Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

john-macarthur08What Is the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility?

This excerpt is taken from None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John MacArthur.

The relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is not instantly obvious, and at first glance it seems paradoxical. But Scripture offers us considerable insight into how these twin truths harmonize within the plan of redemption.

The first step in understanding the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human will is to recognize that they are not mutually exclusive, and Scripture makes this absolutely clear. In God’s design, human responsibility is clearly not eliminated by God’s sovereign control over His creation. That’s true even though evil was included in His grand design for the universe even before the beginning of time, and He uses His creatures’ sin for purposes that are always (and only) good. Indeed, in His infinite wisdom, He is able to use all things for good (Rom. 8:28).

Consider the Lord’s opening statement in Isaiah 10:5: “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger.” At first glance, this makes no sense. If Assyria is functioning as an instrument of God’s judgment, why is He pronouncing condemnation on the Assyrians? “Woe” is an onomatopoeic word (meaning the word sounds like what it means; in this case, a cry of agony) that warns of calamity or massive judgment to come. But how can a people come under divine denunciation and judgment while at the same time functioning as a rod of God’s anger? The rest of the verse says, “the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” Assyria, this pagan, godless, idolatrous nation, is the instrument of divine judgment against God’s own rebellious people.

In fact, the next verse says, “I send it against a godless nation [Judah, the southern part of the kingdom] and commission it against the people of My fury” (v. 6). The Jews are thus designated as the people of God’s fury. God holds Israel fully responsible for their disbelief; fully responsible for their idolatry; fully responsible for their rebellion and their rejection of Him, His Word, and His worship. So He commissions the Assyrians to come against them. Notice verse 6: “To capture booty, and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” That’s strong, decisive language.

Now here you have a divine decree in action. God grabs Assyria by the nape of its national neck and assigns it to be the instrument of His fury against the godless people of Judah who have rejected and rebelled against Him. And then He says in verse 7, “Yet it [Assyria] does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart.” Assyria is the instrument of God’s judgment—and the Assyrians themselves are clueless about it. It was never Assyria’s purpose, motive, or intention to serve God. They had no interest in the God of Scripture—they didn’t even believe in Him. Rather, Assyria planned in its own heart to cut off many nations. This was just another opportunity for the Assyrian power to knock off another neighboring nation, as they’d already done to Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Arpad, Samaria, and Damascus (v. 9). Verses 10 and 11 depict Assyria’s confidence in its ability to conquer Judah: “As my hand has reached to the kingdom of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?” All Assyria knows is that it has destroyed other nations who, in its judgment, had greater protection and greater gods than the God of the Bible. The Assyrians simply intended to do to Judah what they had done to the rest of the nations. They thought they were acting in complete independence. They had no idea that God was using them as agents to deliver His judgment.

But does being instruments of divine wrath somehow exonerate them from responsibility for the evil inherent in their military policies? If this irresistible divine decree brings them to Israel, what culpability do they have for their actions? And yet Scripture is clear that they will be held accountable. Verse 12 says that when God has finished using Assyria as an instrument of His fury, “So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.’” The Lord has already decreed that once He is done using Assyria, He will punish it for its sins. The very act that the Assyrians carried out under divine decree was an act of evil—so evil that God will turn on them and bring destruction on them. In God’s eyes, they bear full culpability for every part of their evil slaughter and destruction, even though they are fulfilling His divine decree. Continue reading

The Protestant Reformation (Lecture Series)

From the Master’s Seminary – a 19 lecture series on the Protestant Reformation taught by Dr. Carl Trueman personalities, and events that shook Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will consist of lectures and guided reading.

The focus will be on the development of Protestantism in its social, political, and cultural contexts, starting with Luther and the late medieval background and tracing the story through to the birth of modernity in the seventeenth century. En route, the student will study primary texts, art work, Reformation popular culture, and pastoral practices in early modern Protestantism.

