Answering Objections to Catechism Preaching Part 1

The following article has been adapted from the 1986 edition of the Mid-America Journal of Theology.


Objections have been raised against the Heidelberg Catechism and its homiletical use from the very beginning.

This should occasion no surprise. As soon as it made its appearance on the European scene, Roman Catholics, many Lutherans, and a variety of Anabaptists had little good to say about it. Nor did sermons based on its contents always receive unstinted praise from members of Reformed congregations. Even some early preachers neglected or agitated against this demand.

Such objections have by no means died away.

We still find people who argue that such preaching is sterile. The same truths are preached again and again, and that always in the same way to the wearying of the congregation. Why not, so they insist, preach something new and interesting and challenging? Others opine that this “sum of doctrine” is much too deep and abstruse for the average congregation which always includes children and young people. Occasionally one hears that these sermons are “not evangelistic” or that they “do not answer the questions which people are asking today,” or that they fail to meet the real needs of those who sit in the pews.

Whether seriously intentioned or not, these objections should not be lightly brushed aside. More may well be implicit in them than appears at first hearing. Preaching is always much too solemn and sacred to be taken for granted. Yet the response can be relatively simple.

Far too many people, including also some serious-minded believers, no longer know what preaching is and ought to be according to God’s will. Some greatly prefer a dramatic spectacle or soothing music which need not engage the mind. Listening, let it be remembered, is an art learned only by long and laborious practice. Ours is not an age outstanding for such an exercise in patience. Add to this the anti-intellectual and anti-authoritarian spirit which seeps daily into nearly every heart and home, and we will not be surprised that sermons which deal with the lofty themes of Holy Scripture are often far from popular. 

Opposition to systematic instruction in the Christian faith, also by way of preaching, frequently springs from such cliches as “no creed but Christ” and “Christianity is not a doctrine but a life.” Here are false dilemmas which the Bible itself refutes. Unless we “know” Jesus Christ (and this involves doctrinal content as well as commitment of heart and life), we cannot confess him before men, which is our chief calling and without which there is no salvation (Matt. 10:32-33). Nor can we engage in any Christian duty without proper instruction in the what and the why and the how of godly living according to the word. Here rank-and-file unbelievers usually put to shame many who belong to the churches. The former can state and defend and propagate their convictions and life-style, while many of the latter are tongue-tied. They may still attend church with a degree of regularity. But failing to ask seriously the right questions about God, themselves, and their relation to others and the world in which they live, their minds remain untouched and their hearts unchanged. Preoccupied with pleasures and profits of the daily round, they fall under the apostolic judgment of “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” They simply will not be bothered with what they regard as unnecessary and unprofitable details in the Bible which they still claim to believe.

The blight of ignorance, indifference, and superficiality with respect to God’s truth has by no means left Reformed churches unscathed either. True and saving faith is more than a religious feeling. It knows what it believes and in whom it trusts. Without sound knowledge of God as he reveals himself in the word, faith is reduced to fantasy which deceives for time and eternity. It is always under attack from without and within. Everything conspires against learning to know and enjoy him rightly, so that faith needs to be regularly and repeatedly strengthened by the facts and mysteries of the Christian religion. 

On this our Lord also insisted when commanding the disciples to engage in “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Only then, according to the testimony of Paul, “will we no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

How else, then, can an individual or a congregation grow strong in faith, firm in hope, and abounding in love? All who despise instruction in the Christian religion soon cease to deserve the name Christian.

But can God’s truth, so some who object to catechetical preaching would protest, be put into words which have abiding value and validity? Is not truth in its depth-dimension really relational, so that all statements and propositions which attempt to reproduce it are at best only poor approximations?  

Here, it must be realized, the attack is not leveled only against creeds and confessions; it ranges itself against the very form and content of Scripture itself. To explain and explode this objection lies outside the scope of this article. Let it simply be affirmed that all who argue in this fashion can never, if true to what they claim, say anything meaningful about anything. Nor have they learned to listen reverently and believingly to what the prophets, the apostles, and especially our Lord Jesus taught.

