross (Heb. 9), and the Feast of Booths, which looked back to God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness and the promised land and looked forward to Christ, who is the manna from heaven, the bread of life (John 6), and the rock from which comes living water (John 4, 1 Cor. 10). And all the sacrifices on these days and on the new moons pointed to Christ, the once-for-all-time sacrifice which paid the penalty for our guilt and defilement and reconciled us to God (Heb. 9-10).

Also on this list is “a Sabbath” or “sabbaths.” This probably refers to the sabbath years, as well as the weekly, seventh-day Sabbath. The old covenant Sabbath pointed to Christ and His redemptive work. It was a day of rest, and Christ has given us rest. If we have entered God’s rest in Christ, we have rested from our works (Heb. 4:10). It was also a day that commemorated the accomplishment of redemption. In Deuteronomy 5:15, Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath in remembrance of their exodus from Egypt. It was then that God rested from the work of redemption and that Israel rested from its bondage. But this pointed to the full accomplishment of redemption in the resurrection of Christ. Thus, the seventh-day Sabbath was a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. And so we do not observe the seventh-day Sabbath of the old covenant, but we follow the example of Christ and the apostles and observe the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. The Sabbath principle is an aspect of creation and is part of the moral law, but the day has changed because a new creation has begun and something greater than the exodus has come.

Thus, all of these old covenant ceremonies of food and time are no longer required. They were tutors given to bring Israel to Christ before His coming. They were shadows, giving us the outline of the one to come, but now that He has come, we turn from observing the shadows to Jesus Christ. Jesus established new ceremonies that fit the greater clarity of the new covenant, like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Lord’s Day. While the Old Testament feasts are in the Bible, to treat them as holy days, to be observed today as such, is unbiblical.

The Old Testament is important. It is often sadly neglected today. It is still part of the Bible, God's infallible word. But it is vital to understand it and obey it in the light of Christ and the new covenant.