In addition, the course is designed to help students to think critically about the past in a way which allows them to think critically about the present. Men and women make history, but they do not make the history that they choose; and only by examining the past forces that shaped the present can we understand ourselves, the world in which we live, and thus mount any response to the challenges that face us today.

Learning Goals

At the conclusion of the course, each student should be able to:

Recognize the key personalities, controversies, and theological developments which marked the Reformation.
Distinguish between the various historic Christian traditions in terms of their distinctive theological convictions as formulated during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Articulate ways in which social and cultural contexts shaped the way the church developed during the Reformation.

Textbooks and Reading Schedule

Students are expected to obtain a copies of:

Denis R Janz, A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts With Introductions. Some selections have been assigned, but the whole book is useful as giving short texts relevant to the various topics we will cover.
Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations.
The numbers appended below to Janz refer to the selection, not the page.

Schaff III is the third volume of P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (free pdf).

The readings from Lindberg are not synchronized with the lectures; they are merely a suggested timetable for taking you through the whole book by the end of the course.

1. Medieval Background and Martin Luther

Janz 14-19
Heidelberg Disputation
Lindberg, Chapters 1-2

2. Martin Luther

Freedom of the Christian
Lindberg, Chapters 3-4

3. Martin Luther

Exsurge Domine
Janz 25
Lindberg, Chapters 5-6

4. The Birth of the Reformed Church

Janz 30-37
The Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli (in Schaff III)
Lindberg, Chapter 7

5. Geneva and Calvin

A Reformation Debate: Sadoleto’s Letter to the Genevans and Calvin’s Reply
Lindberg, Chapter 8

6. The Spread of Lutheranism and the Reformed Faith

The Augsburg Confession
The Heidelberg Catechism
Lindberg, Chapter 9

7. The English Reformation

The Act of Supremacy (1534)
The Thirty-Nine Articles
Homily on the True and Lively Faith
Lindberg, Chapter 10

8. Reading the Reformation

Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies
Lindberg, Chapter 11

9. The Catholic Reformation

Council of Trent: Bull of Convocation; Fifth and Sixth Session
Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
Lindberg, Chapter 12

10. Seventeenth Century Developments: Reformed Confessionalism

Irish Articles of Religion (in Schaff III)
Westminster Directory for Public Worship
Lindberg, Chapter 13

11. Seventeenth Century Developments: Internal Catholic Conflicts

Pascal, Pensées
Lindberg, Chapter 14

12. The Birth of Modernity

Lindberg, Chapter 15

For further reading – see here.

Why I am no longer a Charismatic

john-apologia8Dan Phillips wrote this today on his facebook page: “Delighted to hear that brother John Samson no longer IDs himself as a charismatic. It’s a path we both walked, with at least some similarity: I was a charismatic Calvinist, and eventually rethought and renounced my charismatic beliefs.

So I’m wondering: if you have the time, John, what particularly moved you to rethink?

For me it was chiefly a combination of my own realization of what Sam Waldron now calls the “cascade” argument (http://tinyurl.com/z2a3vtq), plus seeing that modern putative revelatory/attesting gifts simply did not measure up to the Biblical data.”

Here’s my brief reply:

Dan, though I would not have used the term at the time, I was thoroughly Arminian (a synergist), and not only charismatic, but a pastor in the word of faith movement. I was a local host for TBN, regularly hosting a live 2 hour program and… actually asked people to call the number on the screen. Yes, it doesn’t get much lower than that. 🙂 The Lord rescued me, breaking through with His truth concerning His Sovereignty back around 2000-2001, and like a huge rock being thrown into my theological lake, the ripple effects continued to shape and change my thinking in a whole lot of areas, especially ecclesiology. It greatly bothered me that although I had been around charismatic Churches and Christians for 3 decades, I had never witnessed someone speaking in an unknown tongue (unknown to the speaker) something that was known to the listener – which is what we see in Acts 2. I heard stories of this kind of thing happening elsewhere, but it was always just that, stories. It was never something I had personally observed. This led me to question whether what I was seeing in our time was what we read about in the New Testament. Dr. Sam Waldron’s cascade argument did have an impact on me also, but I think the final nail in the coffin to my charismatic tendencies was the “Strange Fire” Conference John MacArthur had, with Phil Johnson’s sessions being especially helpful – “Is there a baby in the Charismatic bathwater?” “Providence is Remarkable” and another teaching he did, “Is That Voice in my Head Really the Holy Spirit?”