But can a creed, especially one formulated some hundreds of years ago, meet the spiritual needs of today? Is not its language much too antiquated and the questions which it asks and answers far too irrelevant to the everyday concerns of our time? Not a few, especially philosophers and scientists and theologians bewitched by the explosion of knowledge characteristic of the twentieth century, would answer the above with a resounding insistence that we have outgrown the past. 

What should be faced at this juncture is whether human nature has been so radically changed that a totally new approach is demanded. Also, has not language itself, especially that of ordinary folk, undergone such great changes that we no longer understand what then was put on paper?

Reasonable responses to such assertions, it seems to us, lie at hand.

Has man’s nature actually changed so much, despite all that has happened to our physical and spiritual environment, so that we can discount the past? Are not all men, then as well as now, endowed with the ability to think and speak and so communicate with each other? Are not all sinners in need of divine salvation? And do not our problems, no matter how seemingly complex and difficult of resolution, stem from the same alienation from God, ourselves, others, and the world around us even as they did centuries ago?

Few will deny that the temper of our times is radically other than that which affected our grandparents, let stand those of far earlier generations. Mass media—including newspapers, magazines, and novels that flood the marketplaces as well as radio and television—impinge on old and young every day. All these affect what we think and feel and do, not only by the facts which they often purport to present but much more profoundly by explanations and interpretations which are inescapably added. Always there is more than we can assimilate, much less evaluate with any degree of discernment. The world, as someone so aptly remarked, is too much with us late and soon. All this seems to raise barriers between us and the life- and world-view presented in the Bible and summarized in the evangelical confessions of the church. Preachers and people alike will have to keep this always in mind. Man, much more perhaps than in the past, has become a problem to himself and to others. Increasingly he feels himself alone and lost in a wilderness with no way out. Life for such persons has become directionless, because they are without chart and compass.

All the more reason, then, to get back to the teachings of Scripture, as these are so pointedly, practically, and pastorally summarized in the creeds, including the Heidelberg Catechism. In subordination and subservience to the Bible, it attempts to ask the right questions and provide the only satisfying answers to the riddle of our existence. Nor can man know himself in isolation. Left to themselves, all without exception have lost the way, which is the Lord Jesus Christ in his fulness, and so also the address, which is the triune God of all grace and glory. 

Here lie exposed the deep roots of man’s problems and perplexities. Life to him becomes a troubled sea whose contrary and contradictory waves threaten his very existence at every point. No rest of soul can be his, unless he learns to rest in the word and will of God who is Creator, Savior, and also Lord of and over all. 

Calvin, that master preacher and pastor, and theologian, so correctly insists: “It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge, until he has seriously contemplated the face of God, and comes down after such contemplation to look into himself …. Until God reveals himself to us, we do not think we are men, or rather, we think we are gods; but when we have seen God, then we begin to feel and know what we are.”

How much also we as Christian believers should be reminded of this repeatedly. We need clear, penetrating, and persuasive instruction in that which alone can give abiding meaning and purpose to our lives whose existence has become too much enslaved by what we can touch with hands which grow weaker with the years. Our souls need to be lifted up far beyond the hills. Our spirits can be sustained only by food which abides into that eternity which awaits all who partake in faith.

To that end, catechetical sermons have been mandated and maintained.

In obedience to the life-giving word, they supply preachers and people with a pattern which prevents them from majoring in minors and so wandering into bypaths from which there is no exit. Reformed churches, therefore, need never feel apologetic about making use of their catechism for homiletical purposes. 

Is the language of our catechism, as some still urge, too antiquated or too technical? Then let preachers remember what they have been called by God. They are to teach old and young; some only recently attracted by the gospel and others whose lives have been steeped in Scripture for many years. But all need teaching. And this is a work worthy of all his energies and efforts. Creativity in expressing old truths in a new and illuminating way is the art which he does well to seek to master. He will attempt to explain patiently. He will make use of apt illustrations drawn from both the Bible and contemporary life situations. He will demonstrate the applicability of God’s truth to daily life, convinced that sound doctrine is no end in itself but aims at godliness which delights the One who has commissioned him to preach. When this is consistently and conscientiously done, these objections soon melt like snow before a warm and radiant sun.

 


P.Y. De Jong (1915-2005) was one of the founding members and former professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11

The Word was made flesh…

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.—John 1:14

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the Word. He is flesh. He is both in one person. In his becoming flesh and in his flesh, we behold the glory of God as the omnipotent, sovereign, gracious, merciful, and faithful God. Surely, you can behold the glory of God in the whirlwind, in fire, in thunder, and in the shaking of the earth.

In these few words—the Word became flesh—the whole Christian religion is summarized. Herein the gospel is summarized. On these words rest the hope, comfort, and joy of the believer.

By this truth every lie is exposed too. That man must first repent before God may forgive man is a lie that is exposed by the truth that the Word was made flesh. That the reception of, joy in, and assurance of the blessings of salvation cannot come apart from the obedience of man is revealed as a lie of the devil by the truth that the Word was made flesh. That there are activities of man that precede blessings of God is shown to be a damning false doctrine by the truth that the Word was made flesh. That believers abide in Christ by faith and by the works of faith is shown to be a wicked teaching by the truth that the Word was made flesh. All these lies, as every lie in the history of the church, make God dependent on man in the matter of salvation. These lies, as all lies before them, teach an impotent God, not an omnipotent God—an impotent God who waits on man to be first, not an omnipotent God who does all his pleasure. A God who is not omnipotent cannot perform the incarnation. Thus to teach an impotent God is to make the incarnation impossible. Indeed, if man must first repent, first turn, first fogive, and first obey, then the incarnation never happened. Such is the seriousness of the issues that we face. These false doctrines deny that the Word was made flesh.

But the Word was made flesh. Wonder of wonders! All glory to the only true, ever-gracious, perfectly sovereign, and omnipotent God, who does not wait on man, who is able to do all that he willed to do, and who is able to do all that he willed to do especially in connection with the salvation of his people in his eternal covenant of grace to the glory of his everlasting name. Man is not and never can be first in any sense whatsoever, but God accomplishes all things that he willed for the salvation of his people, including making them alive; causing them to believe and to repent; and justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying them according to his own sovereign will. For the Word was made flesh, so that everything God wills he is also able to accomplish.

Does not the truth that the Word was made flesh fill you with unspeakable joy and assurance? That the Word was made flesh means that Jesus Christ is God with us, that in Christ God came unto us, and that in Christ God fulfilled his promise and oath and showed himself the God who is able to do the impossible and thus who is able to accomplish all things for our salvation. If God were to say publicly and before the whole world, “God was made an angel,” would that not fill the angels with unspeakable joy? Would they not shout and sing and tell everyone that God was made an angel? But God says that God was made flesh.

All the scriptures proclaim this fact. That is certainly at the heart of the Old Testament. The whole Old Testament is nothing more than a revelation of God concerning Jesus Christ his Son, the seed of the woman, who would come and would crush the head of the serpent. And the New Testament and all its doctrine are nothing more than the revelation of God that Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of Mary and crucified at Golgotha, is the fulfillment of that promise of God that God would be made flesh.

In that becoming flesh the Word came unto his own. This does not refer to God’s entrance into the world, for God does not come into the world. He made the world. He is always present in the world, so that there is nothing and no one who is nearer to the world than God himself, who while he is totally transcendent above the world is also immanent in the world, present with the whole of his being in every point of space. That the transcendent and immanent God came unto his own means that God, the maker of all men, became a man, really and truly became a man; so that he did not take the nature of angels, did not become an exalted spiritual being aloof from man; but he took of the flesh and blood of man, of the lowly Adam, and became truly and really a man in all points except sin.

Still more, that the Word came unto his own means not only that he became a man but also that he became a man for the purpose of redeeming those who were his by eternal election in order to bring them into most precious fellowship with God. They were his own not only because he shared with them a nature of flesh and blood, but also they were his own because as the electing God he had chosen them in love and appointed them to salvation in an eternal covenant of grace. To realize that will of God, the Word came to them.

And in order to come unto his own, the Word became flesh. The Word of God was with God in the beginning. The Word of God is God, and the Word as God was with God. He is the God by whom all things were made and without whom was not anything made that was made.