A quote I read by John Owen also was like a punch to the stomach (theologically speaking) as its truth hit home to me, “If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree they are false.” I have experienced so much mercy from the Lord in all this, especially when I realize that, very sadly, I don’t personally know of any fellow pastors in the circles I was in, making this kind of transition. Deceived people, deceive people, and my prayer is that God will continue to root out of my thinking, anything that is not in full accord with His word. And may He do this for many of those still entrapped in deception, as I was.

Dan responded: “Praise the Lord. That’s wonderful to hear. Thanks. It is disheartening: one sees so many either deepening in error, or drifting in the wrong direction. A testimony like yours is heartening. It must mean a lot to Phil as well.”

My reply: Yes, it is indeed disheartening when so many will not even stop for a moment to examine their traditions. The fact that I did is a testimony to the Sovereign mercy of the Lord towards me. I wrote a book outlining Sovereign mercy in election, especially seeking to answer objections (called “Twelve What Abouts: Answering Common Objections Concerning God’s Sovereignty in Election”) and am now working on my second book which has a working title of “Run for Your Life” aimed at helping those in the word of faith come to sound theology. I would value your prayers very much.

P.S. Dan Phillips wrote this article about Benny Hinn yesterday that is well worth reading.

The Preservation of Scripture

Hebrew-scriFrom the Purely Presbyterean blog… https://purelypresbyterian.com/2016/02/23/the-preservation-of-scripture/

One of the benefits that God gave Israel as his covenanted people was committing to them the oracles of God. What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God (Rom. 3:1-2). As the Gentile Church has been made partaker in the spiritual benefits that Israel once enjoyed (cf. Eph. 2:12-13; Mat. 21:43), we rightly conclude that the oracles of God are committed to us as the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and his covenanted people. Commenting on Romans 3:2, Calvin writes:

“By oracles he means the covenant which God revealed first to Abraham and to his posterity, and afterwards sealed and unfolded by the law and the Prophets.

Now the oracles were committed to them, for the purpose of preserving them as long as it pleased the Lord to continue his glory among them, and then of publishing them during the time of their stewardship through the whole world: they were first depositories, and secondly dispensers. But if this benefit was to be so highly esteemed when the Lord favored one nation only with the revelation of his word, we can never sufficiently reprobate our ingratitude, who receive his word with so much negligence or with so much carelessness, not to say disdain.”

John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, Ch. 3

The Westminster Confession of Faith states that God by “his singular care and providence kept [the Scriptures] pure in all ages” and they “are therefore authentic” (WCF 1.8). The question we now seek to address is, Has God preserved His word? More specifically, has God preserved His word in such a way that His word has been kept pure in the possession of His Church in all ages, thus committing His oracles to them. This question is of the utmost importance, for the word of God, the Holy Scripture, is the source of all saving knowledge. Without the word of the living God, we would be lost; as Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

“Have the original texts of the Old and New Testaments come down to us pure and un corrupted? We affirm against the papists.

I. This question lies between us and the papists who speak against the purity of the sources for the purpose of establishing more easily the authority of their Vulgate version and leading us away to the tribunal of the church.