In the beginning was the Word. So before he made anything that was made, he already was. He was already, not as the first and highest of creatures; but he was already as God, coequal and coeternal with the Father. The Word is the only-begotten from the Father. Not merely the only-begotten of the Father but the only-begotten from the Father. The Word is begotten as God from God, light of lighttrue God of true God, being begotten essentially and personally of the Father.

But nowhere was the glory of God
so revealed as when the Word
became flesh. There we see
God as the God of all truth and all grace.

Here is the most basic and most profound confession of Christ that a believer can make, the great mystery of godliness. Upon this fact that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God depends all our salvation; on this truth rests all our hope; in this truth is all our joy. It is the confession about Jesus: that this man is the only-begotten Son of God, God’s eternal Son according to his divine nature. He did not become a Son of God. It is true that according to his human nature he was begotten of God. He is the one human being who was begotten of God. He is that because he was begotten of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary. But when the Son of God was begotten in the womb of the virgin Mary, that was the revelation of who he was essentially and eternally.

When we confess that he is the only-begotten Son, we mean that the man Christ Jesus, who was conceived in the womb of Mary, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger and upon whose life Herod had designs, who walked among men, who spoke such gracious words and performed so many wonderful works, who was crucified upon Calvary and rose the third day according to the scripture—this Jesus is God. He was God in the womb; he was God in his mother’s arms; he was God as he walked among men; he was God when he spoke; he was God on the cross; he was God in the grave; he was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead when God said, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.”

To beget is an act of love. God the Father begat his Son in love, and he loves his only-begotten Son in the Spirit. Father presses Son into his bosom, and Son presses himself into the bosom of the Father. The Word—who is God and who was with God, who made all things and without whom was not anything made that was made— is the only-begotten Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father, and the Son has declared the Father. Here scripture takes us into the divine love-life of God. Scripture takes us deep into the being of God and deep into eternity and reveals God the Father’s great love for his Son. Scripture lets us into a profound secret and mystery that are hid in God but that he revealed for our comfort and glory. God loved his Son, and he loved his people in his Son.

The Word became flesh. Oh, how far down we come from those heights! God, God of God, now has become flesh. God and flesh: how antithetical these two realities stand to one another. How different could two natures be!

The Word was made flesh;
thus all of salvation is sure,
the promise of God is sure,
and eternal life is sure.

Flesh is an ugly word. Flesh smacks of sin and smells of lust—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. “Flesh” in verse 14 means the whole human nature. Man as he came from the dust by God’s act of creation was flesh. Man was flesh in body and soul, in mind, heart, and will. He was of the earth earthy even in his perfection. As created he was upright flesh; but he could not see, hear, understand, and know the things of the kingdom of heaven. His heaven was Eden. But he did not so remain. He fell, and flesh was declared guilty and bound under sin. Flesh then signifies the nature of man as it fell under the power of sin, as it became weak, wretched, dead, and decayed. Now, what is born of flesh is flesh. It is full of lusts and sins. Flesh shakes, hurts, tires, and needs to be fed and watered. Flesh betrays us, so that although we will to do in the flesh, yet we cannot do in the flesh. Flesh cannot keep the law of God.

And the Word became flesh. He did not take to himself the nature of angels, those glorious and ministering spirits that he made in the beginning. Perfect, full of light and life, and faithful sons of God, bearing his image and partaking of his spirituality. We might be tempted to say that it would have been far more fitting to the Word to have taken the nature of angels. But he took flesh and became flesh. Thus the Word became man.

So the Word is two things: he is very God and he is very man, and that in one person. All that is God’s is the Word’s according to his eternal begetting. All that is man’s is the Word’s according to his conception by the Holy Ghost in the womb of Mary.

And the Word became flesh in order to dwell among us. If you would go to live in a chicken coop and would strip yourself of all your clothes and put on feathers and peck around in the dirt and cluck like a hen; if you would strip yourself of all your clothes and would wallow around in the mud in a pigsty; or if some mighty king would dismiss all his bodyguards and give up all his honors in order to live in a slum—in none of these does the humiliation come close to what the Son of God did when he became flesh. He exchanged his sapphire throne for a stable floor.

When he became flesh, he did not dwell in the air, in some ivory tower, in a castle in the sky, or even in cloistered luxury on the earth; but he dwelt among us. He did not come to us to make it appear as though he had a concern for those to whom he came, all the while remaining aloof and returning nightly to his high and lofty place. He actually came to us and took up his abode with us and dwelt among us.

These words are full of love and intimacy. The Word did not stand aloof from us and from our misery, but he entered fully into it and took his place in it. That the Word became flesh to dwell among us speaks then of his inexpressible humiliation. Man cannot comprehend fully the wrath of God against sin, a wrath of God against all who are born of the flesh and all who are flesh. For in Adam all perished. In Adam all flesh was made subject to sin and death. And the Word became flesh and thus made himself the object of the wrath of God against sin. When the Word was made flesh, he was also made sin and a curse. He was the most cursed and the most sinful flesh that ever was because he bore in his flesh all the sins of his people. He bore their original sin. He bore their actual sins. He became flesh; and when he did, God imputed to the Word all the sins of his people and made him to be sin for us and to be a curse for us.

So also when the Word became flesh, he became the lowliest and most miserable of all men, and he bore that in his flesh all his life long; but especially on the cross he bore the terrible wrath of God against sin. So great was that weight that it pressed out of his flesh bloody sweat. It also pressed out of him his great and terrible cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

And in that humiliation when the Word dwelt among us, he demonstrated his glory. I believe that is the meaning of the words “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” These words cannot be separated from the words that the Word became flesh. In that becoming flesh, in that flesh, in his weakness, in his humiliation, and in all his anguish he showed, and all beheld, the very glory of God. Behold him! He had to be swaddled as every other little baby. He needed his mother to nurse him and change his diapers. He had to be washed and fed and put to bed. He had to learn to walk and talk and learn. He had no place to lay his head; he tired and was weary; and he groaned and wept. He spoke and taught. He ate and drank as men and did all the things that men do. And he was despised and rejected and ridiculed. The people tied him up like a thief; they put him under oath and finally crucified him. How was he not a man like every other man?

In that humiliation he showed the glory of God. As God manifested his glory to Elijah, not in a whirlwind or in an earthquake but in the still small voice, so God manifested his glory in the highest sense when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. In Christ is seen clearly the power, sovereignty, grace, mercy, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, loving-kindness, and faithfulness of the triune God. Christ declares with saving power and with damning truth the name of God.

The glory of God is the radiant splendor of God in all the fullness of his goodness and perfection. The Word made flesh showed that too. All of that was obvious and demonstrably true in him. No one could gainsay that. By word and by deed, he proved that he is the only-begotten Son of God. Just as God brought all things into being by his Word—he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast—so Jesus spoke, and it was done. All who heard him bore witness that he spoke with authority, and they testified of the graciousness of his words. He said to the dead little Tabitha, “Arise.” He said to dead, stinking Lazarus, “Lazarus, come forth!” To the lame he said, “Arise and walk.” To the blind he said, “See” and to the devils, “Come out of him” and to the wind and the waves, “Be still!”

But that still was not the fullest revelation of the glory of God. The glory of God is the praise of God as the only good and ever-gracious God. The Word made flesh showed that too. The people saw that. All heard his gracious words full of grace and truth.

But that revelation of the glory of God came especially at the end of that life in the flesh. Was it when the mob came and he said, “I am,” and they all fell over? Oh, that was thrilling indeed. But that was not the full revelation of the glory of God.

You can see and all could see and all did see the glory of God when they took Jesus. They bound him; they tried him; they put him under oath; and they bore false witness against him, betrayed him, condemned him, and crucified him. And he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” spoke comforting words to the formerly blaspheming thief, and there in the darkness of Golgotha gave the piercing and anguished cry of the cross declaring, “It is finished!” There is the glory of God.

That is what the astonished and then believing centurion confessed: “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” Beholding the glory of God in Jesus Christ crucified transformed the centurion. That is what the Pharisees in their unbelief hardened themselves against when they asked for a guard for Jesus’ tomb. They beheld the glory of God in Christ crucified and were hardened in hatred against him.