Il. By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Ill. The question is not Are the sources so pure that no fault has crept into the many sacred manuscripts, either through the waste of time, the carelessness of copyists or the malice of the Jews or of heretics? For this is acknowledged on both sides and the various readings which Beza and Robert Stephanus have carefully observed in the Greek (and the Jews in the Hebrew) clearly prove it. Rather the question is have the original texts (or the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts) been so corrupted either by copyists through carelessness (or by the Jews and heretics through malice) that they can no longer be regarded as the judge of controversies and the rule to which all the versions must be applied? The papists affirm, we deny it.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol. 1, p. 106

We do not deny the necessity of textual criticism. We readily acknowledge it. We deny, however, that the the true text of Scripture has been lost with the non-extant autographs written by the hands of the Apostles and Prophets. On the contrary, we affirm, with Turretin, that the infallible, inerrant word of God exists today in the apographs which have been in the possession of the Church in every age.

“It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of his word, with his love and care of his church, of whose faith and obedience that word of his is the only rule, requires other thoughts at our hands. We add that the whole scripture entire, as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the Copies of the Originals yet remaining; What varieties there are among the Copies themselves shall be afterwards declared; in them all, we say, is every letter and Tittle of the Word. These Copies we say, are the Rule, standard and touch-stone of all Translations ancient or modern, by which they are in all things to be examined, tried, corrected, amended, and themselves only by themselves.”

John Owen, Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, p. 173-174

The question is not whether textual criticism is necessary; rather, it is whether, once due diligence in textual criticism has been done by the Church in any age using the extant manuscripts in her possession, we have the inspired, infallible, and inerrant word of God. We affirm.

Hence, the providence of God showed itself as no less concerned with the preservation of the writings than of the doctrine contained in them, the writing itself being the product of his own eternal counsel for the preservation of the doctrine, after a sufficient discovery of the insufficiency of all other means for that end and purpose…It is true, we have not the autographa of Moses and the prophets, of the apostles and evangelists, but the apographa, or copies, which contain every iota [every bit] that was in them.

Ibid., p.12-13

This point by Owen is essential to grasp. We believe that the entirety of the Holy Scripture is and was contained in the copies which have been in the possession of the Church throughout the ages. Hence, those copies are sufficient for whatever textual criticism needs to be done. No new discovery of manuscripts needed. We therefore reject the notion that the manuscripts which have been in the possession of the Church in every age are to be corrected by manuscripts that have been hidden under a rock (so to speak) for 1500 years. This would be to deny that God has preserved His word as pure in all ages, and that the Church was left with a corrupted text for many centuries. Continue reading

Seven Metaphors for God’s Word

Dr. Steve Lawson:

“O Friends, if I did not believe in the infallibility of Scripture—the absolute infallibility of it from cover to cover—I would never enter this pulpit again.

Then, Steve Lawson declared, “Because the Word of God is inerrant, it is, therefore, by necessity, invincible. And because it is absolutely pure, it is absolutely powerful.”

He also added, “The Bible is like a beautiful diamond that has many different cuts, and, when you hold it up to the light, each beauty is refracting the light of each different side and no one symbol of the Bible can communicate the whole. So, it requires many different metaphors, many different analogies, to even begin to try to put its arm around the totality of the invincible power of the inerrant Word.”

All in all, this sermon was very quotable, so I’d like to share with you his outline, as well as some of my favorite quotes, that I hope will give you a gist of what he said. Of course, it would be best to listen to the sermon itself as it would be encouraging to any heart that treasures the Word of God.

Here are Steve Lawson’s seven metaphors that the Bible uses to describe Itself.

1) A Sword that Pierces

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:12-13

It’s not a Q-tip that tickles. The Word is Divine. It has come down from above. It has not originated from us but from God Himself. It is a Book that is alive. Lawson goes on to note that as the writer of Hebrews quotes the Psalms, he says that the psalmist “says…” therefore, although written many years prior, it is continually speaking.

Martin Luther said, “The Word of God is alive, it speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me!”
It has been said that the Bible is more up to date than tomorrow’s newspaper. We may get tired and need to sleep, but the Bible never needs to sleep. The Bible doesn’t rest but continues working while we are in bed, or even long after we are dead. There is not a dull side in the Bible. There is not a blunt verse. Every verse in the entire Bible is razor sharp and can cut deep. Continue reading