He showed forth the glory of God as the God who has grace and pity and tender compassion on his dear, sinful people; so that Christ Jesus, for us and for our salvation, came down to us to perform in the flesh all things necessary for our salvation and glory. Because he is the onlybegotten Son of God in the flesh, his flesh is strong to save. Because he is the only-begotten Son of God in the flesh, he did save because in his humiliation and in all his suffering he made full and complete satisfaction for the sins of all his people.

All this he did in the flesh and as flesh in order to save flesh. Us! Flesh! He came to dwell among us! That we might dwell with him forever. What glory of God especially did they behold? That God is such a God that he condescends to us, who are of low estate, to glorify us in himself. That is the glory of God for which he wills to be praised to all eternity. A God full of grace and truth, who brought the fullness of that grace and truth to us.

The Word who became flesh is full of grace and truth! In a few words John describes the glory of God that all beheld in Jesus Christ. Flesh full of grace and truth. This is impossible. Flesh is full of sin, death, and condemnation. Flesh by nature is full of nothing but lies, wickedness, and death. That is what happened to flesh in Adam. To see how glorious flesh is in Christ, you have to contrast him with Adam. In Adam flesh, all flesh, became full of sin, death, and wickedness. To be in Adam, then, all that one has is sin, death, wickedness, shame, and condemnation. Adam is full of evil. That is all men are too in Adam. Christ is full of grace and truth as flesh. He took that flesh; and he filled that flesh with life, light, glory, grace, and truth because the one who became flesh is the only-begotten of the Father. He does not merely partake of grace and truth, but he is full of it; that is, he is all grace and all truth. He is grace and truth, and there is no grace and truth apart from him. To have grace and truth, you must have him; for he is full of grace and truth. If you have him, then, you also have all grace and truth that is necessary for salvation.

The incarnate Christ is full of grace. This means that everything in him and everything about him pleases God. God delights in him, loves him, anoints him with the oil of gladness above all his fellows, lifts him up, and glorifies him and will be glorified in him alone. The Father finds nothing in Christ but what is lovely and altogether pleasing to God. Nothing in the world pleases God except Christ. He is grace. He is the fullness of grace. He is the fullness of grace to overcome sin, death, hell, and the grave. He is the fullness of grace to forgive the sins of all who believe in him, to deliver them from the bondage of sin and from the pollution of that sin. He is the fullness of grace to make them not only servants but also sons and daughters of the living God and to make them unspeakably and eternally blessed in heaven. Whoever has Christ has the fullness of grace, and whoever has him has God for him and not against him. Then whoever has Christ has nothing to worry about or fear in this life, for God is working all things for his salvation.

And in Christ God revealed himself as the God of truth. Christ is full of truth. That truth is God’s promise. God in Christ, when the Son was made flesh, declared that he is the God of truth. That he does all that he promises and that his promise is fully accomplished in Jesus Christ. That is why to believe that the Word was made flesh is to believe that God is true to his word, so that without any doubt we believe that God is also favorable toward us, gracious toward us, and that he will certainly bring us to heavenly glory in Christ and perform all that he promises to us in Christ. To believe that the Word was made flesh is to believe that no sin or evil in us can hinder us from being received of God in mercy, to believe that God will destroy sin and all the works of the devil, and to believe that God will make us eternally blessed in Christ. And on the faithful God we alone rely for all of our salvation. The Word was made flesh to save flesh by doing in the flesh what flesh could not do, so that we might be made perfect in Christ in body and soul forevermore.

Oh, wonder of wonders, the Word was made flesh. Let all adore and worship and believe on him. —NJL

Taken from: Sword and Shield

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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11

LIGHT and DARKNESS!

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.—John 8:12

I am the light of the world! What a claim! There is no light in the world apart from me. Without me the world is in darkness. There is no other light in the world besides me. I am the light. All the rest is darkness. Jesus is the light of the whole world. Exclusive. Absolute. Antithetical. He promises unconditionally that all who follow him shall have the light of life and shall not walk in darkness. Light is the condition for life, movement, fellowship, and communion. Light is thus in scripture the figure of perfection and life. The antithesis of light is darkness. Darkness is the condition of corruption, defilement, iniquity, unrighteousness, and death. The antithesis is in those words light and darkness. Light is the love of God. Darkness is enmity against God. Light is righteousness. Darkness is iniquity. Light is purity and perfection. Darkness is corruption and defilement. Light is wisdom. Darkness is folly. Light is fellowship with the living God. Darkness is the utter desolation of being forsaken of God in his wrath. I am the light of the world! Christ is life, joy, happiness, fellowship, righteousness, wisdom, and love for God. Christ is that to men. Outside of him is only darkness, and without him men perish in the darkness. All men move in the sphere of death, corruption, and unrighteousness. Christ alone is able to dispel the darkness and to be light. The world is in darkness, and men walk in darkness. And when the light comes, then men are exposed by the coming of the light as lovers of darkness and haters of the light. Sovereign light! In the brilliant light of the perfection of God’s being, Christ lives as the Son with his Father in the Holy Spirit in perfect communion and life. He is God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, being of the same essence as the Father! He is light come in the flesh. And as the light of light, he entered our darkness and penetrated down to its deepest part, even outer darkness, upon the tree of the cross. There on the cross he bore our sins and suffered our punishment for the satisfaction of the justice of God and broke the darkness by earning for us perfect righteousness that is worthy of eternal life. As light he arose. As light he ascended. As light he received of God the eternal Spirit to shed him forth in our hearts, so that the light of the glorious gospel of God dispels in our hearts the darkness of sin, guilt, and condemnation and shines with the light of righteousness, joy, and eternal glory. Christ is the light of the world! Whoever follows him shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Sovereign light! When he shines in the hearts of his own according to his will and good pleasure, then in his light we see light! The light is not dependent on the darkness, but the light overcomes the darkness. The darkness does not come to the light, but the light comes and shines in the darkness. Blessed gospel! But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to those who are lost: in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. Yes, lest they believe! Sovereign light! If our gospel be hid, so that they do not come and do not follow the light, then it is because the light has purposed that they do not believe and that they perish in their darkness. For Christ is the only light, and outside of him and apart from him all men are darkness. —NJL

Taken from: Sword and Shield

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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11

CALVIN ON SELF-DENIAL

 FROM INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
Complete Articles


Part One The Sum Of The Christian Life – The Denial Of Ourselves

Sections 1-3 The Christian Philosophy
of Unworldliness and Self-Denial: We Are Not Our Own; We Are God’s

 Section 1 We Are Not Our Own Masters, but Belong to God     
 ALTHOUGH the Law of God contains a perfect rule of conduct admirably arranged, it has seemed proper to our divine Master to train His people by a more accurate method to the rule that is enjoined in the Law. The leading principle in the method is that it is the duty of believers to present their “bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is their reasonable service” (Rom 12:1). Hence He draws the exhortation: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2). The great point then is that we are consecrated and dedicated to God and therefore should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act without a view to His glory. What He hath made sacred cannot, without signal insult to Him, be applied to profane use.

But if we are not our own but the Lord’s (1Co 6:19), it is plain both what error is to be shunned and to what end the actions of our lives ought to be directed.

We are not our own: therefore, neither our own reason nor will is to rule our acts and counsels. We are not our own: therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature. We are not our own: therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours.

On the other hand, we are God’s: let us therefore live and die to Him (Rom 14:8). We are God’s: therefore, let His wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God’s: to Him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed (Rom 14:8; 1Co 6:19). O, how great the proficiency of him who, [when] taught that he is not his own, has withdrawn the dominion and government of himself from his own reason that he may give them to God! For as the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever He leads.

Let this then be the first step: to abandon ourselves and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God. By service, I mean not only that which consists in verbal obedience, but that by which the mind, divested of its own carnal feelings, implicitly obeys the call of the Spirit of God. This transformation, which Paul calls the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23), though it is the first entrance to life, was unknown to all the philosophers. They give the government of man to reason alone, thinking that she alone is to be listened to; in short, they assign to her the sole direction of the conduct. But Christian philosophy bids her give place and yield complete submission to the Holy Spirit, so that the man himself no longer lives, but Christ lives and reigns in him (Gal 2:20)Westminster Larger Catechism

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11